Home / Product Reviews / MSR Whisperlite White Gas Stove: An Enduring Classic

MSR Whisperlite White Gas Stove: An Enduring Classic

manufacturer by :
MSR (Mountain Safety research)
Version:
1
Price:
89.95

Reviewed by:
Rating:
5
On March 30, 2015
Last modified:August 18, 2015

Summary:

The MSR Whisperlite Stove was introduced in 1982 and is still the best liquid fuel stove you can buy for four season backcountry camping, backpacking, and winter mountaineering. Preferred by professional guides and expedition leaders, the fuel efficiency, quiet operation, reliability, and field repairability of the MSR Whisperlite make it a go-to stove on any group trip, including winter trips where snow melting is required.

Red hot glow of a MSR Whisperlite  Stove melting snow on full power
Red hot glow of a MSR Whisperlite Stove melting snow on full power (pot not included)

The MSR Whisperlite Stove was introduced in 1984 and is still the best liquid fuel stove you can buy for group camping, backpacking, and winter mountaineering. Preferred by professional guides and  expedition leaders, the fuel efficiency, reliability, and field repairability of the MSR Whisperlite make it a go-to stove on any group trip, including winter trips where snow melting is required.

White gas, exemplified by Coleman Camp Fuel, is a common naphtha-based fuel used in many lanterns and torches
White gas, exemplified by Coleman Camp Fuel, is a common naphtha-based fuel used in many lanterns and torches

Liquid Fuel (White Gas)

The MSR Whisperlite is a liquid fuel stove, meaning that it burns white gas, also known as Coleman Camp Fuel. Coleman Fuel is inexpensive and widely available throughout the USA in most hardware stores, outdoor stores, and many supermarkets. White gas is highly refined unleaded gasoline without additives, also called naphtha, and while you can buy a proprietary blend like MSR Superfuel, there’s really no need to pay the extra money.

White gas differs from other common stove fuels because it can burn in subzero temperatures making it a very reliable stove fuel for cold weather, and snow camping.

Whisperlite Stove Components

Out of the box, a MSR Whisperlite backpacking stove includes:

  • burner with an integrated pot stand, primer cup, and brass fuel line
  • fuel pump
  • wind screen and base plate (not shown below)

MSR Fuel bottles are sold separately, and while multiple sizes are available (11 oz, 20 oz, and 30 oz), most people get a 20 oz bottle to begin with. You can also purchase an annual service kit or expedition repair kit, which becomes useful when you want to clean or repair your stove, usually after many uses.

Assembly and priming

Lets take a closer look at these components and review how to light the Whisperlite, which requires priming, a step you may be unfamiliar with if you’ve never use a liquid fuel stove before

A 20 oz MSR fuel bottle wrapped in duct tape, with a locking cap
A 20 oz MSR fuel bottle wrapped in duct tape, with a locking cap

MSR Fuel Bottles

Unlike canister stoves, you have to fill an MSR fuel bottle with white gas before you set out on a trip.  When using one of these bottles in winter, it’s customary to wrap the bottle in duct tape to prevent frostbite which can result if you touch the bare metal when there’s gas inside in below freezing weather.

While MSR bottles include a locking cap which prevents the bottle from leaking, you have careful to make sure it’s threaded properly. You can’t use a non-MSR bottle with the Whisperlite, but MSR bottles are interchangeable with other liquid fuel stoves that MSR makes (should you start collecting more stoves, as many of us have)

Pressurized Pump

The Whisperlite stove comes with a plastic fuel pump that screws on top of the fuel bottle, after you’ve removed the locking cap. Like the cap, you want to make sure it’s threaded on properly, because it needs to form a pressurized seal. Make sure the fuel valve is closed (clockwise) before inserting the pump body into the fuel bottle and screwing it down firmly.

A pressurized pump is used to force fuel out of the bottle and into the Whisperlite Stove
A pressurized pump is used to force fuel out of the bottle and into the Whisperlite Stove

The Whisperlite Burner

The MSR Whisperlite Stove unit includes a burner head, integrated pot stand, fuel line and primer cup. When you transport the stove, the integrated pot stand folds up, so you can store the stove and pump together in your cook pot when carrying it in your pack. I have a picture of what this looks like at the end of this post. When you unfold the stove, the legs and integrated pot stand lock in place around the burner head. This pot stand can hold large cook pots, so it’s good for group cooking especially if you want to boil a lot of water at once.

MSR Whisperlite Stove includes a stove stand, fuel line, and integrated primer cup
MSR Whisperlite Stove includes a stove stand, fuel line, and integrated primer cup

There’s also a brass fuel line that runs through one of the pot stand’s legs. It’s designed to keep the fuel bottle a safe distance from the burner, so the fuel bottle won’t overheat. The tip of the fuel line fits into the open valve opposite the fuel valve on the pump, like so. You’ll need to flip the bottle on its side to get the two to fit together properly.

Insert the fuel line into the valve opposite the fuel control and secure it with the metal clip
Insert the fuel line into the valve opposite the fuel control and secure it with the metal clip

Next, grasp the top of the plastic pump (with the 6 triangles above) and pump it 20-30 times to pressurize the fuel bottle. All you’re doing in pumping air into it, so that the pressure will force the fuel to flow through the fuel line and into the burner head.

Priming the Whisperlite

When you prime a stove, your goal is to heat the stove itself, so that it vaporizes (boils) fuel that comes contact with it. If you’ve ever lit an alcohol stove, you have to pour a small amount of fuel on the stove itself to heat it up.

However, instead of setting the Whisperlite on fire, you’re going to open the fuel line valve for a moment and fill the primer cup under the burner with a small amount of fuel, light it, wait for most of it to burn off, and then slowly open the fuel line so that fuel can continuously flow from the bottle to the burner,.

Turn the valve so a small amount of white gas fills the primer cup. Light this to warm up the stove so that it vaporizes the fuel when you open the pump valve a second time.
Turn the valve so a small amount of white gas fills the primer cup. Light this to warm up the stove so that it vaporizes the fuel when you open the pump valve wide open a second time.

Locate the primer cup under the main burner and open the fuel valve on the pump so a small amount of white gas fills it. Close the fuel valve again, and light the fuel in the primer cup with a match or ignition source. If you do it right, there should be a very small flame, not a big fireball.

When most of the fuel in the primer cup has burned off and the flame is close to going out, open the main fuel valve slowly and feed gas to the burner. It will vaporize when it reaches the stove and ignite, eventually turning the top of the stove a molten red when the burner heat up.

These steps are also illustrated in a video from MSR which describes the operation and safety precautions for all of their white gas stoves

Running the Whisperlite

Once the stove is going, you can regulate the intensity of the flame by opening or closing the fuel valve on the pump, and by pumping more air into the fuel bottle as the pressure and fuel level drops. If you accidentally let the stove go out, let it cool for 5-10 minutes before repriming it from scratch. If you turn open the gas valve while the stove is still hot, you can easily create a vaporized fuel fireball, which is best avoided for safety reasons. Be patient and be safe.

While simmering is possible using a Whisperlite stove, you have a limited amount of control in how low you can turn the flame and can easily turn off the stove if you close the fuel value too quickly. If you intend to simmer, it’s best to cook fairly soupy meals that are unlikely to burn and to keep the pressure in the fuel bottle fairly low, so that fuel flows to burner more slowly (producing less heat). This can be difficult to regulate in the field however, so practice simmering at home before you rely on it for a trip.

When burning the Whisperlite will glow red.
When burning the Whisperlite will glow red.

Three Season Use

While most of the photos shown here illustrate the Whisperlite in use as a winter stove for cooking and melting snow, it’s also makes an excellent stove for group cooking when everyone on a trip prepares and eats their meals together.

Trip Guides cooking a group dinner on an MSR Whisperlite Stove
Trip Guides cooking a group dinner on an MSR Whisperlite Stove

The fact that fuel bottles can be refilled easily and reused, along with the widespread availability of inexpensive fuel, makes white gas a relatively low-cost, low waste alternative to canister gas, while remaining much faster to cook with than wood or alcohol when cooking for multiple people.

Packing the Whisperlite

As mentioned previously, the Whisperlite stove stands folds for easy storage and transport inside your cook pot, as shown below. This is doubly convenient because soot has a tendency to form on the primer cup and storing the stove in your pot helps keep it making your other gear dirty.

The MSR Whisperlite Stove and Pump fit into a 1.3 liter pot (Evernew) for easy transport in a backpack
The MSR Whisperlite Stove and Pump fit into a 1.3 liter pot (Evernew) for easy transport in a backpack

In practice, a 1.3 L pot is required (at a minimum), to store the Whisperlite stove and the pump if you want to store them in the same pot. Much smaller and you’ll need separate containers to store the two components.

MSR Whisperlite Manual
MSR Whisperlite Manual

Discussion

While liquid fuel stoves have been eclipsed by the widespread adoption of canister-based stoves system and alcohol stoves, liquid fuel stoves like the MSR Whisperlite are still the best option for group camping and backpacking in three season and four season winter conditions. White gas is inexpensive and available in large quantities, you can refill your own fuel bottles between trips and bring only the amount of fuel you need, and they generate less waste in terms of fuel canisters that need to be recycled. White gas burns hot, in cold temperatures, and at high altitude making it ideal for group expedition cooking, where many mouths must be fed at the same tie, and for melting snow for drinking water.

But let’s face it. the MSR Whisperlite is not the lightest weight stove you can carry on a trip, not by a long shot: the stove and pump weigh 11.4 oz, not including the fuel bottle. Why then is the MSR Whisperlite so well-loved and highly praised, even though there are more modern white gas stoves available today that are lighter weight and easier to light? (check out the more recent MSR Whisperlite Universal Stove which burns white gas or canister fuel)

I think it really boils down to a Ford vs Fiat discussion. People purchase Ford automobiles because they’re reliable cars, the parts are easy to get, and anyone can fix them no matter where your car breaks down. You can’t say the same of a Fiat, even in 2015.

The same holds for MSR Whisperlite stove. This stove is used by just about every boy scout troop and outdoor club in the United States and most volunteer trips leaders and professional guides are experts in its use. The MSR Whisperlite is very easy to fix and maintain and its commonplace to hear of Whisperlites that are still going strong after 10, 15 or even 20 years of hard use. That’s a heck of track record, and why the MSR Whisperlite is the still best selling liquid fuel stove of all time.

Disclosure: MSR provided Philip Werner (SectionHiker.com) with a sample MSR Whisperlite Stove for this review. 

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33 comments

  1. My go-to stove for many trips!

    • I use mine mainly in winter, but I am very tempted to take it out this summer on a multi-day backpacking trip. It does solves a lot of moral issues I have with canister gas and the inability to refill canisters.

  2. The guides used one on my 3 day mountaineering course in the white’s..it worked great!

    • I was on a trip with a part-time NOLS Guide/Instructor this winter (Guthook) and our Whisperlite fuel pump broke. He proceeded to fix it in front of us, explaining – with glee – how he and other NOLS instructors love the Whisperlite because they are so easy to fix.The pump worked after that!

  3. TwoYellowDogs.Terri

    I started backpacking in the mid 80’s. I still have my first whisperlite. I leave the pump assembly in the fuel bottle during backpack trips (not storing it in the pot). That works for me. My stove gets sootie… I wrap it in those reusable/disposable fabric-like wipes. Keeps stuff clean; can be washed or tossed when we get home. We made multi-course meals when I backpacked w/ my kids (4 people). So, for 4 people, it was efficient and weight worthy. I use the 11 oz bottle (I have the 20 oz bottle, but that is too big for most all our trips). If I think I need more fuel, I’ll bring a smaller non-MSR bottle w/ extra fuel to add to the 11oz bottle. And yes, ONLY MSR fuel bottles with the Whisperlite!

  4. I still have mine some where out in my storage shed. I use mostly the Sno-Peak now since my chances of being out in the Winter weather is about nil these days.. But it was my main Stove on my High Sierra Trips and I can remember how I found out about it.

    In the Summer, at some of the higher Lakes, like Hungry Packer Lake at the eastern foot of Mount Haeckel , you’ll find up to a dozen or more fellow Hikers. Everyone is checking out every one else’s gear, to see who has what or what is new, especially around Dinner time..Because of the quiet and the echo’s caused by the Mountains surrounding us you can hear for pretty long distances.. My partner could hear the opening of a Snickers wrapper at 100 yards or smell a Kendalls Mint Cake a mile…And what caught my Hiking partners ear was the Sound of the Whisper-lite over our Blazing bellowing blowtorch the SEVA 123R. So we had to go check it out. The hiker who was not making any noise,, “Post Hole” was his trail name, spent about 20 minutes extolling the virtues of the Stove and we readily agreed. So when I got back home..off to REI I went and bought one…

  5. Also my go to stove. If i bring another stove there are very specific reason. A must, buy the expedition service kit. While the stove is very reliable, the seals can crack. I have had this happen twice onver 20 plus years, both times many days from the nearest outdoors store.

  6. I’ve had mine for 20 years and has served me well on many trips through different conditions. I agree its a little heavy compared to most newer backpacking stove models. But so am I.

  7. Hello Phil,

    Great article about a truly revolutionary stove. It out did the venerable Primus 123 – going it one better – and that took some doing! I had the Primus and my partner the Whisperlite. While both were just as reliable & easy to use – the Whisperlite was much lighter and easier to light. If you weren’t careful lighting the Primus you could easily set your world on fire. My 46 year old Primus still works. It’s rare on the trail to hear eithers roar in the morning.

  8. A few years ago I spent four nights stranded at a 19,400 ft. camp in the Andes due to weather. Our Whisperlite never failed to provide a hot meal for us.

  9. I have the Universal. I mainly use it for winter and with inverted cansisters. I have a fuel bottle for white gas, but never converted the over to white gas, because the canisters still work in the Winter. I probably should change it over for next winter, just to avoid the empty canisters.

  10. When I started backpacking Optimus stoves ruled the market, and I have owned all three; the Optimus 8R, Optimus 99 and Svea 123R. These stoves were finicky and all of them, in one way or another, broke down at critical times.. When the Wisperlight came out it was like a gift from heaven and, within a few years, Optimus stoves were extinct. I still have my original Wisperlight International and it still works great after all these years. A product for the ages!

  11. I finally had to buy a new pump for my International. Unfortunately, I’ve had some problems with it despite regularly taking it apart and cleaning it after I use it. Has anyone had similar problems? I’ve also noticed that my stove doesn’t work as well as it once did with the small 11 oz. fuel. It seems to lose pressure quickly; I’m not sure if his is due to the new pump or if this is a “feature-not-a-bug” of the small bottle. That said, I’ve had this stove for years and, if you perform the recommended maintenance, it’s just a real gem.

  12. I’ve been using the “International” version since about 1991. I’m now on my third MSR stove and plan to get the new Universal. On several overseas trips I have had to use unleaded gas (petrol) – available in most locations these days.

    However, this doesn’t seem to work nearly as well as White Gas/Coleman Fuel. The problem is a blocked fuel jet and carbon deposits. But, unleaded petrol is often the only fuel available in out of the way places and country’s with no real backpacking tradition. If you can get hold of Coleman Fuel, which seems to always burn clean, then this is a fantastic 100% reliable stove unit.

    Be careful out there – I was once the only guy in a New Zealand mountain hut with a stove that worked properly…I impressed a young woman so much by making her regular hot chocolates that we eventually got married!

  13. I come out of the international motorcycle travel community but have been doing more kayaking and bicycling lately.

    Most motorcyclists going round the world use a Whisperlite and you know what we burn in the stove…gasoline so I have been burning gas in mine since they became available. If you haven’t burned gasoline I suggest you try it. It is just a little dirtier than white gas and gives more BTU’s per ounce plus it’s darned cheap. It is no more explosive than white gas, actually less.

    One tip I will pass on is don’t be afraid to service your burner, remove the screw and service the burner pack, scrub it out with the old tooth bush you carry. She will burn blue again. To fill the fuel bottles at a gas station cut a chunk of bicycle tube large enough to fit/stretch over the pump spout and stick the other end of the tube in the fuel bottle.

    Be careful now or you will have a mess, if the bottle gets too full dump the gas in the gravel.

    It’s a wicked world.

    bill

    • White gas is in fact gasoline, just highly refined.
      And unleaded has a lower BTU rating because it have other impurities in it.

      But you are correct. If you have unleaded, there’s no reason not to burn it if you have a stove designed for it.

  14. Hi Phil,
    The dirty fuels have more BTU’s.

    Check this:

    http://www.hrt.msu.edu/energy/pdf/heating%20value%20of%20common%20fuels.pdf

    Diesel fuel or kerosene would give more heat than gasoline, gasoline more than whitegas/napha f it’s not mixed with ethanol which it mostly is, Premium has more BTU’s than regular in straight gas.

    Before all this is over we will be burning coal which isn’t a bad idea if you ever heated with it…I have back in the day when we were young and foolish and the wood was green and we lived in northern Wisconsin ad saw -40F.

    You can burn green wood and coal in the wood stove and again, it’s a wicked world.

    Just put my big three order in to Zpacks after selling all my old stuff on the bay. Tent bag pack.
    I fractured my hand so no biking or kayaking this winter. Eyeing up the PCT or the Arizona trail so I can say I’m a backpacker

    Bill in Tomahawk, Wisconsin

  15. Perfect timing, Philip! I had just pulled the 25 year old Whisperlite out, plunked it on the kitchen table, and told my husband I want to clean it up and getting working againand carry it in the camp kitchen box I keep in the truck. Sat down to eat breakfast and the first thing in my FB feed was this post.

    I see on the REI website that the Expedition Service kit contains a jet and shaker needle, but commenters there are saying this kit doesn’t have the proper parts for old pre-shaker jet stoves. Can I retrofit the shaker needle system onto our old original Whisperlite?

  16. Your closing comments about ease of use, field servicing, durability, etc. – this is also true of the Optimus Svea. It is bomb-proof and even more reliable – there is no service kit and no parts to wear out or replace. Simply turn the built-in needle to clean the fuel jet every once in a while and you are done. I have had one for almost 40 years and still running strong. True, it is not nearly as light, but very reliable! I too only use it for larger, family outings and really cold weather. I also have a mini-pump that I use on it making it a cinch to prime and get going. They often intimidate people, but once your learn their ways, they are a fantastic stove. Otherwise, I use alcohol for light weight.

  17. The WhisperLite instructions have my favorite safety comment from any manual:

    2. Light fuel in the Priming Cup.
    A brief soccer ball-size flame is normal.

    When I train the Scoutmasters on white gas stoves, they all take a step back after I read that last sentence.

  18. Who has tried the DragonFly, and why use the WhisperLite instead?

    The DragonFly is 3 oz. heavier, but better for big pots and simmers better. Also louder.

    Maybe everybody already bought a WhisperLite and just doesn’t need to replace it?

  19. I nic-namamed my Dragon Fly ‘The Howler’. then I sold it.
    Genrators are worse but not much.

    bill

  20. Old thread but just found it. For experienced users. You can get the whisperlite to simmer, just takes a bit of attention to keep it running low. Prime the stove per usual start up method, once it is nice and hot, put out the flame then holding the fuel bottle upright de-pressurize it. You need to make sure that the flame is completely out before doing this, and open the fuel bottle slowly, so you don’t spray fuel everywhere, you could wrap a bandana around it to contain the fuel. Secure the bottle and pump it once or twice, open the fuel valve, then re-lite, you should have a nice low flame to simmer on, may have to occasionally give it a pump or two to keep it chugging along.

  21. Heyo! Sorry if it’s been covered, but what are you using as a stove board? Is that fiberglass insulation covered in Reflectix?

    Thanks!

  22. In the picture where the fuel line is inserted into the fuel bottle, it looks like you have the bottle and pump oriented upside down. The valve should point up, so it is accessible to the user, and so it points the L-shaped air outlet upwards (inside the fuel bottle). The fuel inlet, if you haven’t bent yours, is also angled downwards when you do it this way, so that it is submerged in fuel when the bottle and pump are on their side and correctly oriented.

    The stove will probably work either way, but maybe you should retake that photo. Cheers!

  23. Have just returned from a hike in the Blue Mountains, Katoomba to Mt Solitary with Scouts. Used my 1984 Whisper Lite overnight.

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