Radiant Burner Stoves: The Ultimate in All-Weather Performance and Efficiency


Originally Published on 8/21/2013

MSR engineered the Reactor and WindBurner stove systems to be the fastest, most fuel-efficient stove systems in the real-world conditions of the alpine. Achieving such a high performance standard required a stove that goes beyond the conventions of camp stove burner technology. Based on decades of research and more than five years of development, the MSR engineering team built the Reactor, and then the WindBurner, around a unique radiant burner head. The Reactor was the first climbing and backpacking stove to truly harness the benefits of a radiant burner. Radiant burners allow canister fuel stoves to achieve high-performance, excellent efficiency and great weather resistance.

What is a radiant burner?

Radiant burners use a porous material to mix fuel and house the flame. The resulting burner produces both convective and radiant heat. These burners can be made from a variety of porous materials, including wire mesh and ceramics. The Reactor uses a porous disc made of an alloy called Fecralloy to create a burner that is lighter and more durable than those made of other materials.

The process used to create this material is complex and requires precise manufacturing control. Open-cell foam is impregnated with a slurry of Fecralloy alloy and the conglomerate is allowed to solidify. The material is then baked at a temperature that causes the open-cell foam to dissolve. What remains is a rigid alloy structure that looks much like open-cell foam. This material is cut into discs that become Reactor burners.

ConventionalStoveSystems copy

How does it work?

When the Reactor is operating, gas travels from the canister, through a pressure regulator, to two jets that inject the fuel into a cavity under the porous disc. Here, the fuel mixes with air and flows through the pores in the disc. Ignition occurs in the upper level and at the surface of the disc. The flame spreads evenly over the disc, creating broad, consistent heating. Flame temperatures reach 3600 degrees Fahrenheit and the protective mesh above the disc reaches 1600 F.

The Reactor requires a heat exchanger to effectively harness the power of the radiant burner; this heat exchanger is built into all Reactor cookware. The large surface area of the heat exchanger allows efficient transfer of both convective heat and radiant light energy from the burner.

What is radiant light energy?

Conventional stoves produce convective heat – in other words hot air. Radiant burners also produce radiant light energy. This energy transfer occurs without a change in air temperature, making it feel much like warmth from the sun on a cold winter day. Although convection is responsible for the majority of the Reactor’s heat output, radiant energy plays a significant role in the stove’s performance.

What is the performance advantage?

The biggest performance advantage comes from the control and management of airflow. The Reactor’s burner operates on 100% primary air, pulling all the air it needs through ports on either side of the flame control knob. All air and fuel mixing occurs inside the stove, allowing the flame to be completely enclosed and protected from wind with the integrated heat exchanger. This construction makes the Reactor’s radiant burner far more resistant to wind than a conventional burner. Combined with the broad, evenly dispersed flame, it also makes the Reactor difficult to blow out, even when the pot is removed.

The Reactor is the only radiant burner stove on the outdoor market and it is the only outdoor stove in the world that runs on 100% primary air. This unique technology gives the Reactor a real advantage in weather resistance, power and efficiency.

Happy boiling!

reactor lifestyle
Photo: Paul Bride | MSR
  • Dennis A. Cooley

    I would like to field test one of these.

  • Rob Sheneman

    I love my Reactor. Have the original pot and the 1.7L. We use it regularly for cooking and melting snow. Nothing boils faster! One note on the photo – in my experience the stove benefits from having a stove board or a stand under it in the snow. We also keep the canisters in our sleeping bags overnight to stay warm.

  • Chuck Bruffey

    I have used my Reactor now for four summers and it works flawlessly. I use it mostly with a 2.5L pot as we group cook for 3 to 6 guys. The ability to boil lots of water very fast is one of the best features but I have also managed to simmer soups. It is very frugal with fuel and will literally use an entire can of fuel to the last drop long after most stoves shut off. The pots are easy to clean and I love that the fuel and stove nest inside the stove. Now if only MSR can figure out how to make a fry pan work on this stove…

    • Chris

      Thanks for letting me know it can simmer. I’d also like to see a fry pan for cooking fish.

      • Claudio

        Yeah, a fry pan and some non-stick treatment in his pots. Or at least a adapter for the burner

  • Pingback: Best Gear of 2013: MSR Reactor 1.0L System | Expedition Portal()

  • I took my Reactor 1.0L on a solo self-suppported traverse of Icelands south coast (by beach). 500 miles @ 3 weeks.
    Reactor gets MVP of my kit for outstanding performance in brutal conditions…

  • Adam

    Does it hurt the stove to place the pot in place before the radiant burner begins to glow? It seems as though the flame is vulnerable to the wind until the pot is covering it, fuel is being consumed without helping to heat the water, and the boil times are being skewed by not including the time to prime.

    • admin

      Hi Adam, No it does not. In fact, if you put the pot on immediately after lighting the stove, the burner will get to that nice red color more quickly. Just make sure you don’t put an empty pot on the burner when it’s running because you will likely melt the pot. Always have something in the pot to absorb the heat energy of the burner. Thanks for asking

  • Chris

    Recently my reactor is no longer glowing red. Open to the air or with the pot on I no longer obtain the glowing red radiant burner…just blue flame. Have used new MSR gas cans, different valve settings, to no avail. Any ideas??

    • admin

      Hi Chris please email our customer service representative Chuck Kollin Chuck.Kollin@CascadeDesigns.com and he will be able to best assist you. Thanks!

  • Robb

    I have Reactor that we have been using with the Boy Scouts for years. It is without a doubt the best, most reliable and easiest stove of all the ones we have in the troop.

  • My friend and I have now hiked 1900 miles of the PCT over the last 5 years and the Reactor cooking for two hikers, is simply amazing. I still have my original MSR, god bless it. We tested side by side with other stoves and its performance sold it. Unlike many piece of equipment it has performed better than we assumed in the field. An additional benefit is it never breaks down, there is no maintenance. We can get 5 days, coffee, mush for breakfast – dinner – soup, hot dish and sometimes hot lunch out of one large tank. It may outlive me!

  • Off the subject… but
    MSR really makes a good product and backs that product superbly!
    I had a 22 year old MSR Whisperlite stove, it was so old that it had the red fiber flex hose covering.
    It broke at the joint between the hard pipe and the flex hose. I called up MSR, (to make a long story short) after sending the old stove and pump in, along with 50% of the cost of a new set, they sent me a brand new Whisperlite stove and pump!

  • Ira Rushwald

    i have been using the Reactor 1.0L stove for the past year for two people. it works great if you’re cooking freeze dried dinners as you can pretty much boil an entire liter in the pot which is enough for 2 meals. then boil some more for your after dinner drink. i’ve used it for melting snow in the cold weather and it performs great. I agree with the statements above about putting the canister on an insulated pad (i use a small piece of blue foam) and keeping the fuel in your sleeping bag overnight, if at least in the early morning, when it is cold out. This should be standard practice for any canister stove in cold weather.

  • Leland Wach

    Hiked the Grand Canyon from Peach Springs, and had 7 young men with me. Ended up using my reactor for all the meals, as it boiled water under 4 minutes. So that in 15 minutes every one had their meal prepared, (Most Freeze Dried). Best stove out there. Then my granddaughter used it for a week long camp, and it quit working. MSR (Cascade Designs)
    fixed it with no hassle and no charge. Good customer service.

  • Erik

    What’s the lowest recommended ambient operating temperature? When hunting on the Dalton Highway above the Arctic Circle, I was using a competitor’s stove and the daily temperatures were ranging between -5 and -25 F. I think this more due to the limitations of the fuel than the stove, but it was burning very weakly. When I went back south into ambient temperatures higher than 15F, the stove started burning fine again.

    • admin

      Hi Erik, We don’t have a hard number for lowest operating temperature, but all canister stoves will start to lose performance in the 30F range. If you knew you were going to encounter temps consistently below freezing, it would be advisable to consider taking a liquid fuel stove. Thanks for asking.

  • Hey guys I work at a small mountaineering store in Redding california named The hermits hut and we carry all your products as well as some of your competitors and I just wanted to thank you for shareing this info about this stove! The info provided here has helped me explain the advantage to your stove over other items we sell ! Thanks for producing a superior product that i can recomend to my customers without hesatation ! Keep up the good work and keep the info comming!

  • Peter Truitt

    Hey MSR guys. I absolutely LOVE your products, and have been using them for years out in the elements and I must say that I have yet to find anything else that lasts, and performs as well as MSR stoves. This is why I am concerned though. I recently bought a reactor (2 1/2 months ago) and something seems to have malfunctioned with it. I have never dropped it or mistreated it whatsoever which is why I am so confused. On my most recent backpacking trip I pulled it out, and the regulator seems to not be working correctly. The gas is misdirected to almost the sides of the base of the reactor. The little gas that does get through the regulator barely lights up a small portion of the grid. Not to mention the fact that it seems dangerous to use at this point. I have never had any other issue with any other piece of MSR equipment, and i still use MSR gear that I’ve had for almost ten years. Please get back to me if you have any advice or can help in anyway. Thanks a bunch!

  • Tom Koceja

    I am considering a Reactor stove, you cannot use a fry pan on it can you ?

    • admin

      Hi Tom, That is correct. Thanks for asking!

  • Shelley

    Hi there, my ex upgraded from the pocket rocket to the MSR Reactor last summer for our week long backcountry hikes and we LOVED it. I just purchased the WindBurner for myself and I’m excited that it’s coming via UPS today. I was wondering if there was a way to clean out the stove to possibly make it able to go in checked baggage on a plane (after I’ve used it of course). I’ve read various information on cleaning stoves but the WindBurner is in a league of its own.