User Review: Optimus Svea
Source: bought it new
Price Paid: As I recall I paid about $40.00 for it at REI.
I have had mine since I purchased in new in the early seventies. With only two moving parts (the valve and the needle on the "R" model), it is one of the simplest and most reliable stoves ever made. It is not finicky about old or poor quality fuel, as some newer stoves are.
- Very little assembly required to fire it up
- Integrated windscreen works well
- Pump isn't necessary
- Works well with poor quality or old fuel
- Very little to no maintenance required over years of use
- Not as stable as box stoves or modern separate tank stoves
- Wide pots can increase heat in tank
- Tank needs to be insulated from snow to maintain good pressure
I've had my 123R since about 1972. I used it for all my climbing and hiking trips until about 1990, when I stopped camping for few years because of kids. In 1996 I pulled it out again and it fired right up, even with old gas. I did finally replace the cap, just because I thought I should.
This stove will never let you down. Easy to start, warm hands, or even a match will pressurize the tank, then prime and you're good to go. Beautiful to look at, simple and functional. I'm surprised it never won a design award. Still available after around a century of use. It isn't a "build a stove" like so many are today. And it simmers well. Plus the noise it makes at full tilt is very comforting, although that might just be me remembering many high camps.
I gave it a 4.5 because it isn't the most stable stove, but aside from that, it is simple the best.
Update: March 12, 2012
I've had this stove for almost forty years. As testament to its reliability, I had not used it in more than ten years in 2010, when I decided to take it on a trip. The gas was at least ten years old. I did replace the tank filler, as I was concerned the gasket might have degraded. The stove fired up immediately, sputtered slightly, and then began the jet roar that these little stoves are famous for.
Though the 123 dates to the 1950's, the particular burner style goes back to the early 20th century, and is still the basis for many modern stoves. Several years ago, the Svea rights changed hands once again. The new rights holder, with many more modern stoves to sell, decided to discontinue the 123. However, there was such a hue and cry from around the world, that they decided to make once last batch to sell through A & H Enterprises, the North American distributor and repair facility. Approximately 200 stoves manufactured that year sold out in a matter of weeks.
This stove, as with many others, is not without its quirks. They are not particularly stable. As well, the integral tank can get too hot if a large diameter pot is used. Further, if used in snow, the tank needs to be insulated to maintain good pressure.
However, the above cons aside, this is a wonderful little stove for one to two people, though I have cooked for four on it.
Set up: It is possibly the easiest pressurized stove to set up. Put it on a level surface and remove the aluminum pot that covers the stove. Insert the key in the valve and the stove is ready to be primed.
Priming: There are several ways to prime this stove. If you have gained a bit of elevation, there may be enough pressure in the tank to get some fuel to squirt out and land in the little cup on the top of the tank. If not, you can gently heat the tank with your hands, or a lighter to generate enough pressure.
Make sure you close the valve before you use the lighter method. The most common method, is to use an eye dropper to place some fuel in the cup on the tank. Finally, ignite the primer fuel and wait until the cup is almost empty, then turn the key and the stove should quickly start sounding like a jet engine.
Flame control: Simmering can be done with this stove with practice, but its main use is for boiling water, cooking rice, or pasta. Baking is not something I would recommend, nor frying.
Boil time: There are stoves out there that are faster boiling, but not by much more than a minute or two at the most. Pot size is more critical here and with a billy that is slighter wider in diameter than the stove, I have boiled a liter in under four minutes.
Wind: The 123 has an integrated windscreen that also holds the pot supports.
Fuel Efficiency: I can't really say exactly how thirsty or thrifty this stove is with fuel. It does appear on par with other white gas stoves, such as those from MSR.
Stability: OK, this is probably the weakest point of the Svea 123. With a pot on top, it has to be watched, lest some clumsy companion upset dinner.
Packability: This doesn't get any better in my opinion and is one of the strongest attributes of this little stove. With its integral tank, protecting windscreen and small pot over the top, this stove is very compact. Mine fits tightly inside a 1.5 liter billy with a top making it a perfect little packed unit, with lighter and eye dropper stored neatly inside. There are no separate hoses or tanks, nor pumps required.
Ease of use: As with any stove, the Svea 123 has its tricks to learn. Yet, once learned, this stove is about the simplest stove around, at least among pressurized white gas and kerosene stoves. The key is hung on a chain, the windscreen need never be removed except to add fuel.
Features: Clever design, as all parts fit neatly into or onto the stove. The valve key has wrenches on it to strip the stove to its fundamental parts.
Construction and Durability: Many people have this stove as an inherited piece from their father or grandfather. It is all metal, mostly brass, and with one moving part (the valve) or two on the 123R (the valve and the integrated cleaning needle) there isn't another pressurized gas or kerosene stove that is simpler. In years of use, it has never let me down.
Conditions: I have used this stove in winter and summer and from 14,000 feet to sea level, from 0 degrees F. to 90 degrees F. I have mostly used it on short trips of less than a week, and cooking for two or sometimes three.