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Hands-on Gear Review
MSR Whisperlite Review
Cons: Heavy, difficult to simmer, more complicated than a canister stove
Bottom line: This legendary liquid fuel stove is the choice of expeditions or institutions.
Since its introduction in 1982, the MSR Whisperlite has proven itself as the most dependable lightweight liquid fuel portable stove on the market. The Whisperlite wins our Top Pick For Liquid Fuel Stoves because it has been the choice of institutions and expeditions for decades, and is the least expensive white gas stove in this review. It is versatile, durable, and easily field repairable.
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Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results
Backpackers and mountaineers have depended on the original Whisperlite stove for all of their cooking and snow melting needs for decades. While it is still a great stove, indeed, the best liquid fuel stove in our review, newer stove technology has more to offer modern day backpackers. For expeditions and varsity level snow melting this is still the stove of choice.
Check out the chart below to see where the MSR Whisperlight ranked compared to its competition in Overall Performance score.
As with all liquid fuel stoves, some knowledge and skill are 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 more fuel efficient than the MSR Dragonfly or Primus Omnilite Ti. 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!
Getting the included windscreen wrapped tightly around the pot is important for the operation of any liquid fuel stove. Not only will this more effectively screen the stove from the wind, it also boosts fuel efficiency in calm conditions.
The Whisperlite's trail weight is 11.5 ounces. Though it is the lightest of the liquid fuel stoves, it's heavier than all of the canister stoves in the test. The MSR Dragonfly is the heaviest and bulkiest stove we tested, while the MSR Pocket Rocket 2, Jetboil MiniMo, and Snow Peak Gigapower are the lightest, as can be expected.
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. Most of these tricks begin with depressurizing the fuel bottle: prime, light, turn off, release fuel pressure, pump three times, and light again.
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 and using the windscreen 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.
Backpackers who want to introduce some finer cuisine to their wilderness experience without having to become a stove whisperer should seek out the Dragonfly. This stove has inherently better flame control and can handle the biggest pot or pan you're willing to carry. An even lighter choice that can still cook, albeit not in giant pots, is the Snow Peak GigaPower 2.0.
In our tests, the Whisperlite brought 1 liter of water to a rolling boil in 6 minutes and 54 seconds. This is the middle of the pack compared to the other liquid fuel stoves. This stove took about 1 minute and 30 seconds to prime; this was not included in the boil time.
In our 8 - 10 mph wind test all stoves, including the liquid fuel ones, boiled more slowly. The Whisperlite took 30% longer to bring 1 liter of water to a rolling boil, the other liquid fuel stoves took 40 - 50% longer.
Ease Of Use
All liquid fuel stoves require more set up and care when operating than any canister stove, but the Whisperlite is the most straightforward of the bunch. Readers new to cooking their own meals in the backcountry should be aware that any liquid fuel stove presents much more open flame during normal operation than a canister gas stove. While using a canister gas stove in a tent or vestibule is definitely frowned upon by stove manufacturers (and tent manufacturers), using a liquid fuel stove in a tent or vestibule is much more of a risk.
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. This stove is a great choice for any extended backpacking trip, especially when cooking for large groups. Many outdoor schools including Outward Bound and NOLS use it for all of their expeditions. It 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.
Almost any liquid fuel stove will be more stable than a canister stove. The Whisperlite has average stability for a canister stove and is not as stable as the MSR Dragonfly, which has giant pot supports.
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 four 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 PocketRocket. Searching for a simpler stove system? We'd recommend our Top Pick For Integrated Canister Stove award-winning Jetboil MiniMo. Backpackers looking for a lighter stove that can still accommodate different cookware should check out the Editors' Choice award-winning MSR Pocket Rocket 2.
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 lasts a very long time and is also the least expensive liquid fuel stove in this review at $90.
If your backcountry travel involves large groups on extended trips, or melted snow as your only source of liquid for more than a few days then this is the stove for you. It is versatile, inexpensive, and relatively lightweight and simple. For shorter trips, groups less than four, or any time when weight and space are at a premium, a canister stove is probably a better call. While it requires more learning and maintenance than a canister stove, in certain environments, the MSR Whisperlite is the only choice.
— Jessica Haist & Ian McEleney
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