TGO Challenge coordinator Ali Ogden discovers that you learn a lot about a stove when you need it the most…
Type: canister-mounted gas stove
By Ali Ogden
The last time either Sue or I brought a stove we were in a different century. For both of us, items of backpacking equipment have become like old friends that we rediscover on every trip, and things are only consigned to the back of a drawer when they malfunction – though we may be tempted if their younger cousins are a lot lighter. The stove I brought – possibly a Primus but I really can’t be sure – had a new-fangled piezo ignition. At the time a more experienced backpacker stroked his greying beard and said “Bit of a gimmick – it’ll give up the ghost before the year is out.” Two decades later it still fires almost every time. Sue’s original MSR PocketRocket is almost as old, and after a dozen or so TGO Challenge crossings, a LEJOG and many other adventures it is still working well.
So neither of us needed a new stove, but with both of our existing burners rather elderly there is always a concern that something might fail (and the lack of a morning brew would be calamitous). When MSR offered us a new stove to test we jumped at the chance. It arrived a week before the 2019 TGO Challenge, and with Sue having access to a kettle in Montrose, it fell to me to test it first.
Vague hopes for a quick overnight wild camp to get used to the stove came to nothing. So preparation consisted of five minutes working out how to get the arms upright (and no, of course I didn’t read the instructions!), attaching it to a cylinder, firing it up once to be sure it worked, dispensing with the somewhat bulky bag in favour of the decade-old ziplock bag my old stove lived in, and making sure it fitted in my pan – which it did – and wasn’t heavier than the old stove – which it was, but at about 2g difference I really don’t care!
So its first test was at 890m on the South Glen Shiel Ridge, camping on snow with a bitter northerly wind. We’d had a tough day and by the time we pitched it was 7pm and the need for a hot beverage was overwhelming. You learn a lot about your equipment when you need it the most.
Setup – I was glad I had worked it out beforehand, as unfolding the arms is somewhat counterintuitive – though pleasingly so from a design point of view. It’s neat and clever and not difficult even with numb fingers – you just have to remember how to do it. Several times over the next few weeks I found myself trying to open it the wrong way, so I can also confirm it is pretty sturdy.
Boiling rate – No doubt there are figures out there for how quickly it boils a litre of water. What I can tell you is that with my old stove I have time to decide whether it’s tea time or soup time, find the relevant things in my food bag and then contemplate the day for a few moments. To my surprise the pan boiled before I had even made my choice. By the end of the Challenge I had become much more decisive!
Performance in wind – It is about 1cm taller than my old one, so there was a gap above my Primus wind shield. It had been windless when I pitched, but by the time I brewed the bitter north wind was blowing straight on my porch. Despite this it coped well with very little spluttering even when simmering.
Simmering – I put way too much water in my evening dehydrated meal pouch – combination of tiredness and new varifocals – so decanted it into my pan. The control was easy to adjust and very sensitive so I simmered for 5 minutes, after which my meal was edible (and there was no burnt central patch so I assume the heat was evenly distributed).
Performance in cold weather – In the morning everything was frozen solid – including me. I had forgotten to bring my gas canister inside but it fired up immediately and a mug of tea started the defrosting process.
Fuel efficiency – Over the next two weeks I used the stove in pretty much the same way as my old one, heating water for 2-3 cups of tea, a cuppa soup and an evening meal every day with occasional simmering of overhydrated meals. I did, though, camp for 11 of the 13 nights (I would usually sleep out for only 8 or 9). As usual I took a 250g Primus gas canister with me and had a new canister in my resupplies on day 7. When home I weighed both (and some full / empty canisters) and confirmed that I would have made it to the east coast on just one canister, though not with a lot to spare. Definitely an improvement on my old stove. The second one I used was MSR-branded gas, but I didn’t feel there was any difference in how the stove functioned and it was significantly more expensive.
Piezo ignition – the button on my old stove was a bit of a fiddle, and there was an art to avoid the flame when withdrawing my hand. The PocketRocket Deluxe was quick and easy even with thin gloves on and it fired every time. I’ll let you know in 20 years’ time if the mechanism is as long lasting as my old stove…
Verdict – When I packed away my gear after the Challenge the PocketRocket Deluxe stayed in its newfound spot inside my pan, and the old stove is now at the back of the drawer. The new stove will, though, have to come out at some point, as it is to be shared between myself and Sue – and it’s her turn to use it. Will the old stove then find its way back into the old plastic bag? Sorry old friend but no – I’ll be buying an MSR stove of my own.