It doesn't seem long ago that canister stoves seemed to be on the way out of the mountaineering world, as liquid fuel offered vastly better cold weather performance, albeit at the cost of carrying more weight. MSR led this change with some brilliant stoves (one of which I used virtually to destruction – quite an achievement I thought, given that it was made of metal), and now they seem to be at the forefront of the canister stove comeback.
Their main canister system is the Reactor, which can be used with a variety of pots - 1 litre, 1.7 and 2.5 (I used the 1 litre for this test). I've used a few different canister stoves, and whilst they are good, there's no doubt that they have their issues, and are simply not as fast as liquid fuel systems. The Reactor looks pretty impressive though, and the amount of thought that has gone in to the design is immediately obvious. (MSR are claiming on their website that the Reactor will boil 0.5 litres of water from cold in 90 seconds, so the stove needs to be well thought out and efficient!) The finishing is excellent, and the attention to detail makes a good first impression when you take it out of the box.
One immediately obvious element of the stove is just how simple it is. There is the burner, with a simple foldaway handle, the pot (plus lid) and that is about it. No working out how things go together, and no silly self-ignition system (which never work for more than a couple of uses), just a simple burner and a pot. A good start.
Lighting the stove is easy too, and whilst there is always a bit of a “whoomph” when lighting a gas stove, the fact that the burner is wide rather than concentrated in a tiny area means that it doesn't feel violent or dangerous. From there, the pot just sits on the burner, and there is no system to bolt it in place - it just sits on top snugly and securely. I'm still in two minds about whether I think it would be better to have something to hold the pot in place, but a few years back I knocked over a canister stove and couldn't get to the flame or the regulator because the pot (still firmly attached) was red hot and had boiling water coming out of it, so on balance I think I'd prefer to knock over the odd pan of water in return for always being able to quickly get to the burner. To each, his own.
Once lit, the Reactor boils water incredibly fast (you'll have to watch the video to see if it was quite as fast as advertised!), and isn't too loud. The pot and burner fit together perfectly, and MSR have designed the stove so that there in superb inbuilt wind protection to the point that it would be pretty tough to blow the burner out even if you tried. The heat exchanger is massive too, and the general impression is that the stove is about as efficient as it could ever be. It is inevitably affected by the cold but you know it will be, so you just need to sit it on a sleeping mat or just about anything other than snow and try and keep the canister as warm as possible.
As far as quibbles go, I'm struggling to find anything to be too negative to say. One slight issue is that the lid can catch on the pot slightly as you close it (see my fumble early on in the video), but once you've used it for a while you remember to do it properly. And....that's about it!
Overall this is a brilliant stove, and whilst canister stoves are always going to be slower than liquid fuel, they are massively lighter, smaller and have less opportunity for disastrous spillage (rucksack full of meths anyone?). This stove is so light and efficient that I've taken it on routes instead of a second water bottle, and boiled water from snow instead of setting out with enough water to last me all day. If you want a quick, light and functional stove for camping or alpine adventures, this is what you need.
For more info and to see the stove in action in an Alpine hut in France - check out Charlie's thoughts in this short video:
Not only is the Reactor Stove System the fastest and most fuel efficient stove ever made, it’s the only one that delivers that level of performance in the cold and wind of the real world. While that might sound like hype, take a look at these test results and see exactly what that means to you in the field. Simply put, you’ll burn less fuel, carry less fuel, and move faster than with any other stove available. And with MSR’s proven quality and durability, you can be assured of that performance to pull you through when you need it most.
Charlie Boscoe is a skier and climber based in Chamonix. His popular blog on Chamonix climbing conditions is: chamconditions.blogspot.co.uk. He and his partner, Sharon Wray create and run expeditions to the Himalayas, Andes, Alps and Atlas Mountains, and offer bespoke expedition planning. See his website: www.mountainworldltd.com.
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