When you’re traveling through the backcountry, you’re always faced with the difficult decision of what kind of stove to bring along. You could pack a heavy stove system to cook gourmet meals, or perhaps you prefer sticking to boiling water and eating freeze-dried food. Thankfully, the brand Mountain Safety Research may finally end this decision-making altogether.
When it first invented the original WindBurner, MSR made boiling water more efficient than ever. Now, the company recently introduced its WindBurner Stove System Combo, which provides a simpler way to go gourmet without weighing you down. All told, the Stove System Combo features a remote-canister stove design, a ceramic-coated 2.5-liter sauce pot, and an 8-inch skillet. We toted it around on a recent trip through the backcountry to see if its claims of gourmet food without the heavy weight were all they’re cracked up to be.
The new and improved Windburner
The MSR WindBurner is one of the most efficient stoves currently on the market and ranked as our top pick in a recent round-up of the best backpacking stoves. It utilizes canister fuel, which burns clean, is easy to transport, and is extremely compact. Unlike screw-on canister models, the WindBurner is an all-in-one package which comes standard with the burner, the heat exchanger, and the pot. The WindBurner even includes an insulated handle for eating directly out of the pot.
The stove also features MSR’s Reactor technology, a radiant burner, and an enclosed, wind-proof design. Its built-in heat exchanger efficiently transfers heat to the lock-on pot and the lock-on design makes for a quick, warm meal whether you’ve summited a mountain or paddled through white water rapids. The radiant burner provides for simmer to boil temperature control as well as a pressure regulator for consistent performance, even in cold conditions.
Aside from what it does well, the stove does lack the ability to utilize separate cookware for cooking meals for large groups of people. MSR responded to this need with an expanded stove line featuring a remote canister stove designed for use with larger pots, highlighted by the WindBurner Stove System Combo.
Don’t fix what’s not broken
MSR didn’t redesign the WindBurner system — when you have something that works, you stick with it. The new stove system functions remotely but maintains a pressure-regulated, radiant burner and a windproof design. This provides for a high level of performance even in cold and windy condition – i.e. Elements you’ll see nearly every time you go outside.
The entire system weighs in at just one pound, 13 ounces.
The Windburner Stove System Combo comes with a 2.5-liter hard-anodized aluminum sauce pot with a strainer lid and talon pot handle, and an 8-inch ceramic-coated skillet. However, MSR also made additional products available for purchase, including a stock pot. The idea behind the modular system is that when you’re traveling with a group, you can split up portions of the cooking system between group members so everyone carries a small amount of weight. MSR specifically designed the Combo system to be packable, too as the pot comfortably fits the remote burner system and a standard eight-ounce fuel canister.
Efficiency is key
What makes the system so different from other options on the market lies with its efficiency. The pot and skillet are designed with heat-capturing rings (known as built-in heat exchangers) that serve windproof purposes and ensure fast boiling times. Additionally, you can use the original WindBurner pot with the remote burner to easily alternate between freeze-dried meals when traveling solo or full-fledged feasts when you’re with a group.
The remote stove system is designed with three sturdy legs so you don’t have to worry about any meals toppling over. Its design is complimented by self-centering pots, which add another element of efficiency to an extremely functional system. MSR takes the approach of “include what’s needed, and nothing more.” Every element of the system is incorporated for a specific purpose and the entire system weighs in at just one pound, 13 ounces.
Putting it to the test
We tested the WindBurner Stove System Combo on a winter camping and ski trip in Canaan Valley, West Virginia. As avid owners and users of the original WindBurner, we were excited to evaluate the performance of the new model. On first glance, the remote burner is built tough but still extremely lightweight. The three legs provide for excellent stability and easily attaches to a standard MSR Isopro fuel canister. With its easy lighting system, we had the stove operating and heated in a matter of minutes. The included skillet and pot are extremely lightweight for their large size and easily packable, including convenient removable handles.
MSR didn’t redesign the WindBurner system — when you have something that works, you stick with it.
As we woke up to a dusting of fresh snowfall the first morning of our trip, we realized preparing to cook breakfast in five-degree weather was going to be tricky. While these temperatures won’t directly impact the stove’s performance, they do impact the efficiency of its fuel canister. Backpacking fuel canisters are comprised of a mix of propane and butane under pressure. Vapors rise from the liquid to the top of the canister when attached to a stove and this is what is burned off — which is why the canister must remain in an upright position.
When temperature drops, the volatility of the pressurized fuel also drops, resulting in less gaseous vapors for burning. Isopro canisters feature isobutane, a variation of butane that performs in colder temperatures below the twenty-degree Fahrenheit range – not in the single digit temperatures we were experiencing. The solution? We put the canister in a cup of water, which warmed it up enough to function effectively and started cooking.
The simple submersion trick allowed the stove to perform perfectly, evenly cooking scrambled eggs on its lowest setting. We quickly adjusted the stove to a medium setting for cooking potatoes in the pot then finished with a veggie mixture in the skillet. Throughout the entire process a soft orange glow emanated from the base of the stove, serving as a symbol of its combined power and efficiency. The three-legged stove proved its stability as both the skillet and the pot stayed in place throughout the entire cooking session. Though the food quickly went cold after its removal from the stove due to the frigid temperatures, everything cooked evenly, allowing us to treat ourselves to a well-deserved gourmet meal before hitting the slopes.
Throughout our trip, we experienced similar experiences prepping and cooking our meals. Of course, as we became more familiar with the system, the entire process became even easier. We’ve been a fan of MSR’s Windburner in the past but its Stove System Combo managed to improve on an already stellar product – and we don’t ever want to leave home without it.
MSR’s Seattle Repair Shop will work with you to find a solution to any problem with the stove. The majority of the time, stove systems can be repaired. MSR also offers a limited three-year warranty on all of its products – including the Windburner Stove Sysem Combo. This warranty states that if you’re the original owner and you use the stove for its intended purpose, MSR warrants the product to be free from defects in materials and workmanship for three years. This warranty does not cover wear and tear, however.
The MSR Windburner Stove System Combo is the perfect way to go gourmet with a group without adding an abundance of extra weight in your pack. Efficient, lightweight, and powerful, this is one camping stove we never want to take to the backcountry without.
Is there a better alternative?
MSR’s main competitors include products from Snow Peak and JetBoil, but there isn’t an exact comparable product which includes the all elements of the Windburner Stove System Combo. Snow Peak sells its canister fuel stoves separately from its cookware, while JetBoil’s milliJoule Cooking System includes one pot with its stove, but not an additional skillet. There’s no better alternative in terms of convenience, as MSR sells a truly comprehensive system for backcountry groups. In our experience, MSR stoves also perform more efficiently than any alternative.
How long will it last?
MSR stove systems are warrantied for three years, but if taken care of, this product can last a lifetime. Additionally, most problems with stove systems like this can be repaired.
Should you buy it?
Yes. If you’re a serious backpacker who often travels with a group, you can’t do better than MSR’s Windburner Stove System Combo.