Gear I Hold Dear: The Svea 123 Camping Stove


“Flame on!” Even after 42 years, I can nonetheless hear the phrases bellowed by my fellow Appalachian Path thru-hiker as I moved a match towards my Svea 123 range. Then, a near-tectonic whoosh, and the nice woodland noises that served as a serene soundtrack at camp can be auditorily obliterated till my meal was cooked.

For those who started backpacking on this century, it’s probably you’ve by no means heard (or heard of) the Svea 123. However 40 years in the past, it was the go-to range for a lot of self-propelled outside recreationists—its decibel stage greater than mitigated by its reliability, strong building and, effectively, coolness issue.

Positive, there have been few choices for backpacking stoves within the late Seventies, however the Svea was—fairly actually—the gold customary. You can boil a quart of water in minutes whereas nonetheless throttling it all the way down to a delicate simmer. Most significantly, it was constructed like a tank, so it lasted in my pack for greater than 20 years.

Mine was the primary actual piece of backpacking gear I owned, and the primary merchandise I ever ordered from REI. That was in 1976, shortly after I joined the co-op. The Svea’s golden, ribbed edges glinted beneath the flame on the catalog web page the place I first laid eyes upon it. An built-in steel cup match neatly atop the range, so I may ditch the cook dinner package if I solely wanted to boil water for espresso, immediate oatmeal or freeze-dried meals. However, if my menu was extra elaborate, a number of corporations made cook dinner kits to carry the Svea, thus saving house in my pack. Principally, I ordered it as a result of everybody I knew who carried a pack into the wilderness thought of it the most effective range available on the market.

I by no means regretted the choice.

Svea 123 Camping Stove

The Svea’s roots hint again greater than 100 years to an organization whose first merchandise had been—appropriately sufficient—blowtorches. (For those who’ve ever lit up a Svea 123, you’ll discover a resemblance.) Within the late nineteenth century, Swedish industrialist Carl Richard Nyberg expanded his firm’s choices to incorporate the primary era of moveable kerosene cookstoves.

Someday between 1952 and 1955, the corporate, then often known as Sievert AB, launched the 19-ounce Svea 123, the first-ever compact backpacking range to make use of white gasoline. In contrast to the kerosene and common gasoline utilized in most backpacking stoves on the time, white gasoline burns cleaner and packs a barely larger BTU punch. It additionally works higher in chilly temperatures and at excessive altitudes.

All that added as much as a range that saved me nourished throughout my 147-day hike from Mount Katahdin, Maine, to Springer Mountain, Georgia. It by no means as soon as let me down whereas cooking within the mud of Badlands and Grand Canyon Nationwide Parks, within the snowy forests of northern Montana, within the warmth of Loss of life Valley in August and on extra nights than I can rely in my yard woods: New Mexico’s rugged Gila Wilderness.

As soon as, whereas tenting on a seashore in Pacific Rim Nationwide Park on the western fringe of Canada’s Vancouver Island, a good friend and I, after having maybe loved a number of too many libations, set our tent up a bit too near the Pacific Ocean. Excessive tide hit simply earlier than daybreak, inundating our camp. Among the many gadgets that had been soaked with seawater was my Svea, which, after being rinsed of sand, adopted by a pair turns of the cleansing needle, fired proper again up. Whereas our sleeping baggage remained waterlogged, the Svea delivered a sizzling breakfast.

However no piece of substances is ideal, and the beloved Svea undeniably had its quirks. For starters, the range held about 4 ounces of gasoline, which, below most circumstances, burned for about an hour. That could be OK for an overnighter, however something longer necessitated carrying a separate gasoline bottle. You additionally wanted a customized spout to funnel that gasoline into the Svea.

And since the gasoline tank needed to be preheated and pressurized earlier than use, the difficult means of lighting the range prompted epic arguments over probably the most environment friendly technique. Some used the heat of their palms to prime the pump. Others dribbled a small quantity of gasoline right into a tiny a part of the range referred to as the primer pan. Pour too little, and the flame would sputter and die earlier than the range was totally primed. An excessive amount of, and your campmates would run for canopy.

As soon as lit, the signature trait of the Svea manifested itself: its noise. The sound of a Svea at full throttle has been likened to a jet engine. Harvey Manning, the late author and activist who edited the primary version of Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills, as soon as described the Svea 123 as a “Swedish hand grenade.”

And woe be unto you when you ran out of gasoline midway via dinner preparation. Had been such a transgression to happen, you needed to enable the range to utterly calm down earlier than commencing the refueling course of.

Like most backpackers, I finally transformed to the convenience and ease of isobutane canister stoves. Now, I personal one which’s in regards to the dimension of a thimble and ignites with the flick of a lighter. However it’s flimsy and finnicky—if a lot as a drop of rainwater lands on it, its efficiency is compromised. You can submerge my previous Svea in a muddy cattle trough and it will emerge no worse for the wear and tear.

Svea 123 Camping Stove

I lately reconnected with an individual I met on my AT thru-hike in 1979. We began speaking in regards to the gear we delivered to the path in these primitive days—voluminous packs, heavy leather-based boots, 60/40 parkas, 5-pound tents and persnickety stoves constructed like tanks.

That dialog impressed me to Google among the gadgets that accompanied me on the AT. I discovered few traces of my tent, pack or boots, however to my joyful astonishment, I discovered that the Svea but lives, type of.

Out of doors range maker Optimus purchased Svea a few years in the past and continues to fabricate a model of my previous range, now referred to as the Optimus Svea. The unique Svea 123—that golden hand grenade—exists in second-hand outlets and in some types of digital categorized adverts.

It was troublesome to pry my eyes from the images of the brass Svea adorning the assorted web sites I perused. In its shiny exterior, I noticed reflections of my youth, when my physique had no compunction in any way about schlepping 50-pound packs up and down mountains all day. I slowly pulled out my bank card.

Then I put it again in my pockets.

Generally, recollections are finest left the place they had been.


All pictures by Andrew Bydlon. For extra odes about our favourite stuff, examine our Gear I Maintain Expensive sequence.

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