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MSR Whisperlite Universal Review

A versatile, bombproof, and reliable liquid fuel stove with the added bonus of being able to use it with canister fuel
MSR Whisperlite Universal
Credit: MSR
Top Pick Award
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Price:  $170 List | $169.95 at REI
Compare prices at 2 resellers
Pros:  Versatile, stable, simmers easily with canister, great for international expeditions
Cons:  Cumbersome, steep learning curve, takes time to switch fuel types, more expensive than other Whisperlites
Manufacturer:   MSR
By Mary Witlacil and Jessica Haist  ⋅  May 9, 2022
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44
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#17 of 20
  • Fuel Efficiency - 25% 7.0
  • Weight - 25% 2.0
  • Simmering Ability - 20% 5.0
  • Ease Of Use - 20% 3.0
  • Boil Time - 10% 5.0

Our Verdict

The MSR Whisperlite Universal is our Top Pick for Liquid Fuel. When you want all the features that you love about the original Whisperlite — like rugged durability, field repairability, and the ability to cook for groups of three or more — but you also want the versatility of cooking with canister gas, this is your stove. It's one of the only stoves that can work with both isobutane canisters and liquid fuel (including white gas, kerosene, and unleaded gasoline). Our favorite thing about this feature is that pairing isobutane with the Universal's windscreen makes this stove more wind resistant than many small canister stoves. The Universal is great for cooking for groups, and when paired with a canister, it can SIMMER! These features combine to make this the most versatile stove we tested and an excellent choice for (international) expeditions and making multi-course base camps meals.

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Pros Versatile, stable, simmers easily with canister, great for international expeditionsLightweight, works in the wind, great piezo igniter, fuel efficient, very stable for a small canister stoveUltralight, fuel efficient, affordable, quick to boil even in windLightweight, fuel efficient, piezoelectric igniter, boils quick in mild windTiny, light, cheap
Cons Cumbersome, steep learning curve, takes time to switch fuel types, more expensive than other WhisperlitesPot supports pack up separately from stoveA bit loud, possibly less durable pot stabilizersNot windproof, average simmer abilitySmall burner head, poor wind performance, not great fuel efficiency
Bottom Line A versatile, bombproof, and reliable liquid fuel stove with the added bonus of being able to use it with canister fuelOur favorite small canister stove, providing the best performance for most backpackersThis affordable and fuel-efficient canister stove is also tiny and ultralight, perfect for your next backcountry adventureA great system for backpackers and alpine climbers relying on dehydrated, simple mealsA shockingly small, ultra lightweight, and straightforward backpacking stove at an impressively low price
Rating Categories MSR Whisperlite Uni... Soto Windmaster Soto Amicus JetBoil MiniMo BRS-3000T
Fuel Efficiency (25%)
7.0
8.0
7.0
10.0
2.0
Weight (25%)
2.0
7.0
8.0
4.0
10.0
Simmering Ability (20%)
5.0
8.0
7.0
5.0
7.0
Ease Of Use (20%)
3.0
8.0
8.0
9.0
5.0
Boil Time (10%)
5.0
7.0
7.0
8.0
3.0
Specs MSR Whisperlite Uni... Soto Windmaster Soto Amicus JetBoil MiniMo BRS-3000T
Category Multifuel (liquid) Small Canister Small Canister Integrated Canister Small Canister
Essential Weight (stove or stove + integrated pot only) 11.5 oz 3.0 oz 2.79 oz 13.0 oz 0.9 oz
Trail Weight (stove, fuel, pot) 23.63 oz 15.63 oz 14.92 oz 20.35 oz 12.63 oz
Wind Boil Time (1 liter, 2-4mph) 6:40 min:sec 5:46 min:sec 6:30 min:sec 4:50 min:sec 14:45 min:sec
Boil Time (1 liter) 6:35 min:sec 4 min:sec 3:52 min: sec 4 min:sec 5:13 min:sec
Packed Weight (stove + all accessories) 17 oz 3.5 oz 3.5 oz 17 oz 1 oz
Dimensions 6" x 6" x 4.7" 4.7" x 3.9" x 3.6" 3.9" × 0.7" × 6.5" 5" x 6" 2" x 1.2" x 1.3"
Fuel Type Isobutane, white gas, kerosene, gasoline Isobutane Isobutane Isobutane Isobutane
Additional Included Items Windscreen, heat reflector, canister stand, small-parts kit, stuff sack Stuff sack, pot support Stuff sack 1L pot, canister stand, plastic cup, stuff sack for burner Stuff sack
Piezo Igniter? No Yes Yes Yes No

Our Analysis and Test Results

Hands down the most versatile stove on the market, the Whisperlite Universal allows you to cook for groups with ease. Its multi-fuel capability allows you to use it anywhere that has kerosene or unleaded gas, and its canister setting allows for great simmer control when pairing it with a fuel canister.

Performance Comparison


MSR Whisperlite Universal backpacking stove - we were able to cook more complicated meals on the whisperlite...
We were able to cook more complicated meals on the WhisperLite Universal and simmer with ease when using the canister adapter.
Credit: Jessica Haist

Fuel Efficiency


We tested the Whisperlite Universal with white gas and with a fuel canister. Even though you do not need to prime it when using a canister adapter, the stove is slightly less efficient in canister mode. To boil one liter of water, it burned 0.6 ounces of white gas and 0.49 ounces of canister gas in the windless test. When tested in front of a box fan blowing 2-4 mph, it burned 0.8 ounces of white gas and 0.65 ounces of canister fuel.


The Universal has average fuel efficiency when tested with white gas, and above average fuel efficiency when tested with a fuel canister. Part of why it performs so well is that it is one of the only stoves that comes with a wind screen, which certainly gives it a boost in the wind test. Small canister stoves do not have windscreens — and it is not recommended to use one with those stoves — which often renders them less fuel-efficient in the presence of a breeze. While small canister stoves are catching up in terms of wind resistance and fuel efficiency, if you are looking for the most fuel-efficient stove money can buy, we would recommend you check out one of the integrated canister stoves in our review. They are all more efficient than the Universal and are the most fuel-efficient options in our review.

MSR Whisperlite Universal backpacking stove - inverting the canister with the included stand increases stove...
Inverting the canister with the included stand increases stove performance when it's cold or the can is getting empty.
Credit: Jessica Haist

Weight


The Whisperlite Universal burner and pump weigh 11.6 ounces (328 grams). The canister adapter and additional jets add an ounce. We think that weight is less of a factor in deciding on a liquid gas stove. These stoves are meant for longer expedition-style trips or larger groups. When there are more people in your group, it is easier to distribute weight among group members.


The Universal packs down to about the same size as all the other liquid fuel stoves we tested. If you carry a 2-liter pot with you, it nests well inside. What this stove lacks in space-savings it more than makes up for in terms of reliability and versatility.

MSR Whisperlite Universal backpacking stove - weighing the universal.
Weighing the Universal.
Credit: Ian McEleney

Simmering Ability


At first, we weren't quite sure if there would be any added benefit for being able to use canisters with a Whisperlite, but we discovered this combination makes for great cooking. When we used the plastic canister adapter, we could simmer and cook actual meals that would have been carbonized with the classic Whisperlite without using non-authorized techniques. This stove is better at simmering than all of the integrated canister stoves and is on par with some of the small canister stoves in this metric.


Simmering with any liquid fuel stove takes some skill and a good understanding of how the stove works. While it's not nearly as easy to simmer with this stove in liquid fuel mode as it is when connected to a canister, it is possible. Experienced Whisperlite enthusiasts have figured out how to simmer effectively by depressurizing the fuel bottle, but MSR doesn't recommend this, so we don't field test stoves in our review with this technique.

Ease Of Use


The Whisperlite Universal is easily the most versatile stove in this review. It has the capability to burn most types of liquid fuel — including white gas, kerosene, and unleaded gas — and it comes with a canister fuel adapter so you can pair it with an isobutane fuel canister.


This stove features a self-cleaning shaker jet. When we used the canister adapter for the first time, the flames sputtered, which caused us to believe the shaker needle may not have been seated correctly when we installed it. We had to shake the stove unit to fix the needle, but after that, it worked flawlessly. As you may have guessed by the aforementioned jargon, this stove has a steep learning curve even without moving between different fuel types. To swap between white gas and canister fuel takes a little time and know-how to install the proper fuel adapters, fuel line attachments, and shaker jets for each fuel type.

MSR Whisperlite Universal backpacking stove - the whisperlite universal requires some knowledge of troubleshooting...
The WhisperLite Universal requires some knowledge of troubleshooting these shaker jet stoves. The first time we changed it over to the canister adapter the flames were sputtering and the shaker needle may not have been seated correctly when we installed it, so we had to give it a good shake. After that, we didn't have any trouble.
Credit: Jessica Haist

Despite the steep learning curve, the whole Whisperlite suite of stoves are the easiest to take apart, troubleshoot, clean, repair, and put back together in the field. This is a serious relief when you're miles deep in the backcountry or in a foreign country for extended periods of time. We know that if something goes wrong with our stove, 99% of the time, we will be able to fix it.

Liquid gas stoves are the most burly and sturdy type of backpacking stoves. They are meant to hold all kinds of cookware, from large pots to skillets, and the Universal is no exception. Several of our testers have owned older Whisperlite's for a decade+ and are pleased to see the leg design has been improved. Not only are they much easier to take apart (the fuel line no longer threads through the leg, which made re-assembly more complicated), the new leg design is sturdier and less likely to bend or warp.

MSR Whisperlite Universal backpacking stove - the whisperlite family: (l to r) international, original, and...
The Whisperlite Family: (L to R) International, Original, and Universal.
Credit: Jessica Haist

Boil Time


When tested at our lab at 8,000 feet, this boiled one liter of water in 6 minutes and 44 seconds using white gas, slightly faster than the other liquid fuel stoves in our review. With a canister, we boiled a liter in 4 minutes 19 seconds which is among the faster boil times in our test! We believe the windscreen gives this stove a notable advantage in the wind test. The Universal also comes with a canister stand that sets the canister upside down for maximum performance in cold weather or when the fuel is getting low. Though the stand works with any canister size, it really helps when the extra-large (16-ounce) fuel cans are less than half full.


While our review team does not think that water boiling times are the most important metric to consider, they are relevant for comparing stoves with one another. That being said, how you use the stove and what you do to set the stove up for success will play a key role in determining how efficiently your stove will boil water. This is especially the case when you are using liquid fuel stoves; what you do when you're using the stove makes a huge difference in its performance. Anecdotally, we found that liquid fuel stoves delivered the best boil times after the stove had been used. Kind of like your car's engine, these stoves crank out the highest BTUs once they're primed and fully warm.

MSR Whisperlite Universal backpacking stove - the ability to use a windscreen lowers boil times for the msr...
The ability to use a windscreen lowers boil times for the MSR WhisperLite Universal over regular small canister stoves in the wind.
Credit: Jessica Haist

Value


The Universal is not cheap. Most backpackers, most of the time, are best served with a small canister stove. But, if you are looking for a stove that offers liquid fuel performance, versatility with multiple fuel options, the ability to cook for groups, travel internationally, or do field repairs — you would be hard-pressed to find a better stove. These features coalesce to make it a great value. If this isn't you, this stove is likely to be overpriced and over-featured.

Conclusion


The MSR Whisperlite Universal is a great addition to the liquid fuel lineup. It is an excellent stove for group cooking and extended backcountry trips. The canister adapter allows for more precise temperature control than what the original can do. It is on the expensive side, so consider carefully if you will really use all of its features. If you're taking a long trip to someplace snowy and cold or someplace where you need your passport, it's the best liquid fuel stove for you.

MSR Whisperlite Universal backpacking stove - the msr whisperlite universal is one of the most versatile stoves on...
The MSR Whisperlite Universal is one of the most versatile stoves on the market. It works with white gas, kerosene, unleaded gasoline, and now includes an adapter to work with a fuel canister.
Credit: Jessica Haist

Mary Witlacil and Jessica Haist
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