MSR Whisperlite Universal Review

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whisperlite_universal

SUMMARY:

A lightweight stove that burns many types of fuel but has some shockingly flimsy parts which throw into doubt its expedition-quality credentials.

GOOD:

  • High heat output.
  • Quiet.
  • Lightweight for multifuel stove.
  • Burns wide range of fuels.

BAD:

  • Flimsy materials.
  • Complex design with many failure points.
  • Replacement parts could be expensive.
  • Too wide for small pots.

The MSR Whisperlite Universal is a multifuel stove that distinguishes itself from the competition by its ability to burn butane/propane gas cartridges as well as liquid fuels like petrol and paraffin(kerosene).

I bought the Whisperlite for a tour of central Europe. The plan was to use gas cartridges when I could get them and petrol, white gas or paraffin when gas cartridges were unavailable. As the Universal claims to be an expedition-quality stove I assumed it would last for many more trips, and at least get through one without needing any replacement parts.

The stove itself is reasonably light at just over 300g. However, when you add the fuel bottle, windshield, repair kit etc. it comes to well over 500g and that’s not counting fuel. The stove folds down to fit into a bag but it’s no awfully compact and takes up a fair bit of space in your panniers, even without fuel.

The burner is solid and quite wide when opened. It is too wide for small pots – my Robens 2 man pot-set wouldn’t balance safely – and needs a reasonable amount of weight to keep it stable. This is because the fuel line is inflexible and tends to push upwards against the stove, unbalancing it. The stiff fuel line can also cause problems when using large or small gas cannisters, making the stove unstable. It is possible to put the cannisters on their side or turn them upside down using the adaptor supplied for this but the stove is far less stable than I would like it to be.

The heat output is very high, both using gas and liquid fuels. So high, in fact, that if your pots aren’t sturdy they might deform from the heat. With gas you can get an even higher output by turning the cannisters upside down using the stand supplied. This forces the gas into the cannister in liquid form. Despite (or perhaps because of) the very high output I found the stove to be quite efficient using gas cannisters compared to other gas stoves I have used.

MSR Whisperlite Universal Stove

Whisperlite Universal Glowing Red Hot

However, when using liquid fuels the high output can be a nuisance. It is possible to get a lower output but the process is tedious. With liquid fuels the stove isn’t much good for anything other than boiling water. Even making pasta was problematic as the pan kept boiling over.

It is considerably more pleasant to use the Whisperlite Universal with gas. It is quicker, cleaner and more efficient – when using petrol I am convinced half of it gets used up in the priming.

The control valve is a bit stiff. I needed to brace the stove with my other hand to stop the whole thing turning round. Also, the valve goes clockwise to turn heat off rather than the more usual anti-clockwise. Many times I accidentally turned it off or blasted the heat up when I actually meant to turn it off.

I had been using the Whisperlite Universal (reasonably happily) for a couple of weeks on tour when I found it would no longer accept gas cartridges. The threads on the adaptor simply wouldn’t catch the threads on a cartridge. Closer inspection revealed the adaptor to have threads made of a soft alloy, and they had simply worn down – after only a few weeks of use! I had been extremely careful to screw the cartridges in properly and have never had a problem with other gas stoves, which generally have brass threads. I have used a £10 gas stove for over five years and it still works fine.

I contacted MSR to see if there were any MSR dealers near where I was going where I could pick up a replacement adaptor. They offered to send a part to any address I specified, but this wasn’t very helpful on tour so I decided I would use liquid fuel and send the stove back when I got home – the main reason I bought it was that it burned gas and it clearly wasn’t up to the job.

However, the stove burned unleaded petrol well enough – at least for a while. After about a month of use the fuel pump completely lost pressure – it simply would not pump air into the fuel bottle at all. Dismantling the pump showed that the cup had dislodged into the body of the pump. It was very fiddly to get out but I eventually managed it and replaced it after lubricating it with some of the supplied oil. However, a few days later the same thing happened. When I finally fished the cup out of the pump body there was a large crack in it (the cup). Surprisingly, the pump still worked but not very efficiently.

Ripped pump cup from whisperlite stove

Ripped pump cup on MSR Whisperlite

Earlier models of the Whisperlite had a leather pump cup, which needed lubricating occasionally but was virtually indestructible and stuck to the plunger very firmly. The newer cup is made of flimsy thin rubber and does not attach securely. It’s astonishing to see something so cheap and nasty on a stove that’s supposed to be expedition quality. I ended up using a DIY spirit stove for the rest of the tour and sent the Whisperlite back for a refund when I got home.

Pump cup on older Whisperlite (left) compared to newer model

Pump cup on older Whisperlite (left) compared to newer model

It’s a real shame that MSR have used such poor quality parts on what could otherwise be a great stove. There is no way I would be taking this on a serious expedition. There are just too many things that can go wrong with this stove – too many potential failure points. It’s true that MSR produce repair kits but these are quite expensive and you don’t really want to have to shell out for a full repair kit if you only need to replace the pump cup and O-rings, which will probably need replaced at least every trip. It’s not a particularly cheap stove either and the quality feels very low for the price.


3/10 (This score ignores price. Learn more about these reviews.)

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