Customer Review

4 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good; But Has Problems, July 29, 2011
This review is from: Optimus Svea Stove (Sports)
8-12-2011

(This is a completely revised review as of 08-12-11, due to errors and gaps in initial review. Most who read my reviews know I am a very critical reviewer, and will be completely transparent about problems and defects. Yet in the case of the Svea 123, I have failed, and did not properly test the product to provide valid data. Rather, I let my annoyance factor drive my review, and also my excitement with other products led me to be unfairly negative and critical. Here is the revised review, based on real bench tests, and after considering the detailed rebuttals provide by R. Proux in the Comments section.)

I bought my Svea for one reason; Colin Fletcher who was my backpacking hero when I was a kid, used one. (Although, even then I preferred my little propane Gerry stove, and eventually lost my Svea). So, for whatever reason I decided to get one.

To be blunt, this stove is heavy, is unstable, performs poorly in wind, takes 8 minutes and 15 seconds (multiple tests at 5400 feet altitude) to boil a liter of water , and is very hard to light (requires priming with Coghlans Paste). It can be adjusted to simmer; but takes a very fine hand to do. If you are buying it for efficiency or performance, you would be much better off with an MSR Dragonfly for white gas, or the MSR Reactor or Wind Pro for propane. I wish things were different, and that this stove had been somehow upgraded. But it has not.

To be fair, in addition to sentimental value, the stove is very durable, and does not require pumping. This internal pressurization is also why it is slow to boil water.

However, this the MOST reliable liquid-fuel stove ever invented, and I have never heard of one failing. This is something to consider VERY seriouly. While the MSR Dragonfly requires a lot of maintenance, and can fail in the field, the Svea requires almost NO maintenance, and I have never heard of one failing. This is something to consider as waiting longer for water to boil, or more trouble cooking eggs, may be secondary to not having to ever worry about a stove failing on a climb or long-out backpacking trip.

Really, I think most people are better off with a propane stove unless in winter or where fuel is not available. Then a white gas stove is better. And in that case, the Svea 123 is definitely one to consider. However, if you are traveling where white gas is going to be hard to find, then a multi-fuel stove would be better. The Svea only runs on white gas. If you can live with the slower boil times, priming hassles, and having only some simmering capability, you will in return not have to worry about the stove failing or not turning on.

(Below is my original review)

I bought my Svea for one reason; Colin Fletcher who was my backpacking hero when I was a kid, used one. (Although, even then I preferred my little propane Gerry stove, and eventually lost my Svea). So, for whatever reason I decided to get one.

To be blunt, this stove is heavy, is unstable, performs poorly in wind, takes a long time to boil water, and is very hard to light. Oh, and forget about trying to simmer anything. If you are buying it for efficiency or performance, you would be much better off with an MSR Dragonfly for white gas, or the MSR Reactor for propane. I wish things were different, and that this stove had been somehow upgraded. But it has not.

To be fair, in addition to sentimental value, the stove is durable, and does not require pumping. This internal pressurization is also why it is slow to boil water.

So, I am putting this review out so people know the truth about the stove, and why some of us old-timers might have one. It is a durable, but poorly performing cantankerous stove that is very outdated. But if you want to cook on a piece of backpacking history, go for it.
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Comments


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Showing 1-10 of 21 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Aug 1, 2011 3:20:37 PM PDT
none says:
I have a 40 year old SEVA 123 that still works great. Back then REI sold an aftermarket filler cap with one way valve integral to the cap and tiny pump to apply a sight pressure to the fuel tank before lighting the burner. Then, when you opened the burner key, a small amount of fuel squirted out and filled the tank top cup with fuel. Ignite that and you are up and running in 30 seconds or less since the pumped-in pressure works long enough until the heat induced pressurization takes over. It is a great stove and this little add on pressurization system makes it greater. Sadly, my pump gave out last month and I can't find the aftermarket manufacturer anymore (name has long since worn off the label and REI no longer carries it). I also bought a nesting set of two pots and fry pan (or pot lid) with nesting stand and wind screen for the stove 40 years ago. This solves both wind and stove stability problems. At 40 years old, my pots are a little scratched up with a few dents but still working great. It all nests into a single small pot with stove and all else inside with tie strap and inside room to store pot handle and cleanup sponge.

Posted on Aug 1, 2011 6:52:11 PM PDT
R. Proulx says:
Anyone who owns this stove, and knows how to operate it correctly, knows that this stove must be primed in order for it to start and operate properly. It can be done with the pump, a method I don't personally recommend, it can be done with solid fuel tablets, or it can be done with Coghlan's Paste. Without one method or another of pre-heating, it is just a lump of solid brass.

Once pressurized, it is like an F-16 with its afterburner full-on. When it is properly engaged, no other stove I have seen used, at elevations up to and including 5,000 meters, and that includes the MSR models you mentioned, boils water faster.

The adjustment key does allow you to simmer water. It just takes a bit of practice to get used to how finely turned the key must be to properly adjust the flame to simmer.

No offence intended, but it sounds to me like a matter of user error.

Posted on Aug 1, 2011 7:14:13 PM PDT
Toolman says:
In terms of priming, certainly of course that must be done. I don't personally like the way it is primed, and much prefer the MSR where you have a pump pressurized fuel tank to force the fuel out. Who wants to carry heat tablets and such just to prime the thing? I don't, but some may and that is fine. (What I used to do, is open the fuel bottle, and pour some fuel on the stove, ignite and then Whump! as the priming takes place.)

In terms of boiling time, I have tested the Svea, and at 5000 ft altitude it is around 8 - 9 minutes per quart. The MSR Dragonfly is around 4 minutes, and the MSR Reactor is 2.5 minutes. Yes, that last is correct. There are numerous tests on the web that confirm these results. There is simply no way the Svea can come close to these times.

Simmering, I agree, with finicking and a fine touch, it can to some degree. Not to a fine degree, but I stand corrected that an experienced user can get it to a slow heat.

Now, no stove has the long-term reliability with little or no maintenance of the Svea in terms of actual track record going back 40 years. I still don't like it as it is a pain in the neck, and would prefer to do yearly maintenance on the Dragonfly. The reactor, with hardly any moving parts, and running on propane, may turn out to be the equal of the Svea in long term reliability. No way to know for sure.

All in all, it is a dinasaur, but a very loved one and as I said, I cut my teeth on this persnickety little thing and I still keep mine even though sometimes I want to toss it. Not that I use it anymore, but who knows, maybe I will, just to annoy my fellow hikers! No offense meant in any way either, just talking shop here.

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 1, 2011 10:44:17 PM PDT
R. Proulx says:
In my comment, I said 5,000 meters, because I climb 6,000+ meter mountains here in South America. You mention 5,000 feet, which I guess is high for other parts of the world.

However, at 5,000 meters, the boiling point of water is only about 183 degrees Fahrenheit, which I use as a standard because in this case you have used feet and not meters. Due to incredibly reduced atmospheric pressure, cooking time relative to sea level is at least 8 times greater. I can boil a liter of water with my Svea at 5,000 meters in anywhere between 8 and 11 minutes, The times you have quoted at 5,000 feet won't even be remotely comparable. And no, I have not forgotten that you said quart, which is of course just slightly less than a liter.

Due to its relatively high atmospheric pressure, a 5,000 foot test is quite meaningless to a high altitude climber. Their needs and standards are completely different.

I want to make it clear, that in no way am I attempting to denigrate the other stoves, because I am sure that they are indeed fine products.

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 1, 2011 11:07:08 PM PDT
Toolman says:
This is interesting. I actually did the tests in my backyard in Colorado, which is around 5000 feet. I have used the other stoves up to around 12,000 feet, or around 3700 meters, and had very similar results because they are pressurized. However, I have no experience with cooking times. I'm also not sure how your times will convert in favor of the Svea, as water boils at a lower temperature up higher, and therefore it boils faster. So the Svea is probably going to take even longer than I thought at a lower altitude to boil water.

My conclusion from your information is that the Svea actually works better at high altitudes than at lower altitudes due to the lower boiling temperature, and while you are correct that it therefore takes longer to cook food, so would any other stove. It seems the other stoves therefore lose their advantage somewhat as you go up higher. Well, except for the priming chores, of course.

The bigger question might be does the Svea have lower fuel consumption rates, resulting in less fuel carried, especially in light of higher cooking times at higher altitudes? I suspect it may in fact use less fuel, but it is hard to get this data or at least I don't have it.

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 2, 2011 8:37:28 AM PDT
R. Proulx says:
You have asked "Who wants to carry heat tablets and such just to prime the thing." There are some very good reasons why I highly recommend that you consider using either fuel tablets or paste to prime your Svea.

First, the amount of fuel that you are pouring on your stove top is wasteful and inefficient. To get the stove properly primed it takes a fair amount of fuel. The weight of the amount of fuel that you are using to start your Svea far exceeds the weight of the small slice of fuel tablet or bead of paste that I use. I know this for a fact for I have tried lighting the Svea in every conceivable way, including pouring fuel on top. Also, both the paste and the tablets are far less likely to blow out in a wind than the fuel on top method, the paste a bit less so than the tablets. The same by the way holds true for using a fuel pump. Again, it is wasteful and inefficient.

Second, pouring fuel on top of the Svea can be highly hazardous and I can't disagree more with the Optimus's recommendation to do this. It is virtually impossible to not spill fuel in the area around the stove. I can't even prevent extraneous spill using an eye dropper. Your method and the pump method should never be attempted inside a tent and I wouldn't even do it in my tent's vestibule, a Marmot Thor 2, which has a rather ample vestibule. The flare-ups that occur using this and the pump method are just too risky. A previous poster mentioned that he could no longer find a pump. I hope this is correct, because I have one, and I never use it due to the reasons listed above.

Of the two methods that I do recommend, I prefer the paste over the tablets. Unfortunately, the paste is hard to source outside North America, whereas fuel tablets are easily sourced just about everywhere. (Due to airline regulations, this is of course an important consideration.) However, both are efficient and most importantly, SAFE!

Posted on Aug 12, 2011 3:52:52 PM PDT
Toolman says:
I have made some major errors in my review, and my Argentenian friend R. Proux was entirely correct in pointing them out. Additionally, some recent events with the MSR Dragonfly stove have given me reason to doubt the some of my review. Therefore, I have engaged in a re-review process of the Svea 120 stove, and am completely revising my review. Now, to be fair, while R. Proux has been completely honest in his review and his advice, there still problems with the Svea 123. It is still a VERY annoying stove. However, it is VERY important that those considering a liquid fuel read my revised review. This is because the Svea 123 is the MOST reliable and maintenance free liquid fuel stove available todayl; and ever made.

Folks, I'm serious here. Because this is a very SERIOUS issue. Even though the boiling time is longer. Even though it requires Coglans paste to prime safely.

R. Proux alludes to this, but does not come right out and say it, and yet he has been using this stove at high altitudes, in rough country, with no problems. I still don't like the boiling times of 8-9 minutes, but the MSR Dragonfly is FAR less reliable, requires FAR more maintenance, and yet is much EASIER to simmer with. But it requires LOTS of maintenance, is prone to field failure, and this could put you in real danger in the field.

Think about it folks. If you are 30 miles from the nearest trailhead, and your stove fails, you have a couple of days of eating only energy bars while you hike out. And if the weather turns sour, what if it takes 3 -4 days? Sure, you will survive as long as you have water. But is this enjoyable? No. With the Svea, this is not going to happen. I have never heard, EVER, of a defective Svea 123. Something you really need to think about as you consider a stove purchase.

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 13, 2011 7:40:17 AM PDT
Toolman says:
Can you provide any experience or data when using this stove in really cold temperatures? Say, below 20 degrees F?

Posted on Aug 14, 2011 8:15:16 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Aug 14, 2011 8:24:48 AM PDT
R. Proulx says:
Until now, I have never heard of the Svea being referred to as anything but a multi-fuel stove. Stamped on the tank of my Svea are the words, "Benzoline Petrol Essence Bensin." Perhaps the Sveas being made today are no longer so embossed. In addition to white gas, it can burn solvent, regular gasoline, and although I have never tried it, kerosene.

Here in Argentina, I use everyday solvent, the same type that painters use, because it is widely sourced and very inexpensive. Of course I have also used white gas, which I consider it to be the best fuel type for this stove. White gas burns more efficiently and cooks faster than solvent, but not so much more so that I am willing to spend four times as much money to purchase white gas. And certainly, white gas is harder to source here, whereas solvent is available in any ferretería, or hardware store.

Either there has been a radical redesign of the Svea, or the latest owner of Optimus, a company called Katadyn, needs to correct the stove's description at its web site. They currently describe it as a "White gasoline" stove. I know of no redesign over the last couple of decades, only some minor tweaks. (Are they conforming to some new government regulation or responding to frivolous litigation?) I think that I just might Skype the company to get clarification on this issue.

As for its ability to light at twenty degrees below zero F, this stove has no problems whatsoever. Although I have yet to test it at minus 40 degrees, I believe that it would still light without difficulty, for the testament of numerous climbers throughout the world indicates this to be the case.

One of my greatest concerns about some of the other stoves on the market, such as the new generation MSR stoves, is that they need regular maintenance. They even require that you carry many spare parts with you at all times, just in case. If I get to 6,000 meters, and the temp is minus 20, the last thing I want to do is figure out which part needs to be replaced! Other than tightening the fittings with the included key-tool, I have never performed any maintenance on my Svea.

I hope be selected to participate in an expedition to the highest archeological dig site in the world, Cerro Llullaillaco, 6,739, which is along the Inca Trail. Campamento 2 will be at just under 6,000 meters. Assuming that I do participate, and further assuming that this old wreck makes it to that point, I will have no concern whatsoever with whether or not my Svea will perform. You can't beat 100% confidence, and at 6,000 meters, nothing less will suffice!

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 14, 2011 9:14:47 AM PDT
Toolman says:
You are absolutely correct about the maintenance issues with the MSR liquid fuel stoves. I have now started carrying a complete Expedition Maintenance Kit, AND a full spare pump in my stove kit bag. How crazy is this? There is no way I want to be out in the field, humping back to the car while existing on energy bars and water. (of course, in the winter, when the stoves are supposed to be better, a stove failure in the field could cost you your life if you are depending on it to melt snow for water). No problems that require any spare parts though with the Svea.

Also, yesterday, I froze my Svea in the freezer all day at zero degrees. (Couldn't get it to minus 20 F) and it started rght up with a little fire paste to prime). This is not a fully correct test, as the air temperature was in the 80's. Still, that would not change things much, if the air was colder as the fuel is already vaporized coming out of the generator in the stove.

As for the fuels issue, I will try next to see what it will burn, even kerosene. I doubt it will burn that, but it might. It probably is true that the manufacturer does not want to advertise was other fuels will work, but this is unhelpful of them.

Finally, on the simmering issue, I am running some tests on this also, and not just with water but actual cooking of foods. I plan to update further my review once complete.

For me, I believe I will start using the Svea more in situations where I need to run white gas, or very very cold conditions, and will use the MSR Wind Pro butane stove for regular backpacking. It is a very reliable stove, and in fact I froze it too, and started up just fine.

As for the MSR liquid-fueled Dragonfly, it is in the back of the shelf, unless I go where I must burn kerosene or perhaps in a situation where I'm just car-camping.
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