Compact yet powerful for its size, MSR’s Pocket Rocket has been a market leading canister-top gas stove for a long time. I’ve had one for many years, now looking a bit battered but still going strong. But technology develops, gadgets get ever smaller, and though it’s a classic, in recent years my trusty old Pocket Rocket has begun to look a bit bulky compared to some competitors. Enter the new look Pocket Rocket 2 – lighter, more compact and no less powerful than the original. I think it’s fair (if a bit sad) to say that I have a new favourite stove.
Weight and packed size
At just 75g (106g including carry case) the Pocket Rocket 2 may not be the ultimate lightest stove available, but it’s still light enough even for keen gram counters. By way of comparison, the Primus Micron Trail stove weighs 85g – but that’s for a burner plus inbuilt piezo ignition, while the Pocket Rocket 2 is a simpler, albeit slightly more solid-feeling design, with no inbuilt ignition.
Another comparison is with the original Pocket Rocket, at 87g. The Pocket Rocket 2 may be only marginally lighter in the scheme of things, but every little helps. In addition, it’s more compact when folded.
n the Pocket Rocket 2 the pan supports cleverly hinge at two points, so they can fold neatly flush with the body. This gives you a small and packable collapsed size, and also, I guess, reduces the chance of damage in transit. The original Pocket Rocket came in a three-sided plastic canister; the Pocket Rocket 2’s lidded box is a little smaller, and a more regular shape for packing. If you like keeping things together, there’s also room in the box for a small cigarette lighter.
MSR quote a very respectable 3 1/2 minutes for 1 litre of water. In the great outdoors boiling times are hard to quantify, since they are subject to variables such as water temperature, breeze, altitude and gas pressure (a near-empty canister clearly gives you less output than a new one). I tried an indoor test.
With a full gas canister and cold water straight from the tap, the Pocket Rocket 2 brought 1 litre to a full boil in a lidded pan in 3 mins 40 seconds – which I’d say was within a margin of error of MSR’s own figure. Back to the comparison, when I timed the Primus Micron Trail stove it took 3mins 25secs to boil 0.5 litre of water – taking nearly as long, in other words, to boil half as much. I don’t think that reflects badly on Primus so much as reflecting extremely well on MSR.
For a simple canister top stove the Pocket Rocket 2’s boiling time is impressively fast, and though it’s perhaps no faster than the original model the incremental improvement here is that MSR have managed to get the same sort of output from a smaller unit. Despite its diminutive dimensions this stove kicks out a ferocious flame, roaring like a Saturn V and getting so hot that the pan supports glow orange in no time. When it was brand new I remember being wowed by the power of the original Pocket Rocket, and if anything the new version is even more deserving of its name. You could wake a whole campsite with this wee beastie.
As ever with canister-top stoves, the small base and top-heavy balance do mean that you have to search out flat enough ground, and take a bit of extra care when cooking. That’s the price you pay for compactness and simplicity – and for most of my camping and bivvying trips it’s a price I’m personally happy to pay for the convenience of a small gas stove.
Once folded out, the pan supports are wide enough to fit even quite a big pan. The large control knob, meanwhile, is easy to operate with gloves or cold fingers. As I’ve said, you don’t get an inbuilt ignition with the Pocket Rocket 2; instead MSR have gone for simplicity and reliability. Some will consider this a mixed blessing, but it clearly means less weight and less to potentially go wrong. In any case I would not trust a single ignition source, and always carry a couple of cigarette lighters when camping (at least if I remember to pack them). If you’re doing that, then perhaps an inbuilt ignition would be more or less redundant anyway.
Fire it up full tilt, and you’ve basically got a pocket blowtorch. If you just want to boil the living daylights out of something, I don’t think you’ll find a more effective compact stove than this. For quick brews, noodles, soup and dehydrated meals, boiling lots of water as fast as possible is clearly an advantage. An all-in-one stove system such as the MSR Windburner may be marginally faster, more windproof and more fuel efficient, but bearing in mind the inherent limitations of its simple screw-on design, the Pocket Rocket 2 still performs very respectfully indeed. Crucially, it’s a hell of a lot smaller and lighter than a stove system, and also arguably more versatile, in that you can use it with any pot, kettle or frying pan. Except perhaps for winter or high mountain use, my money (and it’s a lot less money too) would be on the Pocket Rocket 2.
What if your camp cookery aspirations go beyond simply vapourising water as loudly as possible? Well unlike your typical system stove, output on the Pocket Rocket 2 is fully adjustable. Wind permitting, you can turn it right down to an ultra-low simmer. For frying food without carbonising it, this is essential. The small diameter of the burner does make a focused flame, giving you a noticeable hotspot in the middle of your pan; however I can’t say that has been an issue as yet.
Finally, fuel efficiency: I have no way to test this scientifically, but anecdotally it seems fine – I’ve certainly not noticed running out of gas faster than normal. Keeping the wind at bay is clearly going to help in this regard, and to that end MSR have added a little wind guard to the top of the burner. A full wrap-around wind break would further boost the efficiency of the stove, though you might have to DIY your own that’s tall enough to accommodate the canister plus burner.
Light, compact, and as lively as a jet engine, the Pocket Rocket 2 brings MSR’s classic backpacking stove bang up to date. For a unit this small, boiling time is impressive; but if you want to cook food, not just boil water, the Pocket Rocket 2 can purr at a gentle simmer too. With MSR’s typical build quality, this simple canister-top stove is good value at £30, and I’m expecting to get many years of reliable service from it.