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Reviews > Cook Gear > Stoves > Optimus Nova White Gas Stove > Test Report by S. Nelson
I've been backpacking since I was a kid, starting in the Adirondacks of upstate New York and in nearby Quebec. I now live in California, backpacking in all four seasons there, with occasional trips back to the east coast and elsewhere. I like hiking fast, and transitioned to lightweight backpacking over the past few years. I also enjoy skiing, snowshoeing, canoeing, and aviation in addition to backpacking, so my gear gets exposed to a wide variety of uses and conditions. As a design and usability expert, I love analyzing and improving products; backpacking provides a rich arena for that.
PRODUCT INFORMATION & SPECIFICATIONS
Other details: can burn white gas or kerosene with no issues, supports use of diesel and unleaded gasoline with caveats including increased chance of clogging and potential exposure to unhealthy additives
The Nova+ comes packaged as a
complete kit includng the stove body (with rounded, folding legs and
a metal fuel line with the Powerline control valve and a quick-connect
fitting); a metal pump with the mate for the quick-connect on the fuel
line; a green 450 ml (15 oz) fuel bottle with a black plastic cap; a
multi-wrench with integrated magnet (used to clean the stove's jet by
moving a needle from outside the stove); an aluminum windscreen; a
spare parts kit (o-rings and lubricant); and an unusual compartmented
black nylon pouch with a zipper around three sides plus an open top
with a cinch cord. Here is the full kit, laid out next to an
The Nova+ comes with a small,
illustrated instruction booklet, as well as an insert giving an
additional caution about tightening the stove's valve too far and use
of the multitool if it sticks. The instructions cover setup and
lighting of the stove, as well as basic troubleshooting, maintenance
and use of the included cleaning magnet and tool. The instructions
don't cover use of the windscreen or the zippered pouch—I figured out
how best to pack the stove and its components into the latter by
looking at a picture on the Optimus website.
TRYING IT OUT
I gave the stove an initial tryout on
our patio, using white gas as the fuel. I filled the fuel bottle up to
a bit less than the maximum fill line, screwed in the pump, set up the
stove on the ground, and connected the stove to the pump with the
quick-connect valve. All of this worked just like it does with the
older Nova I own.
After my initial test, I felt that the Nova+ looked to be like a fine upgrade to the venerable Nova, and I was particularly impressed by the effortless priming and extremely hot, efficient flame the first time I lit it. I had some concerns about the new fuel line and valve design, and looked forward to exploring those while enjoying using this stove extensively in winter conditions.
LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS
Due to issues with the pump and time involved in getting replacements from Optimus, I only took the stove out once during the field test period, using the pump from my older Nova (not the plus model). The one use was in the eastern Sierra, near the entrance to the Ansel Adams Wilderness outside of Bishop, CA. Temperatures were in the 40s F (around 5°C), and conditions were sunny and near calm.
I contacted Optimus about the leaky pump
noted in my initial report, using an email address I found on their web
site. Within about a week, I received a response, which was that I
likely had a defective "pump valve" (aka drain valve, as previously
guessed). They said that they would send a replacement, and in just
over a week, I received an envelope from Sweden containing the valve in
a plastic pouch (quite fast, considering where the package originated).
Unfortunately, it came with no instructions—so I contacted Optimus once
again via email, and within less than a week, received an email noting
that the valve should be installed "dry" using the included white
washer, and that the original one could be removed using a long
However, my earlier concerns about placement of the bottle and needing to avoid bending the valve/fuel line were proven valid in the field; the bottle has to be positioned so that the line is as straight as possible. Even with that, the stiffness of the line tends to tip the stove up off of a leg or two, making it unstable until a heavy (meaning, generally, full of water or other material) pot is set on it.
LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS
I used the stove for five days and four nights on a couple of trips during this period. One was a multi-day trip at Yellowstone National Park in February, with temperatures ranging from 28°F (-2°C) to an incredibly chilly -14°F (-26°C); weather ranged from calm to moderately windy, and there was light snow on one day. Another was an overnight snow camping trip near Butte Lake at Lassen National Park in Northern California, with temperatures ranging from 45°F (7°C) down to 22°F (-6°C), and mild winds with no precipitation.
I'll state some important positives
upfront: the basic operation and design of this stove are excellent. As
with the original Nova I own, it primes easily, burns efficiently with
varying types of fuel, and can be adjusted to anything from a light
simmer to full-blast snow melting. Its flame and mechanics—with one
important exception I'll note in a moment—are strong and reliable, and
it's easy to maintain in the field. I find no differences in these
fundamental qualities between the Nova+ and its older sibling that I
own and have used extensively.
However, the new valve
design, in my opinion, does have some issues that need correcting. Let
Whatever the cause, the
valve was stuck, and the Nova+'s new valve design—the cable with
plastic knob—could not gain enough leverage to open it back up. This
was exacerbated by that I couldn't see any way for the multitool to
turn the valve, just the brass fitting around it—though a pair of pliers might have been able
to do the job. The next day, I
set the stove out in the sun, and eventually was able
to get the valve to turn; my best guess is that some water from snow
melting got onto the valve and froze it in place. Perhaps warming the
valve with a lighter would
have helped release it the prior day—but that would have been a risky
step had there been any leaks, and in any case, there's no way to know
if that would have released the valve.
later pointed out to me that there is a small dimple in the fuel
line/valve where it enters the stove inside the brass fitting, and a
small notch on the multitool that can be used to turn the valve tube.
design of the dimple and tool, plus the relatively soft metal of the
valve, mean that not a leverage is available, but it could very well
have been enough to break open the frozen valve; I'll test this in the
After my Yellowtone trip
I received a replacement pump in the mail from Optimus' U.S.
distributor, Katadyn. They were quick to respond to my email regarding
the problems with replacing the drain valve and sent a replacement pump
at no cost to me—much appreciated. However, the pump appeared to be a
used, refurbished one (much wear on its components; glue and/or varnish stuck to the drain valve
at the bottom; and a dirty leather cup inside the pump, including
flecks of metal), and was of an
older design (no black finish on the block).
While the state of the
pump I was sent did not instill full confidence, I took it on my next
trip, which was to Lassen National Park in Northern California. I used
the stove there with white gas to melt snow for water and to boil water
for food and beverage preparation over two days. As before, the stove
lit and burned
well. The replacement pump, despite its appearance, did seem to
function just fine (I had lubricated the leather cup with mineral oil
prior to the trip, which it most definitely needed). I still found the
valve and line a bit awkward to operate, requiring careful placement of
the bottle, but beyond that had no complaints about the operation of
the stove, which was an efficient snow melter and boiler throughout the
A few other notes from
my long-term use:
The stove is easy to
maintain; the multitool has the tools necessary to tighten or adjust
all components, and it's easy to clean the jet by
waving the tool's magnet underneath the stove. (Doing so while the
stove is running, however, may result in the flame going out—do take
care.) The pouch that comes with the stove is slightly undersized—I've
had to work to cram things into place and zip it up on a few
well-designed, and holds all components including the multitool and
spare parts. I like the green fuel bottle that came with the stove
(from an aesthetic standpoint), and the windscreen is effective and
easy to pack down with the stove. The legs worked well with pots
ranging in size from just under a quart (.9 l) to 4+ qt (4 l), and
materials including stainless steel, aluminum and titanium, providing a
stable platform and adequate grip.
LONG-TERM SUMMARYMy overall feelings about the Nova+ are mixed: I love the basic stove design, which I've used for years via the original Nova model (which I happily paid for and from which I have gotten way more than my money's worth). I also like the new aesthetics of the green bottle, green knob, and black coating on stove legs and pump block. I was not overly concerned by the defects in the pump from the stove I was shipped, as Optimus and Katadyn addressed the problems quickly and generously (though I would have preferred to have received a new replacement pump for a new stove, not a refurbished one).
However, I cannot recommend the new valve design as it currently stands—I find it unreliable and problematic. With a few small changes, the new design could be made more reliable, and perhaps even exceed the effectiveness of the original design. Being able to adjust the flame remotely, outisde of a wind screen and away from the flame, would be a useful upgrade if the design can be modified to address the problems of sticking and kinking of the current knob and fuel line.
Perhaps it would be possible to revisit the design of the knob and line to provide additional leverage, and ideally also work while bent at an angle. Another minor improvement would be to change the design of the dimple on the valve and associated spike on the tool to one that uses a more conventional pair of flattened surfaces, which would give more leverage for turning the valve should it stick or freeze. I'll look forward to seeing how the folks at Optimus evolve this design.
Should the Nova+ design be upgraded to address the issues I noted in testing, I would use it in preference to my original Nova. However, at this point I will stick with my original Nova stove, which is the most reliable and effective winter stove of all I've ever used (out of a long list, from many brands). That original Nova model is also still sold by Optimus, with some of the cosmetic changes noted earlier, and I highly recommend it.
My thanks to Backpackgeartest.org and to Optimus and Katadyn for including me in this test.
This report was originally created with the BackpackGearTest.org Report Writer Version 1, then modified by hand thereafter. Copyright 2007-8. All rights reserved.
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