MSR Windburner Personal Stove System: Tested

By Justin Walker 23 November 2016
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MSR’s Windburner uses the same tech as the Reactor but in a more compact form, making it ideal for soloists and lightweight gear fanatics.

MOUNTAIN SAFETY Research (MSR) has been one of the premier stove companies for decades, with its stove range covering everything from multi-fuel expedition stoves, through to its popular (and large) range of canister-based stoves.

It was the company’s 2007 release of the Reactor system that significantly boosted the appeal of gas canister stoves. This stove used radiant heat and primary air combustion to ensure consistent, fuel-efficient heating, with fuel moving from the canister through a regulator that controls the actual gas pressure, to jets that push the fuel into a space under a disc. This disc is actually porous and once the air and gas is “mixed” in that space below the disc, it is ignited as it pushes through the disc’s pores and heats up the mesh-covered top of the burner, producing an evenly spread heat source. The heat produced is super-consistent, and to ensure that camp chefs get the full benefit of this consistency, there is a “heat exchanger” attached to all pots/skillets. This heat exchanger acts as a wind deflector that also directs the heat from the burner directly to the pot/skillet’s base. The result is maximum efficiency in terms of not only heating but also fuel usage. Up until the Reactor hit the scene with its enclosed, protected heat source, conventional stoves had relied on a naked flame to draw air, which came with many disadvantages due to the influence of wind, such as inefficient burning, more fuel usage and the chance that too strong a gust would blow out the flame itself.

msr camp stove

Image: Justin Walker

MSR’s new Windburner utilises the same tech as the Reactor but in a more compact form, making it ideal for soloists and lightweight gear fanatics. The whole unit – stove, gas canister (IsoPro), canister stand and small pack towel, packs neatly into the 1.0-litre pot. There is also a full-sized bowl that acts as a lid and snaps onto the top of the pot and weighs 432g (not including canister. Yes, there are lighter stoves out there, but these lack the Windburner’s efficiency. Not a biggie if you’re only doing an overnighter, but for longer journeys where fuel consumption is more of an issue, the extra weight is a small price to pay for the economical advantage.

In use the Windburner is quick to set up. The pot itself locks on to the stove with a simple twist (the stove, in turn, is screwed on to the fuel canister as per other canister-based stoves), ensuring no frightening disconnects during cooking. An aside: the handle on the pot cosy actually does support the weight of the pot when it is full and being held in-hand. We’ve been close to being scalded or worse by other stoves’ slipping covers in the past, so this is a notable positive. The Windburner also comes with a canister stand that does aid stability. The vertical design of these stoves means instability is one of their handicaps but with the sturdy stand – and care by the chef – tip-overs are less likely and you can still stir the contents of the pot quite vigorously thanks to being able to hold the cosy as well. Starting the stove is as simple as turning it on via the valve wire-handle and using a flint, match or lighter to ignite the burner face itself – there’s even a small wire in the burner’s mesh that glows orange straight away when the stove is ignited, which is a great safety feature. The Windburner’s pressure regulator and easy-to-use handle also makes simmering a lot easier than you’d expect; turning it right down low produces a subtle heat.

The claimed boil time for a half-litre of water is 2min30sec and we achieved around a 4min30sec for a full litre. During testing we also cooked simple pastas and rice dishes in the pot and these too were relatively quick to cook up. Since the initial testing period, I have since added two Windburner accessories: the skillet and the coffee press (there’s also a larger 1.8L pot with its own oversized support stand), with good results from my efforts with these.

It is fair to say that you are handing over a fair bit of cash for what some may view as a slightly “limited” system. You are, however, getting a compact, easy-to-use stove that is also fantastically fuel-efficient, which is a big factor in stove choice, plus you can add an optional skillet and other pots to the solo system. (For larger groups, MSR has the Windburner Stove System Combo, which we are currently testing, and this includes a 2.5L pot and a skillet other stove options. The review will be live in October.)

The final question mark over value for money for the Windburner revolves around durability/reliability and I can say that, after five years of pretty constant use in the field, the Windburner has done the job asked of it every time on my solo adventures.

RRP: $360 See for stockists.