Backcountry stoves are always a compromise. Basically you have two types that are of concern: Canister and White Gas/Multifuel Stoves. Canister stoves utilizing pre-manufactured, one-use Butane/Propane Mixtures. White gas use liquid-at-ambient-temp-and-pressure fuel such as Naptha or white gas, kerosene, petrol, or jet fuel. Canister stoves excel in their ease of use, simplicity, light weight (depending on the amount of fuel required and length of trip) and cleanliness. The MSR Windboiler is a cook system stove where the fuel canister, burner and pot are integrated into a compact unit that all work together. They maximize efficiency and minimize boil times. The review below is detailing the Windboiler. This is a market segment that had typically been dominated by Jetboil–The company that introduced this style of stove/cookset to the mass market.
Generally speaking the overall design and assembly seems quite good. The parts fit together nicely and the fuel canister nests inside mating to the burner unit well. The weight seems reasonable, by the numbers it is only slightly heavier than the nearest competition. Advertised weight is 432 g. I will take that as accurate since my scale decided to stop working so I cannot verify it. All of the pieces are easy to quickly disassemble and the insulating sleeve removes with a small tab that engages a clip welded to the side of the pot.
The picture below shows all of the pieces as shipped with the stove except for the fuel canister. This one I show is a Primus canister. Any of the manufacturers state that they only recommend their own canister but it is a very important feature that they all operate on competitors canisters. Included is the burner unit, pot, cup, stand for 2 sizes of fuel canister, small chamois for inside the pot, insulating sleeve/handle and lid.
Burner Controls and Flame
Unique to the Windboiler and MSR Reactor is the radiant style burner that because of its design, can be enclosed into the bottom of the specially designed pot and be mostly shielded from the wind. this is an excellent feature. I did not test this in any extreme weather conditions, but the technology is sound and the unique channels that vent the flame up the sides of the pot can only be beneficial in transferring more heat to the cookware and not the environment, thereby increasing efficiency. The pictures below shows a close-up of the burner interface. The oval shaped holes in the second picture are covered by the burner shroud once assembled and the heat travels up to the parallelogram shaped holes/
The burner control has a nice long folding handle made from SS wire. From full flame to simmer takes 3/4 turn. Once at the simmer level, the adjustment is very sensitive to movement and even the slightest turn of the control closed, causes the flame to go out even though it is a further 3/4 turn to close the valve completely. This can lead to some frustration since you have to remove the pot the light the burner with the absence of a piezo-electric ignitor. I speculate the since the burner is enclosed they have not included an ignitor in the interest of safety since gas would build up around the burner inside the enclosed space at the bottom of the pot and can lead to a large flare up.
The flame covers the entire bottom of the pot once lit and leads to very even heating compared to others that concentrate the flame at the centre.
A sample boil test was conducted with tap water at 55 deg F measured with a thermometer. The pot has an embossed series of level indicators with a MAX line shown at 0.6 L. This is due to the fact that once boiling the water can boil over if filled higher. There is a large buffer here and there is no issue going to 0.7L mark in the real world. Absolute max capacity of the pot is 1L so the volumes are misleading if you think you can boil 1L of water at a time, it is not realistic. Total time to a rolling boil from 55 DEg F was 3 min 26 seconds. Higher than advertised, but since advertised times are for only 0.5 L water at most likely a warmer starting temp, I will consider this more than acceptable since most water in the backcountry from any high elevation stream or snow melt is at least this cold or colder…
Assembly and Storage
The packaging shows the stove stored in the pot with the fuel canister at the bottom, inverted with the burner inverted sitting on the fuel bottle and the stand folded and sitting on the burner. I am not sure why they show it this way since it does not sit nearly as nice as with the burner sitting the right way up first into the pot with the fuel canister onto and the stand actually snaps onto the fuel fitting cap on the canister. way more tidy and rattles less than the way that MSR depicts it.
The lid and extra “bowl” are made from a flexible unidentified plastic and both snap neatly onto the top and bottom of the assembly. These are nice to have especially for drinks and allow you to leave your separate cup at home and further simplify your pack.
Conclusions and Discussion
This type of stove is and excellent choice and works very well for both boiling and simmering. simmering is handy if you are making something a little bit more fancy than just bag meals, such as normal rice or pasta or anything requiring a longer cooking time. These are great for shorter trips and smaller groups where long term fuel supplies and cooking volume are not a concern. My intention is to use this for short overnighters with 1-3 people at all times of the year.
Volume is best for solo travel or 2 people using simply prepared food with boiled water since the capacity is small. Extra pots are available for more than one traveller.
An ignitor would be nice to have and I would have to test the flame up theory for not having one included.
Weight is acceptable and taking the whole system into consideration really simplifies your pack and frees up space and weight when compared to conventional pots, stoves, fuel and bowls/cups.