TBAR Reviews the MSR Windburner (Explicit)
My empty plastic mug bounced in the Oregon backcountry dirt across the campsite.
Never again, I thought. Never the fuck again!
On the corner of the counter in the kitchen on the ground floor of a toasty house, four hours away, sat my nice, fresh, full bag of coffee grounds.
See, folks, I’m a coffee man. And as I hurled that cup from my numb fingers on that cold-ass, coffeeless Oregon morning, I made myself a promise that no matter what Pacific Northwestern forest or California beach or glacial ice wall or South American riverbed I found myself camped on, I would never again forget my morning brew. It was that important.
Aeropress. Pour-over. French press. Percolator. I’ve tried them all, and I fancy myself a connoisseur of sorts, kind of a backcountry Miles Raymond, but all hopped up on caffeine. And even in the backwoods, I’ve always been a purist. I like the pour-over brewing method. Sure, my pour-over rig is bulky. And it’s old-fashioned. And it takes forever. And I have to keep remembering to buy filters. Sure, it’s expensive, in time, space, and money, but, friends, you get what you pay for.
I think the regular old pour-over setups have given me the best cups, which is why last month, when MSR gave us the chance to field test their Windburner Personal Stove and Coffee Press Kit (sold separately), I was a bit skeptical. I mean, I’ve always loved MSR. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve owned the Pocket Rocket for several years now, and it’s the shit, but I really hesitated to mess with my tried and true method of self-caffeination.
But in the end, much as the record gave way to the cassette tape, which gave way to the CD, which gave way to the iPod, which gave way to the cell phone, which gave way to the record, I decided to forego my pour-over habits long enough to give the modern and convenient MSR setup a fair shake.
I’ll start with the facts. Included in the MSR Windburner Personal Stove package, you find:
1 clear BPA free lid—includes a strainer, a sipping spout, and a hole for the coffee press
1 foldable fuel canister lid
1 cooker with reactor technology (more on this later)
1 plastic container—360mL capacity
1 small cloth
1 aluminum pot with build-in heat exchanger—1L capacity
1 removable insulator handle
Included in the MSR Coffee Press Kit (sold separately), you’ll find:
1 stainless steel strainer disc w/flexible perimeter gasket to seal
1 modular stainless steel dowel (the metal piece that attaches to the strainer)
Also, a disclaimer: From here on out, I’ll be moving on from the technical aspects. If you’re looking for the ‘weight in ounces to pack space ratio’ or the bell curve charting the ‘performance striations in boiling times across different altitudes and climates’, I’m afraid we’ll probably just have to end things here. It’s not you, it’s me, and there’s no need to go home and blog about it. For the rest of you, we’re moving on.
This is like some shit James Bond would use to brew his coffee. I half-expected a hidden switch that would release some knockout gas or shoot a poisoned dart. Or call Miss Moneypenny.
Anyway, the stove itself looked silly and high-tech next to the Pocket Rocket, which looked in comparison like a salvaged piece of Soviet technology. But, to be completely fair, it is a small marvel in craftsmanship and design. The ease of assembly is impressive and, worth noting, the ENTIRE SYSTEM (including the coffee press kit) fits within the 1-liter pot, Russian nesting doll styles, which, for those of you keeping score at home, makes this rig super convenient for backpacking, and just for storage in general. It folds up tiny, and that goes a long way.
Very easy to figure out. Folding stabilizer legs attach to the bottom of the white gas canister. The stove fits directly on top of the canister. Twist the knob to adjust the flow of fuel. Light it with fire (not included) applied to the top of the stove screen. Pot, meet stove, and voilà, this little burner’s a-cookin’. The Coffee Press kit screws together through the hole in the BPA-free lid, and we’re ready to go.
Really fuckin’ fast. Reactor technology, yo, and from what I’ve gathered, it hardcore mitigates heat loss from the wind, and it optimizes every precious drop of that white gas. Or some shit. Anyway, I’ve had many rainy days with that wind howlin’ and the drops stingin’ where this would have been nice to have. This is a pot that boils, no matter what, and there aren’t that many things you can count on in this world today. Moving on.
How’s the Joe? Well, spoiler: It’s pretty good.
Kill the heat, add the grounds, stir, replace the lid, and press, à la French. Three minutes or so, and the press is a little tight, I guess, but it beats swallowing coffee grounds. I wish the red plastic piece on the top of the press were a bit larger, but that’s a nitpick, not a gripe, and certainly not a complaint. On we move.
Pour the coffee into the provided plastic container.
First sip. It’s good. It’s coffee.
If you’ve skipped here without reading any of the nonsense I’ve written above, I must hand it to you. Kudos, props, and well played.
So here’s the deal. The MSR Windburner, in conjunction with the Coffee Press kit is a solid, nay, a decent backcountry coffee solution. Believe it. It’s smart, it’s well-engineered, it’s ethically-sourced, the whole nine. It’s durable. It’s fast. It’s crazy efficient. It’s almost wind-proof.
So where’s the complexity? Here it is: The MSR Windburner is sexy. But I’m a romantic.
Oh, sure, it’s tight, and it’s lean, and it probably works out several times a week. But I love my pour-over. And maybe it’s irrational, and maybe it’s unreasonable, and maybe it’s inexcusable, and maybe I’m an asshole, but sometimes, you gotta dance with the one that brought ya, and while I’ve got nothing but great things to say about the MSR Windburner and its form and functions, I just think that pour-over coffee is better. Flat out. It may not fit in a 1-liter container, but it’s coffee the right way, and to me, that matters.
So I guess think about what it is you’re looking for from your morning brew. Is it efficiency? Or is it something a little harder to describe? In the end, the review can only take you so far. You be the judge.
Hope this helps. Links below.
The Beans and Rice
Words by Ricky Paul
Images by Jon Moore