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MSR Reactor Review

Still a great choice for boiling water in harsh conditions above the treeline, but other stoves are more versatile
MSR Reactor
Photo: MSR
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Price:  $240 List | $229.95 at Backcountry
Compare prices at 2 resellers
Pros:  Fast boil time, storm-proof, easy to use
Cons:  Heavy, pot does not attach to stove, does not simmer, expensive
Manufacturer:   MSR
By Ian McEleney & Jessica Haist  ⋅  May 6, 2021
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55
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#11 of 19
  • Fuel Efficiency - 25% 7
  • Weight - 25% 5
  • Simmering Ability - 20% 2
  • Ease Of Use - 20% 6
  • Boil Time - 10% 9

Our Verdict

Once cream of the crop for boiling water in harsh climates, the MSR Reactor was crafted to provide quality performance in all conditions for one to three people. Unfortunately, it functions poorly on low, lacking the ability to simmer. The Reactor is a great tool for boiling water very fast and will stand up to all kinds of weather. However, it lacks some of the conveniences of the other integrated canister stoves. Only backpackers who are also serious about alpine climbing, mountaineering, or backcountry ski trips should consider this stove.

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MSR Reactor
This Product
MSR Reactor
Awards  Editors' Choice Award    
Price $229.95 at Backcountry
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$70 List
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Pros Fast boil time, storm-proof, easy to useLightweight, works in the wind, great piezo lighter, very stable for small canister stoveWorks in the wind, great for simmering, best of the bestCompact, light, fast boil time, stable, insulated potLightweight, easy to use, good at simmering, piezo igniter
Cons Heavy, pot does not attach to stove, does not simmer, expensiveNot the most fuel efficient, pot supports pack up separately from stoveUnreliable piezo igniterSmall pot size, not versatileA bit heavier and bit pricier than the competition
Bottom Line This one-trick pony is slowly being rendered obsolete by easier-to-use stovesThis lightweight stove is easy to use and will boil water when it's breezyA favorite for simmering that can also boil water in the breezeThis stove prepares dehydrated meals and coffee water super fastWe are impressed by this stove's ability to do everything with ease
Rating Categories MSR Reactor Soto Windmaster MSR PocketRocket Deluxe Jetboil Flash Snow Peak GigaPower 2.0
Fuel Efficiency (25%)
7
6
7
9
6
Weight (25%)
5
8
8
6
8
Simmering Ability (20%)
2
8
8
3
6
Ease Of Use (20%)
6
9
7
8
7
Boil Time (10%)
9
6
7
8
3
Specs MSR Reactor Soto Windmaster MSR PocketRocket... Jetboil Flash Snow Peak...
Category Integrated Canister Small Canister Small Canister Integrated Canister Small Canister
Trail Weight 14.6 oz 3.0 oz 3.0 oz 12.3 oz 3.0 oz
Wind Boil Time (1 L, 2-4mph) 4:28 min:sec 7:24 min:sec 7:20 min:sec 5:18 min:sec 15 min
Boil Time (1 liter) 3:56 min:sec 4:42 min:sec 3:39 min:sec 4:10 min:sec 5:53 min:sec
Packed Weight 14.6 oz 3.5 oz 3.5 oz 15.7 oz 3.9 oz
Dimensions (inches) 4.75 x 6.1 in 4.7 x 3.9 x 3.6 in 3.3 x 2.2 x 1.8 in 4.1 x 7.1 in 4.2 x 2.6 in
Fuel Type Isobutane Isobutane Isobutane Isobutane Isobutane
Additional items included 1L pot, tiny PackTowl Stuff sack, pot support Stuff sack 1L pot, canister stand, plastic cup Plastic case
Piezo Igniter No Yes Yes Yes Yes

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.

Performance Comparison


Dinner with a view and the Reactor.
Dinner with a view and the Reactor.
Photo: Ian McEleney

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 says, put fire here.
MSR says, put fire here.
Photo: Ian McEleney

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!

A Thermal Trip Mechanism shuts this stove down if it overheats to prevent a nasty canister explosion. This is not a common occurrence, but once it's happened, the stove is simply rendered inoperable - leaving you without a functioning stove.

Fuel Efficiency


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.

Shield the burner with the pot when lighting in windy conditions.
Shield the burner with the pot when lighting in windy conditions.
Photo: Ian McEleney

Weight


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.

The only way to get a fuel can and the burner into the Reactor pot...
The only way to get a fuel can and the burner into the Reactor pot is to place the fuel can in first upside down, then carefully put the burner in, also upside down, with the valve by the pot spout.
Photo: Ian McEleney

Simmering Ability


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.

Trying to do more than boil water is tricky with this stove.
Trying to do more than boil water is tricky with this stove.
Photo: Ian McEleney

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.

When it comes to precise pouring, the Reactor is the best integrated...
When it comes to precise pouring, the Reactor is the best integrated canister stove.
Photo: Jess Haist

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 warning tag is wired to the stove, you'll need a sturdy tool to...
This warning tag is wired to the stove, you'll need a sturdy tool to remove it.
Photo: Ian McEleney

Boil Time


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.

The built-in heat exchanger is part of the Reactor's secret sauce.
The built-in heat exchanger is part of the Reactor's secret sauce.
Photo: Ian McEleney

Value


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.

Conclusion


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.

Getting ready to launch the Reactor on a shoulder season trip.
Getting ready to launch the Reactor on a shoulder season trip.
Photo: Ian McEleney

Ian McEleney & Jessica Haist