Hands-on Gear Review
Compare backpacking stove ratings side-by-side >
Street Price: Varies from $160 - $190 | Compare prices at 8 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
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).
Compare top rated competitors side-by-side >
OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review
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.
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.
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.
Alpine climbing, mountaineering, bad weather anything.
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.
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.
Priced at $160, this is the most expensive stove on the market. If you go into brutally harsh climates its probably worth it.
— Chris McNamara and Max Neale
Compare this product side-by-side to top competitors >
OutdoorGearLab Member Reviews
Most recent review: December 26, 2013
Where's the Best Price?
*Help support OutdoorGearLab. If you click on one of the seller links and make a purchase, a portion of the sale helps support this site
Related Best-in-Class Review
Helpful Buying Tips
Get More OutdoorGearLab
Follow us on Twitter, be a fan on Facebook!
Related Gear Reviews
Other Gear by MSR
Recent Best-in-Class Reviews