CAMP KITCHEN

MSR Reactor vs Jetboil: Which Is The Best Overall Backpacking Stove?

Bradley Page
Written by Bradley Page

Head to head, the MSR Reactor vs Jetboil is a comparison too close to call without looking into the special features of the two cartridge stoves. That’s why I came up with this informative review to make the decision easier for you.

Most importantly, the review is deep; it goes beyond merely telling you which of the two pieces of technology wins the ‘’Jetboil vs MSR Reactor’’ battle. It will help you make an informed decision when buying your best overall backpacking stove.

Deciding on which outdoor personal cooking system to go for can be difficult considering there’s myriad of them in the market. Over the last decade, the market has seen the exponential development of the integrated outdoor cooking devices.

Outdoor cooking stoves

A lot has changed, and there’s still room for improvement. The future is even brighter as we look forward to more advanced economic cooking devices.

Why the comparison?

In this buyers’ guide, we focus of two outdoor stoves; the MSR Reactor and the Jetboil. Both of these magnificent pieces are advanced efficient wilderness stoves ideal for hikes. However, it’s a little difficult to tell which one of the two is a better deal.

That’s why I tried them out and went a step further to comb the internet for more information on them. Read on and in a few minutes, you’ll be in a position to tell which one best suits your needs.

The Jetboil devices made their debut into the market back in 2004. That’s thirteen years ago. The MSR Reactor saw a fault in the Jetboil concept and in 2007 they came up with something they thought would substitute the Jetboil.

MSR Reactor Pot

Since then, MSR vs Jetboil has been a stiff competition as both manufacturers have gone to great heights to outdo each other. Both of them have come up with better versions of their initial concepts over the years. A battle that has greatly benefited the user by providing better outdoor cooking experience.

The two handy gadgets share many attributes. In a bid to bring out the attributes clearly, I’ll start by sharing with you what they have in common then I’ll share with you their unique features and based on the attributes you will be in a position to determine which of them the better option is.

Common features:

  • Light
  • Compact and easy to carry around
  • Very efficient
  • They do not need priming to start; they are lighted by a piezo-electric sparker
  • They come with a cleaning kit and a small repair kit
  • They can flare up
  • They have a flame control knob

The Jetboil PCS

By Jetboil PCS I simply mean the Jetboil personal cooking system. The most recent of the Jetboil brand is the Flash cooking kit which is not quite different from the previous version, just more advanced. Judging by the looks, it’s impressive and any hiking enthusiast would love to try it out.

Jetboil Flash

The system brings together a burner, an aluminum pot, a gas can, a sleeve with a temperature indicator and a holder. The pot is large enough to store all its components.

It’s a nice kit, made up of a burner, a fuel can, a pot, a lid and a handle. The burner perfectly screws into the bottom of the pot which is surrounded by heat fins to ensure uttermost efficiency. The result is a very efficient cooking system with a very high energy conversion rate.

The system is tailored to ensure that all the heat energy produced by the flame is used in heating the pot. When it comes to heat the percentage of heat expended from the flame to the pot, we simply can’t compare its efficiency to that of the conventional stove.

Why is it so efficient?

Jetboil PCS designers used a very creative trick to improve the efficiency of the flash cooking prototype. It uses some sought of a lid to shield the burner from the outdoor wind and at the same time this windshield works wonders in directing the heat to the pot.

Jetboil burner

The pot also has fins attached to it (heat exchangers). These fins attract the heat from the flame and draw the heat into the pot. This creates a system whereby all the heat is used for the intended purpose and none of it is blown away by the wind.

What Makes It Look So Cool

Besides being so efficient, the Jetboil kit is beautiful. It seems like all the components fit on neatly. The lid is made of well-refined, hardened rubber and it fits tightly onto the pot. Another eye-catching attribute on this piece is the sleeve which is covered with a colorful cloth. It also has a shiny metallic handle so you can actually boil water while walking.

The thrill of using the FLASH cooking system

Cooking using the Jetboil Flash is interesting. Imagine a cooking device whose sleeve has an indicator that displays different colors as the temperature of the pot rises. You’ll easily tell when the water has reached the temperature you want or when it starts boiling so that you don’t use more fuel than you need to. The indicator is very colorful.

Jetboil Flash indicator

Pros

  • A nice sleeve with a strong handle
  • A colorful sleeve so if you want something with a brightly coated sleeve, this is the PCS for you
  • The Jetboil Flash easily collapses into itself and the components including the canister fits into the pot
  • All the components attach tightly so you can cook on the move without worries
  • It’s built for a dual purpose; a pot for cooking and a mug for drinking
  • Has a hanging kit
  • Very light and easy to carry around
  • The latest version has an adaptor which allows you to use it very cold temperatures

Cons 

  • Not as stable as the MSR Reactor
  • The pot is very small compared to the MSR pot
  • It comes with a frying pan which is too light and gets damaged easily
  • Doesn’t work as well as the MSR Reactor in a windy environment
  • The clicker lighter is weak and could break if a lot of force is applied on it

MSR Reactor

The MSR Reactor works on the same principle as the Jetboil personal cooking system. On the same note, it has a similar but slightly wider pot with heat exchanger fins fitted at the bottom of the pot. It has a tightly fitting hard plastic lid.

The burner is fully shielded by what many users have referred to as ‘’the best windscreen in the market,’’ if Amazon reviews are to go by. I also believe it’s the best windshield on an integrated cooking device. Moreover, the pot fits onto the burner in a manner that leaves barely any room for the wind to interfere with the flame. The only air that gets to the burner is just the right amount it requires to burn the fuel.

MSR Reactor

Unlike other outdoor heating devices in the market, the MSR Reactor produces an orange, dome-shaped flame. The relatively larger flame makes it one of the most efficient outdoor stoves.

The air reaching the burner from below (not from the sides) combines with the propane from its can, react and burn to produce the hot dome. The heat produced is effectively channeled into the pot using the heat exchangers.

The gas burner

The MSR Reactor is unique. There’s nothing like it on the market. The only integrated cooking system gas burner with a reliable flame regulator so you don’t have to stir the food frequently to prevent it from burning. Once you set the flame using the regulator, you can sit back and let your food cook without fears of it getting burnt as in the case with the Jetboil.

MSR Reactor temperature control

This regulator will maintain the same flame in different weather condition whether the canister is full or almost drained. The flame looks very different from what we’re used to seeing on other integrated cooking devices.

Built to overcome the wind

The combustion unit of the MSR Reactors is sufficiently covered by a built-in windshield. Besides, the lower part of the pot is intricately designed to prevent wind from getting to the burner.

The result is a burner that lets in air from below the burner to aid combustion while at the same time keeps off wind from any direction; a delicate balance. The MSR is the leading windproof device among the integrated cooking devices.

The MSR Pot

Like the Jetboil Flash cooking system, the MSR is also built to fold into itself. The pot is large enough to store the burner and the gas canister. Below the pot are fins that work as heat exchanges to improve the efficiency of the heating system. Unlike the Jetboil pot, the MSR pot can be used with any stove.

MSR Reactor

Pros

  • Very efficient. A high percentage of the heat produced goes into the pot
  • Windproof so the outdoor wind won’t be a bother
  • Has a pressure regulator which allows you to stabilize the flame in cold weather
  • It is compact and easy to carry around. The components fit perfectly inside the pot
  • The pot is relatively large compared to that of the Jetboil. A larger pot means you can make food more easily for more people.
  • The larger pot is easier to clean than the smaller pot of the Jetboil

Cons 

  • The Reactor cannot use other pots other than its own
  • It is relatively more expensive compared to other integrated cooking systems
  • The reactor pot covers the stove’s burner but it really doesn’t attach to the stove tightly. This means you cannot hang the MSR Reactor while cooking. It also means you cannot cook on the go.
  • It has a flame control knob but lacks a heat control system. The heat control is ideal for making delicate meals that need finesse.
  • The MSR Reactor is quite a fuel guzzler. You’ll always have to carry some extra cans of fuel.
  • Many versions of the MSR Reactor produce a lot of carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide is a dangerous gas that can suffocate the user to death if the device is used in an enclosed environment. This would make it dangerous for use in a tent.
  • Even though the stove heats the pot’s bottom evenly to a quick boil, it’s a fuel hog compared to the Jetboil. The fuel hog element of the MSR makes it difficult to melt snow. You’ll always be worried about the amount of fuel you’ll have to use to make enough snow to fill up your water bottles.
  • Unlike the Jetboil it lacks a colorful temperature indicator on its sleeve
  • The MSR Reactor’s package does not include a frying pan.

Summary

I have used many of outdoor cooking devices but the MSR Reactor has stolen my heart. It is my favorite integrated stove of all times. First, it’s light weight. One would think that simply because it has a higher capacity makes it much heavier. It weighs a meager 15.1 ounces. The heaviest Jetboil device on the other hand weighs slightly above 11 ounces.

The Jetboil comes with an adaptor which would allow you to use a wide range of pot and pans. The MSR on the other hand can only work with its pot and no other pots. When it comes to this flexibility, the Jetboil wins.

Furthermore, there a couple of tricks that can make the Jetboil flash even easier to use. Here’s one such trick: If you are using it in a cold weather, first boil some water and pour it inside the sleeve that surrounds the heat exchanger. This will keep the area around the burner and the canister warm to improve efficiency in cold weather.

Jetboil Flash on the beach

Another clever trick that can help you with the Jetboil is drilling three holes on the lid and using the holes to suspend the kit. Many Jetboil devices lack a hanging system so if you want to suspend yours on a wire in your tent, then this is a creative way of improvising a hanging system.

The major cons of the Jetboil compared to the MSR reactor are basically efficiency and wind. The Jetboil kits are very sensitive to wind and the influence of strong winds has a direct impact on their performance.

In addition, the Jetboil stove kits are not the best outdoor devices for melting snow. This is because they are small so you’ll have to use a lot of fuel to melt enough snow to fill a water bottle. While they could be much better than many kits out there, the MSR Reactor is would be a better option for melting snow.

The piezo-lighter on the Jetboil PCS are very delicate. If not handled with uttermost care, it can easily break. In fact, there’s a high probability it will break after a few days’ use (if you use your device often). If it breaks, you will be forced to buy a conventional lighter to ignite the burner. The lighter on the MSR Reactor is much stronger and lasts longer, it could last a lifetime if used carefully.

Jetboil piezo

The MSR Reactor is more of a Jetboil Flash on steroids. While the Jetboil is calm and just okay, the reactor seems like a more aggressive heater with an impressive output. Thanks to its output it has earned the title of ‘’the best cartridge stove for melting snow.’’

For the Jetboil, the cartridge should be kept warm using warm water otherwise its performance may drop in cold weather. The MSR needs not priming or warming to enhance its performance, it will always deliver regardless of the weather conditions. Its pot is made of titanium and weighs roughly three ounces and can house both the fuel canister and the burner perfectly.

I have used both cartridge stoves and I can confidently say that the MSR is a clear-cut winner device for mountain climbing or snow camping. Generally in environments with strong winds. Even if the cold breeze is chilling stuff, I can guarantee that the performance will not be adversely affected.

MSR Reactor

This makes it more user-friendly than the Jetboil PCS; a big plus. Interestingly, the Jetboil Flash hanging kit can help transform the MSR into a very stable hanging PCS. The wires from a Jetboil Flash kit can improve the MSR’s stability in strong breeze by holding the pot firmly in place.

But this does not necessarily mean it is safe for use in a tent, remember most MSRs emit a small amount carbon monoxide which is a dangerous gas.

MSR Reactor StoveJetboil PCS
Weight15.1 oz11 oz
Water Boil Time1.7 liters in 3 minutes1 liter in 2.5 minutes
Water boiled per 100 g of fuel10 liters11 liters
Average price$150$100
Pot volume1.7 liters1 liter

Jetboil Flash

  • 1.0 Liter FluxRing® cooking cup with insulating cozy
  • The Flash runs on 100-gram Jetpower fuel canisters, which provide enough energy to boil 12 liters or 100 cups of water each
  • A simple-to-use electric igniter makes lighting the burner and operating the Flash quick and easy
  • A neoprene lining encases the FluxRing cooking cup, keeping food and beverages warm long after heating
  • Insulating drink-through lid and bottom cover

Check price on Amazon

MSR Reactor

  • Combines high-performance cookware with innovative design, making it the fastest, most fuel efficient stove system MSR has ever made
  • Radiant burner is enclosed by unique heat exchanger for solid performance in windy conditions; advanced pressure regulator optimizes heat output over life of fuel canister
  • Stove and fuel stow inside 1.7-liter pot, ideal for everything from solo trips to cooking for groups of up to three people; collapsible handle locks see-thru lid in place for easy transport
  • One-pound, 1.5-ounce minimum weight and one-pound, 2.1-ounce packed weight; 80-minute burn time with eight-ounce MSR IsoPro canister and three-minute boil time for one liter of water

Check price on Amazon

Verdict

As I mentioned before, I have used both reactors over the years and I fancy the MSR Reactor stove a lot more than the Jetboil PCS. The MSR delivers an awesome performance and that really counts. However, it doesn’t give room for simmering, it’s only good for heating water and melting snow.

The Jetboil on the other hand is a choice personal cooking system for solo camps in less windy environments with minimum snow. Generally, based on the special attributes of the two devices as per this MSR vs Jetboil review, the MSR Reactor stove has an upper hand.

MSR vs Jetboil

Kindly remember to leave a comment and in your comment let us know which of the two you’d go for. We’d love to hear your opinion on Jetboil vs MSR.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Bradley Page
Bradley Page

With several decades of experience as a backpacker and outdoor adventurer, Bradley is an open encyclopedia when it comes to gear, clothes, and other items that matter on the trail. He tested hundreds of shoes, pants, jackets, and backpacks in his long career and is always up to date with the new appearances in the niche. His experience makes him one of the authority figures in backpacking and he can help anyone to get prepared for a great adventure!

  • Scott Hamman

    I like Jetboil an awful lot. I have the Jetboil PCS, and it’s small lightweight; and just perfect for backpacking/camping. I have used it for years now and it continues to heat very well and provide a good, even heat.

  • Bradley Page

    Hello there Scott and thanks for giving us a very useful review on the Jetboil PCS. It’s a great stove and offers many years of service to the user. I’m so glad that you like the Jeboil. 🙂

  • Allen Federico

    I agree that the Jetboil is great, but I like the MSR Reactor even more. It puts out a lot of heat and I’ve noticed it’s able to boil water very quickly. It also appears to be an efficient little heater. This is probably the most powerful little backpacking stove I’ve ever used!

  • Bradley Page

    Hi Allen and thanks for your interesting review on the two stoves. Although both have their pros and cons, what can’t be overlooked is that these are very useful for camping. In the end, it will just be a matter of preference, don’t you think?

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