Every week I sit with the design team at Nulogy to run a critique session on their work but I have since started a new tradition of icebreaker questions for the team to improve shared understanding at the personal level and team safety in general.
One of the questions I asked was tell me object that you truly appreciate in good design. Now there are obvious things that come to mind, like the Lego brick, but I surprised my team when I spoke about a passion that I had developed for a line of vintage camping stoves made by the Swedish company Trangia. In particular, their line of weather proof Storm Cookers.
The Trangia series of camping stoves are built around a very elegant and simple alcohol burner made of brass–a design that was originally released to market in 1951.1You can find the entire Trangia historical timeline at the main Trangia corporate site. The burner and cooker system itself has seen some modifications during that time, but it’s more less the same. As an example, below is an image of a vintage burner from the late-1970s and one of modern manufacture. The only real difference is that the simmer ring design and lack of lower indent for a pre-heating plate (to be used in sub-zero temperatures). Otherwise, the system has a remarkable amount of backwards compatibility and functionally similar.
The brass burner allows for storage and relatively easy recovery of alcohol (in this case Methyl Hydrate or Methanol). The actual “Storm Cooker” is a nested cooking system that form an integrated base for the burner and windshield with the included pots and frying pan. It is stable and windproof with the frying pan becoming the pot lid. More modern models and accessories allow the system to accept solid fuel tablets (Esbit / hexamine) and even pressurized gas burners (isobutane or white fuel).
It’s a time-tested design and it works beautifully. This year, I finally had the opportunity to use the Trangia 25 (larger edition) backpacking with the family for 4 nights in Algonquin Park off the shores of lake Guskewau. We had huge wind coming off the lake, a constan 25-30km wind at times and the Trangia was rock solid, stable and effectively wind proof. We also had two bouts of torrential rain during the trip, but the Trangia was a champ. I cooked for all four of us. This was in stark contrast with my brother’s MSR Simmerlite, which was knocked over several times and due to a bad windshield placement, burned up nearly half their fuel trying to boil water for ramen noodles in one sitting. (The MSR otherwise performed really well, boiling > 1L water in 3-5 minute vs. 10+ minutes for the Trangia).
I have to thank my sister-in-law’s aunt and uncle who gifted us the unused Trangia 25 back during Christmas of 2018. They had gotten it for camping but it was never used. The pots were missing, but the original “Fluon” non-stick pan, kettle, burner, base and windshied, ARNO strap and pot holders remained. “Fluon” is an old term for Teflon. I brought the alcohol burner to our Algonquin backpacking trip in 2019 and was impressed enough to add the missing pots back to the Trangia 25.
The thing was more a curiosity, but the more I researched the cooking system, the more fascinated I became with how timeless the system was. It spoke to me because I appreciate as a designer, how usable the system is. It is dead simple to assemble with its nesting base, windscreen and pots. The burner uses alcohol, a relatively safe and stable fuel that is purchasable from any hardware store.2In this particular case, I was using 99% Methyl Hydrate (Methanol) which is quite toxic if ingested or if absorbed through your skin. I have moved over to Denatured Alcohol (an 85:15 split between Ethanol and Methanol) and have since found a source 99:1 Ethanol and Isopropanol You can boil water, simmer foods and fry with it. The base is rock solid, difficult to tip over and built for inclement weather. Kids in Europe are often introduced to the Trangia when they are camping when young. The fact that the Trangia cooking system is virtually unchanged is a testament to its solid design and engineering.
I hadn’t even used the cooking system yet, but I completed the system by purchasing additional hard anodized pots, a new simmer ring, a backup isobutane burner, a pan stand, a disc accessory and travel bag. A month after completing the Trangia 25, I bought a previously owned, more portable, 2-person model (Trangia 27-5 UL) cooking system. This trip to Algonquin Park was the first time I’ve been able to use either of the cook sets. (I still haven’t used the Trangia 27 officially, but I’ve kitted it out with all the things necessary, in addition to solid fuel/alcohol gel plate).
The Trangia Storm Cookers are not perfect. There are lighter, more compact systems available, for sure. There are higher performing alcohol stoves that burn hotter (faster boil times) or burn more efficiently, using less fuel. However, the Trangia burner still performs well relative to newer innovations and offers the ability to store unused fuel and provides a simple means to simmer your food. It’s really the best system out there if you want to “cook” your food as opposed to just boiling your water.
When combined with the rest of the cooking system, I haven’t really found anything as well integrated and as easy to use. There are some candidates that I may explore like the Clikstand from Ursa Designs. The other alternative that I’ve found is the Firebox Nano. The nano is an innovative twig-biomass stove design that can be used with at Trangia alcohol burner. Coincidentally, both of those systems are intentionally built around the same Trangia alcohol burner that I have much love for. I also think that of the alternatives I’ve mentioned, they are better suited for solo pursuits (like bike packing). The Clikstand seems to be made in mind of providing a system that is as stable as a Storm Cooker, nearly as wind proof, but is lighter and more compact. The Firebox Nano is aimed as a twig stove first, stove stand for the Trangia second.
I probably wouldn’t use the Trangia cook set for solo camping based on weight, but I haven’t really found a system that is as well integrated as the Trangia.
- Stable base
- Wind and rain proof
- A complete, nested cooking system for up to 4-people (Trangia 25) or up to 2 people (Trangia 27)
- Virtually silent
- Fool-proof (it just works)
- Can simmer food
- Alcohol is a relatively safe fuel
- Weight3My setups are not optimized for weight. They include sponge, camp soap, fire striker with additional magnesium bar, each has a Trangia disc accessory, pack towels, etc. The older Trangia 25 uses a heavier and thicker aluminum gauge common in older cookers.
- My Trangia 25 setup weighs 1.3 kg, fully loaded
- My Trangia 27 setup weights 900 g, fully loaded
- Slower cook times with alcohol
- Weight of alcohol fuel over multi-day trip can be an issue
- Kids are sick of my praise for the Trangia