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Thursday, April 6, 2017

Integrated Canister Stoves – The State of the Art

I thought I'd conduct a survey of the integrated canister stoves available today (e.g. Jetboil, Reactor, etc.).  I therefore give you:  Integrated Canister Stoves – The State of the Art.
Integrated Canister Stoves
Left to right:  Jetboil Joule, Jetboil Sumo, original Jetboil PCS, Jetboil Sol

I recently posted a table of "regular" upright (top-mounted) canister stoves in my Upright Canister Stoves – The State of the Art article.  Today's article is in the same vein – but it pertains to a different class of stoves, i.e. those stoves that are "integrated" in that they are not just a burner but rather are a complete system that includes both a pot and a burner that are designed to work together.  Typically such stoves are the high end product for a given company and are usually highly efficient and have special features like heat exchangers and frequently have regulator valves.

A Jetboil Joule, left.  An MSR Reactor (2.5 Liter size), right

Click to enlarge this graphic:
A comparative table of integrated canister stoves in order by brand and then stove within brand.
Click to enlarge
Absent from this table are stoves from Kovea and Fire Maple as well as some other lesser known integrated canister stoves.  I'll keep adding to this table as time permits.

Discussion
How do you pick which one might suit your needs?  Well, the table above may be sufficient alone, but let me make some additional comments:

Wind
If you think you'll be facing windy conditions on a regular basis, then there is no better choice than an MSR integrated canister stove, either the Reactor or the Windburner.  These MSR stoves scoff at wind.  They are just the absolutely most "bombproof" stoves in wind, bar none.  I've been on multiple desert trips where Jetboil stoves wouldn't stay lit in gusty winds and I just couldn't boil water – at all.  In those same conditions, my MSR Windburner acted as though nothing unusual were occurring.  These MSR stoves are amazingly wind proof.  Did I mention amazing?

The Reactor is geared towards mountaineers and is a powerful stove suitable for snow melting.  It can also burn through a lot of fuel if you let it. The Reactor is quite expensive. The Windburner is more targeted towards backpackers and is at a far more reasonable price.

When the Windburner came out, Jetboil started advertising the rail upon which the pot rests as a "windscreen."  Ha!  What a joke.  The Jetboil may have many features, but a windscreen is not one of them.  Saying that a Jetboil has a built in windscreen is wishful thinking and is just marketing spin on the part of Jetboil.

Doubt my word?  Check out the two videos on this blog post:  Jetboil Sol vs. MSR Windburner – Wind Testing.  NOTE:  In the video, you'll hear me call the Windburner the "Windboiler" which was the name of the stove until Jetboil threatened legal action.  MSR renamed the Windboiler to the Windburner, but I had already made and posted the video.  In your mind, just substitute "Windburner" every time you hear me say "Windboiler."  They are one and the same stove.

Cold
If you're going to be operating in temperatures below 0 Celsius (32 Fahrenheit), then it behooves you to get a stove with a regulator valve.  Why?  See my recent article:  Gas Stoves in Cold Weather – Regulator Valves and Inverted Canisters.  Yes, they cost more, but they perform better in cold weather – read the article.  It will explain the whys and wherefores of cold weather canister stove technology as well as offer tips and tricks.

High Elevation
Don't worry about it.  You heard me right; don't worry about high elevation with respect to canister gas stoves.  The spiel about elevation affecting canister gas stoves in a negative way is a myth.  It got started in the 1970's when 100% n-butane (normal butane) was used as a fuel.  N-butane is a lousy cold weather fuel.  When people went high (where it was cold), the stoves often didn't work.  Thus gas stoves got associated with not working well at high elevation when in fact with 100% n-butane, they wouldn't have worked any better at sea level.  The really issue was a crappy fuel.

Today, we don't use just straight n-butane.  We use fairly sophisticated blends of propane, isobutane, and n-butane.  These blends work a heck of a lot better in cold weather than 100% n-butane. High elevation has nothing to do with it, so don't worry about it.

Real Cooking
Once I was out with some friends at a beautiful lake in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.  They caught some nice, tasty trout.  They had a Jetboil.  They boiled the trout.  Yuck!  What a waste of precious trout!  The next day, they caught more trout and wisely came to me (I didn't have a Jetboil with me on that trip) and traded their fish for some time on my stove.  Yum!  It was delicious!

Now, don't get me wrong, a Jetboil is a great stove, but it's tall and skinny.  It's really not meant for frying fish.  It's great for boiling water, but it's lousy for doing any real cooking.  Yes, you can use their little steel adapter and then use some other pot or pan on a Jetboil burner, but that sort of defeats the purpose.   I mean the great efficiency of a Jetboil is due to it's special heat exchanger pot.  Absent that pot, a Jetboil burner is pretty ordinary.  Oh, and yeah, you have to keep track of the steel thingy to use with other pots – and it's extra weight.  You're better off with a Jetboil Mini-Mo or a Primus Eta Express stove system which have wider pots.  The Eta Express is the wider of the two and has a really nice non-stick coating.  For those who want to do real cooking and use an integrated canister stove, the Eta Express is actually a really nice option.  For my review of the Eta Express, here's a link: Review – The Primus Eta Express stove system.  Note also that the Eta Express system can use any pot or pan without any adapters or modifications.  There's no steel thingy to carry and keep track of with the Eta Express.

Price
The Jetboil Zip is the low price leader.  If you're looking to save bucks, the Zip might be your best option.  However, be aware that the Zip has no ignition and has only 800 ml capacity.

The Jetboil Flash series is a nice moderately priced (for an integrated canister stove) option that has a built in piezoelectric ignition.

Size
If you want to save a little weight, the 800 ml size pots that come with the Zip, Flash Lite, and Micro Mo might be a good option, but realize that you can only boil about 500 ml at a time (two cups).  That's basically just dinner alone when using an 800 ml pot.  If you want dinner and a cup of tea or hot chocolate, then you'll probably want to get the full one liter size.  NOTE:  You have to leave some "margin for error" at the top of a pot of a Jetboil type stove because the can rapidly boil over, so you typically only want to boil about 500 ml of water with an 800 ml Jetboil pot and only boil 750 ml of water with a one liter Jetboil pot.

If you need more capacity, Jetboil sells a 1.8 L pot called the Sumo.  Jetboil also sells a frying pan for use with its stoves.  I have not used the Jetboil frying pan, but in general it has gotten a lot of negative reviews.  Most people say "save your money."

MSR has 1.0, 1.7, and 2.5 liter pots available for its Reactor system and 1.0 and 1.8 L pots available for its Windburner system.  MSR also has a frying pan available for its Windburner system.  I have not yet tested the frying pan.

Primus has 1.0, 1.8, and 3.0 liter pots available for it's Eta Express system, but note that you can use any pot or pan with the Eta Express system.

The Primus Eta Express system is the most versatile integrated canister stove system.

Hikin' Jim's Pick
If I had to take my pick, my pick would probably be the Primus Eta Express system for all around general use. All of the stove systems herein listed are good integrated canister stove systems.  I don't dislike any of them (note that I have not tried the Primus Eta Lite series of stoves), but I think the Eta Express system is the most versatile.  With the Eta Express I can use any pot or pan without having an adapter, and it's wide and has a good non-stick coating, so I can do real cooking in it if I want to.

However, were I facing wind, I would pick a Reactor or Windburner.  Were I facing cold, I'd pick one of the regulator valved stoves which will in general perform better in cold weather.  The Eta Express does not have a regulator valve.

Deal alert!  This is going to sound like I'm selling something (I'm not; I receive no benefit from the purchase of any stove), but I do note that as of this writing Massdrop has the Eta Express on sale for $75 to $80, depending on how many people sign up for the "drop" (group buy).  That's a heck of a price for a MSRP $130 stove system. A "drop" on Massdrop only lasts about a week or so.  If you want to sign up for Massdrop, here's a link:  https://www.massdrop.com/r/ETFBT7. I do get some benefit from that link, maybe a free T shirt or something if enough people sign up (and buy something).  If you use that link, I thank you, but please just buy what you need.  I have plenty of T shirts.

Final Remarks
So, there's my survey of the state of the art of integrated canister stove.  I'll add more (I'm reviewing a Kovea stove now) as time permits.

Thanks for joining me,

HJ

Disclosures:  Massdrop provided me with an Eta Express stove system for the purposes of my review.  I assume that the reason that Massdrop is now offering the Eta Express system on sale is that my review just came out.  Note that I do not receive any compensation from Massdrop for my reviews other than my getting to keep the stove that I reviewed.  Inasmuch as I actually really liked the Eta Express, I suppose you could say that is a benefit, but I try really hard to review stoves objectively regardless of their personal appeal.  I for example don't do a lot of winter group trips, but I've spent a considerable amount of time working with the Reactor and Joule stoves simply because they're fascinating stoves and deserve a fair shake.  I receive no percentage of any sales, no salary from any outdoors brand, and have no financial relationship with any stove company.  I have purchased items from Massdrop using my own money just as anyone else from the buying public would.  I did get some free socks from Massdrop at one point, partly to get my opinion of them.  I don't really consider socks a financial relationship, but there you have it; my cards are all on the table.  Now, if Massdrop offered me a six pack of beer or some nice thank you chocolates, it would be rude of me to refuse, now wouldn't it?  Are you listening, Massdrop? I like dark chocolate, OK?

As I wrote above, i
f you want to sign up for Massdrop, here's a link:  https://www.massdrop.com/r/ETFBT7. I do get some benefit from that link, maybe a free T shirt or something, if enough people sign up (and make a purchase).  If you use that link, thank you very much, but please don't feel obligated.


Below is an HTML version of the above table which may be easier to read in some browsers.
Adventures In Stoving -- https://AdventuresInStoving.blogspot.com
Brand Stove BTU Grams Oz's Size $$'s Pros Cons Comments
Jetboil Flash 4,500 397 14.0 1.0 L $100 Moderate price Not as good in cold weather as regulated burners Basic 1 liter Jetboil
Jetboil Flash Lite 4,500 312 11.0 0.8 L $100 Moderate price Not as good in cold weather as regulated burners Basic 0.8 liter Jetboil
Jetboil Joule 10,000 715 25.2 2.5 L $200 Fastest stove ever.  Regulator valve; inverted canister. Fuel hog.  Unstable.  Only uses 100 and 230 g size canisters.  Big and klunky.   Best cold weather Jetboil.
Jetboil Micro Mo 6,000 340 12.0 0.8 L $140 Regulator valve Better in cold weather than Flash
Jetboil Mini Mo 6,000 415 14.6 1.0 L $130 Regulator valve.  Wider pot for easier access Better in cold weather than Flash
Jetboil Zip 4,500 333 11.7 0.8 L $80 Least Expensive No piezo ignition.   Economy model Jetboil
MSR Reactor 9,000 417 14.7 1.0 L $200 Regulator valve, extremely  wind resistant.  Good handle. No piezo ignition.  Expensive. Very fast.  Turn down to save fuel.  Very popular with mountaineer for snow melting.
MSR Windburner 7,000 432 15.2 1.0 L $140 Regulator valve, extremely  wind resistant. Nice handle. Heaviest 1 liter integrated canister stove. No piezo ignition.   More targeted towards backpackers whereas the Reactor is more toward mountaineers.
Primus Eta Express 8,900 395 13.9 1.0 L $130 Wide pot; easy access.  Nice non-stick coating "Windscreen" is a joke; leave it at home. Very fast.  Turn down to save fuel.  Very good unit overall despite bad windscreen.
Primus Eta Lite 4,500 360 12.7 0.5 L $105 Haven't ever seen; can't comment.
Primus Eta Lite+ 4,500 390 13.8 0.5 L $115 Haven't ever seen; can't comment.
Adventures In Stoving -- https://AdventuresInStoving.blogspot.com

4 comments:

  1. Howdy, Hikin' Jim!

    Nice job on comparing all the various systems available for Integrated Canister stoves. I've only tried the regular Jetboil, which I found seriously falling short, for our style of cooking, and have no experience with any other Jetboil products.

    Once we bought our first Reactor, we stopped looking at the rest of them! It was fantastic in the wind, worked nicely at all altitudes at which we've tried it so far, and can actually COOK food, if you are careful and learn your stove!! We now have two MSR Reactors, and One Windburner, which is OK, but no rival to the slightly larger Reactor. We have learned one very important thing, however: NEVER walk away from your Reactor when it's running!! You may recall that I did that, once, and when I got back to it, the water had boiled away, the bottom of the pot had burned completely through (photos to prove it!), and the Lexan lid had evaporated!!! Flames were shooting out the top of the pot, like a flame thrower!! The canvas tent, in which I was using it, was filled with black, acrid smoke, and I could have burned down the works, had I not returned in time!! When I reached down to touch the canister, it was ice cold, and using it, I gingerly picked up the blazing works, and tossed it outside the tent!! Guess what? Though the pot was a total loss, the Reactor was just fine, and in fact, all these years later, we still use it!!! THAT is one safe stove, in such cases, and I wonder how any others of it's ilk would have made out. In any case, the Reactor earned our trust, love, and yes, respect!!! That's why we NEVER walk away from it anymore!!

    Again, nice article, and hey, see you next week!! Take care, and God Bless!

    Every Good Wish,
    Doc

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    1. Hi, Doc,

      Thanks for your comments -- and for your warning.

      I've actually been able to get the Reactor to do a decent simmer if I fiddle with it enough. It's a more versatile stove than most people think, and boy, if it's windy, will you ever be thankful you brought one along.

      Take care,

      HJ

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  2. Dang it I was trying to save money. You had to mention the Massdrop deal didn't you?

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    Replies
    1. lol. It's a screamin' deal. I don't know how they got it down by $55! Fifty five bucks off! Hard to pass on that if you could use a good stove.

      HJ

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