When I did a stove review last year I was excoriated for not including a Jetboil, which I quickly learned was a favorite of many paddlers. The problem was that I was reviewing stoves I owned, and at that time I didn't own a Jetboil; my son "inherited" it. Now that situation has been remedied.
These two stoves are actually systems, a combination of a stove and a vessel that can't work one without another. The system allows them to focus heat as efficiently as possible to the vessel. While less versatile than a stove and your choice of pot or kettle, they are stingy with fuel, which is critical when you are carrying fuel canisters.
Let's dive in.
MSR WindBurner / $139 / msrgear.com
The Windburner is quite the feat of engineering. Using technology that was developed for its larger cousin, the Reactor, the Windburner is an amazingly efficient stove. It uses a proprietary technology that uses isobutane to create both convective and radiant heat. In case you care (I do), convective heat is when energy is transferred from a hot thing to a cold thing by heating air or fluids. This is the most common method of heat transfer. Radiant heat is when you feel the heat directly from the source. The sunshine on your skin or the warmth of a campfire is from radiant heat. Nerd lecture over.
The Windburner controls the combustion by mixing fuel and air very precisely before it reaches combustion. Too much or too little air make for inefficiency, so MSR controls the mixture right off the top. Add to that a heat sink designed to hold every bit of energy and direct it to the vessel and you have a very formidable boiling machine.
But that's all theory. How did it do in actual testing? I started with 55-degree water and timed to a rolling boil. Truth is that in a natural setting, I rarely get up to a rolling boil and stop at a simmer so I can make tea. But it's a good metric.
The Windburner boiled 1 liter of water from ignition to boil in an average of 3 minutes, 35 seconds over three repeated tests, allowing the stove to cool completely between tests. The same test for half a liter, I timed an average of 2:43. Certainly fast enough.
I noticed in the field that sometimes parts of the system became hot to the touch, and while the neoprene jacket around the vessel provided some insulation, the metal that wasn't insulated got up to 380 degrees. Be careful where you grab.
I found that I could pick up the whole system and pour water without turning anything off, which was nice when I wanted to top off someone's hot cocoa. The attachment to the stove felt solid enough.
At 461 grams, the whole system is light and easy to carry. For backpackers, the weight and compactibility is nice. Canoe campers don't care so much about weight, but the size allowed me to pull it out of the pack and have it up and running in less than a minute. Good for rescue situations.
The point MSR likes to make is that in real-world conditions, the Windburner doesn't lose efficiency. Rather than take their word for it, I created an artificial real-world condition. On my metal layout table, I placed a large box fan, and placed the Windburner 24 inches from the front edge of the fan and turned the fan to high. My anemometer read six miles per hour.
The Windburner did not disappoint. Half a liter boiled in an average of 2:48; virtually identical to calm conditions. I didn't deem it necessary to measure at higher wind speeds, since most of the time a paddler would try to shield his stove from wind conditions if it were blowing much faster than six miles per hour. Synopsis: Wind isn't a problem for the Windburner.
What would I change? For heaven's sake, make the lid a bright color plastic instead of clear. I dropped the lid somewhere in the campsite and it took me way too long to find it. MSR likes red? Make it red.
I tested the smallest Windburner pot, which is a tall and skinny 1.0 liter vessel, so I did no cooking with it. The 1.8 liter pot will allow more versatility, but I imagine would give up some efficiency due to a larger surface area. I can't comment on that with any authority, since I didn't use one.
I also would like a built-in piezo electric starter, and the ability to light the stove with the vessel already attached. I tried to light the Windburner with an Optimus piezo-electric lighter and it didn't fire up. MSR does make a piezo lighter, but it is not indicated for use with Reactor-style burners. Their Strike Igniter throws sparks and will start the Windburner. I'd make that investment.
Oh, and one more thing: you can toast bagels beautifully since the diameter of the burner is the same as a bagel; a delightful surprise.
Jetboil MiniMo / $135 / jetboil.com
When Jetboil's first stove came out, it was a sensation. Super efficient, fast boiling, etc. I bought one the year they emerged on the scene, and used it for several years until giving it to my son. It is still in use.
The original had a few things I didn't like about it. It really wasn't a stove per se as a really efficient water heater. For a lot of folks, that's all that's needed, but cooking Knorr split pea soup in it was not a good thing. The burner was hot and very concentrated, and the inability to really stir the bottom limited its cooking ability. It had two settings: off, and carbonize.
That said, I remember the first time I stopped at a rest stop and dropped the tailgate on my truck and fired it up. People walked over to see what was going on. Truckers eyed me jealously. Hipsters (well, proto-hipsters) were covetous. Especially when two minutes later, I was drinking hot stuff as they watched slack-jawed.
The Jetboil MiniMo is an excellent system. Weighing in at 444 grams, it's an easy carry. Plus, they have fixed the things I didn't like; the MiniMo's pot is wider and shallower, so you can stir and actually eat out of it. I did. And I didn't burn my hands. I like the sturdy handles on the MiniMo better than the strap on the Windburner. I also tested the outside metal parts on the MiniMo's pan and they all stayed at a lower temperature than the Windburner, so you'd be less likely to burn your hand if you grabbed the pot wrong.
I liked having the built-in igniter. I can carry a lighter in each pocket and still not find one when I need it, so a built-in igniter is a godsend for me. They do wear out, from what I have been told, but the one I gave my son seven or eight years ago is still sparking fine.
The MiniMo boiled four cups of water in 3:44, and two cups in 2:39, not significantly different from the Windburner. They are both efficient and do their job well.
The burner on the MiniMo looks similar to the old Jetboil burner, but it has been updated to allow it to actually simmer, a nice feature when cooking soups and stews. I found it to be more adjustable than the Windburner. The fact that you can see the flame adds to the ability to control the heat more precisely.
But flame visibility is a disadvantage when it came to wind testing; the breeze had a definite affect on the MiniMo's efficiency. With the introduced wind, the time for a two-cup boil increased to almost 4 minutes. Looking at the pattern of bubbles on the bottom of the pan, I observed that the bubbles were all pushed to the far side of pan; clear evidence that the wind was blowing away part of the heat output.
So which one wins the shootout? Depends.
I think the Windburner wins with efficiency in windy conditions, especially if you are boiling water and a lot of it. I think the MiniMo wins with convenience and "cookability." The truth is that there are no losers in this shootout, just compromises.