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Cooking in the backcountry: Three systems face the heat

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Cooking in the backcountry: Three systems face the heat

Postby ERIC » Thu Jan 31, 2008 8:20 pm

Cooking in the backcountry: Three systems face the heat

Thursday, January 17, 2008 - Page updated at 12:00 AM
The Seattle Times ... ear17.html

Until recently, the Jetboil PCS (Personal Cooking System) was the sole player in the booming integrated cookset market. Today, though, two competitors are attempting to dethrone the king.

We decided to match them up in side-by-side testing. In addition to the Jetboil PCS, we used the new MSR Reactor stove and the Primus EtaPower cooking system. We used all three while hiking in the California Sierra, as well as while exploring the backcountry of Olympic National Park. Here are our findings: Ease of use

Left to right, the Primus, MSR and Jetboil camping stoves.

All three systems are easy to set up and operate, though the Primus has more components to link together. The fact that the MSR cookpot simply sits on the wide cooker rather than having to be attached (via a half-turn) like the Jetboil, the MSR Reactor gets the nod as the easiest to use — though Jetboil's integrated piezo igniter nearly levels that edge.

Winner: MSR Reactor.


The real advantage of these systems, besides their simplicity and ease of use, is the higher level of efficiency over standard stoves. All three use some form of heat disperser. When tested side-by-side in identical situations, the MSR and Primus stoves had the edge in windy conditions, though with some strategic positioning (i.e. on the leeward side of a rock), the Jetboil performed just fine in wind. The MSR had the fastest average boil time for 1 liter of water — right around 3 minutes, while the Jetboil and Primus were close behind at around 3 ½ minutes. But we found the MSR burned through fuel much faster. On a standard 8-ounce gas canister (we used MSR brand for all three stoves), the MSR stove ran dry after boiling about 18 liters of water, while the Jetboil produced 23 liters of boiling water and the Primus whipped up 21 liters. Considering the slightly better performance in wind by the Primus stove we have to declare it virtually equal to the Jetboil.

Tie: Jetboil and Primus EtaPower.


The Jetboil started as a single-pot burner, and as such it excelled. But it also was handicapped by being one-dimensional. It could boil water or heat liquids like soup, but that was all. Over the years since its introduction, though, the folks at Jetboil have rolled out a variety of options, including an integrated French press to turn the cook pot into a coffee pot, a pot stabilizer so any pot or pan may be used on the stove, and a large group option.

The new Reactor, like the original Jetboil, is a one-pot setup, though its 1.7-liter capacity makes it more useful for two or more hikers. The burner can't be used with non-Reactor pots.

The Primus EtaPower can be used with virtually any pot or pan, and for cold weather use, the non-attached canister can be flipped over for better performance. (An old snow-traveler's trick: In cold temps, the pressurized fuel stays in a liquid form, so doesn't draw as readily from the top. Flipping the canister negates this problem.)

Winner: Jetboil.


All three stoves are efficient and effective. The Jetboil PCS is still a leader in the category of fast and light backcountry cook systems. It's best suited for solo hikers, or light two-person excursions. If you are planning to hike with bigger groups in poor weather, the MSR Reactor might be a good option, while the Primus EtaPower stands out as a versatile year-round system. (Follow-up note: All of our testers went out and bought a Jetboil PCS solely for the coffee option.)

----TECH SPECS----

Jetboil PCS

Weight without fuel, 16 ounces; pot size, 1 liter; cost, $89.

MSR Reactor

Weight without fuel, 22 ounces; pot size, 1.7 liters; cost, $139.95.

Primus EtaPower

Weight without fuel, 18 ounces; pot size, 2 liters; cost, $110.

— Dan A. Nelson, special to The Seattle Times

Freelancer Dan A. Nelson, of Puyallup, is a regular contributor to Backpacker magazine, and an author of outdoor guides with The Mountaineers Books. For the purpose of review, gear manufacturers lend products, which are returned after a typical use of four to six weeks. There is no payment from manufacturers and they have no control over the content of reviews. Contact Dan with gear-related questions at
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Postby Trekker » Fri Feb 01, 2008 3:26 am

Thanks for posting the article, Eric.

I think that this article, while it gives a good overview of the stoves and their performance, probably could stand a little more rigorous testing conditions to really bring out the differences. Rock and Ice did a much more in-depth comparison test last year between Jetboil and the Reactor and found significant differences in cold weather and wind performance. Some of these stoves are really of the most value in specific conditions; I might take an MSR Pocket Rocket on a solo, relatively balmy summer backpack in the Sierra, but in the winter, when I want to melt snow and expect more severe cold and wind, I would opt for something like the Reactor. Given that it looks like the testing was done in non-winter months, it might be best to keep in mind what particular performance measures are going to be the most important in your particular situation.

Here is the link for the R & I article, if anyone's interested: ... ieldtested
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Re: Cooking in the backcountry: Three systems face the heat

Postby caddis » Sun Feb 10, 2008 7:47 am

Since the majority of my backpacking is done in summer high sierra conditions, I'd pick the one stove that is lighter, cheaper, more versitile, and boils up to 5 more liters of water per fuel canister. Seems almost a no brainer
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