Trekmates Flameless Cook Box: £30
Trekmates Flameless Cook Flask: £20
Super Power Heatpack (x5): £10
High Power Heatpack (x7): £10
A colleague described once walking on to a campsite to be greeted by the sight of a tent in flames like a jubilee beacon – testament to the hazards of using stoves under canvas.
There is also the less obvious danger from carbon monoxide, and there have been well reported cases of campers suffering from the effects of this toxic, invisible gas when burning fuel in the confined space of a tent.
So a cooking set that doesn’t use combustion is of interest from a safety point of view.
Trekmate’s Flameless Cook System uses a chemical reaction to produce heat with which to cook your camp food, so no blazing flysheet and no invisible killer gas.
Although the company isn’t giving away the formula for its heatpacks, it’s likely that it is based on calcium oxide, which when mixed with water produces heat and calcium hydroxide.
That heat, Trekmates claims, will warm your food to 90C and last for long enough to cook a camping meal and warm up a drink.
The system has two components, sold separately: the cooking box for food and a flask in which to warm your drink.
Trekmates supplied us with both to test, and we headed out on a cool afternoon to dine alfresco.
The box has a plastic outer, with a removable and washable Neoprene sleeve and an inner, stainless steel container.
We used a standard dehydrated pasta meal and put the usual amount of water in the meal, gave it a stir, then unwrapped one of the Trekmates Super Power Heatpacks.
The company recommends the Super Power packs for cooking food such as pasta and its graphs claim a temperature of 80C within 10 minutes, rising to 90C lasting for 30 minutes.
The Flameless Cook System comes with a measuring bottle for the right amount of water to add on top of the heatpack.
The pack is placed in the bottom of the outer box, the measured 120ml of water poured on to the pack, then the inner metal box containing the food is placed into the box on top of the Power Pack.
A plastic lid with clasps on four sides seals the Cook System and then you just sit and wait.
Within a few minutes there was steam coming from the box – a good sign – so we set to making a hot chocolate drink with the flask.
A High Power Heatpack is placed in the bottom of the outer container of the flask, which again has a Neoprene sleeve, and the measured 40ml of water poured in. The Super Power Heatpack should not be used with the flask.
We put our water into the inner flask container and sealed the lid.
After a few minutes the water was warming up and within 10 minutes or so it was hot enough for us to put our hot chocolate powder in.
A quick stir and then the lid went back on.
The flask has a spout that can be closed and the fact that the power pack continues to provide heat around the drink, coupled with the fact it has a sealed lid, means the liquid stays hot – very hot in fact – and care is needed not to burn your mouth if you gulp it down.
After 20 minutes it was clear our pasta was not ready to eat and it occurred we had made the mistake of putting too much water in our food. Normally, in a pan – even with a lid on – much of the liquid boils off on a conventional stove.
But in the Flameless Cook System, the sealed cooking box keeps all that moisture in and, coupled with the fact the food never quite bubbles up to boiling point, meant our pasta still had too much liquid in it.
A quick tip-out of much of the liquid and another heatpack in the bottom of the box and we were off cooking again. This time within a few minutes, the meal was ready and it was then just a case of taking off the lid and eating out of the container, with the Neoprene outer sleeve insulating enough to make it comfortable to hold.
No fiddly handle to keep attached to a pan as you might experience with a conventional stove. Another advantage is that the Cook Box keeps your food warm as you eat.
The drink also stayed hot, not just warm, all the way through.
We stuck to drinking out of the spout because, taking the lid off and drinking from the lip of the flask might, we thought, have allowed some of the cooking liquid to seep out of the outer container as we tipped it up, though there was actually no evidence of this happening.
So, with a little experimentation, using less liquid to cook than normal, we eventually had a nice hot meal, properly cooked through.
With a little forethought, it should probably have been obvious that the cooking liquid would not evaporate from a sealed box and that we needed to adjust the amount of water added.
We’ll know next time.
So, with a little adjustment to normal cooking techniques, the Flameless Cook System proved simple and safe to use.
Trekmates say the Heat Packs should be disposed of as normal household waste, so if wild camping, your will need to carry out the used packs.
How does the system compare with a conventional stove for price?
The Flameless Cook Box retails at £30, including two Heat Packs of each size, to get you started. Replacement Super Power Heatpacks cost £10 for five packs, so to cook, say 10 meals would cost a little under £50.
A conventional lightweight gas stove plus a gas canister is likely to set you back around £75 or more, so the Trekmates system compares well.
The more fuel you have to buy, the less advantage, perhaps, but for an occasional user, the economics look good.
Trekmates also offers a voucher scheme whereby points can be redeemed from Flameless Cook products to obtain, for instance, free Heat Packs, which will reduce the overall cost slightly.
The Cook Box weighs in at less than 500g too which, when compared to the weight of a stove, gas canister and pan in a conventional system, is not going to add to a backpacker’s burden.
For youth groups the benefits are obvious, with two of the main camping hazards dispensed with – just don’t spill your hot food down your front.
In bad weather or cold conditions, the Flameless Cook System just steams away nicely in the tent, with no worries about anything catching fire – plus, there’s no need for matches or lighter.
As one grough reader commented, if you need to melt snow for your water, you might struggle, but in all other conditions: wind, cold, wet, as well as more benign conditions, the system works well.
More details of the Trekmates Flameless Cook System are on the company’s website.