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Reviews > Cook Gear > Stoves > MSR Reactor Stove > Test Report by Jamie Lawrence
Test Series by Jamie Lawrence
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).
Product Information & Specification
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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