Sigma Pot Set from Sea to Summit
Lorraine McCall swaps her usual lightweight titanium pots for this sturdy and user-friendly steel cook set from Sea to Summit.
In this group test we look at four all-in-one tower-style canister stove systems, the Alpkit Brukit; Jetboil Flash; Primus Lite+ and MSR Reactor. So which wins the battle of the boilers?
What are they?
All four share the same fundamental design: a pot with a built-in heat exchanger and wind shield, for maximum efficiency and minimum boil time, connected to a powerful burner head that screws into a standard threaded gas canister.
What are they for?
These stoves are primarily for heating water as quickly and efficiently as possible. Think melting snow or boiling standing water to make it drinkable; making hot drinks and instant pot noodles; or re-hydrating your freeze-dried dinner-in-a-bag.
On two of the four units in this review (MSR Reactor and Jetboil Flash) you're unlikely to do much more than heat water, since their output is just too powerful for a gentle simmer. The other two (Alpkit Brukit and Primus Lite+) are a bit more versatile, as they can be turned down for cooking without simply carbonising your food, and because they can be used with any flat bottomed pot. However, when it comes to regular camp cookery all tower stoves feel tall and unbalanced compared to a conventional gas burner, so you're not going to be buying any of these models with elaborate outdoor meals in mind.
First and foremost these stoves are fast boilers, and that's the main criterion on which we've judged them.
Packing them up
For transit, all four models are designed so that the burner and other bits nest neatly inside their pot, including room for a 100g gas canister. With the inbuilt heat exchanger and a large burner, this sort of stove is bulkier than a simple screw-on model - but then you do get a pot as part of the bundle, and you don't (at least in theory) need a wind guard. They weigh a lot more than a conventional screw-on burner, but again this is mitigated to an extent by the fact that these more efficient systems will use less gas, which on longer trips may equate to carrying fewer canisters.
Testing the performance
Temperature, wind and the amount/pressure of remaining gas in the canister will all affect a stove's boiling time. The manufacturers clearly provide perfect scenario figures, but in the real world it's not often you'll match these.
To time their boiling speed, I filled each with 500ml of cold tap water, and used a half-full 230g canister of Primus propane/isobutane mix that had been stored at room temperature. I did this outside in a very light breeze to get a basic 'real world' time for no wind. I then repeated the process using a hairdryer at 50cm to get a consistent wind strength for my wind timings; compared to your typical real world use this was really quite a stiff breeze, and some models certainly fared better than others in the hairdryer test.
Tested boil time (0.5L): 2:28
Pros: Affordable, powerful for its price, and versatile
Cons: Heavy, bulky and not the best made
Tested boil time (0.5L): 1:40
Pros: Still the gold standard for speed and real-world performance; very well made
Cons: Expensive; too powerful for anything but boiling water fast
Tested boil time (0.5L): 1:46
Pros: Incredibly fast and efficient; lightweight; good value
Cons: Not the best in windy conditions
Tested boil time (0.5L): 2:33
Pros: Compact, versatile and powerful enough for most users; decent price; wind resistance
Cons: Doesn't match the boiling speed of its top-end rivals
Quite heavy, and not exactly compact, the Brukit has a bit of a tinny feel and definitely seems a little basic and cheap compared to its rivals. But let's call a spade a spade here - it's a fraction of the price, yet it still does the job surprisingly well. It has a powerful output, plus the versatility to do a bit more than just boiling water. If you're not looking for the absolute last word in build quality, compactness or speedy performance then it is an attractive option at this price.
Weight and packed size
At 597g all-in (Alpkit say 560g) the Brukit is notably not a light option. This is a much bigger stove than its rivals, and relatively bulky when packed away. However all the parts do nest neatly inside the pot, including a 100g canister. I've taken it on day walks and camping overnight, and while its weight and size are definitely noticeable, I don't think they are excessive for a stove system at this sort of budget. On a trip where going lightweight mattered to me I would choose one of its rivals though - but let's face it, if saving weight is your number one concern then no all-in-one system is going to beat a simple screw-on burner and lightweight pot for a night or two away.
Part of the reason for this stove's weight is the sheer size of its pot. At 1200ml in total, with a recommended working limit of 1000ml, it's effectively twice the size of the rivals in this review. If you want to boil as much water as possible in one shot then this is clearly an advantage; cooking for two, for instance, is a bit less faffy.
Despite the low price this is a powerful stove, with a 1500W output. It roars away very loudly (I guess that equates to some wasted energy!) and brings water to the boil surprisingly fast - in fact in our home test it narrowly beat the more expensive Primus Lite+ for boiling speed in a no-wind situation. The Brukit stands up to a steady breeze but when things get more gusty it does seem less wind resistant than its pricier rivals. In fact it was possible to blow it out with a hairdryer at close range, something I couldn't do to the Lite+ or the Reactor. It's a nice user-friendly stove, with a big glove-friendly control knob.
Tested boil times 0.5L
It's also possible to turn it down to a lower simmer, which means that as well as simply vapourising water you have the option for slightly more elaborate camp cookery - think frying bacon or whipping up an al fresco veggy slop. With the output down low the Brukit can sound a bit wheezy, and when simmering it's bothered more by the wind than the Lite+. However the ability to cook is a definite plus point.
An inbuilt piezo ignition cuts down on faff; though this one has so far proved reliable I've had bad experiences of these in the past, and always carry an emergency lighter too.
The addition of a separate pan-supporting ring (a much bulkier solution than the little feet favoured by Primus - see below) allows the Brukit to be used with flat bottomed cookware. This increases your options, since you're not obliged to use the heat exchanger pot it comes with. Of course, without the heat exchanger/wind shield fitted the Brukit effectively becomes a conventional canister-top stove, with a much more pedestrian efficiency and boil time. If you're saving weight the pan support (63g) can be left out.
For easier handling in a confined space, and to keep the contents warm, the pot comes with a heat-proof neoprene cover. You also get very basic but perfectly serviceable folding handles.
If cooking on uneven ground you need stability, and the plastic base supplied with the Brukit does just that. It's a nice neat folding piece that feels sturdy and fits in the pot with everything else. When separated from the canister the pot/burner form a free-standing unit, which is handy if you're eating straight out of the pot - a tripod arrangement that it's probably fair to say was inspired by the original Jetboil design.
In transit, the Brukit fits (just) into its own little nylon stuff sack.
An integrated system for fast boil times. A built-in heat exchanger and windshield minimises heat loss so your fuel goes that bit further. All the Brukit's bits can be stored inside its own pot, including a 100g canister, so you have minimal components to juggle. The built-in Piezo ignitor makes lighting the Brukit faff-free; detachable rubberized handles and a neoprene cosy can be left on during cooking for easy handling. The included pan support makes the Brukit compatible with other pans too.
For more info see alpkit.com
Of all the stoves on review the Reactor feels the best-made. This is quality engineering, all metal and very sturdy. It is also remarkably powerful, with a wide and virtually windproof burner, and an efficient heat exchanger. In fact MSR claim this is the "fastest and most fuel efficient stove ever made" - and we believe them. Top notch performance... but at a top drawer price.
Weight and packed size
At only 411g the Reactor is the second lightest stove on review - though the Jetboil Flash is only slightly lighter, while the Primus Lite+ comes very close too. In the case of the Reactor this really doesn't seem a lot of weight for the power of stove you're getting, especially if, as MSR claim, its efficiency will allow you to carry less weight of fuel. When packed up it is short but broad, a nice stumpy shape that fits well into a rucksack; it also feels extremely sturdy.
The Reactor is available with pots of three different capacities: 1 litre, 1.7 litre and 2.5 litre. We've been testing the smallest size, which seems the most versatile for solo or two-person use. However although the pot does hold 1L, its max safe limit in use is marked on the pot as only 0.5 litres, which does seem a bit misleading (you need the extra height to accommodate the violent boiling!).
The Reactor brings water to a boil in practically no time; you hardly have time to tip soup powder into your cup or open a packet of food. In my home test it scored 1:40 with no wind (MSR say 1:30, but presumably that's for ideal world circumstances).
This is a seriously impressive bit of kit. It is also disconcertingly quiet, a stealth bomber of stoves that goes from cold to boiling furiously without seemingly breaking a sweat. It is highly efficient, so you're saving gas with every use. Over a long trip, this potentially means you'll need to carry fewer canisters; in terms of trip length/gas carried, there must of course be a point at which a Reactor is actually a lighter option in total than carrying a much smaller but less efficient lightweight screw-in burner. Out in the open air, the Reactor is also massively wind resistant; its scarcely believable 2:12 result in the hairdryer test has been followed by real world performance that also seems surprisingly untroubled by wind - and I don't just mean a light breeze. On the hill it really doesn't ever seem to need a wind guard, while at home I couldn't blow it out with the hairdryer even at point blank range. In my experience, no other stove can touch it in blustery conditions.
Using it is a novel experience - lift the pot off and there's no open flame on show, just a violent molten orange glow across the whole burner head. I've no idea how MSR engineered this radiant burner, but... wow. The Reactor has been on the scene for several years now, but it's still unmatched in terms of its sheer speed and efficiency.
Tested boil times 0.5L
In use, a couple of points are worth noting. The pot just sits on top of the burner, rather than clicking into place, and hence needs a little more care when using (though you should always handle any stove with caution!). On the other hand this means you lift only the pot when pouring out your hot water; unlike the fitted-together stoves, the burner and canister stay on the ground. In addition, unlike the other models here, there's no insulating cover on the pot. This means the contents will inevitably cool down faster; you also need to be more wary of burning your fingers if you're eating straight out of the pot.
Finally, it's worth reiteriating that the Reactor is entirely designed to bring water to the boil as quickly and efficiently as possible. It doesn't have a low setting, so you can't simmer, fry or cook as such; if you tried, your pot of curry would be charcoal in moments. This one's for packet food only - think pot noodles or instant soup.
You get no inbuilt piezo ignition here, which some people will regard as a disadvantage. Since I've never trusted them anyway, and always carry a spare lighter or two, that hasn't bothered me. It's one less thing to potentially go wrong, and must save a bit of weight and bulk.
The handle detaches, and it takes a bit of figuring out to re-attach it (I had it fitted upside-down for a while). But it's a neat and robust assembly, which allows it to pivot from being extended for cooking, to closing over the lid, without requiring a bulky and possibly delicate hinge mechanism. Heat doesn't readily conduct down the handle either.
With no plastic stove-supporting legs, the Reactor can feel top heavy, especially when using a small gas canister. When firing it up on rough ground you need to be particularly careful not to knock it over. I'd advise getting hold of a folding support from another stove.
Another downside is that you can only use this stove with compatible pots from the Reactor system; a number of different sized pots are available, but of course they're not cheap. Not being able to cook with flat bottomoed pots and pans does reduce this stove's versatility; basically it is a water boiling powerhouse rather than a camp cooking all-rounder. You're not going to rustle up a mushroom stroganoff, unless it comes dehydrated in a packet.
Not only is the Reactor Stove System the fastest and most fuel efficient stove ever made, it's the only one that delivers that level of performance in the cold and wind of the real world. Simply put, you'll burn less fuel, carry less fuel, and move faster than with any other stove available. And with MSR's proven quality and durability, you can be assured of that performance to pull you through when you need it most.
For more info see msrgear.com
Offering increased performance over its predecessor, the new Flash is an impressively fast and efficient stove. Its boil time is up there with the Reactor's, though it's notably less impressive in the wind. It is well-built, user friendly and comes in as the lightest stove on review - all points in its favour. For the money it's arguably a better buy than the similarly priced Primus.
Weight and packed size
The new Flash weighs just 405g (Jetboil say 371g), making it the lightest stove on review by a whisker. It's the same size and shape as the previous version, and a little taller and thinner than the Reactor and the Lite+. I find it a good shape for sliding into a pack, and with a plastic cover over the bottom end there's no danger of damaging the heat exchanger.
Though you could physically fit a lot more into it, the maximum safe fill limit of the Flash is 0.5L - as with two of the three other stoves, you need the extra pot height to accommodate the violent bubbling! Jetboil have included a fill line inside, but for some reason this is labelled 2 cups rather than 500ml (are 'cups' a thing?). As with the other smaller stoves, this is ideal for one person and do-able for two.
This is a very quick and powerful stove, an improvement on the previous version of the Flash, and the second-fastest boiler in this review.
Jetboil's quoted boiling time is 100 seconds (or 1:40) for 500ml. In my home test it came close to this ideal world figure, scoring an impressive 1:46 for a no-wind boil. This puts it only very narrowly behind the MSR Reactor, which for years was way out in front as the fastest such stove. However it performed less strongly in the hairdryer test, its 2:53 falling some way behind the Reactor.
Tested boil times 0.5L
Furthermore, it was very easy to blow the flame out with the hairdryer - in fact at closer range it was the most liable to this of all the stoves. Real world performance confirms the result; the Flash is a lot more bothered by wind than the Reactor, I suspect because the open fins of its heat exchanger don't act as a particularly effective wind guard. It has blown out on me when brewing up on a bivvy in what I'd describe as only a moderate wind, and while it can easily be re-lit it's something you do have to be aware of. It's a bit annoying to have to improvise a wind shield for a stove system like this. Still, in a low breeze its boil time remains very impressive.
Fuel efficiency seems great too, and although I've not been able to consistently test these stoves for fuel consumption I've no reason to doubt Jetboil's figure of 60 mins use from a 100ml canister (though that does sound like a lot!).
It's possible to run the Flash at something approaching a low simmer, but only just - and definitely not in the wind. As with the Reactor, this is a stove for boiling the living daylights out of water, rather than more general camp cookery. In addition, you can only use this stove with compatible cookware from Jetboil - it's not possible to use any old flat bottomed pot.
The Flash comes with a heat-proof neoprene cover to help insulate the contents - that'll always be welcome on a chilly bivvy. This also makes for easier handling in the confined space of a tent. Its wide webbing handle is sturdy and easy to grab, and better in this regard than the strap handle on the Primus. A unique feature of the Jetboil is its heat indicating patch, which changes colour when the stove is hot, a useful warning lest you forget. To save weight the cover could be removed, though you'd then struggle to hold the pot when it's hot.
An inbuilt ignition saves faff with a lighter, and this one has proved 100% reliable so far. However I would always carry a spare lighter or two anyway, so for me the built-in sparker featured on three of the four stoves reviewed here is a borderline redundant feature.
The lid features a little lip for easy pouring, plus some holes that allow it to be used as a strainer if you're pouring off excess liquid but don't want to lose the food. Over the heat exchanger end of the pot there's a plastic cover; this is good for packing the stove away without snagging anything in your rucksack, and it also doubles as a cup of sorts if you're keen to save weight. I don't think it feels very strong or long-lasting though. On the other hand the folding supporting legs that come supplied with the stove feel the best-made of those in the review, and they fold away nice and small too.
A hanging kit is available for the Flash, though it does not come supplied as standard.
Blistering boil times come standard on our industry-leading Flash. By modeling the combustion and selecting materials to optimize efficiency, we were able to create the fastest Jetboil ever—cutting a full minute off our best boil time.
Compatible accessories include Coffee Press, Hanging Kit, Pot Support, Skillet, FluxRing Cooking Pot and Utensils.
For more info see jetboil.johnsonoutdoors.com
Combining a light weight and compact size, with a full range of features, there's plenty to like about the Lite+. This is a nice solid little stove, at a good price, and though its boiling time doesn't match the Flash or the Reactor, I think it's still going to be fast enough for most users. The fuel efficiency seems good, too - as is its wind resistance. Its low burner and wide supporting legs make it good and stable, while the fact that it can run at a simmer, and supports any standard flat-bottomed cookware, means that it's a bit more versatile than the high powered rivals.
Weight and packed size
At just 428g all in (Primus say 390g) the Lite+ is pretty light for a system stove, and I certainly haven't minded carrying it on hilly backpacking trips. It's also the most compact of all these models, the same height as the stumpy Reactor, but a little narrower. When you're trying to keep pack weight and bulk down, every little helps. Build quality feels good too.
We've been using the 0.5 litre Lite+, which is adequate for one or two people (Primus specify one); if you need something larger, the heavier Lite XL has a 1 litre pot.
The boil time in our test isn't up there with the Reactor or the Flash, and is more in keeping with the Brukit. But with its 1500W output, the Lite+ is probably speedy enough for most people, and it also burns quietly. It handles wind pretty well; I couldn't blow out the flame with my hairdryer, and it's done OK on a windy mountain top bivvy too. In a higher wind its boil time does get a lot longer, but I think it does still beat the Flash and the Brukit for consistent performance in wind, whether turned up full or way down low.
As with the Brukit, but not really the other two, it's possible to run the Lite+ at a surprisingly low simmer, and this reduced output opens the possiblity of genuine camp cookery rather than just insanely fast water boiling. To my mind that makes this stove more versatile, and while that's not the main thing we've looked for in this review it is bound to appeal to some users.
Tes, and while that is not the primary ted boil times 0.5L
Its so-called 'Laminar Flow Burner Technology' has allowed Primus to give the burner a very low profile - it's 2 or 3 cm lower than the Brukit's for instance, and this makes it both more compact when packed, and better-balanced in use.
The Lite+ is marketed on its fuel efficiency; I've not been able to meaningfully test this aspect of the four stoves relative to one another, but in use it does seem pretty frugal on the gas.
An inbuilt piezo ignition is handy, though in my experience this one can take several tries to spark - and I'd never leave home without the insurance of a spare ligher in any case. The burner section is not free standing, so has to be connected to a canister to stand upright.
The pot has a heat resistant sleeve made out of G-1000 fabric, with a felt lining. This helps keep the contents warm, and allows for easier handling; while you can easily remove the sleeve to save some weight (it's held on with velcro) there'd then be no way to lift a hot pot. The sleeve features a robust webbing handle, which hooks into place over the top of the lid to hold everything in place when you're packing it. When handling the pot, the thin hooked-on webbing feels slightly less secure than the wider sewn-in strap of the Jetboil. When hooked over the top the strap can also be used with a cord (which comes supplied) so that you can hang the stove - a useful (albeit niche) feature if you're tent-bound on an expedition, or sleeping on a portaledge.
Usefully, the pot lid doubles as a small cup, and includes holes so you can drain the pot without tipping out the solid contents. The plastic support stand is robust, and its legs spread wide to give a lot of stability on uneven surfaces, soft grass etc. But it doesn't fold down small enough to fit in the 0.5 litre pot along with a canister etc, so you do end up wondering where to carry it, and risk leaving it at home when you pack the stove.
With the Lite+ it's possible to cook using different, flat bottomed, pots and pans thanks to the integrated pan support pins. These are stored neatly on the strap/handle, and simply screw into place around the burner to raise the bottom of the pot. I've usually got these to work fine, but I'm not sure the threads are that well machined, so do you have to do a bit of fiddling to end up with pot supports of the same length (otherwise they're unusable!).
Lite+ sets a new standard for compact all-in-one stoves. The unique locking mechanism (patent pending) makes it very sturdy and thanks to the Laminar Flow Burner Technology (patent pending), the stove has a lower burner than would otherwise be possible, resulting in a more stable, lighter and compact stove. The stove and all accessories, including a 100-gram gas cartridge, fit into the 500 ml hard anodized aluminium pot.
For more info see primus.eu
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