The MSR Reactor system is an integrated stove and pot cooking system aimed at mountain sports and cold weather activities. As a system aimed at the harshest of conditions it is extremely efficient and robust. Released at 2007, and since then been a controversial stove – it can deal with very strong winds and low temperatures, but it is pretty heavy compared to other stoves and it can only boil (no simmering). Those features and limitations made a clear choice for mountaineers and climbers looking for performance over weight and flexibility. The Reactor’s ability to melt ice is still amazing.
Over the years, as more and more companies started offering integrated stove and pot system, the Rector has managed to make it into the mainstream outdoor market.
I bought the MSR Reactor 1.7 litre system in mid 2012 and loved it ever since. I actually loved it enough to get the new 1 litre pot about a year ago when it was released and been using both ever since.
Integrated stove and pot cooking system started thanks to a company named Jetboil at 2001. The idea is that the stove and the pot create an integrated unit that increases heat transfer efficiency and reduces impact from the elements. All that means that integrated system boil water faster than standard gas canister stoves, much faster.
The Reactor, as an integrated system, has an extremely efficient stove that uses radiant heat at extremely high temperature. A radiant burner means no open flame, but a “glowing” mash dome that radiates the heat to the pot.
The pot on the Reactor comes in three different sizes: 1L, 1.7L and 2.5L. After the release of the 1L pot, MSR redesigned the main feature on the pot: the heat exchanger and updated the bigger pots. The heat exchanger on the bottom of the pot is a simple spread of channels that fit snugly on top of the stove and transfer heat to the bottom of the pot and than being channeled to the sides of the pot. That hot air that is pushed to the sides flows up to the pot’s bottom third and utilizes what would have been lost heat to heat the pot.
The combination of a flameless stove, snug fit between the pot and the stove and the heat exchanger creates the very efficient boiling times. There are many different times published out there about the Reactor’s boiling times and I’ve ran some of mine on the 1L and the 1.7L stoves – they vary, a lot. But in all of them there is an agreement that it will take less then 5 minutes to boil 0.5 litre water in any conditions up to 3,500M (10,000 feet). Higher than this the results start to offset.
The MSR Reacor system is also set to be packed all into the pot, allowing for a “tidier” pack. The 1L pot can host a small (100gr/3.5oz) gas canister with the burner and the 1.7L pot can house all canisters up to 230g/8.1oz. The fit into the pot is pretty snug, and needs to be done with extra care to avoid scratching the inside of the pot. The pots come with a cleaning cloth that is also used to pad the bottom of the pot to avoid scratches. The pots come with folding handles that in turn are folded over the lid and lock into place using a small piece of wire on the other side. The lid on both pots is BPA free plastic and comes with draining holes to one side. The 1L pot, unlike the 1.7L pot has a pouring lip that allows better pour. That lip is also vital to be able to fit the burner into the 1L pot, but due to its construction is very prone to scratches.
The Reactor’s biggest problem is the lack of built in igniter, that according to MSR is to reduce moving part and to produce a more robust stove. Be it as it may, you will need to carry some form of ignition; I use a simple two parts flint that I can fit into the pot with the burner and the canister (both systems) and that allows a really easy ignition in all conditions.
There are hundreds of reviews on the web about the MSR Reactor, some have amazingly complicated and accurate boiling times etc. I find that information sometimes useful, but at the end of the day I need weight, size and how I can estimate gas use. From my experience, the Reactor boils water really fast, and I got used to think about it as I think about the kettle at home – it is that fast. You can assume that in colder environment the boil is a little slower, but not by much. Wind seems to have very little effect on the Reactor’s boiling time.
Canisters – Probably one of the most important bits of information about an outdoor stove. I use the Primus Power Gas (4 Seasons) canister, as this is what my local shop sells. The Canister come in 230g/8.1oz or in 100gr/3.5oz and uses a Propane (25%)/Isobutane (25%)/Butane (50%) mix. The canister are great for the UK and nestled differently into the pots, meaning that I use the 230g with the 1.7L pot and the 100g with the 1L pot.
Canister usage averaged at 1 canister of 100gr with the 1L pot for about 3-4 days depending on temperature. This is a one person use that includes 1 boil in the morning, 1 boil at noon and 2 boils in the evening. The 230gr canister with the 1.7L pot is usually used in a family capacity (2 adults at least) and lasts 4-5 days. Those family uses are more frequent and maybe up to 7 boils a day of higher water volumes (1L compared to 500ml with the 1L pot). For a long weekend solo I take what ever 100gr canister is in the pot and another spare one. For a family long weekend a new 230gr canister is more than enough. These are all real life averages based on various trips in all kinds of conditions.
Now for the tech stuff – measurements. I use the stoves in various mixes and might take both pots if it is a family trip and meals and drinks will be made, so knowing how much each part weighs makes a difference. Each of the pots comes with a wipe cloth the is also important to protect the pots, so I included them in the weighing.
Burner – 178gr (6.28oz), 5cm (1.97in) height over 33cm (12.99in) diameter
1L Pot – 237gr (8.36oz), 14.5cm (5.71in) height over 35cm (13.78in) diameter
1.7L Pot – 303gr (10.69oz), 16cm (6.3in) height over 42cm (16.54in) diameter
1L System (pot+burner) – 415gr (14.64oz), 14.5cm (5.71in) height over 35cm (13.78in) diameter
1.7L System (pot+burner) – 481gr (16.97oz), 16cm (6.3in) height over 42cm (16.54in) diameter
All the measurements above were made by me using a digital scale and a soft tape measure, yes, I did them twice.
The MSR Reactor 1L details:
The MSR Reactor 1.7L details:
The MSR Reactor burner details:
How I use it
At the moment the Reactor is my main stove for any outdoors outing. The ability to boil water quickly gives great flexibility to choose the meal/drink times to the minute. I love a good coffee, and the Reactor does allow me to have a cup of my favourite brew on the go in a matter of minutes.
So far I used the MSR Reactor in varying conditions:
11 days hiking the Cape Wrath Trail – amazing efficiency: 2 230g cotainers of ISO-Butane for the whole trip
Winter hiking in the Peak District, England (used the 1 litres pot) – around freezing temperatures in very strong winds but no high altitude
Family backpacking trip on the South Downs Way – took both the 1 litre and 1.7 litre pot and had all the flexibility needed to feed 2 adults and a baby
Hiking in Dartmoor, England – 3 days camping with Mika and the 1.7l pot was excellent for our needs. The days were warm but very windy
Hiking for a couple of days with Friends in the Brecon Beacon area, Wales – was actually great weather, but the 1.7 litres pot was great for brewing for 4 people
Various day hikes around the UK – from warm days to frozen winter climbs.
Not much high altitude tests (haven’t had a chance yet) but a variety of temperatures and wind conditions so will probably be representative enough for most outdoor users.
- Fast boil – the main feature and most important to me
- Simple design – all the parts fit in to the pot
- Robust – my stove had it share of bashing and works perfectly fine
- Works in very strong winds
- Good pressure maintenance, even at lower temperatures and higher altitudes
- No open flame – reduces fire risks
- It is still a gas stove – will stop work in some point when high enough
- No built in igniter – must remember to have means to turn on (I use flint, always works)
- No simmering – it is an on or off stove
- Can’t use straight from the pot – it is exposed metal so burns are guaranteed
- Thin metal pot – loses heat quickly after cooking
The MSR Reactor is a heavy and robust stove that I personally love. It is probably an overkill most of the time but the simplicity, quick boiling time and reliability means that I repeatedly go back to it for any kind of a trip. The fact that the whole system fits into the pot and I can get a whole weekend outdoors out of a single canister makes it an ideal heat source if you need to deal with changing weather patterns.
I’ve recommended the Reactor to my share of people and will continue to do so, now it is time to see if MSR can outdo themselves with a new personalized stove and if Jetboil and Primus will be able to produce such a robust stove too.
Are you a MSR fan or do you go for other integrated stoves? Let me know what is your angle about.