Sunday, November 2, 2014

The New MSR Windboiler – "First Look" Report

MSR (Mountain Safety Research, Seattle, WA, USA, a division of Cascade Designs) has come out with a new stove system:  The Windboiler.  I just got it on Friday, but I thought I'd share with you a few photos as a sort of a "first look" at this new stove system.  This looks like MSR's attempt to bring it's windproof Reactor technology to the masses and compete with JetBoil head on.  I'll discuss my thoughts on the Windboiler vs. the Jetboil as well as the future of the Reactor line of stoves in a bit, but first let's review the features.  I'll include a table of component weights in the appendix at the end.

UPDATE, 8 November 2014:  I've revised the component weights in the appendix to list the cozy/handle assembly and the pot (bare metal only) as two separate figures.  For those wishing to lighten the unit, the cozy could be left at home, saving 49g/1.7 oz.  Likewise, the bowl could be left at home, saving 32g/1.1 oz.  If both the cozy and the bowl were left at home, one would save 81g/2.8 oz.   Interestingly, in this configuration, the Windboiler would be only about 1 oz. heavier than the stated 12 oz. weight of the Jetboil Zip.  Of course,  if one had a Zip, one could also leave behind the cup and cozy.  I mention the weight merely for comparative purposes.

UPDATE, 7 January 2015:  I've received a note from MSR stating that production units are coming in heavier than the prototype units that the weights were calculated from.  MSR gave me a range.  Basically the unit I received is about in the middle of that range.  A weight just over 16 ounces should be about the weight of a unit that you would receive should you purchase one.  I might add that MSR was a bit chagrined about the miscalculation of the weights since they try to be transparent about such things.  I don't yet have an exact number for the revised stated weight, but it should be about 460 grams/16.2 ounces.

MSR Windboiler Posts
So here it is, a very nice integrated canister stove system, the MSR Windboiler:
The new (2014) MSR Windboiler.  About 104mm by 171mm, packed.
Packed Dimensions:  The pot is about 104 mm/4.1" wide at the lip.  The lid extends out another millimeter or so beyond the lip of the pot.  The handle when folded for stowage adds about 1 cm/0.4" to the width.  When packed, the Windboiler is about 171 mm/6.7" tall.  The handle when folded for stowage adds another 5mm/0.2" to the height, but the handle is soft nylon at that point and it can be squished down.  About 2mm/0.08" is the actual jut up above the lid if the handle is squished down.

The first thing I noticed was the cup on the bottom.  It's got a capacity of 500ml which is pretty nice.  Really, it's big enough to be used as a bowl as well as a cup.  Throw a spoon in your pack, and basically you've got a complete cooking and eating set up.  Note:  The pot is anodized aluminum; it's probably best to use a plastic (or other non-metal) spoon to avoid scratching.

The cup/bowl affixes very firmly to the bottom of the pot.  I can't see that cup/bowl ever falling off inside your pack.  In fact, I found the cup/bowl annoyingly difficult to remove.  Perhaps it will become easier with time.  Maybe I'm missing something, but I think it would be difficult to remove the pot with mittens on, at least while the bowl is new.  Perhaps a bit of sandpaper on the little plastic tabs that hold the bowl on is in order.

The cup/bowl is marked as being able to withstand temperatures up to 220° F/105° C.  In other words, the cup can handle water at full boil.
The Windboiler's cup/bowl has a capacity of 500 ml/16.9 fl oz and can withstand temperatures up to 220° F/105° C.
Inside the cup/bowl are volumetric markings in both metric and English units.
The cup/bowl has both English and metric markings.
The cup/bowl is big enough to accommodate a standard 110g gas canister.
A 110g gas canister fits inside the cup/bowl
Now, I know what you're thinking.  You're thinking, "why the heck would I want to put a gas canister in the bowl?  I'm not going to eat the danged thing!"  Well, quite right, but think about cold weather.  An upright canister stove like the Windboiler has a cold weather lower operating limit of about 20° F/-7°C.  How do you safely keep your stove going when the weather starts approaching 20° F/-7°C?  You put the canister in warmish water of course.  Note:  Never use hot water; that could be quite dangerous.  Isobutane will continue to vaporize and have good pressure if it is kept above that 20° F/-7°C lower limit.  Water freezes at 32°F/0°C, so liquid water will always be well above the the lower operating limit of the Windboiler.  As long as the water remains liquid, the canister should have enough gas pressure to run your stove well.  Obviously, it's not essential to have the bowl be able to accommodate a canister; I mean you could bring a separate bowl, right?   But why bother when you've already got a bowl on hand?  Multi-use is the name of the weight saving game when you're carrying everything on your back.  I think this is a nice feature for climbers or others who go out in cold weather.

The lid from the Windboiler's pot doubles as a lid for the bowl.  And it's not a kludge either; it's a perfect fit.
The lid from the Windboiler's pot fits perfectly on to the cup/bowl.
Since I'm on the subject, the Windboiler's pot lid is a pretty nice lid.  As you can see in the above photo, the pot lid has both a drinking hole as well as a strainer.  The central hole will support a coffee press (sold separately) for your morning brew.  The lid also has a nice tab which helps pop the lid off.  The lid fits quite tightly on both the pot and the cup/bowl and will not fall off easily inside your pack when the stove is packed.
The Windboiler's lid has a convenient tab for easy removal of the lid from the pot or cup/bowl.
After looking at the cup/bowl and lid, the next thing that struck me was the pot's handle.
The pot handle of the Windboiler appears to be woven nylon containing plastic stiffeners
Gone is the "flop over the top" handle that has been characteristic of the Reactor line of stoves from MSR.  Unlike the strap on the side of a Jetboil pot, the Windboiler's handle is truly a handle.  It can be used to lift the pot or for pouring.
The handle of the Windboiler is stiff enough to use for pouring.
One of the complaints about the Jetboil is that their handle is really more of a strap.  You're supposed to slide your hand under the strap on a Jetboil and hold the pot by the cozy.  Not so with the Windboiler.  The lower part of the handle is affixed directly to the cozy.  The handle appears to be of woven nylon with plastic stiffeners inside.  The combination of stiffness and a fixed point at the base of the handle gives one good leverage and control, yet the handle folds flat for when you want to put it in your pack.  Pretty nice.  Good job, MSR.

The cozy itself is interesting.  The cozy on a Jetboil appears to be made of neoprene with a nylon facing.  The Windboiler's cozy, from what I could tell without tearing things apart, consists of "ribs" made of some high temperature plastic over which is affixed a nylon cover.  I note that the nylon cover does have rather appealing artwork.  If you look closely at the below photo, you may be able to see the "ribs" underlying the nylon cover.
The Windboiler's pot cozy
As to the pot itself, it's a nicely anodized aluminum pot.  The interior of the pot has volumetric markings in both English and metric units.
The inside of the Windboiler's pot. Note volumetric markings.
The base of the pot has a Reactor type heat exchanger consisting of fins and exhaust vents.  See my review of the Reactor for a discussion of the Reactor's unique, high-efficiency heat exchanger system (in Appendix II of my Reactor review).  Note that the fins on the Windboiler do not radiate straight out from the center; they proceed an an angle.  This is brilliant.  This forces exhaust gasses along a longer heat exchanger fin thereby effecting a greater heat transfer to the pot.  Note:  I have read that the particular configuration of the fins may cause air flow patterns that increase the time that the hot exhaust is in contact with the fins and bottom of pot.  I have no way of verifying this, therefore I can't comment any further.
Heat exchanger fins on the bottom of the new Windboiler
Now, notice something else different about the Windboiler.  Whereas Reactor pots have always fit over the burner, the Windboiler pot necks down at the bottom and fits into the burner.
The heat exchanger assembly on a Windboiler fits into the burner.
Note also the slots on the lower rim of the pot.  The pot now attaches firmly to dimples on the burner.  No longer is the pot held in place by gravity alone.  Note here that I'm holding the Windboiler by the pot handle but that the burner is not falling off onto the ground.
The Windboiler's pot affixes firmly to the burner.
The slots on the base of the Windboiler accommodate the dimples seen on the inside rim of the burner in the below photo.
Dimples on the inside of the rim of the burner slip into slots on the base of the pot, locking the system together
There are only four dimples on the inside of the burner rim, but does one have to "hunt around" in order to match the dimples to the slots?  No, not at all.  The pot has a full dozen slots.  There's practically no way to miss the dimples.  Just insert the pot into the rim of the burner and rotate clockwise; the pot will lock into place.

Now, regarding the burner, it's quite a bit taller than the Reactor's burner.
The Windboiler's burner
The burner column is protected by a perforated stainless steel windscreen.  At the base of the windscreen is a "collar" by which one should always grip the stove, particularly when the stove is hot.  One should avoid gripping the stove by the windscreen which could deform.

Inside the windscreen is a fairly conventional looking ported burner column.  Gone are the Venturi tubes that feed the Reactor's burner.  There's a lot of open space inside the Windboiler's windscreen.
A look inside the windscreen of a Windboiler
I note that the burner has brass threads which is consistent with a high end canister gas stove.  The valve control handle folds neatly back over the burner's connector.
The Windboiler has high quality brass threads.  The valve control handle folds neatly out of the way.
The valve handle is quite long which might be handy if one were wearing mittens.  I suppose the long handle might be nice too if the pot boiled over and boiling water were running down the sides of the pot.  Of course you're careful, and that would never happen to you.  But for someone else, someone a bit clumsy, it might be really nice.  Just saying.

The burner head looks fairly similar to the Reactor's burner head.  I do note that the uber cool MSR logo embedded in the burner is not included on the Windboiler.  Here's a photo of a Reactor burner in use:
A Reactor burner.  Note the MSR logo embedded in the burner.
Now, compare that to the Windboiler's burner.  Alas, no logo.
The Windboiler burner.  No logo.
Now, notice something else.  The Reactor's burner glows red evenly through out.  The Windboiler's burner glowed red only in the center in the tests I've conducted so far.  I'm not quite sure what's causing this, but clearly the Windboiler's burner is a new burner design.  I'm sure the Windboiler's burner design owes much to the Reactor, but one look at the burner column, and you'll see that this is really a new burner.

The burner was no slacker though.  I got a boil on 500 ml of water in a little over 2:10, and it was a boil most vigorous.  Please note that I've only had the stove a few days and have not done an extensive battery of tests.  In other words, if your Windboiler doesn't boil 500 ml in exactly 2:10, don't be surprised.
500 ml of water vigorously boiling on a Windboiler
Now, here's the interesting part.  I wanted to see what kind of flame control the Windboiler has.  One of the complaints about the Reactor is that it's all but impossible to get a Reactor to simmer.  So, from the above vigorous boil, when I turned the stove down, I got... a very low simmer!
Simmering on a Windboiler
Now, I by no means have done an extensive battery of tests on the Windboiler, but I was able to get it to simmer repeatedly.  I'm not quite prepared to go on record (yet) as stating that the Windboiler is a good simmering stove, but my preliminary tests were highly encouraging.

Included with the Windboiler is this little square of absorbent material.  This is to protect the bottom of your anodized pot.
A square of padding comes with the Windboiler
Also included are some canister "legs" (a canister stand) which are very nicely designed:  They're very compact but work well.
The included canister stand of the Windboiler, unfolded.
The legs fold up into a tidy little triangle.
The canister stand of the Windboiler, folded.
On many stoves, a canister stand is a "nice to have", but isn't really necessary. The Windboiler is a fairly tall set up.  I think the canister stand is a good idea.  The canister stand fit on every brand of canister I tried, most of which are of a standard size.  The one exception is Coleman brand 220g canisters which are about a millimeter wider than everyone else's.  The Windboiler's canister stand did fit a Coleman brand canister, but it was a very tight fit.

UPDATE, 7 January 2015:  MSR has slightly changed the canister stand to beef up the joints since I wrote my review.  I'll try to get a hold of a new one and report more when I can.

Now, I said that the Windboiler is a tall set up.  Just how tall is it?  With a 110g canister and the canister stand attached, I measure it at approximately 13"/ 33cm.
The Windboiler is approx. 13"/33cm tall with a 110g canister and the canister stand attached.
With a 227g canister and the canister stand attached, I measure it at approximately 14"/ 35.6cm.
The Windboiler is approx. 14"/35.6cm tall with a 227g canister and the canister stand attached.
With a 450g canister and the canister stand attached, I measure it at approximately 16"/ 40.6cm.
The Windboiler is approx. 16"/40.6cm tall with a 450g canister and the canister stand attached.
OK, so it's a fairly tall set up, but is that a problem?  In my experience, no.  In the photo below, I'm conducting what I call a tip test.  I set the Windboiler on a rock at a ridiculous angle, an angle you'd never actually use the stove at.  I then poured 500 ml of water into it.  It didn't tip.  Do note that I carefully positioned one of the three legs pointing straight downhill.  Not recommended for actual cooking!
The tip test.  It didn't (tip that is).
Packing Up
Now, as you might expect, everything fits together well.  First, the canister legs fit over the top of cap on the canister.  Note that not all caps are of the same size for all brands of canisters, but the leg should still pack well even if they don't fit tightly on some brands of canister.  That said, most canister brands are made by a single manufacturer in Korea and have the same exact cap as an MSR canister (except that the color of the cap may vary).

Update 4 Nov 2014:  I just watched MSR's video on the Windboiler.  MSR's video shows the canister legs going in last, not first as I'm suggesting here.  In actual practice, either will work, although I think MSR's way is slightly easier.  Take your pick.  Note:  I frequently will not watch/read materials from a stove company until I've had a chance to assess the stove myself.  I want to avoid going in to the review process with pre-conceived notions.
The canister stand pops snugly on to the cap of a canister.
The the bottom of the canister fits nicely over the burner.
The components of a Windboiler ready to go into the pot.
Put the little absorbent square in the bottom of the pot and feed everything into the pot in the follow order:  Canister stand, canister, with the burner last.  Then pop the lid on.  The fit is tight with a canister, but fit it does, and the lid is quite snug and holds everything in place well.  Note that only with a 110g  sized canister can all components be stored inside the pot.  Larger canisters will not fit in the pot.
The MSR Windboiler, all packed up with a 110g canister inside.
The Windboiler vs. The Jetboil.
Well, just judging by the name of the stove alone, it looks as though MSR is moving into direct competition with Jetboil.  Heretofore, MSR confined itself to a fairly high end niche with it's highly wind resistant Reactor.  The main target audience was serious alpine climbers and the like who needed a stove that would operate in high winds and melt snow fast – and had the means to pay for it.  The Reactor is not an inexpensive stove at $190.00 MSRP (1.0 L size).  With the introduction of the Windboiler (MSRP $130.00), MSR has introduced a far more affordable stove that will appeal to a much wider audience.  If the promise of the ability to simmer pans out (I'm not done with my testing just yet), MSR may have a truly versatile stove on it's hands.   Note however, that MSR is still competing on the high end.  It will be hard for the Windboiler at $130 to compete with the Jetboil Zip at $80.  Likewise the Jetboil Flash at $100 will be tough for the Windboiler to compete against.  However, Jetboil's latest offering, the Mini-Mo at $130, will have to go head to head with the Windboiler.  May the best stove win.

Note 1:  Jetboil seems to be discontinuing it's Sol stove, both the aluminum and titanium versions, therefore I have not included the Sol in the above discussion.  However at $120 (aluminum version) and $150 (titanium version), the Sol's prices would seem in line with the Windboiler's.

Note 2:  The Jetboil Joule is an inverted canister stove intended for winter conditions.  It's a different class of stove and is not included in this discussion.

The Future of the Reactor
Well, if I can get Reactor technology for $130 (in the Windboiler), why should I pay upwards of $190 for a Reactor?  Good question, but I wouldn't count the Reactor out just yet.
Companions? Or competitors?
The MSR Reactor, left, and the MSR Windboiler, right.
I haven't completed my testing, so I'm speculating a bit here, but the Reactor appears to be the more powerful, more windproof stove.  Yes, you've got Reactor technology in the Windboiler, but that doesn't make it a Reactor.  I imagine there's still a place for the Reactor, particularly for the serious alpine climber.  Note also that the Reactor has a variety of pot sizes available to it  (1.0L, 1.7L, and 2.5L) whereas the Windboiler only comes in a one liter size.  The Windboiler might kill the 1.0 L Reactor (maybe), but it may not hurt the larger sized Reactors.  MSR could make larger pots for the Windboiler burner (as Jetboil has with their Sumo pot), but we will have to wait and see on that.  In the mean time, I hope to conduct some Reactor vs. Windboiler tests to look at things like speed, efficiency, and windproofness.  I imagine the Reactor will win at speed and wind resistance, but that the Windboiler will do nearly as well as a Reactor on efficiency, but of course I haven't yet done the testing.  Regardless of whether or not the Reactor is faster and more windproof, the Windboiler will cut into Reactor sales.  MSR is taking a bit of a gamble here.  They're leaving the safe harbor Reactor niche market and moving out into the open seas of direct competition with Jetboil.  The Windboiler has to sell well enough to make up for the loss of at least some Reactor sales as well as generate enough revenue to cover product development.  Good luck to MSR; competing against Jetboil in this space is no small task.

There's our first look at the new Windboiler, a very impressive stove.  As always, I thank you for joining me,


Appendix – Component Weights

MSR Windboiler Weights
Component Grams Ounces
Pot (bare) 147 5.19
Cozy & Handle 49 1.73
Bowl 32 1.13
Pack Cloth 1 0.04
Canister Legs 16 0.56
Lid 13 0.46
Burner 199 7.02
Total 457 16.12

Stated vs. Measured Weights
Grams Ounces
Measured 457 16.12
Stated 432 15.24
Difference 25 0.88

Note:  "Stated" weights are the weights listed on the MSR website.  "Measured" weights are those weights I measured with my gram scale at home.  All measurements were made in grams.  Weights in ounces are a calculated figure.  Some rounding error may occur.  In the case of any apparent discrepancy, use the weight in grams.  

Commentary on weights:  You'll notice that the actual weight of the unit I received is a bit heavier than the weight stated on MSR's website.  This is probably just due to normal variations in the manufacturing process.  If you read my review of the 1.0 L Reactor, you'll see that the weight difference went the other way.  The 1.0 Reactor that I received was 25 g lighter than the stated weight.  Hopefully, if one were to weigh several dozen Windboilers, the average would be very close to the stated weight.  Individual units are going to vary a bit as to weight; that's just how it is.

UPDATE, 7 January 2015:  I've received a note from MSR stating that production units are coming in heavier than the prototype units that the weights were calculated from.  MSR gave me a range.  Basically the unit I received is about in the middle of that range.  A weight just over 16 ounces should be about the weight of a unit that you would receive should you purchase one.  I might add that MSR was a bit chagrined about the miscalculation of the weights since they try to be transparent about such things.  I don't yet have an exact number for the revised stated weight, but it should be about 460 grams/16.2 ounces.

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. Thanks for another fine post! Have you measured the diameter and height of the stove when packed? I mean, the packed size is a valuable information too, and MSR has not yet submitted this information.

    1. Good questions, Stefan. I'll post those figures as soon as I can.


    2. Stefan, those figures are now posted.