WindBurner vs. Reactor: What’s the Difference?

Originally Published October 20th, 2014.

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By Steve Grind, Category Director for MSR Stoves

How does the all-new WindBurner™ Personal Stove System stack up against the legendary Reactor?

By now, you may have heard that our all-new WindBurner Personal Stove System is built around some of the same award-winning technology that’s found in our Reactor Stove System. But is the WindBurner simply the Reactor’s little brother? How does its performance really stack up against the Reactor’s? And which of these incredible stove systems is best for which trips?

So, what exactly is going on over there at MSR R&D?

All good questions. But first, one more question: Why is this post about one versus the other? Doesn’t the word “versus” imply a competition? Two contenders battling each other to win a shared space?

Sure, these systems are similar in some important ways, but they’re also different in ways that are equally crucial. A little competition is a good thing, though, so we’ll take off the gloves and get down to the nitty gritty.

How are the WindBurner and the Reactor Stove Systems similar?

First, let’s look at how they operate. The WindBurner and the Reactor stove systems are both built around ultra-efficient radiant burner technology, and both are internally pressure regulated to ensure consistent performance regardless of outside conditions.

They both are also engineered to operate on 100% primary air. This allows for fully enclosed combustion—meaning that we could enclose the burner’s flame with the pot’s heat exchanger to protect it from outside conditions and maximize its heat output. Because of this, the WindBurner and the Reactor are incredibly fast, fuel-efficient and virtually windproof.

Then there’s the top-shelf materials and construction that go into them, which provide truly superior durability and reliability in the field. Durability, reliability and simplicity are the three hallmarks of the MSR design, and every product we build delivers on them. Therefore, both the WindBurner and the Reactor are designed, engineered and built to the absolute highest quality.

So, yes, the WindBurner borrows a good deal of technology from the world-renowned Reactor, which has proven itself time and again in some of the harshest places on the planet. The technology that allows the Reactor to deliver such exceptional performance and wind resistance is shared.

And, both systems are assembled and tested at our own factory in Seattle, Wash.

So how are they different?

The Reactor isn’t for everyone. It was never intended to be. The Reactor was originally engineered to be an alpinist’s tool. An unapologetic snow-melting powerhouse.  A purpose-built rocket ship of a stove system. One that delivers amid the most demanding alpine conditions. Because the longer it takes a mountaineer to melt snow for hydration, the greater his or her risk for altitude sickness.

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MSR Reactor 1.7L Stove System

In contrast, the WindBurner stove system is a truly personal unit, with features designed to bring ultimate convenience to solo travelers and minimalist backpacking pairs.

Like the Reactor, the WindBurner is an all-in-one system, but it’s even more compact, and its features are tailored to meet the needs of one or two travelers heading into the backcountry, or simply camping in the frontcountry—and anyone who’s trying to cook a hot meal in places where real weather can happen.

The WindBurner scales down from the Reactor in both heat output and form factor. Where the Reactor blasts out 9,000 BTU/hr, the WindBurner throttles back to 7,000 and makes up the efficiency by sipping fuel more slowly. The WindBurner is also better at simmering thanks to a redesigned pressure regulator valve.

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When it comes to form factor, the Reactor includes cookware with traditional side-mount pot handles, while the WindBurner answers our customers’ requests for a truly high-tech, integrated cook-and-eat solution that doubles as a mug—its pot features an insulated cozy with a stiffened handle, and a drinking and straining lid. The WindBurner’s pot also locks onto its stove burner for improved stability, and a heat-resistant grip on the burner makes it easy to hold while you’re removing the pot.

The WindBurner is meant to be the ideal stove for minimalist backpackers and anyone cooking up personal meals. You could say the WindBurner is a hot cup of morning coffee in camp to the Reactor’s snowmelt-electrolyte-refueling-station on an exposed Alaskan ledge. In other words, the WindBurner is truly personal.

We’re extremely proud of these products. They share more than technological DNA—they also share MSR’s deep commitment to quality and innovation. And each has its place MSR’s legacy and line-up of the world’s best stoves.

Ptarmigan traverse 2014 2Steve is the tallest man** to summit Mt. Rainier in the history of mountaineering. He’s been playing in the outdoors since he could crawl, and especially enjoys extended wilderness adventures. Some of his favorite trips have been sailing across the Pacific and back with his dad, big wall climbing in Yosemite and Zion in a homemade (read: dodgy) port-a-ledge, mountaineering in California, Washington, Alaska and New Zealand, hiking the John Muir Trail, and most recently becoming the tallest man** to summit Tiger Mtn. (elev. 3,005’/916 m) with his wife and 8-month-old son. He has been developing outdoor equipment on his own and professionally for the last 16 years. He’s been at MSR for six years, most recently in the role of category director for Cook and Shelter.

**This is an unsubstantiated claim.