Camp Stove Reviews

My Toughest Gear: MSR PocketRocket

Online gear tester Will Rochfort weighs in on his toughest piece of backpacking gear to date–and how it has impressed the ladies.

{Ed. Note: In the April 2010 issue the BACKPACKER editors weighed in on their toughest gear. We asked several of our online contributors to offer their winners as well.}

Most of my gear has a half-life of less than twelve months. Whether it’s due to abuse, technology upgrades, or loans that never get returned, it’s rare that anything in my gear closet survives for an extended period of time. One notable exception is the MSR PocketRocket.

When I first started consistently backpacking in college ten years ago, one of my first purchases was this stove. Although I may have been able to survive on Pop-Tarts and GORP, I knew that if I had any intentions of getting my girlfriend at the time to join me in the wilderness I needed a stove that would outshine cafeteria freebies. I went to our local retail store and requested the toughest, lightest, most dependable and efficient stove a college budget could afford. They recommended the PocketRocket, and it has accompanied me on almost every trip since, Despite weighing only three ounces, this stove has endured a metric ton of pain. Whether it was rain in the Grand Canyon, summer heat in Joshua Tree, freezing cold in the Sierras, or driving wind in the San Bernardino Range, this burner served up hot meals with aplomb. Even after a gigantic bowl of tortilla soup unexpectedly overflowed and coated the burner, I just gave it a quick rinse, and it was as good as new.

Granted, the PocketRocket isn’t the dreamiest stove on the market, as it doesn’t have a piezo auto igniter or an integrated heat-efficient mug, and it has its faults. (See BACKPACKER’s comparison review.) But I know that when it comes to crunch time, there is hardly a more affordable option that will get your water boiling as efficiently as possible, time and time again. (Something my college roommate, and his girlfriend, learned the hard way with a homemade soda can stove.) By my conservative calculations, my stove has boiled at least four-hundred liters of water, and I have never had to replace a part or do any maintenance (other than shaking out the occasional dirt clump).

The ultimate measurement of success, of course, is whether or not the PocketRocket actually improved my culinary skills enough to impress the ladies. On a weekend trip up to Big Bear, I was rushing to finish preparation for a surprise chocolate-fondue-with-strawberries dessert at sunset (click here for a similar recipe) for my girlfriend. Unexpectedly, a northern wind gusted across the range and threatened to eliminate any hope of getting my double-boiled chocolate to melt, thus ruining my grandiose evening plans. Thanks to the included MSR Windclip shield that divides the burner in thirds to boost efficiency in breezy conditions, the PocketRocket was unfazed. Dessert appeared just as the sun was about to hit the horizon, and my culinary coup-de-grâce was complete.