So it was then that the Optimus Crux Weekend HE Cook System was put to the test of not only doing the job of heating the rations but somehow making them taste better than they normally would. On one account it failed miserably. Wonder if you can guess which one?
The OCWHECS or Crux as I'll call it from now on was kindly given for review by Gary over at RV-3 in Brecon (RV-3 is not associated with RVOps) as he's quite keen on it and thinks it could be a winner. It retails in store for around £69 including gas however Gary highlights that all prices are negotiable.
To start off with then the first thing that needs to be raised is the name of the Jetboil. People like to compare anything that heats things to a Jetboil and whilst that's good and well I'm a firm believer that the JB is too different from your normal burners to be able to compare, so for the purposes of the review I'll only refer to it once or twice to convey a better understanding of what I'm explaining.
Out the box then the Crux comes with the gas burner, the main boiling vessel and a frying pan. Unable to get any sausages but having plenty of gun oil around I was unable to test the frying pan however I'll come to that later.
The package comes as one handily stored bundle with the gas burner having its own little pouch to live in. This pouch then fits into the underbelly of the 230g gas canister and some mesh helps it to sit snug. This then fits into the bv and the lid goes on top. Et-voila, one complete kit. Once you put it in the net bag there's minimal noise and no loud clanking which is nice, however I need to stop this review for a second whilst I hold my head as I've just accidentally scratched my fingernail over the lid and blackboard screeching doesn't even come close. I think I'm going to be sick!
So on that note, god that was horrible, unlike some other stove type affairs the BV and pan on this are made of unprotected hard anodized aluminium which means it has no padding or protection from fingernails or anything else that might bash off it which could affect long term durability.
On that note though the base of the BV has no marks on it after use, no browning or darkening of the metal so that's a plus.
Starting with the frying pan first then it's quite deep, measuring in at 4" deep it's quite respectable with plastic coated handles to prevent heat transfer. The handles fold down to sit under the base of the pan. When you unfold the handle it locks in place and to retract it you simply squeeze the legs back in. Point to note with this is not to squeeze them in too far or they'll pop out of their fitting. This as a design feature however Optimus do not sell spare handles so it's pretty much just for choice as to whether you want them on or not.
Point to note with the frying pan is that if you deploy it in the role of lid then beware when taking it off if you don't use the handles, it gets very hot!
To be honest, as soldiers in the field we're unlikely to find ourselves using the frying pan and it'll get more use out of the role of being a lid however it's a nice to have and makes it that bit more versatile should you find the need to have a pan.
The main boiling vessel itself holds 800ml of water and to fit in a ration pack main meal you'll need 400ml of water to bring it to just below the lip of the vessel. It has the same coated handles but these don't detach. They wrap around the BV when not in use and simply pull outwards to use, and you will need to use them unless you have gloves on as again the vessel gets hot. It also has a small spout on the lip to aid with pouring.
On some other products such as the Jetboil you can fold the silver foily in half and stand it upright and it'll fit in perfectly. With the Crux you have to mash the bag down as it stands proud of the top otherwise. I was concerned how this would affect heating time of the food but it didn't really impact on it. I highly doubt you'd be able to cook more than one foily in it due to the space required and how that'd affect the overall amount of water. I only had one foily so couldn't put it to the test but Archimedes would be quick to point out that the more stuff you put in a certain amount of water the less water there will be to cook your scoff and the longer it will therefore take.
The base of the BV has grills going around the circumference to help with the heat transition and to give the BV a solid base for when it sits on the burner. I thought these might be a bit fragile and it was fairly easy to break some of them with just a bit of thumb pressure. I can't see these affecting the overall performance of the pan though as they have a base of solid aluminium which support them. The worst scenario is that for some strange reason you break all of them (Which would take some effort) and it affects the balance of the BV when it sits on the burner.
Moving onto the burner itself it's a very nice, well designed piece of kit with a collapsible stock operating on a ball joint which means unlike a lot of burners where it's one size forever, you can fold the main head down against the stock by pulling back on the plastic collar and snap the control handle in with it, creating a nice, tight, small package which is easy to store and helps protect against damage.
The legs of the burner which the BV sits on have jagged teeth to give a good grip to the BV and the actual burner plate itself is very well designed with 140 separate flame outputs and the plastic collar which holds the stock either vertical or collapsed is solid enough. The concern is that if that stock gets damaged though then the head is unsecured and will move if weight is sat on top so that's something to be aware of.
As for the control handle, it's not a linear control valve as with many burners. A linear control is like a volume knob on a radio. The more you turn it the louder it gets, all the way to 11. With the Crux burner it's a modified parabolic which means you can fine tune the gas flow with small twists towards full open.
The one thing I did observe was that if you are fiddling with the control handle and put a bit too much pressure on it in the down direction it can cut the flow of gas off. Once you're aware of it it's easy to avoid but a bit of a nuisance.
With the actual cooking of the food it took about a minute for it to boil the water, with the company stating it should take up to 3 minutes for 1l water. This was with 400ml of water, so double it effectively and you're looking at between 2-3min for water boiling with the gas flow at full belt. They state that a 230g canister will last for 60min at full output which is pretty good going when you consider how quickly some other burners chew through their gas supply.
Once it did start to boil the BV got a bit funky but that was more down to me having sat it on bricks than grass, the grass was sopping wet, so arrse to that! You can see that it boils nicely and that yes, that lid was friggin' hot!
I was concerned that once I'd turned the gas off that it was going to take a while for the BV to cool down enough to be able to handle it but that proved to be a false concern and within about 30 seconds I was able (Having already tipped the water out) to pack it all up and stick it away into the utility pouch of my webbing where it fits comfortably with room on top for a few foilys for later.
So, the Optimus Crux Weekend HE Cook System. A good take on a old favourite but with nothing new to really rock the boat. Whereas the Jetboil was a bit of a revolution in the way things were done and whilst everyone gets excited about it people forget there are other good, solid options out there. The Crux did the job required, takes up slightly less space than the Jetboil and more importantly, the burner is usable in conjunction with mess tin, or anything else that can take the heat. With the Jetboil, one of the lads I was on course with was trying to get a new burner base as his was broken. Alas, they don't do spare bases, so his Jetboil is now U/S. I'm a big fan of survivability of kit and with the Crux, should the BV or burner go U/S then you can either purchase another burner or use your mess tin, it's not a show stopper.
You tend to find now that the majority of lads in the field will bring a bit of hexy tv with them but the second they see someone with a burner it's "Can you bung this in for me?", I say screw their jackness. Buy the Optimus amongst your section or charge a quid to use it and make your money back on what is a solid, workable option and a good alternative to other burners on the market.
Oh, and I never did find out what the 'HE' stands for. Hopefully not what we normally associate that particular abbreviation with!
The Optimus Crux Weekend HE Cook System was kindly provided by RV-3 of the Infantry Battle School in Brecon