Hands-on Gear Review

MSR Whisperlite Universal Review

MSR Whisperlite Universal
Price:  $140 List | $104.95 at Backcountry
Compare prices at 4 resellers
Pros:  Versatile, stable, simmers easily with canister
Cons:  Heavy, takes time to switch fuel types, more expensive than other Whisperlites
Bottom line:  This uniquely versatile stove has all the features you love, plus one.
Editors' Rating:   
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Boil Time (1 liter):  5:52 min:sec
Trail Weight:  12.0 oz
Packed Weight:  17.5 oz
Manufacturer:   MSR

Our Verdict

When you want all the wonderful features that you love about the original MSR Whisperlite, but you also want the versatility of cooking using canister gas - look no further. The MSR Whisperlite Universal is one of the only stoves we know of that can change between isobutane and liquid gas fuel. Our favorite thing about this new feature is that pairing isobutane with the Universal's windscreen makes this stove far more wind resistant than a typical small canister stove like the MSR Pocket Rocket 2. The Universal is great for cooking for groups and can actually SIMMER using the canisters! We think this is the most versatile stove we tested.

To see how the Whisperlite Universal held up to the other stoves we tested, check out our Best Backpacking Stove Review. More of a car camper gourmet? Check out our Best Camping Stoves Review.


RELATED REVIEW: The Best Backpacking Stoves of 2018


Our Analysis and Test Results

Review by:
Ian McEleney and Jessica Haist

Last Updated:
Wednesday
May 2, 2018

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Hands down the most versatile stove on the market, the Whisperlite Universal allows you to cook for groups with ease. Its multi-fuel capability allows you to bring it overseas, and its canister setting allows for great simmer control.

Performance Comparison


We were able to cook more complicated meals on the WhisperLite Universal and simmer with ease when using the canister adapter.
We were able to cook more complicated meals on the WhisperLite Universal and simmer with ease when using the canister adapter.

Fuel Efficiency


We tested the MSR Whisperlite Universal with white gas and with canister gas. Despite the fact that there is no priming involved when using the canister adapter, we did not detect a significant difference in efficiency between the two fuels.

The Universal is about as fuel efficient as the other liquid fuel stoves in our review when tested with white gas. With a canister, it's slightly less fuel efficient than small canister stoves until we got it in front of the fan. The included windscreen allows it to reach boiling while the small canister stoves just can't get there. Small canister stoves like the MSR Pocket Rocket 2 do not have windscreens — and it is not recommended to use one with those stoves, leaving them much more exposed to the wind and making them less fuel efficient in any kind of breeze. The integrated canister stoves in our review (like the Jetboil MiniMo) are all more efficient than the Universal and are the most fuel-efficient options in our review.

Inverting the canister with the included stand increases stove performance when it's cold or the can is getting empty.
Inverting the canister with the included stand increases stove performance when it's cold or the can is getting empty.

Weight


The Whisperlite Universal burner and pump weighs 12 oz, almost the same as the standard Whisperlite and almost twice as much as the MSR Windpro 2. The canister adapter and additional jets add an ounce. We think that weight is less of a factor in deciding on a liquid gas stove. These stoves are meant for longer expedition style trips, larger groups, or thru-hikes. If there are more people it is easier to distribute weight throughout the group.

The Universal packs down to about the same size as all the other liquid fuel stoves we tested. If you carry a 2L pot with you, it nests well in there. These are not the most space saving stoves, but they make up for it in reliability and versatility.

Simmering


We weren't sure what the benefit of being able to use canisters with a Whisperlite would be, but we discovered that this combination makes for great cooking. Using the canister adapter we were able to simmer and cook actual meals that we wouldn't have been able to on a classic Whisperlite. When using canisters, the Universal gives the MSR Dragonfly a run for its money in the cooking and simmering department! It's better at simmering than all of the integrated canister stoves, and is on par with the small canister stoves in this metric.

Boil Time


We boiled one liter of water at 8,000 feet in 5 minutes and 52 seconds using white gas, slightly faster than the other liquid fuel stoves. With a canister we boiled a liter in 4 minutes 14 seconds. This is the second fastest boil time in our test, just seconds behind the scorching MSR Reactor! We believe the windscreen contributes heavily to this stove's boil time. The Universal also comes with a canister stand that sets the canister upside down for maximum performance in cold weather or when the canister is getting low. Though the stand works with any canister size, it really helps when the extra large (16 ounce) fuel cans are less than half full.

The ability to use a windscreen lowers boil times for the MSR WhisperLite Universal over regular small canister stoves in the wind.
The ability to use a windscreen lowers boil times for the MSR WhisperLite Universal over regular small canister stoves in the wind.

Ease Of Use


The Whisperlite Universal is the most versatile stove in this review. The Universal has the capability to burn any type of liquid fuel that the Primus Omnilite TI can, and also comes with a canister fuel adapter so you can change out to burn canister gas.

This stove features self-cleaning shaker jet technology. When we used the canister adapter for the first time, the flames sputtered, leading us to believe the shaker needle may not have been seated correctly when we installed it. We had to shake the stove unit to fix the needle and make the fuel come out properly, but after that it worked flawlessly. This brings up the point that it does take a bit of know-how and time to change out the different fuel adapters. You have to change out the stove's shaker jets to correspond with the proper fuel type, as well as the fuel adapters at the end of the fuel line, depending if you're using liquid or canister gas.

The WhisperLite Universal requires some knowledge of troubleshooting these shaker jet stoves. The first time we changed it over to the canister adapter the flames were sputtering and the shaker needle may not have been seated correctly when we installed it  so we had to give it a good shake. After that  we didn't have any trouble.
The WhisperLite Universal requires some knowledge of troubleshooting these shaker jet stoves. The first time we changed it over to the canister adapter the flames were sputtering and the shaker needle may not have been seated correctly when we installed it, so we had to give it a good shake. After that, we didn't have any trouble.

We think that the Whisperlite line of stoves are the easiest take apart, troubleshoot, clean, repair, and put back together in the field, which adds a level of comfort to those of us out in the backcountry for extended periods of time. We know that if something goes wrong with our stove, 99% of the time we will be able to fix it.

Liquid gas stoves are inherently the sturdiest types of backpacking stoves. They are meant to hold all kinds of cookware from large pots to skillets, and the Universal is no exception. One of our testers has owned an original Whisperlite for a long time, and was pleased to see that the leg design has been drastically improved. Not only are they much easier to take apart (the fuel line no longer threads through the leg, which makes re-assembly complicated), they also seem sturdier and less likely to bend or warp. After the MSR Dragonfly this is the most stable stove in our test.

The Whisperlite Family: (Lto R) International  Original  and Universal.
The Whisperlite Family: (Lto R) International, Original, and Universal.

Best Application


Because this stove is so versatile, you can take it with you anywhere, although fast and light trips are not its forte. We would suggest bringing any Whisperlite model along on longer backpacking trips and/or trips with three or more in your group. The Universal with the canister adapter excels at cooking things that require a little more attention and temperature control. We brought our Universal along on a Rim to Rim trip in the Grand Canyon. It worked wonderfully. If you are traveling abroad, the Universal is a good choice as you can burn many different fuel types. Just remember that usually you are not allowed to carry any type of compressed gas on an airplane.

Value


At $139.95, the MSR Whisperlite Universal is not cheap. If you are planning on staying in a place like the United States or Canada where white gas is readily available, and you are not as interested in using the canister feature, we would recommend the original MSR Whisperlite, which is a great value at $89.95. If you need the multi-fuel capability, we think this stove is a better value than the MSR Dragonfly because it simmers just as well with canisters. It's a significantly better value than the more expensive Primus Omnilite TI because it costs less and is more reliable and versatile.

Conclusion


We think that the MSR Whisperlite Universal is a great addition to the liquid fuel lineup. It is an excellent stove for larger group cooking and extended backcountry trips. The canister adapter allows for more precise temperature control above what the original can do. It is on the expensive side, so consider carefully if you will really use all of its features. If you will, it's the best liquid fuel stove on the market.

We think the canister feature of the WhisperLite Universal is sweet! It made cooking and simmering easy!
We think the canister feature of the WhisperLite Universal is sweet! It made cooking and simmering easy!
Ian McEleney and Jessica Haist

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Most recent review: May 2, 2018
Summary of All Ratings

OutdoorGearLab Editors' Rating:  
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