Relying on a stove handmade from a beer can fuelled by 97 per cent pharmaceutical alcohol, worked flawlessly for months on the road through the Americas. Certainly in non-windy conditions and when circumstances permitted us to be time-rich. However, seasons change, the weather picks up and it becomes nigh on impossible to source almost pure alcohol in various portions of Latin America. This gave rise to a pressing need for something a little more accessible; a sustainable solution that would excel in conditions stronger than a gentle breeze, and where sourcing fuel wouldn’t lead us on a wild goose chase every time. Off we went into the wilds with a MSR Whisperlite Universal in the hope of being converted from the beer can to the backpacking stove.
The Whisperlite Universal is a portable, lightweight liquid fuel stove. One of its biggest attractions to travellers from around the globe is the interchangeable aspect between isobutane and liquid gas (i.e. white gas, kerosene and unleaded gasoline). White gas is my preferred choice as it lacks the additives of other gasolines, however, kerosene and unleaded gasoline do the job just as well, even if I have to make a conscious effort to keep the lid on the pan to prevent the fuel’s nasties from tainting the pan’s contents. Whichever your preferred fuel choice, when such a versatile feature is a teamed up with the Whisperlite’s windscreen, makes the stove noticeably more fuel efficient than other competitors on the market, handmade or otherwise.
As the Whisperlite Universal is a hybrid-fuel system complete with AirControl™ technology, means it is capable of delivering optimal fuel in conjunction with the air mix. Thanks to the fuel-specific jets, the stove system facilitates a straightforward switch over to either the canister gas or liquid fuel with a little time but without too much fuss. A blessing for those on big journeys, in cooler climes and for international use. As long distance motorcyclists where stops are often determined by low gas tanks, it’s often more feasible to rely on replenishing the MSR fuel bottle with unleaded gasoline while we’re filling up the bikes.
Priming is an uncomplicated and clean process, taking less than two minutes. Whether you’re burning the liquid gas or the compressed equivalent, pairing of the bottle to the stove isn’t burdensome and the configuration of the Whisperlite Universal allows you to simmer while cooking, which is convenient as much as it is practical when heating food, but an unexpected joy when engaging the canister option. And you won’t have to keep your eyes peeled on the flame, the pressure from the fuel bottle keeps it even throughout usage.
For me, I love the flexibility of being able to nuke our drinking water to boiling point in as little time as 4 minutes (with unleaded gasoline). And at the same time, having the functionality to control the flame over a decent variance, so the culinary result doesn’t lead to giving our teeth a vacation. Wonderfully, nor does it leave the pot burnt with a baked on finish, requiring an industrial strength oven cleaner to remove it—pasta, brown rice and risotto dishes included.
The stove also enjoys a relatively lightweight aspect at just 11.5 ounces of an aluminium mixer tube, stainless steel legs and a streamlined design, which bears an intelligent folding system that lends itself to compact and bijou. Key for anyone where space is at a premium and luggage weight has to remain at a minimum. That said, when we put the stove to the test during blustery weather in the fall at Joshua Tree National Park, California, it stood up to its claims in terms of stability, as well as reliability of use.
The sturdy legs are stable within a structure that is featherweight without being flimsy. Where the alcohol stove does not stand a chance in staying alight amid gusty conditions, the Whisperlite Universal works flawlessly. The stove further comes into its own when the big pot is employed; having knocked over the large pot on multiple occasions atop of the beer can stove—losing my dinner to the dirt—becomes a thing of the past with not only the triangular formation of the Whisperlite Universal, but its scalloped edge pot supports on top.
After use, cleaning is minimal, largely due to the self-cleaning Shaker Jet™ technology and redesigned leg assembly from its predecessor. The fact that the Whisperlite Universal purrs like a happy pussy cat throughout any strength of flame, is an added bonus. It keeps the peace and you at one with nature without scaring everything off in earshot.
Painless to assemble and prime, the Whisperlite Universal out-performs any previous stove used to date. I applaud it for its versatility of fuels, pannier-friendly size and reliability of use. It worked as well at just shy of 12,000 feet as it did nearer sea level in windy weather, keeping me in control of the flame. As backpacking stoves go, MSR has hit the ball in the back of the net. The Whisperlite Universal functions just as its name suggests—it is quiet as a whisper, appealingly light and applicable to all— globe trotters and gases alike.
Versatile multi-fuel capability of liquid and compressed gases
Efficient with all compatible fuels
Good heat variance and an even flame
Easy to maintain and clean in the field
No leakage or spillage in using the liquid fuels
Quiet, even when in high flame operation
Takes a little time to switch fuel types
More expensive than other stoves in its class
Fuel type: Multi-fuel
Includes: Fuel pump, windscreen, heat reflector, small-parts kit, instructions and stuff sack
Dimensions: 6 x 4 x 4.75 inches
Weight: 11.5 ounces
Quick 2 pot set
As pot sets invariably offer something slightly different across the range, the Quick 2 pot set is overtly simple and effective. Both main components are ultra light and compact when stowed as one, saving on precious space while meeting the basic needs of the user. Ideal for one to three persons, the smaller 1.5 litre pot is non-stick, while the 2.5 litre pot is anodised for boil-only purposes—covering all bases.
There is also the option to nestle in two MSR deep plastic dishes and two or three sporks, complementing the two-in-one ensemble and transforming it into a ‘one stop shop’ solution. We do, as well as manage to fit in a small dry bag containing a universal sink plug, scouring sponge and 50 millilitre bottle of dish-washing detergent. We also employ the large pot as a sink, heat up some soapy water inside it and proceed our washing up duties.
The stainless steel pot lid comes complete with a flat, built-in colander—ideal for straining the water from rice and pasta for example. The grab handle is ergonomically sound and again, lightweight, clips securely onto both pots and takes minimal room when slotted into place, across the lid, on top of the bigger pot for storage.
The Quick 2 pot set is a dual cooking combination for anyone whose gear needs to remain slight and really, for any backcountry scenario that requires heating water and cooking basic meals. Having used and abused the Quick 2 pot set almost daily for 21 months, which has rattled around in a hard pannier for over 33,000 miles, on and off road throughout 16 countries in Latin America, I can vouch that versatile meets durable and lightweight—makes for a winning pan set solution. A continuous thumbs up.
Includes: 1.5 litre non-stick pot, 2.5 litre hard-anodised pot, aluminium strainer lid and Talon™ pot handle
Dimensions: 5 x 7.75 inches
Weight: 15.7 ounces
Well made and built to last
Easy to clean in the field
Only one pot handle is included