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Sunday, January 1, 2012

The New MSR MicroRocket -- Trail Report #1

I took the new MSR MicroRocket out on the trail for the first time yesterday.

The new MSR MicroRocket stove
I took with me both the new MicroRocket as well as the older PocketRocket.  Here are my test set ups:
An MSR 850ml Titan kettle (left) and a 550ml BPL Firelite 550 (right)
Inside each set up is a stove and a 110g canister of gas.  The PocketRocket is inside the Titan kettle, and the MicroRocket is in the Firelite 550.  The PocketRocket won't even come close to fitting inside the Firelite 550.
Each set up contains a stove and a 110g canister of gas, much as one would use for a trip out on the trail.
Now, notice something from the above photo.  The canister in the kettle on the left is canted over.  The pot supports of the PocketRocket have a high profile and cant the canister over.  The PocketRocket's design means that you have to have a larger pot if you want to store the stove in your pot.  On the other hand, the canister in the pot on the right is relatively flat.  The MicroRocket has a much nicer profile and takes up far less room in your pot.

A MicroRocket makes much more efficient use of the space inside a pot.
The MicroRocket is a very space efficient stove.  You don't need to carry nearly as much pot with the MicroRocket.

Now, here's an interesting thing.  Let's pull those canisters out of there.  Look inside.  The newfangled lighter that comes with the MicroRocket fits right inside without needing a larger pot.

The new piezoelectric lighter that comes with the MicroRocket fits right inside.
Speaking of the lighter, at first I was really skeptical.  Why on earth would anyone bother with it?  I mean the real advantage to a piezoelectric ignition is convenience.  It's built in to the stove, you press a button, and "whoosh," you're cooking with gas.  And MSR did what?  They separated the ignition system?  Hunh?

The separate piezoelectric ignition of an MSR MicroRocket

Well, of course the problem a built in piezoelectric ignition system is that it's about as reliable as a screen door on a submarine.  I mean the danged things just fail.  So, MSR separated it.
A trail ready cooking set up:  BPL Firelite 550 mug/pot, 110g gas canister, an an MSR MicroRocket stove with separate piezoelectric ignition.
OK, so why not just carry a regular lighter?  Well, good question, and that was my first thought.  A regular lighter can ignite pretty much anything whereas a piezoelectric lighter only works on gas.  However, let's not discount convenience.  I tried out the lighter yesterday, and you know what?  It's pretty slick.  It works; it works well; it is really convenient.  I was pleased that it worked the first time almost every time I tried it.  Beats the heck out of some piezoelectric ignitions I've tried.  And, since it's separate and not constantly getting incinerated, it should continue to work whereas a lot of piezoelectric ignitions are just so much junk a month after getting the stove.

For those who are really concerned with weight, I doubt such a lighter will be worth it to them.  Still, I bet there are a lot of people for whom the convenience will justify bringing it along.

Now, here's another consideration:  How do you light your stove?  With my gas stoves, I usually work the valve with one hand and light the stove with the other while the pot sits off to the side.  In other words, the flame runs a bit into empty air before I put the pot on.  With the MicroRocket's piezo ignition, I put the pot in place, turn on the gas, and, almost in the same breath, press the button on the ignition.  Whoosh.  No waste.  Does it save a huge amount of gas?  Probably not, but even if it saved only 1g per cooking session, on a week long trip, the piezo ignition would pay for itself in terms of weight.  I'm still not convinced that a separate ignition will catch on, but I don't think it's quite as dumb of an idea as before I tried it.
With the MicroRocket's long piezoelectric ignition, one can light the stove with the pot in place.  The ignition usually works on the first try.
When one compares the burners when folded for travel, it's quite clear that the MicroRocket is far more compact than the old PocketRocket.
The MSR MicroRocket (left) and the MSR PocketRocket (right)
When unfolded, the stoves are very close in size.  One thing I noted is that the valve control wire is a little bigger on the MicroRocket.  If you're pot is boiling over, it might be nice to have a slightly bigger, longer valve control wire.
The MSR PocketRocket (left) and the MSR MicroRocket (right)
The MSR PocketRocket (left) and the MSR MicroRocket (right)
I do notice what may be a very important difference:  The MicroRocket has far greater pot to burner clearance.  Notice in the photo above just how little clearance there is with a PocketRocket.  Why might this matter?  Carbon monoxide.  Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless gas that can be quite deadly.  If a burner is too close to the bottom of a pot, the burner's flame is "quenched" when it hits the bottom of the pot.  Quenching results in incomplete combustion, and incomplete combustion results in carbon monoxide emissions.

Every stove manufacturer has big warnings about how you should never operate your stove in a tent or other enclosed space.  And sooner or later, most of us are faced with a situation where not operating the stove in an enclosed space might actually be more dangerous.  Let's see.  There's a freezing rain falling outside.  Gee, I think I'll go cook my dinner outside.  Yeah, that'll be safe.  Hypothermia will never happen to me.

Ha!  I don't think so.  Having the option to be able to cook inside when you really have to could be really important.  The PocketRocket has received a some criticism (see Appendix "B," below) because of its relatively high level of carbon monoxide emissions.  If MSR has reduced the carbon monoxide emissions (and I believe that they have done just that), then the MicroRocket really is a step forward and not just a slicker, more compact PocketRocket II.
A look at the difference in burner clearance between the MicroRocket (left) and the PocketRocket (right)
I don't have the means to measure carbon monoxide, but I can see the clear and obvious difference between the amount of burner clearance.  So, while I can't give you a specific ppm carbon monoxide number, I can tell there's going to be an improvement.  Reduction in carbon monoxide emissions alone might justify an upgrade to the new MicroRocket.

In terms of burner stability, the MicroRocket is more stable than the PocketRocket.  How much more stable is hard to quantify, but my subjective sense was that the shorter pot supports are less springy and are more stable.
A PocketRocket (left) with a Titan kettle.  A MicroRocket (right) with a BPL Firelite 550
I tried the MicroRocket with a small BPL 550 pot/mug and a slightly larger MSR Titan kettle (850ml).  Both were quite stable.  I had no sense that a "lose your lunch" spill was going to happen at any minute.  I have not yet tried the MicroRocket with anything larger than the 850ml Titan kettle.
Testing a MicroRocket with an MSR Titan kettle
OK, OK, Jim, all this stuff is great, but can the darned thing cook?

Ah, well, I suppose we ought to tackle that one, now shouldn't we?  lol.
Boiling water on a MicroRocket
OK, fair enough.  So, test one:  boiling two cups of water.  With the two pots I used, it took about three and a half minutes to boil two cups of water with a moderate flame. I didn't see any pronounced speed difference between the two, but then I really am not a nanosecond ninny when it comes to boil times.  Let me get this straight:  You got up before dawn, got on the trail at first light, have hiked all day and have gained a vertical mile of elevation, and you're worried about which stove boils water twenty seconds faster?  Are you out of your mind?  Look, boil contests are the equivalent of two drunk males having a "mine's bigger" argument in a bar.  Nobody in their right mind cares.  So put the stop watch away.  The relevant thing to note here that the boil times are normal and you'll be fine with this stove.

Now, test two:  Simmering.  This is a task which the PocketRocket has received a bit of criticism over.  Let's try it out on the MicroRocket.  First, let's turn it down a bit.
A moderate boil on an MSR MicroRocket
OK, no problem so far.  I can get less than a raging boil that's trying to climb over the sides of the pot.  But that's not exactly simmering, now is it?  Let's see what else we can do.
A fairly low boil on a MicroRocket.
Now, that's actually pretty good.  I didn't have too much trouble at all bringing it to a pretty low boil.  This boil meets the technical definition of simmering which is the ability to hold water at or just below a low boil.  But can we go even lower?
A particularly low boil on a MicroRocket
Now, you'll have to trust me on this one, but the stove is in fact on.  If you look closely, you'll see one, maybe two bubbles coming up off the bottom of the pot.
A close up look at a very low simmer on a MicroRocket
Now that is a pretty darned good simmer.  I found it a little tricky, particularly in daylight, to adjust the flame down this low.  I did kill the flame once, but it really wasn't that bad.

OK, so, test three:  The sticky, gooey, I want to burn oatmeal test.
Simmering oatmeal on a MicroRocket
I simmered oatmeal for several minutes over a low flame.  So, how did it do?
The bottom of my pot after an oatmeal simmering test.
Zero, count 'em, zero burned spots.  The MicroRocket did pretty well, particularly when considering that I was using a titanium pot.  If it can do this well with a titanium pot, it'll do even better on aluminum.  Now, full disclosure, I stirred while simmering.  Hey, I'm a stovie not a magician, OK?  I mean, c'mon, let's be serious, you're going to have to stir some with titanium cookware if you want to avoid burnt spots, even on a low flame.  But while I did stir, I took no unusual or extraordinary measures.  I didn't stir frantically.  I didn't stir every blessed second.  In fact, I took a couple of breaks to take photos and such.  In other words, I just did normal things that any sensible person would do when simmering with titanium cookware.  The MSR MicroRocket was able to handle it.

A word of warning:  Every stove will have individual variations, stove to stove.  I doubt it, but there's always the possibility that I could have picked up the one MicroRocket stove with an unusually smooth valve or something like that. However, my sense is that this stove simmered well not because of a fluke but because of a good design.  I think MSR has put together a nice little stove here.

Well, there you have it, Trail Report #1 on the new MicroRocket.  Thanks for joining me on another Adventure in Stoving.

HJ

Appendix A:  Test Conditions
All tests described herein were conducted on a clear sunny day with temperatures of approximately 72F/22C at an elevation of approximately 3000ft/915m.  Winds were light, generally less than 3mph/5kph.  Water from a naturally occurring stream was used for all tests.  All stoves were run with butane gas carried in Snow Peak 110g canisters.

Appendix B:  References
Stoves, Tents and Carbon Monoxide - Deadly or Not? Part 3: Laboratory Measurements for Canister Stoves, by Roger Caffin, PhD.  Published on Backpackinglight.com, dated 2007-05-30
Note:  A subscription may be required to view this article.

9 comments:

  1. Thanks for the report. Very interesting reading and should I go back to gas or add it into my stove mix I will definitely consider a MicroRocket to replace my old SupeFly.

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  2. Thanks for the testing and article HJ. Was looking at getting the Pocketrocket for my niece now I think the micro will work better.

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  3. Aushiker,

    The MicroRocket will be like night vs. day when compared to a SuperFly. The SuperFly is a bit of a space hog. The MicroRocket will fit in a shirt pocket.

    HJ

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  4. Hi, Hobbs Corner,

    I am not the world's biggest PocketRocket fan. I think the MicroRocket is clearly the nicer stove. I think your niece will like it very much.

    HJ

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  5. I would take issue with the reviewers comments about built-in piezo-electric igniters. 10 years ago I retro-fitted an MSR Autostart Igniter (MSR 311763) to a Superfly stove head and it has worked faultlessly since that time over many extended backpacking trips. 2 years ago I transferred it to a new (and lighter) titanium Hi-gear head (which incidentally appear identical to the new but more expensive Fire Maple FMS-116T stove head) where it continues to give faultless service (even after being immersed in boiling soup!!!). At 12grms the MRS igniter seems to fit a range of gas stove heads and I would highly recommend it as a self fit for those wanting a built-in ignitor.

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    Replies
    1. Boy, my experience and the experience of a lot of others sure has been different, but that's great to hear that you've got a really good piezo ignition. QUESTION: Have you tried it above 10,000'? That's where I've really had problems, at higher elevations.

      Interestingly, MSR did not include a piezo ignition on their Reactor stove. Why? They felt it wasn't reliable enough.

      Also, on the new MSR MicroRocket, MSR made a separate piezo ignition in hope that having the ignition system not sit in the flame constantly would improve reliablility.

      HJ

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  6. We used the micro rocket with the new trail lite duo 2l pot last weekend with great results. Very solid even with a full pot of water

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  7. Great to hear. I think it's a great little stove.

    HJ

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  8. Great report! Deciding between these two has just become much easier. Cheers!

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