MSR Whisperlite Universal Review
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MSR Whisperlite Universal
|Price||$149.89 at Backcountry|
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|Pros||Versatile, stable, fuel efficient, simmers easily with canister, great for international expeditions||Compact, lightweight, works well in the wind, great for simmering||Lightweight, works in the wind, great piezo igniter, fuel efficient, very stable for a small canister stove||Ultralight, fuel efficient, affordable, quick to boil even in wind||Tiny, light, cheap|
|Cons||Cumbersome, steep learning curve, slow boil time, takes time to switch fuel types, more expensive than other Whisperlites||Unreliable piezo igniter||Pot supports pack up separately from stove||A bit loud, possibly less durable pot stabilizers||Small burner head, poor wind performance, not great fuel efficiency|
|Bottom Line||A versatile, bombproof, and reliable liquid fuel stove with the added bonus of being able to use it with canister fuel||A fantastic and reliable option that simmers well, works in the wind, and is very compact||Our favorite small canister stove, providing the best performance for most backpackers||This affordable and fuel-efficient canister stove is also tiny and ultralight, perfect for your next backcountry adventure||A shockingly small, ultra lightweight, and straightforward backpacking stove at an impressively low price|
|Rating Categories||MSR Whisperlite Uni...||MSR PocketRocket De...||Soto Windmaster||Soto Amicus||BRS-3000T|
|Fuel Efficiency (25%)|
|Simmering Ability (20%)|
|Ease of Use (15%)|
|Boil Time (15%)|
|Specs||MSR Whisperlite Uni...||MSR PocketRocket De...||Soto Windmaster||Soto Amicus||BRS-3000T|
|Category||Multifuel (liquid)||Small Canister||Small Canister||Small Canister||Small Canister|
|Essential Weight (stove or stove + integrated pot only)||11.5 oz||3.0 oz||3.0 oz||2.79 oz||0.9 oz|
|Trail Weight (stove, fuel, pot)||23.63 oz||15.13 oz||15.63 oz||14.92 oz||12.63 oz|
|Wind Boil Time (1 liter, 2-4mph)||9:9 min:sec (white gas)
7:20 min: sec (canister)
|5:27 min:sec||5:46 min:sec||6:30 min:sec||14:45 min:sec|
|Boil Time (1 liter)||7:28 min:sec (white gas)
7:18 min:sec (canister)
|3:14 min:sec||4 min:sec||3:52 min: sec||5:13 min:sec|
|Packed Weight (stove + all accessories)||17 oz||3.5 oz||3.5 oz||3.5 oz||1 oz|
|Dimensions||6" x 6" x 4.7"||3.3" x 2.2" x 1.8"||4.7" x 3.9" x 3.6"||3.9" × 0.7" × 6.5"||2" x 1.2" x 1.3"|
|Fuel Type||Isobutane, white gas, kerosene, gasoline||Isobutane||Isobutane||Isobutane||Isobutane|
|Additional Included Items||Windscreen, heat reflector, canister stand, small-parts kit, stuff sack||Stuff sack||Stuff sack, pot support||Stuff sack||Stuff sack|
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 use it anywhere that has kerosene or unleaded gas, and its canister setting allows for great simmer control when pairing it with a fuel canister.
We tested the Whisperlite Universal with white gas and with a fuel canister. Even though you do not need to prime it when using a canister adapter, the stove is slightly less efficient in canister mode. To ensure accurate scores, we tested this stove twice with each fuel type and recorded the average scores between both tests. To boil one liter of water, it burned 0.6 ounces of white gas and 0.495 ounces of canister gas in the windless test. When tested in front of a box fan blowing 2-4 mph, it burned 0.9 ounces of white gas and 0.57 ounces of canister fuel.
The Universal was among the most fuel-efficient stoves in our review. Part of why it performs so well is that it is one of the only stoves that come with a windscreen, which certainly gives it a boost in the wind test. Small canister stoves do not have windscreens — and it is not recommended to use one with those stoves — which often renders them less fuel-efficient in the presence of a breeze. While small canister stoves are catching up in terms of wind resistance and fuel efficiency, if you are looking for the most fuel-efficient stove money can buy, we would recommend you check out one of the integrated canister stoves in our review. They are all more or similarly fuel efficient as the Universal and they boil water much faster — making those stoves more efficient overall.
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 or larger groups. When there are more people in your group, it is easier to distribute weight among group members.
The Universal packs down to about the same size as all the other liquid fuel stoves we tested. If you carry a 2-liter pot with you, it nests well inside. What this stove lacks in space-savings it more than makes up for in terms of reliability and versatility.
At first, we weren't quite sure if there would be any added benefit for being able to use canisters with a Whisperlite, but we discovered this combination makes for great cooking. When we used the plastic canister adapter, we could simmer and cook actual meals that would have been carbonized with the classic Whisperlite without using non-authorized techniques. This stove is better at simmering than all of the integrated canister stoves and is on par with some of 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 it is when connected to a canister, it is possible. Experienced Whisperlite enthusiasts have figured out how to simmer effectively by depressurizing the fuel bottle, but MSR doesn't recommend this, so we don't field test stoves in our review with this technique.
Ease Of Use
The Whisperlite Universal is easily the most versatile stove in this review. It has the capability to burn most types of liquid fuel — including white gas, kerosene, and unleaded gas — and it comes with a canister fuel adapter so you can pair it with an isobutane fuel canister.
This stove features a self-cleaning shaker jet. When we used the canister adapter for the first time, the flames sputtered, which caused 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, but after that, it worked flawlessly. As you may have guessed by the aforementioned jargon, this stove has a steep learning curve even without moving between different fuel types. To swap between white gas and canister fuel takes a little time and know-how to install the proper fuel adapters, fuel line attachments, and shaker jets for each fuel type.
Despite the steep learning curve, the whole Whisperlite suite of stoves are the easiest to take apart, troubleshoot, clean, repair, and put back together in the field. This is a serious relief when you're miles deep in the backcountry or in a foreign country 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 the most burly and sturdy type 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 decade+ and are pleased to see 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 made re-assembly more complicated), the new leg design is sturdier and less likely to bend or warp.
To test boil time, we took the average between two tests for each fuel type. The first liquid fuel test was done at 8,000 feet, the second at 5,000 feet, and each of the canister tests was done at 5,000 feet in elevation. In the presence of 2-4 mph of "wind" from a box fan in our garage lab, the Universal boiled 1 liter of water in 9 minutes and 9 seconds with white gas and 7 minutes 20 seconds with a canister. In our windless test, it boiled one liter of water in 7 minutes and 28 seconds using white gas, slightly faster than the other liquid fuel stoves in our review. With a canister, we boiled a liter in 7 minutes and 18 seconds. This was much slower than expected, and we think it has to do with how canisters become less efficient with less fuel. This is exacerbated when the canister gets cold. While the windscreen does give the Universal an advantage over other canister stoves, if you notice the stove become sluggish, it could be due to the canister getting cold. If you sleep with your canister in your sleeping bag, this can help, but once you fire it up, we recommend using the canister stand to position it upside down for maximum performance in cold weather or when the fuel 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.
While our review team does not think that water boiling times are the most important metric to consider, they are relevant for comparing stoves with one another. That being said, how you use the stove and what you do to set the stove up for success will play a key role in determining how efficiently your stove will boil water. This is especially the case when you are using liquid fuel stoves; what you do when you're using the stove makes a huge difference in its performance. Anecdotally, we found that liquid fuel stoves delivered the best boil times after the stove had been used. Kind of like your car's engine, these stoves crank out the highest BTUs once they're primed and fully warm.
Should You Buy the MSR Whisperlite Universal?
The Universal doesn't come cheap. But for the price, you get an impressively feature-rich stove with a rugged legacy that performs well with nearly any fuel type you might consider using. Most backpackers, most of the time, are best served with a small canister stove. But, if you are looking for a stove that offers liquid fuel performance, versatility with multiple fuel options, and the ability to cook for groups, travel internationally, or do field repairs — you would be hard-pressed to find a better stove. These features coalesce to make the Universal an unbeatable option for certain types of adventures, but if you need something simpler and lightweight, then this stove is likely to be overpriced and over-featured.
What Other Backpacking Stoves Should You Consider?
If you want to save some money but you still want a liquid fuel stove, then check out the original MSR Whisperlite. This stove is comparably rugged, fuel efficient, and field-reparable for a fraction of the price. If, after reading this review, you think you'd prefer a lightweight option that is fuel efficient and boils quickly but still provides the value and ingenuity of other MSR products, we love the MSR PocketRocket Deluxe. Alternatively, an integrated canister stove could be a good option if you want a water boiler that does well in the wind. If this is the direction you are leaning, and you need something that will handle the worst weather imaginable, we recommend the MSR Reactor or the less expensive but still reliable JetBoil MiniMo.
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