Monday, October 8, 2012

Swedish Army Mess Kit - Review

This is the grand-daddy of old-school mess kits.  Yes, it's big and it's heavy; but, it's built like a tank and won't ever let you down.  This is not the kit to take if you are doing lightweight, solo hiking and planning on boil-only or simple meals (although you might take the Trangia/Svea stove that comes with this set).  However, for a shorter trip, where you want to cook some 'real' meals for two or more campers, then this might be the perfect choice.

These are vintage surplus military mess kits with a design dating back to WWII - they are tried and true under harsh conditions.  Older versions were constructed of stainless steel, while newer models are made of aluminum.  If you look online, you can find them for sale either used, or in some cases New Old Stock (NOS) for the aluminum versions.  I ordered my aluminum version from a military surplus in the UK (Military Mart) for around $25 (and $8 shipping); but I've seen them on ebay for less.  Mine was new, but showed signs of being in storage for a long time.

This mess kit is about the size of an large-ish primary school lunch box (10" x 6" x 4"), and weighs in at around 36 oz (2.25 lbs) with a few ounces of alcohol still in my fuel bottle.  This kit comes as a 5-piece set, including: a painted steel windscreen that everything nests inside; a 5 cup aluminum pot with a bail handle; a 2.5 cup aluminum pan/lid with a folding handle; a plastic alcohol fuel bottle (~8 oz); and the famous Trangia or Svea brass alcohol burner.

In use, the windscreen sits over the alcohol burner and it has integrated fold up pot stands to support either the pot or pan.  When using the pot, the pan can serve as a lid in either the upside down/cap orientation, or more typically nested on top like a double boiler.  The pot is huge, and can be used to cook for an army - not just boiling water, but cooking soups, stews, pasta, rice, you name it...including boil-in-bag meals.  Just recently, I cooked up some boil-in-bag spanish rice dinner and a separate foil pouch of salmon for two, then mixed it up in the pan.  The pot is also plenty deep to do some steam baking - you can fit 2-3 silicon muffin cups without problem.  The pan can also be used to boil water or cook up smaller volumes; and be used as a double boiler to warm sauce while boiling pasta/rice; or can be used as a plate/bowl.

My kit came with a Svea made, brass alcohol burner (some come with Trangia made burners, which are identical).  This legendary alcohol stove is worthy of a post unto itself (and many have been written) - many a backpacker swears by this stove, and I am no exception.  Anyone who is familiar with alcohol stoves, including soda-can/penny stoves, will know the simplicity of this burner with no moving parts.  This is an all brass stove of double wall design, with a threaded, leak-proof cap.  The stove is a hefty 6 oz on its own, but it is indestructible, efficient, and always reliable.  Alcohol is added to the main chamber of the burner, where it is wicked into the outer enclosed chamber - the stove can hold ~4 oz of alcohol when filled.  The beauty of this stove is that after use, any unused alcohol can be capped and stored in the stove for the next use.  The alcohol in the main chamber is lit to start the stove, and once warmed up for a minute or so (depending on the weather) the burner will 'bloom' flames through the surrounding low-pressure jets surrounding the rim, at which point it is ready to cook.  This kit is very efficient - it will boil 2-cups of water in about 5-7 minutes, and has a total burn time of up to 20+ minutes.  These military burners are larger and heavier gauge than the modern commercial Trangia versions, and in general are a little more efficient with fuel usage - but I find that they are slower to heat up and, because they do not have a simmer ring accessory like their modern versions, they are more difficult to regulate temperature for cooking and as such may not burn as long on a single fill up.

I love this mess kit for overnight and weekend backpacking trips when I'll be cooking for more than one; and the Svea stove is really the only burner that I regularly use with any mess kit.  I plan to purchase a modern mini Trangia stove with winter attachment and simmer ring as an upgrade - and when I do, then I'll post a comparison review.  I'll also write up a separate post regarding the correct care and feeding of the beloved Trangia/Svea burner.

Esbit Alcohol Burner & Trekking Cookset
An interesting, modern alternative to this beast of a mess kit, if you are looking for something a little smaller and lighter is the Esbit Alcohol Burner & Trekking Cookset.  The Esbit alcohol burner is an exact replica of the mini Trangia burner (the caps and simmer rings are even interchangeable); and the cookset includes a 4-cup anodized aluminum pot, 2-cup pan/lid, and nesting windscreen/stove stand.  It's less than 15 oz, comes with a mesh carry bag, and can be had for about $45.  Of course, it also burns Esbit solid-fuel tabs.  It's nice to have choices.

UPDATE: I recently obtained a new Trangia Mini 28-T Mess Kit to supplement my old favorite Army model...Read about it here.

1 comment:

  1. The Swedish Army stove are really as excellent as described - I was very lucky as when I bought my two I paid the extra £1 for stainless steel versions. A bit heavier admittedly, but they are truly bombproof compared to the aluminium version. Sadly these stainless steel ones seem to have all but disappeared, those offered now are 'collectors' items' and command silly prices. Definitely worth trying to spot a 'rogue' stainless one in a pile of aluminium ones if you can!