BackpackGearTest
  Home Guest - Not logged in 

Reviews > Cook Gear > Stoves > MSR Reactor Stove > Test Report by Jamie Lawrence

MSR Reactor Cooking System

Test Series by Jamie Lawrence

Initial Report – 2nd October 2008
Field Report – 25th November 2008
Long-Term Report – 16th January 2009

Tester Information

Name:

Jamie Lawrence

Email:

jlawrence@publictrustee.tas.gov.au

Age:

27

Location:

Hobart, Tasmania AUSTRALIA

Gender:

M

Height:

5' 7" (1.70 m)

Weight:

154 lb (70 kg)

I was introduced to bushwalking/tramping/hiking as a young child in Boy Scouts and through my school physical/adventure education. After leaving school, I mainly did short daywalks until recently when I have started to again re-walk some of Tasmania's key hiking routes and try walks I have yet to attempt. I mainly walk in the winter months, in Tasmania's central highlands areas. I prefer light gear, extended walks (3-5 days) in a group of 3 or shorter walks (1-3 days) walking solo. I would generally carry a base weight pack of around 8 kg-10 kg (17 lb-22 lb). 


Initial Report
2nd October 2008

Product Information & Specification

IR1

Image courtesy MSR

Manufacturer:                  MSR Corp
Year of Manufacture:       2008
Manufacturer’s Website:  
http://www.msrcorp.com       
MSRP:                            US$139.95
Listed Weight:                  556 g (19.6 oz)

Measured Weight:            530 g (18.6 oz)
Component Weights:
Pot:             280 g (9.8 oz)
Burner:        190 g (6.7 oz)
Lid:              60 g (2.1 oz)

MSR claim on their website that the Reactor is a 'state-of-the-art stove and high-efficiency pot combine into one, compact, easy-to-use system'. My view is that this product should be sold as a cooking system rather than a stove. This is due to the integrated design requiring all the components together for the system to work. There are 2 components, the 1.7 Litre pot featuring the heat-exchanger base and the radiant burner. MSR claim that this system will deliver high efficiency and shorter boil times, around 3 minutes per litre in all weather conditions.

It was very clear as soon as I opened the box and started to use the Reactor that it is highly engineered and well designed product. The radiant burner fits snugly inside the pot, which leaves enough space for a canister of gas. The handle of the pot folds over to lock the lid in place, which in turn secures the internal contents. Setting the stove up for use is very easy. I simply fold the pot handle back and lock it in place, remove the lid and retrieve the burner. The burner screws into a gas canister and is very easy to attach. Once the burner is attached to the canister, the Reactor is ready to go! I ran a simple test with a stop watch to time how long it takes to set the Reactor up. I stopped timing after about 6 attempts because in every case it was less then a minute to have the Reactor ready to use. This is much faster than my liquid fuel stove but very similar to my other canister gas stove. Unfortunately the Reactor does not have a built-in ignition system, so I will make sure I have matches or a lighter handy. Despite this, the stove is very easy to light and requires no priming or pre-heating.

 

MSR are clearly aware of the potential dangers of using this system, which features many warnings. The main warning is a large sticker on the side of the pot. This states clearly that this system is not to be used inside a tent due to output of Carbon Monoxide when the Reactor is burning. The burner also has a warning tag attached with a small cable loop. Whilst this did not interfere with the operation of the stove, I thought it was just annoying and quickly cut it off. Lastly the burner also contains the words 'respect fire' under an MSR logo. These are all additional to the extensive warnings contained within the instruction manuals contained within the packaging.

Using the MSR Reactor

IR2

Burner Ready to Use

The high-tech nature of this product does not make it hard to use. As previously outlined, the system is easy to put together and have ready for operation in less than a minute. The large flame control leaver on the side of the burner head is very easy to use and could easily be operated with gloves. I found the safest way to light the Reactor is to light the match first, then turn the control leaver a half turn until the gas ignites. Once this happens I open the leaver up another half turn to what appears full power even though the leaver will continue to turn. The burner head does not produce a flame, as the 2 internal burners are contained within the unit. These inturn make the burner head glow bright orange and produce some serious heat! The picture to the right shows the burner lit with the bright orange glow. I really like the design of the MSR logo that appears when the burner is glowing.

To test the claim of MSR that this system can boil a litre of water in around 3 minutes, I ran a controlled test by filling the pot with a litre of water, lighting the burner, then placing the pot on the burner and timing how long it took for the water to achieve a rapid rolling boil. I also measured the weight of the canister before and after each boil to see just how efficient this system is. It is worth noting at this point that the pot has internal volume markers to make it easy to fill. I found it a little disappointing when I filled the pot the first time and noticed that the 1 litre mark also has the words Max Fill. This is in contrast to the claim the system has a 1.7 litre capacity, as this is clearly not the case.

Trial

Temp (C)

Weight (g)

Time

Gas Used (g)

1

11

353.00

3:20

12.30

2

14

340.70

2:54

11.90

3

15

328.80

3:10

11.30

4

13

317.50

3:12

11.60

5

12

305.90

3:11

11.90

The table to the left shows that over the 5 tests the Reactor can indeed boil a litre of water in around 3 minutes. I was also surprised to note that each boil used around 11.8 g (0.4 oz) of gas per test which is very efficient. Based on the figures in the table I was able to calculate that I would be able to boil around 19 litres of water on the one canister. Very impressive for the power output.

5 boils may seem like a low sample, and this is true. Unfortunately I had to stop testing as the canister started to ice up. Although I am quite new to canister stoves, I know that the canister needs to remain warm for optimal performance. In most cases this is achieved by the stove actually radiating some heat downwards onto the canister. Given the very wide burner head design, I doubt very little heat is directed downwards. In fact I am able to touch the bottom of the burner unit almost immediately after it is turned off whilst the top remains far too hot to touch for a few minutes after being used. Whilst the Reactor does a great job of throwing a lot of heat ‘up’ into the pot and heat-exchanger, it does not radiate enough heat to the canister to prevent it from icing up.

Testing Strategy

At this point in time there is no additional cookware available for the MSR Reactor, which effectively limits this system to a single pot meal plan. I have always used a non-stick nesting pot set when out in the wilds so I am very interested to test how much modification and compromise I need to make to my menu to cope with only having one pot. I am also looking forward to test the consumption and boil times in real outdoor conditions such as wind and cold. Over the coming months I will be undertaking walks into some remote mountainous locations and will look to use the Reactor as my primary cooking system. I will report in due course on the effectiveness of the MSR Reactor to meet my cooking needs in my Field & Long-Term Reports.

Summary

Over all, I was quite impressed with my initial use of the MSR Reactor cooking system. It is certainly able to heat water in a very fast time whilst using an economical amount of gas. The integrated heat exchanger is effective at distributing the awesome amount of heat generated from the unique radiant burner head into the pot. I like the simplicity of putting the system together, the quality construction and well engineered design allowing all the components to be stored within the pot. I did find it a little hard to get the pot seated on the burner head during the initial test above but I am sure this will not be a problem moving forward with a bit more practice. I was disappointed to discover that there is no built in ignition system and that the pot has a maximum capacity of 1 litre not 1.7 litres as stated.


Field Report

25th November 2008

Field Conditions & Locations

To date I have used the MSR Reactor on 2 separate trips in very different environments. The first of these trips was a summit of Barn Bluff in the Cradle Mountain National Park. During this trip, elevations were between 928 m (3,044 ft) and 1,559 m (5,114 ft) above sea level. Weather conditions ranged from warm and sunny to cold with strong wind and rain. The second trip was to Friendly Beaches, in the Freycinet National Park. During this trip around 9mm (0.35 in) of rain fell with a low temp of 8 C (46 F) and high of 26 C (79 F) recorded. It was also very windy, with a maximum gust of 70 km/h (43 mi/h). All meal preparation was done at sea level.

Cradle Mountain

Dove Lake & Cradle Mountain - Cradle Mountain National Park

Performance in the Field

I have continued to use the Reactor mainly to boil water for meal and beverage preparation. I have also prepared 2 meals that required simmering or boiling.

Unfortunately I lost the log I was keeping of the boil times and meals I had prepared. This blew away in some bad weather! I have however, measured the weight of the canister since commencing the test series. I am still using the same canister that I purchased at the beginning of the test series. My calculations indicate that I have around 133 g (4.69 oz) of gas remaining in the canister. Given I have used the Reactor on 2 trips to prepare around 8 meals or boil water for hot drinks, this seems very economical.

The ability of the Reactor to boil water quickly has continued to impress me. Throughout my field testing I have continued to achieve boil times of around 3 minutes. I also used the reactor to rehydrate a pasta meal and also prepare some cooked oats. To prepare both of these meals I first boiled some water, around 500 ml (17 fl oz) of water then added the meal. In the case of the pasta, I needed to reduce the heat as much as possible to simmer and allow the meal to rehydrate. I found it very difficult to lower the heat output from the Reactor enough to simmer.

Rehydrating Food

Rehydrating Pasta in the Reactor

 Even with the control valve almost completely turned off, the pot retained enough heat for a rapid boil. At one point the burner head was not even glowing orange, rather it was light blue colour from the flame of the gas. This was as low as I could have the flow of gas without the burner going out. Despite this, I was not really able to achieve a stable simmer. The meal still rehydrated in around 10 minutes. Much to my surprise I was able to simply rinse the pot out with some water and no further clean up was required. I did, however have to wash the pot lid with some soapy water as it had a rather greasy film after cooking. I again had no problems cleaning the pot after I had prepared some oats for breakfast. As the pot does not appear to have a non-stick coating, this ease of cleaning was a welcome feature. During my trip to Friendly Beaches, I used the Reactor to boil water. This was undertaken on sandy soil and I was concerned that this would affect the stability of the Reactor. I found that after I had attached the burner to the canister I simply screwed the unit into the sand until it felt firm and level, and had no further stability issues.

As indicated in my Initial Report, I had concerns about the lack of radiated heat from the burner to warm the canister during operation. This appears to continue to be an issue but I have yet to notice that it has a negative impact when simply boiling a litre of water. The main way I spotted the lack of warming of the canister was from the condensation and resulting wet sand on the canister during my trip to Friendly Beaches. After boiling some water I would check the temperature of the canister and it always felt cold and had definite signs of condensation. This was despite the air temperature being around 20 C (68 F). I also indicated in my Initial Report that I was having problems seating the pot onto the burner head. This remains an issue. I still find I need around 2 or 3 attempts to get the pot in the right position to be stable on the burner.

Summary

Although I have had a couple of small issues, the Reactor remains to be a reliable and easy to use cooking system. I certainly prefer to use the Reactor if I need to boil water quickly. I am looking forward to continuing my testing in more challenging weather conditions.


Long-Term Report

16th January 2009

Field Conditions & Locations

I have continued to use the MSR Reactor on bushwalking trips. I finalised my testing on 2 recent trips in the Mt Field National Park. The first of these was to the Rodway Range with elevations ranging between 940 m (3,084 ft) and 1,294 m (4,245 ft). The second of these trips was to Lake Seal with elevations between 940 m (3,084 ft) and 1,032 m (3,386 ft). Temperatures ranged between 4 C (39 F) 26 C (79 F) with weather ranging from high wind and rain to bright sunshine.

Long term conclusions

Throughout my testing of the MSR Reactor I have mainly used it to boil water to rehydrate meals or make beverages. I have also used the Reactor to heat meals that were either precooked or sealed in vacuum pouches. The main reason that I have limited my cooking to this style is for a couple of reasons. Firstly, MSR at this stage have not released any other suitable cookware that can be used with the Reactor burner head.  As the pot is very tall and narrow it is not possible to use the system like a frying pan. The other major limitation is the heat output from the Reactor. As stated in my Field Report I have not found it possible to simmer as the heat output is just too high.

LTR2

Burnt Food in Reactor Pot

 

The Reactor basically has 2 heat settings, flat out and off!  One time this caused me troubles as I was reheating some curry that I simply wanted to heat through. Due to the high heat output the curry almost instantly stuck to the base of the pot and started to burn. This caught me by surprise as I had not had any dramas during my field testing with food sticking. Lucky for me this was the last meal I intended to prepare for the trip so it had no major impact. It did take a good 24 hours of soaking and scrubbing to remove all the food which was a hassle.


Over the testing period I have been astounded at the efficiency of the Reactor. My trip to Lake Seal included the original 227 g (8 oz) canister although it was very light and I feared I would run out of gas so I packed an additional canister. I was also travelling with my Kovea Titanium pocket stove as I wanted to cook some eggs & bacon which was not possible with the Reactor. I made the mistake of screwing my 'test canister' into the Kovea and started cooking. It was lit for about 2 minutes when I could hear the pan sizzle starting to slow down, indicating it was cooling. To my surprise I spotted the flame had basically died on the Kovea. Despite the fact I could still feel gas in the canister it would not relight. I decided to remove the Kovea and screw in the Reactor to see if I could get it to light. Not only did it light, I managed to boil nearly 1.5 L (51 fl oz) of water in 2 separate batches before the canister was finally dead. As previously mentioned in my Field Report I lost my log of the meals/beverages I prepared using this canister but I estimate it would be around 15 meals. Given the size of the canister I think this is very efficient. In my Initial Report I calculated that the Reactor would be able to boil 1 litre of water around 19 times on a 227 g (8 oz) canister. This certainly appears to be true with the number of meals I prepared as I would usually run the stove longer than needed to achieve a rolling boil. If I was after a lightweight stove to boil water that was highly fuel efficient, I would certainly chose the Reactor.

I also highlighted throughout my testing of the Reactor my concerns about the lack of heat radiation downwards to warm the canister. Apart from the icing problem I experienced in my Initial Report, I have not had ice form on the canister in the field. I have noticed that the canister is always cold after I have used the Reactor. I suspect icing is an issue but due to the short boiling times MSR have got around this as a design flaw. The other issue I have had with the Reactor is the lack of an inbuilt ignition. I now always pack a small lighter inside the Reactor to ensure I can always light it. Even this system let me down once as I went to heat up some water for a hot beverage and no lighter!!!!! Without an ignition source I couldn’t light the stove. Luckily I passed a fellow walker that had spare matches and was kind enough to pass them to me. Given the very small nature of an onboard ignition system I can not see why one is not included if it is due to weight concerns. The design of the heat exchanger may limit one being included perhaps.


Final Summary

I have generally been impressed with the performance of the MSR Reactor. It is highly efficient and its compact design is clever. If willing to accept the limitation of only being able to use 1 pot, which has a limit of 1 litre, then the Reactor is a good choice for those after high heat output from an easy to use no fuss stove. Throughout the testing period I have found the MSR reliable in all weather conditions and had to perform absolutely no maintenance which is always a bonus.

My cooking style tends to be a bit more on the gourmet side when out and about in the wilds so I can't say that in the future the Reactor will be my first choice of stove. If I were walking in a group I would most likely consider taking it in conjunction to another canister style stove and use the Reactor as my water boiler. If travelling solo and only rehydrating food I would have to think very hard about leaving the Reactor behind as it is nearly perfect for this scenario.

I hold MSR gear in high regard for its quality, design and ability to cope with years of abuse. The Reactor certainly performed to my expectations of gear by MSR in this regard.


This concludes my testing of the MSR Reactor. My thanks to MSR Corp and backpackgeartest.org for the opportunity to test this product.




Read more reviews of MSR gear
Read more gear reviews by Jamie Lawrence

Reviews > Cook Gear > Stoves > MSR Reactor Stove > Test Report by Jamie Lawrence



Product tested and reviewed in each Formal Test Report has been provided free of charge by the manufacturer to BackpackGearTest.org. Upon completion of the Test Series the writer is permitted to keep the product. Owner Reviews are based on product owned by the reviewer personally unless otherwise noted.

If you are an avid backpacker, we are always looking for enthusiastic, quality reviewers. Apply here to be a gear tester.


All material on this site is the exclusive property of BackpackGearTest.org.
BackpackGearTest software copyright David Anderson