The Optimus Vega promotes its inverted gas cylinder as ‘integrated 4-season mode’ because when inverted it performs better in cold weather. Optimus also highlights that faster boil times are possible with the gas canister inverted; but for greater efficiency and better simmer control using the gas cylinder the conventional way is better. The flame control is also at the gas cylinder end, so there’s no concern about spilling boiling water on your hand during adjustment. The pan supports are 16cm in diameter, slope towards the burner and are well-serrated to help the pan stay in place rather than slide around. The height of the pan supports is slightly lower than similar stoves to further increase stability of pans placed on top, but the burner isn’t as wide as some, making the Optimus Vega best suited to smaller pans. You get a windshield and the whole lots packs down neatly and weighs 216g, which while being heavier than the lightest of stoves is a great weight for a remote canister design with wide
pan supports. For £85 the price feels high in comparison with lighter screw-on burners and stoves that include a pan set, but if you rate stability and optimum gas performance in a range of weather conditions as your priority, then the Optimus Vega is an excellent option.
Includes windshield, stuffsack
Packed size 12x7.5x6cm
Pan support diameter 16cm
Weight (without fuel) 179g burner + 37g windshield
MSR Windpro II 2014
Trail rating 4
Gas burners with a remote canister have the advantage of providing a more stable base for a wobbly pan of boiling water, but the canister can also be easily inverted, which has the benefit of improving performance in colder conditions. The Windpro II is the latest version of this popular MSR design and it benefits from very wide (15cm diameter) pan supports, which means you can easily use a wide pan on here to cook food for one or two people. The burner has a wide diameter of 7cm, which again is ideal for spreading the heat across the base of a wider pan for more even heating. The gas flow is controlled by a knob at the gas cylinder end of the burner, so there’s no risk of accidentally wobbling the pan and spilling hot water on your hands when adjusting the flame. The MSR Windpro II comes with a folding windshield and stuffsack, and while it isn’t the lightest option it’s an excellent all-rounder for general camping and backpacking, particularly good for bigger pans and great to use in a mixture of warm and cold conditions. The only slight niggle is that the price tag isn’t quite as attractive as some stoves (for this price some stoves come with pans as well).
Includes windshield, stuffsack
Packed size 11x7.5x8.5cm
Pan support diameter 15cm
Weight (without fuel) 205g burner + 73g windshield
Primus Eta Express 2014
Trail rating 5
The Primus Eta Express has gradually evolved into a great practical camping and backpacking stove. For £95 you get a burner with piezo ignition, a windshield, and a cooking pot with a lid that includes a colander and a plastic bowl. Everything packs into a stuffsack, but it doesn’t pack down as neatly as it could with a little more refinement. But I do like how the windshield clips to the burner with a magnet and the pot lid has a silicone grip so you can remove it easily without burning yourself. The pot also has fold-out handles, so again it’s easy to use. The pot itself is 14cm in diameter, so you can use it to cook food as well as just heat water, making this a more flexible cooking system than some other designs. The lid is also made from clear plastic, so you can see what’s happening without having to remove it. For maximum efficiency there’s a heat exchanger on the base of the pan, and the pan sits directly on the burner supports. Those pan supports don’t curve inwards like some stoves and the burner doesn’t directly attach to them, so it can slide around more easily than some. But this is a tiny niggle really, as the overall performance of the Primus Eta Express is superb and I expect it to continually evolve.
Includes dedicated pot, windbreak, plastic bowl, lid, stuffsack
Packed size 14x14x11cm
Pan support diameter 14cm
Weight (without fuel) 102g burner + 392g pan set and windshield
Jetboil Flash 2014
Trail rating 4
Jetboil stoves are extremely popular with solo backpackers, thanks to their unique integrated pan design and simple but effective performance. The Flash comes in a range of colours to suit your taste, but whichever you choose you get a tall dedicated pot that takes 0.5 litres of water and is fitted with a set of heat exchanger fins on the base. The pot is 14cm high, so all the heat is directed to a relatively small area on the base and is then transmitted through the contents of the pot to optimise performance. That deep pan needs a long spoon to reach the bottom, though, and if you’re heating up wet food then plenty of stirring is a good idea. But use this for water or to warm up a Wayfayrer-style food pouch and it’s ideal. When assembled the pot, burner and gas cylinder are quite tall and therefore unstable so some care is needed to place it on a level area, but you do get an additional tripod base to improve stability. The burner screws directly to the gas canister and has a piezo ignition, and the flame control is right under the burner, so again some care is needed to adjust the flame without spilling water. But what I really like is the way the gas cylinder and burner all fit neatly inside the pot. This makes the Jetboil Flash quick and easy to pack.
Includes dedicated pot and foot support
Packed size 18x11x11cm
Pan support diameter 9cm
Weight (without fuel) 143g burner + 228g pot set + 26g foot support
If you really can’t stretch your budget the Vango Compact Gas Stove is a superb option for backpacking if you can live without peizo ignition, more stable pan support or even less weight. It won Trail’s ‘Best Value’ award.
If you aren’t in need of the absolute lightest or absolute cheapest kit, then the Coleman F1 Power PZ is a great-value general purpose camping and backpacking stove.
Kovea is a new brand to the UK that’s well worth watching closely as the Supalite Titanium is a great lightweight backpacking stove.
If you want minimal weight, then at 47g the GoSystem Fly Ti is a great option. The pan supports are smaller than others but the burner is wider than some heavier stoves.
The Optimus Vega is an ideal stove for camping and backpacking in a range of conditions, where the ability to stabilise the pan is important.
The MSR Windpro II is ideal for a wide variety of conditions thanks to its stable design, wide burner and inverted gas canister.
The Primus Eta Express is well-priced, is practical and continues to improve, which is a tasty recipe for a wide range of campers and backpackers. It won Trail’s ‘Best in Test’ accolade.
The Jetboil Flash is an extremely popular stove that’s supplied with a pot ideal for heating water and pouches of meals, but other options are more stable and better for more cooking a wider variety of food.
Review by Graham Thompson
First published in Trail magazine August 2014