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Hands-on Gear Review
Price: Varies from $112 - $150 | Compare prices at 4 resellers
Pros: Stable, durable, good control.
Cons: Heavy, large, complicated.
Best Uses: Backpacking, mountaineering, kayaking.
The Optimus Nova backpacking stove is a full-featured and durable multi-fuel option. It boasts several unique and convenient features such as a long and flexible fuel line, a flip-stop switch on an all-aluminum fuel pump, and a quick priming burner. The downside to these attributes is a heavy and large stove that is impractical for most recreational backpacking trips. Instead, we believe the Nova is better suited to commercial, institutional, or group (3-plus persons) backpacking trips.
This stove is very similar to MSR Dragonfly ($120). While both of these stoves are expensive and very similar, we recommend the Dragonfly over the Nova because it's $30 cheaper, slightly lighter (1.3oz), slightly faster (15 seconds), easier to use, faster to set up, and it comes with a windscreen. These differences between these stoves are minute, so if you are very drawn to the flip-stop fuel pump, the longer flexible fuel line, or the Nova's slightly more durable build, then the stove is likely to serve you well for years to come.
RELATED: Our complete review of backpacking stoves
OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review
Combining function, durability, and stylish aesthetics, the Optimus Nova is the Mercedes Benz of camp stoves. Every component, from the legs to the fuel pump, has been designed to withstand whatever your travels dish out. This durability starts ground up with thick turbine shaped legs that fold in a tight bundle around the burner housing. The burner itself is encased in a wildly sturdy, yet compact roundish frame. Like the Dragonfly, this stove has a separate simmer valve that allows for precise flame control.
One of the drawbacks of liquid fuel stoves is their need for priming. This annoying process wastes both time and fuel. Fortunately, the Nova's burner design is more effective than most at capturing heat released by the priming flame. We found that the Nova primed roughly 25 percent (30 seconds) faster than most MSR stoves. While this time savings is negligible, the fuel conservation is likely to be significant over the life of the stove.
The Nova's all-aluminum fuel pump is another feature that separates it from the competition. We found this to be both easier and smoother to operate than all MSR pumps.
Depressurizing fuel bottles has traditionally involved slowly unscrewing the fuel pump while watching liquid fuel and vapor burst out and cover your hands. To remedy this wasteful and hazardous fault, the Nova employs an all-aluminum fuel pump with a flip-stop switch that eliminates fuel spillage when the stove is disconnected from the bottle. The flip-stop switch differs from traditional fuel pumps in that its intake line is attached to one side of the bottle. In order to operate the stove the bottle is turned on one side, immersing the fuel line in fuel. Flipping the bottle over removes the intake line from the fuel, forcing it to suck air, extinguishing the flame, depressurizing the bottle, and cleaning the fuel line and jet. While this process is not instantaneous, we believe this system is a significant improvement over MSR fuel pumps.
Tip: If you plan to keep the stove assembled for future cooking, just turn off the valve on the burner unit. This keeps the bottle pressurized so you can prime it easily for future use. Use the flip switch if you plan to pack up the stove for travel.
Another beneficial feature on the Nova is its flexible and long fuel line. This allows you to position the fuel bottle farther away from the burner and better adapt to rocky ground.
The Nova comes with a full-featured stove bag. This has a pull cord and a zipper, which allows you to fold the bag flat on its back. Inside are numerous pockets for tools, lubricant, spare parts, the fuel pump, and windscreens.
We also liked the how the Nova has stylish green accents on its three control valves.
Style and function also bring intricacy. The Nova is the most complicated stove we reviewed. It has a lot of parts, gizmos, and gadgets that increase the probability of something breaking and also make the stove harder to use. While the Nova proved nothing but durable, it took slightly longer to set up than most other stoves reviewed here.
Our least favorite aspect of the Nova is its ludicrously thunderous burner. This roar – the loudest of all stoves tested here – stops conversations and annoys anyone within 100 feet.
A large difference between the design of the Nova and all liquid fuel MSR stoves is the mechanism by which the fuel jet is cleaned. The Nova takes an innovative approach and uses a magnet to clean the jet. This magnet is attached to a multitool that can be used to repair the stove. To clean the jet, simply swipe the magic tool back and forth under the burner. This process differs from MSR stoves, which are cleaned by shaking the stove up and down in a vertical motion. We like how the magnet is easy to use, but are in favor of the simpler design that MSR employs. The magic tool is just another thing to keep track of.
The Nova may be durable, but it's not lightweight. The heavy-duty construction, all-metal fuel pump, and hefty magic tool bring the Nova to a grand total of 15.3 oz. This is the heaviest liquid fuel stove we reviewed.
The Nova is also slightly slower than most other liquid stoves. This difference, roughly 30 seconds, is notable, but not significant.
The Nova also does not come with a windscreen. We believe that a stove of this price should definitely come with a windscreen.
Despite these drawbacks, the Nova remains the most advanced liquid fuel stove we reviewed. We believe that it is an excellent choice for those who prioritize durability, stability, and versatility over weight and size.
Heavy duty backpacking, mountaineering, base camps, kayaking.
The Nova is the most expensive liquid fuel stove we reviewed. If you need a durable stove with lots of features, the Nova should last for you decades.
Optimus also makes the Optimus Crux, $50. It is our favorite small canister style backpacking stove for warm weather use. It's tiny, durable, fast, and has a very convenient case that stores the stove under a fuel canister. The Optimus Crux Lite, $40, is cheaper, lighter, and does not fold in.
If you're looking for cookware, check out the Optimus Terra Weekend Cook Set, $35.
— Chris McNamara and Max Neale
OutdoorGearLab Member Reviews
Most recent review: August 15, 2013
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