MSR Whisperlite Universal -- Completed Review

11:08 p.m. on October 10, 2011 (EDT)
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I've been working on a review of the new MSR Whisperlite Universal.

The big news is that the new Whisperlite Universal will run on gas as well as liquid fuel. P1070365.JPG Running on canister gas. NICE big flames.

My review of the new MSR Whisperlite Universal is complete and now available: MSR Whisperlite Universal Review.

Configuring the stove for different fuels (You Tube video)

More photos: P1070350.JPG Running on white gasoline (Coleman fuel).

P1070354.JPG Putting out some heat!

P1070572.JPG The new Whisperlite (left) and the old Whisperlite (right).

P1070625.JPG Running on kerosene.

P1070655.JPG Stove testing at First Water on the Mt. Wilson Trail.

It's a really nice stove and a really nice job by MSR.

HJ

6:50 p.m. on October 13, 2011 (EDT)
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I question the forethought of the move from the Phillips head to the Allen head.  I commonly carry a small utility tool with one blade being a Phillips.  I'd rather not carry another tool.  Something I would need to try to swap out right from the start.

7:45 p.m. on October 13, 2011 (EDT)
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True, although I don't think it's critical.  In the last 20+ years of owning a Whisperlite and working on the Whisperlites of others, I've taken apart that part of the burner only once.

Basically, what MSR is saying is "don't take this apart."  There really is no need to touch that portion of the burner unless maybe you stuffed mud in it or something.  The jet and and fuel line can be cleaned from below the burner head.

I'm not in favor of making things less maintainable with simple tools, so I don't like the change either, but on the other hand I don't think it will impact people much because there's no need to take that portion apart.

HJ

5:51 p.m. on October 27, 2011 (EDT)
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Unless you clog it ;-)

11:42 p.m. on October 27, 2011 (EDT)
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Um, maybe.  I've seen possibly hundreds of Whisperlites (my own, friends, in hiking clubs and such).  The jet is where clogs normally occur.  Sometimes the fuel line will clog up, but that's no where near as frequent as the jet clogging.  I've disassembled the washers and baffles of the burner I think once in my life just to clean it, but I've never seen a clog in the baffles.  Even if one of the openings in the baffles were to clog, there are dozens and dozens of others.   The chances ever needing to disassemble this portion of the stove in the field are pretty small.  Even if you dropped it into mud, I'd probably just rinse it off and let it dry out rather than trying to disassemble it.

That being said, I'd still prefer that MSR had left the slot instead of switching to a hex.  A small chance is not the same as no chance.

I guess if you were really worried about it, you could just unscrew the screw and put in one with a slot.  No big deal.

HJ

9:40 a.m. on October 28, 2011 (EDT)
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Hi guys!The only thing I wanted to comment on was the change from phillips to allen on the burner screw.With the allen head you get a much better bite and less risk of rounding out the head,I am a factory trained VW,Porsche,Audi and ASE certified tech for 45 years.I do agree that to carry an extra tool sucks but in all my years of using a whisperlite I have never seen one of these burners clog up.ymmv

2:31 p.m. on October 28, 2011 (EDT)
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In something over 45 years of using Whisperlites both personally and as the more or less standard for Scout troops, I have disassembled the waffle burner on dozens of them. Only a few in the field, though. What happens is that they build up carbon deposits on the plates with lots of use. So you need to take the assembly apart every so often (40 or 50 hours of use) and clean the carbon off. This is easy to do at home and with a wire brush. It makes a big difference in the boil time and how well you can control the simmering (yeah, yeah, Whisperlites are hard to control the simmering, but it can be done, and is easier with a clean burner). As far as in the field, when someone dumps their soup on the burner (or worse, the pudding or macaroni and cheese), you can clear it much more easily by disassembling the waffle plates. Be sure to put the plates back in the correct order and orientation (assuming you learned the order and orientation by looking at a new Whisperlite). I got a Whisperlite at the REI "Scratch and Dent Sale" about 15 years ago that supposedly was not working, took it apart, cleaned everything (the plates had a lot of carbon and the jet was thoroughly plugged), and was back to a 3m15s boil time. My son uses it all the time and has never had a problem. Yes, he does maintain it properly.

Geez, after reading years of posts on Trailspace from people proclaiming endlessly about how versatile their multi-tools are, I though everyone had several sizes of flatblade and phillips screwdrivers, plus allen and Torx in multiple sizes, along with a half dozen wrenches (including crescent) and pliers. Doesn't your Leatherman do everything?

11:47 p.m. on October 31, 2011 (EDT)
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Bill,

I think you may mean 25 years of using the Whisperlite, not 45, but if in fact you've been using them for 45 years, may I borrow your time machine this weekend?  I've always wanted to see Hetch Hetchy before the reservoir.  ;)

Incidentally, 25 years is about how long I've been using Whisperlites.   I bought my first Whisperlite in 1986, about 2 years after the stove came out.

Now, that's an interesting observation that Whisperlites simmer better after you've cleaned the baffles.  I might have to try that on my trusty Internationale.

My observation of Whisperlites is that the pre-shaker jet ones simmer half way decently but the more modern shaker jet ones don't simmer nearly as well.  The only exception to that is the new Whisperlite Universal which I found to simmer better than any Whisperlite I've seen.

With respect to the baffles, though, I still think that there won't be that many times they'll need to be disassembled in the field.  I probably won't start carrying an Allen wrench.  Like I say, if I were really worried about it, I'd just change out the hex head screw for a slot or Phillips head screw.

HJ

5:14 p.m. on November 10, 2011 (EST)
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I just saw the Whisperlite Universal for sale (but not in stock) on MEC's site for $131.00 CAD (about $128.00 USD). Assuming the price doesn't change when the stoves actually hit the shelves in January, I think it's a smart move by MSR. I think MSR was reaching a bit with their original MSRP of $140.

For those who don't know, MEC (Mountain Equipment Co-op) is a large, outdoors-oriented Canadian retailer. They're vaguely similar to REI (Recreational Equipment Incorporated), the US retailer.

HJ

Adventures in Stoving

5:20 p.m. on November 10, 2011 (EST)
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Hmmm, I have seen this practice in the past. 

There are a pair of Scarpa boots that I have been looking at that are currently released in Europe but we are still waiting for the release in the states. From what I got from my correspondence with Scarpa the release here should be in the next month or so. 

I am all over this stove. The flexibility it offers is key to me. Can't wait for the release in Jan. 

8:08 p.m. on November 10, 2011 (EST)
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yeah, I am definitely going to sell my Optimus Nova Plus and getting this one as soon as it is available. 

2:42 p.m. on November 11, 2011 (EST)
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this looks like the child of the existing whisperlite and the butane cannister Windpro.  has the stamped metal feet, ability to burn butane and modulate the flame from the windpro, but burns multiple fuels and has a burner more like the whisperlite.

my question: does this one really do enough with liquid gas? it seems to me from your review that it's the same problem modulating the flame if you use white gas.  it does seem like this may be marginally better burning liquid gas at low heat, but you noted that you had to resort to 'tricks' like low fuel pressure to simmer w/white gas.  there are certainly stoves (like the optimus nova that Gonzan is about to sell) that do a great job modulating the flame with white gas. 

i like winter camping & therefore have some bias against butane cans generally, but if i wanted the versatility of being able to burn butane cannisters, i would get the Windpro or some other dedicated butane burner, and i would stick with a white gas stove that doesn't require much work to run at low heat.   

7:42 p.m. on November 11, 2011 (EST)
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I'm sure this is common knowledge, but I've never had any problems adjusting my Whisperlite flame by closing down the valve at the fuel bottle.  Not entirely, I just don't open it up full goose and adjust from there.  I've found I have as much control as I do on my home stove-top.

1:47 p.m. on November 12, 2011 (EST)
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Rick-Pittsburgh said:

I am all over this stove. The flexibility it offers is key to me. Can't wait for the release in Jan. 

 

That's sort of my view -- that the W'lite Universal is a sort of "best of both worlds" stove. If you wanted to really apply the KISS (Keep It Simple, Sweetheart) principle, this stove will do it.  Keep your gear closet nice and lean:   

  • "Summer" weather: Upright canister operation
  •  "Shoulder season" weather (early spring/late fall): Inverted canister operation (i.e. liquid feed)
  •  Full on Winter weather: Liquid fuel

One stove that will work really well in all seasons.

I like that it's a "remote" set up (burner and fuel separated). Unlike an "upright" set up (burner on top of the fuel), the burner is lower to the ground which a) makes things more stable, and b) takes you out of the wind a bit more. Also a "remote" configuration is much safer because you can put a windshield between the fuel and the burner. Heat + fuel = BOOM (not good).

The drawbacks of course are a) price (all this functionality ain't gonna come cheap) and b) weight. For summer use, a little upright gas stove will be much lighter. The trade off for the weight and price is a lot of functionality and a lot more windproofness. In case it doesn't show, I'm a big fan of the remote configuration. I've always felt the upright style was a little "tippy" and is certainly more vulnerable to wind.

HJ

1:50 p.m. on November 12, 2011 (EST)
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Zeno Marx said:

I'm sure this is common knowledge, but I've never had any problems adjusting my Whisperlite flame by closing down the valve at the fuel bottle.  Not entirely, I just don't open it up full goose and adjust from there.  I've found I have as much control as I do on my home stove-top.

 

No, not common at all.  Most current Whisperlites absolutely suck if you're trying to get a low flame.  You've got an exception.  Hang on to that stove.

HJ

2:37 p.m. on November 12, 2011 (EST)
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leadbelly2550 said:

this looks like the child of the existing whisperlite and the butane cannister Windpro.  has the stamped metal feet, ability to burn butane and modulate the flame from the windpro, but burns multiple fuels and has a burner more like the whisperlite.

lol. It does, doesn't it?

my question: does this one really do enough with liquid gas? it seems to me from your review that it's the same problem modulating the flame if you use white gas.  it does seem like this may be marginally better burning liquid gas at low heat, but you noted that you had to resort to 'tricks' like low fuel pressure to simmer w/white gas.  there are certainly stoves (like the optimus nova that Gonzan is about to sell) that do a great job modulating the flame with white gas. 

i like winter camping & therefore have some bias against butane cans generally, but if i wanted the versatility of being able to burn butane cannisters, i would get the Windpro or some other dedicated butane burner, and i would stick with a white gas stove that doesn't require much work to run at low heat.   

 Your concern is valid.  The Whisperlite Universal (WLU) does simmer a lot better on liquid fuels than either the regular Whisperlite or the Whisperlite International, but the WLU does not simmer as well as something like a Nova+.

For me, it's good enough.  I want the ability to have a low flame.  I don't mind that I have to reduce pressure in the fuel bottle (easy to do by either not pumping so much or by flipping the bottle for a minute).  I just want that low flame.  And a low flame it does have.  The re-designed generator ("pre heat loop") works pretty well. 

But it's definitely not as easy or as precise on liquid fuel as something like a Nova, a Dragonfly, an Apex II, or an Omnifuel -- all stoves with a valve at the burner.

HJ

11:01 a.m. on November 13, 2011 (EST)
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gonzan said:

yeah, I am definitely going to sell my Optimus Nova Plus and getting this one as soon as it is available. 

 Hey Gonzan,

I'm curious why you don't like the Optimus Nova? Purely because it can't use canister gas?

I've been scoping one for the better part of a year now. I love the design, and the build quality looks like it's far above anything else out there. The way the Wisperlites fold up just seems clunky to me. And I really dislike the plastic fuel pumps. The idea of taking it apart to fumble with & change tiny, easily lost fuel jets isn't appealing either. The all Aluminum pump on the Optimus just looks a lot more bullet proof to me. I've heard there are some issues with the fuel line adjustment feature but doesn't seem like anything that couldn't be adjusted for with a little bit of common sense. The lack of being able to use canister/isobutane gas really doesn't bother me. If that's what I want to use, I can always just bring my SnowPeak Giga with me.

Looking through review after review, the one thing that bothers me. NOBODY seems to make any effort to try the stoves with ALL the different fuels it can use. White Gas & Isobutane. Every single one of them. How about Diesel?, Gasoline?, Kerosine?, aviation fuel? Alcholho? Cow Dung?. It's being marketed as burning anything, test it with anything & everything!

Having used my stove for cooking through the week long power outages of two major storms in the past two months, I'm as interested in the ANY fuel survival aspect as I am for backpacking.

On a comical note. Watched a NatGeo Expedition week special last night. Journey to the bottom of the earth or something like that. Todd Carmichael did an unaided solo trip from the coast of Antartica to the south pole. About ten minutes in, he is on his third day, in his tent trying to work out a stove failure.... I get a glimpse, rewind, of course, it's the Optimus Nova. He had a second stove and that one worked. Between the two, he made it all 700 miles to the pole. Didn't seem like he was exceptionally well prepared or ready for this kind of trip, so I don't know how much was the stoves fault.

11:33 a.m. on November 13, 2011 (EST)
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JerseyWreckDiver:

The Nova/Nova+ has had a lot of serious quality control problems since Katadyn bought out Optimus and cut corners on the design -- serious enough to warrant an international recall.  You might want to read my review of the Optimus Nova before buying a Nova/Nova+.

With regard to fuels, there are three petroleum based standard fuels:  canister gas, white gasoline (e.g. Coleman type fuel), and kerosene.  Stoves will get the cleanest burning and least fouling on those three fuels.  Yes, some stoves can burn unleaded, AV gas, diesel, etc, but you're going to have to clean the stove a lot more and you run the risk of greatly reducing the life of the stove (depending on what model you're using and how easy it is to clean the generator).

ALWAYS use standard fuels when available.  Non-standard fuels should only be used if you just can't get a standard fuel.  Especially diesel #2 (the kind you get at a gas station) which is a dirty, sooty mess to burn.  Make sure you bring an expedition type service kit with you if you plan to burn diesel #2 -- you're going to need it.

HJ
Adventures in Stoving

6:25 p.m. on November 15, 2011 (EST)
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Nice review

10:40 p.m. on November 15, 2011 (EST)
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Why thank you.  :)

HJ
Adventures in Stoving

11:54 a.m. on November 16, 2011 (EST)
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couldn't get your link to work but found it on your site.

my pre-recall optimus nova works well - always fires up, never leaks, never fails.  i do maintain it and inspect it before each trip, clean the jets, check the parts and connections.  worth doing that before any trip.  it's worth getting some replacement o-rings for the male insert into the fuel pump; replace them with translucent o-rings that are less likely to get damaged, carry a few spares (again, worth doing that for any stove that has parts or seals vulnerable to damage), and lubricate them occasionally.

the recall was for stoves made in 2009 and most of 2010.  has anyone here actually used one of their post-September 2010 stoves to determine whether they are reliable?

 

2:32 p.m. on November 16, 2011 (EST)
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JerseyWrecker, 

I didn't see your question until just now, sorry. 

I actually do like my Nova+ quite a bit. I purchased my right before the quality control issues became rampant, and mine has not had any serious issues so far. It has only once leaked an almost imperceptible amount  from the "close" valve on the pump. I have two other small complaints on mine: it takes an insanely long time to purge- I will often just say "forget it" and drain the fuel after it cools off. The other issue is that the supplied o-rings are crap- they start peeling apart in layers after just a couple uses. I just buy replacement ones for $0.30 at an auto parts store, which sure beats the $$ the manufacturer charges. I know many people also don't like the "jet engine" roar the Nova+ makes when running, but I didn't mind it so much. 

The simmer control is quite nice, especially since I really enjoy doing more "gourmet" type cooking than many. However, the versatility of this new stove, and the reliability of the MSR product is quite attractive. I know Katadyn is supposed to have fixed the problems, but I am just really wary of them now. 

4:20 p.m. on November 16, 2011 (EST)
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leadbelly2550 said:

couldn't get your link to work but found it on your site.

my pre-recall optimus nova works well - always fires up, never leaks, never fails.  i do maintain it and inspect it before each trip, clean the jets, check the parts and connections.  worth doing that before any trip.  it's worth getting some replacement o-rings for the male insert into the fuel pump; replace them with translucent o-rings that are less likely to get damaged, carry a few spares (again, worth doing that for any stove that has parts or seals vulnerable to damage), and lubricate them occasionally.

the recall was for stoves made in 2009 and most of 2010.  has anyone here actually used one of their post-September 2010 stoves to determine whether they are reliable?

 

 

Oops.  Sorry about the bad link. Glad you found the review.

Very smart to carry a kit of essential spares and such for your stove when in the backcountry.

The "word on the street" is that the post Sept 2010 stoves still have some quality control challenges.  I'm hearing about "O" rings and such that just shred in a very short period of time. 

The Nova is basically a good stove.  I hope Katadyn can get their act together before the stove's reputation  is so sullied that they have to retire the entire line.

HJ

4:24 p.m. on November 16, 2011 (EST)
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gonzan said:

I actually do like my Nova+ quite a bit. I purchased my right before the quality control issues became rampant, and mine has not had any serious issues so far. It has only once leaked an almost imperceptible amount  from the "close" valve on the pump. I have two other small complaints on mine: it takes an insanely long time to purge- I will often just say "forget it" and drain the fuel after it cools off. The other issue is that the supplied o-rings are crap- they start peeling apart in layers after just a couple uses. I just buy replacement ones for $0.30 at an auto parts store, which sure beats the $$ the manufacturer charges. I know many people also don't like the "jet engine" roar the Nova+ makes when running, but I didn't mind it so much. 

The simmer control is quite nice, especially since I really enjoy doing more "gourmet" type cooking than many. However, the versatility of this new stove, and the reliability of the MSR product is quite attractive. I know Katadyn is supposed to have fixed the problems, but I am just really wary of them now. 

 

MSR stoves have served me well for about a quarter of a century, and I'm pretty happy with what I saw when I was reviewing the new Whisperlite Universal.  Having said that, MSR pumps are still all plastic.  The older all metal Optimus Nova pumps are really solid.  I wish MSR would come out with a little heavier duty pump for expedition use.   However, the newest MSR pumps are definitely an improvement over the prior two versions of the MSR pump.

HJ

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