I’ve become rather fond of a particular little alcohol stove. It’s a camping stove, generally. An old design, from many decades ago, that’s still in wide use. The primary fuel it uses is methanol, but it can also run well on ethanol. I tried iso-propanol in it (91%) and it worked tolerably, with sooting of the pans. I’d have no problem in an emergency running rubbing alcohol in this stove. Otherwise, I’d use methanol. (Widely available as “HEET” brand fuel line dryer at hardware and autoparts stores in the yellow bottle, or at Home Depot and the like in gallon jugs.)
Part of what makes it fun is that it makes a burner like rosette of little flames, while having no moving parts at all.
Conceptually, it is just a can of fuel, with holes around the upper rim, and an inner cylinder that traps some of the fuel between an inner and outer wall where evaporation makes a tiny bit of pressure that goes out the perimeter flame holes. Just pour in about 30 ml ( two Tablespoons) of alcohol and light it.
It comes with a “simmer ring” that can cover that ring of flame holes, making it more like a small Sterno can flame. The top (darker) layer of the ring can then be pivoted some, side to side, (pivots on a rivet) so as to cover that hole more and turn the simmer way down if desired. It also has a lid with a rubber O ring seal that (once the stove is cooled!) can be put on and keep the fuel inside. So if you don’t use all the fuel making your coffee, just snuff the flame with the closed ‘simmer ring’, let it cool, and put the cap on. The basic stove burner then fits in a shirt pocket. As it takes about 1/4 to 1/3 a ‘fill’ to make a personal pot of tea, you get several uses from one filling. For a day hike you could get by without any fuel bottle along.
That basic stove can be bought with a variety of “pot stands” and wind screens. As for most low pressure or no pressure stoves, it is a little bit wind sensitive. If planning to use this outdoors in “various circumstances beyond your control”, it will be better with a wind screen. If you tend to only go out on good days, and / or like using stoves on a sheltered patio, the wind screen becomes more optional.
Trangia sells kits for several levels of “wild and windy”. I’ve bought two of them.
Why two? Well, first off, they are very low cost. Second, I have two very different needs / uses in mind. One is the “mini-Trangia” and is intended for semi-windy uses and a very small pack size. I bought it with a small ‘mess kit’ that it fits inside. It is about ideal for something small and light to put in a day pack for making coffee and / or tea with a bowl of ramen noodles wherever you might end up. The other has a much larger diameter pot stand that can be used with larger pots with stability. Basically, one is for very small pots and Sierra Club Cups, the other for large pots.
That “Large pot” one has become a bit of a ‘daily favorite’.
As these use a liquid fuel, a spill indoors can be catastrophic. Knock over one of these when it is lit, you get a spreading puddle of fire. The good bit is that being alcohol you can just toss a pan of water on it and it’s out. (As I pretty much use it just for boiling water, I always have a pot of water at hand…) Placing the burner inside a 9 inch or so cake pan also means if it spills, you contain it all in a metal pan. Simple and easy safety.
So now, most days I make my coffee / tea on this stove while watching TV (finance / news catch up) and sitting comfortably. Tonight, as a test, I used it to cook the main course of dinner. I used a 3 quart pot with about 1 quart+ of water in it, and boiled ‘pot stickers’, 4 to 6 at a time. (The spouse takes 4, I take 5 or 6 ;-) It worked well. A bit longer to reach the boil than the 2 kW electric element ( 7,000 BTU) but much faster than a large Sterno ( 1100 BTU). After adding the frozen pot stickers, it took a bit longer to get back to the boil, but not too long. After about 4 minutes, it wanted the ‘simmer ring’ to slow it down from full boil to a simmer. (They cook for about 5 to 6) The “snuffer” (closed simmer ring) works better than a lid on a Sterno can, and it is MUCH easier to close a partly used can of fuel and re-open it later.
The rice went into the electric rice cooker as I am a lazy bum who like robots to work for me ;-)
OK, some pictures. Here is the “mini”. You can see that the burner is relatively well shielded by the pot stand / wind screen. There isn’t enough clearance to use the simmer ring in all it’s settings (the ‘swing out’ part can’t swing much in the small space) but for the intended use the need to ‘simmer’ is low and the probability of a bit of wind is high so added heat is a feature.
You can see the ‘simmer ring’ partly open in the foreground leaning on the lid / cap. The stove itself is inside that aluminum pot stand / wind screen ring. That pot sticking out over the edges is 15 cm (about 6 inches) and about 0.8 liter if filled way too full. Realistically, you will get about a pint in it with headroom. The lid is asserted to be a frying pan too, but what one would fry in it is unclear. Maybe an egg?… Now look how much a tiny little pan hangs over the edges of that pot stand? Not much bigger than that will be stable. This is for one person, on their own, with a coffee cup / Sierra Club Cup, or very small 1 pint pot. Which is exactly what I want from it. Tea for one or two people at a time. Maybe a couple of boiled eggs, Ramen, or a pint of water to do a freeze dried dinner pouch. Stuff that would fit in 1/2 of the external pocket of my day pack and not be noticed.
The other pot stand has a different purpose. It is to hold a larger pot, in places with less chance of wind. (They also sell full on foul weather kits with complete wind screen / pot shrouds. What you would expect from a Swede is a cooking system that will work in a Swedish winter… but I don’t need that so didn’t buy it.)
Here’s a picture of that stove / pot stand with a 3 quart pot on it (cooking tonight’s dinner)
That 12 ounce Starbucks cup gives you a sense of scale, and you can barely see the flame under the pot. Alcohol flames are sometimes hard to see in bright lights, and can be impossible to see in direct sunshine.
Amazon sells the basic Trangia stove burner for $15 alone, and the stove with this pot stand for $25. So it’s $10 as the part of the cost for this pot stand. It is just a single solid piece, so “set up” is just setting it down on a surface.
That’s a low enough price (especially with the free shipping when enough is ordered together) that I was happy to get two stoves. The mini and this one.
My fuel cost spreadsheet puts Home Depot gallon sized methanol at 26 ¢ / 1000 BTU while my AEK runs about 9 ¢ so why spend 3 times as much to use this? Convenience. I can “overlap” making tea with “other things” if I don’t have to be standing in the kitchen. Why not use the Coleman or ??? Well, this stove is just so damn polite. It lights easily with a ‘sparker’ BBQ lighter, so no match smells / fumes. ( Either push the button that lets the butane out to get a flame, or just dip the end into the methanol, pull back and spark only…). The thing is silent. It makes no significant smells. The “snuff” is instant and complete without a lot of ‘fumes’. There is no ‘warm up time’ so no waste. In short, it’s a joy to use and easy to live with.
I’d been using a Sterno stove (mostly since it’s safer, no spill risk). But it’s a pain to pry the lid off a partly used can once it’s cooled and shrunk fit again. Snuffing is a bit touchy and can sometimes get fingers a bit singed. And it has a bit more smell in the snuffing. Then there’s that unfold / refold the origami stove… So while I still like my Sterno Stove, it’s not the “daily driver” so much as it is now a ‘dead simple emergency stove’ and doesn’t need any fuel pouring / liquid storage.
So, in short, I’m willing to “pay up” for the convenience and well behaved nature.
The local “speed shop” supposedly sells methanol for much less than the $15/gallon of Home Depot, so I might be able to get that cost down some anyway.
FWIW, its about $11 for the “Mini-Trangia” wind screen / pot stand alone; or the stove with wind screen, and mess kit combo runs out at about $32 right now:
You can see the larger sized “stoves with full wind screen pot stand and mess kit” packages directly at Trangia:
Though I’m less clear on why one would want an ‘ultralight stove’ with a full sized mess kit… That they run about $100 at Amazon moves it outside the “impulse buy” range any way.
When first lit, the flame is modestly small. As it heats the puddle of alcohol, the flame gets larger until it stabilizes at full sized. A 1.5 quart pot (call it a liter) works well while the 3 quart pot is about as large as I’d use (though it could handle a full sized tea kettle, a smaller one will boil faster). When it transitions from ‘Sterno like flame’ to ‘burner like flame’ there can be a soft ‘pop’ sound. Nothing to worry about, just some of the alcohol vapor catching as it first starts making the burner gas flow.
Here’s a picture with a 250 ml / l cup Pyrex measuring cup sitting on the stove (on the ‘simmer ring’ in snuffer position). Notice that the pot support legs are NOT holding up that cup. Small pots do not span the legs on this pot support. That also gives a sense of scale and shows why this stove & pot support is not suited to use as an ultralight rig with a Sierra Club Cup. Heck, my 1 pint pot doesn’t even fit on those pot support legs. This pot support is for 1 quart sized and larger. Or for very flat pans.
The brass bit is the actual stove and is about like a tuna can in size ( a bit taller and not as wide). It just sits in a hole in the middle of that stamped white ring. The ring is quite strong and feels like it is steel and a magnet sticks to it, so some kind of iron.
Zen Stoves discusses the Trangia burner as part of their generic alcohol “top burner” page:
Top burning alcohol stoves are generally dependable and easy to operate, just light and wait for your food or water to heat up. They also produce a circular array of individual flames similar to a gas range.
The Swedish Trangia stove has been around for over fifty years. This dependable stove has been popular with both European military and civilian outdoorsman.
Works with any sized pot.
More efficient than sideburner stoves for narrow pots as you have better flame contact with the bottom of the stove.
Easiest to light – self primes.
Many simmer options.
Easy to find parts.
Can light without primer pan.
Requires a pot stand.
Perhaps less efficient than other designs because of large open center.
The fuel is a bit heavier per BTU than gasoline, but unless hiking 50 miles in for a 2 week stay, the lightness of the stove makes up for it. It’s also a very clean burn, no soot, no smell, and no unnatural noises in the wilderness. (I would note that their ‘works with any sized pot’ is about the burner, not the pot stand…)
Then proceeds on to how to make a DIY variation from old soda pop cans. For $15 I can’t see much need to DIY, but it is nice to know how to make one from junk; if in a post catastrophe world you expect to have a gallon of methanol around… (Personally, I’d go for a wood burner DIY, and buy a Trangia for day hikes / backpacking. Oh, wait, that’s what I did! ;-)
There’s a wiki about Trangia, where you can read their history (says first sold in 1925) and see more pictures.
The key component of a Trangia stove is the burner. This is a small brass cup that looks and functions similar to a beverage-can stove. Fuel is poured into the burner and ignited. The heat from the flame causes the fuel to vaporize, forcing it out of 23 or 24 jets around the top of the burner, and producing a steady cooking flame. The burner includes a removable “simmer ring”, which partially blocks the flame in order to reduce heat output. It also includes a sealed lid, so that extra fuel can be stored in the burner.
Alternative burners are available allowing gas cartridges or white gasoline to fuel the Trangia.
In addition to the burner, the standard stove set includes a base, which lifts the burner off the ground and has vents to provide airflow, and a windscreen, which protects the pot and flame (the latter leading to its Swedish nickname, the “stormkök”, or “storm kitchen”). The standard stove also includes two billycans (pots), a pot lid/frying pan, an optional teakettle and a handle, commonly referred to as a Billy Grip, used to grip onto the lip of the pots and pans. The entire set is designed to fit together in a single, portable package.
I’ve not explored the “other fuel burners” available for it, as I don’t have one of the larger stoves, nor have I looked into the Titanium version (for people with large wallets and small legs, and as my wallet is not large…) But one of those kits in Titanium would be pretty darned strong. “Storm Kitchen” indeed….
This picture shows the full sized stove but the flames visible under the frying pan are clearly not alcohol. I don’t know what they are burning in that one, but it looks like wood, making a dull red flame.
This implies that the larger Trangia Stove can be used with “found fuel” and scraps of wood (saving the alcohol burner and fuel for places without dry wood). A nice feature in an emergency stove, and reason to get the big one were I “on the road” a lot. But as a home body most of the time, post quake I’m going to have plenty of materials to make a brick Rocket Stove if needed. (And enough preparation that it won’t be needed…)
For my purposes, it is the much smaller, and very clean alcohol burner version, that meets my needs (and desires).
All in all, I’m happy with the product. I don’t know when I’ll get a chance to try out the ‘day pack’ version. Hopefully in a few weeks. (It is raining right now…)
I’ve used the “white ring” one on the patio for coffee and it worked well, despite a mild bit of breeze. There was some flame flicker, but not too much. I may try cooking breakfast over it one day as a test. It is important to test equipment prior to needing it to work; and to find out what it does well, and when you might “have issues”. Besides, I get to have bacon and eggs with tea on the patio and claim I’m “doing work” ;-)
Mostly I’ve been using the Coleman Stove on the patio (both the 2 burner and the single burner 533 white gas / unleaded gasoline stove) and find they work reliably in whatever breeze is blowing. The single burner 533 lights very fast with essentially no fussing or preheating wait time (and no ‘lever up / lever down’ business either). I’d likely make the 533 my default emergency kit stove but for the fact that gasoline has become a political football and politicians, not Engineers, are playing with the formula of it; so who knows what it will be in a year.
I wish they made a kerosene version of the same stove, but they don’t. The Kerosene version comes in a lighter, more upscale backpacking stove, for about twice as much money and with about 1/2 the review quality. So I’m hoping that when my Butterfly kerosene wick stove arrives, it will impress enough to be the ’emergency kerosene stove’ (and perhaps a ‘daily driver’ too). The Butterfly pressure stove works well out of the wind, but is very sensitive to breezes (especially in the preheat step) so is more suited to inside use than “patio in the wind”.
The Coleman 533 is prone to a bit of fuel vapor when you shut it off. The flame flickers for a while, burning most of what is left in the generator tube, then goes out, and some leftover fuel evaporates. Not something you want in a small space indoors. Even out doors, the smell can be noticed.
So the alcohol fuel stoves are just much more polite and pleasant in places with reduced air flow. And with just a bit of screening from winds, do a nice job outdoors, while being very small and light. For a gallon pot of beans, I’d use the Coleman, but for a cup of tea, and even breakfast or dinner for one on the trail, I like the Trangia. There’s something attractive about a stove, with fuel, that fits in a shirt pocket. You could always use it with three rocks for your pot stand …