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Reviews > Cook Gear > Stoves > Optimus Vega stove > Test Report by David Wilkes

Test series by David Wilkes

Optimus Vega 

Remote Gas Canister
Stove

Initial Report - May 28 2013
Field Report - July Aug 20 2013
Long Term Report - Oct 15 2013

Tester Information

Name: David Wilkes
E-Mail: amatbrewer@yahoo.com
Age: 47
Location: Yakima Washington USA
Gender: M
Height: 5'11" (1.80 m)
Weight: 197 lb (89.40 kg)

Biography:

I started backpacking in 1995 when I moved to Washington State. Since then, I have backpacked in all seasons and conditions the Northwest has to offer.  I prefer trips on rugged trails with plenty of elevation gain. While I continuously strive to lighten my load, comfort and safety are most important to me. I have finally managed to get my basic cold weather pack weight, not including consumables, to under 30 lbs (14 kg).

Product Information

Manufacturer:

Katadyn Products Inc.

Year of Manufacture:

2013

Manufacturer’s Website:

http://www.optimusstoves.com

MSRP:

US$ 94.95

Stated Weight:

178g (6.28oz)

Measured Weight:

180 g (6.35 oz) Stove
38 g (1.35 oz) Wind Screen
20 g (0.7 oz) Storage sack

Stated Dimensions:

130 x 70 x 65 mm (5.12 x 2.76 x 2.56 in)

Product image
Image courtesy of Katadyn Products Inc.

Product Description:

The Optimus Vega stove is marketed as a 4 season lightweight remote canister stove. In addition to packing small and being touted as having the lowest profile in its category. The stove features a turbo/ 4 season mode where it burns the liquid fuel from the canister vs. the normal “efficiency” mode where one of its claims to fame is that it can be used to simmer. Included with the stove is a windscreen precut so it can be adjusted to two sizes.

Initial Report

May 28 2013
Stove in GSI Soloest pot
Specifications from the manufacturer:

Boil time

as little as 3 min/L in 4 Season Mode and 4.5 min/L in efficiency mode depending on climate etc.

Burn time

up to 160 min at max. output (230 g canister) in efficiency mode

Dimensions

130 x 70 x 65 mm / 5.12 x 2.76 x 2.56 inches

Kit includes

complete stove, windscreen, storage bag

Power

3,700 W / 12,580 BTU in 4 Season Mode and 1,400 W / 4,760 BTU in efficiency mode

Technology

Gas (Butane, Propane, Isobutane)

Weight

178 g / 6.28 oz


The Optimus Vega is referred to as a remote canister stove. That is, it is stove that uses a pressurized fuel canister and instead of having the stove mount directly on top of the more traditional canister stoves, it utilizes a fuel line to separate the canister from the stove, hence the “remote” description. While this design may not be as compact as some more traditional canister stoves, it can provide some advantages that I will go into in more detail below. One feature this configuration allows is the ability to invert the fuel canister so that it utilizes the fuel from the canister in its liquid state rather than the gas (more on this later in the report). The stove is compatible with the very popular (at least in my area) screw on fuel canister that contains a mixture of Butane, Propane, and/or Isobutene. Note that there are various manufacturers of these canisters and they all do not use the same mixtures, so one canister may perform a little different in a given stove and conditions than another. I have to mention that after using a few different brands I cannot say that I have noticed any significant difference in them during normal use. In my area the availability of a particular brand varies from shop to shop and only one place in town that I know of sells Optimus fuel. Most readily available in my town are two brands of fuel; one containing an 80/20 mix of butane and propane, and other uses a propane and isobutene blend (I don’t know the ratio). These are probably what I use most during the test since they are what I already have on hand.

Valve and connectorAs mentioned above one feature of this stove is its ability to use the fuel canister upright or inverted. But why would I want to do this? Well there are two primary reasons; hotter flame and/or cold weather performance. The fuel in most canisters consists of a mix of fuels. Propane while a very good fuel requires a very sturdy canister making a 100% propane canister too heavy to be desirable for backpacking. Butane and Isobutene do not require as sturdy a container making them preferable for backpackers however they tend to not vaporize when cold (approaching 0C/32F) so they do not work well in cold conditions. By combining the gases, in cold conditions, the propane can be used as a propellant for the liquid fuel. Note: when these gas canisters are used upright in cold conditions they tend to burn off the propane leaving the liquid fuel unusable (at least until it warms up). Hence using a mixed fuel canister inverted is useful in cold conditions. A second reason for using the canister inverted, is that by delivering liquid fuel to the stove, which is then vaporized by the heat of the stove itself, it attains higher pressure and thereby can produce a hotter flame (referred to as the “turbo mode” of this stove).

stove colapsedAnother feature of remote canister stoves is the ability to use a wind screen and thereby improve efficiency, especially in windy conditions. With more traditional canister stoves where the stove mounts directly on top of the canister, putting a wind screen around the stove can be very dangerous as the reflected heat from the stove can overheat the canister. As I understand it, the canisters are made such that the bottom should expand when it overheats (probably toppling the stove and maybe providing an unpleasant warning). However there is still a very real danger that the canister can explode. All of the attached canister stoves I have used come with strenuous warnings to not use a wind screen. Since I have found using a windscreen can greatly improve a stoves performance, it is the thing I dislike most about the direct mount canister stoves.

One advertised feature of this stove is its ability to simmer. I have used a number of different stoves over the years, utilizing different fuels and designs (I am kind of a stove nut) and I have learned that most stoves either boil water fast, or they simmer. It has been rare in my experience to find a stove that does both well. So one of the first things I did with this stove (after a full inspection and photos), I used it to simmer brown rice in a thin bottomed titanium (Ti) pot (the pot more responsible for me burning meals than any other). To my surprise it not only brought the water to a boil quickly, but then simmered the rice to completion without a single burned grain. Something to note about this stove is that it has a wider flame radius than some of the canister stoves I have used, so it distributes the heat better resulting in less of a hotspot. This is especially important for very thin pots like the ultra light Ti pots.

One of the things I noticed when setting up the stove for the first time is the steel jacketed fuel line. Like my other remote canister stove the stove is connected to the fuel valve by way of a flexible steel jacketed fuel line. The design allows a strong heat resisting but still flexible fuel line, but they tend to retain some bend after being stored coiled up and can make positioning the stove while setting up difficult. So I make it a habit of straighten it out before I connect the fuel canister. The canister screws into a fitting at the end of the fuel line. This fitting includes a green coated wire valve control and has markings indicating what direction to turn the valve for opening/closing. The fitting also contains two folding wire feet that when deployed stabilize the canister in the inverted position (a feature my other remote canister stove is missing). The three legs/pot stands of the stove are attached to the stove via central pivots (top and bottom) allowing them to be easily collapsed and deployed. Something I immediately noticed is that the pot stands extend all the way to the center of the stove. The design looks like it will support pots of various sizes including my small GSI soloist.

One feature of canister stoves is they can be very easy to light. First time I lit it I noticed it takes almost a full rotation of the valve before the fuel began to flow. Once the gas was flowing, as expected it was very easy to light by a quick strike of my flint/steel fire starter. The flame was easy to adjust and the stove went out almost immediately after the valve was closed (when using the canister in the inverted position, like other liquid gas stoves there is a significant delay between adjusting the valve and the stoves response). One thing stressed in the documentation is to light the stove with the canister in the upright position and then invert the canister if needed. This helps to avoid flair ups and spilling liquid fuel on the ground. I tested out the inverted canister (turbo/4 season) mode and found it did greatly increase the flame and as expected the delay between adjusting the valve and the stoves reaction was significant, but no more so than with other liquid gas stoves I have used.

Field Report

Aug 20 2013
1L and .5 L potsUsage
  • Goat Rocks Wilderness (Washington Cascades) trail name unknown – solo 2 day backpack
  • Mt Adams climb – 2 days, 2 people
  • Goat Rocks Wilderness, Pacific Crest Trail Association (PCTA) Logout and trail Maintenance trip – 3 days, 4 people

Comments:
The stove fits well in my small titanium pot as well as my larger group cooking set. Setting up the stove for use could not be simpler: spread out the feet, screw on the fuel canister, put the wind screen in place, and light. As the commercial says “so simple a caveman could do it”.

On Mt AdamsThe Mt Adams trip ended up being only the two of us, I was hoping for a larger group. As it turns out my climbing partner had some very strict dietary restrictions so we decided that we would both use the same stove but cook our own meals (basically all we did was boil water for breakfast and dinner). Due to the unseasonably warm weather we had a plentiful source of running water so we did not need to melt snow. The cooking for my solo trip was similar, just boiling water. For the PCTA Logout I got a bit more adventurous. The first night’s dinner was French Onion soup (boiling water added to a concentrate that my daughter made for me, her own invention) followed by Zataran’s Red Beans and Rice (bring to a boil and simmer for 10min). The second dinner was Israeli couscous with chicken broth, dried vegetables, and dried Italian salami. Breakfast both days was oatmeal (real rolled oats, not instant. Boil and simmer for 10min).

As for fuel utilization; on the PCT Logout trip I brought along one partially used large canister (8.1 oz / 230 g) and a brand new small canister (3.53 oz /100 g) as a backup. As it turns out I made 4 meals (2 dinners & 2 breakfasts) plus hot water for morning coffee (twice). After the first dinner I started to wonder if the two canisters would be enough. While heating water for coffee the first morning I had trouble keeping the stove lit, I inverted the canister (I had left it out overnight) and was sure it would run out before I finished making breakfast. By the time the second day's dinner was ready I could not believe I was still using the same canister, but was sure it could not still have enough fuel for the morning (the second night I kept both canisters in my sleeping bag)…I was wrong. I returned home with some fuel (very little) in the large canister and the backup canister completely unused.

As mentioned above, on the PCT trip I left the stove out overnight the first night. Since the forecast was for the night time lows to not get below 50F (10C), I was not too concerned about the canister getting too cold. However in the morning there was a noticeable reduction in the pressure so I inverted the canister (I love that feature). While the stove was in use with the canister inverted I noticed a small layer of frost on the valve. This evaporated soon after I turned the stove off and never seemed to affect the valve. As with every other stove that utilizes liquid fuel (as canister stoves do when the canister is inverted) and the valve is remote from the stove, there is a significant delay between adjusting the valve and the stove's reaction. Having experience with this I was able to anticipate it and it was not a problem, but I recall that there was a bit of a learning curve for me when I first started using this kind of stove.

Making French Onion SoupSo far I really don’t have much to complain about with this stove. It is light, packs small, is easy to set up and easy to use. So far it has been reliable and requires virtually no tending or maintenance. It boils water quickly but also simmers. My large 2.5 L pot fits well on the stove and is very stable and my small .5 L solo cup also sits well on the stove. My one complaint so far is that the neon green paint on the wire valve handle has chipped…OK, so that is kind of silly, as it is entirely cosmetic and probably the result of the way I am packing the stove. But what kind of reviewer would I be if I did not find something to complain about?

Long Term Report

Oct 15 2013
Usage: One abbreviated 15 mi (24 km) weekend hike of the William O. Douglas trail Central Washington

My schedule allowed for only one weekend trip with this stove during the LTR phase. I wanted it to be a good one so I decided to do a trip I have been thinking about for a while now. I put my pack on and walked out my front door headed for where the William O. Douglas trail passes about 2 miles (3 km) from my house. After about 15 mi (24 km) of mixed terrain, pavement, gravel, dirt, basalt, etc. with my feet hurting I called it quits and had my wife pick me up. So sadly I don’t have much to add to my previous report besides some final observations.

While packing for this last trip, knowing I was facing a long day of walking, weight was a factor. While this stove may not be nearly as light as my lightest stoves it cooks much faster and is far more versatile and reliable. It is also as light if not lighter than most of my other stoves and fits well in my solo pot. With those considerations I had no problem with including this stove on this outing. The features of this stove, packs small, reliable even in cold weather, cooks fast as well as actually simmers, and light weight makes this stove my current favorite. About the only drawback I have been able to find is one that is common with all canister stoves and that is the canister.

With that in mind I am looking forward to using this stove for some snow camping this winter and fully expect it to be my primary stove for the near future.

Likes:
  • Lightweight and packs small
  • Easy to assemble/dissemble
  • Fits all my pots
  • Feet to stabilize the inverted canister
Dislikes:
  • None so far

This concludes my report. I would like to thank the folks at Katadyn Products Inc. and BackpackGearTest.org for the opportunity to test this product.

 



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