MSR Reactor 1.0L Stove System

MSR Reactor Stove System

1.0 liter MSR Reactor Stove System

I just got from a 2 week backpacking trip where I field tested an MSR Reactor 1.0 Liter Stove System. While the MSR Reactor is not the lightest weight backpacking stove available or the most flexible (because it can’t truly simmer), it is:

  • Completely windproof
  • Lights without a big gas flame up
  • Is 40% more efficient than most other pot & canister stove combinations
  • You can drink tea and cook very simple one pot meals in it

These were the primary reasons  I brought it with me when I backpacked 200+ miles across Scotland in 13 days: Scotland is always very wet and windy, I needed a stove that was safe enough to cook with under a pyramid tarp (I’ll cover the carbon monoxide issue danger below), I needed an efficient stove in case I couldn’t resupply fuel canisters easily, and I don’t like to carry an extra cup or plate when I can eat and drink out of a pot.

It’s also nice that the MSR Reactor Stove System boils water faster than any other stove on the planet (2 cups in 1:30 to 1:45). But that was really a secondary benefit as far as I was concerned, although it never ceased to amaze my companions, especially when I made a brew out in the open on a windy day!

Eating a simple meal from the 1.0 Liter Reactor Pot

Eating a simple ramen dinner from the 1.0 Liter Reactor Pot

The Reactor Stove System

If you are unfamiliar with the Reactor, it’s important to understand that it is a complete isobutane gas powered stove system that comes with an unusual looking stove, an extremely efficient 1.0 Liter pot with heat exchange fins and a built-in wind screen, a plastic pot lid and a collapsible metal handle. While you can use the pot with another stove, the stove has a special shape that will only work with 1.0 liter, 1.7 liter, or 2.5 liter Reactor Pots. If you already own a Reactor system you can buy the different sized pots separately.

The stove part of the Reactor is compatible with any size or make Isobutane fuel canister as long as it mates to the stove using screw-on threads. This is normally not an issue in the US, but it can be a showstopper in the UK and Europe if you buy fuel canisters with a bayonet style connector like the ones from Camping Gaz.

MSR Reactor Stove Head

MSR Reactor Stove Head

The Reactor Stove

The Reactor Stove convex heating surface that’s shaped like the surface of the sun instead of a gas burner like most other isobutance canister stoves. When lit, the stove fits into a recessed cavity on the bottom of the specially-designed Reactor pots at an optimal distance for efficient heat transfer and elminates any need for a separate windscreen. It’s really rather brilliant.

There’s also no open flame jumping off the surface the stove’s “radiant” heating element which makes it much safer to use under many tarp shelters that typically have a lower ceiling than many higher walled tents. It’s important not to light any stove in a closed shelter without adequate ventilation because the resulting carbon monoxide can cause brain damage or suffocate you (BEWARE of LETHAL DANGER!) That said, the reality is that people have to cook inside shelters in bad weather when they go backpacking and it’s not something you can avoid if it’s pissing down rain outside or you need hot food and drink. If you do it though, make sure you have a good breeze blowing through your shelter.

To light the Reactor stove, you need to open the gas valve and use a match or firesteel to ignite the fuel vapor. Unlike a JetBoil, there’s no built-in piezo ignition provided. I only use a firesteel because it always works, even in damp conditions, and I feel that it’s safer than an open flame under a tarp or tent fly. If you’re quick about it, there’s also very little flame up above the Reactor stove surface, making it safer to use in close quarters if you want to avoid burning down your tent or shelter around you (I doubt MSR’s lawyers will agree…purely because they fear the liability consequences of claiming it.)

Although you can regulate how much gas the stove gets, the Reactor is primarily designed for boiling water or melting snow and is perfect for quickly boiling water if you’re eating a commercial Mountainhouse style meal in a bag.

Simmering is difficult because the Reactor stove goes out when you try to turn the gas down low. The problem is not the stove per se, but the efficiency in which the heat of the stove is transferred to the pot and because turning down the gas does not result in a corresponding drop in the temperature of the liquid inside like other stove/pot combinations.

1.0 Liter Pot Bottom and Heat Exchange Fins

1.0 Liter Pot Bottom and Heat Exchange Fins

Why is the pot so much more efficient than a regular backpacking pot? It all boils (har har) down to the way the pot is made, with an integrated wind screen at the bottom, which acts as a double wall around the base of the inner pot. Hot air from the stove is channeled into the recess at the bottom of the pot and up its sides by the heat exchange fins welded to the pot bottom. The hot air contained within the wind screen helps maximize the surface area that can warm the liquid in the pot and continues to heat the contents of the pot even after the stove is turned off!

Knowing this, you can immitate the effect of a simmer by bringing the water in the pot to a rapid boil, adding your ingredients to it, turning off the stove and then letting the contents sit a moment. The hot air surrounding the pot, the hot liquid, and the hot metal of the pot will continue to “cook” the ingredients because the heat exchange fins and integrated wind screen retain heat so well. If needed you can bring the liquid in the pot quickly back to a boil by relighting the stove and then turning it back off to rest and cook the ingredients some more. In essence, the pot is acting like a pot cozy.

This makes it possible to make very simple recipes in the anodized Reactor pots if all you need to do is to rehydrate homemade freezer bag meals, cook ramen noodles, or heat up soups. For example, to cook ramen noodles, I typically add about 0.60-0.70 liters of unsantized water from a stream, turning the stove off when it reaches a roiling boil.  I add the noodles, a packet of miso, and 1 ounce of olive oil, then mix them together and let them sit for a minute. Then I turn the stove back on, bring the hot liquid back to a boil, and turn it off to let it “cook” for another minute or two. That’s all it takes to make ramen noodles.

The Reactor Pot is a Pot within a Pot

The handle of the 1.0 Liter pot reverses and locks down the lid

Packability

The handle of the 1.0 Reactor pot flips over itself and locks down over the top of the pot making it possible to store the stove head, a small gas canister, and a small camping towel (included) as a single self contained unit for ease of packing. That’s the theory anyway, because the handle slips out of its ball lock easily during transport. In practice, I found it best to store the stove upside down in my backpack to hold the compenents together using gravity. There’s got be a better way to secure the lid so it doesn’t pop off so easily.

Recommendation

At 14.4 ounces, the 1.0L Reactor Stove Stsyem is not the lightest isobutane gas stove available and it’s difficult to cook complex meals with it beyond soupy backpacking fare or easy 1 pot meals. However, it has a lot going for it in terms of fuel efficiency and windproofness for remote locations and adverse conditions where reliability, fuel efficiency, cooking speed, and a well controlled flame are paramount concerns. I really enjoyed testing it on a tough 13 day backpacking trip in challenging spring conditions and I plan to use it for other similarly challenging adventures in the future.

  • Likes
    • Insanely fast boil times – as fast as 1:30 for 2 cups of water.
    • Built in heat exchange fins eliminate the need for a wind screen
    • Holding onto the pot handle provides excellent stability when cooking on uneven surfaces
    • Very little gas flareup when lighting – good in a low roofed shelter (with good ventilation)
    • Heat exchange fin and integrated wind screen provide 40% better fuel efficiency
    • Built in collander in pot lid for draining water
    • Pour spout in 1.0 Liter pot
    • Ability to pack 4 oz. fuel canister and stove head inside pot for trasnport.
  • Dislikes
    • Best for meals that just require boiling water; true simmering is a challenge
    • Requires a fire steel or matches to light
    • Difficult to clean plastic top if cooking oily foods

Manufacturer Specifications

  •  Fuel type:  Isobutane/canister
  • Ignition method: manual
  • Priming: no
  • Boil time: 0.5 liters in 90-120 seconds
  • Burn time: 80 min. / 8 oz. fuel canister
  • Weight:  14.4 oz. (408 g) on the Section Hiker scale

Disclosure: Philip Werner owns this MSR Reactor 1.0L Stove System and purchased it with his own funds. 

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23 Responses to MSR Reactor 1.0L Stove System

  1. V June 6, 2013 at 3:08 am #

    Nice review.
    Could you please say how much gaz this stove usually uses to boil 1L or may be I can tell me how many liters did you boil during your trip and how many gas did you used for it.
    I’m interesting in field experience rather that manufacturer’s data. I’d like compare it with my Primus Eta Solo.

    • Earlylite June 6, 2013 at 8:05 am #

      Sorry, I just have the manufacturer’s lab results, although they actually include tests with wind to make them more realistic. All of these are for 0.5 liters or water and a 1.0 L stove system:

      0 mph (0 kph) wind speed: 90 seconds/5 grams of fuel
      8 mph (13 kph) wind speed: 115 seconds/6 grams of fuel
      12 mph (19 kph) wind speed: 115 seconds/6 grams of fuel

      • planB June 6, 2013 at 9:31 am #

        What about the noise level. Does it “whisper” loudly like some other MSR stoves or does the intregal heat exchanger dampen the noise?

        • Earlylite June 6, 2013 at 9:34 am #

          It’s very quiet because the sound is muted by the pot. Nothing like the jet engine sound you get on MSRs liquid fuel pots.

      • V June 7, 2013 at 7:26 am #

        If you do not mind I’m putting my data just to compare.
        Some data from my field experience.
        Stove: Primus Eta Solo, temp 0C – +10C, 33% outside of tent, 100g canister.

        8.1L boiled water + 25mins simmering.

        • Earlylite June 8, 2013 at 11:46 am #

          Not to knock your results, but I view all stove efficiency measurements with a grain of salt. What’s 33% outside of the tent mean? Was there wind? What was the starting temp of the water? What was your altitude? How much gas was vented before you started each burn, and so on.

          I make sure I have enough extra fuel to make it through a trip even if that means eating a cold meal or two to make sure that I conserve my fuel all the way through.

          That’s why I go on and on about the functional merits of this stove system in this review independent of the boil time metrics. It’s wind proof and safer than an open flame. It’s also a fast boiler, but that’s a given. I don’t really care how much faster to be honest, but it’s fun to show off.

  2. Earlylite June 6, 2013 at 9:36 am #

    That reservoir with yellow liquid in it in the top photo is not what you think it is….the water in it is colored from peat and was very tannic tasting. Drinkable though.

    • Captainmouse June 6, 2013 at 8:21 pm #

      Lemonade. What were you imagining your readers thought?

      • Grandpa June 6, 2013 at 11:44 pm #

        Used lemonade.

  3. PaddlingOtaku June 6, 2013 at 10:11 am #

    I too have used this stove and was utterly amazed by how fast it was. It packs a little big compared to some others, but if you are boiling water for two, there is nothing faster on the planet. Great review.

    PO

  4. Mike June 6, 2013 at 10:47 am #

    Worth a mention that like so many MSR products the stove itself is made in the USA. I’ve used one of these snow camping and it can boil enough snow to make a liter of water in under 5 minutes. Like other isobutane/propane stoves it’s sluggish below about 25 degrees but there are workarounds for that.

  5. Chris June 6, 2013 at 11:05 am #

    So, what was the trick to getting the proper type of fuel canisters (Snow Peak pictured, MSR IsoPro, etc.) in the UK, specifically Scotland?

    • Earlylite June 6, 2013 at 11:22 am #

      I had a reliable friend who lives there bring me a primus canister.

      • MarkS June 6, 2013 at 5:19 pm #

        Primus fuel. Too bad no Primus stove. Had similar results with the ETA Pots and stove. Feel a little more comfortable putting a larger pot on the ETA setup rather than on the top of a butane bomb. The MSR pot is not such a new idea. Primus ETA pots has been around for how many years now?

        Agreed earlier from V. A review is not really regurgitating manufacturer data and calling it all good. Companies fib all the time and get away with it.

  6. AlanR June 6, 2013 at 11:17 am #

    I have admired the specs of the MSR since it came out and your great post has confirmed it. However the annoying thing is, and the reason I won’t buy one, they should have designed it to fit any pot. I already own £120 worth of titanium and I’m damned if I’m buying another one.
    Glad you enjoyed Scotland.

    • Earlylite June 6, 2013 at 11:23 am #

      But…the reason the stove works so well is the pot, not the stove.

  7. paddlingOtaku June 6, 2013 at 11:57 am #

    Earlylite, I think it is combination of super efficient, flameless stove, and perfectly nestled so wind free pot. I agree with AlanR, when we first looked at it, we thought -‘they made the same mistake jetboil made. you can’t put a pot on it’ (and before someone comments that you can get an adapter for jetfoil – I know – but it destroys any semblance of fuel efficiency.

  8. Grandpa June 6, 2013 at 12:01 pm #

    My brother in law has one. When we backpack, I have to change my routine a bit when cooking. Usually, I start the water and then start preparing things because I have some time available while the water boils. The MSR is so fast that I pretty much have to have everything else ready because it will be boiling in a heartbeat. It’s one impressive stove.

  9. Just Your Average Hiker June 6, 2013 at 1:18 pm #

    Great review. I have been in love with my MSR Pocket Rocket and GSI Soloist cook set for years, but if that ever breaks down, I think I know exactly what will replace it now.

  10. Hikin' Jim June 18, 2013 at 5:15 pm #

    Nice review of a nice stove. There’s no stove I’d rather have in wet and windy conditions. I love the compactness and (relative) lightness of the new 1.0L pot.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experience,

    HJ

  11. Ed June 21, 2013 at 6:10 am #

    I own the 1.7L version of this stove and it’s great for bivvying.
    I leave the burner inside a drybag and the pot / gas sitting outside – right next to my bivvi.
    When it’s brew time in the morning I just lean over and fire it up. I can have tea and breakfast before even leaving my bivi in the morning.

    Bliss.

  12. Chris March 3, 2014 at 1:39 am #

    Hmm just tested a new zealand version of the gnat with an primus heat exchanger pot and 1 liter of 22 dgree C water. Came to a boil in 1 minute 45 secs. Did it again with the same result. Cost of stove? $33 U.S at today’ rates. So no thanks MSR!

    • Chris March 3, 2014 at 4:39 am #

      Sorry, that should have said 2 minutes 45, no wind, but the flexibility of a wider pot for more than just boiling water

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