MSR Whisperlite Universal Review

August 21, 2013
MSR Whisperlite Universal
Ease of Use
Wind Performance
Boil Time

The Good

  • Lightweight: 1 lb. 3 oz. with all components and stuff sack
  • Fast & efficient in all conditions
  • Consistent performance across all fuel types
  • Stainless steel pot supports maintain stability of group-sized cookware
  • Improved disassembly method
  • Priming control: 30+ liquid fuel ignitions, not one re-start

The Bad

  • Risk of losing shaker needle, other parts during fuel swaps
  • Changing fuel jets challenging with cold-weather gloves
  • Short, rigid fuel line de-stabilizes stove during priming

The MSR Whisperlite Universal is a fast and highly practical stove that is effective in wind, cold and at altitude using canister-based or liquid fuels. It should be at the top of any mountaineer or backpacker’s gear list.


The MSR Whisperlite Universal will earn its keep on trips that lead from comfortable desert climes to unstable alpine conditions. Its overall dependability and versatile fuel performance make it a solid multi-fuel alternative to MSR’s more expensive XGK-EX or the category’s most pricey option, the $200+ Primus OmniLite Ti.

Canister Fuel Modes
As a canister stove, it performs as well as some stand-alone heat exchanger systems, boiling a liter of snow in 3:09, only 10 seconds slower than its cousin, the MSR Reactor. After a five minute break, the second liter of snow boiled in 4:22. A third cycle brought snow to a boil in 5:53.

Naturally, performance was affected by the canister cooling as the fuel vaporized. Air temperature (convection) and the snow itself (conduction) contributed too.

However, this is exactly why one would buy this stove: by simply inverting the canister to “liquid feed” mode, boil times ramped up to an average of 4:13.

In dry desert conditions and a steady 10 mph breeze, the stove showed no signs of performance anxiety with any fuel type. It took an average of 4:11 to boil a liter of tap water with a canister of MSR IsoPro and when inverted to liquid feed mode, a considerably faster 3:02.

Liquid Fuel Modes
As a liquid fuel stove, the Whisperlite Universal was most productive when vaporizing MSR’s SuperFuel. It averaged 6:12 to bring a 2-liter pot of snow to a boil in 35-degrees at about 9,000 feet.

In the same conditions, kerosene averaged around 7:00, as did unleaded gas. MSR advises that unleaded not be used long-term.

Switching from kerosene to white or unleaded gas requires changing jets, completed by unscrewing the priming cup and removing the fuel line and generator tube. Compared to other multi-fuel stoves on the market today, such as the Kovea Booster +1 and Primus OmniFuel, the Whisperlite Universal has some work to do in terms of swapping fuel-type hardware. It takes significantly longer and involves more parts (especially when converting to isobutane) to prepare the stove for each fuel type.

MSR SuperFuel boiled a liter in windy conditions in an average of 3:48, unleaded gas did it in 5:11 and kerosene in 5:17.

MSR attributes the stove’s ability to perform well across all fuel types to its AirControl technology, which ensures the “ideal ratio” of air and fuel is reached for each respective fuel to perform efficiently.

A minor concern is the risk of losing the small Shaker Jet needle during jet swaps and the short, rigid fuel line. The stiff cable forces the pot to tilt and shift according to the placement of the fuel bottle, which could lead to spilled fuel. It’s also hard to pack.

Remember that hybrid fuel stoves provide opportunities to save money on fuel when your trip budget is more Ramen than Backpacker’s Pantry. A quart of MSR’s SuperFuel runs $12.95, whereas a quart of kerosene is $2.15. Canister fuels, per ounce, are absurdly expensive, if you get that granular about it.

The combination of canister stove-convenience and high-altitude dependability make this sturdy, next-gen MSR Whisperlite a value-driven solution for mountaineers and expedition leaders.


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