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Reviews > Cook Gear > Stoves > MSR WhisperLite > Owner Review by Derek Hansen

MSR WhisperLite Backpacking Stove

Owner Review by Derek Hansen

DATE: September 23, 2010

MSR WhisperLite

TESTER INFORMATION

Me
NameDerek Hansen
Age34
GenderMale
Height5' 10" (1.78 m)
Weight165 lb (75 kg)
Email Address derek·daught·hansen·at·mac (without cheese)·dot·kahm
City, State, CountryFlagstaff, Arizona, USA

BACKPACKING BACKGROUND

I am a lightweight backpacker with a typical weekend pack weight of 15 lb (7 kg) and a multi-day weight of 20 lb (9 kg), which includes food and water. Because I pack less than 20 lb (9 kg), I prefer lightweight trail-running shoes. I prefer backpacking with a hammock as part of my sleep system.


PRODUCT INFORMATION

Manufacturer Cascade Designs, Inc., (Seattle, Washington, USA)
Year of Manufacture 2007
Manufacturer’s Website cascadedesigns.com
MSRP $79.95
Listed Weight 14.5 oz (411 g)
Measured Weight 14 oz (397 g)
Listed Features Proven performance for more than 20 years; reliable, simple design; compact; field maintainable.
Warranty Cascade Designs offers a limited warranty, listed on their website. They also provide a repair "Service Center" to fix products.
Fuel White gas
Included accessories Pump, heat deflector, wind screen, storage sack, service kit

PRODUCT DESCRIPTION

The MSR WhisperLite is a collapsible backpacking white gas stove that has been so successful, its design has remained virtually unchanged in nearly 20 years. The stove is fueled by an external bottle via a semi-rigid tube and valve. Fuel bottles are available in different sizes and capacities, the most common are 11 and 22 oz (325 and 650 ml), manufactured by MSR. The fuel bottles are sold separately. The WhisperLite burns white gas fuel only. The “International” model is configured to burn multiple fuel types. Attempting to burn other fuels in the WhisperLite will clog the jet.

WhisperLite, exploded view

The WhisperLite stove itself has three metal legs that form both the base of the stove and the pot stand. The three legs fan out to deploy the stove and collapse for storage. There are three notches on the burner that correspond to where the legs fit when deployed. A single screw in the top and center of the burner allows for easy dismantling of the stove in the field or back at home. The construction of the stove is simple enough that field maintenance is possible in the chance the fuel jet nozzle gets clogged (newer versions of the WhisperLite include a “shaker” mechanism — essentially a needle housed inside the jet that can dislodge anything in the jet).

To disassemble, I unscrew the bottom primer pan and the top screw, which releases the burner cap, the flame rings, and the main stove body. The three legs can be removed along with the fuel line assembly.

To operate, the stove must be “unfolded”, with each leg security “locked” in the notches on the burner ring. MSR recommends pumping about 20-30 times to properly pressurize the fuel bottle. Once pressurized, insert the fuel line assembly into the pump housing and flip the metal catch around the pump mechanism, which locks the fuel line to the bottle.

To light the stove, the fuel line must be pre-heated or primed. This is accomplished by opening the valve to let a few drops of fuel into the primer pan, making sure not to leak any excess fuel on the ground or leaking too much fuel into the pan. The fuel in the priming pan is then lit. One time I put too much fuel in the priming pan and that turned into a soccer ball sized explosion when I lit it, which was dangerous. Once the fuel line is properly heated/primed, the fuel vaporizes and can be lit by turning the fuel valve open and lighting the jets. If properly primed, the stove will display a blue flame and have a pressurized jet noise.

FIELD USE CONDITIONS

I have used the WhisperLite on 5 backpacking trips, including section hikes of the Appalachian Trail at an elevation of around 2000 ft (600 m), and in Flagstaff, Arizona at an elevation of about 6500 ft (1980 m). One section hike of the Appalachian Trial was particularly wet, humid, and drizzly while conditions in Arizona have mostly been dry. In addition to backpacking, I’ve used the WhisperLite on a few car camping trips and during training events where I display, dismantle, and train people how to use the stove.

FIELD USE RESULTS

When I was first introduced to the WhisperLite stove, I was skeptical. I saw a lot of pumping, priming, and fidgeting compared with the canister stoves I was used to. I even participated in a training session where the WhisperLite was demonstrated and even “field stripped” to show how easy it was to disassemble, clean, and reassemble. Still, it seemed like a lot of work compared to other stoves.

Over time, I’ve been warming up to this stove as a viable contender in the field. Its longevity is a testament to its usefulness, ruggedness, and versatility. In fact, I now teach training courses on stoves and use the WhisperLite just as my instructor had done years before.

I think the Whipserlite is a “tinkering” stove. A lot of attention must be placed on caring for the components: gaskets can dry out, fuel lines can get clogged, etc. In the field, care must be given to ensure dirt doesn’t get into the fuel bottle or line by inadvertently placing the fuel cap or hose assembly in the dirt. Also, finding a suitable place to ignite the stove is essential. On more than one occasion I was stuck cooking with the stove in an open field and burning the surrounding area during the priming process was all but unavoidable.

Where I think the WhisperLite shines is in its low center of gravity. I’ve had canister stoves tip over spilling my food, but the WhisperLite keeps the pot low and it also has a wide base for better stability. During a backpacking trip in Arizona, the wide pot stand proved to work against me when I tried using a narrow pot on the stove. I was able to wedge the pot over the burner, but it wasn’t optimal. Wider pots seem to work better on this stove.

On the AT

On a backpacking trip on the Appalachian Trail, my hiking buddies and I went all out and cooked biscuits and gravy for breakfast. We had two WhisperLites: one for the gravy, and one for cooking the biscuits (we also brought along a backpacking oven assembly--a 3rd-party appliance not manufactured by MSR). At lunch, we used the stove to bake up some fresh brownies. Cooking these meals required a lot of supervision, constant stirring, and meal checking. The Whisperlite puts out some nice high heat!

On a trip in Arizona I used the stove to cook pizza. I used a pre-made pizza crust and added the sauce and toppings. I cooked up eight large slices of pizza and burned the bottoms of half of them. One of the troubles with the WhisperLite is that it doesn’t simmer well. Over time I've found that by lowering the pressure slightly and manipulating the valve setting, I can simulate a simmer. This simulated simmer takes a lot of attention and near constant fidgeting. Even then, 50% of my pizza meal didn't turn out perfectly; it was still edible, but my backpacking buddies slightly complained (Hey! Fresh pizza on the trail? Give me a break!)

SUMMARY

In the past I would have complained that all the work to operate the WhisperLite isn’t worth it, but I’ve grown to enjoy some of the quirks of this stove. Each trip is different and I don’t bring the WhisperLite with me every time. For no-nonsense meals, or when I’m shaving ounces off my pack, I often pick other stoves; however, I like having the WhisperLite as part of my stove collection.

PRO—Rugged. Field maintainable. Nice high heat. Fun to use. Reliable. Great stove for multiple people.

CON—Hard to simmer. Gets sooty. Loud. Requires constant supervision (this is starting to sound like my children!)



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Reviews > Cook Gear > Stoves > MSR WhisperLite > Owner Review by Derek Hansen



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