Dan's Outside

I go, I see, I do, I walk, I think, I like…

A new stove: Trangia mini

I had been a white gas stove guy from way back in the days of Svea stoves – yup, I just really dated myself! More recently I had used a series of fine little MSR stoves, but a few seasons back I was persuaded to try the little MSR canister stove. It is very small, light, quite simple, and it works very well for the most part. Since I usually can minimize the amount of time I need to run the stove – especially when I’m only cooking for myself – I’ve been able to complete fairly long trips with a single canister. Downsides are that it is still somewhat loud – which seems to be the price you pay for a hotter stove – and that the canisters are expensive, hard to manage (you can’t really know how much fuel is left after some use), and raise some concerning disposal issues.

A few years ago my ultra-light backpacking friends began showing up for trips with some stoves that I couldn’t have even imagined people using a decade ago. All of them were alcohol burning stoves and they ranged from simple, small burners from commercial sources to tiny, featherlight home-grown designs created out of soda cans. At first I was skeptical, having relied on more traditional equipment for some decades, but as I watched my friends use these stoves I began to see their value, particularly for the solo backpacker who mostly needs to simply boil a small amount of water.

I finally took the plunge last month and ordered the very inexpensive (about $20) Trangia mini stove. This consists of a small and simple aluminum wind-screen/stand and a small brass stove that is not much more than a fancy bowl into which you pour a bit of alcohol and then light the whole thing. (Yes, there are lighter stoves and lighter stand and windscreen options, but I didn’t want to begin by, for example, constructing my own stove – as some friends do!)

The “stove” fits neatly into the bottom of my tall Snow Peak solo pot and leaves plenty of room for my spoon, a lighter, a small square of cloth I use as “small towel and pot grabber,” and a tiny plastic bottle of soap. The wind screen is a bit more awkward, but I use the space efficiently by packing it with something else stuffed into it.

Fuel is simply alcohol that you can pick up at your local hardware store, though REI and probably other outdoor stores stock it as well. One can will probably last most people at least a full season. The fuel comes from agricultural sources rather than gas/oil wells, so while the actual effect on the world is small, it seems like a positive step. These stoves also save resources in one other important way. It would take many, many regular fuel canisters to power the stove for the same amount of time that one can of alcohol will last. So, one can of alcohol and one small bottle to carry what you need on the trail is all you’ll use.

The first time I tried it on the trail last week I found myself using more fuel than necessary – at first by a factor of two. Over the course of a four-day trip I got a better handle on how much fuel is needed to boil a particular amount of water, and once on the final morning I manged to bring the water for a cup of tea to a boil just as the fuel burned out. I carried 8 oz. of fuel for this trip and used about half of it – and didn’t use it all that efficiently. I think that it would be quite reasonable to use an ounce or less per day with some care. Unlike the home-brew stoves, the Trangia burner includes a screw-on lid that supposedly allows you to put out the stove before it finishes burning and then store it with the remaining alcohol available for the next use. I didn’t try this. It also includes a detachable top that has a rotating piece that lets you manually lower the flame to simmer. I would rarely have a need for this since I mostly just boil water on the trail.

The stove does take longer to bring a given amount of water to a boil – perhaps 50% or more additional time. If you travel solo (or travel with a group but cook individually) this isn’t a big issue since you’ll probably just add a few minutes to your cooking time. I quickly learned to get my water in the pot and start it boiling first and then to take care of other food preparation issues like getting out the dinner and so forth. Another advantage is that the longer cook time is essentially silent! You’d be surprised at what a difference this makes.

If you have ever had a stove “go bad” on the trail – yes, it happens – you may appreciate the retro simplicity of the alcohol stoves. There are no moving parts, no jets to clean – basically it just holds the alcohol and you light it.

My verdict after one use is that:

  • I’ll definitely use the stove for solo travel.
  • I did not find the slightly longer cooking times to be an issue.
  • I enjoyed the silent operation of the stove.

September 13, 2009 Posted by | Commentary, Equipment, Gear Reviews, Technique | , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

My New Adventure Vehicle

Back in August I wrote about my search for a vehicle to replace my Dodge Durango. The Durango was a great vehicle for travel to the Sierra and beyond in all seasons – with four-wheel drive it could get me through snow and dirt/gravel roads, it was large enough to carry a bunch of fellow adventurers, and I could even camp inside. But it sucked gas. I was getting about 13 mpg in normal driving (maybe 14 mpg if I was very careful) and only 15-16 mpg on longer trips.

In the end we settled on a Subaru Outback. I got a nicely equipped model with the smaller non-turbo engine that is supposed to get 22-28 mpg. Guess what? It really does. Typical mileage in normal driving for me is about 25-26 mpg. On longer drives I consistently do get 28 mpg, and sometimes even a bit better than that. On a recent drive from Souther California to the SF Bay Area we actually got better than 29 mpg on the return trip.

I can’t vouch for its performance on dirt and gravel yet, and this winter I haven’t even had a chance to drive in real snow. (I did drive a bit in Seattle snow, but that is a more urban sort of thing.) By all reports it is not going to be as capable as the Durango, but I still think it will be fine for my use. More reports on that later…

Much to my surprise, I even discovered during an Autumn fall color trip to the eastern Sierra that I can sleep in the back of the Outback. With the middle seat down there is just enough room for me. Typically, I would prefer to set up a tent and sleep out in the fresh air, but there are times when I arrive at the end of a longish drive and it is just easier to roll out a sleeping bag and go to sleep.

March 25, 2007 Posted by | Commentary | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on My New Adventure Vehicle

   

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