BackpackGearTest
  Home Guest - Not logged in 

Reviews > Cook Gear > Stoves > MSR Reactor Stove > Test Report by Stephanie Martin

Test Report: MSR Reactor Stove and Pot

Personal Biographical Info:
Name: Stephanie Martin
Age: 33
Gender: Female
Height: 5'5" (1.65 meters)
Weight: 155 lbs (70 kg)
Email Address: syoong "at" alum "dot" mit "dot" edu
Location: Phoenix, Arizona, USA
Date: June 18, 2008 - Initial Report
September 2, 2008 - Field Report
November 4, 2008 - Long Term Report
Background: Having always enjoyed spending time outdoors, I got serious about it in 1996.  Since then, I've been actively day hiking most weekends. In addition to day hikes, my husband and I generally take a couple of week long trips to the Grand Canyon annually, in addition to short weekend backpacking trips. Our backpacking philosophy has been rapidly moving towards ultra-light gear. My target base pack weight is 10 lbs (4.5 kg), and my typical shelter is a single wall tarp/tent. In general, we average 12 to 15 miles (19 to 24 km) per day.  See http://www.ToddsHikingGuide.com for trip reports and a better sense of our hiking style.

 

Other stoves used: A stove and fire fanatic, I've a rather large collection of cooking apparatus.  When I first started out, I started using a liquid fuel stove, then for convenience I upgraded to a multifuel stove with simmering capability.  Eventually I decided that lighter was better and converted to a tablet fuel stove and even built a couple of my own alcohol burning stoves.  I also own a couple commercially made alcohol stoves.  My other canister stove is a Jetboil GCS.

 

Product Information:

MSR Reactor, image courtesy of MSR.

the MSR Reactor is a combination stove and cookware set that uses a radiant burner and heat exchanger for high efficiency burning.

Manufacturer: Mountain Safety Research (MSR) [http://www.msrgear.com]
Year of Manufacture: 2008
Listed Weight: 21 oz (595 g)
Weight as Delivered: 17.6 oz (500 g) (pot, lid, stove, packtowel)
Listed Dimensions: None
Measured Dimensions: Burner Diameter: 4 inches (10 cm)
Burner Height (not including domed screen): 1.5 inches (3.8 cm)
Pot Diameter: 5.4 inches (13.7 cm)
Pot Height: 6 inches (15.2 cm)
Fuel: MSR IsoPro Canister
MSRP: US$139.95, fuel sold separately
Guarantee: Lifetime limited warranty for materials and workmanship only to the original owner.  Warranty is void if product is altered, used for purposes inconsistent with the product's intended purpose or design, improperly maintained.  The warranty is also void if the owner fails to follow product instructions or warnings and/or misuses or abuses the product.

 

Contents

- It's Here! The Reactor Arrives!

- Words on the Web

- Product Features and Construction

- Initial Impressions

- Product Use and Performance (Field Report)

- Product Use and Performance (Long Term Report)

- Summary

INITIAL REPORT  June 18, 2008

Joyous day, it's here! The Reactor has arrived!

Reactor and Box

The Reactor arrived packed securely in a rather eye catching box complete with a very nice product shot emblazoned on its front.  Included in the box is the Reactor cookset (lidded pot with special heat exchanger attached), a small rectangle of packtowl, the Reactor burner, and instruction manuals in a number of different languages.  The product, packaging and instruction manuals all bear large warnings regarding carbon monoxide and explosion hazards, in addition to warnings and notifications that the product is to be used outdoors only (and not inside a tent, vestibule, or any other number of enclosed spaces such as your car, house or camper).  Attached to the burner with a thin wire cable was a rather large, flammable looking CE marking tag. 
[back to table of contents]

Words on the Web
The MSR website is nicely organized and easy to navigate.  The product received was as expected, with the exception of the max-fill limit of 1.0L (1.1 qt) inside the pot.  More on that later.  I also wish I had more information about the material the pot is made of - no matter where I looked, I was unable to determine what type of metal is used to manufacture the pot, or the type of plastic the lid is made from.
[back to table of contents]

Product Features and Construction:
Reactor packed up
Cleverly self contained, the Reactor is a fine addition to the MSR family of stoves.  The cooking system, when packed, consists of the pot, the lid, a small piece of packtowel (or a bandana), the burner, the fuel canister and some matches and/or a lighter.  Everything stacks up nicely inside and doesn't seem to rattle around overly much.  To secure the bundle, the lid is placed on the pot, the handle is levered up over the top, and secured in place with a ball on a cable using simple tension.  It certainly makes for a tidy and secure package.

Unlike any of the other stoves I've used, the Reactor uses a radiant burner rather than jets or other flame producing heat mechanisms.  The burner also has a domed top that fits nicely into the bottom of the heat exchanger on the 1.7 L ( 1.8 qt) pot.  The burner does not have any sort of automatic or push-button ignition, and requires that the user carry matches, a lighter or some other spark source to get the stove going.  Adjusting the flame or heat output is possible using the folding flame adjustor (the little red tab on the bottom of the stove in the image on the right).  MSR has kindly included + and - indicators on the stove as a reminder as to which direction is on, and which is off.

gradations inside potThe pot appears to be durable in construction, though I am not certain what type of metal it is made of.  The lid is lightweight see-through smoke hued plastic - also of unknown material type.  It has a small rubberized handle on the top that appears to be easy to grasp, and will hopefully not heat up much during the course of cooking.

Inside the pot are graduated markings in 0.5 L (0.5 qt) increments - rather surprising was the Max Fill designation at the 1.0 L mark, while this capacity limit is mentioned in the product owners manual (which, incidentally, can be downloaded from the MSR site), it is not clearly mentioned in the main product description anywhere.  On the webpage, MSR indicates that the "high-efficiency 1.7 liter pot is great for everything from solo trips to cooking for groups up to three people." 

Regarding the high-efficiency design, the reactor pot boasts a very nice robust looking heat exchanger on its bottom.  When looking at it, it kind of reminds me of a jet turbine, what with its air-gap and various fins.  The pot is designed to fit securely on the top of the Reactor burner - the two work in harmony together to provide wind protection and fast heat transfer to the pot, resulting in fast boil times.

Jet Turbine or Heat exchanger?

[back to table of contents]

Initial Impressions
Based on my limited evaluations right out of the box, I am quite pleased with what MSR has delivered in this unique stove design.  The complete Reactor set makes for an attractively packaged unit and based on initial setup and firings, I expect it to live up to its high efficiency claim.

Setting up the stove and getting it going is simple - first, clear away flammable materials from the area (MSR recommends a 4-ft (1.2 m) radius of cleared space (including above the stove)), then connect the stove and canister.  The stove can then be lit by holding a flame source next to the edge of the burner screen while opening the flame adjuster.  The burner will quietly make a small halo of lovely blue flames before swiftly (and silently) heating up, resembling a burning ember with the MSR logo emblazoned upon its red hot surface. 

the reactor's glowing burner

Based on how hot the air was above the burner when I took this photo (standing at my full height), I definitely can attest to making sure the appropriate clearance from combustibles is observed.  I thought I might damage my camera what with all the heat pouring off the stove while I kept trying to get this photo.  The only disappointment I have is the comment in the instructions to never exceed the Max Fill line.  This line is located at the 1.0 L marking (just over half way up) inside the pot.  This was surprising to me as I was fully expecting to be able boil up to 1.5 L (1.5 qts) of water at a time in this pot, especially as this stove/pot system is recommended in the product literature as suitable for groups up to 3 people.

While the stove came with a tag on it that said removing it would void its CE certification or some such, I removed it anyhow, not wanting to risk it catching fire.  I personally think MSR should find a different way to mark the stove, as the tag proved to be a bit challenging to remove.
[back to table of contents]

Product Use and Performance (FIELD REPORT - September 2008)

Reactor, set up on sandstone bench in the Grand Canyon
the Reactor set up on a slickrock sandstone bench deep within the Grand Canyon.

Field and Test Information:
Location(s) of test: Various locations in the deserts and mountains and canyons of Arizona, including the Grand Canyon and areas near Flagstaff.
Terrain: The majority of the terrain has been open desert environments with few shade trees present.  High elevations in Arizona include pine forests and open meadows.  Camp sites were typically open slickrock, sandy or covered in pine duff.
Weather Conditions: Mostly sunny with a few overcast days.  Outside daytime temperatures during the test period have ranged from nighttime lows near 70 F (21 C) to daytime highs in the low 100s F (low 40s C).  No precipitation was encountered and little to no wind was present.

I've brought the Reactor along with me on several overnight/weekend backpacking trips, most of which where boiling water was the main cooking task.  In each case, the stove was used to prepare meals for two or more people.  Unfortunately, due to the styles of the trips, I have not yet had an opportunity to see how well the Reactor can handle different styles of cooking, or how it does with meal preparations that require more simmering.  I hope to have an opportunity to complete those evaluations during the long term test period.

I have to say, when time is of the essence, and hungry hikers abound, the Reactor did really well at boiling up pot after pot of water to get everyone's food rehydrating.  Set up proved to be fast and easy, as was the breakdown and re-stowing of everything.  As far as stability goes, with the pot "full*" with a liter (quart) of water, the system seemed stable and not prone to tipping - though I should note that I only have used the smaller sized fuel canisters for cooking. 

Cleanup of the Fluxring pot has proven to be an easy affair so far, with the surface of the pot cleaning up readily - though again, I feel I should preface this with the statement that I haven't actually "cooked" in the pot yet to really determine if there are food sticking or burning issues.  Cleaning up after using the pot to rehydrate a meal typically required just a couple of good rinses with a bit of water.

So far, all components show little to no wear, and everything remains in good working order.

*I have been following the manufacturer's max-fill line on the pot of 1 liter (quart).  It certainly would have been a little more convenient to be able to fill the pot more fully (actual capacity is 1.7 liters (1.8 quarts)) especially when boiling water for group meals, though I fully understand that the recommendation for a max fill of 1 liter (quart) is likely due to concerns over stability.
[back to table of contents]

Product Use and Performance (Long Term REPORT - November 2008)

Field and Test Information:
Location(s) of test: Various locations in the deserts and canyons of Arizona, including the Grand Canyon, and areas in the lowland desert near Phoenix.
Terrain: The majority of the terrain has been open desert environments with few shade trees present. Camp sites were typically open desert.
Weather Conditions: Mostly sunny with a few overcast days.  Outside daytime temperatures during the test period have ranged from nighttime lows near 40 F (5 C) to daytime highs in the low 100s F (low 40s C).  No precipitation was encountered and little to no wind was present.

During the course of the long term test period, I took the reactor with me on several overnight trips, continuing to cook primarily boil and soak meals.  While closer to home, I did make an attempt at a more complex boil and simmer meal, and found that the Reactor is really not suited for such cooking.  While the stove has an adjustment knob, the heat output, even at the lowest setting, is still a full roiling boil that resulted in my having to constantly move the pot on and off the stove to prevent it from completely boiling over with my dinner inside.  In addition to attempting more complex cooking during this test period, I also switched over to the taller, larger sized (8 oz / 227 g) fuel canisters.  The canister stowed well inside the cook pot, along with the burner and packtowel.  With a full pot on top of the setup, it seemed stable, and not prone to tipping at all.

To date, the whole cook-set looks pretty much brand new, though the pot lid was prone to getting greasy residue on it when used to actively cook in the pot - especially if the contents of the pot boiled up to touch the lid.  Oil is typically hard to clean off plastic ware without soap and hot water - and since I don't bring soap on my backpacking trips, it generally meant that if I had the misfortune to get the lid dirty, I had to simply do my best to clean it off and then send it through the dishwasher when I got home.  In addition to being prone to holding oil, the lid does pose one hazard - when set upon a closed pot of boiling contents, the little hole in the lid vents out a very strong stream of steam.  In the dry Arizona air, the stream was completely invisible, and proved to be a very unpleasant surprise.  Luckily, I learned fast, and now always remember to make sure I don't have to reach over the vent hole to lift up the lid.

Overall, the Reactor is a pleasure to use - it has fantastic heat output, and certainly boils water fast.  While it won't do for all my cooking requirements, it will likely be my go-to pot for larger group trips where everyone brings boil and soak meals.[back to Table of Contents]

Summary: Woo Hoos and Boo Hoos  
The MSR Reactor is a light weight canister stove that utilizes a radiant burner coupled with specific cookware with a heat exchanger to result in swift heating for your eating pleasure.  Here are some "Woo Hoos" (likes) and my "Boo Hoos" (some room for improvement), collected over my four-month test period.

- Woo Hoo: Holy heat output! This baby burns hot hot hot!
- Woo Hoo: Easy to set up, break down and pack away
- Woo Hoo: Volumetric markings inside the pot save me from guessing just how much water I'm putting to boil
- Woo Hoo: Quiet - this stove doesn't ruin the peace and solitude of the wilderness when lit
- General Observation: The unit is an integrated system. Those who prefer to use other types or styles of pots/pans will need to wait to see if MSR makes any other cookware for this burner assembly
- General Comment: This stove does not come with a built in igniter.  Don't forget your matches!
- General Comment: Watch the vent in the lid! When closed with boiling contents in the pot, a hot stream of steam will be rapidly rising from that vent!
- Boo Hoo: I was rather disappointed to spy the "max fill" limit at the 1.0L line in the 1.7 L (1.8 qt) pot.

My thanks to BackpackGearTest.org and MSR for the opportunity to participate in this test.



Read more reviews of MSR gear
Read more gear reviews by Stephanie Martin

Reviews > Cook Gear > Stoves > MSR Reactor Stove > Test Report by Stephanie Martin



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