Fifteen years ago, MSR transformed the stove market with its WhisperLite. Still a bestseller, the WhisperLite was easy to use, reliable, and, well, quiet—altogether, an enormous improvement over other stoves of the day that tended to be fussy and noisy.
Now MSR hopes to bottle lightning once more. At this year's Outdoor Retailer (OR) show in Salt Lake City—where almost 1,000 vendors trotted out their newest and best gear for 2005—MSR showed a liquid-gas stove that literally is like nothing else that's been seen before. It doesn't even have a catchy name yet. MSR simply billed it as the "Capillary Technology Stove System," which really doesn't roll trippingly off the tongue.
The CTSS (I'll abbreviate to save time) consists of an integrated stove and fuel tank with a one-liter cook pot designed to fit neatly atop the stove, which looks a little like a red lunar lander. The pot also has a built-in heat exchanger to speed boil times. Its big advance, though, is on the inside, where MSR has installed a ceramic cartridge the size of seven or eight stacked dimes. The cartridge uses capillary action (hence the name) to vacuum up fuel from the tank and vaporize it, eliminating the need for all the tubing, pumps, and assorted paraphernalia found on other white-gas stoves.
To start the CTSS, you simply push a priming button once or twice (MSR claims it will be once, though the prototype now needs several pushes) then toss in a match. No tank pumping, guesstimates on how much fuel has seeped into the priming cup, or singed eyebrows when you guess wrong and the whole thing goes "whoosh!!" in your face. At this point, you simply flip an "on" lever, and when the ceramic cartridge heats up the stove starts up. It's nearly as easy as starting a cartridge-fuel stove, except with all the benefits conferred by a liquid-gas setup.
The whole shebang—stove, fuel reservoir, and pot—weighs just over a pound when empty. Pretty good. Its boil time for a liter of water is competitive with any stove on the market (between three and four minutes) and the heat exchanger makes it extremely efficient.
But will it sell? It has a high price—MSR figures it will go for about $170 (www.msrcorp.com)—but the "wow" factor is huge, not to mention its ease of use and light weight. One downside is the fact the pot is specific to the stove; you can use other pots or skillets, but efficiency will drop. Still, I think MSR is onto a winner, so look out for this new technology, probably available to consumers next summer.