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The end of the mess tin?

mess tins

The mess tin and hexamine stove will be familiar to millions.

But technology marches on, is there a replacement that saves weight, has lower toxicity and doesn’t mean you have to spend 8 hours a day scrubbing two inches of carbon off the back?

Of course there is!

Fire Dragon from BCB International is a new(ish) fuel that has a number of advantages over hexamine; lightweight, non-toxic, high heat output, easy to light, long lasting, it is an all-round better solution.

View more videos at their YouTube channel, here

The mess tin part of the equation…

Yes they are robust, yes they used to fit neatly in 58 pattern webbing wrapped in your green towel (showing my age there) and yes they can be polished to a high shine, but what about progress?

Sea to Summit have a rather nifty collapsible silicon cooking pot that allows you to shave a few grams off the total weight, save a few cubic centimetres and above all, look like you are at the cutting edge?

View more videos at their YouTube channel, here

Maybe one day.

For those of us with a rather more laid back approach to field cuisine and access to a 24v DC power supply, there is always, of course, these :)

pot noodle

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53 Responses

  1. How is the Fire Dragon fuel any practically better than the hexamine tablets? It’s not like we measure the energy output, all we are concerned about is warm food and a warm fire, which the old tablets provide just as well. The only advantage I see is a possibly longer burn time.

    I do feel you on the carbon buildup, we usually ziplock the mess tins to prevent the carbon from dirtying the fieldpacks but that isn’t really enough reason to change to things like the Xpot. In fact, I believe that after use, the Xpot will probably have a similar degree of carbon buildup as the problem is actually with the open air burning of the hexamine tablet.

    Long story short, those are really nice looking tech, but I don’t see them replacing the “old and steady” fuel tabs and mess tins.

    And stoves. Bah, bunch of luxury loving boy scouts. :P We dig a small hole and toss the fuel in. Cover with mess tin. Done.

  2. My 12 year old has just returned from his first cadet training camp with a pair of mess tins. Makes a change from the old days when we shared a pool :-)

  3. Go back to nature … food heated the natural way … follow a bear and ….

  4. @Chris

    On a more serious note is it normal practice to have external power points on vehicles so a local squad can tap in to heat their food, recharge batteries, comms etc ?

    I like the idea of easy to light fuel without having to carry a squirt bottle of ethanol ( useful for sterilizing when you have emptied the first aid pack of steriwipes for lighting the fire :-)

    When your wet, cold and numb the last thing you want is an excuse to turn the air blue when a simple thing like making fire seems impossible so you can have a brew .

  5. When last I looked the custom was to provide both 24V and 12V charging outlets in vehicles so the personal electronics of crew & passengers could be powered/charged. I presume this is still current (pun!). BV is of course properly installed and not plugged into any old power socket.

    Older vehicles with early mechanically governed diesel engines used a system called Etherstart for really cold conditions, where ethanol was squirted down the air intake – it being much more volatile than diesel it ignited quicker under compression and made the diesel burn when it wasn’t yet ready. I can’t recall how the ethanol was stored or whether it could be siphoned out for use as a firestarter by the more – um – enterprising dismounts.

  6. I realise this will be a shock, but not everybody is always near a vehicle. Jungle ops are the most obvious, but if a 105mm bty is running detachment cooking instead of centralised, they don’t have vehicles with their guns either. There are plenty of others, eg dismounted infantry in a defensive position.

  7. Thanks for the update Chris. The APU on vehicles (if fitted) obviously is there to provide electrical power but are absorption chillers fitted to supply cooling to the vehicle ? Having been working in the ME and Afghanistan for the last decade+ the need for cooling both crew and electronics whilst conserving fuel would seem logical and absorption chillers can be used to extract drinkable water from the air, basically the moisture from the crews sweat and breath as well as atmospheric .

  8. Obsvr – that’s understood; the question was asked do vehicles have power outlets so I scribbled out a few words. I don’t have any particular insight into the footsoldier’s way of doing things.

  9. monkey – a bit off-thread so TD might call us to order… Air con is horrendously power hungry. There are electrically powered vehicle sets but by far the most efficient use a mechanically powered compressor. No issue if you have an APU I suppose, although that would mean running the APU even when the main power unit was running. Like the coolers on the front of refrigerated truck bodies – the things clatter away all the time. But for the most part I believe vehicle air con only works when the vehicle engine runs.

    Back on thread, Electrothermal (makers of all things BV) have a new device, a bit taller than their RAK ration heaters, that includes a cooler. Something like 4 litres of liquid can be cooled 30C below ambient (min 10C) in a few minutes even in sandpit-like environments. Studies have shown drinking properly cooled liquids dramatically improves the fighting capability of the personnel*. So for modest power consumption even in sticky hot conditions life can be improved.

    *I mean, just look at the brawls outside nightclubs that sell ice-cold Stella…

  10. Of course UK lost the plot in this area over 66 years ago when some genius (RAF Regt?) thought that plastic water bottles with plastic mugs would be a good idea. Note that ’44 patt had aluminium water bottles and mugs and in the mid ’50s the US Army introduced plastic water bottles and metal mugs, but these were somewhat small (understandable since the US Army was and is pretty clueless when it came to light force ops, eg jungle). The point is that with a metal mug and a hex or similar cooker you can make a brew in your mug (& carry a second mug for washing & shaving). UK FARELF retained ’44 patt webbing and metal mugs, they knew what they were doing. Once you have metal mugs you can follow the Aust way with mess tins, same footprint but much shallower. So metal mugs and shallower mess tins are the real way to go. Very simple really. My consulting fees are very competitive, if anyone from MoD reads this.

  11. From the practice over here, the power sockets on vehicles are not compatible with civilian appliances and even if you did, expect an officer to screw you over for wasting power.

    Keep to solid fuel tabs. If you have problems lighting them, dig a small hole, prop them up on a twig or stone at the bottom, light a match and toss it under the tab where it is out of the rain. Solid fuel tabs light easier from the bottom, heat/flame goes up. The hole also makes it easy to bury the residue.

  12. I suspect I’m teaching grandma/grandpa to suck eggs though. I bet a lot of people here are experienced in the Art of Keeping Warm out on exercises.

  13. As Neddy said to Maj Blodnock, – ‘ AARgh, the filthy Scots are trying to unsettle our diets, they firing porridge at us!’ And so we go on learning the old still works!

  14. One of these was useful if a brew was going from an urn or Norwegian. Saved trying to get Tight fitting water bottle mug out of 58 pattern. Not so much “in the field” but on ranges and work sites.

  15. @Chris
    I should of been a bit clearer , the absorption chiller I mean uses the waste heat from the exhaust or cooling water to provide the supply of chilled air/water.

    On Combined Heat and Power schemes CHP an extra C can be added CCHP Combined Cooling Heat and Power. Its a very common now on new or existing HVAC systems for offices , server centres etc the cooling provided from 100kw to tens of mega watts at 80%+ percentage efficiency. Smaller units are available for domestic or even Recreational Vehicle/ Rig cabs in the US. They are also found in the marine industry on cruise ships or luxury yachts . This unit from Germany is a domestic unit of 10kw capacity and plumbs into the low grade heat part of a domestic CHP or even solar panels ( water type ) .

  16. Greetings all, been a while, I have been on’t course.

    Finally a thread close to my heart!

    Hexi is dead, long live jetboil. Even with a fully working BV my jetboil gets hammered when out on the ground, you still cant beat a BV for a mounted OP tho. Just to show how dead hexi is, look at the start of an exercise when Q is handing out the C sups, all that is left is neat piles of hexi and mozzy repellent even the rock hard cam cream gets taken.

    @ Chris ref: Etherstart, we still have a similar system in place for the GUE of some vehicles, small aerosol cans that you poke into a device on the inside of the waggon, its used for when it gets chilly. The idea is that the GUE then warms the main engine.


  17. Welcome back BVB, good to hear from you and glad all is well

    Can you take jetboil cannisters on the RAF’s luxury airliners?

    I wonder if there is a special landfill site for all the surplus hexi!!

  18. TD: Nice to be back, like the new look.

    I managed to get a few gas cylinders through in my hold luggage before, but worst case you can get them when you land all be it at vastly inflated prices. What happened to those little green packets of bio alcohol gel that were floating round a few years back?


  19. BV, it’s the opposite here, any spare hexamine … what am I talking about? Spare hexamine, is there such a thing? :)

    The only vehicle I got is a bike, no shelter, so when it starts raining, especially at night, the only thing between you being cold, wet and miserable is that square white tablet. And in a small fire pit, you toss in dried leaves and twigs to generate some smoke to drive away those damn mosquitoes.

    There is never enough hexamine tablets. We toss out food to lighten our load, we toss out extra, dry clothes, I have never known anyone to toss out hexamine tablets.

  20. Observer: How very odd, hexi is the first to get dumped, then the extra box of 200 762 gets deposited into the amnesty bush, last to go is Harrybo, if you see lads dropping that then you know they are in s**t state. Still, you cant beat huddling round a hexi TV for moral.


  21. BV, it’s the difference in equipment and environment. You got shelter in the vehicles, you got the BV for warmth and you don’t get that many mosquitoes. Without those, the hexamine tablets becomes your only source of convenient warmth. We also deploy very far from friendly lines, so the comms set is usually our only link between us and “civilization”, so it’s drummed into our heads that our priority is to “protect the equipment, protect the equipment and protect the equipment” (refer to SAS Bravo 2-0 as to what happens when you lose comms). This means that when it rains, the signals set gets plopped in the middle of the basha while we huddle around the edges getting rained on. When you are cold, wet, miserable and getting eaten by mosquitoes, those tablets are godsends. Never mind throwing them out, double loading them is very common, we sometimes raid discards for them, which unfortunately lead to some rather unpleasant acronyms (BRC-Brigade Rubbish Collectors). If that is the price for keeping warm and dry though, it’s a small one to pay.

    3 most important items in our kit in order of importance
    1) Water
    2) Signals set
    3) Hexamine

    The rest we can do without or endure, even food.

  22. @ Observer

    Looks like your taking fight light policy to new extremes, does sound like fun tho. With reference to coms kit, I assume being that far out you are using HF, how do you deal with power management? its not as if bikes have battery chargers or do you just bring a truck load with you hence the lack of everything else?


  23. We set up a relay, one unit gets dropped with a log periodic antenna half way between our area of interest and our HQ. For power, we use battery packs, chunky things. One of those is nearly the size of a mess tin and 2 kg each. For a 3 day mission, we pack about 8 of them. Signals set is something like your PRC 325 series manpacked. Heavy bastard. Then there are the f-king AA sized batteries for the NVG, NVB, modem set etc. 144 of them (38 packs of 4). Optics. And now these newfangled CPU and UGS (unmanned ground sensor). Oh and those new toys need batteries too! I swear, one day, one of us is going to slip into a pond and electrocute all the fishes in it…

    The only personal items we really do bring out, off the top of my head, are groundsheets, biscuits, torchlights, the hexamine tablets and handphones. Just in case. There were ironic incidents where the radio could not get through to the teams but the handphones worked.

    It’s not exactly healthy, very often, the unit ends up binge eating after exercises, having eaten nothing but biscuits for 3 days. And trust me, you don’t want to eat outfield. What goes in must come out and sometimes there simply isn’t a place to dig a hole. I personally know of 2 cases. One guy ended up using a ziplock bag, the other used his water bottle. Which reminds me, really need to think about the applicability of the “crap bags” you guys use.

  24. “We also deploy very far from friendly lines”

    Don’t mean to be facetious but isn’t Singapore the size of Anglesey in total but comprised of 63 islands not 1. And pretty built up. And if its comprised of 63 islands wouldn’t a stealth canoe be better than a bike? Just asking.

  25. We deploy to Thailand, Brunei, Taiwan, Australia, India, Germany, New Zealand and the US fairly often for training annually. A fairly well documented example of this is Ex Wallaby for Australia, planespotters there love it, especially since the helo component is transported in by AN-124. Just google up Ex Wallaby and AN-124

    As for canoes, if your objective is on land, I doubt you’ll get very far trying to row to your location. :)

    Islands, only a very few of them are of any significance, the rest are too small or too undeveloped to be of worth. A large chunk of them are used as live firing ranges.

  26. Did some trawling, someone from a scout unit seems to have put up a picture of our bikes from 10 years back. We’re still using the same ones today.

    As you can see, we really don’t have much space for anything else. These guys are a bit luckier as they seem to be scouts that work closer to the APCs, hence any luxury items can be stored with the APCs.

  27. Of course if you really want a fuel that releases a lot of heat quickly for a brew the only choice is plastic explosive, a thumb size piece is excellent for this key task (and yes it does burn without exploding). Of course the sappers get a bit antsy over this use, but you just tell ’em to b u gg e r off and play with their bridges.

  28. @ Observer : Interesting stuff, how are to orbatted for this, small platoon groups, section groups? what sort of combat width are you expected to cover? how long can you go without a replen and how does a replen take place? Lightweight mobile recce is something I have been interested in lately, I would like to see the idea over here in an Armored Cav BG.


  29. 4 man teams, 3 bikes per if we are lucky. Sometimes we have to insert by zodiac which means walking all the way, or if the terrain is crap (very dense jungle etc).

    3 platoons- 2 active duty, 1 reservist
    6 teams per platoon- 5 recon, one “rebro” station
    Combat endurance is 3 days, extendable to a week+ if there is resupply. Ammo is a problem though, unlike the line units who carry a “3 contact rate” worth of ammo, ours is only 1.25, which means we’re close to dry if we hit or get hit by anything.

    Resup is once every 3 days +/-. Items are usually food, water and batteries, POL isn’t as important, it’s very rare to run dry.

    2 types of resup, if the fighting is winding down/advancing, we pull back to an RV for resupply if they can reach us. The second type is if there is a stalemate or bogged down fighting. A helo (formerly UH-1H, these days Super Puma or Chinook) simply shoves the carton out the door or uses a chute. More often it really is “chuck out the door while flying low”.

    Unit is attached directly to the Brigade HQ, S2 branch.

    These days, there is talk about a new 4th platoon, the UAV platoon. Flies Scaneagles from Bronco ATTCs. Something like the British and what they are doing with the Watchkeeper. We’re also getting UAVs at team level but it really isn’t as hot as it sounds. We are only allowed to fly them on specific command by HQ, and we only have enough power for 3×1 hour flights, hence the need for specific command. 3 times and you’re dry. Right now, we are extremely overloaded, there is talk about further splitting the teams into specialized roles, UGS teams, UAV teams etc, a single team simply can’t carry everything, it’s too bulky and heavy, a UAV already takes up a fullpack load.

    Combat width really does depend on terrain and FEBA frontage, how wide the brigade FEBA is would be how wide we have to cover. Combat depth is from 16-48km deep, 0-16km +/- is for the scouts, 16-48km +/- is for us recon, 48km+ is for the LURPs. 48km is more or less close to the limit of our conventional signals range, we don’t go beyond (or try not to). The deeper units use other systems I won’t go into.

  30. “As for canoes, if your objective is on land, I doubt you’ll get very far trying to row to your location. :) ”

    Good heavens why not canoes?

    Rivers, lakes, and canals have been key transportation routes, as well as historical exploration routes since the beginning of history. Not to mention most strategically important places on land lie next to bodies of water – most cities being located nest to rivers, oceans, or lakes.

  31. GAB, that’s the “theory”, but you know the difference between theory and practical application? I have never known a river to care about where I want to go, it simply flows where it wants to. If you can find a convenient river in the first place. Canals below flood conditions are actually too shallow to row, we sometimes walk along them, but it is not recommended. Flash floods.

    A practical example might be one you can relate to in real life. For example, you want to go to the nearest mall. How do you get there by water? Use your neighbourhood map to plot it out and you might see the problem.

    Your claim is right that major settlements are usually along rivers, but that is a generalization, there are a lot of other important locations that do not go near rivers at all. Look at a border map for a landlocked country, see how many places along a border have a river nearby, and how much of the border does not. In a war, the border becomes a front line if you are lucky not to get overrun, so it translates over into how accessible the battlespace is by water. The answer is usually “not very”.

  32. @ Observer: All good stuff, its interesting to see the differences and similarities between how we do things and how you do things.


  33. How do you guys do things? I think the closest force the british have structure wise might be the teams of the RM brigade patrol troop. (6 teams of 4 men too)

  34. ToC, reminds me of the joke on how Commandos clear minefields.

    They cover their ears and stamp hard. :)

  35. The jungle is your friend, never use tracks (that’s where mines and ambushes are). Silence is essential. Resupply every 5 days is normal. One thing you can be totally sure of is that you never know how much ammo you will use in a contact. River crossings are a drill (just keep a watch for large reptiles but they are generally dozy). Recce patrols should be prepared for up to 9 or 10 days without resup. Don’t be a Maori and bury the enemy killed with an arm waving above ground.

  36. Theory and practice Obsvr. Sometimes you just have to use tracks, the terrain is not your friend, it is an indifferent bystander. It can aid or totally hinder you. As for the 9-10 day load, we’ll think of it if we can hire a few porters to come along. Do remember that patrols of that duration are often mechanized, while my deployments have absolutely no guarantee of transport other than my 2 legs? You bring em, you haul them. Do you think we are so free with bag weight that we who are throwing out food would stack on 3 times *more* food? Working in the wrong direction there. We need it lighter, not heavier.

    Don’t try to swim rivers. Use bridges if you can or worst case fords. It may cause a bit of canalization but without a reliable heat source to dry out, hanging around in wet clothes can sometimes cause hypothermia, especially in certain seasons of temperate countries or deserts. Places like India, Australia, Thailand, some high locations in Taiwan, Arizona in the US, at night, it gets very, very cold. My first training in Australia, the nights hit 13 degrees C, I was already shivering in dry clothes, can’t imagine how anyone can stand it soaking wet.

  37. “My first training in Australia, the nights hit 13 degrees C, I was already shivering in dry clothes, can’t imagine how anyone can stand it soaking wet.”

    That made me chuckle, for someone who operates in jungles and deserts that must seem freezing but thats a warm summers day in Brecon, its all relative I suppose, A Norwegian would probably feel the same about me being cold in Poland at -28C.

    Do you not use wet/dry procedure? cross the river then get into dry clothes to warm up, once you are warm put your cold wet ones back on (worst feeling in the world,worse then standing on a lego brick) then tab off to dry them out?


  38. Yeah BV, we get that you guys are part polar bear. :)

    As for wet/dry, the infantry guys do it. For us, I did mention we tossed out all unnecessary items. Including the dry clothes. Those damn packs are already way too heavy. Average of 48kg +/-. Busted back and knees are common for the older guys.

    How’s recce in the UK?

  39. @ GNB : Ohhhhhhh the humanity!!!!!!

    Observer: Our recce (for our Armd Inf Bde) is a lot more kinetic, its essential a separate battlegroup that can have things plugged into it depending on task, the principle remains the same tho, find “stuff” then hand it off to close recce. We still do the boring stuff, route marking and marking of start lines, wading balls deep in a river with an antenna to poke at the river bed, argue about what MLC a bridge is ect. I cant find anything else open source on it so don’t want to say much else, could be career limiting.


  40. “wading balls deep in a river with an antenna to poke at the river bed”

    You familiar with something called a penetrometer? It’s something like a gauge on a pole with a spike. I suspect you know what I mean. :)

    Sounds like your recce org is a lot bigger than ours, a combat unit in its own while ours is a lot smaller and more specialized. No way we can ever do recce-in-force.

  41. I haven’t done a lot of jungle training, I have done time as an instructor at Battle Wing of the Jungle Training Centre Canungra and the better part of two years on operations in jungle in two campaigns. Heck, what would I know about jungle fighting. You can do all sorts of silly things in training and believe they are really good ideas, until the range becomes two way and the brown hits the fan. That’s the reality check.

    The only time you can’t avoid tracks in when you have to cross them!

  42. And I’m finishing off my 20 years this July. Mostly in those terrain you mentioned. Basic training not included. (+2.5 years).

    Sometimes you can bash, sometimes you can’t, especially at night.

  43. Night? It depends on several factors, starting with terrain and how open it is, then state of the moon and extent of cloud cover. You can operate in European forests and night, it’s a matter of local conditions. Night ambushes in padi fields are a great sport, but not for the underskilled. Tracks are for ambushing, day and night, of course it gets a bit tiring doing it for weeks on end, but that’s why the ‘harbour-ambush’ tactic was adopted.

  44. Ehmm, finished doing my marine recce over 30 years ago, but just Bäck from 10 days of hiking in the Arctic.

    Things have moved on, like:

    “Hexamethylenetetramine releases formaldehyde, ammonia, carbon oxides, hydrogen cyanide and nitrogen oxides when burned. It is also used as a urinary tract infection antiseptic and in explosives.

    Reportedly – in 1986, the U.S. Army stopped using Hexamine fuel since they believed that Hexamine combustion could emit unsafe levels of Hydrogen Cyanide gas (HCN) in small 2-man tents.”
    Now, their next thing wasn’t much better, less poisonous though. The current stuff is certified to be safe to take into planes… Not that the airlines or security check point Staff Want to know.

  45. A military unit worrying about their carbon footprint at the same time as sending depleted uranium ammunition at the fuzzy wuzzies seems a tad unlikely..

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