Review: Camp Stoves for Motorcycle Camping
Not everyone who camps on a motorcycle does cooking in camp, but we really enjoy having the option. When we went on our Americas trip, we had intended to cook while camping a LOT more often than we actually ended up doing (cooking *or* camping, for that matter). But we do still cook when we camp since coming back to the U.S. when we’re on motorcycle camping trips, and we’ve made some changes to our camp cooking gear since then – so you can benefit from our experience!
Motorcycle Camp Stove Criteria
When you’re looking for a motorcycle camp stove, one of the most important criteria is obviously size. When you’re carrying camping gear on a motorcycle, every inch and pound is critical. For this reason, we look for a stove that packs down into a compact bundle that we can easily carry in our panniers.
But in addition to the stove, you have to think about the fuel. Some stoves require proprietary fuel that you have to carry along with the stove. This was a big concern for us, which is part of the reason we ended up with our first stove: the Optimus Nova. But more about that later. The type of fuel that a stove uses, along with how much you’ll have to carry with you, are important criteria for motorcycle travelers.
Other criteria should depend on how you intend to use it. Are you cooking for one person, or two? If just one, you can get by with a smaller stove that basically just boils water. But if you’re cooking for two or more people, you may want a bigger stove that can handle larger pots, etc.
What about altitude? Believe it or not, altitude plays into a camp stove purchase. Some camp stoves work great at sea level, but have serious issues lighting and staying lit at altitude. We knew we’d be spending a fair amount of time at altitude – I think the high plains of Bolivia were in the front of our thoughts, although we also ended up at altitude in Mexico, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Chile. For those travelers who stay on U.S. soil, there’s altitude here, too – the Rockies get quite high and you could have issues with a camp stove there. This criteria doesn’t affect everyone, but if you might travel at altitude, this is something to think about.
Our First Camp Stove: Optimus Nova
Before the Americas trip, the stove that seemed to best fit our criteria (and be easily obtainable, as it was available at REI at that time) was the Optimus Nova stove. The description from their website starts out: “The legendary Optimus Nova is the benchmark for today’s multifuel expedition stoves.” That definitely came into play when we made the decision to buy it.
We read a lot of reviews about it, and it seemed to be one of the more reliable camp stoves available at the time. And yes, people reported that it lit and burned well at altitude. The size of the entire thing is pretty small – it’s got a smart design that folds up into a cylinder that fits into the palm of your hand, and there’s a carrying case to keep it all together (and keep it from getting crud all over the rest of the stuff in your pannier).
But the really compelling selling point to us was the fact that this was a “multifuel” stove. i.e. you can use it with many different types of fuel. There’s no proprietary fuel source that you have to carry along with you. And yes – you could use gasoline! We were riding motorcycles that required gasoline, so we were constantly buying it. And we carried spare gas on the bikes in case we got too far from civilization and ran out. In a real pinch, we could always syphon gas from our bikes. All we needed was an MSR fuel bottle, and poof! Perfect combo! Kay bought a mount that attached to the outside of his pannier which held the MSR bottle and a small fire extinguisher, which really made this an ideal solution.
So. Why did we buy a second camp stove?
We used the stove a few times on trips and it worked well, but it required a little finagling to get the thing running just right. You had to screw around with it a bit to get it lit and keep it lit, and keep the heat level optimal. Unfortunately, we found out just 6 weeks before we were leaving on our Americas trip that Optimus was doing a recall on the Nova. We contacted them and their recall process was going to take too long – so we told them about our trip and they expedited the recall for us. They were really great about it, and we got our Nova back (or a replacement, I’m not quite clear on that) about 10 days before we left.
I was all happy to have it… but we kept not having a chance to use it. At first, it was too cold to camp. And then we couldn’t find good spots to camp. By the time we got to Palenque, Mexico, we’d only used the post-recall stove a couple of times. We camped at Palenque, and met up with a couple of other motorcycle travelers who invited us to share dinner with them around the fire. We tried to hurry up and cook our food… and after we got our meat cooked, the stove started sputtering out. We could not for the life of us get it to stay lit. Turns out, you *need* boiling water to cook pasta. That was some of the worst macaroni and cheese we’d ever had.
I thought at that point that the stove was just unreliable, and didn’t trust it anymore. Even if we had an opportunity to use it, I had subconsciously in my head that it didn’t work and would leave us in the lurch if we needed it. So we didn’t really use it again until we got to Argentina.
Fast forward to camping on the beach in Argentina and we decided to dissect the darn stove and figure out why it wasn’t working. It’s a pretty simple device, and someone had suggested that we may need to clean it with the built-in magnetic cleaning needle. That didn’t seem right to us as we had only used it a couple of times post-recall… but we tried it anyway.
That didn’t work, but the instruction booklet had a process for checking the fuel filter. We pulled the in-line filter… and it was filthy. Completely clogged. After only a few uses.
Maybe it was the gasoline we were using, but we had not expected that at all. And foolishly, we didn’t have any new filters with us. But! The booklet said we could run it without a filter for short periods if necessary – we just might need to clean it more often. So we did, and it worked perfectly without the clogged filter.
We only carried it around for something like 3 months thinking it was non-functional… all because of a clogged filter. So that was sorta our bad. But I still have a hard time figuring out why the filter was clogged after only a few uses.
Anywho, Kay still loved the stove, so when we came back from the trip, it was still his stove of choice.
Until, that is, we added the second stove to our lineup.
Our Second (Preferred) Camp Stove: Jetboil Sol Stove
Other people I encountered at motorcycle camping events and rallies ranted and raved about the Jetboil stove. Many, many people used the Jetboil to make coffee in the morning, and I was totally envious. I love a good cup of coffee in the morning and I just couldn’t get my hands on one most of the time. I did some research on the Jetboil and it seemed like it might be a good stove in general, not just for coffee… but it had one major drawback: the proprietary fuel canisters.
Still, I love me some good coffee and I reasoned that I’d be able to find the fuel canisters as long as I was somewhere in the United States. And since we weren’t planning on going on any international trips anytime soon, I made the leap and bought the Jetboil Sol Stove.
After the first camping trip where we brought both, the Jetboil quickly became our favorite.
Here’s the thing: the Optimus Nova stove is great for backwoods camping where you’ll need to burn who-knows-what, and may be doing it at altitude where many stoves just crap out. But the Jetboil? SO. EFFORTLESS. The Nova was a bit picky to get lit and keep burning right, and you had to adjust the fuel a fair amount to get the heat at the right level and keep it that way.
The Jetboil? Just worked. You hook it up and press a button and it lights. It burns at the desired temperature until you turn it off. The heating process is EXTREMELY efficient; their proprietary “FluxRing” heat exchanger on the bottom of the cup and pot make it really, really efficient. When we cooked with it and the Nova at the same time, we’d often have things done cooking with the Jetboil while the Nova was still working on it. So we’d then transfer the pot to the Jetboil just to finish things off.
Ultimately, we’ve learned that we’re lazy when it comes to cooking in camp. If it’s a hassle to get the stove started and make dinner at the end of a long day of riding, making camp, setting up the tent, setting up our sleeping bags and whatnot… we just won’t do it.
The Jetboil takes all that worry and work away. It just cooks. Quickly and efficiently. With a minimum of fuss.
And it makes great coffee.
We’re both on the Jetboil bandwagon now.