Thursday, January 20, 2022

Product Review: Spirit Burner Stove

Not actually Erin.
& is used with permission.

Because three people on Facebook expressed an interest in the results, I have reviewed what is called a Trangia Stove (because it was the first of its kind and now, like Xerox or Kleenex, it has become a generic term for its type) but is more properly called a spirit burner or alcohol stove. Like the name says, this is a small (2" high, 3" diameter), lightweight (5 ounces) brass stove which will burn any alcohol-based fuel, such as:
  • Denatured alcohol (aka methylated spirits)
  • Rubbing alcohol (aka surgical spirits)
  • Solvent alcohol (aka paint stripper)
Per the Trangia website, any fuel that is at least 70 % alcohol will work, with ethanol being the most efficient (but generating soot) whereas methanol burns cleaner but produces toxic fumes. Oil-based fuels should not be used; the reasons for this are unclear. 

WARNING! Never use gasoline or other petroleum based fuels in a spirit burning stove! 
This will produce thick smoke and toxic fumes, and will contaminate any food you are cooking or water you are heating. It may also result in serious injury!

For this test I used 4 ounces (2/3 of the stove's capacity) of Klean-Strip Denatured Alcohol and I placed the stove inside my Firebox Nano for stability and to provide a cooking surface. 

It's worth noting that spirit burners are very susceptible to wind, so it is advisable to have some form of wind screen for them; I decided that there was no functional difference between performing these tests on my porch with a windscreen and indoors, so these tests were done within the comfort of my kitchen under a stove vent. 

4 ounces of fuel inside the burner inside the Nano.

Again, the tests are: 
  1. How easy is it to light and keep fed, using natural materials. 
  2. How quickly it will bring 16 ounces of water to boil in a steel mug. 
  3. How quickly it will bring 24 ounces of water to boil in an uncovered aluminum pot.
  4. How quickly it will cook a single egg on an aluminum skillet. 
First Impressions
The Trangia spirit burner is, dare I say it, cute. It's small and lightweight, made of brass, and has a screw-on lid with a gasket and a simmer ring/flame snuffer that fits over the top. I would not recommend storing fuel inside the burner, as the stove has an un-soldered seam where the bottom meets the top and fuel will leak from there if stored in a pack. The gasketed lid is mainly a convenience so that residual drops will not leak into your pack and to prevent evaporation and spillage between cooking sessions. 

There was no need to keep the stove fed, as it burned steadily throughout without needing a refill. See the conclusion for how much of the 4 ounces of fuel were left after all tests were completed. 

Test 1: Fire Starting
Just for fun, I tried to light the alcohol using a sparker; it didn't work, but perhaps I was worried about getting too close. I then used an open flame, and the fuel lit immediately. 

Something which is interesting about spirit burners is that they take some time to "bloom". It's easier to explain with pictures than with words. This is immediately after ignition:

It's easier to see with the lights out:


It can take between a few seconds to a minute to bloom, depending upon such things as fuel purity, whether or not the wick is dry, and so forth. 

Wick? Oh yes. The Trangia is a double-walled design, and there's a cotton wick in between those walls which carries fuel up to burn holes. When they ignite, usually with a "whoomp" sound, the flame has bloomed. 


Much like the Nano, this is a cooking stove with a focused flame, so don't expect it to warm you up unless you drink the water it's boiled. Speaking of which...

Test 2: Cup Boil
Nothing unusual to report here; the burner boiled 16 ounces of cold tap water in 8:30, with nearly all of the flames along the bottom and very little going up the sides. The Nano, in comparison, only took 6:30 but sooted up the entire exterior of my cup. 

I extinguished the flames before the next test. This is how much fuel was left:

Test 3: Pot Boil
This test surprised me: whereas the Nano took 11 minutes to boil 24 ounces of water, the Trangia did it in 10. While I can speculate as to how this happened -- perhaps I didn't feed the Nano properly, or perhaps the Trangia was 'primed' from having already boiled the cup -- I don't truly know the answer. 

Other than that, I have nothing to report. I again extinguished the flames before the final test. 

Test 4: Egg Cooking
The Trangia cooked an egg in 2:00, exactly the same amount of time that the Nano took. Again, I am mystified. 

This is the fuel left after cooking:

After the burner had cooled, I poured the fuel into the same measuring glass that I used to measure out exactly 4 ounces of alcohol. This is what remained:

As you can see, a combined burn time of 20 minutes 30 seconds used just a bit over 2 ounces of fuel. Interestingly enough, a stereotypical hip flask, which is designed to keep alcohol from leaking despite repeated jostling, holds 8 ounces. At an estimated burn rate of 10 minutes per ounce, a flask of fuel would give you 80 minutes of burn time -- a very solid return for your investment of money and weight.

As a point of interest, the fuel was clear when I first poured it. Knowing this, you probably don't want to pour old fuel back into your flask. Now that you know the burn time, you can be precise with how much you pour. 

My Rating: A+
This is a solidly-performing piece of kit that is efficient, lightweight, and very reasonably priced. Its biggest drawback is that you have to carry fuel for it, but a spirit burner more than makes up for it by being incredibly easy to light and having an even burn rate. I pack it in my GHB alongside my Firebox Nano, and my plan is to use the Nano when conditions are good and use the spirit burner when conditions are poor (it's raining, I cannot find fuel, or I need something hot to drink immediately). 

In addition to having a fuel flask, I recommend having a small measuring cup. Not only will this allow you to precisely measure and pour the fuel you need, but it will also make refilling your fuel flask easier. This 2 oz mini-cup is made of Tritan, the same as most sport water bottles, and costs only $6.

The original Trangia stove can be purchased for $18.50, or you can spend a little less and get knockoff version which comes with a cooking stand and a simmer-ring that has a fold-out handle.

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