MSR Whisperlite Universal Review
Cons: Heavy, takes time to switch fuel types, more expensive than other Whisperlites
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Our Analysis and Test Results
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.
We tested the Whisperlite Universal with white gas and with canister gas. Despite the fact that there is no priming involved when using the canister adapter, the stove is slightly less efficient in canister mode. It burned 0.6 ounces of white gas and 0.8 ounces of canister gas in the no wind test. In front of a fan, it burned 0.8 ounces of white gas and 1 ounce of canister fuel.
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 some of the small canister stoves just can't get there. Small canister stoves 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. Because of that, the integrated canister stoves in our review are all more efficient than the Universal and are the most fuel-efficient options in our review.
The Whisperlite Universal burner and pump weigh 11.6 ounces (328 grams). 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.
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. It's better at simmering than all of the integrated canister stoves and is on par with the small canister stoves in this metric.
Simmering with any liquid fuel stove takes some skill and a good understanding of how the stove works. While it's not nearly as easy to simmer with this stove in liquid fuel mode as when it connected to a canister, it is possible.
Ease Of Use
The Whisperlite Universal is the most versatile stove in this review. It has the capability to burn most types of liquid fuel 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 on if you're using liquid or canister gas.
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. Several of our testers have owned older Whisperlite's for a long time and are pleased to see that the leg design has been 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.
We boiled one liter of water at 8,000 feet in 6 minutes and 44 seconds using white gas, slightly faster than the other liquid fuel stoves in our review. With a canister, we boiled a liter in 4 minutes 19 seconds. This is one of the faster boil times in our test! 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 it 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.
Our testing team boiling times are a crucial stove evaluation metric, though they are relevant. Especially with liquid fuel stoves, what you do when you're using the stove makes a huge difference in its performance. Anecdotally, we find the best boil times right after we've already run the stove. That is, once the stove is fully warmed up, which takes 5 - 10 minutes, it cranks out more BTU's.
The MSR Whisperlite Universal is not cheap. Most backpackers, most of the time, are best served with a small canister stove. If you need liquid fuel performance, however, we think this model's versatility makes it a great value.
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're taking a long trip to someplace snowy and cold, or someplace where you need your passport, it's the best liquid fuel stove for you.
— Ian McEleney & Jessica Haist