Hands-on Gear Review
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Pros: Small, simple, durable, inexpensive, versatile, easy to repair
Cons: Heavy, difficult to simmer
Best Uses: Backpacking, adventure cycling, arctic expeditions, can handle it all
Since its introduction in 1982, the Whisperlite has proven itself as the most dependable lightweight liquid fuel portable stove on the market. If we were to have one stove, this would be it. The Whisperlite wins our Best Buy Award because it has been the choice of institutions and adventurers for decades, and is the least expensive white gas stove in this review. It is light, small, and easily field repairable.
However, if you need more versatility, look to the similar siblings of the Whisperlite.The MSR Whisperlite International is a multi-fuel version of the original version and only costs $10 more. Featuring self-cleaning Shaker Jet technology, it burns white gas, kerosene, and unleaded auto fuel.
The MSR Whisperlite Universal, can burn all the fuel types that the International version can, but can also use isobutane canister fuel. It costs $50 more than the standard version.
Generally we just recommend the standard Whisperlite unless you really think you will be needing to burn alternative fuels. Ultimately we think that the original Whisperlite is the best deal, which is why it wins our Best Buy award for best value liquid fuel stove.
View our complete Best Backpacking Stove Review to see how this model stacks up against the others.
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OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review
Backpackers and mountaineers have depended on the original Whisperlite stove for all of their cooking and snow melting needs for decades. As its name suggests, it is quiet and lightweight. There is a reason this model has not changed much since its inception – it is a great stove.
Although the Whisperlite is not known for its excellent simmer control, we have experimented with cooking all kinds of things on this stove. Because it has been around for so long, people have developed lots of different tricks to cook more intricate meals. One system that works very well for baking things like pizzas and brownies on a Whisperlite is what we like to call the "tower of power". This involves depressurizing the fuel bottle (prime, light, turn off, release fuel pressure, pump three times, and light again) and using the wind screen to create a tower around the burner to place the pot or pan on – thus removing the pan from the direct, intense heat of the burner. With some monitoring, this produces great baking results in the backcountry.
The Whisperlite is very easy to troubleshoot, clean, and repair in the field. Those of us who have used this stove for a long time can take it apart, clean it, and put it back together with our eyes closed. The MSR Whisperlite International is slightly easier to take apart than the original because MSR has redesigned the International's legs. The fuel line no longer threads through one of the legs, making it much simpler. This stove is a great choice for any extended backpacking trip, especially when cooking for groups. Many outdoor schools including Outward Bound and NOLS use it for all of their expeditions.
If you are planning an international expedition, you may want to consider upgrading to the International model, which can burn kerosene and unleaded fuels, or the MSR Whisperlite Universal which burns kerosene and unleaded fuels as as well as isobutane canisters. The standard Whisperlite only burns white gas. If you are traveling abroad white gas may not be as readily available.
As with all liquid fuel stoves, some knowledge and skill is required to be able to light this stove properly. You must prime the stove first, which involves burning a bit of liquid gas to heat up the fuel line so that the white gas turns to a vapor. This allows the stove to burn a hot blue flame. This priming process uses up a tiny bit of extra fuel (if done correctly). We found the Whisperlite to be equally as fuel efficient as its family members the International and Universal. MSR says that 20 ounces of white gas burned at max flame will burn for 1 hour and 50 minutes – that's a lot of Ramen noodles!
In our tests, the Whisperlite boiled half a liter of water in 2 minutes and 52 seconds and primed in 1 minute, 30 seconds. This may not be as fast as the MSR Pocket Rocket or the MSR Windboiler, but it is much more versatile than these products.
The Whisperlite weighs 11.5 ounces, the same as the other Whisperlite models in this review, and is the lightest of the liquid fuel stoves. The Optimus Nova + is the heaviest and burliest stove we tested, followed by the MSR XGK -EX and MSR Dragonfly.
The Whisperlite has a wide and stable base for larger pots and group cooking. We have noticed that the legs tend to warp over time, especially if it is jammed into a pack haphazardly. This can create a less stable platform that may wobble slightly if not set up carefully. We think the International's leg design is slightly more stable and durable over time because the legs are more streamlined.
The Whisperlite, along with the International and Universal, are the smallest liquid gas stoves in this review, taking up a very reasonable 6 x 4 x 4 inches (1.5L) of space. They can easily fit into a 2L pot – although the stove legs can get warped if not stashed properly (as we mentioned above) and become more difficult to fit into the little bag. If you are looking for a very tiny stove to carry with you on shorter missions, consider the smallest stove we tested, the MSR Micro Rocket.
This stove is great for extended backcountry trips like expeditions to Denali where you are cooking for groups and melting lots of snow. We also like to take this on long backpacking trips if we plan to cook for 3 or more people – our testers who are backpacking guides love the Whisperlite and always choose it over other liquid gas stoves. Any type of institutional or guided trip would be the perfect time to reach for this original gangster. It is much quieter than most of the conversation killing liquid stoves we tested, like the roaring loud Dragonfly. For fast and light trips with 1-2 people, we would be more inclined to bring along the MSR Reactor or a Pocket Rocket.
The Whisperlite presents an excellent value and is the simplest, lightest, and smallest stove in the liquid gas stove category. It is very easily repairable, and with a little practice you can cook a variety of items on it, making it fairly versatile. It wins our Best Buy Award because it is also the least expensive liquid fuel stove in this review at $90.
If you are only going to buy one stove for all of your backpacking needs – this should be the one you choose. It is versatile, inexpensive, lightweight, and simple. We would recommend going with the International model if you are considering doing any international expeditions where white gas may not be readily available. We take the original model with us any time we will be cooking for a group of 3 or more and want a reliable, stable stove that we can repair in a pinch. Even with the stove cranked we can participate in kitchen conversations and preserve the serenity of the wilderness with this whisper-quiet stove.
Other Versions and Accessories
The Whisperlite International costs $10 more and is capable of operating on alternative fuels such as diesel, kerosene, gasoline, and jet fuel. The two stoves are mechanically identical with the exception of a wicking cup for lighting less flammable fuels and several interchangeable jets for different fuel types. This added versatility may seem appealing, but because white gas is widely available throughout the world, we believe it's necessary only for a small percentage of users.
The Whisperlite Universal retails for $140. It has the same multi-fuel capability as the International with the additional benefit of also being able to use isobutane canisters and a greater ability to simmer using the canister adapter.
MSR also sells an Expedition Maintenance Kit, which includes all the necessary parts and instructions to disassemble and repair a damaged WhisperLite. With this, your stove is likely to last for decades.
In order to use your new stove, you will need a fuel bottle and a cook pot. We like MSR's Quick 2 Pot Set. Bombproof MSR fuel bottles come in various sizes: Fuel Bottle - 11oz for $18, 20 oz for $20, and Fuel Bottle - 30oz for $22.
The MSR Fuel Pump and Windscreen are included with your purchase, however, if you need replacements, you can order a new ones.
— Jessica Haist
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Most recent review: February 10, 2015
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