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Price when purchased (November 2013): £99.99
Price now (April 2014): £100 - £120
The MSR Whisperlite Universal is a multifuel stove capable of taking liquid fuels as well as gas fuels. The stove comes with two fuel container adapters and three fuel nozzles. The included gas canister stand allows gas canisters to be inverted therefore enabling gas canister use in low temperature conditions as well. No liquid fuel bottle is included in the initial product set, but these can be picked up for an additional £15 - £30 depending on size. The stove is fully field-serviceable using the mini tool supplied with it, although a proper multitool will make life easier in the long run. While the gas fuel is limited to the EU/US typical butane/propane screw on cartridges the liquid fuel is in theory only limited by imagination. In practice the stove is designed to burn unleaded petrol, white gas and kerosene. This means in liquid fuel mode the stove can operate world-wide.
Coming from a JetBoil background this stove was my head first dive into the realms of actual outdoor cooking as opposed to merely heating water. Although slightly on the heavy and bulky side for wild camping, the stove has served well on multiple small UK expeditions easily allowing two people to live comfortably for 5 days on one medium bottle (750ml) of fuel. A Jetboil sized gas container (100g) will last 1-2 days depending on your cooking style and time.
Despite in theory being able to use any liquid fuel it transpires that certain types of Bio-Ethanol are not suitable for this burner. Generally anything similar to Methylated Spirits in behaviour will simply evaporate too quickly to burn efficiently. With a bit of practice a skilled user will be able to make them work, but in doing so lose all benefits of liquid fuels regarding efficiency and control.
Servicing the stove is incredibly easy and it can be taken apart to its base components for a deep clean every now and then. Especially when using liquid fuels the build ups can cause inefficient air flow and clogs, so it is worth investing some time in the cleaning. An inbuilt self-cleaning mechanism for the jet (the bottleneck regarding build ups and deposits) allows the user to crudely clean the stove just before lighting, especially handy in situations when it just needs to work.
When used in liquid fuel mode the stove requires preheating and a little bit of practice in order to "hear" (or guess) the right moment to engage the fuel flow. In gas mode no preheating is necessary, although I would recommend not to start with an inverted canister as the resulting fireball can be seen across most campsites. In regards to lighting the stove this can be accomplished using either a lighter or striker. Both are unsupplied in the initial package and personally I would opt for a storm-proof lighter as it ensures safe lighting of the liquid fuel for preheating as opposed to sparks flying in every direction and into every drop of spilt fuel.
Operationally the stove offers a good range of heat output from slight simmering to ferocious jet blast. Since the fuel valve is located at the cold end of the fuel line instead of the cooker itself it can be operated safely from a tent vestibule without the usual dangers associated with tent cooking. In this respect the fuel line could be slightly longer to increase the safety margin, although in its current state it is rarely necessary to leave the comfort of the sleeping bag before the first brew.
I had been looking long and hard for a stove that was practical, versatile, easy to use, sturdy, efficient and suitable for multi-person cooking. My decision between the MSR Whisperlite Universal and competitors was largely swayed by the ease at which it can be switched from liquid fuel to gas and back. Especially when backpacking or trekking for longer periods of time this allows for far greater flexibility in terms of fuel sources.
If all you ever do with a stove is boil water then I would most definitely not recommend this product as there are more suitable solutions available. However, as an all-round cooking stove that allows almost any style of cooking (within camping limits) the MSR Whisperlite Universal is hard to beat. Even on wild camping expeditions where I have asked myself whether the extra 300g of the Whisperlite compared to the Jetboil is worth the effort, I have yet to regret my decision.
Having been asked which fuel bottle to use with this stove I would strongly recommend using a MSR one, despite other marginally cheaper bottles being available, as it ensures a tight fit of the pump seal.