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Swedish Mess Kit: a Review and fuel test

Discussion in 'Wilderness & Survival Skills' started by Preacher Man, Mar 19, 2008.

  1. Preacher Man

    Preacher Man Moderator Moderator

    Jan 28, 2005
    Lately I’ve been considering a Trangia style alcohol stove as a compact, quick, and convenient way to insure a hot meal/drink for my family (specially my kids) in an emergency. For camping or in an emergency at home (power disruption), a butane or dual fuel stove is probably the best option. But one of the issues in survival/emergency preparedness and having a survival minded perspective is keeping at hand the basic tools and equipment needed to deal with a survival/emergency situation.

    IMO a Trangia style stove would work well for a small BOB or a car kit. They are small, light, and the fuel alternatives are readily available. One of the problems with alcohol stoves is that alcohol produces only about half the heat of butane or white gas, which translates in longer cooking times. I decided to test it and see for my self if the heat production issue outweighs the portability benefits.

    I bought a used Swedish mess kit from the local Omaha’s for $9.95.

    Its stove-holder/windshield design allows it to cook using the provided Svea alcohol stove, but it can also be used by burning paper, sticks, acorns, and other small natural materials. Supposedly, the Trangia stove uses fuel more efficiently than the Svea, but how more efficiently is something I don’t know.

    This mess kit has a hangable 5 cups pot, a 2 ½ cups small pot that doubles as a frying pan, alcohol stove, windshield/stove holder, and a fuel bottle. The pots seems to be aluminum whille the stove-holder/windshield seem to be steel. All the pieces feel sturdy and well made. The small pot/frying pan's handle has 2 D-rings to insert a stick as a handle extention. The handle also has a rectamgular hole which fits on a protruding section of the large pot. When closed, this serves as a lock, keeping the mess kit and its content secured. The whole thing weights about a pound and the pieces fit within each other forming a closed container with internal space for additional items inside.

    The stove and fuel bottle can be carried inside the mess kit, but I would first store them in sealable plastic bags since the most effective fuels for this stove (denatured alcohol and Methyl Alcohol [methanol]) are poisonous. I wouldn’t want to risk contaminating my cooking implements with a poisonous substance. The stove will also work (but less effectively) with other forms of alcohol like isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol), Whiskey, Rum, and others (even a non-drinker knows that there are better uses for Rum and Whiskey, but we are taking about a hypothetical emergency here :;)).

    If you store the stove and fuel bottle separately, there is enough space in the mess kit for a 2 serves freeze dried meal, a 1 serve freeze dried desert, and several envelopes of instant oatmeal, hot cocoa, and coffee. This makes the 2 ½ cups pot specially useful since most 2 serves freeze dried meals require 2 cups of boiling water to be re-hydrated. This pot has the Svea manufacturer seal on the inside of the pot opposite to the handle, making the seal impossible to miss. Filling the pot with water just over the Svea seal will give you exactly 2 cups.

    I tried the stove with two different fuels, Denatured alcohol, and Methyl alcohol (Methanol) to determine if any helped to improve the stove’s efficiency. Denatured alcohol is used as a paint remover and is easily accessible in hardware stores. The easiest and most convenient way to get methanol for this stove is found in the Automotive section at Walmart. The product is called Heet, (don't confuse it with Iso-Heet) and is a fuel line de-icer and water remover which is (as I understand) 100% methanol. Heet comes in a 12 oz. bottle, which is perfect because the fuel bottle provided with the mess kit holds 10 oz., leaving the remaining 2 oz. to be stored in the stove itself (the stove’s cap has an O-ring which seals the stove and allows it to be carried full with a capacity of 3 oz.). Walmart has the cheapest price I’ve found for this product at $1.29.

    I used 2 oz. of each fuel and measured the time it took to take 2 cups of water to a boil, to a roaring boil and to fry an egg. My interest in reaching a roaring boil is that although you can re-hydrate freeze dried food with just a boil, it takes 10 minutes of roaring boil to purify water. After each task I cooled the pot in the kitchen sink with running water to make sure that the pre-heated pot was not a factor for the next task.

    Both fuels performed similarly, with methanol giving slightly better times and burning hotter. I kept the stove burning during the whole process for each fuel to see if 2 oz. would be enough for several continuous tasks. That amount turned out to be more than enough.

    First, I started the stove and observed how quickly the fuel started to burn “right.” Alcohol stoves have to “warm up” before they start working efficiently. Methanol started to burn “right” almost 50 seconds faster than denature alcohol. This could have been the result of using a used stove. I used denatured alcohol first and that first burn could have cleaned deposits left on the stove. Alcohol burns clean, but some people use other fuels in alcohol stoves which don’t burn as clean, and I don't know what was used in this stove before I got it. That been said, methanol’s better starting time is more likely the result of it burning hotter than denatured alcohol as I latter saw when frying the eggs.

    Denature alcohol started to boil the 2 cups of water at 5.30 minutes and took it to a roaring boil in 7.40 minutes while methanol took 5.02 minutes to start the boil and 7.10 for a roaring boil.

    For frying the egg, I prepared the small pot/frying pan with non-stick spray and butter (I was planning to eat the eggs, so I might as well prepare them the way I like them :D). Unlike the Trangia stove, which has a simmer ring (allows you to control the intensity of the stove), the Svea stove only burns on “high.” I thought that would be a big problem for frying, but I was wrong. Denatured alcohol took 3.20 minutes to fry the egg (fully cooked yolk) and it seemed like the egg was in no danger of getting burned. Methanol took 3.04 seconds to fry the egg, by which time the egg was starting to show that if left unattended, it would get burned. This shows that methanol burns hotter that denatured alcohol.

    IMO the portability and convenience of alcohol stoves (and the Swedish mess kit in general) far outweighs its slower cooking times. You could get even better performance using methanol with a Trangia stove instead of the Svea. From now on I’ll have one in my BOB and my car kit together with a gallon of distilled water so in case of a breakdown, the kids (and the wife who gets edgy when hungry) will have something warm to eat and drink while waiting for the tow truck.
  2. Ravaillac


    Feb 14, 2005
    I have one:

    * good as a billy can
    * can and pan fit together well
    * billy can is quite light considering volume
    * strong suspension
    * large volume allow to carry meal/cup/flatware/fuel bottle/towel inside
    * volume is quite optimal
    * inexpensive
    * general fit and finish is OK

    I'm mitigated about top hook: it is quite convenient to hang pot but it is noisy, will scratch stuff inside the bag, generally happen to slide at the bad moment... Overall you're probably better without it.

    * burner's too weak: okay to heat MRE but too weak to effeciently boil water for purification or pastas/rice...
    * wind shield is quite convenient but far too heavy
    * frying pan handle is needlessly strong and too heavy
    * fuel bottle dimensions are quite convenient but bottle neck isn't well designed, hard not to waste fuel when filling burner.
    * burner is needlessly heavy and non adjustable.
    * it's aluminium (I hate the feel on skin)

    In short, the billy can is light weight, quite robust, perfect volume for outdoors imho. It is great for price.
    As for the heating part, windshield is far too heavy for backpacking. Burner is a bit too heavy but could easily be replaced by some more convenient after market one, but generally speaking alcohol stove seem Ok for heating meal, or a cup of coffee, but don't expect to boil much water.
  3. akennedy73


    May 5, 2006
    Awesome review - thanks for posting it! :thumbup:
  4. IH8U


    Mar 6, 2007
    I just bought one of those over the weekend too. I found it to be a good, solid product, but I agree about the overall dimensions and weight can be reduced. I used isopropyl alcohol for my test and got a rolling boil in 6.5 minutes. It worked flawlessly on a nice windy spring day. I like the hook for hanging over a fire and the ability to add a stick handle to the frying pan/lid. I give it 8 out of 10 points for overall usefulness and effectiveness.
  5. Ravaillac


    Feb 14, 2005
  6. Return of the J.D.

    Return of the J.D.

    Nov 29, 2005
    www.sportsmansguide.com recently had a deal where they were selling something like 6 or 8 of the kits (I think it was maybe 6 full kits, plus a few extra windscreens) for $20, or something like that. It's hard to beat getting complete kits for $5 or less apiece. I can't find the deal on their website anymore, so I'm figuring they've sold out, at least for now. Try checking back later, maybe.

    I agree on the good suspension. Also, I have to admit that they're slow to boil water.

    I think I've seen them in steel, too.

    The hook can be folded in to the space between the windscreen and the pot for packing purposes, so it doesn't snag.

    The kit overall is kind of bulky. You can use the space for food. In my case, I've set them up as full-fledged outdoor kitchen kits, putting into each one a fork/knife/spoon set, a plastic dish scrubber, a plastic spatula with the handle cut down to allow it to fit, and a lighter and firesteel. Another bulk-related issue is that the weird oval shape may not be the best for fitting into your other gear.

    The burners are much more compact. For light hiking, consider ditching some or all of the other components, and, say, using 3 rocks in place of a windscreen. Also, if you put two of the burners in your kit, you can swap out one burner when the other runs out of fuel, for continuous heating.

    One downside to alcohol flames: they are almost invisible under some conditions, especially where there's plenty of daylight. This makes it possible to mistake a burning stove for one that's out. Anyone who might use your stove needs to be made aware of this--lest, for instance, they be tempted to add fuel to a supposedly-extinguished burner, causing a large flash fire. Get used to using a blade of dried grass, or something like that, to see if the fire is still going.

    I do not put too much trust in the O rings in the lids to the burners. These can get compromised, especially by heat--something that happens when people use the lid to smother the flame. One set that I bought from Sportsman's Guide came with a bad O ring, probably melted in just that way. Obviously, you wouldn't want to try keeping methanol, either in denatured-ethanol for or in pure form, in anything that might leak into your other stuff or onto you or your friends. (Sportsman's Guide was kind enough to send a replacement, without even requiring me to return the original. As an added bonus, their concept of "replacement" was an entire new set, which I think at that time was a set of 2 or 4 or something like that. Generous guys, Sportsman's Guide, sometimes.)

    For the fuel, I use denatured alcohol in some kits, and less-toxic (but more expensive, due to liquor tax) Everclear 100% ethanol for kits that I keep in places where long-term evaporation of the fumes might be an issue--like in the van where my kids ride.

    Whiskey or rum for stove fuel--probably wouldn't work well, as 80 proof = 40%, and it wouldn't take a long burn to exhaust the actual ethanol and leave you with hot, flavored water with too low an alcohol content to sustain combustion. High-proof vodka, and maybe 151 proof rum, would likely be exceptions.
  7. Preacher Man

    Preacher Man Moderator Moderator

    Jan 28, 2005
    Thanks for the comments guys. Most of the issues relating to size, shape and weight are very important for hiking and backpacking. I agree that for hiking, a minimalist approach would be better. There are other Trangia products (mess kits that include the stove) geared to hikers which are lighter and make better use of space. Those are directed at the lone hiker, and I'm looking for something I can use to feed my family. My main concern is the usefulness of the mess kit for a BOB or a car kit.

    For a BOB, setting the mess kit like J.D. describes makes sense. I think I'll set up mine that way. For the car kit, though, the scenario I envisioned is a breakdown late at night with the family and having to wait a few hours for a tow truck. For that I see it as a 1 time setting for 1 meal, 1 breakfast, and a few hot drinks.

    What prompt me to test the stove was conflicting comments on their usefulness. Some picture alcohol stoves as only useful for boiling water, and doing that inefficiently. Others speak of preparing omelets and cooking pasta. Besides having it on the car kit, I wanted to find out for myself if this mess kit is worth having around in the BOB. That's why I wanted to test frying and not only boiling. Next I'll try to make macaroni and cheese with 3 oz. of fuel (to check if I don't have to re-fuel for full pasta cooking time). If that works, I'll try spaghetti.
  8. Preacher Man

    Preacher Man Moderator Moderator

    Jan 28, 2005
    Well, I had Macaroni and cheese for lunch today. Used 3 oz. of Denatured alcohol as fuel. I wanted to see it that would be enough for the job, or if I would have to re-fuel at some time. Turns out that 3oz. were enough to prepare the macaroni and maybe another short task, like frying a couple of eggs.

    Taking 5 cups of water to a rolling boil took 12.45 minutes. I added a 14 oz. box of Kraft Deluxe macaroni and cheese (the kind with pre-prepared cheese in a pouch). That makes enough macaroni and cheese for 2 adults and 2 children. Cooking the macaroni took 12 minutes, but since I like it a little softer; I cooked it 1 extra minute. I found out that you can loose less water during cooking if you use the small pot/frying pan as a lid over the large pot. Just place it in an angle to let a little steam escape. That same setup can be used to strain the water once you are done.

    The small pot/frying pan has a handle, but the large pot has a hanging handle. That makes it a little difficult to strain the water while the pots are hot. I experimented with the large pot handle and realized that if you hook the handle's hanging hook through the large pots protrusion (the rectangular protruding section used to lock the whole mess kit together) you end up with a solid handle for the large pot.

    Well, now I know for sure that alcohol stoves will cook and do so well, in spite of some online comments stating that alcohol stoves are only good for boiling water. Next stop, spaghetti.
  9. Return of the J.D.

    Return of the J.D.

    Nov 29, 2005
    Thanks, Preacher Man! (Curious: really a man of the cloth, or did you come by that handle some other way? Studied for the ministry myself for some years, hence the curiosity.)

    My experimentation with these stoves came about after some of Sportsman's Guide's sales coincided with an exceptionally-hot summer and a desire to keep skyrocketing air conditioning bills down. I thus used the stoves several times to do our cooking out on the patio, avoiding having to pay for electricity to cool the house down at the same time that we were paying for electricity to heat our food up.

    I found that I could pretty much cook a complete meal on a single fill-up of the burner, at least if I really filled the burner up. (Sometimes it takes many seconds for the alcohol to settle down into the burner, and you may need to "fill" it 3 or more times to get it really full.) You can fit quite a lot of eggs into those pots, and that's instant, cheap protein for the family, probably with leftovers, right there. I also fried eggs in the pan, and cooked ramen noodles galore. Not bad. The lack of non-stick coating inside the pan led me quickly to include the cut-down spatula and plastic scrubbing thing in each kit. (FWIW, I made sure the scrubber was of a wide-mesh, easily-cleaned, totally-plastic kind; a healthy respect for bears, and a visit by three of them to my campsite many years back, have led me to take VERY seriously the practice of not having food-smelling things scattered at random throughout one's pack--hence my desire to keep from having food particles in a sponge, or in my cooking gear, drawing the curiosity of the local bruin contingent.)

    I'll have to try out your trick of using the hook to anchor the handle of the pot. I'm not sure I can visualize exactly what you mean, but I'll have a look when I get home.

    Good observation about boiling better, and retaining heat better, if you keep the pan/lid on top of the pot when it's going. I'd noticed a big difference there, too.

    As IH8U noted, you can wedge a stick into the two little "D"-type that fold down flat into the frying-pan handle, for an extended handle. Clever, those designers.

    You rightly note that there is a lot of volume in those pots. It is kind of surprising--I think I've had no problem boiling 9 eggs or so in the things. Should handle a family of four (which I'm gathering is your situation) easily. In my case, I've got seven (if you count my wife, eating for two with baby on board, as two), and though all but me are pretty small, I've been having to re-think my outdoor cooking equipment rather radically. Happily, the Swedish kit seems still to work. When the family outgrows the use of one such kit--well, first of all, the kits were cheap enough from Sportsman's Guide that I bought more than one for each family member, so I'll just give each kid his or her own. In addition, there is no need to feel bound by the "issue" setup of your kit. One very viable option would be to put TWO burners into your kit, which would let you have one burner cooling down and being refilled while your other burner was heating food. You could keep them going indefinitely that way.

    Oh, one more trick, while it's on my mind: I've found I can extinguish the flame in the burner by putting the frying pan upside-down on top of it. You might or might not be able to shut off the air entirely by just putting the bottom of the pan down directly on top of the burner; I forget if the location of the vent holes is such that that would cut off oxygen entirely.
  10. zman308


    Sep 3, 2007
    Great report, especially about the use of methanol easily found in any automotive department or in the paint department in quarts or gallons. Isopropyl burns with more soot and some brands in stores are about 70% so it produces less heat. Ethanol or denatured alcohol is also a good clean burning choice and produces less toxic fumes. It is more expensive and harder to find. I have bought many of these and given them as gifts to all my kids, nephews and friends. They are great to carry in the car in case of an emergency
  11. Preacher Man

    Preacher Man Moderator Moderator

    Jan 28, 2005
    Actually, I'm a Baptist Minister, hence the handle. Where did you study for the ministry? Are you active in any form of ministry? Hope I’m not been intrusive in asking. BTW, congratulations on the baby.

    This is my first experience with this type of stove, so I'm still learning. I had read that this stove had a 3 oz. capacity, which at first seems to be true. But I notice, just kike you said, that the fuel is absorbed by the material inside the stove. I'll try to fill it to capacity next time to see how much it will hold.

    Having two burners is a good idea. I think I'll go that rout. So is extinguishing the stove with the bottom of the frying pan. I've been using a 2 X 4, which I won’t have available on the field.

    The one thing I'm not sure if I'm doing right is starting the stove. I light the alcohol in the center reservoir, and slowly the flames start appearing from the burners. Somehow I think that's the wrong way to do it, because there is so much alcohol lost before the burners go off.
  12. Preacher Man

    Preacher Man Moderator Moderator

    Jan 28, 2005
    That's exactly what got me interested in this mess kit in the first place, although I''m starting to realize they they can be quite usefull at home too.
  13. Preacher Man

    Preacher Man Moderator Moderator

    Jan 28, 2005
    This is what I meant. (Sorry for the crude drawing).

    Attached Files:

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