A good month ago I entered a fun Instagram sweepstakes from Katadyne group. The prize for the winner was a goodie-bag of their Optimus brand outdoor expedition cooking utensils with a ton of jummy Trek’n’eat , as I like to call it, space food dishes. After learning that I won the postman brought a big big shipment with a fancy Optims Vega stove and a pack of Terra pots that go with it. Since on most of my #biwipowproject expeditions I got used to relying on a Penguin Aura jet-boil clone, I was eager to see how this kind of setup would work for our nutrition needs in the outdoor.
Most of you have probably never heard of the Katadyn group from Switzerland. Those of you who have probably associate it with making water drinkable aka water filters and micropiur tablets. Well that is not all they make.
At my last visit to The Outdoor fair in Friedrichshaffen on our OBN Blogger network press tour we also stopped at their booth. There we learned that Katadyn has been making gear since 1899. Wow more then 118 years of being in business. Their sub brand for outdoor cooking is called OPTIMUS. They also have a ton of other sub brands with different fields. For our sake the other interesting one is Trek’n’Eat. Ready made dishes for high altitude consumption with high nutrition value and optimized taste, as your taste buds work differently at altitude.
Since I was eager to test the new stove, last weekend on our epic deep water climbing trip *article dropping in a few days :)* I took the whole gear for a summer test, as the OPTIMUS VEGA stove is designed as a 4 season stove.
Looking at the Vega the design is really minimalist. Three foldable legs with a really good foothold that you can easily stabilize on uneven surfaces, even on just a few stones connected to a LPG gas canister (propane/butane). The legs don`t slip and stay firmly in place even when you put a full heavy pot on them and the whole contraption balances on nothing more then a little stone. A clear plus in comparison to my old Aura cooker whose base forms the gas canister. The surface there has to be even. That might not be a problem on an icy glacier but on stone or dirt it would be annoying to even it out.
Also comparing the specs the VEGA blows my old cooker out of the water. Its standard output is rated at 1.400 Watt in normal mode compered to the 1.150 Watt on the AURA and it also lets you use a direct liquid gas mode by flipping the gas canister on its head. This solves a big problem I had until now at altitudes above 3.000 m. There it took almost 15 minutes to boil a liter of water using far to much gas. The output in this “direct mode” triples to 3.700 Watt. According to their marketing material its 20 % faster. Shear power. Keep in mind thou that in this use your canister will be out quicker. There also are no lose parts and the whole thing just feels super durable. You should get a good 3 hours of work out of a normal 220g gas canister depending on it`s gas mix. It also has a little wind shield that you can set to two different sizes according to your pots.
The flame control is gentle and works well. The whole thing also weight only 179 g. Together with the three Terra pots the whole package weight 909 g. The AURA as a set with its one pot wights about 485 g.If you would count just the one big pot with 250g the whole thing on ultra light is 429g.
But there is one little issue we ran into when we started to cook at around midnight on our exotic camping locale. I don`t even know if I should call it an issue. My old cooker had an integrated igniter. One that worked extremely reliably even wet in the highest of altitude. With that in my head I did not think about bringing a lighter to our camping side. That meant I had to climb all the way back down to the car in the middle of the night. Hungry and annoyed I was happy to put the whole thing into it`s direct gas mode. Water was boiling around 3 minutes and 5 more minutes later we were ready to trek’n’eat :P.
The whole system is really easy to set up and the connecting hose for the gas canister can be rotated in any direction. Next to a gas valve it also has two legs that make it easy to flip the gas canister and run direct mode. Here any normal LPG EN 417 canister will do. If you wanna put it into liquid gas mode just let it burn in normal for a little and then flip the gas canister on its head.
OPTIMUS TERRA HE COOK SET
Boy I never thought I would write about cooking pots :P. But alas you need to boil you water in something or cook your meal too. As I hate cleaning pots with all kinds of food on them I usually stuck to boiling water in the pot and try to keep it clean. With my Aura usually, if cooking, the problem was the food residue got burned to the bottom. Now you try to professionally remove burned goulash from a pot at 3000m basecamp. Here a set like the Terra might be a better solution.
It whole set consists of two big pots and a cover/fryin pan made from hard-anodized aluminum with special teflon like no-stick coating that makes them super easy to clean with the included OPTIMUS BOB sponge. One of the two big pots has a fancy heat exchange *that is what the HE stands for* at the bottom. That ,according to the company, reduces the time to boil for yet another 20%. The other pot is specially engendered to make water boil faster. So you always have a clean pot for water. Least but not last is the frying pan that can act as a lid.
Two more things that are great is the side grip for the pots that nicely fits into the neoprene packing that doubles as a heat isolation so you can eat out of the pots without burning your crotch XD.
To test teh easy clean coating I did not bring any cleaning fluid and we bought a few eggs and bacon to fry in the pan in the morning for breakfast. It all worked really well. In fact I will say that it worked a lot better then the pan and gas I have in my kitchen. We used the supplied long spoon to evenly make 4 scrambled eggs with bacon.
The spoon did leave a few line marks and after reading the manual I know now that one should use wood and no sharp utensils so that the coating seal stays in tact. Washing with only a splash of water and the little BOB sponge worked really well too. I love the little sponge. It`s so practical.
Coming back to my lighter “issue”… I think that could easily be remedied by installing a igniter on the pot holder so that you are never without fire again… that is just a quick suggestion if katadyne is listening 😉 The pots do take up a bit more space in your pack due to a form factor but if you are serious about really cooking food and not only instant bags there is no denying that a set like this will do wonders for your tummy.. who knows maybe you will be the next Jammie Oliver of outdoor chefs.
Speaking of “food from a bag”, that brings me to the last section of the review. Some of you might already have cough on that when you get to a base camp and are hungry, the last thing you wanna do is spend two hours cooking a gourmet dinner. After 1700 verticals and 30 kg of gear on your back you just might wan`t spaghetti carbonara… and quick.
This is where these food bags come in handy. Boil water. Fill up the bag. Seal it. 5-10 minutes and bon apetit. I have tried a few different brands of ready food over the years but until our trip to Mont Blanc last year, out of a salvage, have not had the pleasure of trying trek’n’eat.
Wining the goodies bag means I am good in this department for the next few biwaking outings so we decided to take two bags with us. One was a combo of meat and potatoes with greens and a vegetarian Jambalaya mix.
It`s really cool that all the bags are coded with MEAT, FISH, VEGETARIAN, BREAKFAST and DESERT. Some of the dishes have really fancy names so you know what is what.
As we made our dinner around midnight, after my ordeal with the lighter we were making fun of Jambalaya and vegetarians. I know it is not PC but after a long day of climbing in the heat and the sun and almost no water two beers will do that to you.
We made the two bags at the same time and started our degustation. I must say that I liked the Jambalaya better. None of us seemed to dig the beef with the potatoes. That kind reminded me of another trip this season where I had had a beef with potatoes from travel lunch and I was not that super about it either. We ate about half of that and the whole Jambalaya and went to bed. I really liked the Jambalaya.. so jummy hahaha. Also the extensible spoon from Optimus was great to dig deep into the bags 😛
The next morning our reluctance came in handy because suddenly we did like it haha. Hunger… The good thing about the trek’n’eat food is that you can seal it for later. Since we woke up to summer sun the whole thing was even still warm and before we made our grand scrambled eggs with bacon it was the right thing at the right time.
Some people are not fans of this kind of food. I for one like it for 70 % of the time when I am out somewhere as a good combination between noodles you cook and greens and eggs you bring with you. If you go high alpine and weight is a big concern then these are a really good stop gap solution for the days you do not pass a fancy hut or refuge.
So there you have it. A complete cooking set with ready food. I will still have to see how all this stuff works in a high altitude setting and will update the article next winter. For a first look I am quite impressed with the OPTIMUS gear and will have it replace my AURA for my trips. Who knows maybe I will even invent a new dish…. but one thing that will have me weary is to have fire with me at all times…