What can I say about this legendary hiking stove that hasn’t already been said? Honestly, there is so much written about this stove that I won’t bother trying to be original and just accept the fact that sometimes all that is needed is a new twist on an old subject. In any case I have owned my little Svea 123 for well over 6 years now and it was my first stove I really bought since making my conversion over to lightweight packing.
The Svea 123 with my prefered pot the Snowpeak 900.
While the optimus Svea 123 is no longer my go to stove, it is still my funnest. How can it not be? Every time I light the gas on the primer pan a small little fireball explodes and singes the hair on my hands… I always get that little adrenaline kick when I’m not sure if the stove is going to light or explode and kill me. It’s almost like playing russian roulette with a camping stove. It’s that small thrill that keeps me coming back I guess. Then the comfort of the stove when it’s lit and going full blast sounding like a small rocket taking off.
What is the Svea 123:
The svea 123 is a backpacking stove introduced in 1955 by the Sieverts company here in Sweden, later this was acquired by Optimus brand in 1969. The stove is a relatively light, white gas powered backpacking stove, no moving parts, the best looking camping stove ever made and probably one of the best gas stoves ever made. This stove is still produced and sold today, though unlike the earlier models, unfortunately the newer versions are produced in China. I would and did buy my original Svea 123 (made in Sweden) on eBay for about $80.
The lighter shows the size. The Svea 123 is not a large stove
The Svea 123 demands a little from the user, as I stated in the introduction this thing has that “kill or light” feeling about it. You have to first twist and remove the “windshield”, take a small amount of gas and pour it around the base of the stove, in the primer pan, than light the gas in the primer pan until it burns out and eventually gets the brass stove hot enough to build pressure within the canister to keep the fuel primed.
- Make sure there is fuel in the tank
- Take a small cut of straw and place gas at the base of the burner
- Screw tight the tank lid, windshield and regulator
- light the primer on the base of burner
- wait until the tank gets hot and fuel starts to squirt out of burner by the pressure built up.
- Turn on the regulator and fire away
It’s hard to explain but easier to show, so I will include a video here:
The stove is made out of solid brass, even the newer Chinese versions (I assume), fairly compact as it fits within a Snowpeak 900ml casserole. The Svea 123 has no moving parts which is probably why they last forever, there are numerous reviews online of backpackers having them for well over 30, 40 and 50 years. Pretty impressive.
What I really love about this stove is how it is a self contained unit, with most gas stoves there are several parts and pieces to bring along. Pump, gas bottle, burner, windshield and so on. The Svea 123 is all you need to remember to bring, and all that you have to piece together inorder for it to work.
The complete kit with the box and aluminum cup
The total kit with the heavy and useless aluminum cup weighs around 535grams. Without the completely useless cup than the weight comes down to around 448grams. While not ultralight it is still fairly lightweight and definitely compact.
I hate the boil time calculation. Who cares how long it take for water to boil? What difference does it make if water takes 3.5 or 5 minutes to boil? completely pointless and most of the time calculated on a kitchen counter. Anyway, I prefer the burn effeciency metric. How much fuel does it take to boil water, or come close to boil. (I rarely boil my water as I can save an exceptional amount of fuel by not doing so.)
How much fuel for boil without pump:
500ml water used
376grams before boil
364grams after boil
12 ML of fuel to boil
Total boil time including priming = 11 minutes
How much fuel for boil with pump:
365 grams before boil
353 grams after boil
12 ML fuel to boil
Total boil time including priming: 6 minutes
(keep in mind these boils are done in controlled conditions – I.e the kitchen counter)
As you can see the effeciency is quite impressive on this little kit. You read correctly here that the amount consumed is the same though boil time cut in half. That’s because with the pump the flame burns much hotter and faster than without.
The built in fuel canister can hold about 150ml (180ml but you don’t want to fill it completely). This means that in calm weather you should be able to get 150ml/12ml per boil = 12,5 boils
I find that in real life conditions I can usually get about 8-10 boils on 150ml. With my average of 3 boils per day (or actually less than boil) my time out with just the canister would be 10boils/3boils per day = 3.3 days.
This is where I think the Svea 123 really is terrible. Like the Trangia alcohol stove, the Svea 123 can boil snow. The question is, should you? My answer is no, atleast not on longer trips. There is no doubt that you can boil snow, but it will eat up that tank of gas in no time. When boiling snow I can eat the entire tank in just three boils. This can of course be said with just about any stove, but as the Svea is already fairly heavy, it gets much heavier when you have to bring a liter of white gas to survive a weekend.
Tips and tricks:
- I find that I prefer to leave the aluminum cup that is included with the Svea 123 at home. It is too heavy, too small and gets way to hot for what it’s purpose is. I can’t really do anything with it except make coffee in it and I can’t boil water in the cup as it burns my hands. So I pack the Svea 123 inside my Snowpeak 900 titanium casserole. I use this same casserole for my Bushbudy and Ti-tri fusion. This pushes the weight of the stove to 553grams excluding fuel.
- With the purchase of my Svea 123 I also purchased a mini pump to prime my stove. I bought this as I found that pressurizing the fuel tank before getting the stove to burn efficiently took quite some time and a bit of fuel usage. With the mini pump and just a few pumps I get an efficient burn within seconds. (compared to several minutes without)
- When your boil is done, try to release the pressure from the canister as soon as possible by gently unscrewing the canister lid. This will make sure than no access fuel is wasted. (my Svea leaks when the pressure built up is too high)
You can buy a pump separately for the Svea 123
While the Svea 123 is an excellent backpacking stove, it has it’s faults. For example on anything but an extremely calm day the effeciency or the burn is non-existent. Meaning, it will take forever to boil and instead of getting 12ml per boil, your looking at 40ml per boil with a slight breeze. That’s because it has zero wind protection. You can try blocking the wind with your body and backpack, but even this seems to have little effect. I have read elsewhere that using a windshield is not the best idea as the canister could get too hot. Nothing I have tried myself.
On top of that at 455grams (excluding fuel and the cup), the Svea 123 is a tad heavy for the ultralight kit. Jetboil TI is 248grams, bushbuddy 148grams and the Ti-Tri fusion is 114grams.
As stated earlier: boiling snow. The amount of fuel required makes the Svea 123 a second choice for this.
As I stated in the introduction, the Svea 123 is such an enjoyable piece of gear to use and it has never failed for me. Today I use it mainly for overnight trips or shorter adventures. I don’t use it nearly as much as I used to, the Trail-designs ti-tri fusion has taken top honours there. The Svea 123 is also an excellent choice for winter camping as white gas is not affected by cold in the same way butane and alcohol is. This is simply just a fun stove to have – and even though it’s not my main camping stove anymore, it is a stove I will keep for as long as I backpack.
It’s a stove filled with character and class, looks amazing, never fails and is as effecient a stove that can be bought today. While I wouldn’t waste my money on the chinese version of this stove, the classic Swedish ones are still readily available on eBay. I say buy one and have fun, you won’t regret the experience.