Wednesday, 1 April 2020

Trangia 27-1: Worship the Living Flame

Let's have a look at the Trangia 27-1, a portable camping cooker made of space-age aluminium, or at least it was space-age in the 1920s, except that there wasn't a space age in the 1920s because no-one had been to space yet.

Not that we know of, anyway. It's conceivable that someone standing on top of Krakatoa when it erupted in 1883 might have been blasted out of the atmosphere, but they wouldn't have survived the journey unless they were encased in a block of stone, in which case they wouldn't have survived very long in space. At the end of 2019 I decided I would do some camping and hiking, because there's a first time for everything and I'm not getting any younger.

And the countryside will always be there. International air travel will always be there. What could possibly go wrong? So I bought a bunch of camping gear, some dried food, a load of compressed toilet paper, powdered soup, powdered lemonade, water purification tablets, other stuff. My plan was to test it out to see what was worth taking, and thus by a quirk of fate I ended up with a stockpile of food and compressed toilet paper just as Britain was hit by a viral pandemic. Did it save me from rioting mobs of bandits? Sadly not, but luckily I found an unguarded terminal that still has an internet connection, so here we are.

That was the plot of a sci-fi short story I once read. The forcefield. It was Great Lost Discoveries 1-3 by Fredric Brown. In the story a man invents an impregnable personal force field; he decides to test it out by standing on top of an atomic bomb; he survives, but he's blown into space, where he suffocates and falls into the sun.

Fresh from the box it's all shiny and new, but it doesn't remain shiny and new for very long. It's a lot like people in that respect. Expose them to fire, they lose their lustre.

What were the others? Man invents invisibility; tries to sneak into harem; finds that invisibility is no use in the dark. Man invents immortality serum; becomes ill with incurable disease; takes serum just before he falls into a coma; doctors realise that he's going to remain in a coma forever, so they just bury him. I think the lesson is that if someone offers to make you the star of a short sci-fi story, you should decline.

Trangia has made Trangias since the 1920s. The classic Trangia burns alcohol, although there are adapters that allow the use of pressurised gas and petroleum-based fuels. Methylated spirits work well, but I have also tried alcoholic hand sanitising gel, which doesn't smell as bad when it burns. The important thing is that it should be more than 60% alcohol.

Hand sanitiser is particularly useful because you can take it in airline hand luggage. 100ml is enough for a few cups of tea and some soup, although ironically the viral pandemic means that it's now easier to get hold of meths.

The set comes with the base, the windbreak, the gas burner, two pots, a pan, and a claw for holding pans. There's enough space inside the stove for some extras - in this picture I have packed water purification tablets, tent guy ropes, a third-party gas burner, some MRE beverage bags, and (underneath it all) a sponge.

The Trangia is available in two sizes. 27 for one or two people, 25 for two or three, and also with different finishes; the pots and pan are available in plain aluminium and non-stick, and for a while they were made in titanium.

There are other options. The hexy stove pictured above is impractical for international travel because airlines won't carry hexy tablets. A simple screw-on gas canister burner claw is smaller than a Trangia, but you still have to buy a couple of pots and a windbreak. I opted for the Trangia because it comes as a set and it's a conversation starter.

Counter-clockwise from bottom-right there's the alcohol burner, the simmering ring - you use it to control the heat output and also put out the burner - and the cap, which has a rubber seal so that you can carry the burner with fuel inside. Bear in mind that the burner gets very hot, which won't do wonders for the rubber, and also that airlines will not be happy if you try to carry a meths-filled burner anywhere in your luggage.

The gas burner hose passes through a hole in the base unit. Older Trangia stoves don't have this hole, so you'll need to cut one yourself (or elevate the stove somehow).

Voila, the assembled stove. The windshield has claws that fold inwards to carry the pots.

The claws fold outwards to carry the pan. It's worth buying a thicker, non-stick pan. This is what happens if you don't use the simmering ring - the flame is so hot that it burns the outside of the food before the inside has a chance to cook, at which point the oil catches fire.

A third-party kettle. Trangia also sells their own kettle, and a larger pot, and a bunch of accessories, but this kettle stood out because I like the colour orange.

Of course you can just eat cold food, but I wanted a way to generate hot water so that I could wash my feet, at the very least, and from there it made sense to bring along a cooker. Other options include Swedish SVEA stoves, which burn lantern fuel, and Kelly-style vertical kettles, which burn wooden detritus that you find lying around the forest floor.

Willem Dafoe was born William Dafoe; he adopted Willem as a stage name because his dad was called William and he wanted to be slightly different.

How does the Trangia work? Let's make a cup of tea. Bear in mind that all of the aforementioned stoves are intended for outdoors use. They give off a lot of smoke and noxious fumes. For this blog post I opened all the windows and doors, and on one occasion I ran outside and shouted "IT WAS THE OFFICIAL SHIP'S DOG" because that's what it was. It was the "off. dog".

That was the twist. There was a misprint and all the people on the spaceship thought they had lost the offog, but there was no offog, it was the official ship's dog. It's good that I can still remember all this. It means that the fumes didn't affect my mental well-being.

It's vitally important that you use alcohol fuel. Alcohol, ethanol, rodsprit, "denat". If you use petrol or kerosene it'll either explode or you'll have a massive sooty flame that burns out quickly.

Lighting the burner is awkward if you have the windshield up because you have to reach in from the top. The flame is hard to see in daylight at first so be careful not to burn your hands.

After a short while flames start to emerge from the little holes surrounding the opening. I haven't done any scientific tests, but apparently if you add a bit of water the flame is less sooty.

Putting it out at the end is a fine art. The design of the burner is such that simply pressing a pot against the top of the burner doesn't put it out - you have to throw the simmering ring on top of it without burning your hand, which involves a bit of luck. If the simmering ring is already attached to the burner you have to somehow push the disk shut.

The end result. Tea. If I was actually camping I would use coffee, because it doesn't leave behind teabags.

Teabags have plastic in them, see. As a consequence I have a stockpile of three-in-one coffee sachets, which again I bought before the pandemic and now can't resupply because Amazon has run out. The procedure for rice, boiled eggs, soup, porridge etc is similar, but I also have this:

It's a home-made pot cosy, fashioned from some aluminium insulation and duct tape. It's particularly useful for rice. After boiling the rice I carefully shove the pot into the cosy - again taking care not to burn myself, because aluminium conducts heat like a mutha - and let it continue to simmer. This saves fuel. A chap in the UK sells these things for £5.99 or so, with a clasp so that the open end closes up, but I had some aluminium insulation lying about.

The official Trangia 27 kettle is tiny, small enough to fit inside one of the pots.

It has enough space to carry the burner and some accessories.

Officially the capacity is 600ml, but you'd have to fill it dangerously high. It's enough for two cups of coffee.

And that's the Trangia. It feels surprisingly robust for something so lightweight, so it should hopefully outlast the current viral pandemic. Right now I could murder a plate of fish and chips, or at least hold it captive in my basement dungeon. I would hold it captive and feed it salt and vinegar. I would command it to rub tartare sauce all over its body and threaten to squirt lemon juice over it if it refused.