OPTIMUS STELLA +
TEST SERIES BY EDWIN MORSE
December 10, 2007
CLICK HERE TO SKIP TO THE FIELD REPORT
CLICK HERE TO SKIP TO THE LONG-TERM REPORT
ed dot morse at charter dot net
Grawn, MI USA
5' 8" (1.73 m)
143 lb (64.90 kg)
I started backpacking in 1979 with two weeks in northern Michigan along the Lake Superior shore. My gear was cheap, heavy and sometimes painful. Starting pack weight was 70 lbs (32 kg) with food but no water. Since that first time I have made one and two week trips in Michigan, Maine, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania. On a trip to Isle Royale this summer I started with 35 lb (16 kg) including 10 days food and 3 qt (3 l) of water.
PRODUCT INFORMATION & SPECIFICATIONS
Year of Manufacture: 2007
Manufacturer's Website: http://www.optimus.se/
MSRP: US$ Not Available
Listed Weight: 9 oz (250 g)
Measured Weight: 9.2 oz (261 g)
Included stuff sack: Measured Weight: 0.7 oz (19.8 g)
Included windscreen: Measured Weight: 1.5 oz (42.5 g)
The Optimus Stella + (hereafter referred to as Stella) arrived in a black and green cardboard box. The box appears to be intended as a display case with a tab that pulls out to hang on a hook. There is a nearly life sized picture of the stove on the top of the box, with the words Optimus Stella +. On the side of the box are warnings and cautions in 13 (thirteen!) languages. Optimus truly is an international company.
On the bottom of the box are more detailed pictures and explanations - all in English.
The top of the box was held shut with hook and loop spots. After opening the box only the folded stove was visible. The other included items (stuffsack, windscreen, manual and 2007 Product overview) were under a pasteboard shelf.
The website had given me a good idea of what to expect but the box the Stella was packed in was a nice surprise.
The stove appears to be very sturdy, with wide strong legs and pot supports. I am very anxious to try this new system soon.
The windscreen is a heavy aluminum sheeting, heavier than aluminum foil but not as heavy as roof flashing. It is 6 1/4 in (16 cm) high and 31 1/4 in (79 cm) long. There are 2 notches in one side. One appears to be for the fuel hose. I'm have no idea yet what the other bigger notch is for. I assume it is to let in more air to the stove.
I like the concept of the stove on a wide stable base and not sitting on top of the fuel canister. The setup seems to be straight forward and simple.
READING THE INSTRUCTIONS
There is a very detailed and well written manual included in the box. This manual is written in four languages, with the English version first. I did read the manual before using the stove. The English section appears to have been written in English rather than translated from another language.
Someone made an understandable manual a real priority, rather than an afterthought.
Some manuals I've tried to use (when still in the working environment) were more bother than good.
The instructions are easy to follow and include some sensible warnings and tips for use.
TRYING IT OUT
My first action was to take the stove to the local outfitter and ask for canisters that would work with the stove. I was told "this is the most standard fitting and most canisters would work". I bought 2 (even though I didn't need them) and went home to start on this report.
I took the box with all included parts out to the table on the deck and took everything out of the box.
Then I opened the Stella up and connected a fuel canister. It took several attempts for me to get the stove lit. It appears that the canister must be screwed on very tight for it to work. Once I got the canister screwed on tight enough I opened the valve and heard the distinct hiss. With one click of the igniter it was lit and the stove was roaring softly.
With a quart (one liter) of water in the kettle I slowly turned up the flame and put the windscreen around the stove and kettle.
I set my watch timer when I first put the kettle on the stove. It took me about 4 minutes while I unfolded the windscreen, put it around the stove and kettle and adjusted the windscreen. Then I turned up the flame. Even with the flame on very low most of the time the kettle boiled over in just under 5 minutes.
I think this is an impressive piece of gear. At this time there are several things I like and a very few I don't care for.
What I like:
The flame is a distance from the fuel source. This just makes me feel safer.
The Stella is very easy to set up and operate.
It is very adjustable. I might be inclined to actually cook rather than just boiling water.
It does heat water quickly.
Very few really.
The Stella is relatively heavy, if compared with the other 4 stoves I own.
The Stella is a little bulky, although the stuff sack does make it easier to pack.
This concludes my Initial Report.
FIELD LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS
September 19, 2007
In late July I did one short overnight hike with a friend In the Manistee National Forest in northern lower Michigan.
Early August was mostly travel and day hikes in Michigan, Minnesota and Maine. The weather was much the same in each state; warm and low 80's F (27 C). Terrain in Maine and Minnesota was similar with hilly and rocky trails. In Michigan the trails were hilly and sandy.
The real testing for this period was on Isle Royale National Park in western Lake Superior. I was hiking on the island for 15 days, about 125 miles (200 Km) in late August and early September. I went with an older (age 74) friend and his younger (age 70) brother. We separated 3 times for them to do shorter days and easier trails.
The weather varied from bright and sunny 80 F (27 C) on 2 days down to a few damp and chilly mornings of 40 F (4 C). We had 4 days and 2 nights of rain which varied from a light drizzle to a good steady soaking rain.
The terrain varied from a smooth "tunnel through the trees" to up and down over rocky ridges.
PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD
The Optimus Stella + did very well each time I used it, whether I was heating water for 1, 3, 5 or 6 hikers. When I separated from the other 2 I went with I gave them a smaller stove I had taken for a backup and they also took the tea kettle. I continued with the Stella and used a small 2 cup pot with no cover for heating water. Sometimes the windscreen was needed and sometimes not.
Following is a picture of the Stella set up when I was alone. This was a warm day at North Lake Desor Camp.
I did have 2 problems with the Stella. At first I could not set the canister on the same level as the stove. This was only a problem when I was alone and heating just a small amount of water. The smaller weight would not force the stove to sit level. When using bigger containers with more water weight there was no problem, just a small inconvenience. It appeared that the fuel hose connection at the stove may have been put on with a slight twist. A hiking buddy suggested that I could loosen the compression fitting and turn it slightly before tightening again. I'm not convinced yet since by the last days of the trip we could set the stove and canister on the same surface. I need to experiment more.
The second problem was operator error. After the above picture was taken I left the stove set out all night to be ready for morning coffee and oatmeal. Unfortunately this was a night of rather heavy rain. When I attempted to light it in the morning the ignition sparker would not work. I had to light the Stella with a lighter. It worked as good as always the rest of the trip.
Most of the time I used the Stella to heat water for 3 hikers. My kettle wasn't big enough for rehydrating 3 meals and making 2 mugs of coffee for each of us. With less than 4 minutes to boil another liter (quart) of water this was no problem. Whoever was closest filled the kettle and another person turned on the gas and pushed the ignition switch. I had arrived at the McCargoe Cove Camp about 4 hours before my friends. I Had hiked alone for 3 days while they rested and recovered at Windigo. They took a boat ride to meet me at McCargoe Cove. I set the stove up on rocks partly from habit and partly because the first water I heated was just in my small kettle.
Two days later we were at the Rock Harbor Camp. We were at Rock Harbor for 2 days both because my friends had taken short cuts and I had hiked past 2 campsites we had planned to use.
Another hiker from the next shelter (new friends) brought over a bigger kettle and we heated water all day for 5 (and sometimes 6) of us. The Stella worked just as well (or perhaps better) for 5 people as it did for me alone.
Our last day on the island the weather was still rather cold after 2 days of storm north of the island on Lake Superior. On our last day on the island the boat back to Houghton Michigan was delayed because of fog. We kept water hot for food, coffee and tea from 8 AM until 3 PM when the boat arrived.
I wish I could say just how much fuel was used. I can't because of the way we got resupplied with fuel. We used 2 of the original 3 canisters in the first 10 days. When we met at Windigo (the west end of the island) they had bought another canister with twice the net capacity as the original canisters. When we separated again I took the remaining original container and they kept the bigger one. We finished the last original canister soon after we got back together again. There we found another bigger canister in the shelter that felt to be more than half full.
When we got back to Rock Harbor a woman leaving on the plane gave me another, nearly full, canister along with more food she didn't want to carry. I came home with 3 larger canisters that, according to weight, are each over half full.
The Optimus Stella + worked well for 2 meals daily for 15 days. I heated water for just myself for 5 days. There were 8 days when the Stella heated water for 3 hungry hikers. The last 2 days it was used for 5 and sometimes 6 people. Hot drinks were the order of the day.
We had started with three 8 oz (227 g) net weight fuel canisters. When we got to the store at the west end of the island my friends were worried we would run out so they bought a 16 oz (454 g) net weight canister.
Things I like:
The Stella is quick and easy to set up,
It is almost foolproof to use,
It boils water fast - less than 4 minutes for a quart (liter),
I have not yet been able to check the time for 2 cups (0.47 l) since it was so quick while I was getting my soup ready,
it is great for 3 or more hikers
Things I'm not so sure about:
The Stella is a bit heavy and bulky for a solo hiker trying to go lighter,
I'm still not sure what the problem is with the fuel hose - it may have been installed slightly crooked or it is just getting more flexible with use.
I will get at least 2 more nights backpacking, probably solo. This will give me time to explore my problem with the fuel hose.
I will also be doing day hikes and trail work. I will take the Stella along several times for a hot lunch and coffee.
I will also make more effort to time boiling 2 cups (0.47 l) of water.
This concludes my Field Report. The Long Term Report will be added in about two months.
LONG-TERM TEST LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS
Long Term Report - December 10, 2007
I've been out on 3 overnight solo trips during the last 2 months. The first 2 were in the Manistee National Forest. The high temperature both times was about 55 F (13 C) and the low was 45 F (7 C), as predicted in the weather reports.
The third was in the Pere Marquette State Forest. This time the weather got colder than predicted with a low of 25 F (-4 C).
Both areas are hilly and sandy terrain with a mix of hardwoods, mostly oak and maple, and occasional stands of red or white pine.
I also used the Stella on the deck at home to cook a meal that required slow cooking and long simmering times.
PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD
The Stella worked very well the first time out. I made oatmeal and heated water for coffee for breakfast. I had hot soup and coffee for lunch and the same for supper. I don't usually eat a hot lunch but I wanted to test the stove. The Stella did very well on this hike.
I had planned on a loop hike in the Manistee National Forest for 2 nights, starting October 20, 2007. This is only a 22 mile (35 km) loop but with shorter daylight hours and planning to use the Stella for 3 meals each day I expected to be out 2 nights. The stove worked fine for the first lunch. I started fixing supper just at sundown. I was in a low area protected by many trees so full dark came early.
When I took the stove out of the carry sack the burner top and metal screen fell off. I tried to snap it back in place but it would not stay on. With the burner head partially in place the push button igniter would not work. I had to go back to the tent and find my back up lighter. The Stella lit OK with the lighter so I went ahead with supper. I had the same problem in the morning. When the burner top would not stay in place I had to use the back up lighter. I was still ready to walk soon after sunrise since I used a headlamp to fix breakfast and get packed up. I did solve my problem of needing to set the stove higher than the fuel canister. I worked the fuel hose through my hands to give it the required bends. I wish I had thought of this idea several weeks earlier.
I hiked the remaining 11 miles (18 km) before 4 PM so I went home instead of a second night. I did stop to make a hot lunch where I had intended to spend the second night. The next morning, at home, I used pliers to force the burner top back in place. Then the push button ignition worked as it had before.
Since all of my backpacking meals are prepared by just boiling water and pouring into a ziplock bag I fixed a lunch at home. I started with raw ingredients and simmered with a low flame for nearly an hour.
I ate a hot lunch on the deck.
(ready to eat)
I turned it off after cooking. Then I put water in a kettle and boiled water twice, first for coffee and then for hot water to wash all the dishes.
The Stella worked very well for this test.
I had planned a 3 night hike in early November. I took a multitool with pliers so I could do field repairs if needed. The weather report called for a high of 50 F (10 C) and a low of 40 F (4 C). I seldom put much faith in weather reports with good reason. I parked at the Muncie Lakes parking area and walked about 10 miles (16 Km) to the Sand Lakes Quiet Area and camped near the third lake. When I set up the Stella to heat water for my soup the burner top had come off again while stuffed in my pack. I used the pliers to wedge it back in place. The temperature was down to 35 F (2 C) when I attempted to use the piezo lighter. No go, it would not work. I had stored my backup lighter in the Optimus stuff sack so it was handy. The Stella easily lit with my backup lighter.
That night my feet were so cold I never did sleep much. It was 25 F (-4 C) when I started fixing breakfast at 6 AM. Again the piezo lighter would not work. Otherwise the Stella worked just fine. This temperature did not seem to affect how the stove worked once I had it lit. I did not do anything to warm the stove or fuel canister.
My feet were so cold I decided to shorten my trip and hiked about 8 miles (13 km) to an alternate camp location I had been told about. It was a very nice location except for the cold wind across the lake. I hung my Tarptent over a bush for a wind break and fixed lunch. I still had the same problem with the stove piezo lighter not working.
While eating lunch I decided I just had too many problems and hiked on back to the truck.
While I was writing this report I brought the Stella and a fuel canister in from the garage. After I let the stove and canister get warmed up to room temperature I tried the piezo lighter (I know I shouldn't do that). It worked just fine.
I had previously learned that it wouldn't work after getting rained on. I now think that when the spark point gets damp it can't spark. Next spring I will try drying the ignition point with a lighter when it doesn't work.
A brief summary.
Testing the Optimus Stella has been a learning experience for me. I have been very pleased with the Stella and, for short times, a bit unhappy. I now think the problems I've had were more likely my fault rather than any fault of the stove.
It is different than any stove I've used before and I am sometimes slow to adjust. I really need to take the time to examine and analyze my problems. I have eventually found solutions to all the little problems I've had with the Stella.
I had sent an email to Optimus Customer service in November, while traveling. The first response was to ask for a better description of the problem. The second response came right while I was writing this report. There was a good explanation of how to fix the piezo lighter if there was no spark. I wrote back and told them the stove worked okay when both stove and canister were warmed to room temperature.
I would now say the Optimus customer response is just as good as their equipment.
I will probably not use the Stella much for solo hikes. I will use it on a few early spring hikes just to prove to myself that it will work well in cold and wet conditions.
This report was created with the BackpackGearTest.org Report Writer Version 1.
Copyright 2007. All rights reserved.
I will use it for any trips with one or more other people. I will carry it when I backpack with my son and his daughter. The Stella is much easier to use than any of the stoves he has. I hope someone can learn from my mistakes. The Stella is a very nice stove for more than one person or for cooking more elaborate meals. It will remain a part of my gear and will be used when justified by the situation.
This concludes my Long Term Test Report. I would like to thank BackpackGearTest.org and Optimus for giving me the opportunity to try out (and to test) the Optimus Stella +, a fine piece of equipment.
Read more reviews of Optimus gear
Read more gear reviews by Edwin L. Morse