User Review: MSR WhisperLite Universal
Source: received for testing via the Trailspace Review Corps
Finally here is a true multi-fuel (MSR calls it a hybrid) stove that burns both liquid fuels and canister gas (upright or inverted). Not only does it burn these fuels, but it does it well — plus it simmers...no it really does!
In just a couple minutes the stove can be configured to burn the various fuels (see below) by simply changing a couple parts using the supplied tool.
This is a great option for anyone who wants a stove that can be used year round in multiple climates, with multiple fuels. For groups it allows flexibility through the use of multiple fuels — or for those who travel abroad to places where some fuels may be harder to get or if it's not clear what fuels will be available.
The Universal will burn:
White gas – Unleaded auto gas – Kerosene
Canister gas – (upright or inverted)
- Multi-fuel (liquid and canister)
- Everything is included
- Changing fuel types is quick
- Well built / sturdy
- Will handle large pots
- Good windscreen
- Simmers well
- Instructions easy to understand / follow
- Price point
- Small parts to keep up with
- Will not support pots smaller than 4 ¼ in. or 11 cm. in diameter.
- Fuel line is stiff
A review of the MSR Whisperlite Universal Hybrid fuel stove
A backpacking stove made by Cascade Designs – Seattle WA, USA
I received this stove from Cascade Designs for testing and used it on five separate outings as well as a lot of testing at home.
The stove arrived in a nice looking cardboard package (see photos), it included the stove, all parts for changing fuel types, pressure pump for liquid fuel bottles, canister stand, wind screen and ground protector, a nice stuff sack, and full instructions in three languages (three separate booklets) plus a quick reference guide in two languages, along with warnings etc.
The cardboard box the stove came in has a chart printed on top that lists the burn time of each fuel per 20 oz —boil times for one liter of water — the amount of water boiled per oz (and 100 ml) of fuel — plus the stoves weight in different configurations.
Inside was a black stuff sack containing all the parts. Since the stove has multiple small parts (3 jets, O rings, jet and line tool, etc) MSR has included a small zippered pouch sewn inside the stuff sack for storing these parts so they do not get lost at your campsite or in the back of the car.
This stove is different than my old Whisperlite, the new Whisperlite Universal has three flat stainless steel legs instead of the three wire legs many of the other MSR stoves have. The stove stands 3 5/8 in ( 9.13 cm) from the ground to the top of the pot supports. The outside diameter of the pot supports is 7.5 in (19.05 cm) and the inside diameter is 3 ½ in (8.89 cm). This means that pots smaller than about 4 ¼ in (10.79 cm) will not fit this stove without some type of modification or diffuser plate.
The burner design is slightly different too, plus removal of the burner head requires an allen wrench (not included), but that should rarely be required and not something I would worry about while using the stove in the field. Throw one in the bag if you want it in size 1/8 in.
The fuel line is longer than my older MSR stoves, it is also stiffer with a threaded end and double O rings. Included are two fuel adapters that screw onto the end of the fuel line along with three jets that screw into the other end of the fuel line (generator tube end), a shaker needle, extra O rings, and a handy field wrench (jet and cable tool).
The stove comes with a fuel pump and pump cup oil for standard MSR fuel bottles as well as a stand for holding canisters in an inverted position. Fuel bottle and canister not included.
The instructions in the stove I tested came as three booklets (3 languages) that unfolded into a large sheet with nice diagrams and step by step directions divided into two main sections — one section for liquid fuels, and the other section for canister gas. There was also a small quick reference guide with numbered step by step instructions for configuring the stove to use different fuel types, no illustrations and the print was small.
You also get an aluminum windscreen and ground protector along with a nice stuff sack.
Since the MSR Whisperlite Universal can be configured to run multiple fuels it comes with the necessary adapters and jets to do so. I weighed the entire stove (all contents in the stuff sack) including all instructions, it weighed 559 g or 19.72 oz. — maximum weight.
This is quite heavy, however if you are only going to be using canister fuel on a given trip you can leave a lot of things at home cutting down on the pack weight of the stove. For canister use you would not need to bring the fuel pump, liquid fuel adapter, liquid fuel jets, shaker needle, or pump cup oil. Also once you learn how to use the stove and how to configure the stove for the different fuels you can leave the instruction booklet at home, carrying only the quick reference guide!
Leaving the liquid fuel parts and instruction booklets at home saves 5.4 oz (153 g). At a minimum I recommend you carry the quick reference guide and only leave the instruction booklet home after adequate practice using and learning the stove.
I have included a chart that lists the weights of all the stove parts so you can determine what the pack weight of the stove would be based on what parts of the stove you carried.
The weight when configured to burn canister gas (stove, jet, and adapter only) is 264 g (9.31 oz).
Testing the stove at home:
I tested this stove at home under fairly controlled conditions to establish a base line for boil times of one liter of water.
For each test I used the same aluminum pot with lid measuring 7 in. (17.78 cm) in diameter and 3 in. (7.62 cm) in height. The lid has a small hole drilled in it to allow a thermometer to be placed inside so I know exactly when I reach a boil.
Parameters for testing can be found in the footnotes below.
Here is a chart showing the boil times I achieved.
All the boil times I got were in line with the ones listed by MSR on their website.
However, I did not see a boil time listed on their website for an inverted canister in sub freezing temps.
For this particular test I placed a new canister in my freezer for one hour at 18 degrees F. (-7.78 C). I then followed the instructions to use the stove with an inverted canister. In order to simulate freezing air temps I wrapped a frozen cold pack (the 'first aid' kind) around the canister for the entire test.
As you can see from the chart my boil time was 7 minutes 13 seconds. I also had a hard time getting the flame adjuster valve to turn completely off, it was stiff (cold I think). I did not have a problem with the valve using canisters at room temps. I think this was a fairly brutal test and there are several tricks to warm canisters during use in these conditions — I purposefully did the opposite.
Set up and actual use in the field:
I tested the stove on five trips, three of these were backpacking trips on the Palmetto Trail in South Carolina.
Here I am eating a late supper cooked on the MSR Universal after setting up camp.
I did not track boil times in the field, there are just too many variables like air temp, wind chill, water temp, fuel pressure, etc. I will say the stove performed well and the windscreen did its job.
Grabbing the black stuff sack the stove comes in you notice it has a nice drawstring and cord lock plus a zippered pouch sewn inside the sack for storage of the extra parts the stove comes with, this works very well as long as you make sure the parts are in it and it's zipped. I am glad they added this.
Having used MSR Whisperlites and Simmerlites for many years, as well as various canister stoves I felt fairly at home with this stove once I read the instructions and practiced configuring the stove from canister gas mode to liquid fuel mode a few times. The stove came configured for canister gas.
Configuring the stove is not a difficult process and even a newbie should get the hang of it fairly quickly by following the instructions. I found the instructions to be well written and illustrated. If you want to configure the stove for liquid fuel you just follow the instructions in the left column, if you want canister gas you follow the instructions in the right column, very simple.
You only have to do this if you are going to change fuel types, liquid to canister or vice versa. It is not something you must do each time you use the stove.
I would recommend that if you have any questions or don't understand something you should contact MSR. Their phone number and web address is included with the stove instructions. It has been my experience that they have good customer service.
To change the stoves configuration basically you must do two things:
Install the correct JET in the stove's fuel line for the fuel type you have selected to burn.
- Install the corresponding FUEL ADAPTER onto the other end of fuel line and attach either a fuel bottle or a canister.
Photo shows the liquid fuel adapter, jets, and needle shaker on the left — the canister adapter and jet on the right.
Jet and cable tool (metal wrench) - pump cup oil - extra O-rings.
I found this takes about two minutes and is easily done with the JET & CABLE TOOL provided I did not over tighten these threaded connections the last time I swapped parts out. The Jet & Cable Tool is a small, thin, metal wrench (see photo above) that requires a little dexterity to use.
Even though I tested the stove in mild temps I took along a pair of heavy wool gloves to test dexterity issues in configuring the stove. I found that screwing the fuel adapter onto the fuel line was do-able with gloves on, but screwing a different jet into the fuel line with my gloved fingertips was difficult and much easier done with bare fingers.
These parts should easily thread into place by hand. If you feel resistance, stop and make sure you did not cross thread them, especially the jets. After starting them by hand use the Jet & Cable Tool to snug up the fitting. Also when using liquid fuels be careful not to lose the shaker needle that goes inside the UG and UK jets, it is small.
Next you attach either a fuel bottle with pump, or gas canister to the fuel line, then while holding the stove in one hand use the other hand to rotate the legs into position, and then set the stove on level ground.
The fuel line is stiff and I found that re-positioning the fuel bottle or canister tends to move the stove around unless you have a pot full of water or food on the stove. So I would suggest getting the stove set up and arranged the way you want it before lighting the stove.
As noted above in the description, the stove's pot supports did not accommodate pots smaller than 4 ¼" in diameter. My Snow Peak 900 barely sat on the stove without tipping, although do-able. The Snow Peak 1400 and MSR Alpine set work just fine as would any similarly sized pot.
At home I placed a large stock pot full of water on the stove outside in the grass just to see how stable the stove was, I was well pleased and would not hesitate to use a large pot on this stove. The one caveat is that the stove (any stove) is only as stable as the ground you place it on.
Fuel Pump & Liquid fuels
The stove comes with the new MSR Standard Fuel Pump for pressurizing liquid fuel bottles. During testing I noticed the new pump did not drip like my old MSR pump when it was removed from the fuel bottle. The new style pump fits both my 20-year-old fuel bottle as well as my new one. The stove does not come with a fuel bottle so you will have to purchase that separately,
I had no problems with the fuel pump and I do like it better than my old style pump. I found 25 strokes to be adequate for initial pressurization.
The beauty of liquid fuels like white gas is that white gas can effectively be used way below freezing as well as at high altitude where canisters become problematic. It is also cheaper than canister gas. This gives you a fuel option that is very versatile and affordable.
The downside is that the stove must be primed (preheating the fuel line) to vaporize the liquid fuel so it enters the burner as a gas. This is not hard, but requires a little practice and is explained in the instructions.
During field testing I ran the stove full blast on all fuels and had no problems, although the kerosene was a bit sooty. Burning kerosene can clog up the jet and leave deposits in the fuel line. If this happens the cleaning procedure is in the stove maintenance section of the instructions. I went through the procedure and it took about fifteen minutes.
Photo shows kerosene on full blast.
I also tried to get the lowest simmer with all three liquid fuels. This has been a problem with some other liquid fuel stoves I have used including the MSR Simmerlite.
Simmering with the MSR Universal was a pleasant experience, by slowly turning the adjustment valve I was able to achieve a sustainable simmer. No fiddling with the bottle pressure or raising the pot off the stove to reduce heat — a real simmer!
Upright canister use
This configuration is the simplest and most user friendly for most people. You simply thread the canister onto the fuel line, open the adjustment valve and light. Flame adjustment is very easy from a low simmer to a full burn.
The fuel in a gas canister is actually in the liquid state so when using the canister in the upright position the liquid fuel vaporizes into a gas before entering the fuel line as the valve is opened. This works best in temps well above freezing although there are some tricks to warm the fuel around the freezing mark.
Inverted canister use
The stove comes with a black plastic canister stand that securely holds a canister in the inverted position (see photo at top of page) by snapping onto the canister fuel adapter. I did this multiple times during testing and had no problems with the stand or inverting canisters.
So you may be wondering why you would want to invert the canister, I will try to keep this simple.
As mentioned above, the fuel in a gas canister is actually in the liquid state, this is done by pressurizing the canister to compress the gas into a liquid.
Straight butane vaporizes (boils) at 31.1 F (-0.5 C) so if the butane fuel reaches temps below that it does not vaporize, meaning your stove does not work. Propane is often added by manufacturers to gas canisters to improve cold temp performance. Propane vaporizes (boils) at -43.6 F (-42 C) a much lower temp. MSR IsoPro fuel canisters contain a 80/20 blend of Isobutane and Propane.
Blending the fuels boosts the performance of canister gas in cold temps – to a point.
In colder temps where the gas does not want to vaporize you can invert the gas canister and continue using your stove.
By inverting a gas canister you convert the fuel feed from a vapor to a liquid feed by allowing the pressure in the canister to push liquid fuel from what is now the bottom of the canister.
This way vaporization is not needed to push fuel into the fuel line so fuel delivery is increased in temps near or below the vaporization point. Follow the instructions. This too has its limits and may still result in long boil times in colder temps although there are tricks here also to help warm the fuel in the canister.
Windscreen & Heat Reflector
The stove comes with an aluminum windscreen (see photos) that wraps around the stove and your pot or pan to improve the stoves performance. Simply put, the windscreen shields the stove burner and cooking pot from the wind — thus increasing heat transfer to your pot. This decreases cook time and the amount of fuel used. I recommend always using the windscreen, in windy or cold conditions it makes a huge difference.
The aluminum heat reflector (often referred to as a ground disc) is intended to reflect heat back up to the pot increasing stove performance; although in testing I found it had a negligible effect. The reflector may have increasing benefit when using the stove in very cold temps and on frozen surfaces.
During field testing I found the stove to be more stable when placed directly on the ground instead of the reflector because it is difficult to get the reflector which folds up for storage, to lay flat and the stove wants to slide around on the slick surface.
The MSR Whisperlite Universal is the first MSR stove that burns both liquid fuel and gas canisters giving you a wide range of fuel options.
Your choices are:
White gas (Naptha - Coleman fuel – Camp Fuel)
Unleaded auto gas
Upright canister gas (gas feed)
Inverted canister gas (liquid feed)
The stove is on the heavy side especially if you carry the entire stove with all parts. However the stove can be carried lighter by configuring it to burn either liquid or gas and leaving the non essential parts and instruction booklet at home.
The Universal is more of a group or expedition style stove especially with the fuel flexibility allowing any member of a group who has one of the fuel types to use the stove. The stove would also be great for those who travel abroad.
The stove is stable and will support large pots with the stoves long pot supports, but does not work well with small or solo pots. The burner design does work better with wider pots anyway.
The stove actually simmers on all fuels. This doesn't mean you can turn your back on it or run a pot dry — but it produces a true, steady, simmer.
The windscreen works very well and is tall enough and long enough for plenty of adjustment. I did not like the heat reflector. I think any benefit of heat reflection by placing the stove on top of it is not worth the loss of stove stability I experienced.
The instructions are well written.
Notes on field testing:
For field testing I carried the entire stove with all components and instructions on three different backpacking trips. I unpacked and completely re-packed the stove for each meal. On the first two backpacking trips I tested with liquid fuels — white gas, auto gas, and kerosene. On the third backpacking trip I carried canister fuel.
I also used the stove on two day hikes carrying the stove at minimal weight. The first hike was white gas, the second was canister.
My backpacking trips were all in the Atlantic Coastal Plain on the Palmetto Trail in South Carolina. A total of 10 days.
My day hikes were just below the Blue Ridge Escarpment of the Southern Appalachians on the SC / GA state line along the Chattooga River. A total of two days.
Testing was done in my kitchen — not a lab. I did the best I could to control the variables and the results I got are what I listed.
Inside air temps were kept at 68 – 70 degrees F (20 – 21.11 C) according to a digital thermometer kept close by on my counter top.
Water for testing was stored in a large container and allowed to reach room temp. The temp of each liter was checked after being poured into the pot. Test water was measured with a one liter Nalgene bottle.
After each test the stove and pot were allowed to cool completely before beginning the next test.
For liquid fuels three boils were done with each liquid fuel and the times averaged. The fuel bottle was filled to the fill line at the beginning of each three boil test, and the fuel pump was pumped 25 strokes for each test.
For canister tests I used an MSR IsoPro 8 oz / 227 g canister. Three consecutive boils were done with a new canister at room temp placed upright and the boil times averaged. Then three boils were done with a new canister that had been placed in my freezer and placed in the inverted position with the boil times averaged. According to my thermometer the freezer is 18 degrees F. (-7.78 C). I wrapped the inverted canister with a large cold pack out of the freezer.
Altitude at my home is 41 ft. above sea level.