Optimus Svea 123
Current Retail: $119.95
Historic Range: $65.95-$119.95
Reviewers Paid: $9.95-$100.00
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 more than a half 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 simply 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.
Source: bought it new
Price Paid: As I recall I paid about $40.00 for it at REI.
I keep searching for this stove at yard sales and on ebay. When I get them home, I completely clean them with a mixture of catsup and vinegar and they turn bright.
We always prime them with fuel and warm them up this way and though I have the little pump, it is really not necessary if you are willing to pour a cap full of gas onto the stove and let it burn hot. Once started, it has the characteristic jet engine sound.
I remember my first climb to the top of Mt, Whitney and my first time above tree line and I needed a stove. The guy in the Lone Pine camp store convinced me to buy this and he was sooo right! You can carry this easy, it starts up well and always gives a hot liter of water in about five minutes.
The thing to remember is not to use it with an Outback Oven because I did and I swear the tank was glowing with the added heat. It was with me forty years ago when I did a solo across the Sierras on skis and will there will always be five or six here to give to friends and family as a right of passage.
It is the best stove made and the simplist to use once you figure them out with some practice. Hope this helps!
Price Paid: $30
The recent post inspired me to add my thoughts.
The SVEA 123R is the most reliable piece of hiking gear I own.
I wanted a single stove for year round use. For me, in New England, that means down to -20 deg F.
There are trade-offs:
- it is heavier than most
- it is nosy
- you need to learn how to prime it
- you need to bring an additional fuel bottle
for longer trips
- you need a gentle hand to make it simmer
When you need a warm drink or a hot meal, you know this stove will light.
This is the only backpacking stove I will ever use.
Price Paid: $85
The seva 123 is widely known as one of the most reliable stoves ever made and for good reason, they don’t break and most of them are still around in some form or another (parts, tarnished or new in box). The svea has been around for over half a century now and is still available new which can really attest for its quality and customer loyalty. Mine is an older Optimus model, and is missing the aluminum cup so I cannot speak as to the cup's performance. I still enjoy taking this stove on day hikes to cook some ramen noodles or Meso soup, plus it will get you some props from the older trail mates.
- Always works
- Tuff as nails
- Fuel efficent
- Lightweight 15oz full
- Sometimes difficult to prime
- Brass tarnishes easily
- Dosen't carry much fuel
- Poor flame control
- Rather unstable
I found this stove completely by accident when I was cleaning out the basement; I found a milk crate full of old hiking gear. So I drug it out into the sunlight and inspected the contents and was amazed. Inside there were 20 unused Gaz canisters with matching stove, a Whisperlite, fold up candle lantern and the svea 123. Evidently it had been sitting in that crate for 20 years with all the other gear so first thing I did was fill it up with Coleman fuel fill the priming cup and torch it off. After 25 seconds or so I opened up the main valve and the stove lit up with its telltale powerful pulsating flame and freight train sound. The stove worked perfectly despite being stored in a damp dingy basement with fuel in it for over 20 years with just minor tarnishing.
It takes a few uses before you really get setup down mainly because of the key on the chain having to be threaded through the pot support/ windscreen. You want to do this after lighting the priming cup and getting the stove all primed up but before lighting the burner. Make sure you thread the key and chain through the correct hole or the chain will is too short to operate.
Once that is setup open the valve fully if there is audible hissing it is still primes and ready to go. Light the burner with a flint, match or lighter do not worry the flames won’t rise too high when lighting so burning yourself is unlikely. Always practice extreme caution while priming and lighting.
Even with all the Svea’s strengths it does have a couple weaknesses: Flame control with this stove has only 3 modes; off, barely on, and Space Shuttle on take off. All of that in a ¾ turn of the valve.
The boil time of any stove is severely affected by the conditions one is cooking in. Under ideal conditions the svea will boil 1 quart/ liter of water in just under 6 minutes of continuous burn.
The svea is well known for being pretty much wind proof. Once up to temp you can try you’re hardest to blow the stove out but you won’t have any luck, though your heat output will be affected. And the built on wind screen does leave something to be desired.
The svea is incredibly fuel efficient and will often burn one (.35 pint) tank of fuel per hour of use though this all depends on conditions.
This stove is quite packable sized in at 5" tall by 4" in diameter. It will fit in most packs with relative ease and will often times fit into other large cups or pots.
Ease of use
Once acquainted with the stove anyone will find it quite easy to operate and its lack of features tend to make it easier to use. At first priming will be difficult but once one develops their own method the whole process becomes a breeze.
Along with flame control stability is one of the areas where the svea falls short. With its round base and high center of gravity on can find their noodles on the ground if they are not too careful and do not pick a flat cook site. I have heard of some people using the stove supports available for jet boil and other canister stoves with the svea since the bases are similar, but I have yet to try this myself.
The Svea 123 does not really have many features since it is such an old model. But its lack of features I would say is one of its greatest features.
The stove does include:
- Built on wind screen
- Key/tool that will disassemble most of the stove
- Built in pot supporting arms
- Accompanying aluminum cup
Construction & Durability
Don’t let the shiny brass exterior fool you the svea is one tuff as nails stove. Often times the worst thing that could happen is the windscreen could get slightly bent or the brass can get scratched, but fair warning, do not run the stove dry of fuel. This will damage the cotton wick reducing its performance.
I took the stove out the next weekend on a brief day hike to Wallace Lake with my Snow Peak 600 mug, top ramen, coffee, and hot chocolate. So no surprise the thing performed no problem cooking all of it and using hardly any fuel. I have since used this stove on several more day trips in ranging from snowshoe hikes at 5500' to hot sea level summer trips. In all cases the svea has not failed once.
Since the svea can burn multiple fuels, pack well, uses little fuel and requires almost no maintenance I would highly recommend it for a survival kit or bug out bag.
All of this is why I would recommend it to anyone. Sure it may be antiquated but it always works when you need it and has a certain charm that those old stoves do.
Source: received it as a personal gift
How many things do you own that always work as they're supposed to, and always have worked for more than 30 yrs? Probably not too many. This little wonder is in that elite company.
I inherited mine from my Grandfather who used it to boil water on his row-boat when we spent nights fishing. It always worked. It has been on the Larapinta trail in Outback Australia and always worked. It has been beach camping on Fraser Island, mountain climbing in the Snowies and car camping all around Australia and always worked.
The way I see it the little additional effort to light it and the extra minute it takes to boil a litre of water gives you more time to enjoy the view. It is the reliability (and the stored memories of all the places it has been faithfully looking after you and keeping you company) that make it a priceless piece of kit. Only my Trangia cookset has shared the same good times
Price Paid: Nothing - it was inherited
Bought one in 1967 and it has never failed me. I had a love affair with MSR stoves when white gas got hard to find (see my review of the MSR WisperLight International), but now see the error of my ways.
When starting, the best advice I got on the trail was "there are old pros, and bold pros, but no old bold pros". Just sprinkle a little white gas on the top and strike a lit match to it.
This stove just works. Dependable. No issues. Too bad other things in my life did not work as dependable (cars, boots, cameras, ex-wife, cars, etc).
Price Paid: $11.95 in 1967
This stove has never failed me. It may be a little heavier than other, newer stoves, but when it counts (like in the winter or other bad weather) it never fails to light.
Yes, it is noisy and smelly compared to the canned gas stoves. It has no maintenance except maybe to replace the fuel cap gasket once in a while.
I have had mine since 1983 and it is still going strong.
Price Paid: Don't remember-too long ago!
This stove model debuted in 1955, so it isn't 100 years old, despite what you read on the web.
People like to obsess over gear weight, but do a few ounces more or less really matter? Maybe if you're out for a really long time without resupply, but the average backpacker is more likely doing 3 or 4-day weekend trips, or maybe a full week once in a while. If you're worried about weight, lose some body fat.
One reviewer complained that because this stove has slower boil time it will burn more fuel. This is like saying that if you drive 30 mph instead of 60 mph, the journey will take twice as long, therefore you will use twice as much fuel. The reality is that stoves with quicker boil times put out more heat by burning more fuel in less time. The amount of fuel to boil a quart of water is about the same either way, and is far more greatly affected by weather conditions and how well the stove is screened against wind.
This stove's strong points are simplicity, reliability, and nostalgic charm. It is not a 10k Btu volcano. This does not make it inefficient, it just means you have to wait a few more minutes for the water to boil. You got a train to catch or what?
The stove is brilliant, compact and works every time very well. I have had the stove for several years, though starting it especially for the first timers can be challenging. I collect and use all my stoves, as one would know it's integral part of bushwalking and many national parks are going to stove only policy.
From the time you go into the outdoors to have a hot meal at the end of the day, after hard physical activities and a hot cuppa, adds to the enjoyment and each stove I have, has a special memory of time gone by.
The svea 123 has been the best purchase for bush walking I have ever made. It cooks a meal quickly, minimal parts the can be damaged but never have. Some would say there are better stoves out there, and I know you might save a few more grams in weight or have better flame control, however unsurpassed reliability is the svea and optimus products generally in my opinion. The stove continues to maintain its faithfulness, unlike some women in my life.
I can see I will be handing this to the next generation in another 30-40 years, as I think you would have to pry it from my dying hands.
Price Paid: 140
This is our second Svea. The first one is still going strong after many years and has been trouble free. I use white gas only. Priming is easy with an eye dropper (just use a little gas from the tank).
As advertised runs 50 minutes at full blast. Did a simmer test on a full tank (4.5 ounces, measured). After running 3 minutes full blast, turned to lowest setting that would still produce a blue flame. Ran for 2 hours ( adjusted the flame 3 or 4 times ) and had a little over 2 ounces fuel remaining (measured). Would estimate it would simmer well over 3 hours.
This one spends a lot of time in a horses's saddle bag (inside of an aluminum can from a M1950 stove). The pot supports will adjust to fit oddball cook pots (SWEDISH MESS KITS, CANTEEN CUPS, etc...). No bottles to hook up, no pump to mess with, no o-rings to leak (has one rubber washer in the tank lid).
It just works every time no matter what.
Price Paid: $83.81
Will depart Springer Mtn. GA late Feb '10 for Mt. Katahdin. I purchased this stove in 1981 as an instructor in the "Wilderness Skills" program Vanderbilt Univ. TN. Thankfully, it has served me faithfully the last 25+ years on many hikes and travels.
My last weeklong hike Mar '09 thru Joyce Kilmer Natl forest (with surprise snowdrifts) proved once again - Considering weight, reliability, functionality and value. The svea 123 is without a doubt the best kitchen tool available on any serious hike. Do not use anything else unless you enjoy eating freeze dried food with cold water on occasion...
Update: December 16, 2009
Never have I owned anything that ALWAYS WORKS. This little brass stove has been my best friend for my entire backpacking lifetime. I would never consider anything else as it's so very dependable. Never once has it let me down! It's beautiful, simple, light enough, and is the best all around cookstove you will ever own. It will be with me on my AT thru hike in 2010.
Price Paid: not sure - in 1983
I have another multi fuel stove that is very good and has not failed me. I bought this stove because it looked neat, like something a Sherpa might have in his pack. I sometimes buy things just for the because factor. This was one of those things.
The first time I pulled it out my mates all did the Wow that is neat, does it work? thing. I had test fired the little devil prior to the trip and knew it was a worker. I went thru the pre-ignite ritual, using some fire starter paste and then stuck the match to the starter, it flared a bit and the settled down to a steady flame. After about 40 seconds I turned on the fuel valve and the thing let out a very satisfying roar.
First product was hot water for a cup of tea. It did a fantastic job of boiling the water in record time. It earned the OOHs and AAAhs of those present. I had several offers to purchase, but turned them down.
It is a great little stove, reliable, economical and burns hot, even in the Tetons on a cold winter day or night. It doesn't take up much space and is fairly light weight even with a tankful of fuel.
Price Paid: $89
I've used my svea 123 stove several times a year for 38 years, and it has never failed me. All I do is burn it empty at the end of the season, and it fires up every time, the following year. I've never had to service the valve or anything else. As for as I'm concerned, it's the best stove ever.
The only problem is, I'm trying to replace the cookware made for the stove, that nestles together, along with a wind screen. I am unable find a replacement. Sigg use to make aluminum pots, windscreen, and a base made specifically for the svea, but evidently, no longer. If anyone knows a web site, please let me know. Thanks, Dennis Sacramento, CA
Price Paid: $20
Old school stove from the last century, great for modern camping.
- No pump needed to get it running even in below zero conditions.
- Very few moving parts to go wrong
- Expensive, even on the used market.
This stove is very simple to operate, you basically pour a little white gas on it and "light it on fire." This causes the fuel in the tank to expand and turn the liquid to gas.
I bought this stove on the used market about a decade ago for $30. It has saved us on more than a few winter campouts in our scout troop. When our normal Coleman stoves would not operate due to the pump seal shrinking in the cold, the "Old Seva 123" always came to the rescue.
Does not have a very large fuel tank, but has enough to bring a covered gallon of water to a boil. You will love the unique "helicopter" sound when it is running. Throws a lot of BTU's for a small unit. I see why this went on many Everest climbs, it just plain works! Takes about 10-15 minutes to heat up that much water, but it surely does the job. The simple controls are a "square slot" key. You can turn the flame way down to simmer. I use it mostly on "full throttle".
One tech tip: REMOVE THE KEY while running, otherwise it gets HOT! You only leave it attached once, and you learn your lesson.
It is made of solid brass, and I would guess will still be around after I am dust. Very pack-able, basically the space of a coffee can. Not the smallest, but for its size, certainly can go the distance. When using larger pots, you need a steady surface to keep the pot steady.
This stove has been around for over a century, and while it's still made new, you can sometimes snag a good deal on the used market. We don't camp without it!
I have been Boy Scout camping for 20 years, have gone through a lot of gear that didn't live up to the hype, this stove is the "real deal"!
Source: bought it used
Price Paid: $30
A fun stove.
- Easy to use
- Priming takes a little to get used too
Svea 123r is a self pressurizing white gas (Coleman Lantern Fuel, Naphtha, Shellite) backpacking stove. The stove's base serves as an integrated fuel tank which can not be refilled on the fly. It holds about 40-60 minutes burn time of fuel.
The stove produces excellent heat, but due to narrow size would not recommend putting large group pot on top. The stove like many liquid fuel stoves has two speeds, full blast and off. You can lower the flame, but the burner is small so all the heat goes to one spot.
The stove has a groove in the center of the fuel tank. To prime you have to fill it with fuel and ignite. The heat from the burning fuel causes the fuel in the fuel tank to evaporate and create pressure. This pressure forces the fuel through the jet and feeds the stove.
Priming takes a bit of getting used too. The groove isn't readily accessible when the windscreen/pot stand is installed. You can fill the groove before putting the windscreen on and hope not to spill the fuel. You can prime the stove before installing the windscreen and try and do it quickly while the stove is hot. Some people use a squeeze bottle and fill the groove with the stove fully assembled. I use a straw as a pipet filled from an external fuel source.
Once primed you just need to turn the key and light. Once burning the stove makes a loud noise similar to the MSR XKG stove—they have the same type of burner. When you are done turn the key all the way to the right and the fuel supply is cut and the stove shuts off. Turning the key all the way to the left pushes a needle though the gas jet to clean it.
My stove dates from the early to mid '70s. Internet scuttlebut is that the curent stove is made in China and not of the quality of the older stoves. Not having a newer stove to compare too I can't tell if it is true or nostalgia.
Six months of camping, mostly car camping
Source: received it as a personal gift
Have used my 123R since 1974 everywhere from the Appalachian Trail to winter camping in Yellowstone (true about insulating from snow) and only one problem. Early on I had leaks from the self-cleaning pin. I just removed the pin and it has never leaked again. It is now on the inheritance list for the kids.
- Self cleaning pin
Setup: EASY. If you can't do this you have no business in the back country.
Ignition: Using your hands does really work, but the eye dropper is the best.
Ignition: Boiled water and cooked just fine in Yellowstone in winter at 7,600 feet (you can't believe how much water vapor your body puts out at night), anywhere else is cake.
Construction & Durability: Come on, it's over 40 year old and still works great along with my Alpenlite FRAME pack.
Source: bought it new
Price Paid: damn that was 40 years ago who can remember that
Recently found three (1 SVEA123 2 R's) on the 'free' table at a recycling center. Snarfed those babies up! All were working soon after some cleaning maintenance. With a SIGG Tourister!
HINT: A can of lighter fluid works well for priming. I reuse the can when it is empty. The flip nozzle is great.
- Always works
- None better
- Weight? Who really cares? Reliability has no weight.
- Starts easy if you practice the process!
- Had my original since the early 1960s w/ Tourister set.
- Check out Cabela's
- Price has skyrocketed—probably due to demand/availability
Be careful if a windscreen is used. Place the screen only where any wind will be deflected.
Strip pieces of aluminum in the Tourister make an adjustable screen. A workhorse. Use some sort of pad under the stove base in colder weather.
Source: bought it new (Bought new in 1960. Second one a year later. Both with SIGG Touristers.)
Simple and almost bullet proof and will SIMMER. Highly recommended.
- Great temp control, easy to start
- Compact--fits into a lot of pots.
- Not the lightest or hottest.
- Requires priming unlike a canister stove.
I have 2 of these stoves. The first I purchased new from an online retailer in 2011 and discovered after extensive examination of the box that it was made in Taiwan. I think the price was about $110 plus shipping.
The second I purchased on eBay recently for considerably less and was a used stove. It was advertised as a 123 and the box it came it said the same but upon examination, I could see the cleaning needle protruding from the jet when the fuel valve turned fully counterclockwise making it a 123R. The fuel tank was stamped Sweden and the box said "Made in Sweden". Both these stoves work great, are very simple to use, and most importantly for me, they will simmer.
I like to use alcohol for priming as it prevents exciting flare ups if over primed. The down side is that the flames are hard to see in the daylight.
It is not the highest heat stove available (4700 BTU's) but unless all you want to do is boil water, the ability to simmer is very important and the Svea 123 will do just that!. When you're camping, what's the hurry? It's also a bit noisy but not objectionable to me. The built in windscreen's pot supports will accommodate different shapes and sizes of cooking vessels. The base is rather small and not as stable as a stove with legs but it is about the same as a canister stove sitting on top of a fuel canister. As the heat from the burner pressurizes the fuel tank, it should be insulated from snow or very cold ground when cooking. It required no pumping, only warming the fuel tank to operate and I do have the pump and cap when it gets very cold.
I highly recommend this stove whether purchased new from an online retailer or on eBay. I can't think of a more reliable stove for solo or camping with 2 people.
Source: bought it new
Price Paid: $110
I have the SVEA 123R and bought it in 1977. It still works faithfully. Never had a problem. Due to weight, I'm considering a Nova Plus or MSR Whisperlite Universal. Should I make a change?
- Always reliable, no maintenance
- Works at altitude and cold
- Very stable with cookset
- Can't use outback oven
- Longer to boil water than newer stoves
I love this little stove. A dropper full of white gas in the cup under the generator is all you need to light it. Use a match or sparkie. The flame is somewhat adjustable, but not super low.
I have used the Outback oven with this, but very carefully. I made an extra shield to cover the gas tank and that worked, but over time it melted my windscreen (aluminum), part of my cookset.
It takes 7 minutes to boil a liter of water. Not as fast as newer stoves, but then there's no maintenance either. Works better if you shelter it from wind, but the cookset that was made to go with this has a nice windscreen in it and it makes it very stable.
The stove itself packs small and even though I don't use the supplied windscreen and "pot", I take it along to protect the stove. It doesn't weigh much.
Overall, I like this stove.
Source: bought it new
Price Paid: $30
I used to use this stove all the time. Loved it when in full time use. I put it a way for about fifteen years and only recently brought it back out. Dumped the old fuel out and replaced with new, whamo, fired right up and purred like a kitten. What more can one say about a product this wonderful and reliable?
Price Paid: ? bought it in 1976
Old School: A classic from a time gone by and the best damn 19oz of compact brass you can pack if you want a hot meal and don't mind a bit of weight (Brass ain't light) or performing the ritual of the manual prime (You gotta spend some quality time).
This thing is about as bullet proof as you can make a stove and the sound when it is fired up is like a cross between a blowtorch and a helicopter. One moving part, a valve using a graphite packing (bushing) as a valve seal. Not the fastest stove.
Price Paid: $79
I purchased this stove in 1974...for those folks that don't do math, that was 34 years ago. I can't remember how much I paid for it. I used it for 28 years in the Army including Desert Storm. My Svea isn't nearly as shiny as it use to be, but it still works like new and it has never failed me.
Older technology but dependable.
- Bomb proof
- Very little to go wrong
- Sufficient BTU
- A bit heavy
- Not as stable
- Tricky to light if a novice
My first Svea 123 I purchased in the 1970s when I started backpacking. The old girl never let me down and provided enough heat to cook any trail food that was on the menu. This is so durable that if one would go on eBay you could find many antique 123's that work as good as they did when new. I say my first because the original suffered a broken stem valve back in the '90s and due to no internet I had no idea where to get a new one.
I recently purchased a new version labeled Svea 123R. The only change I see is a built-in cleaning needle to clear out any soot that may build up in the orifice. I found that the stove has a bit of a stability problem due to being top heavy when a pot is setting on top. This can be partially eliminated by placing some sizable rocks around it to keep it from tipping while using it.
The wind is a factor at times. With a moderate wind blowing the cook time can increase dramatically. It is advisable to not use a full wind screen as overheating may occur. I have read about the safety pressure relief port letting go due to overheating because of wind screen holding in too much heat. I do not carry a windscreen but simply shelter it with anything I can find at the campsite.
I only use the stove once a day, so on a weekend trip I start out with a full tank and do not find it necessary to carry any extra fuel. If an anticipated longer pack trip is in order then I carry a small MSR bottle to supplement the fuel.
With a little practice you can easily master the fine art of lighting the stove. Just pouring a thimble size amount of fuel on the depression around the top of the tank and lighting it is all it takes to prime and pressurize the tank. Simple!
I have zero experience with any of the butane-fueled stoves so I have nothing to compare my Svea to. That being said, sometimes older is just as good as the newer technology. I say if it isn't broke don't fix it.
Source: bought it new
Price Paid: $96 dollars for the Svea 123R
It is a trusted friend who will always be there for you when things get tough.
- Inexpensive to use and maintain
- Beautiful brass in a world of boring plastic
- A little slow
- Not silent
There are times when you need to get something warm into you, and you need it NOW...that is when you will appreciate this stove. Dump some fuel on the top, light it, insert the valve key, put your pot on top, and turn the key when the flames of the priming fuel are almost out...you've got soup!
The perfect stove has yet to be made. This one isn't the fastest to boil water; but it will do the job. Simmering is not great, but better than my MSR XGK. Comparing fuel consumption with my Optimus 8r and MSR XGK, I have found that it is on par with the Optimus and seems to use less fuel than the XGK. I usually cook two meals per day and also have a cup or two of tea; a pint of fuel will be sufficient for 4-5 days. Although I have used this stove in winter, melting snow at -20°F is best left to the XGX.
All stoves fail! My MSR stuff sack holds a baggie of spare o-rings and other parts...the Svea is much lower maintenance. If you occasionally put a little carb cleaner into the fuel tank, remove and clean the jet (and where it sits) with carb cleaner, and never run the fuel dry, this stove will be incredibly reliable. The fuel cap gasket will eventually need replacement. I cut my own from a sheet of material purchased at the hardware store.
This stove runs on Naphtha...AKA Coleman Fuel. It can be obtained at sporting goods and hardware stores. If you fill the tank before starting your cooking, you should never run out during a meal.
Source: bought it used (Yard sale for $9 including the Sigg Tourist cookset)
- Tidy and easy to use
- No proprietary bottle or pump required
- Easy to maintain
- Good output
- Needs good base for stability
Like most liquid fuel stoves, you must learn how to prime this one properly and safely. Once you have that, it will be an extremely reliable stove that is very easily maintained.
While some claim this stove has no simmer control, I wouldn't agree. I can reduce my flame down to a clean burning simmer, repeatedly.
There is a one star review above that suggests retiring this stove on account of safety. Instead I would suggest that you don't misuse the stove, and do use your common sense. Eg. If you must use the priming pump, don't overdo it. You will find that over-pumping it doesn't work so well anyway.
I have found that many other liquid fuel stoves with fuel hoses, fold out legs, and foil wind shields are finicky, prone to damage (hoses), take up way more space, and are more prone to flaring during the fire-up after priming.
Regarding boil times, I haven't measured this but it brings water to the boil in comparable speed to other liquid fuel stoves. If you include the time required to set up other stoves, the Svea 123 compares very well. Its total output is not as great as some others out there, but its burner head is smaller and fuel consumption is respectable.
I pulled my stove apart after 25 years of flawless use and gave the stove an overhaul. It just keeps going and gives me no reason to replace it.
Source: bought it new
Price Paid: $30
As others have said, super simple. But most are wrong saying it is heavy.
- Very simple
- Little maintenance
- Tricky to assemble while lighting
- Not real stable
I have an old 123 and a newer 123R. The 123 is significantly lighter. I don't carry the silly aluminum top/cup. The stove full of fuel weighs 509 grams. With an MSR 325 mL bottle, the total stove and fuel bottle and fuel weighs 850 grams. Compare that to my MSR SuperFly canister stove. The stove is 175 grams but with two canisters weighs 889 grams, giving about the same burn time as the full Svea plus the 325 mL gas.
I think the Svea is somewhat unstable with its small base, but it is about the same as a canister stove, which I find unstable as well. Neither are nearly as stable as a Coleman single burner or, the best, a Trangia 27.
If you carry full length wooden matches you can fill the priming cup and assemble the wind screen, then light. If you use a lighter, you will need to light the priming cup and then assemble the wind screen, which can be tricky.
In my opinion the Sveas, Trangias, even Colemans are much better than the MSR WhisperLite type stoves, which are complicated and require constant maintenance. I carried the stupid rebuild kit for several years for my Whisperlight, but when I actually needed it I was not able to save the poor quality pump. I threw the stove away.
I do not carry canister stoves any more. You never know how much fuel is in the canister, so you end up buying new ones for every trip. Then the garage has ten partially full canisters which you don't carry because who wants to start a trip with half empty canisters. Besides, I see the empties strewn through the woods when people don't want to carry the empties home. I think they should be banned from the woods.
Source: bought it used
Price Paid: $40
Reliable old friend, always there and ready to help.
- Basic design
- Wind proof, unless in a hurricane
- Uses about any fuel
- A tad heavier, but worth the weight
This is the only stove I have ever had, so I can't compare it to any other but that should say something there. The flame control is a little touchy, but with use one figures out the system.
I have never poured fuel into the cup to light my 123. I have either lovingly held the cup/control valve cupped on one hand to warm it up or the best way I have found is to carry a straw or small piece of tygon tubing that will just fit over the nozzle.
Put the tubing over the nozzle, open the valve and blow into the tubing pressurizing the tank and then shut the valve prior to stopping your blowing into the tank. You now have a pressurized tank and when you open the valve fuel comes out and is ignitable.
I have yet to have this way fail for lighting the stove. I am in my mid 50's and have used this stove since my father handed it down to me in my late teens and I know my father got it used from somewhere and who knows when, but he was backpacking before I was born. That might give you some idea of how long the little jewel will work.
Source: received it as a personal gift
A rugged, no-frills stove that does the job year after year. Buy one and you're done shopping for stoves.
With a quarter-twist the wind-screen comes off exposing the concave base of the burner. A small amount of fuel or fire-paste is lit. As it nearly burns away you turn the control valve open and fuel flows upward, light that and it sputters to life.
As I usually use it to boil water the limited flame adjustment is OK. Water is boiling by the time I get the dried food and tea prepped so I have never timed the boil. It has never fallen with a medium sized pot on top. The fuel tank will last about two days so I carry a small fuel bottle for refills.
It is about the size of a large can so packing is not an issue for me. Its rugged old-school construction means I don't have to worry about it being banged around in the pack.
This stove has worked for me for at least 30 years in wet, cold, windy, and mountain-side settings.
If you prefer fly rods over spinning gear, full leather hiking boots, down bags, and external frame packs this is a stove you will learn to love.
Source: bought it new
Price Paid: Too long ago to remember
This stove is bombproof. The design has been bombproof for the 60 years this stove has been around. Simple to set up.
Simple to prime. Simple to use. Durable always. Reliable every time.
If you have the fuel, you'll have a burner. Works well every time with no monkeying around and fidgeting with the stove. Perhaps old school, but sometimes the old ways really are the best ways, and this stove falls into that category. Buy one and never look back.
I finally gave away my MSR Whisperlite Internat'l since this Svea is THE stove. I should have bought a Svea 20+ years ago when I bought the MSR, but I foolishly thought newer is better. The Svea demonstrates that is not always the case.
Source: bought it new
Price Paid: $82.50
Only stove you will ever need.
- The thing will always work, it's physics.
- Tank like construction, you will only buy one
- Ease of use
- You can get fuel almost anywhere
- It stores its own fuel
- Slight learning curve, 5 to 15 minutes to master
- The brass is heavy
- It is a little big
My brother and I took a Svea across the country on a road trip and it performed very well. There was a bit of a learning curve. We simply heat the entire stove with a lighter or match for 10-20 seconds then turn the gas open rather than using what others may refer to as primers.
Also, if you start your hike at a low altitude then go to a higher altitude you won't have a problem pressurizing or getting it started. It should go right away. This is a very easy stove to use if you spend maybe 5-15 minutes learning all the ins and outs, and that should be enough time to learn all of them. I should add the stove we used is from the '70s and is my dad's. Weight, like an old Schwinn. Build quality, like a tank.
"Need" to cook something, this is your stove. Just spend 5-15 minutes starting it a few times and get comfortable using it before you are in the campsite and look like a credit card camper with a big buck stove you can't get working. Remember to never fill it all the way with fuel and that will take out almost every problem. It doesn't take 30-40 years to figure out how to use.
It is designed in such a way to always work and never fail, never. Wikipedia actually does a great job of going into more depth of the physics behind this design if you are more curious. How many stoves have their own Wikipedia page?
If you have a serious problem with the stove, consult YouTube or another owner of a Svea. I am confident this stove will be a great contribution to any backpacker or motorcycle touring person. I will only carry this stove.
Source: received it as a personal gift
Great little stove for any trip. Classic design and easy to use.
- Easy fuel access
- Needs larger pot
- Easier access to fuel pool
Just bought this after anticipating and contemplating the purchase. I have about 8 different types of stoves. I have an old Optimus 8R and have had for 30 years. Thought I would take the plunge and get the older model to see how it works.
Tried it in the yard and loved how easy it was to light, quickly it boiled water, and how compact it was. Just wish the pot was bigger with a lid stored somewhere.
Source: bought it new
Price Paid: $90
- Everything except its inability to simmer
- Inability to simmer
I've had several since buying my first one in 1974. The only problem I've had is the rubber gasket inside the cap drying out. Since I've discovered that defect, I've (so far) remedied it by using a Qtip to coat the gasket with vaseline about twice a year.
The stove can set up in a minute. I use a funnel to add fuel. Watch out for overflowing fuel.
I prime my stove with Coughlan's fire paste.
The only drawback is that the stove appears to have only one setting. I can turn the flame down a little bit but not much.
My meals are very simple. I only use it to boil water and it seems to boil water as quickly as my kitchen stove at home.
I use a windscreen ALL the time.
I've never had a problem with stability but I use a Sigg cook kit I bought with my first stove. The stove and the Sigg cook kit are fairly stable but one MUST ALWAYS be careful.
The stove packs inside the Sigg cook kit which I put in a larger pot. All go in a stuff sack which fits into the top compartment of my external frame pack. I am able to pack a fold-up strainer, small box of waterproof matches, lighter, pot gripper, eye dropper (which I used to remove fuel from the stove to place at the base to prime it before I discovered the fire paste) small sponge wipe in a zip loc bag and 1 ounce container of CampSuds in with the stove.
The advertising line by that scotch whiskey, "the good things never change", describes this stove. I wish they were cheaper and more widely available.
Source: bought it new
This stove is timeless. There are hundreds of reviews over many forums and throughout the ages. This stove keeps on shining.
I would sacrifice a few ounces for reliability over the 30 years I have had mine. My Dad's is now in my son's hands. Dad's is now 35 years old. Only thing I have ever had to do is replace some washers.
Source: received it as a personal gift (Dad bought it for me 30 years ago)
I bought this stove in 1974 for $50. That was a lot back then. But well worth the price.
I would say this is the most important part of my hiking/pack packing adventures. It not only makes a great cook stove but can warm up and dry out a tent in very short time. I was on a 7-day trip. It rained for three days. I would fire this little wonder up and in no time my tent was dry and warm.
Make sure you have good ventilation when using in your tent. When I got divorced a few years ago, I made sure I took my Svea with me! Had it since I was a kid.
I can't say enough about this stove....what are you waiting for? Go get one or two! They're the best!
Price Paid: $50
SVEA 123R Rocks. Mine has been through thick and thin for over 30 years and still starts first time.
Best comment would be hiking the Grand Canyon someone unfamiliar with how the thing starts panicked and thru sand on it to distinguish the flame which it did. Much to everyone's delight we shock it off blew on it rubbed it like a jennies lamp and POOF started first match.
Rain or shine thick or thin SVEA 123's are Awesome.
Price Paid: $65 back in 1976
Simple, cool, classic, and it can simmer like a champ. I use the Snow Peak titanium cup instead of the provided aluminum one, as the Snow Peak one slides right over the stove perfectly.
Price Paid: $85
Great little stove that lasted forever, until I added a windscreen and overpressurized it!
- adjustable flame
I loved this stove and it worked pretty well for about 20 years -- very reliable. That is until a recent trip to Yellowstone. A friend had a spare windscreen and I placed it around the 123 and started cooking. After about 30 minutes we heard a loud popping noise and the stove became unstable. Apparently the fuel tank had overpressurized and popped out from the bottom.
Luckily the stove did not explode but is forever ruined, as the bottom will not pop back in. I talked to Optimus about this and they told me I was out of luck. I can only think that it was the windscreen that caused this stove to overheat so I would recommend neve using one with the 123.
They offered me a discount on a new one but honestly it is too heavy compared with other stoves on the market now.
Update: April 19, 2012
I bought my Svea 123 back in the late '80s and used it for backpacking for 25 years. Only once did I need some jet/needle adjustment that someone at REI provided for free.
I primed it in one of two ways
- hold a piece of burning paper underneath the stove to warm the fuel, or
- pour some fuel in the little cup and light it.
Unfortunately, this stove died because it overpressured and the entire fuel tank popped out on the bottom. A friend gave me a windscreen and I was frying some fish when I heard a loud pop. The fuel tank had expanded and there was no fix.
Luckily the stove did not explode. The stove just got too hot — so don't ever use a windscreen with it. I was bummed to lose the old friend.
Source: bought it new
Price Paid: don't remember
I have had an Optimus svea 123 with the Sigg Tourist cookkit since 1977. It was a gift. I have NEVER been able to get it to work right. Nor have others. So it may be valuable to someone for parts. Let me know.
Price Paid: $100
I bought this in 1964 for $9.95 and it was expensive then. It has served me well and I bought several others for use for trips that I have guided.
Problem...I can't find a replacement fuel wick. Any suggestions???
Price Paid: $9.95
Oh, my. It's simple, beautiful, and utterly reliable. Burns almost anything. When's the last time you could call a stove elegant? It's exciting to overprime when lighting it (if you have one you know what I mean--heh heh) and fun to listen to (has a roarer-type burner, and a distinctive one at that). Takes about 1 minute to set up and light. Look around other gear review sites and you'll see that Svea 123s have an almost cult-like following. Get one and it'll still be around 50 years from now for your grandkids.
I purchased my 1st SVEA 123 in early 80s. Can't remember the price. It is still going strong. After 25 years of use never failed once; Can't say enough about this stove.
Simple design, reliable, easy to light, clean up, maintenance, in any conditions. Have tried a variety of liquid and canister stoves and always keep coming back the my Svea.
Hard to find these days and the price tag is up to $80, but so are most stoves now. Not sure how long these will be sold, so I recently bought a second for the next 25 years: http://www.packstoves.com/index.htm
Does anybody knows were to purchase the Sigg Tourist set? Mine still works fine, but is getting a bit dinged.
Most of the hikers/climbers I met seem to feel very positive about this piece of equipment.
Price Paid: ~$80
This is one of those products that just will not quit. I bought mine in the mid '80s and just returned from a backpacking trip to Mt. Whitney where the stove preformed as well as it did back then. Nothing has ever gone wrong with this stove.
I painted the original pot that was included with bar-b-que paint when I first purchased it and it is still in great shape. When I first bought it there were alot of "lightweight" stoves just starting to come out and after using it once or twice, I thought it was maybe too heavy, too this, too that, but as time passed, I realized that it is reliable and long-lived because of the weight and simplness of the stove. There is not a bunch of setting-up or unfolding to do in order to get to your fire. I am very impressed by simple design that works well.
I sometimes want to go out just to be able to enjoy this stove. I have tents, boots and backpacks that I enjoy for that same simple design reason. I don't know if they make a product that is this simple and works this well today. Worth finding a used one and paying whatever they want for it.
The best backpacking stove ever made. I have had mine for more than 25 years. It has never failed me. It's been everywhere in all kinds of conditions and I have always had a hot meal. Trouble free, simple, compact and tough.
It is the only backpacking gear that I have never replaced. I have never replaced any parts or had to do any maintenance to it. It was stored once for a couple of years. I bought it back out and it fired up in seconds, no problems.
I can't imagine going on any trip without it. I would choose this stove again without even thinking twice. It is still available at A & H Packstoves in Tustin, California for $80. You can find them on the web at www.packstoves.com.
Price Paid: $50
Now a discontinued model (but still available if you shop around), this is perhaps the greatest all round stove ever made. They just keep on working, year after year. Go get one while you can.
Price Paid: $25
Simple, brilliant, and now very hard to find!!!! I have had my STOVE for 20 years++ and used it more than I thought it would last!! I still have the replacement kit in the plastic. A little bit of cleaning and care when using. Simply the best stove ever made. If you can find one buy it, you'll never regret it... EVER!!!
Price Paid: $20
Best stove ever made. Period.
Price Paid: Don't remember
This is a good stove and the design has been around for 100 years, but let's face it there are much better choices out there today!
- Reliable and Durable. I've had mine 30 years and with minimal maintenance it works just as good as it did when it was new.
- Inexpensive. You can find this stove for under $80 on the net.
- Built in wind screen. Much nicer than the roll up aluminum screens.
- Heavy. Stove is 4-6 ounces heavier than competitors. Not much maybe but those ounces add up fast!
- Slow boil times. Stove took 3:30 to boil one cup of water. That was 75% longer than my MSR. I don't know about you but I don't want to carry 75% more fuel around especially on a multi-day hike! That kicks the stove's weight penalty up to 2 pounds or more for a week long hike.
The Bottom Line:
Great stove if you want a piece of hiking history, but if weight and efficiency mean anything to you then get something else.
This stove and similar were rendered obsolete and retired along time ago for good reasons.
- fuel tank under the burner head represents a hazard
This stove and others very similar to it with provisions for pressurizing the fuel tank were deemed so dangerous by MSR that it was the major incentive to develop the XGK. A larger pot or prolonged use would cause the fuel tank under the burner head to overheat. In the case of the pressurized versions the result would be an ignited flame front into the user's face.
While the 123 does not have a pressurized tank there were seam failures and injuries reported. I would strongly suggest retirement for your stove.