Thursday, February 2, 2023

Guest Post: MSR Dragonfly Review

by Stephen

Hello intrepid readers! My name is Stephen, and I am a recovering gearhead. My first camping trip was at age six when my family drove 12 hours to the Upper Peninsula and spent a week at various campgrounds there. Between family and Boy Scouts, my memories have only gotten more numerous and there are too many trips of all sorts to count.   

In a 72-hour bug-out scenario, you can survive on cold rations or starve, but what if that situation goes longer? What if you are bugging in without power? Hot food provides morale as well as sustenance.  

Four basic fuel types exist: wood, solid, liquid, and gas. 
  • Wood can be scavenged so you do not have to carry it, but takes longer to get lit, gives inconsistent heat, and requires more effort to collect fuel.  
  • Solid fuel tabs are easy to use, but lack temperature control since they are all-or-nothing. 
  • Liquid fuels work in a wider variety of temperatures and are scavengeable, but lack the quick plug-and-play of a butane or propane canister.  
  • Gas, for all its ease of use, suffers in performance when temperatures are below freezing and may even stop working when it's cold enough. 
So which one did I pick? 

Let me introduce you to the MSR Dragonfly, a multi-liquid fuel backpacking stove.

My dad bought this stove in the 90s as part of his preps for Y2K, and in the early 2000s we dug it out to use on a 50 mile backpacking trip with my best friend and his dad. As an illustration of the usefulness of having a liquid fuel system: we forgot to fill the fuel bottle, but since this will burn anything from gasoline to jet fuel, we were not out of luck, and a gas station sufficed to get us topped off.  

As with any liquid fuel stove, pressurizing the fuel tank -- in this case steel bottles that, other than the red color and warnings all over them, could be mistaken for a water bottle -- takes some elbow grease. Also, as the fuel runs low, you'll have to pump more to get the same pressure. Since you don't want to carry or store the bottle pressurized, this means you will get a workout with each meal.  

The stove folds up fairly compactly, and will store in a pot as MSR advertises. Its three legs provide much more stability than a pocket-rocket style stove (which Erin reviewed back in April 2022) since the footprint is wider than your typical fuel canister.  

One other difference in usage is the pre-heating step where you let out a little fuel, then ignite it with the fuel turned off. This takes some getting used to; I remember the little fireballs we created at first, learning to control how much fuel was released. Once the flame dies, open up the fuel again, ignite, and proceed to cook.

Although it definitely had some adjustability, my dad’s version didn't simmer as the website claims. We burned some pancakes in our 70’s Boy Scout mess kits, though it was probably just as much of a cookware and/or batter technique issue as stove functionality. It served us well on that trip, and when I moved out on my own I purchased one. They've definitely changed the model over the 20 years since then, because my much more recent purchase looks drastically different.  

The MSR Dragonfly is not the lightest stove, weighing 1 lb 3 oz without the fuel bottle, but I want it for it size. As an apartment dweller for the time being, I am at risk of losing cooking capabilities with a loss of electricity, so having a backup is comforting. What's more, it will hold my two liter stove-top pressure cooker, which I bought for the exact purpose of cooking beans and rice in a more fuel-efficient manner. No, I won't carry that pot in a bug-out situation, but bugging in whenever possible is always preferable.

Fuel flexibility is also a huge consideration for my prepping lifestyle. I can burn five different liquid fuels (gasoline, diesel, jet fuel, kerosene, and white gas) with just the change of a nozzle, using only a screwdriver. Even at current prices, gasoline will provide way more burn time than a small cannister of isobutene at the same price: Amazon has butane canisters for $2.14 per oz, versus $0.04 per oz of gasoline (presuming $3.99/gallon). If you stock up diesel or kerosene you also get more than twice the energy efficiency per MSR specs, though kerosene does burn dirtier; I lack experience with diesel to comment.

If money and weight are no issue, another way to increase performance is to get the heat exchanger which clamps onto the bottom of a pot. This prevents the heat escape around the edges of the pot that Erin saw in using the pocket rocket at full blast. My dad owned the heat exchanger, and it needed a little monkeying around, but we definitely noticed a difference in performance. 

In theory, the Dragonfly stove will need more maintenance than many stoves, such as the replacement of o-rings. MSR recommends this be done on a yearly basis regardless of use, but my dad’s stove sat at least a decade without use and worked perfectly fine.  

I know of backpackers who only use the MSR Pocket Rocket, and its price, weight, and ease of use are definitely appealing; it's for those reasons that I want to add it to my fiancĂ©e’s bag when I have the funds. In my opinion, though, the Dragonfly’s capabilities make it worth its extra weight and complexity. 

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