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MSR Reactor Review

   
Editors' Choice Award

Backpacking Stoves

  • Currently 4.5/5
Overall avg rating 4.5 of 5 based on 21 reviews. Most recent review: December 26, 2013
Street Price:   Varies from $172 - $200 | Compare prices at 9 resellers
Pros:  Highly efficient, storm-proof, very fast, easy to use, compact
Cons:  Not as stable as the Jet Boil Flash, does not simmer, fixed pot size, expensive
Best Uses:  Backpacking and mountaineering in all conditions
User Rating:     
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 (4.4 of 5) based on 20 reviews
Recommendations:  88% of reviewers (15/17) recommend this product
Manufacturer:   MSR
Review by: Chris McNamara ⋅ Founder and Editor-in-Chief, OutdoorGearLab ⋅ October 7, 2010  
Overview
The MSR Reactor is the fastest, easiest to use, and most storm-proof camping stove we tested. Its designed to provide all-conditions performance for one to three people, but lacks the ability to simmer and it functions poorly on low.

The Reactor is a Jetboil Flash on steroids. Regardless of how inclement the conditions, this stove is insanely fast at boiling water but remains incapable of doing much else. Get the Reactor if you voyage to harshest of climates with two to four people. Otherwise, the Flash is smaller and cheaper, but less storm-proof. For the best in value, versatility, and durability get the time-tested MSR Whisperlite ($80).

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OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review

Likes
Although the Reactor appears to be simple and uninvolved, the two-piece unit is the most technologically advanced integrated stove system on the market today.

Of all the stoves we tested, the Reactor is the fastest, most windproof, quietest, and easiest to use. Simply screw on the burner, light it up, put the pot on, and in three minutes or less youll have a liter of boiling water.

The Reactors burner has several unique features that make it better than all the rest: (1) its the widest of all stoves tested (roughly 3 in diameter), (2) its surrounded by perforated metal which acts as a windscreen and captures air for the burner, (3) unlike most stoves which only use convective heat, the Reactors burner incorporates metallic foam that also dispatches radiant heat, (4) The Reactor includes a pressure regulator that maintains a consistently low pressure throughout the life of the canister. This enables the stove to perform better when canister pressure nears zero and in low temperature, high altitude conditions.

The Reactors 1.7L pot includes a built-in heat exchanger that occupies the bottom inch of the pot. This sits on top of a convex burner, blocking wind, trapping heat, minimizing the distance between the pot and stove, and increasing the burners surface area to roughly twice that of a traditional flat-bottomed pot. Unlike the Jetboil Flux Ring, the Reactors heat exchanger is constructed to withstand expedition style abuse. The heat exchangers strong fins are welded to the bottom of the pot, but above its lower profile. This prevents the fins from becoming caught on items in your pack and ensures long-term durability. The pot also has a foldable and lockable handle thats surprisingly strong. Even when filled completely and held at full extension for pouring, the handles hinge showed no sign of flex. To our pleasant surprise, the Reactors handle also makes for an excellent bottle opener.

Click to enlarge
Molly drinks from the MSR Reactor in the North Cascades, WA.
Credit: Chris Simrell
The Reactor is the worlds first windproof stove. In an 8mph wind this system boiled a liter of water in 3:16, embarrassing the hugely popular Jetboil Flash, which limped in at 8:44. As conditions worsen (increased elevation, increased wind speed, decreased temperature), the Reactors performance significantly improves relative to competing stoves. Thus, if you venture high into the mountains and the storm gods deliver as promised the Reactor will be your only trustworthy companion.

Unlike most liquid fuel stoves, which roar like jet engines and turn dinner into a shouting match, the Reactor is wholly tranquil. Based on our observations, it is the quietest stove on the market today.

In sum, the Reactor is the fastest, easiest to use, quietest, and most storm-proof stove we tested.

Click to enlarge
MSR Reactor and the Hilleberg Jannu at 11,800ft.
Credit: Max Neale

Dislikes
While it may be a champion at boiling water, the Reactor will not slowly reduce your pasta sauce, fry up an omelet, or cook rice. In fact, this stove simply does not simmer and it is relatively poor at running on low. During our attempts to simmer delicate cuisine we extinguished the burner dozens of times. Heating less sensitive canned food such as baked beans or chunky chicken vegetable soup still requires a delicate touch and nearly constant stirring. The 1.7L pot makes the Reactor impractically large for the lightest of alpine pursuits. Its more appropriate for two to four-person teams.

Since the Reactor is very quiet and the pot completely encases the burner, you have to lift the pot off the burner to tell if its still lit. If you plan to attempt real cooking, prepare yourself for a lift and relight extravaganza.

In contrast to the Flash, the Reactor comes sans auto ignitor and lacks the ability to clamp to the pot. This stoves other sore thumb is an awkward single-purpose lid. We would prefer to see a more versatile cover that could also be used as a plate or bowl.

Despite these drawbacks, the Reactor represents a giant leap forward in stove design. If your adventures necessitate a compact, efficient and storm-proof stove, we highly recommend the Reactor.

Best Application
Alpine climbing, mountaineering, bad weather anything.

Other Versions

This stove is also available in the 2.5 liter version, the Reactor Stove System, 2.5L, $220. According to MSR, the 2.5 liter version can boil up to five freeze dried meals at once or can melt snow for 2-3 people.

The MSR Whisperlite, $140, has proven itself as the most versatile and dependable, lightweight, liquid fuel portable stove on the market. If we were to have one stove this would be it and this stove wins our Best Buy Award.

The MSR Dragonfly, $140, brings excellent control and stability to your backcountry kitchen and excels at handling low simmers and large pots. It is a luxuriously well-handling stove and its stability and ease of use make it our top choice for base camp. Unfortunately, a large and heavy frame makes it cumbersome for those who are primarily concerned with size and weight.


Accessories

If you need caffeine for your next outdoor adventure, check out the Reactor Coffee Press Kit, 1 or 1.7L, $20-23. This kit is available for the 1 or 1.7 liter versions and includes everything you need to make your morning brew. It breaks down flat for easy packing.

Alpine and big wall climbers do not fear - if you're looking for a way to hang your MSR Reactor while climbing a big wall, or while in your tent during a storm, check out the Reactor Hanging Kit, $30.

For an all-weather igniter for any stove, check out the Strike Igniter, $16.

This stove can only be used with Reactor-specific cookware. You are limited to the included 1.7L pot or you can purchase the Reactor Pot, 1-2.5L 1L for $70 or 2.5L pot for $100.


Value
Priced at $160, this is the most expensive stove on the market. If you go into brutally harsh climates its probably worth it.

Click to enlarge
Zeb Engberg eats instant oatmeal out of the MSR Reactor, Lamarck Col (12,880). Shelter is Hyperlite Mountain Gear's Echo II Tarp and Beak.
Credit: Max Neale

Chris McNamara and Max Neale

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OutdoorGearLab Member Reviews


Most recent review: December 26, 2013
Summary of All Ratings

OutdoorGearLab Editors' Rating:   
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 (5.0)
Average Customer Rating:   
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 (4.4)

88% of 17 reviewers recommend it
Rating Distribution
15 Total Ratings
5 star: 67%  (10)
4 star: 27%  (4)
3 star: 0%  (0)
2 star: 0%  (0)
1 star: 7%  (1)
Sort 20 member reviews by: Most Recent | Most Helpful
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Dec 26, 2013 - 10:05am
 
JimM · Cordova, TN
Not a review just comment on a couple of the reviews below. There is a reference to CO2 and to CO. They are entirely different things. CO2 you get from efficient burning of a fuel where the oxygen mix is correct. Not toxic per se, but you can't live off of breathing it. CO is highly toxic and comes from incomplete burning. That is what will kill you if for example you burn a charcoal grill in an enclosed area like your house. Not sure which backpacking light was concerned about.

Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this product to a friend.
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   Oct 1, 2013 - 10:38am
ilvbp · Backpacker · phx, az
The Reactor is as described in the review…it kicks butt. It is the most dependable canister stove that i have ever used. In my opinion, the jetboil (i have a couple) is more about image and marketing and ok on performance and the Reactor is all about hardcore performance.

The other thing to mention is that it is awesome at conserving fuel…it is very efficient.

Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this product to a friend.
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   Sep 28, 2013 - 09:37am
Deano · South Australia
Love the Reactor. I find the pot sits snugly on the stove and doesn't want to slip off. The handle is strong and holds the lid onto the pot well, I like the fact the handle is attached to the pot. Cooking for one a small 230g canister will last me at least a week of bushwalking, cooking lunch and dinner plus a hot drink each day. The pot doubles up as a bowl for eating from, no need for extra dishes. I also like how everything packs up neatly inside the pot. Super quick to boil water. Slow simmering is difficult, but I don't need to simmer things for long anyway, just hold pot up above stove and stir, so not a problem. Very windproof design so no need to take a windshield. Easy to set up and use.

Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this product to a friend.
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   Apr 9, 2013 - 03:04am
L D · Camper
I own both the MSR Reactor and a Jetboil Flash. Both are fine products, but the MSR just kicks butt when it comes to performance. When the chips are down, the Reactor is the unit to grab.

It should be noted that MSR now offers a smaller version of the Reactor; making it more like the Flash. Same burner, smaller diameter pot.

Take that Jetboil!

Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this product to a friend.
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   Aug 26, 2011 - 11:00pm
TLloyd-Davies · Climber · Santa Clara, ca
Not much to say that hasn't been said, this thing rocks.

From cold cold conditions and melting snow, to just getting my water ready for coffee faster than anything else, this thing rocks.

Plus, everyone is impressed by it, they think it looks like a cool jet engine. You'll be the coolest kid on the block.

Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this product to a friend.
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   Aug 26, 2011 - 12:35am
johngenx · Climber
Click to enlarge
Modded JB kit
Credit: johngenx

So, I took the JB hanging kit and used the bottom from an MSR windscreen (which I never use anyway) and snipped holes for the Reactor. This stabilizes the stove and makes the rig bomber. It's still possible to fold the kit up, and the tinfoil adds almost no weight. Works well.

Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this product to a friend.
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   Jul 25, 2011 - 01:16am
JOPC · Climber · Seattle, WA
The CO issues for the Reactor were from generation #1 Reactors. The stove jets and air intake were adjusted so the CO output is inline with other canister stoves.The article on backpacking light was written using the first generation stove.

Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this product to a friend.
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Jun 5, 2011 - 02:09pm
 
harpo · Climber · South Lake Tahoe
John, anyone, you talk about using the reactor w/ the jet boil hanging kit with minor mods. What are those mods?
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   May 30, 2011 - 10:18pm
johngenx · Climber
We ditched the MSR XGK for a ski mountaineering trip onto the Columbia Icefields, and the Reactor performed amazingly well. With temps hovering around -15C to -25C, we ran the stoves in the tents, so we didn't test their wind resistance. But, they melted snow as fast as we could shovel it in, and we only used one 227g of fuel per day per two person tent. We used the JetBoil hanging kit, with some minor mods, and it worked amazingly well.
Click to enlarge
Reactor using the JetBoil hanging kit.
Credit: johngenx


Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this product to a friend.
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   May 29, 2011 - 09:37am
altelis · Climber · DC
As other's have stated before, the stove is very niche. What its designed to do, it does exceedingly well. Using it outside those conditions and, well, its not very adaptable. I've found one way to get around those limitations is to purchase a cheap dehydrator. That way I make my own "just add water" meals, meaning that the fact the Reactor "only boils water" isn't as much of a drawback. Even factoring in the cost of the dehydrator, ingredients, and extra cost of this expensive stove (which can almost always be found for ~$100), still cost effective over buying the pre-made dehydrated meals.

Another big Thumbs Up for the Jet Boil hanging kit. As others have said, a really nice part is that you can leave the stove attached to the cannister and just remove the pot. And the wires come together and "pinch" the top of the pot, helping to stabilize it. I've found that if you take a tall-boy beer can, and use it to make a disc just ever so slightly bigger than the bottom of the stove it really helps stabilize everything, since the triangle of the hanging kit is just a tiny bit too big. You have to of course also cut holes out of the disc for the regulator and the attachment point to the canister…

Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this product to a friend.
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   Nov 3, 2010 - 09:40pm
tooth · Climber · B.C.
Well, I couldn't blow it out.

Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this product to a friend.
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   Nov 3, 2010 - 07:01pm
LoloPass · Climber · Washington State
I also have a Whisperlight and a Jetboil. This blows them away in winter conditions for boiling water fast and melting snow. At Camp Schurman, Mt. Rainier, 10,000' 30 mph winds, summit windchill -20 the Reactor was the best performing stove in our group by far.

Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this product to a friend.
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   Oct 28, 2010 - 08:55pm
Adventurer · Climber · Virginia
I've had mine for about 18 months and found it to be an excellent stove. It has performed well in sub zero temps and at altitude. In extreme cold, I try to keep the fuel cannister insulated in my pack or near my body while climbing.

As others have said, it works best for melting snow or boiling water. Best use for cooking is to boil water to pour into MountainHouse or similar food packages. Works well for quickly heating one pot meals.

IMO, for mountaineering, the Reactor beats carrying a liquid fuel stove and white gas anytime.

If you're a gourmet cook on the trail, this stove is probably not for you.

Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this product to a friend.
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   Oct 27, 2010 - 12:39am
highcamp · Climber · Boulder, CO
Backpackinglight.com did a phenomenal test study of a host of top notch canister stoves and their results for the Reactor showed that its CO2 ppm is way too high to safely use in a tent or snow cave - thus making it useless for my needs. ( I have to say the subscription service for backpackinglight.com is well worth it just for their test results on gear, especially if you love to geek out on that sort of stuff.) Anyway, based on their mutli-part study, which included fuel usage, time to boil, field weight, CO2 emissions, cold weather usage, altitude effects, etc, I decided the Primus ETA Packlite was far and away the best stove for the alpine. Much better than the MSR Reactor. I've steered many friends and partners away from the Reactor because of its CO2 issues, non-remote canister (meaning you can't flip it, which is key in cold+altitude), and relative fuel inefficiency…..and so I surely can't recommend it here.

Bottom Line: No, I would not recommend this product to a friend.
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Oct 26, 2010 - 11:11pm
 
Gene · Climber
How does this rig compare with the MSR Pocket Rocket? I own the PR and the JetBoil. Gotta admit I'm hooked on the JetBoil with two mugs/whatever they are called. I can keep a constant flow of boiling water by switching them out. Disclaimer: I don't melt snow.

Thanks for your input.

g
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   Oct 26, 2010 - 09:40pm
Auto-X Fil · Climber
This stove is not competition for the Jetboil PCS, as many seem to believe. For most people, whose goal is to make some water hot to cook a meal, it works poorly. The tall pot is hard to cook in, it's pretty heavy, and it can't simmer: settings include "OFF", and "Nuclear Meltdown".

It does do one thing rather well: light up and burn very hot in cold, windy conditions. Nothing else I've used has come close to melting snow in the mountains as well at this. I've kicked a flat spot on a snow slope, jammed the canister into the snow, and lit it up with little trouble in 30mph winds. In less than 10 minutes I'd filled two water bottles, drank my fill, and was headed to the summit. I could never have done that with any of my other stoves. No windscreen, no heat exchanger, just light it up and melt snow.

So, for most people, it's a very poor choice. For those who go into the mountains and depend on their stove to keep them alive - you know who you are - this stove is magic.

I should note that I have not yet used it in really bitter cold, like below 0F. Isobutane has its limits, but I have a heat exchanger made from flattened copper tubing that I hope will do the trick. Snow is falling on Mount Washington, and it won't be long before I put it to the test in one of the nastiest winter environs in the lower 48 - I'll try to remember to report back.

FYI: in real-world conditions, with no particular care taken to preserve fuel, I get nearly 2 liters of water per oz of MSR IsoPro. Bringing one oz of fuel per liter of expected melting need would be conservative. That means dropping significant weight vs. white gas, which I've found to get me only half a quart per ounce in a Whisperlite Int'l.

Downsides - well, it's not quite perfect. I'd like the stove to lock to the pot, although the Jetboil hanging kit does work well as-is. If it was cheaper, lighter, and/or easier to light I'd give it 5 stars, but it's only "very good" in those areas so I'll leave room for improvement with the caveat that for melting snow in the alpine, it's the best on the market right now.

Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this product to a friend.
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   Oct 20, 2010 - 01:58am
TYeary · Climber · State of decay
The Reactor has no equal in the canister stove market for alpine use. Now with a 2.5 liter pot, it will be my stove of choice, except for the most extreme conditions or very high altitude. Here I will continue to rely on my MSR XGK-EX. But I have to say, the Reactor has made inroads on the XGK's territory.It hangs well, is very easy to use, is wind proof, and is very fast/hot. With a home made canister cozy to keep the fuel warm, it will go on my winter trips as well. I will use this stove at altitude in Peru next summer above base camp. If you are looking for the best in this niche, look no further.

Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this product to a friend.
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Sep 20, 2010 - 08:13pm
 
Brian · Climber · California
Sorry that this is a question, rather than a review.

I was keen on the Reactor when in was in the works. However, some of the post release reviews made me question it. I understand that this thing produces massive amounts of CO because there is insufficient air exchange between the burner and the pot (or something like that). Basically, the gist was that this makes a problematic endeavor (running a stove in a small snow cave or in a small bivy tent) even more problematic. It's true that CO is a problem with any stove when there is insufficient ventilation, but my understanding is that it is much, much worse with this stove.

Perhaps I'm wrong, and I'll be happy to be corrected if that's the case.

Brian

PS--I'm "gonna die." You're "gonna die." We're all "gonna die." I get it. ;)
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   Jun 7, 2010 - 04:35pm
miwuksurfer · Climber · Mi-Wuk
Secret tip: The jetboil hanging kit works wonderfully with the Reactor. Actually, I think it works better with the Reactor than with the jetboil, since you can take the pot on and off with one hand, essentially.

Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this product to a friend.
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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Sep 20, 2010 - 10:33am
 
Timmc · Climber · BC
I don't trust these stoves.

I have been through two of them in the past year-they just stop working and no one seems to know why ( MSR, cleks etc). They slowely lose thier ability to keep the pressureized fuel flowing. One stopped entirely.

Fine if car camping but if you are depending on your stove to work and want field maintainability- go elsewhere.

Too bad as I really liked a lot about this stove.

TM

Bottom Line: No, I would not recommend this product to a friend.
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MSR Reactor
Credit: www.msrcorp.com
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