POSTED on SNEWS 12/03/2007:
The hottest development in stove technology the past few years has been heat exchangers—devices that transfer heat directly from a stove burner to a pot to avoid heat loss and make stoves more efficient. The trend began with the Jetboil, and other manufacturers now offer their own variations on the theme. MSR’s Reactor may be the best of the bunch, and this is not only due to the performance of its heat exchanger. The burner itself represents a leap forward, allowing the stove to cook quickly while remaining whisper quiet and pretty much impervious to wind.
The Reactor cooking system includes a 1.7-liter pot with an enclosed heat exchanger welded to the bottom. The pot also has a metal handle that is very stable when in use yet flips up easily for tidy storage, plus a clear lid. The final piece is the lightweight burner, about the diameter of a hockey puck, which accepts fuel canisters. The stove kit weighs 21 ounces, and the burner and a fuel canister can be stored inside the pot. MSR even supplies a small pack towel that can be used to wipe moisture from the pot after cleaning, while it also prevents the burner and canister from clanking inside the pot.
The burner has a couple of unique elements that make it perform exceptionally well. A perforated metal shield surrounding the guts of the burner captures surrounding air and prevents this air from escaping as it is forced into the burner. This not only makes the most effective use of available air, but also speeds it to the burner to increase efficiency. While most stoves just use convective heat (heat rising from the burner), the Reactor burner also has an enclosed piece of metallic foam that delivers radiant heat for greater effect. Basically, these technologies allow you to cook quickly and save fuel.
The shield around the burner and the encased heat exchanger also block wind. We tested the stove by placing a high-speed fan about 6 inches away and we were able to light it with no problem. The convex mesh screen atop the burner fits into the concave bottom of the pot, further eliminating the effects of wind.
The stove is also extremely quiet, even when running full bore. Dinner around the campsite is so much more pleasant when you don’t have to shout at your buddy over the roar of a stove.
We also appreciated that the Reactor is easy to light, and we didn’t suffer any flame-ups or singed hair. To light the stove, you simply place a flame at a spot at the burner’s edge, (marked with the MSR logo), and then turn the flame adjuster (a flip-up tab) to the position of maximum heat. In less than 30 seconds, the steel mesh atop the burner transitions from being covered with a blue flame to glowing orange, indicating that you’re set to cook.
We tested the Reactor in warm temperatures and cooler, 40-degree weather, and it boiled 1 liter of water in 3.5 to 4 minutes (running at full strength with a half-full canister). That’s pretty swift. A half-liter of soup (Campbell’s Chunky Grilled Chicken and Sausage Gumbo…mmm) completely heated in less than three minutes. But we had to keep stirring the stuff to prevent scorching, and this is the one drawback.
The Reactor burns extremely hot, even when the flame adjuster is nearly cranked to the off position, so this stove is not suited for meals that require simmering. On the other hand, if you have been slogging through rain and cold and need a hot drink pronto, this is an excellent product.
Compared to its main competitor, the Jetboil PCS, the Reactor has a simple, yet distinct advantage—the cook pot is larger. The Jetboil pot can be filled with 0.5 liters of liquid (without it boiling over), while the Reactor can be filled with 1.6 liters. Therefore, the Reactor does a better job serving the needs of more than one person.
One negative about the Reactor is that the convex burner prevents it from being used with other pots. Integrated systems such as the Reactor and Jetboil PCS simply do not allow a person to match the stove with the variety of pots from other manufactures already in the gear closet.
Despite this limitation, the Reactor excels at its job. We definitely recommend it for anyone seeking lots of heat, delivered immediately and in the nastiest weather conditions.
SNEWS® Rating: 4.5 hands clapping (1 to 5 hands clapping possible, with 5 clapping hands representing functional and design perfection)