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Which is the best MSR stove for your next adventure?

Image for article Which is the best MSR stove for your next adventure?

Stoves to me are a little like bikes. The number of bikes you actually require is based on the equation n=x+1, where n is the number of bikes you desire, and x is the number in your shed already. I have a touring bike, a mountain bike and a racer, and whilst I could find compromise in one bike it would be exactly that, a compromise. Similarly I own a multi-fuel stove, a system stove, and a small canister mounted stove, each of which has it’s own forte.

Multi-fuel stoves, or liquid-fuel stoves as they are also known, generally run on unleaded petrol, white gas (a refined fuel with fewer impurities than petrol), and paraffin, but you will also find versions that run on diesel and aviation fuel. The key advantage of these fuels is that you’re never very far away from a source, so availability is a key benefit unlike gas canisters, which are not as easy to come by. Once over the initial outlay multi-fuel stoves are cheaper to run too, which is more of a consideration if you’re going to be using them for cooking on a regular basis, for example cycle touring.  It’s not a major concern in the Lakes, but one of the main reasons for using a multi-fuel stove is their ability to work consistently in cold conditions. It was MSR who developed the first remote-burner stove in 1973 (separate fuel bottle and stove), which is the basis for most stoves designed today. The development was driven in response to findings by MSR that altitude sickness was largely due to dehydration, caused by the inability to melt snow on traditional stoves. Multi-fuel stoves do require regular maintenance unlike gas stoves, as carbon build up in the form of soot needs to be removed to keep the stove in working order. Washers, pump cups etc need to be lubricated, or replaced, but it’s all part of the fun of owning one of these stoves, and there’s plenty of information available on the MSR website in the form of print, or video to let you know what needs to be done and how to do it.

Gas stoves are far simpler, or should I say were until MSR got involved… The simplest of all MSR’s stoves is the PocketRocket 2, which is referred to as a canister mounted stove, or canister top stove. The main benefits of a stove like this are its weight and pack size. It’s the type of product I use on a mountain marathon, but they’re also extremely simple to use and affordable, and there’s no reason why you can’t use one for all your adventures. They have limitations however; cold and wind. You should never place a windshield all the way round a canister-mounted stove because of the danger of overheating the canister. This means that the burner is exposed to the wind and a fair proportion of the heat is lost downwind rather than it all being transferred to the pan above.  Initially a full gas canister has an internal pressure of around 50psi, so when you open the valve the gas shoots out, and all that burning gas creates a lot of heat and your water boils rapidly. As gas is used the pressure inside the canister falls, and so does the heat at the base of your pan meaning increased boil times.

Cold exasperates this situation as the pressure in the canister drops further, so the ultimate nightmare is trying to cook a meal on a third full canister on a cold, windy evening, and that is the limitation of canister mounted stoves.  Part of this problem can be overcome by remote canister stoves where the burner sits some distance from the canister linked by a fuel line. As well as the advantage that a windshield can now be placed around the burner these are also more stable to place a pan on.

I eluded earlier that gas stoves used to be simple until MSR got involved, and that’s because at heart MSR is an engineering company. Based in Seattle, where they also manufacture many of their stoves, they are continuously researching and developing ideas that push the boundaries of what is possible.  Stove systems are those gas stoves where the burner and pan are designed to work together, and aren’t interchangeable between other burners, or pans unless specifically designed for the stove in question. As a generalisation they’re for liquid based meals, because the design of the pan usually makes it hard to prevent what you’re cooking from sticking  to the base of the pan.  This makes them good for soups, stews, pasta, and boiling water. It’s now a stove system that I use more often than anything else simply for boiling water to rehydrate freeze dried meals and making drinks when camping out in the Lakes. I will caveat this by saying that it’s only because it’s an MSR stove system. Recently I lay inside my tent in the snow high in the Lakes when it was gusting 40mph. From the warmth of my sleeping bag I could open the door, holding the lit stove outside, and less than two minutes later have half a litre of boiling water. Nothing else can do that.

The Reactor was MSR’s first foray in to Stove Systems, and the Reactor remains a true water boiling, snow melting machine, and a product stocked by George Fisher. Since then the MSR WindBurner has been launched, which is more user friendly for the everyday user not hanging from the side of an Alpine peak. The real advantage of both these stoves is their radiant burner technology and the unique way in which all the oxygen required for combustion enters through a hole in the base of the stove, meaning that once lit, the pan encloses the burner, so the wind cannot reach it. There’s no heat loss and the burner cannot be blown out.  They also have a pressure regulator, which controls the pressure of the gas leaving the canister, so they work consistently throughout the lifetime of the canister. They’re not the lightest solution for quick adventures, but out over a couple of days their fuel efficiency quickly means that they become a very good choice.

In conclusion there is no one perfect choice, and it is dependent on what you intend to cook, where, and also how much of a concern weight and pack size are.  Whichever stove you do choose to take in to the hills, just remember you’ll need something to light it with. For more advice speak to the team at George Fisher.

Article written by Lawrence Friell 

2 March 2017 by Cascade Designs

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