Friday, 8 October 2010
I have never trusted petrol camping stoves. One moment it is a practical domestic utensil: a millisecond later, people are running away from you shouting ‘Achtung, Flammenwaffen!’ while you try to extinguish your tent.
The answer, for once, is alcohol. The Scandinavians in particular like using alcohol stoves, which should blow away the argument that they are no good in the cold. One of the best stoves for the wilderness traveller is the Swedish Army Trangia. I guess the Swedes had been stockpiling these for when the cold war turned hot, and now they are readily available as unused surplus.
It consists of a Trangia brass meths burner that is slightly larger than the civilian version, an oval billy tin with a hanging bail and hook, a windshield, and a combined frying pan/lid that has a short handle with D-rings to allow the fitting of a wooden handle extension. You make this yourself from a handy branch, and it makes cooking over a fire much easier.
There is also a fuel bottle that looks dangerously like a hip flask, but this is intentional – in cold weather you carry the fuel close to your body so it will ignite easier. Just don’t confuse it with your ten year old Laphroaig.
Some sets include a traditional Scandinavian drinking cup or kuksa, although it’s made of olive plastic rather than birch burl – the Swedes may be traditionalists, but they are practical too. It all fits together with room for a lighter, spork and brew kit. The only downside is the weight – about 1.2kg all in.
Nevertheless, it is ideal for places like the UK, where a fire is not always safe, legal or feasible. Much as I like a campfire, I often choose not to have one if I cannot be sure of leaving no trace. Ordinary cooksets are useless for cooking over a fire – they have no hanging bail and short handles. The army Trangia is designed for wilderness cooking.
A petrolhead once told me that his stove would run on anything from Croatian brandy to napalm, and would boil a litre of water in four minutes. It did, but sounded like a jet engine while doing so. If you have to melt snow for water, the petrol stove probably has its place, and for fast-and-light mountain travel I use a Brasslite and titanium pot. For everything else, the slow, silent, dependable Trangia is hard to beat.