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Review: MSR Dragonfly
I’ve been using the MSR Dragonfly stove for all of my tours on a near daily basis to cook meals, boil water for hot drinks, or for cleaning/bathing. It’s the flagship model of the MSR Stove brand geared for travelers who would like to have a stove element that can burn different types of fuel and have flexibility on how they cook their food.
Introduced in 1998 the MSR Dragonfly took cues from it’s older well known brother the XGK, meant for high altitude mountaineering purposes, and the Whisperlite, a no fuss basic stove meant to heat whatever you wanted to throw at it in a fairly short time. Constructed of a combination of aluminum, copper and steel weighing 395grams the MSR Dragonfly unpacks nicely by means of 3 folding feet, and a flexible fuel injection line which handily clips to the side of the stove when not in use. Setting it up is simple, flipping over the hinged fuel cup and connecting it to aMSR Fual bottle which are sold separately which are offered in varying sizes. I use 2591ml fuel bottles which last me 1-2 weeks a piece, depending on the frequency of use, the altitude of operation, and the type of fuel that is being burned.
The MSR Dragonfly has the capability of burning White Gas, a highly volatile clear fluid known as Naptha and unleaded gas through one jet, and Kerosene and Diesel fuel through another jet which is included and easily replaced on the stove itself. This allows the traveler to be sure they will be anywhere in the world and be able to get a hot meal into their bodies at the end of a day without much issue. MSR lists the following boil times for each different fuel as follows:
MSR Dragonfly Specifications
Burn time per 600ml of Fuel
Boil Time – 1 liter
Water boiled per 100ml Fuel
(Unleaded fuel is not listed on here as the quality can be variable – It’s within the range of all 3 fuels)
While White Gas is a much cleaner and efficient fuel, it comes at a premium cost, and sometimes difficult to find when out on the road. Worse, when it is found it comes in jugs of 4 litres or more, way more than what could be needed forcing the user to leave some behind as waste. Unleaded gas for automotive purposes, while not as efficient as white gas doesn’t burn as cleanly due to the additives and has a tendency to tar up the bottom of your pots but works all the same and cost 1/7 of the pric. Kerosene can regularly be found on dusty shelves in most towns and has a tendency to smoke and emit a terrible smell when cooking, sure to keep the bugs, and any hungry neighbours nearby. Diesel fuel, being the least efficient creates a sticky mess that tends to jam up the fuel filers, and jets quite quickly as well offering the same bad smells and black smoke as Kerosene. For the purpose of this review I will focus on Unleaded Gas or White Gas, as it is the most commonly available worldwide.
Closeup of MSR Dragonfly Pump assembly with Fuel Output area in Grey, the top pump, and the right sided pressure release valve
You’ll want to pressurize your fuel bottle with 20 pumps before using the stove for the first time on a new fuel bottle, and regularly adding 10-20 pumps every few times you use the stove to maintain pressure before connecting it to the unit. It’s easy to connect the fuel bottle to the fuel line, by wiping a bit of oil (or just use saliva) on the outside of the brass fuel fitting and inserting it into the pumps hole, which is sealed from leaks by a rubber o-ring. The flame adjustment valve on the stove flips out to protect hands from getting burnt and should be twisted all the way clockwise until it can’t move further. Next one simply has to twist the red valve on the fuel pump a few turns before turning the earlier closed fuel adjustment handle open a quarter turn so that the fuel pump cup fills with a small amount of fuel. I generally let it fill for 2-3 seconds before closing the valve and lighting the fuel with a lighter. The stove needs to be primed before usage, and this operation emits a rather high orange flame while the rest of the stove achieves optimal temperature for usage before dying down. If you are quick enough you can open the fuel adjustment valve slowly to start a high temperature blue flame, or simply relight the stove if the priming flame has disappeared. Once its started back up slowly open the flame adjustment valve a few turns and plus your ears, as this stove gets loud, way louder than any of MSR’s other offerings. If you are looking to do some stealth camping, it might not be a good idea to fire this thing up if you wish to not be noticed!
Comparison of dB levels for varios activties
MSR includes with the Dragonfly a sheet of aluminum that is meant to wrap around the stove to protect it from wind, increasing its efficiency. You’ll find that water boils much faster with this in place, but sometimes has the potential to come undone and blow away. I’ve solved this issue by using a large paperclip to connect both ends together to achieve a windscreen.
One of the features that sets the Dragonfly apart from MSR’s other offerings is the ability to adjust the flame, for those who wish to simmer throughout the cooking process as opposed to precariously balancing the pot or pan away from the flame to avoid over heating and burning. I tend to find that having it at full blast is useful for boiling water and nothing else and generally find myself in the 10-40% range when preparing one pot meals.
MSR DragonFly Expedition Service Kit
MSR Dragonfly Fuelpomp
MSR includes a small parts kit with the purchase of the stove, consisting of a multi-tool to disassemble the stove and pumps, a few spare O-rings and the fuel pump and flame adjuster valve, and a fuel filter. MSR also sells a maintenance kit that is universal to all of their stoves that are on the market today, and a more detailed MSR Expedition Service Kit which they recommend is performed Annually on the stove. They include a detailed instruction guide on how to clean the stove so that is working optimally. At the end of each usage, it is recommended that the user shake the stove up and down so that the Shaker pin can clean the jet from any residue that is left over from the fuel – which can happen more often than not if you are using dirty fuel. You should be able to hear the jet shaking – if not, it’s time to open up the stove by removing the flame spreader, unscrewing the jet, and flushing the stove with fuel. You can find the manual also online which is located here. O-Rings should be checked regularly as should the check valve to avoid any fuel pump malfunctions, which could obviously ruin your day, the stove and potentially burn down your entire camping area. In two years of usage, I estimate I’ve used the stove over 300 times, and have only replaced a few O-rings, and lubricated the pump cup and changed fuel filters to ensure fluid operation. A Stove Schmatic outlines all the parts available for the various generations of the stove which has undergone a design change since introduced.
Some of the most common issues with the stove is that it doesn’t perform as it does on day one. This is likely due to the jet being clogged.
Also, you may experience issues with fuel being delivered to the stove, which is likely the fuel filter is clogged, and needs to be replaced. This seems to be my most common issue with burning unleaded fuel, unfortunately MSR does not sell the fuel filters separately, so I have been forced to use the stove for periods of time without the filter, which eventually causes jams the jet – one step forwards, two steps backwards.
I’ve also experienced a failure in being able to pressurize the fuel bottle, which is due to the pump cup losing its seating on the pump arm. MSR recommends that light oil is dropped into the chamber on a regular basis, and I tend to do so after a large downpour, as my pump is always exposed to the elements. Taking off the pressure handle takes a bit of finessing, but if you look closely there is a two step guide on the arm itself.
O-Rings will fail eventually, and its a good idea to keep them lubricated again with a light mineral oil as saliva isn’t entirely the best lubricant, but works in a pinch.
Once packed up the stove collapses to a third of its size, which is small enough to fit in most cookware. If you pack the stove enough you might find the legs don’t always fold out evenly, but this doesn’t affect the stove in any way, and I’ve yet to experience any failures with the hinges. Unfolded, it’s wide enough to hold a 9 inch round pot.If you need a more stable base due to conditions such as sand or snow, MSR sells the Trillium Stove Base to provide a wider footprint.
Other than the minor issues I’ve had with this stove, it’s performed as advertised in all sorts of conditions allowing the flexibility to melt snow, boil water, and cook gourmet meals. It’s light enough to pack along for short and long term journeys and while It may be a loud stove, but this isn’t an issue in my case due to its constant reliability. It would be nice if the legs were a bit closer to support cooking straight out of the can, but for now I’ll continue to hold the can above the flame with a potholder. MSR should also provide extra fuel filters at a reasonable cost in outdoors stores, as I have found these seem to be changed more often than anything else. Due to the ability to burn multiple types of fuel, this is a truly versatile stove that can work anywhere in the world. I’d recommend it to any backpacker, bicycle tourist, or adventurer who likes to wander off the beaten path.