Esbit vs Trangia Alcohol Burners

This is a very directed posting. It is doing a “head to head” comparison of the Esbit alcohol burner and the Trangia alcohol burner, without either of them being in a pot stand or stove / holder. These two burners (sometimes I’ll call them stoves, though they really need a ‘pot stand’ to be complete… but in a pinch ‘3 rocks’ work, so maybe they are a stove…) are very similar. The Esbit is a little bit lighter. Even the lid is lighter. The difference will not matter to anyone but the most ultralight fanatic. Personally, I like the feel of the Trangia better. It is more “Mil-Spec” (which isn’t surprising given that it is used by Swedish military).

There is also a “Solo” stove that looks like a direct copy of the Esbit, so I’ve not bought one, nor ever used one. It ought to be similar or the same, but a check of the burner hole layout would tell how exact a copy. If anyone wants me to test it vs these two, well, hit the tip jar with the cost of the goods and I’ll do the “buy and test”. Personally, I don’t need to buy a 4th one that looks like a copy of the Esbit, so it’s unlikely I’ll ever do it.

I reviewed the Trangia stove here:

Esbit also makes a ‘fuel tablet stove’ that costs all of $9 from Amazon. I use one of these in a ‘mini-kit’ quake preparedness kit since the fuel is stable forever (near as I can tell, it’s been 30 years now and still fine…)

But what I’ve got is their stove / windscreen / burner / mess kit with fuel tablets for a combined dual fuel kit (that can also burn little sticks, if poorly) for my main ‘bugout bag’:

Presently selling for $46. It is the burner from that kit that is being tested here. It can be bought separately for about $15. I chose this kit over the Trangia for the ability to use both fuel tablets and bottled fuel. Why? Plastic bottles of fuel have a tendency to end up empty over the years. Having some solid fuel tablets too means even if you didn’t check it for 4 years and the alcohol is empty, you get hot coffee and noodles… While looking to scrounge some alcohol. Bugout Bags are like that… I left a kit in my trunk of the car for a couple of decades. In Phoenix, in August, at 125 F in the shade (and there ain’t no shade) many liquid fuels “don’t make it” and even wax tends to melt and make a mess of the kit. (Put any ’emergency candles’ inside glass jars. Yes, always…)

The Esbit and Trangia alcohol burners are the same diameter, put “butt to butt”. They each will fit in stoves / pot stands designed for the other. (I only tested the open pot stand from Trangia and the Esbit kit that includes a wind screen and tablet fuel stand along with two pots.) The difference in height is about 1 or 2 mm, and that is from the “perimeter ring down”, in other words, the “tank” portion, near as I can tell. Since these burners are held up by that ring, having the ‘tank’ end 1 mm or so further down in the Trangia pot stands ought not to matter. Having the burner a mm or 2 higher in the Esbit (as it sits on the bottom ring) still has plenty of clearance. In terms of “fit” into the wind screens / pot stands, I could not detect any difference by eye or by hand. Only setting the two burners side by side and looking sideways showed the Trangia a tiny bit shorter at the suspension ring.

The Esbit and Trangia are both well made. Other than the thinner material of the Esbit (which isn’t that much thinner) they are nearly identical. The Trangia has 23 or 24 (it varies by ‘when made’ near as I can tell) holes around the outside of the ‘burn ring’ with equal size. The Esbit as alternating large and small. It looks by eye as though the Esbit just shrunk every over hole, but it would take calibrated measuring to know if they made the big ones bigger enough to keep the area the same. In use, it does look like the Trangia makes a somewhat larger flame after things get “really going”, but it also looks like the Esbit “gets going” a bit faster (though initially only at the larger holes… picture below).

In using the stoves, a small bit of fuel goes a long ways, and gets there faster. Putting 2 Tbs of fuel into the stove, most of the metal throat is exposed to the starting heat and there is less mass of alcohol to get hot and pressurize the burner portion. I timed the Trangia this morning on a low fill (enough to cook an omelet, but not measured, I’d guess about 2 Tbs / 30 ml) and it “bloomed” to where the burner ports were lit and pressurizing in a 20 second count. Barely enough time to let the ‘sparker’ go out, set it down, pick up the pan, and get it headed at the burner…

The test of “nearly full and frozen” (see below) took a few minutes to reach that same point. If you are in a hurry, it is better to put in just the fuel needed for each dish. If you are doing a long slow simmer, well, start it full and while the pan is warming, prep ingredients. It is more important to know what it will do than to have any particular “speed”. So I’d be happy to have a saute pan with butter in it on the burner for a minute or two while it ‘warms up to bloom’ and be chopping “goods” to saute and adding to the pan for those 2 or 3 minutes. (Morning coffee will be on 2 Tbs or less of fuel and impatiently waiting at that ;-)

The stove starts off slow, then builds over a couple of minutes to full power. Part of why I don’t have any “time to boil a pint” of water is that I’m pondering how best to test that. “From a cold start” or “At full power”. Folks will do both. Maybe testing both is best… but then I have to get consistent starting temperatures and conditions…

For now, my overall impression is that there isn’t much real difference between the Esbit and the Trangia. The Esbit has a somewhat more convenient design for the simmer ring (it has a fold out wire handle that stays cool); yet it didn’t take long to realize that the Trangia could be lifted easily by using a fork, sideways, to make a handle on the dark cover disk… Both are “sturdy enough” and both work well. I’m happy with both of them.

One amusing thing. The Trangia has an interesting approach to multilingual directions. Putting in each language what they think will be needed by “Those People”, I suppose. The simmer ring center part is swung out to open the hole (turn it from ‘snuffer’ to any given ‘simmer’ desired). Flame heats the ring and that makes the part you want to grab rather hot. It says “Attention, HOT” in German (or something close to that…) But not in English or French. Ether they don’t figure it would help to tell the French, or like to watch the English do a ‘hand dance’, or think them not brave enough to grab hot metals from burning places. Or perhaps they just know a lot of Germans… ;-) On the cap that seals the stove when not in use, it goes to great length to tell you not to put gasoline or similar fuels into the stove. In French and English, but not in German. One supposes they know that Good Germans would never put gasoline into an alcohol stove. It’s not right… “nicht richtig”… But a Frenchman or an Englishman? You never know what those folks will do…

At any rate, it helps to speak at least 2 languages to read the stove… German and either French or English. (The rest of you, one presumes, do not need guidance to know how to avoid burning yourself grabbing metal from a fire or that it’s a bad idea to dump gasoline into an alcohol stove.)

The Esbit simply warns that the simmer ring is hot in those three languages.

In Use

Frankly, they are just about identical. Sometimes one warmed a bit faster, some times the other. There are some subtle things that most likely relate to the total mass of stove and fuel, and I think the Esbit “two sizes of holes” burner starts faster, but may have a lower peak rate of burn. In practical terms, I don’t think the differences matter as much as “knowing your stove”.

All tests were done indoors, in a constant temperature room, with no drafts to speak of. All ingredients and stoves started at room temperature (about 72 F). The stoves are sitting on a thick aluminum cookie sheet. Both to assure similar temperatures ( as they are conduction heating / cooling to room temperature ) and as a ‘spill catcher’ if things got out of control or a spill happened. I had a pot of water handy to “douse” if anything happened and wet aluminum is easier to clean up than wet wood or other absorbent material.

The second test I filled the fuel tanks to just about 1 cm below the top burner ring. (About the same height as the top of the fuel tank outside the burner ring. That is, full but not over full. I measured the distance from the top with a toothpick as a gauge (held in one hand and from fingernail to tip of toothpick, each tank pulled a bare meniscus to the point. Repeated 2 times to assure similar results, and ‘eyeball assessed’ after. As the Trangia is a bit shorter in the tank, it will be lower mass to heat, so ought to reach max heat faster in this test. As the Esbit is ‘longer in the tank’, it will have more heat conduction area exposed to flame in the partial fill test. The difference in size / mass also means that the Freezer Time will have had differential effects.

Initial lighting makes a soft alcohol flame rather like Sterno. As the stove heats, methanol outside the center cylinder and between it and the outside wall of the tank heats, vaporizes, and slightly pressurizes that space, pushing vapor out the ‘burner hole ring’, which eventually “blooms” into a ring of fire rather like a household stove burner. After “blooming”, power output rises significantly. A pressure stove with zero moving parts, no pumping, priming, seals, rubber goods, nothing. Elegant, that.

In the first test, with 30 ml ( 2 Tbs ) of methanol (SLX from Home Depot) they both “bloom” very fast. So fast that I had barely set the “spark lighter” down and started to pick up the camera and it was already a ‘done deal’. Measured in 10s of seconds. (About 20). Then the power builds over about a minute. (You can be cooking during this whole time, so the fuel is not wasted.)

Trangia vs Esbit 2 Tbs first picture

Trangia vs Esbit 2 Tbs first picture

This is a low resolution picture, but you can see how the Esbit, on the left, has ‘every other hole’ lighting up (the bigger holes) while the Trangia, on the right, has an arc of holes consistently lighting up on one side, and a couple just starting to catch on the other. I had “dipped the tip” of the sparker into the alcohol in the Trangia, clicked it to light, then moved it to the Esbit, let it burn out the bit of alcohol film on the tip of the sparker (5 seconds?), set it down, picked up the camera, and we were already “blooming”… So no picture of the “Sterno like state”, but you get the idea from how the center column looks.

This was a ‘no waiting grab shot’, so the focus was a bit fuzzy and I’ve left the resolution low.

Just a minute later, it looks like this:

Trangia vs Esbit 2 Tbs a minute after "bloom"

Trangia vs Esbit 2 Tbs a minute after “bloom”

For some odd reason, the flame turns a golden slightly “sodium yellow” once the bloom is in full swing. Don’t know if it is a bit of sodium in the stoves, or in the alcohol (that only gets into the vapor at a full boil off the wick in the outer cylinder?) or some other artifact coloring the flame. In a way, it is nice as it makes the flame more visible. Alcohol flame can be nearly invisible in the sun.

You can also see the inside of the fuel caps and the rubber O ring that seals them. While they state not to use the cap to snuff the flames (by screwing it on, one presumes) as the heat will damage the O ring, this presents a problem when using the Simmer Ring (especially for the Trangia where the part you grab is short and hot). How to close it to ‘Snuffer position’ while hot? It can be done, or you can take the ring off and let it cool, wasting fuel in the process, then apply it. My solution is just to turn the cap “O Ring Up” and lay it on the Simmer Ring to snuff the flames. It doesn’t seem to get very hot that way. In a year or two we’ll find out if that is ‘problem’. Replacement O rings are sold… If I was really worried, a bit of aluminum foil would do.

The flames tend to ‘billow’ a bit without a wind screen or pot. So “size” changes over time. In this picture, I caught them at a ‘nearly the same’ moment. IMHO, the Trangia has a slightly larger average flame size. A direct test of time to boil a measured unit of water of known starting temperature / conditions is in order to confirm that, though. Perhaps another day… Both boil water fast enough, both simmer well enough, and both are nice. Pushed to pick one, I’d likely pick the Trangia, but only because my personal ‘esthetic’ tends more to the industrial than the convenient. The Esbit simmer ring handle will be more comfortable on a hot stove. The Trangia a bit more durable to dropping out of a pocket and onto the rocks. If one is a bit faster than the other to start, the other looks a bit faster in the cooking; so which is fastest over all will likely depend on what you are doing.

Here’s what they look like with their respective simmer rings in place, in the wide open position. Both flames look about right to simmer a small pot of water. This morning I made a 2 eggs & Ham omelet and about 2/3 of the way through, put it down to simmer to finish. It worked fine. (Simmering water is fine, but the real test is can you make an omelet properly…)

Trangia vs Esbit with simmer rings in place

Trangia vs Esbit with simmer rings in place

The Frozen Ones

In this test, the filled burners were placed in my freezer for 15 minutes prior to the test. The Trangia will have cooled a bit faster, having a bit less mass of fuel in it, but over 15 minutes, I’d expect both to be cold. They felt cold to the touch when I took them from the freezer. They were placed on ceramic plates to prevent heat conduction into them from the warmer aluminum base. This time I lit the Esbit first, then the Trangia. So a tiny film of methanol from the Esbit will have been used on the tip of the sparker, and it will have been lit about 2 seconds earlier. That ought not to matter to the results.

It took on the order of minutes to “bloom”. Being very full of cold alcohol really slows things down. If you want a fast bloom for that first morning cup, put the smallest measured fuel load that works into the stove and warm it in your hands before lighting.

It looks like the Esbit has an advantage in this case. The “small holes” don’t light fast, but they do look to divert gas to the large holes early on. These, then, light early; and start a stronger feedback loop to warming the rim and pressurizing the stove. That is my interpretation of things. It looks like once the Trangia gets going, it has slightly more heat due to more total area of burner holes. (I think you are beginning to see why I didn’t to a ‘time to boil’ test… many moving parts and it needs a bit of a think to make sure it is a fair test…)

OK, the first lighting:

Trangia vs Esbit Full Frozen first ignition

Trangia vs Esbit Full Frozen first ignition

Full Sized image

There is a full sized image in the link, so you can open it up to get a close up view of the burner holes on the Esbit, if desired. Low light and hand held, so not the sharpest ever, but good enough. They alternate, large and small.

Here’s a view about a minute later as the Esbit is starting to ‘bloom’ and the Trangia isn’t yet.

Trangia vs Esbit Frozen Full about 1.5 minutes into the start of the burn

Trangia vs Esbit Frozen Full about 1.5 minutes into the start of the burn

Full sized full res image

I find this image interesting because of how clearly it shows the Esbit starting an early 1/2 bloom that then accelerates the warming to full bloom process. Every other hole lighting up, only the large ones.

Two minutes from the start, it is in full bloom (almost) while the Trangia is still sulking. At 3 minutes, it is fully running. I’ll skip the “almost full” image and here’s the 3 to 3.5 minute from start image:

Trangia Esbit Full Frozen minute 3

Trangia Esbit Full Frozen minute 3

Realize that while I call this “minute 3” I was mostly timing by watching a VCR clock tick over, so could be off 1/2 minute. If anyone really cares, I can see what metadata the camera captures.

Finally, at minute 4, the Trangia “catches up” with a rapid full bloom. To me, it looks like the flame is somewhat larger, on average, so for very long cooking episodes, the Trangia, even full and frozen, ought to be faster. For a fast cup of coffee in the morning, a Full Frozen Trangia is not your friend, while an Esbit is at least talking to you… In any case, a warmed 30 ml partial fill will work much faster in either one of them.

Trangia vs Esbit Full Frozen minute 4

Trangia vs Esbit Full Frozen minute 4

In Conclusion

What does all this say to me?

I’m fine with either stove. It is a feature to carry the fuel in a little plastic bottle if you like your morning tea of coffee fast on cold mornings. For carry full of fuel, the Esbit is a bit better. Larger “tank” and blooms faster. But it looks like it will be lower power once at full power. For those bashful about burned fingers, the simmer ring wire handle is a feature of merit.

For fast morning coffee, with part fill, either is fine, but I like the somewhat added power of the Trangia. (Real time to coffee test ought to be done to confirm perceptions… perhaps next long weekend…) If you like simmering large pots of stuff, or boiling water in quart sized lots, the Trangia will likely make more heat in the long run. Trying to melt snow with a full frozen Trangia will be an exercise in patience to get started on small pots, but fine for larger pots that take longer.

In either case, external fuel management lets you choose your “time to bloom”, and I’d personally rather have a Trangia with external fuel bottle and a bit more high end power; but I’d not even notice if I opened the kit and it had a full Esbit burner in it.

In short, it’s a toss-up and choose what you like. Just know how to use it best, as the two stoves are a bit different in how they work when full and frozen, or when running flat out full power. For the things I actually do, I doubt I’ll ever notice the difference, especially since I travel with fuel in a bottle, not in the stove (other than ‘left over dregs’ from a finished session of cooking).

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About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
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6 Responses to Esbit vs Trangia Alcohol Burners

  1. Dell Wilson says:

    Brilliant. I’ll try to do the boil test tomorrrow after work. We had nice weather for the first time since the onset of DST and I chose to cycle the long way home from work.

    I’ve determined that my Trangia kit is the 25-5 HA; the big’un. Its really nice, but very close to 2 lbs. where compared to the Esbit at under 1 lb. Looking back over my notes from 2011 when I was researching stoves, I was leaning toward the MSR Whisperlite. I was intrigued by the Soto since it doesn’t require priming, but it was harder to find.. In the end, I got a little nervous about the maintenance and fuel. (I know they’ll run on gasoline, but I couldn’t see myself standing in front of a convenience store filling my little bottle from a huge fuel pump.)

    Anyway, great research. I hope I can contribute with the boil test.

  2. Jerry says:

    The old alcohol stove that I have does not have a shut off. Reading thru some of the comments about the stove someone suggested just covering the entire stove with a large can (with top cut out) or pot until it went out. Soon as I can pick up some methanol I will try it.

  3. Pingback: Comparison of Trangia and Esbit Alcohol Stoves | Bike Lane Ends

  4. dellwilson says:

    E.M., I did a couple of boil comparisons and found that the Trangia is indeed more efficient than the Esbit.

  5. dellwilson says:

    E.M., I posted a bit more review after using the Esbit kit during a week-long bicycle tour and I did a head-to-head comparison of both burners with the Esbit kit.

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