Melting snow with the Mini Trangia at -8.2 C

Unpressurized alcohol stoves are not suitable for melting snow. That is one of the most common statements one can find from a countless number of camping stove reviews.
Well, I happen to have a Mini Trangia, I don’t have funds to get any nuclear powered wonder devices, and where I hike, the most convenient way to get water, about six to seven months of the year, is to melt some snow. Therefore, I absolutely had to test whether my poor little Trangia really is useless for melting the snow.
The test conditions were not very wintery, only -8.2 C below freezing, but on the coolish side anyway, and enough snow to perform the test. (I’ll repeat the test in colder conditions as soon as it gets cold, however, the weather forecast for the next 15 days is somewhat summery, from +1 to -5 C, so this is the best I can do right now).
Alcohol is a bit tricky fuel in cold environment, therefore, I used my home made winterizer for the Mini Trangia in my test. With the winterizer, the fire was easy to light up. Then I loaded the mini Trangia 800 ml pot with fresh snow, and started cooking, or melting in this case. I kept filling up the pot with more snow till I had 500 ml of water. To get half a liter of water from snow, in -8.2 C temperature, took 6 minutes and 30 seconds, which, in my opinion, is not bad. Then I placed the lid on top of the pot and continued cooking. 8 minutes and 38 seconds later, I had 500 ml of boiling water, not bad either.
Total time from snow to boiling was 15 minutes and 8 seconds, which is not lightning fast, but, again in my opinion, not ridiculously slow either. I have had slower boiling times in the middle of the summer (in windy conditions, without the winterizer, of course, and without the lid, though).
Of course, most of the multifuel burners, and some gas burners are a lot quicker, but, based on my test, announcing that one cannot melt snow with unpressurized alcohol stove, is wrong.
In -8.2 C, melting snow with the Mini Trangia is absolutely possible, and not even that slow.

Longer report of the Mini Trangia’s behavior in various conditions will be published sometime in the future.

1-piece Hobo Stove

 

Although there are not too many actual hobos wandering around these days, the internet is full of instructions of how to make more or less sophisticated hobo stoves, and there are some good reasons for that: Hobo stoves are fun to make; no need for expensive or complicated materials or tools, quick to test and to modify, and if everything goes wrong, just throw away that cheap can and try again. A good hobo stove is also pretty capable camping stove; no need to carry any fuel with you, especially during the summer time, when relatively dry sticks, twigs, and pine cones are easily available. Although longish simmering with a hobo stove is somewhat labor intensive, for a quick boiling job, it is an effective tool; boiling 500 ml of water can be done in less than four minutes in most of conditions. And additionally, during a forest fire warning, in which all open fires are prohibited (at least in some countries (including mine)), placing a piece of sheet metal underneath the stove, officially makes it a contained camping stove, which is OK to use, even during the forest fire warning.

Those reasons were good enough for me to try to make my own hobo stove. The requirements I set for my stove were: Low price, easy to make, simple structure i.e. no moving parts, and not too heavy.

All of the set requirements were met by a stainless steel cutlery stand, which I happened to find at a local supermarket for 3,90€, (Price requirement – check). Due to its original purpose, the stand was full of evenly spaced holes, so, the only thing to do to convert the stand to a stove, was to cut three 3X6 cm pieces from the top edge of the stand. After about 15 minutes of work with a hack saw (could be done in 2 minutes with Dremel or equivalent tool), my 1 piece hobo stove was ready to run (easiness and simplicity requirements – check). Most of the hobo stoves I have seen, have some kind of legs to take care of the air flow through the bottom of the stove, and some kind of, usually detachable, structure to act as a holder for pots and pans. Finding fist size stones for legs of a stove has never been a problem in my hiking grounds, so, I skipped the legs. By cutting the three pieces from the rim of the stand to create a chimney effect, the remaining three pieces of metal formed a perfect stand for pots and pans, therefore, I had no need to design any additional structures to do the job, and, that was a pure accident, the diameter of the stove happened to be exactly 10 cm, which makes my hobo stove compatible with the pot from my Mini Trangia camping stove. The weight of my hobo stove is about 400 grams, which means that it is not the lightest of all of the hobo stoves, but on the other hand, considering that I don’t have to carry any fuel with me, it is not that heavy (weight requirement – check), and stainless steel stove with 1 mm thick walls is practically bullet proof, and it looks good too. 😉 This one should last for a life time.

After a quick field test, I can say that I’m pretty happy about the results; The stove is easy to use, easy to feed (although for feeding with the thickest and longest sticks, or the largest pine cones, one has to lift off the pot), and very effective.

If I’d have to complain about something, I’d say that the efficiency of the stove would probably improve by blocking the two top most rows of the holes. However, blocking them would increase the weight of the stove, cutlery stands without the top most holes are not to be found easily, and the stove works pretty well as it is.

In conclusion, I can strongly recommend my hobo stove as a trusty 1-piece hiking companion, or as a starting point of long term hobo stove development hobby.

More info about camping stoves can be found from:
Zen Backpacking Stoves

 

DIY winterizer (pre-heater) for Mini Trangia

 

One of the most common complaints about alcohol burners is that they are difficult to light up in freezing temperatures. To solve this winter time problem, Trangia sells winter attachment kit for larger Trangia stoves (series 25 and 27). It contains an aluminum plate, which prevents the hot burner sinking to the snow, and a pre-heating cup with some fire proof sponge, which, when soaked with alcohol, acts as a wick underneath the actual burner. Unfortunately, the pre-heating cup of the kit does not fit into the Mini Trangia system. Therefore, one must figure out an alternative way to pre-heat the Mini Trangia. Fortunately, the Mini Trangia has its own, in-built pre-heating cup, the aluminum burner holder/windscreen. Between the burner holders wall and the burner, there is just right size space for home made glass wool wick. Well, the wick does not require any making. Just place the burner on its place, and stick small pieces of glass wool loosely around it. Fill up the burner. Then soak the wool with alcohol, light it up, and voila’, the pre-heater for the Mini Trangia is up and running. Glass wool works pretty well as a wick. Fire seems to damage it a little bit, and it may be necessary to replace the wick after it has been used for couple of times, but the glass wool is very light weight, and the amount of it needed for the pre-heater is very very small, so, that should not become a problem. Pre-heating also requires some extra alcohol, but IMHO, 10-20 grams of additional weight per cooking session is a small price to pay for a nicely working winter cooker.

The pre-heater makes it very easy to light up the Mini Trangia in freezing temperature (it has been pretty warm lately, and I have been able to test the pre-heater in only -12.5 degrees, but I’ll update this page as soon as it gets cold). (Update: Test at -25 C, test at -32 C, Snow melting test ). Pre-heating also significantly reduces the cooking time; bringing 500 ml of +4 C water to boil in 0 to 10 C outdoors temperature usually takes anywhere between 11 to 16 minutes, depending whether the lid has been on, strength of the wind, and such. By using the home made pre-heater with some 15-20 ml of extra fuel, the boiling time can be reduced to less than 8 minutes in twelve degrees below freezing. In my opinion, that is pretty good performance for an unpressurized alcohol stove. And finally, a word of warning; when using the pre-heater, the flames can be rather high (30-40 cm), therefore, the pre-heating should not be used near any flammable objects.

More info about camping stoves:
Zen Backpacking Stoves

Classic arctic reindeer stew with potatoes and lingonberries

 

Traditionally, the reindeer stew was prepared in the deepest darkest Lapland, way above the arctic circle, by the toughest survivors, the Lapps, using frozen pieces of reindeer meat,fried in reindeer fat. The liquid part or the stew came from melted snow, and most probably, the only spice in the stew was salt. I find it hard to believe that the reindeer herding Lapps would have had any exotic spices, such as pimento (all spice) with them. I also doubt that potatoes or onions, not even mentioning milk and butter (essential parts of the mashed potatoes), played any significant part in the every day menu of the Lapps. Therefore, I believe that the the original, or the classic, or the genuine reindeer stew contains reindeer meat, reindeer fat, water, and salt. Add anything else, and you are probably mocking the tradition. However, if you go to any Scandinavian restaurant and order the reindeer stew, you will get mashed potatoes, lingonberry jam, and stew, which contains reindeer meat, water, and some, or all, of the following; onions, salt, pimento, black pepper, white pepper, beef bouillon, butter, oil, or even some herbs (Blasphemy!!), and every single one of those restaurants call their stew classic, traditional, genuine, original, or something like that. Shocking secret behind the “ancient, traditional, etc.” reindeer stew is that the best known, and appreciated recipe was, in fact, developed in the kitchen of hotel Pohjanhovi in Rovaniemi, Finland, less than 70 years ago.

Based on the text above, and the fact that I’m 1/64 Lapp :), I dare to call my reindeer stew as classic as any other reindeer stew. If you feel offended about that, feel free to call my reindeer stew anything you want. (I would suggest; “Slowfood survivalist’s intentional insult towards traditional cooking, minorities rights, historical facts, and anything decent.”)

But if you want to have a damn good dinner in the middle of nowhere, I recommend trying my recipe. The reindeer meat in the recipe can be replaced with the meat from deer, red deer, elk, moose, or any other four legged deer like creature, as well as the jam made out of freshly picked lingonberries can be replaced with commercial lingonberry or cranberry jam. Also, the potatoes can be substituted with some commercial dehydrated mashed potato product, but that, IMHO, ruins the taste of the stew.

If you have some more advanced cooking gear, and possibly some butter and cream/milk with you, and the aestheticity of the dish is important to you, prepare the stew and mashed potatoes separately.