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Quick Facts
(And Overall Rating)
Fuel Types White gas, kerosene, auto gas
Boils a quart of water in: 3 min.

I have owned aWhisperlite Internationalestove since early 1992, and have used it, problem free ever since. I beat on the thing, cooking 2-3 meals per day, 5 days a week, for 12 weeks while working on the Medicine Bow National Forest. Then used it in all kinds of weather from frosty / snowy mornings, to 100ºF days in Moab, Utah, to pouring rain in New Hampshire. It has never failed to light with one match, and I have only disassembled it once for cleaning, and that was this year. And, guess what . . . there wasn't a spec of carbon or a cracked o-ring in the entire assembly. After 6 years of what I consider hard service, there was not one thing that needed to be changed (although I do burn only white gas). This stove is bulletproof and many people trust their lives to it.

How an MSR Stove Works

The stove is a relatively simple design, and in outdoor equipment, simple means rugged. Basically, this stove is as bulletproof as they come. There are essentially no moving parts in the burner itself, and the pump mechanism is durable plastic (though I'm sure they'd prefer to call it an engineering polymer). The entire burner is made of what I think is stainless steel, and although it discolors from the heat after a while and builds up black carbon, it doesn't rust or corrode at all. I lifted an image of how the stove works off of the MSR website to show you.

The legs of the stove are wide enough to make it stable on most any surface and strong enough to support large pots of boiling water. It doesn't have fancy balancing screws and adjustable feet like some of its competition (can you sayextra weight), but its footprint only occupies about 36 in²(that's 6" X 6" in case you were wondering). When was the last time you camped anywhere that you couldn't find a flat spot 6" X 6"? Although very durable, the stove itself is light. I am a chronic over-packer, but I have compared the weight of the stove to some Peak 1 products, and the MSR is lighter without question.

This stove does one thing better than any other I have ever seen: it burns like a blast furnace. It's loud and it's hot. Some people have said that it sounds like a freight train from hell. But, in my opinion, that's what a backpacking stove is supposed to do. It should get whatever you put on it hot in a minimum amount of time. Anything other than that is a waste of fuel. When I cook on the trail, I mostly boil water. In fact, I'd say that 3 out of 4 meals involve boiling water. That's why I bring a backpacking stove, not my kitchen range. This stove is in its element: it boils water fast. But, there are two common criticisms leveled at these stoves, and they are not without merit. People say that they flare up on ignition, and that you can't simmer with them. This is not entirely correct, but for people who do not like to fiddle with their equipment, or people who are deathly afraid of a little flame, these stoves can be disconcerting. Here is my collected wisdom on the subject.Simmering is for wusses. (Just kidding). Also, keep in mind that I'm a bit of a pyromaniac and I like a little fire.

Flare-Ups

This stove is ignited by the following sequence:

  1. Insert pump into fuel bottle and pressurize bottle.
  2. Open control valve slowly to allow a small amount of fuel to sputter into the priming cup and to soak the priming wick.
  3. Turn the valve off and allow the priming wick to absorb the fuel in the cup.
  4. Light the priming wick with a match and allow the flames to warm up the burner assembly and the fuel line. It is this heat that allows the fuel line to atomize the fuel and give a uniform burn.
  5. Slowly open the control valve to begin the normal burning of the stove.

It has been my experience that most problems with flare-ups and with inability to simmer are the result of things done incorrectly during step 1. If the fuel bottle is overpressurized, not only will the stove flare up when the control valve is opened but there will be no chance of making a calm flame to simmer your dinner. But I'll deal with the simmering problem in a second. The second most important thing is to allow the priming flame to completely heat the generator tube so that fuel atomization is complete. If the tube is too cold, the fuel will sputter to the burner in large drops when the valve is opened and the flame will definitely flare until it heats up properly.

Simmering

I'll concede that the stove does not simmer well. As I mentioned earlier, that's not too much of a problem for me. But I occasionally want to cook something that requires low heat. Over the years, I developed a couple of strategies and I thought I was really cool, smart, and that I knew stuff that no one else did. Then I read this section of the MSR web site. Damn! They figured out everything.

Can you simmer with an MSR Stove?
Yes, however it cannot be done by turning down the control valve. There are two effective ways to simmer with your MSR stove. The most efficient way is to run the stove with extremely low pressure in the fuel bottle. One pump stroke in a half full bottle is optimal. Another way is to put a "burner plate" on top of the stove. This will diffuse the heat before it hits the pot. You can purchase one at your local outdoor store or or you can use the metal lid from a coffee can (the big ones).

Their advice really works, you can simmer quite well with a low pressure bottle and a heat deflector. My favorite is the one designed to go under an outback oven. I found it at Eastern Mountain Sports and it works great. The other technique should be familiar to anyone who has attempted to cook delicate foods on an electric range in a home kitchen. You can always lift the pot to cool it.

The stove comes with the best windscreen in the industry, bar none. Like the stove, it is simple and effective: just a long piece of aluminum with a notch in the ends to let the fuel line pass through when it is wrapped around the stove. Combined with the heat deflector that is supplied to go under the burner head, this stove will heat anything quickly no matter the weather. The windscreen is so superior to anything else supplied by a competitor that I know of 2 people who have other stoves and who have bought MSR windscreens to use with them.

Basically, I think the MSR stove is a great piece of equipment. It heats hot and fast and with a little effort on the operator's part, can be made to simmer and perform at any level for whatever type of gourmet cooking you wish to attempt on the trail. The quality and reliability are second to none, and the stove performs in all weather conditions with no complaints. It's light and simple, and spare parts (if you ever need any) can be found almost anywhere. If you need a rugged, dependable, lightweight backpacking stove to cook food quickly in all kinds of climates, you can not go wrong with this stove.

This stove is produced by:

Go to MSR's homepage.
Please note that anything I say here is simply my opinion. I am an expert (and a legend) only in my own mind. For the official corporate scoop, check out this product atMSR's Website.You can click here or on the banner above.

Reader Update:

Puma Hamel tells us; In your review of the Whisperlite, another problem which I encountered is the little nubs that hold the pump together snap off in very cold weather. The good thing is that the stove can still be used in this condition, it just requires 3 hands to pump it. After this happened to me, i bought a new pump, and a week later...same thing. Been ok since. (it got warmer). That's all, keep up the good work...

 

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