Compact Stove Systems Comparison Review

© Jack Geldard

Rob Greenwood cooking up a storm on the Death Bivvy, Eiger North Face  © Jack Geldard
The author brewing up on the Death Bivi on the North Face of the Eiger, using the old style JetBoil
When I first saw a JetBoil back in 2004 I remember being highly cynical, too specialised and very limited in terms in its uses. Maybe I was right, but in the 10 years that have followed I have used my own JetBoil countless times and in a variety of different situations from Big Walls to North Faces, not to mention brewing up in car parks of innumerable rock climbing destinations around the UK.

Since then several contenders have emerged to compete, maybe even improve, on the original JetBoil design. The MSR Reactor and the Primus ETA Lite in particutlar both provide their own list of pros and cons - here I attempt to provide a breakdown of all three.

Part of the appeal of using a compact stove system such as the JetBoil, MSR Reactor, or Primus ETA Lite is the added fuel efficiency.  Due to the additional design features the quantity of gas used is a fraction of what it would have been from a standard canister stove. This makes them first choice for long routes, particularly in cold environments, where gas is a precious commodity.

Secondly comes the factor of convenience, each of the stoves reviewed here comes in a neat, compact and solid form – simply put it in your bag and go – there’s nothing to forget. In short, compact stove systems couldn’t be more stress free than a multi-fuel stove if they actively tried and are a fraction of the weight, hassle and noise (although I do miss that load morning roar of the MSR XGK a little…).

Finally, leading on from efficiency there is the obvious bonus of a rapid boil time. This often shocks people on first acquaintance, leading to water going everywhere as someone has filled it to the brim only to remember it as boiling water blows the lid sky high. It also means for impatient tea/coffee addicts such as myself that you get your brew asap!

JetBoil Flash PCS (Personal Cooking System) - £105

Jetboil Flash  © Burton McCall

The Flash is the most recent incarnation of the original Jetboil and features a number of upgrades and well thought out improvements.

Being 1L it provides a good balance between size/weight.  The neoprene outer keeps it nicely insulated, allowing you to hold it whilst brewing up without burning your hands/gloves (useful on small alpine ledges) and doubles as a cup (good weight saving). There is also a pot stabiliser available separately, meaning that when you’re wanting to go gourmet you don’t have to use the 1L pot provided and can instead use any standard wide base pan – this makes it a far more versatile ‘take anywhere’ stove. For those that haven’t used a JetBoil before be warned – things burn fast! If you’re looking at doing anything much more complicated than boil water or make soup/cous cous  then take heed.

Whilst the addition of the colour change heat sleeve – which turns from clear to yellow whilst boiling - may have good shelf appeal I am skeptical of its practical value whilst in use. Nonetheless, I can’t really complain as it looks nice, doesn’t add much (if any) weight, as is all-in-all a useful feature.

The Flash features a piezo igniter, something of which I am a great fan. It always feels like a faff to carry/rely soley on a lighter and the convenience of a single push button is unbeatable. The downside is when they don’t work and this was something the previous version had issues with – the igniter flimsy and prone to breaking (it did on me half way up El Cap). Fortunately a lot of thought has clearly been put into its design, it looks/feels much more robust and is recessed to prevent accidental damage. That said, I’d always carry a lighter just in case.

The second upgrade is the adjustment dial, which has been changed from a small knob to a much larger – and more usuable – wire, therefore making it much easier to use with gloves on (and more easy to adjust accurately in general). This has a positive impact for those looking to actually ‘cook’ in the JetBoil as it allows something close to simmering to be attained.

Whilst it is an additional sale, it is worth mentioning that there is a specially designed hanging kit available for the JetBoil. Whilst being a fundamentally mass-market product it is great that JetBoil have kept this specialist product going. Little things such as this and the hole in the lid to tie cord through so you don’t drop it/lose it show that a mountaineer still has influence over its design. Simple, yet great. 

On a far less techy note the Flash PCS was by far the nicest of the three stoves to drink from, being designed so that you can hold it with your hands (without getting burnt) and drink it (also without getting burned or spilling it down you) – double bonus.

Comes with: Tripod Base, Ring Top Adaptor

Add-ons available: Coffee Press, Hanging Kit, Pot Support

Summary: Best all-rounder

  • To read Jack Geldard's 2010 UKC review of the original JetBoil click here.


See this UKC Video Review of the orginal JetBoil from 2010

MSR Reactor - £150

Rob on the bivvy as nightfall approaches. Everest in the background.  © Jack Geldard
The author using the Reactor at 6000m during a new route attempton Peak 41, Nepal
MSR Reactor 1.7l  © MSR

The MSR Reactor is a different beast altogether.

Firstly, it is bigger. At 1.7l it has a larger capacity than the Flash. This obviously has a knock-on effect to the weight, but has a huge impact when it comes to the quantity of snow that can be melted in a single sitting. Rather than you each getting half a Nalgene’s worth, you get a respectable amount of much needed water – something which I valued greatly at the time (irrespective of the meager 56g weight gain).

It lacks some of the creature comforts of the JetBoil Flash, but doesn’t really try to compete on these grounds. This is a product designed with a single purpose: to boil, melt, attack and destroy snow… And that it does, with 1L being boiled within 3 minutes. Even at altitude, or in strong winds, this thing continued to roar away at a pace unlike any stove I have ever witnessed.

The Reactor has a solid handle that allows it to be held stable. The pot rests on top of the burner unit, but is not fixable in this position so the handle really is a key factor here. Whilst I have never had them disconnect whilst cooking I have always been a little paranoid this might occur, you’ve got to be a little more careful with it than the JetBoil which locks into place bottom to top.

The Reactor doesn’t feature a piezo igniter, instead favouring a large (huge!) burner – an igniter simply wouldn’t fit. It also wouldn’t fit in with the ethos of the product, where all but the essentials have been stripped away. Lighting this has never been a problem seeing as one flick of even an empty lighter will  start the inferno.

The adjustment comes from a large, easy to use rubber dial/wire, suitable for use with cold numb hands and a large pair of gloves on. As with many stoves of this nature, simmering is a problem but not impossible given due care.

It is worth mentioning that 1l and 2.5l pans are available for the Reactor, useful for either going fast/light or for a more sizable base camp pan (which due to its greater surface area is much better for cooking on). 

Add-ons available: Hanging Kit, Coffee Press

Summary: Best stove for cold conditions + long alpine routes

  • To read Charlie Boscoe's 2013 UKC review of the MSR Reactor click here.

​For a chance to win an MSR Reactor keep an eye out for this weeks COMPETITON.


See this UKC Video Review of the MSR Reactor from 2013


Primus ETA Lite - £110

Primus ETA Lite  © Primus

The final stove featured is the Primus ETA Lite.

This stove is the lightest and smallest within the test, arguably making it the best choice for summer alpinism or for those simply wishing for a crag stove to brew up with throughout the winter months (the ultimate luxury).

It is also extremely well made, with the burner being something of a work of art. Whilst I’m not suggesting that any of the three in the review looks flimsy, what I would say is that this looks the most solid! It also features a neatly recessed piezo ignitor and - for the sake of review completeness - I should probably mention that it interlocks with the upper unit for added security.

Due to its low profile it is also the most stable within the test. One issue with these compact stove systems is that they’re often quite top heavy/unstable and therefore a bit of a risk to leave unattended. The JetBoil and Reactor get around this by either supplying, or having available as an additional sale, a rest that fits on the bottom to add stability, but obviously these aren’t always desirable or practical to take on route (why carry something extra?). Primus call this their 'Laminar Flow Burning Technology'…make what you will of that…

Another plus to the ETA Lite is its simple solution to the hanging kit, which consists of the easily modified handle switching to a cradle for the hanging cord supplied. Whilst I rate the stability of the JetBoil/Reactor hanging kits, you've got to give Primus credit for such an obvious solution. The same ingenuity has been used to answer the question of how to use pots/pans other than the one provided (which is obviously limiting whilst actually cooking) and for this three small screw-in rods have been provided that fit neatly into the burner unit.

The ETA Lite Burner  © Rob Greenwood - UKC
The well designed burner unit, with recessed piezo ignitor and space for the screw-in rods that enable other pans to be used
Rob Greenwood using the Primus ETA Lite  © Rob Greenwood - UKC
The author having a quick brew at the base of High Tor

Originally the only drawback I could offer was that the ETA Lite was very difficult to drink out of, then someone highlighted that the lid doubles as a cup and I felt pretty silly. Amazing that you can use a product so many times and still not spot the obvious.

Comes with: Hanging Kit, Tripod Base.

Add-ons available: Coffee Press

Summary: Best for fast/light summer alpinism, most additional extras included.

Overall Summary



Price Weight  Boil Time (500ml) Volume Ease of Use Summary


£105 400g 02:30 1L

Best all-rounder

JetBoil Website


£150 496g 01:30 1.7L

Best stove for cold conditions + long alpine routes

MSR Website

ETA Lite

£110 355g 02:45 500ml

Best for fast/light summer alpinism

Primus Website


Support UKC

As climbers we strive to make the kind of website we would love to visit, with the most up-to-date news, diverse and interesting articles, comprehensive gear reviews, breathtaking photographs and a vast and useful logbook system. As a result, an incredible community has formed around the site - we’ve provided the framework but it’s you who make the website what it is today. If you appreciate the content we offer then you can help us by becoming an official UKC Supporter. This can be a one-off single annual payment or a more substantial payment paid monthly or yearly which includes full access to Rockfax Digital and discounts on Rockfax print publications.

If you appreciate then please help us by becoming a UKC Supporter.

UKC Supporter

  • Support the website we all know and love
  • Access to a year's subscription to Rockfax Digital.
  • Plus 30% off Rockfax guidebooks
  • Plus Show your support UKC Supporter badge on your profile and forum posts
UKC/UKH/Rockfax logo

31 Jul, 2014
If I understand it well from the article it is said that that the reactor has no hanging kit. The MSR reactor has a hanging kit as I bought one last year. Additional: In my opinion is the Reactor coffee press is not as good as the one that comes with the Jetboil.
31 Jul, 2014
Hi RR, No, the review does not say that. The review says there is a hanging kit available, but it is an additional extra and doesn't come as standard. Thanks. Jack
31 Jul, 2014
All heavy and overpriced and poor at heating anything that isn't water. I have the Optimus Crux weekend HE which weighs 275g and includes a frying pan. You have to give up some stability as it doesn't all lock together but unless on a big wall I don't see this as big deal.
31 Jul, 2014
I'm probably being a bit slow on the uptake here, but is the basic point of this sort of thing that: i) they're much more thermally efficient than a standard stove so ii) the extra weight of the setup is balanced by not having to carry so much gas on a long trip? Also, is the general idea that you boil some water in the cup and then add your instant whatever to it, or are you actually meant to be able to cook noodles or whatever over the heat? Cheers! I'm a lifelong Trangia user who's finally beginning to wonder about getting something halfway modern to cook over, and all this technology confuses me...
31 Jul, 2014
The heat exchanger pans all attempt to improve the fuel efficiency, at the expense of additional pan weight. But consider that the canister holding the gas weighs about as much as the gas itself, so fuel savings are marginal, and only significant on long trips. The other way to save fuel is to turn the burner down from '11'; use a low to moderate burn rate and you'll save wasting heat up the side of the pan. The JetBoil et al are nice to have as hanging stoves, but they are heavier than more simple stove and pan, and usually have tall, narrow pots that aren't great for actually cooking on. Great for a fast boil, but not so great for cooking. The HX can exacerbate this too, due to the higher thermal flux into the pan. If your pan contents is gloopy (e.g. soup), you'll need to keep stirring. And you'll need a long spoon to do that. If you're after speed of boil, good fuel efficiency, and a hanging or between-the-knees stove, then these things are worth looking at. Otherwise, a conventional stove may be better; you can buy HX pans for 'normal burners'.
Loading Notifications...
Facebook Twitter Copy Email LinkedIn Pinterest