Sunday, November 9, 2014

The MSR Windburner – Trail Report #1

I took the new MSR Windburner out for some further testing.  I'm not quite ready to write the final review just yet, but I've got a pretty good sense of the stove now.  This post is what I call a "Trail Report".  I take the stove out on the trail and I report how well it did or did not do.

MSR Windburner Posts
So, further testing.  Our destination for testing is Mt. Williamson (8248'/2514m) in the San Gabriel Mountains.
Mt. Williamson (8248'/2514m), west face.
The summit of Mt. Williamson is exposed and typically fairly windy, perfect for testing a stove that claims to have good wind resistance.
View from the summit of Mt. Williamson looking out into the Mojave Desert. 
It was windy, but it wasn't quite as windy as I had hoped.  Still, I was able to get some good testing in.

Wind Resistance
First:  Wind resistance.  The stove did very well on the exposed summit of Mt. Williamson.  There were no problems when wind gusts would pick up.  I got a boil of 500 ml of water in approximately 2:10.  The water temperature was approximately 60F/15C.
The new MSR Windburner on the summit of Mt. Williamson
Heat Indicator Testing
The Windburner comes with a "heat indicator," a wire that is designed to glow redly quickly so that one knows that the burner is on and hot.  I wanted to check the functioning of the indicator.  Indeed, the heat indicator does glow quickly red, well before the rest of the burner is fully red.
The MSR Windburner's Heat Indicator wire glows a bright red.
The indicator wire was a little harder to see once the burner fully warmed up, but by then of course, one hardly needed an indicator wire to tell that the burner is on.
The Windburner's burner glows red.
Pot Stability
Naturally, I wanted to test pot stability.  The Windburner is a fairly tall stove, but it's actually pretty stable.  Here's a photo of my five year old daughter stirring the pot as we make lunch.  No problems with the stove being "tippy."  Now notice:  I do not have the canister stand on.  No issues with stability.  Note that I'm using a 227g sized canister here.  I do recommend the canister stand be used since it's so small and light, but if for some reason you didn't want to use it, things are reasonably stable with a 227g canister.  I think you'd be well advised to always use the canister legs with a smaller canister.
The Adventures in Stoving spokesmodel, demonstrating how stable the unit is.
The Windburner with Children
I got a question recently about whether or not the Windburner could be staked down for extra stability around children.  I had to admit that I didn't know.  So I thought I'd try it out.

The canister stand of the Windburner doesn't have any loops or holes that one could run a stake through, but if you turn the canister over, you'll notice that there's a fair amount of clearance between the bottom of the canister and the canister stand.
There is a gap between the canister stand and the bottom of the canister.
Now, say you had a pair of "shepard's hook" type stakes.
Two titanium shepard's hook type stakes.
All you'd have to do is loop the end of the hook over the triangular portion of the canister stand.
The Windburner's canister stand, staked down.
Now, I said there was some clearance under there, but is it enough to still fit on the canister?  Turns out there is.
A canister atop the staked down canister stand.
Here, I used two stakes.  It was reasonably secure.  It would probably be even more secure with three stakes.  Notice that I'm using a 227g sized canister.  With a smaller canister, there might not be enough clearance underneath the canister, but in that case, one could just loop the hook over the outer set of notches on the canister stand.

Handle Functionality
One of things I really like about the Windburner is that the handle can actually be used as a handle.  I found that I had good control and that the handle wasn't at all floppy.  There was no side to side movement.  Pouring was very steady.  Note in the photo below that I picked up the entire unit, including the gas canister.  No problem.  Plenty of leverage.
Pouring using the Windburner's excellent handle.
Photo credit: Hikin' Joyce (my daughter)
Heat Control and Simmering Ability
The Windburner's burner is substantially different than it's predecessor, the Reactor.  The Windburner's heat output is far more controllable.  But just how controllable?  Will it go down far enough to really simmer?

Before I answer that question, let me define what I mean by simmer.  A true simmer is the ability to hold the heat at a level such that the water inside the pot is at a very low boil.  In other words, a true simmer is just barely boiling.  Here's what a low boil might look like, in the photo below.  Note that there are just a few small bubbles.  The pot is not at a roiling boil.
An example of a very low boil.
I ran a series of tests where I would bring the water up to a full roiling boil, and then turn down the heat.  As I turned down the heat, I noticed that the stove would start to "growl".  As I turned down the heat further, the growling would start to pulse.  At very low heat, the stove would make a bit of a sputtering sound and then go out.  The flame would always go out before I could get to a level where the stove would simmer.  This was true atop breezy Mt. Williamson, and this was true in still air tests on my back patio.

UPDATE 29 November 2014:  I showed MSR some photos of my burner in operation.  They responded by saying that my burner didn't look right and that it certainly shouldn't burn for a while and then suddenly go out (as I reported above).  They shipped me a new burner.  I was quite pleased that they would ship me a new burner.  The new burner is quite stable on low.

So, how did I get the photo above of a very low boil?  Well, I took the pot off the stove for a minute and turned down the heat as far as I could.  I put the pot back on, and, voila, I got a low boil.  But I couldn't hold it at a low boil.  The boil's intensity would gradually increase until it would reach what I would describe as a moderate boil.  If one truly needed a very low simmer, taking the pot on and off a few times would do the trick, but I could not get a true simmer using the valve adjustment alone.

So, given the really good heat control that one does have on a Windburner, am I just being picky?  Well, possibly, but if one uses the true definition of simmer, the Windburner isn't quite there.  Flame control is good.  Flame control is a dramatic improvement over the Reactor.  But simmer?  No, not if you use a strict definition.

I want to give people an idea of the Windburner's size, so here are some photos that will hopefully give you a good sense of the Windburner's size.  The Windburner is just a bit shorter, perhaps 2 cm, than a one liter Nalgene bottle.
A Windburner, left, next to a one liter Nalgene bottle.
The Windburner is just a bit wider than a one liter Nalgene bottle.
A one liter Nalgene bottle fits inside a Windburner pot.
The Windburner's Cup/Bowl
As I mentioned in my First Look report, the Windburner's cup/bowl is very functional.  My daughter likes that it holds a nice cup of hot cocoa.
Hot cocoa in a Windburner's cup.
My wife and I like that the hot cocoa doesn't go down my daughter's shirt.
The Windburner's lid fits on the cup and helps prevent spills
I'm somewhat humorously using my daughter here, but I'm illustrating a real point:  The lid fits, fits well, and minimizes spills.  I think this could be a really handy feature for when one needs to wear mittens or gloves.

Do note that the cup is rather hot when filled with boiling water.  One needs to let it sit a bit or use a bandana or something to hold the cup.

The Cozy 
I noticed that the cup/bowl on the Windburner can be really difficult to remove if it slides too far up the sides of the Windburner's pot.  I asked MSR about this.  They replied that the cozy is intended to "lock" into place and prevent the cup/bowl from going up too far.  Mine doesn't lock, I informed them.   They said that they were aware of a problem with an early production run of the stoves and that they would send out a replacement cozy to anyone who requested one.  Good to know.

To remove the cozy, simply lift up on the tab underneath the handle as shown below and slide the cozy down, off the pot.
Lifting the tab shown here allows one to remove the pot cozy.
Then slide the new cozy onto the pot and let it lock onto the bracket welded to the side of the pot.
To put on a new cozy:
Aline the handle on the bracket shown here and slide the cozy up until it engages with the bracket.
Since I had to take the cozy off anyway, I took a look at it.  It's a very different structure than the neoprene cozy I've seen on other pots.
The MSR Windburner's pot cozy.  Note plastic latticework.
The cozy does work in terms of insulating the pot from one's hands, but I found it uncomfortably hot to hold the pot by the cozy.  The Windburner's handle is a good one, and I recommend that you just use the handle.

While I had the cozy off, I also weighed it.  I was a bit surprised to see that the cozy and handle assembly weighed 49 g/1.7 oz, which struck me as slightly heavy.  The cozy on my Jetboil Sol weighs 24g by comparison (note that the Jetboil Sol has a smaller pot).  I believe the weight is a sort of by product of having a handle that can actually be used as a handle.  A simple neoprene cozy just wouldn't support a decent handle.  If one were truly concerned about weight, one could remove the cozy and leave it at home.  Be sure to bring a bandana or hot pad with which to grip the pot if you remove the cozy and handle.
The Windburner's pot, sans cozy.

So, there you have it, Trail Report #1 and a few more observations concerning the Windburner.

I thank you for joining me,


The author atop peak 8140+ (near Mt. Williamson).
Photo credit:  Hikin' Joyce (my daughter)
The item reviewed here was provided to me at no charge for the purposes of this review.  I am under no obligation to review this or any other item.  I am not compensated for my reviews in any fashion other than in some cases I am permitted to keep the item reviewed.  Given that I have well over a 100 backpacking stoves, a free stove frankly isn't going to buy anyone a good review.  Stove companies must measure up if they want a decent review here.  I am an amatuer stove blogger; I make my living elsewhere, in the IT field.  I fit blogging in as time permits.  Inasmuch as my income is derived elsewhere, monetary issues do not influence the reviews on this blog.  Yes, I do have advertisements on the blog.  I typically derive about $1.00 USD per day from the advertisements (last I checked).  This is a mere pittance and does not influence my reviews in the slightest.  Revenue from the advertisements goes toward hosting fees, stove fuel, and the like.  The blog is self supporting in that sense, and my wife is quite happy that I'm not using the family's income to run the blog, particularly given how tough the economy is these days.


  1. Nice idea staking down the stove!
    On the same note: Will you have a chance to try out the MSR hanging kit?

    1. Stefan, I don't have the hanging kit that is specifically made for the Windboiler. I do have the hanging kit for the Reactor. I tried the Reactor hanging kit on the Windboiler, and it worked fine. I will post photos soon.


  2. Thanks Jim, I already saw one of your pictures of the hanging kit over at the UKC :-)

    1. I've now done a short post on the hanging kit. Have a look.


  3. As someone without an integrated stove/pot (jetboil/prima eta/msr windboiler) just curious if this is the top of the current heap or if I should really consider a jetboil. Cheers

    1. Miles, I've just posted some preliminary observations so far. Give me two more weeks, and I should be able to complete my review. Until then, I'm going to hold back on giving an opinion.


  4. I enjoyed your review. I received my new Windboiler and had a devil of a time getting the base cup to come off. It has three raised ridges in a line one the inside of the cup that fit into a groove on the boiler that goes around the circumference to lock the cup in place. But every darned time I tried to take it off it was a chore. MSR said that their cozy is designed to keep the cup from riding up that high but that's a dodge. The cup ridges are DESIGNED to fit in the boiler's groove, and their cozy compounds the problem by overlapping the cup which makes it even more difficult to dislodge.
    But I FIXED the problem. I took my Swiss Army Knife and shaved the three ridges inside the base cup, essentially flattening them out so that can't lock into the groove as tightly. They will still fit in the groove and stay secure during transport, but now they dislodge much more easily when you want them to. Don't over-flatten the ridges. Make it so that you can dislodge the cup by rocking it side to side as you pull.

    1. Ah, John, that's an excellent idea. It's freaking touch to get that cup off some times. What a pain in the neck it is. I'm going to try this.



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