Gear Review: The New MSR Whisperlite Universal

Yep, you read that right, MSR is coming out with a new version of their MSR Whisperlite stove (target: January 2012).

The new MSR Whisperlite Universal

Wait a minute. Isn’t the Whisperlite already the most successful liquid fueled stove in modern history? And doesn’t MSR have not one but two versions already? Has MSR lost their collective mind? No, not really: There is something new under the sun, something very much worth having: the MSR Whisperlite Universal.

What’s New?
Other than the obvious (the legs aren’t wire anymore), what’s new? A lot. First, this is the first offering from MSR that will burn not only liquid fuel but also gas.

You heard me right. You can unscrew that canister off your Pocket Rocket and screw it onto your Whisperlite. Now, if that doesn’t open up a whole realm of possibilities, I don’t know what does. Now, for quick Alpine starts, you can fire up on gas and be done with breakfast and on your way ASAP. The stove is also equipped with a swivel at the connector so that the gas canister can be inverted (turned upside down) for cold weather operation. See my article Stoves For Cold Weather II for more on inverted canister gas stoves. What this means is that you have a true, all weather, four season stove:

  • Upright (“regular”) canister mode for fair weather (above 50F/10C).
  • Inverted (upside down) canister mode for “moderate” cold weather (50F/10C down to about 0F/-18C).
  • Liquid fuel (gasoline or kerosene) mode for severe cold weather (below 0F/-18C).

All that in one stove. Nice! And not only can it burn gas, it does it well.

So how do they do it? Well, just like on the existing Whisperlite Internationale, you change the jet. There’s a jet for each class of fuel.

The jets of the MSR Whisperlite Universal: UC (canister gas), UG (white or unleaded gasoline), and UK (kerosene).

You also have to change the adapter at the end of the fuel line.

The liquid fuel adapter (top) and the canister gas attachment (bottom) of the Whisperlite Universal.

so what else is new? Significantly improved flame control, that’s what.

The Whisperlite Universal running at MAXIMUM POWER.

Let’s take a closer look at the burner.

In this photo, I’ve just started firing up the burner. Notice how the only spot that glows red on the rim of the burner is underneath the generator (pre-heat loop). They’ve re-designed the generator so that it traps heat. What this means is that you can continue to vaporize fuel even at relatively low flame levels. What is the problem with the current models of the Whisperlite? The flame sputters and dies when you try to turn it down low. With the new Whisperlite Universal, you can get a really nice low flame, not only on gas which you would expect.


The MSR Whisperlite Universal simmering on gas. Now that is a low flame, it’s barely there. Talk about flame control.

But you can also get a good simmer on kerosene, which is a tough fuel to simmer on.
Simmer test on kerosene. Nice, stable low blue flames
Simmer test on kerosene. Nice, stable low blue flames.

The Whisperlite Universal simmers equally well or better on white gasoline as it does on kerosene. Simmering on liquid fuel isn’t automatic on the Whisperlite Universal. Don’t expect it to be as easy as on something like a MSR Dragonfly. You still have to employ tricks like using very low pressure and having the fuel bottle half empty to get a good simmer, but this is the best simmering stove of its type from MSR in the last couple of decades. They’ve really improved the flame control on liquid fuel.

What else is new? The legs for one. Gone are the wire legs.

The new MSR Whisperlite Universal (left) and the current MSR Whisperlite Internationale (right).

Now they’re stamped metal legs. Two good things about this: one, the old legs were tough to get back into “true” if you ever bent them and two, you used to have to thread the darned fuel line through the legs when you disassembled the stove for cleaning. Now, with the new stamped legs, getting the fuel line into place is as easy as pie. And remember how the old Whisperlite’s legs would fall off if you unscrewed the priming cup? Good luck on getting them back in the right order. That’s been corrected. Now the legs stay on, even when you unscrew the priming cup. It’s a heck of a lot easier to work on a Whisperlite Universal than one of the older Whisperlites.

Another good thing: The pot supports are nearly a half inch in diameter longer than previous versions (as measured from the center of the burner). What this means is that you’ve really got an expedition class stove on your hands, one that can handle really big pots. Take a look at this photo. See that big, ugly old kettle? That kettle will hold somewhere around 3.75 liters of water. It’s a lot bigger than what most of us will ever take into the back country. How did it do on the Whisperlite Universal? Steady as a rock.

There’s another interesting twist to this new stove. The stove can connect to a gas canister. The connector on a gas canister has a 7/16″ UNEF thread on it. Conceivably then, this stove can connect to any fuel device with the proper connector, yes? I thought I’d give it a try. I took the pump off of a Primus Omnifuel stove. It hooked right up to the gas adapter of the MSR Whisperlite Universal, and it ran great.

An MSR Whisperlite Universal connected to a Primus Omnifuel pump using the Whisperlite Universal’s gas adapter.

There are those out there that just plain don’t like MSR pumps. This is good news for such people. Now, with the MSR Whisperlite Universal, you can connect up to pretty much any pump with the right connector. The two that come immediately to mind are the Brunton Vapor All Fuel pump and the Primus Omnifuel pump, but I know that there are others out there. You should note that “mixing and matching” pumps from different manufacturers is a non-standard use of the stove and is not condoned by the manufacturers. I’m not a lawyer, but if you use a stove or its components in a non-standard way, I imagine that you might void your warranty and you might lose certain legal protections. Fair warning. Neither does Seattle Backpackers Magazine endorse any use of a stove other than what the manufacturer recommends. While I see no obvious problem from a technical standpoint with “mixing and matching” pumps, and it worked fine in my tests, be aware that if you do it, you’re on your own.

With all these improvements, the stove is gotta be as heavy as a lead brick, right? Wrong. On my scale, the Whisperlite Universal came in as only 2g heavier than the current Whisperlite Internationale. Note: for purposes of weight comparison, the Whisperlite Universal was configured for liquid fuel and only the burner assembly was weighed.

What’s “Not So Good?”
Now for the “not so good.” First, let me come right out and say that none of these are really all that big of a deal compared to all the good things that come with the new Whisperlite Universal. So, keep these “not so good’s” in perspective.

First on the “not so good” list is the simple fact that there are a lot of pieces. Small pieces. Pieces that get lost easily. So, if you’re a fumble fingers, maybe this isn’t the stove for you. On the other hand, MSR has wisely included a zippered pocket in the stove bag. So, maybe this isn’t such a big deal after all.

Second on the “not so good” list is the fact that the Whisperlite Universal will only work with the current version of the MSR standard fuel pump. The aluminum block on the Whisperlite Universal is too wide to fit into older versions of the MSR standard fuel pump.

For most people, I don’t think this is going to be a big deal, but it is something to bear in mind if you’re going with a group with multiple stoves coming along: There could be compatibility issues.

Third on the “not so good” list is the fact that MSR has gone with a really stiff fuel hose. I imagine that the stiff hose is for safety purposes so people won’t accidentally place a gas canister or fuel bottle too close to the burner, but I really prefer a more flexible hose like the hose that the Simmerlite and Windpro stoves have. A flexible hose is a lot easier to pack up.

Last on the “not so good” list, the new Whisperlite Universal really doesn’t fit on the Trillium base. The old Whisperlites used to mate with the Trillium base so smoothly; it was really slick. The new, longer legs of the Whisperlite Universal extend beyond the edges of the Trillium base, and the feet are turned the wrong direction for clipping into the base. Still, there’s no reason you couldn’t rotate the base 120 degrees and use some wire to hold it in place; it just won’t be the effortless “click, click, click and you’re done” of the old Whisperlites.

That’s it. That’s my review of the Whisperlite Universal, the new stove from MSR. I’m pleased to be able to give this stove my highest rating: Highly Recommended.

Obviously, I can’t include everything in the space of this review. Are you the type that really wants to know a stove? For more details, see my blog post: MSR Whisperlite Universal — First Videos, Detailed Photos for multiple videos of the stove in action, a video on how to change the jet and fuel adapters, and literally hundreds of detailed photos with notes on the new MSR Whisperlite Universal.

HJ

The MSR Whisperlite Universal
What’s good about it?
-Excellent all weather operation
-Can operate on many fuel types including not only multiple liquid fuels but also gas
-Capable of gas operation in colder weather than conventional (upright) gas stoves
-Highly adjustable flame on gas
-Significant flame control improvement on liquid fuel
-Easier Maintenance
-Excellent pot stability
-Can handle large pots
-Stronger legs/pot supports
-Even with all the improvements, no increase in weight

What’s bad about it?
-A lot of small, easy to lose pieces
-Not compatible with anything but the current MSR standard fuel pump
-Not really compatible with the Trillium Base
-Fuel line is overly stiff, making the stove more difficult to pack

The MSR Whisperlite Universal: Highly Recommended.


The components of the Whisperlite Universal. Not shown is the stuff sack. Top row: Instructions, windscreen, gas adapter, heat reflector. Middle row: fuel bottle (sold separately), burner assembly, liquid fuel adapter, and Ziploc type bag containing jets for alternate fuels, spare parts, lubricants, and stove tool. Bottom row: Duraseal standard pump and canister stand which will hold the canister in the inverted position for cold weather use. Note: The canister stand shown in the above photo was not available during testing and is therefore not discussed in this review. Photo courtesy of MSR.

 

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About the author

Jim "hikin_jim" is a software engineer residing in Southern California. Jim has been hiking and backpacking in the mountains of California and the American Southwest for many years and has led trips both domestically and abroad. Jim is a self confessed gear head and has a particular interest in backpacking stoves of which he owns well over a hundred. You can view his blog at http://www.AdventuresInStoving.blogspot.com

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