I bought my first backpacking stove around June 2010. That may seem fairly recent but if you backpack frequently through all 4 seasons you learn what works and what doesn’t fast. Every trip is like an extensive field test with peer reviews from the other members in the group.
Not only is your equipment being analysed but you are also analysing and reviewing everyone elses equipment.
It was in this manner that I came to know about the MSR Reactor Stove.
My first stove was the ubiquitous MSR Whisperlite
I was recommended to purchase it by an MEC employee here in Vancouver, and I feel it was the best option for someone just starting out with camping and backpacking. It’s not light by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s rugged, durable and it gets the job done through all 4 seasons in any weather conditions. It impressed me enough that I ended up getting my first tent and snowshoes from MSR also.
Anyway, getting back to the MSR Reactor Stove. I’d been using my Whisperlite for about a year and a half and was satisfied with it. When hiking with others I’d ask them primarily about the “boil time” on their stoves. It tends to hover between 3 and 5 minutes for the most part for all current stoves. The Whisperlite boils 1 Litre of water in 3.9 minutes so certainly not the best, but what difference does waiting an extra minute make right?
That’s when I noticed a friend I backpacked with using the MSR Reactor. We’d get to camp, set up our tents, then start making dinner. I’d sit down and start setting up my white gas fueled Whisperlite. I’d just have it starting to boil the water and look over at my friend and not only was he finished boiling his water, he would also almost be finished eating the meal he’d just rehydrated with the boiled water.
I never watched him, as I was too involved with my own setup, so how he managed to finish so fast was confusing. The Reactor only boils around 55 seconds faster than the Whisperlite and in independent test videos I’ve seen this to be true also. So how was he finishing at least 10 minutes or more faster than me?
On our next outing, I made the point to watch him as I was also setting up my own stove and pot. Within seconds I understood the difference. He had his stove assembled, lit and boiling water before I’d even taken my stove components out.
The Whisperlite requires a fair bit of setting up to get it going. I’m not going to detail the process, but there is no way someone is setting up that stove in under 5 minutes after 10 hours of hiking and in sub-zero temperatures.
The Reactor though is simple: screw on, ignite, boil
The Reactors biggest selling point in my opinion is that it’s Simple and Efficient. The stove not only just screws onto a canister, making setup a breeze, but it also has a built in windshield, meaning you don’t have to set one up (which would also increase the footprint of the stove). The pot has an element also on its base making the heat transfer even more efficient even in windy conditions.
I’ve used it through winter to fall now and I love it. On a lot of trips I ask everyone, bar one (always good to have at least one backup) to leave their stoves at home and just bring canisters to use with my Reactor. It’s efficient, rugged and fast. I used it recently at 10,000ft at Camp Muir when I climbed Mount Rainier to turn snow into close to 25 Liters of water for our 5 person group. Our time in the evening was limited so being able to do that so quickly was amazing. It definitely gave us an extra bit of time to sleep before needing to be up at 11:30pm for our summit push.
It goes everywhere with me in the backcountry. The 1.7 Liter pot is currently too bulky for daytrips so I can’t wait for the 1.0 Liter pot coming in 2013, as well as the hanging kit for tents in the winter (only with good ventilation) and the coffee press.
Definitely a big recommendation from me.
Simple and Efficient: The stove and canister fit inside the pot. The setup takes less than a minute. It lights instantly. No windscreen worries. It boils fast. Footprint is tiny.
Weight: Not the lightest, but far from heavy. It’s also very compact. Once the 1.0L pot comes out I believe I’ll have a perfect daytrip and single night setup.
Hype: No hype, it’s definitely worth the price.
Caveats: Canisters do not work as well as, say, White Gas in the winter. The pot can’t be put down on muddy or snowy ground as the base element will get clogged.