Trangia Alcohol Burning Stove
There are many camp stove options available all with various features. What you choose depends on what you will be using it for. If you are traveling internationally then your major concern becomes the availability of fuel. Probably the most versatile stove is the MSR WhisperLite Internationale. It burns a variety of fuels including gasoline or diesel. I don’t know how many people end up using gasoline or diesel but having the flexibility certainly would give you peace of mind when in developing countries. When we were researching stoves for our trip we were leaning toward the WhisperLite Internationale but a few of our friends’ experiences made us think again. Traveling through the airport several of them had their stove and/or fuel bottles confiscated because lingering gas fumes meant TSA considered it an explosive device. This seems a little extreme to me but was enough to make me not purchase it. Additionally, there are moving parts and O-rings that can break or need to be replaced. On the stove documentation it mentions that using gasoline or diesel can reduce the total life of the stove and clog the jets. Any versatility you get from using gasoline or diesel you lose by having to carry spare parts. All of these considerations made us choose the Trangia alcohol burning stove instead. We will rate this stove on function, durability, efficiency, and fuel availability.
The Trangia is a production version of the beer can stove. It is incredibly simple. There are no moving parts and it is basically just a vessel for alcohol with some vents to induce fuel burning. There is a cap with a sliding cover to control the heat. This is a nice accessory but we rarely use it. It is not easily adjustable after it has been on the stove and gotten hot, so we usually set it and forget it. This also works well to put out the flame when you are done cooking to preserve fuel. Ours also included a stand and cap to store unburned fuel. The cap has a rubber o-ring which means you need to let the stove cool before closing it to prevent melting the rubber. On our trip the o-ring has slowly degraded from storing alcohol in it and no longer provides a tight seal. This means that we need to be more careful with pouring too much fuel into the stove and let it burn completely out when we are done cooking.
The stove is made of brass and incredibly solid. It is light weight and pretty much unbreakable. Our stove has made it half way around the world so far and survived a 1,500km bike trip being used every day. It has some corrosion and soot but has not affected its performance. It will likely function for a long time to come.
In ideal conditions, at sea level, with no wind it takes about 10 minutes to boil a liter of water. This is not great when you consider the cook times of other stoves on the market. One thing that would improve efficiency is a wind screen. It doesn’t come with one and we never bothered to make one, but we should have. Depending on how much fuel you put in the chamber it will burn for up to 30 minutes. Two liters of alcohol lasted us about a month of cooking at least two meals a day including boiling water for coffee every morning. When we were making breakfast every morning on Ton Sai boiling rice we would burn about 600ml of fuel every 10 days. The type of alcohol you get also changes how fast you use fuel.
There is some type of denatured alcohol available in just about every country. Denatured alcohol is the name for ethanol that has additives to make it poisonous. It is frequently referred to as Methylated spirits since methanol is a common additive. When we were traveling we found denatured alcohol in a variety of places, from auto parts stores, hardware stores, paint shops, and even grocery stores.
In France we found 90% ethanol in the cleaning products aisle. In Hungary we found denatured alcohol in the European equivalent to Home Depot. In Romania we found 95% ethanol in the auto parts store and in Thailand we found 99% methanol at hardware and paint stores.
Of the various formulations we used the denatured alcohol and methanol burned the cleanest and most efficiently. The 90% ethanol was the worst and left black soot on the pot and stand. The 95% ethanol we got in Romania seemed to burn the fastest. I’m not sure what the other additives were in the dirty inefficient fuels but they are definitely not preferred. In a pinch you can burn rubbing alcohol which in the US is commonly 70% Isopropyl Alcohol, but in Europe it is usually Ethanol based. Any product with less than 90% alcohol will produce a tremendous amount of soot and is not recommended but if you can’t find anything else it will work. Before we left we found this list of alcohol translations and where you will find it in various countries.
Overall I give the Trangia an 8 out of 10. It performs admirably and is pretty much indestructible. The fuel availability makes it an easy choice for international travel as does its size. If it boiled water a little faster and the o-ring was made out of something that doesn’t rot from alcohol I would have given it a 10.
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