For ten years, the MSR Pocket Rocket was my go-to stove and with good reason: it's an industry classic. But after many camping trips-worth of use, the arms finally lost their structural integrity and bent under the weight of a pan. It was time for it to be retired. When I came to replace it, I decided to weigh it against an Optimus Crux Lite (which fellow Outdoor People swore by).
After a bit of testing in the field, here's how I think they match up:
Firstly, what are we looking for in a gas stove? I'd say there are four key criteria: stability; power; control; and portability. On three out of four points, I found the Crux fares better than the MSR.
- Stability: There’s nothing worse than getting your pasta on the stove, turning round to find the corkscrew, only to hear a mighty splash as the pan tips over and deposits your dinner in the mud. Portable stoves really benefit from having a wide pan stand, so you don't have to constantly balance the pan and stop things spilling. The Crux is pretty good for this, the little arms are wider than the MSR Pocket Rocket and nicely notched to increase stability. Not as stable as a close-to-the-ground burner (such as the Whisperlite), but not bad.
- Power: Having a stove boil water at electric-kettle speeds is great, especially on cold mornings when you're dying for a cup of tea. Also, boiling water quickly is also more fuel efficient and should lead to a longer-lasting canister. In a semi-scientific, stove vs stove, boil-a-litre-of-water test done by a colleague the Optimus was the clear winner. A big plus point here: Optimus-brewed tea will be ready sooner.
- Control: Some camping stoves seem to only offer two settings: 'off' and 'insanely hot', with nothing in between. Not great if you want to simmer. Again the Optimus does better than average on this front; it has greater temperature control than the MSR and can be turned down low enough to gently warm your foraged wild garlic pesto.
- Portability: While gas canisters aren’t in themselves the lightest ways to carry fuel, they do at least allow for super lightweight and compact stove design. This is the only category where the Pocket Rocket trumps the Optimus. Yes, the Optimus is lighter than the MSR, but the Pocket Rocket folds into a nice triangular case that's easy to pack. Also, the Crux Lite stem doesn’t fold, so the stove essential remains pretty much the same shape when packed down, which can be a little awkward.
So, to sum up: I'd say these are like two featherweight champions going toe-to-toe, but the Optimus gets a points decision. It's lighter, burns as hot and simmers better than the Pocket Rocket and the little pot stand arms are further apart for extra stability. Perfect for trailside foodies with ambitious foraged food recipes.
If you need pans as well Optmius sell a kit with their excellent cookware which is perfect for a light and fast one-person adventure.
If space-efficiency is your jam I’d go for Standard Optimus Crux (not the Lite version). It has a folding mechanism on the stem that means the stove flat packs to tuck into the cavity at the base of gas canisters, which is a great use of space. The mechanism does add a little extra weight (83g vs 72g) and another moving part can only detract from the longevity of the stove, but overall I’d say its probably worth it.