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MSR Whisperlite Review

This legendary liquid fuel stove is the choice of expeditions or institutions.
MSR Whisperlite
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Price:  $90 List | Check Price at Amazon
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Pros:  Small, durable, inexpensive, versatile, easy to repair
Cons:  Heavy, difficult to simmer, more complicated than a canister stove
Manufacturer:   MSR
By Jessica Haist & Ian McEleney  ⋅  Nov 11, 2019
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40
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#17 of 19
  • Fuel Efficiency - 25% 5
  • Weight - 25% 3
  • Simmering Ability - 20% 4
  • Ease Of Use - 20% 4
  • Time To Boil - 10% 4

Our Verdict

Since its introduction in 1982, the MSR Whisperlite has proven itself as the most dependable lightweight liquid fuel portable stove on the market. In those years competition has gotten its act together and other stoves perform as well or better in some areas. Nevertheless, 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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Pros Small, durable, inexpensive, versatile, easy to repairLightweight, works in the wind, great piezo lighter, very stable for small canister stoveWorks in the wind, great for simmering, best of the bestCompact, light, fast boil time, stable, insulated potLightweight, easy to use, good at simmering, piezo igniter
Cons Heavy, difficult to simmer, more complicated than a canister stoveNot the most fuel efficient, pot supports pack up separately from stoveUnreliable piezo igniterSmall pot size, not versatileA bit heavier and bit pricier than the competition
Bottom Line This legendary liquid fuel stove is the choice of expeditions or institutions.This lightweight stove is easy to use and will boil water when it's breezy.This simmering champ can also perform in the wind.This basic model still has all the frills, and is a great value if you want to boil water immediately.This stove does everything well.
Rating Categories MSR Whisperlite Soto Windmaster MSR PocketRocket Deluxe Jetboil Flash Snow Peak GigaPower 2.0
Fuel Efficiency (25%)
10
0
5
10
0
6
10
0
7
10
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9
10
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6
Weight (25%)
10
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3
10
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8
10
0
8
10
0
7
10
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8
Simmering Ability (20%)
10
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4
10
0
8
10
0
8
10
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4
10
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8
Ease Of Use (20%)
10
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4
10
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9
10
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7
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8
10
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7
Time To Boil (10%)
10
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4
10
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6
10
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7
10
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8
10
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3
Specs MSR Whisperlite Soto Windmaster MSR PocketRocket... Jetboil Flash Snow Peak...
Category Liquid Fuel Small Canister Small Canister Integrated Canister Small Canister
Trail Weight 11.5 oz 3.0 oz 3.0 oz 12.3 oz 3.0 oz
Wind Boil Time (1 L, 2-4mph) 8:09 min:sec 7:24 min:sec 7:20 min:sec 5:18 min:sec 15 min
Boil Time (1 liter) 7:54 min:sec 4:42 min:sec 3:39 min:sec 4:10 min:sec 5:53 min:sec
Packed Weight 15.2 oz 3.5 oz 3.5 oz 15.7 oz 3.9 oz
Dimensions (inches) 4 x 4 x 4 in 4.7 x 3.9 x 3.6 in 3.3 x 2.2 x 1.8 in 4.1 x 7.1 in 4.2 x 2.6 in
Fuel Type White Gas Isobutane Isobutane Isobutane Isobutane
Additional items included Windscreen, heat reflector, small-parts kit, and stuff sack Stuff sack, pot support Stuff sack 1L pot, canister stand, plastic cup Plastic case
Piezo Igniter No Yes Yes Yes Yes

Our Analysis and 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 backpackers. For expeditions and varsity level snow melting this is still the stove of choice.

Performance Comparison


The guys watch and learn as their guide  Jessica Haist prepares brownies on the WhisperLite using the "tower of power" on the Sierra High Route.
The guys watch and learn as their guide, Jessica Haist prepares brownies on the WhisperLite using the "tower of power" on the Sierra High Route.

Fuel Efficiency


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 most other liquid fuel stoves. 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, but it also boosts fuel efficiency in calm conditions.

Weight


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.

Simmering


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.

Making pancakes on the WhisperLite at a remote basecamp.
Making pancakes on the WhisperLite at a remote basecamp.

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 look into one of the small canister options; though be aware that these generally don't work well with big pots and pans.

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.

The standard MSR Whisperlite with the original leg design where the fuel line threads through one of the legs.
The standard MSR Whisperlite with the original leg design where the fuel line threads through one of the legs.

Almost any liquid fuel stove will be more stable than a canister stove. The Whisperlite has average stability for a canister stove.

Jason gets down to the arduous task of melting snow on Mount Shasta with the MSR Whisperlite. This is a situation where a heavier but more fuel-efficient stove is helpful.
Jason gets down to the arduous task of melting snow on Mount Shasta with the MSR Whisperlite. This is a situation where a heavier but more fuel-efficient stove is helpful.

Boil Time


In our tests, the Whisperlite brought 1 liter of water to a rolling boil in 7 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 2 - 4 mph wind test all stoves, including the liquid fuel ones, boiled more slowly. The Whisperlite took 14 seconds longer to bring 1 liter of water to a rolling boil, the other liquid fuel stoves took as much as a minute longer.

Value


The Whisperlite presents 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.

Conclusion


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 hard to beat.


Jessica Haist & Ian McEleney