Gear junkie: Low profile stove brings big heat
Backpackers have long relied on small, foldable camp stoves to heat water or food far from a trailhead. A new entry this year, the Optimus Vega, does not reinvent the wheel in this category as much as tune it a bit more true.
The Vega weighs 6 ounces and packs tiny. Standard pressurized gas canisters serve as fuel, and it can boil a liter of water in as little as three minutes on high.
I tested it over a weekend of camping. Its design, all aluminum and stainless steel, is well-built. Like similar stove designs, you twist a valve spindle to increase fuel flow.
Crank it on fully and a flame shoots out like a jet engine. Water heated up quickly at my camp site for coffee one morning.
Turn the spindle the other way and the flame dies down. You can simmer a pot of soup or cook food without it burning to the bottom of the pan.
None of the above is unique. But what makes the Vega different is its design, including three legs that fold out extra wide to offer a platform where the ends of the arms are 6 inches apart.
This setup allows for a larger pot on top than similar ultra-light stoves. I cooked with a giant pot that measured about 9 inches wide and 5 inches deep.
In addition, the Vega has a low profile – the base of the stove hovers just 1.6 inches off the ground.
This makes it stable and lets you better protect the flame from wind with the included foil shield. (An aside: To save pack weight, I often leave the wind shield at home and use stones or logs at a campsite to block wind.)
Another nice feature: The Vega can burn its fuel in two ways.
Placed upright, the canister releases its fuel in a gas state. This burns steady and hot.
But for a hotter flame still, flip the canister over – Optimus includes tiny wire arms that fold out for support. Fuel seeps out as liquid when it’s upside-down, and this ratchets up the heat to more than 12,000 BTUs, Optimus cites.
You get just less than 5,000 BTUs in the normal, right-side-up mode. The extra heat is not always needed, and most campers will be happy to simmer and boil in this normal setting, which saves substantially on fuel.
I tested the stove in summer conditions only. But the liquid fuel setting, called the 4-Season Mode, was made for winter temps where a canister stove system relying on gas-state fuel often will not work.
At $95, the Optimus Vega is a fair deal. Look into this versatile little burner if your camping plans include varied temps outdoors, coffee, and maybe some soup for dinner on the side.