MSR Reactor Review
Compare prices at 3 resellers Pros: Fast boil time, storm-proof, easy to use
Cons: Heavy, pot does not attach to stove, does not simmer, expensive
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|Pros||Fast boil time, storm-proof, easy to use||Lightweight, works in the wind, great piezo lighter, very stable for small canister stove||Light, fairly fuel efficient, piezoelectric lighter, can simmer||Tiny, light, cheap||Versatile, stable, simmers easily with canister|
|Cons||Heavy, pot does not attach to stove, does not simmer, expensive||Not the most fuel efficient, pot supports pack up separately from stove||Not windproof||Small burner head, poor wind performance||Heavy, takes time to switch fuel types, more expensive than other Whisperlites|
|Bottom Line||Still a great choice for boiling water in harsh conditions above the treeline, but other stoves are more versatile||Our favorite small canister stove, providing the best performance for most backpackers||A great system for backpackers and alpine climbers relying on dehydrated, simple meals||A shockingly small and lightweight inexpensive model||The versatile, reliable stove adds canister capability to a traditional feature set|
|Rating Categories||MSR Reactor||Soto Windmaster||JetBoil MiniMo||BRS-3000T||MSR Whisperlite Uni...|
|Fuel Efficiency (25%)|
|Simmering Ability (20%)|
|Ease Of Use (20%)|
|Boil Time (10%)|
|Specs||MSR Reactor||Soto Windmaster||JetBoil MiniMo||BRS-3000T||MSR Whisperlite Uni...|
|Category||Integrated Canister||Small Canister||Integrated Canister||Small Canister||Multifuel (liquid)|
|Trail Weight||14.6 oz||3.0 oz||12.2 oz||0.9 oz||11.6 oz|
|Wind Boil Time (1 L, 2-4mph)||4:28 min:sec||7:24 min:sec||5:09 min:sec||15 min||7:02 min:sec|
|Boil Time (1 liter)||3:56 min:sec||4:42 min:sec||4:09 min:sec||4:43 min:sec||6:44 min:sec|
|Packed Weight||14.6 oz||3.5 oz||15.2 oz||1 oz||17.5 oz|
|Dimensions (inches)||4.75 x 6.1 in||4.7 x 3.9 x 3.6 in||5 x 6 in||1.97 x 1.2 x 1.3 in||6 x 6 x 4.7 in|
|Fuel Type||Isobutane||Isobutane||Isobutane||Isobutane||Isobutane, white gas, kerosene, gasoline|
|Additional items included||1L pot, tiny PackTowl||Stuff sack, pot support||1L pot, canister stand, plastic cup, stuff sack for burner||Stuff sack||Windscreen, heat reflector, canister stand, small-parts kit, stuff sack|
Our Analysis and Test Results
The Reactor is a leader in its class in boil time and foul-weather performance. In other categories, it's lacking. It's not a great choice for most backpackers. We also had some concerns with a malfunction while testing this stove.
Issues with the Reactor
We experienced a malfunction while testing the Reactor. During our boil tests, the burner would not light properly, and the flame seemed to sit on top of the metal grate and remain wispy and blue, not red hot. We have heard of other hikers experiencing this problem. One potential issue is that we were testing in a garage with very little air movement. MSR told us they have experienced this problem while doing lab tests indoors and advised us to cook outdoors.
They also told us it is preferable to light the Reactor with a strike ignitor type lighter so that the sparks land directly on the metallic foam burner. If you use a lighter (or a match), make sure to light the stove at the edge above the MSR logo on either side of the burner. There is a small opening where the screen has been stretched to help the flame reach the burner surface.
MSR gave us a fix to this problem. If you see a blue flame after lighting the stove, you can place a finger just in front of the air intakes on either side of the control valve. This reduces the air intake and richens the air/fuel mixture. It will make the flame jump down to the metal foam and turn red very quickly. Be careful doing this if the stove is warm, as the solid ring around the top of the stove could be very hot. We tried this on our malfunctioning burner, and it worked!
The Reactor is in the middle of the pack for fuel efficiency when there's no wind. Though it's the most fuel hogging of the integrated canister stoves, it outperforms the small canister and liquid fuel stoves. In our 2 - 4 mph wind test, however, this stove really shone. In front of the fan, it was tied for the most fuel-efficient, while every other stove (of any type) used more fuel to bring water to a rolling boil.
After it was lit, but before we had time to put a pot on, this burner would occasionally blow out. Be wary of this when lighting the stove in windy conditions. You can usually prevent this by shielding the burner with the pot or a windscreen, but it's cumbersome and kind of takes three hands. Fuel spent in the lighting process definitely detracts from efficiency.
For a stove that we like to bring for fast and light alpine missions, the Reactor is not as lightweight as we would prefer. With a 1L pot, it weighs in at 14.5 ounces — about average for an integrated canister stove. That said, if you consider the integrated canister stove as a pot, stove, and bowl all in one, it may save some weight compared to a liquid fuel stove.
We were unpleasantly surprised to see that the burner on the Reactor does not fit neatly into the 1L pot. It fits awkwardly, and most of the times that our testers were able to pack the burner and a 4-ounce fuel can inside, it wouldn't stay together.
As with all the integrated canister stoves we tested, the Reactor is not as versatile as we would like. While it may be a champion at boiling water, it will not slowly reduce your pasta sauce, fry up an omelet, or cook rice. This stove simply does not simmer. During our attempts to simmer delicate cuisine, we extinguished the burner dozens of times. If simmering is something you often do during your cooking adventures in the backcountry, consider a different stove — it's not what the Reactor is meant to do.
Ease Of Use
This stove is shorter and squatter than some of its competition, making it more stable. Even when filled completely and held at full extension for pouring, the handle hinge on the Reactor showed no sign of flex. The pouring spout built into the pot also meant that we spilled less than every other integrated canister stove, something that's really nice when you're making coffee in your sleeping bag.
As mentioned previously, unlike its competition, the Reactor pot does not attach to the burner. Although it is easier to remove the pot from the heat source when it is about to boil over, in general, we prefer the burners that couple securely with the pot and think this is a big weakness for this stove.
Unlike some other stoves that roar like jet engines and turn dinner into a shouting match, the Reactor is wholly tranquil. Based on our observations, it is possibly the quietest stove on the market today. The only problem with this is that we occasionally had to lift the pot up or take off our gloves and put our hands by the vents to make sure it was actually on and not just wasting gas.
Users should be aware that the Reactor pots do not have cozies and become very hot during use. It's easy, if you're not careful, to burn yourself or to melt synthetic material, say, the sleeve of a puffy jacket.
This is where the Reactor really shines; its red hot burner boils water fast. In our no-wind tests at 8000 feet, the Reactor brought 1 liter of water to a rolling boil in 4 minutes and 3 seconds. While it was malfunctioning, and we only managed to get a blue flame out of it, it still worked eventually, boiling a half liter in 3 minutes and 54 seconds. This stove continued to dominate in our 2 - 4 mph wind test, boiling its liter in just a bit longer than when it was calm.
The burner on the Reactor has several unique features that make it faster than all the rest:(1) It is one of the widest stoves tested (roughly 3.5 inches in diameter).
(2) It's surrounded by perforated metal, which acts as a windscreen and captures air for the burner.
(3) Unlike most stoves that only use convective heat, the Reactor's burner incorporates metallic foam that also dispatches radiant heat.
We do not think the Reactor is a good value. It's really expensive, and there are much less expensive options for most backpackers. Even those looking to take their stove on a mountaineering trip can pay a lot less for similar performance.
The MSR Reactor is near and dear to our hearts, and at one time, was the only windproof stove. Now other stoves on the market are close enough in some ways and so much better in others that it's hard to justify bringing this one out for its one trick: boiling water in the wind.
— Ian McEleney & Jessica Haist