Magazine article Geographical

Stoves: Essential Gear. Napoleon Once Said That an Army Marches on Its Stomach; the Same Could Be Said of Your Average Trekker; This Month, Paul Deegan, Looks at the Cooking Options Available to Hungry Expeditioners

Magazine article Geographical

Stoves: Essential Gear. Napoleon Once Said That an Army Marches on Its Stomach; the Same Could Be Said of Your Average Trekker; This Month, Paul Deegan, Looks at the Cooking Options Available to Hungry Expeditioners

Article excerpt

I spent the spring of 1995 on an expedition to Mount Everest. One evening, the stove was proving difficult to light in the tent's porch as freight-train winds roared over our perch on the North Col. We reluctantly dragged the stove inside so that it could be fired up in the centre of the tent. This was clearly dangerous--fire and nylon don't mix well--but without anything to drink, dehydration would soon set in and, at 7,000 metres, we would then have a different order of chaos with which to contend.

The stove was duly ignited and we settled back into the corners of the tent. A few minutes later, the burner roared like an angry lion and belched four great tongues of flame that shot out between us and licked the tent's walls. Before anyone could react, the flames retreated into the burner and the stove resumed purring as normal.

An hour later, we were enjoying our first cup of tea. Thankfully, we never experienced a repetition of the incident, but from that day on, I've never cooked inside a tent.

Under pressure

Despite the potential dangers, a lightweight stove is an indispensable part of any camper's equipment. Yet until the mid-1800s, a reliable, efficient and portable burner simply didn't exist. Then a couple of unpressurised alcohol-burning stoves started to appear on the market. One model, engineered by polar explorers Fritdtj of Nansen and Adolphus Greeley, was a forerunner of the Swedish Trangia stove, which, even today, remains a popular choice when cooking at low altitudes.

But for real performance at any altitude, and for rapid snow melting in the polar regions, a pressurised stove is required. However, 19th-century kerosene (paraffin) wicking stoves were sooty and inefficient. The solution lay in finding a way to vaporise the fuel before combustion. The first device of this kind was a blowtorch that was invented and patented by Swedish engineer Carl Richard Nyberg in 1882.

A few years later, two more Swedes, the Lindqvist brothers, were awarded a patent for a small pressurised kerosene stove that vaporised the fuel before combustion to produce a smokeless flame. The Lindqvists subsequently went into production with Johan Viktor Svenson, at which point the stove was named the Primus. (Note, however, that this version of events is disputed in some quarters, with suggestions that a Dane, Frederik Ferdinand Tretow-Loof, may have invented the Primus stove.) Nansen took a Primus to the Arctic in 1893, and the stove rapidly became a commercial success both at home and abroad.

Svenson soon went into the business of producing blowtorches. In response, Nyberg began manufacturing pressure stoves of his own. One of his most successful designs was the Svea. Incredibly, the Svea 123R stove is still being manufactured today by Swedish company Optimus.

Different variations of the original Primus concept dominated the market until the early 1970s, when Mountain Safety Research (MSR) produced the first stove that utilised the fuel bottle as the fuel tank. Until this time, fuel was transported in separate containers and then poured into the small stove tank that was permanently attached to the burner. This generally meant carrying two metal containers around.

With the MSR Model 9 stove, only a single tank needed to be carried. The detachable pressurising pump was connected to the far end of the rigid fuel line that ran from the stove to the interchangeable bottle. When the stove ran out of fuel, any remaining pressure could be easily released by inverting the stove and opening the valve. The pump could then be safely removed and a fresh bottle of fuel attached. Having a rigid fuel line also made the whole unit wide and stable. MSR continues to champion the principle of the detachable fuel bottle, and several other companies, including Primus, have used this concept in their designs.

Life's a gas

In the 1930s, another option appeared on the market in the form of miniature pressurised bottled gas stoves. …

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