I kid you not, the new “it” stove these days for bike touring is the Trangia backpacking stove. When I was touring the West Coast two years ago, it was the Whisperlite International, but apparently that’s passé now.
Friends, Nick and Lindy, who are doing an extended tour of the West Coast this summer (see previous blog post about the Pedal Inn) introduced the stove to friends and I while doing a bike trip to China Camp this spring. It’s extremely lightweight, designed as a back packing stove by the Swedish. Clearly. The Swedish are awesome. Lindy forged an elaborate meal for 8 on this stove by the light of candles on our picnic table. First impression: spectacular.
Then my partner, Jude, suggested we purchase this stove for our couple month long bike tour in Europe. So that’s when the research really started. You have a couple different options. You could purchase a cheaper version like the Liberty Mountain Westwind which is just the stove no frills. The Trangia comes with fancy cookware, the windshield, and the base that provides additional stability. The choice that interested me most was the DIY option. I kept seeing instructionals for making your own, simply out of a pop can! Easy and cheap apparently. Do your research though, there are tons of different DIY instructions and Youtube videos out there.
During a mini bike tour to Mount Tamalpais last weekend, a friend, Vanessa, who had also been introduced to the Trangia by Nick and Lindy during the China Camp dinner, had already hunted down and was now ready to use her Trangia! So without experienced users around this is what we learned. Rubbing alcohol 70% is not the best fuel choice for this alcohol burning stove, it is hard to get lit and not as efficient. Also, to start the stove it is indicated to light something on fire like a piece of paper or leaf and drop it into the alcohol reserve of the stove, which did not work. The leaf kept getting snuffed out while submerging in the alcohol. Light the lighter or match directly to the alcohol source, this works the best, but be careful.
Then not an hour later, some new bike touring friends we met doing the Lake Del Valle ride (see previous blog post) showed up and of course our new crafty friend, Brad, had made his own alcohol burning stove long ago. He placed his stove in a cooking pan that was taller than the stove so that served as the stable base for cookware to sit atop. It worked great, and I was sufficiently inspired. The other interesting thing about this stove is that by nature of being an alcohol burning stove, any alcohol product will work as fuel. Rubbing alcohol, booze, etc. Brad shared that denatured alcohol was the best fuel option. Denatured alcohol is basically Everclear, (dust off your memory from college kids), the 151+ proof alcohol made for consumption plus poisonous chemicals. Why the poisonous chemicals you ask? Boozy alcohol’s prices and taxes (see Sin Tax under the denatured alcohol link I provided!) are regulated by public health policy, and supply and demand. So cheap ethanol, for the purpose of fuel, cannot be made available without the poisonous chemicals, otherwise it could be consumed as alcohol. Crazy right? Well I must be the crazy one, because most countries have very specific and strict regulations for the manufacture and sale of denatured alcohol.
So ultimately, Jude and I decided to get the MSR Whisperlite International for our trip because I’m just trying to catch up with the fads, but also because I have some critiques of the Trangia et al. The first being you can’t control the intensity of the flame, it burns at one setting essentially (the open flame from the alcohol on fire setting). The second is that you cannot reuse fuel that is left over in the stove at the end of your meal. And the third is that other manufactured stoves like the Whisperlite, with a spectrum of heat settings, can get hotter than the Trangia. Aka I want my food now not in a half hour (that’s an exaggeration). I, however, will be making this stove at some point in my life to use and show off my Macgyver skills, just not for the Europe bike tour. To offset these cons though is one more pro. This stove has actually been being made by backpackers for decades, and so has street cred embedded in it’s vintage throwback history, which is so popular these days. With all fads, this multi alcohol fuel burning stove has risen to the spotlight once again.
Last tip, carry your cooking oil in a platypus! It’s Brad’s genius again on that one, and that is relevant for any stove.