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MSR Whisperlite Internationale Review


MSR Whisperlite InternationaleEvery long bicycle trip needs a good campstove and for our journey we bought the MSR Whisperlite International ($99.95 from REI).

It was an excellent choice.

What we like:

  • It runs on many fuels. You can burn Coleman Gas (White Gas) and unleaded petrol for cars as well as a variety of other fuels. With so many options, we knew we’d always be able to find fuel, even in remote places. In practice, we have mostly run our stove on standard gasoline.
  • It’s easy to service in the field. On a long trip, your stove will inevitably need regular cleaning and replacement of basic parts so you need something that is simple to take apart and put back together.
  • Customer service. It’s rare to find a big company that looks out for individual customers but throughout our trip, whenever we were baffled by our stove, we always got a quick and informative reply from MSR.
  • Durability. Even after being fired up close to 1,000 times, knocked around in our panniers and dropped off a few tables, the stove still functions well.
What we don’t like:

We don’t have many complaints about the Whisperlite International but we would highlight the following things as potential issues. For us, these weren’t deal breakers, but you should be aware of them:

  • Stability – On a flat surface it’s fine but if you can’t find a level piece of ground to cook on, be careful your dinner doesn’t slide off into the forest.
  • No simmering – Because of the Whisperlite’s high cooking temperature, it is difficult to simmer anything. You get better with practice and if your stove is due to be cleaned that has the unexpected bonus of letting you cook at a more relaxed pace.
  • Soot – There isn’t any way to stop the outside of the stove from being covered in soot, and that means dirty hands. If you have some priming alcohol, you can cut the soot a lot by using the priming alcohol to start the stove (instead of petrol).
  • Not totally silent – Although it’s called the ‘Whisperlite’ – and it’s certainly quieter than some stoves we’ve seen – it’s not exactly silent. You can wake dozing neighbours when you fire it up early in the morning to make coffee at the campground.

About the stove
Regular Maintenance & Spare Parts
Troubleshooting
Conclusions & Alternative Stoves

The Whisperlite International stove is quite light at just 330 grams and packs down into a small black bag. It comes with two foil heat reflectors that amazingly have not yet been worn out despite quite a bit of folding and unfolding. We are still using the originals! The fuel bottle is not included with the stove and you can choose from several sizes to suit your needs. We carry a bottle that holds 20 fluid ounces or 590ml of fuel. This normally allows us to cook at least two meals a day for 5-7 days. In most places this is sufficient but if you are really going off the beaten track, consider a bigger bottle. Whenever we were concerned about fuel, we simply filled a small plastic bottle with an extra half litre of gas.

Andrew the chefTo get the stove ready to cook, take it out of the bag, expand the legs around the burner and connect the fuel line to the fuel bottle. Release a little fuel into a priming cup and light the fuel so the unit heats up to temperature. You can release more fuel a few seconds later and as the burner gets hotter the bright orange flames will settle down to a clean blue flame. This takes about 30 seconds. Now you’re ready to cook.

The heat generated by the stove is substantial and even in cold weather or at altitude you’ll have no problem boiling water quickly. We have used our stove many times in sub-zero temperatures and as high as 3,600 meters above sea level.

With a large amount of use, and depending on how dirty your fuel is, the stove will need to be cleaned. This generally involves removing the fuel line from the stove and using the cable inside the line to clear out any debris. Once you’re familiar with the task, it only takes about ten minutes but at first it can be tricky to figure out how to get the line through the legs and back on the stove. Don’t disassemble your stove for the first time when you are hungry.

msrservicekitMSR have various kits and replacement parts that you can carry to help clean the stove and repair it. We bought the expedition service kit ($29.95 from REI), which includes at least one double of nearly every part that may need replacement while you’re travelling. This was largely sufficient but for trips of more than six months where replacement parts may be hard to source, we would also suggest adding:

  • Extra o-rings in every size. The fuel tube o-ring is the one we’ve replaced the most. (You can find these in any plumbing shop, anywhere in the world)
  • Additional shaker needle. This part is quite delicate and can sometimes be damaged. Buy it before you leave because it will be difficult to source on the road.
  • Another pump cap. It can become loose with wear. (A radio antenna or spare spoke is good for retrieving the pump cap if it falls off the end of the plunger)

These parts are tiny, weigh almost nothing and aren’t very expensive. They can be bought individually from specialised mountaineering shops. Paranoid cyclists could also add an additional fuel line as in theory a lot of cleaning can wear out the line but we haven’t needed to replace ours yet.

The most common thing we have to do with our stove is clean it. Even though we have almost always run our stove on inexpensive petrol (instead of the cleaner but pricier white gas), we barely needed to clean it in places like Europe where the quality of unleaded fuel is high. In places like Iran and Central Asia where petrol is dirtier we had to clean it once or twice a month.

Very occasionally our stove develops a more serious problem when one of the parts wears out. Then we have to diagnose the issue and replace the relevant part. Over the course of two years, we have had the following issues:

  • The plunger on the pump moved freely and didn’t pressurise the fuel bottle. The issue in this case was the pump cap, which had become too loose and fallen off the plunger. We retrieved it using the end of a radio antenna and replaced it with a new one.
  • The flame on the stove remained a dirty orange and didn’t settle down to a clean, blue flame. There are two possible solutions here. First, the filter can be clogged or may have fallen off into the fuel bottle. Take a look and replace it. If that doesn’t work, examine the top of the burner. You can remove the screw and the underlying plates. After burning dirty fuel for a while the plates may be filled with soot. Clean them (a toothbrush works well) and put back together.
  • The fuel only escapes for an initial burst while starting the stove, then cuts out completely. The bottle stays pressurised and there is fuel in the line but it doesn’t reach the stove. This could be a problem either with the jet or the shaker needle. Try replacing the jet. If that doesn’t help, check to see that the needle is straight and not damaged and clean the weight attached to the needle. Replace it if you suspect any damage. If you don’t have a replacement, take the shaker needle out entirely. This may affect how the stove operates but should let you determine if it’s the jet or the needle that’s causing the problem.

If you are having trouble with your Whisperlite stove and not sure what to try next, try asking yourself these questions, provided by an expert at MSR. They may provide some insight.

If you are having problems with fuel flow:

  • Did you thoroughly clean the cable? Wipe it down, reinsert and scour the generator loop, then repeat.
  • Did you flow fuel through the line with the cable but no jet to flush the line?
  • Can you easily see through the jet orifice?
  • Did you try removing the shaker needle altogether? This may affect the stove in other ways but will help you diagnose if it’s a needle or a jet problem.
  • Do you get any fuel flow through the jet when not burning it? Is it a strong stream of fuel? One way to check this is to put the mixer tube over the jet elbow and watch the fuel stream on an unlit stove. If it’s hitting the wall of the mixer tube there’s a problem. If it appears to go straight and washes back down after it hits the burner it should be fine.
  • Does the fuel have debris in it?
  • Is the pickup tube in the fuel bottle clogged with something? Pull it out and check to see if it’s clear as well as the area where it plugs into the pump.
  • Try pulling out the control valve in the pump and making sure that it is clear of debris that might be restricting the flow of fuel to the stove.
  • Try the other jets provided with the Whisperlite Internationale.

If the stove is burning uncleanly:

  • Is the gas dirty? This can be an issue in less developed countries. Take a look and get a new supply if you’re in doubt
  • Are you using the correct jet? Using a G jet when you need a K jet can cause problems.
  • Do you need a new jet from wear (if the stove has been heavily used or aggressively cleaned)?
  • Is the jet clogged on the inside creating poor flow through the jet orifice?
  • Can you see the shaker needle when pushing it into the jet from below (it should poke out into the recess at the tip of the jet)?
  • Is there anything blocking the mixer tube holes? They can get blocked with soot.
  • Are the flat and wavey rings that make the burner ports in good shape or are they flattened and very, very dark (heat affected)? This is more rare but can cause problems.
  • Are the flat and wavey rings clogged up with soot? They can be taken apart and cleaned.
  • Is the bottle over pressurized? Too much pressure can cause flare ups. Try about 10 to 20 pumps in a full bottle of fuel or twice that for a half full bottle.

Conclusions
All in all, although we have had to service the stove a few times to keep it running properly, we’re still very happy with it and we can’t praise the help of the kind people at MSR enough. Thanks Tina and Drew! We don’t feel the problems we’ve had with our stove are unrealistic given how much we have used it and each time a solution was quickly found.

Check out the MSR Whisperlite International Stove from REI

Alternatives
For a truly silent stove, check out the Trangia, and for another quality multi-fuel stove stove the Primus Omnifuel is excellent (if a little pricey).

What Next?
Related Pages
 

35 Responses to “MSR Whisperlite Internationale Review”

  1. Helen D says:

    Petrol stations in the UK seem to set a minimum delivery from the pump of two litres. Did you have any problems in practise just filling up a 590ml bottle?

  2. We are only a couple of weeks into our trip and strugling with our combination of the whisperlite stove and one of MSRs titanium pans. Porridge sticks like anything unless you stir like you are possessed and hold the pan 4 inches off the stove; spag bol sauce splattered all over the place incontrollably… what a mare! We are thinking a heavier pan might help??? or a different stove??? Or both? We are eating everything in site at the moment so our cooking gear is essential to us and we have not got this right yet. Any tips much appreciated. Thanks Pete

    • friedel says:

      Ah, porridge! It took us ages to figure out how to cook that as well. The best we came up with was to boil the water, throw the porridge in and then just take the pan off the heat altogether and let it sit for 3-4 minutes (wrapped in a tea towel or something else for insulation, if possible). We are going camping this weekend. Maybe I can video our porridge technique.

  3. Manoj says:

    Anybody tried the stove in India with kerosine or Petrol? can you share your experiance?

    • friedel says:

      Manoj, the stove works well with petrol, even lower quality stuff (though you may have to clean it more often). We couldn’t get good petrol at all in some parts of Central Asia, but the stove still managed fine. I don’t know about India in particular, but I can’t see why it would be a problem. Is decent quality gasoline hard to get there?

    • Wayne says:

      I have used the MSR whisperlite in KalandhiKhal and Kedartal and was quite impressed with the little thing. On both ocassions i had used plain petrol and although it was almost towards the end of November, the stove really worked like a charm. It does not take too much to get used to using it and also heats up pretty quick based on what you are cooking in. The thinner the material (aluminium vessels work best) the faster it heats up. Also petrol although highly flammable on the plains, seems to behave well at higher altitudes. Note that you need to keep the pressure down to nothing as you climb higher.

  4. Lorenzo says:

    Hi!
    Just got my whisperlite and…what a mess!
    I got it to work almost properly after a little (still no steady blue flame though) but am astonished at the amount of soot that’s produced!
    The whole stove gets pitch black:I was wondering do you take the time of cleaning it at each time or do you just leave it as it is? I thought of using some gloves just for that each time I m using the stove and so skip cleaning it each time.
    Would love to know how you handle this issue!

    • Helen D says:

      I did exactly as you’ve thought and bought some gloves as I got sick of having black hands everytime I went near my stove. I eventually got so fed up that I bought some white gas. The top part of the stove looked cleaner immediately after the first use with the white gas.

    • Harold says:

      use methyl hydrate to prime the stove. It is fantastic and never get any soot at all on it. Just prime and after it cools down, put is away without any soot. There is priming past available but does not do a good job.

  5. friedel says:

    White gas will always burn cleaner than car petrol / gasoline. And yes, the MSR does get very sooty on the outside. There’s not much you can do, other than carry baby wipes for easy clean-up, or gloves.

  6. ShawnB says:

    Carry a tiny bottle of alcohol. A few drops in the bottom cup, light, and your priming is soot free. When the flame goes out, turn the gas line on just the tinniest bit. Only gas should flow (if there is any liquid entering the cup, then be sure to use more alcohol next time) – light with a match or lighter. When you ‘become one’ with the stove, you will be able to turn on the gas just as the flame drops down, and poof you will light the stove just as the alcohol burns out. Anyway – alcohol priming dramatically (or completely) avoids the soot.

    • friedel says:

      Shawn, you’ve reminded me that’s just what a friend of ours does. On our world trip, we didn’t want to add yet another bottle to our bags of stuff (and it’s hard to find small bottles of priming alcohol – you probably only need to carry about 500ml for quite a lot of cooking), but for shorter trips this is an ideal technique.

      • Imran says:

        Friedel, I thought the same when I saw this but any alcohol works. I’ve started using 70° which you can get in a small bottle in just about any chemist in West Africa. I’d be surprised if it were hard to find anywhere else in the World…

    • Imran says:

      Absolute genius!
      My whisperlite had been forgotten at the bottom of a pannier as the combination of soot and inability to get a good flame with diesel was completely offputting.
      I had been travelling through North and West Africa, so I thought that the only fuel we could get with ease was diesel. But it’s just as easy to get unleaded petrol, which works amazingly. This has actually improved our trip by quite q big margin, as we have a renewed sense of self-sufficiency!
      Alcohol is easy to get in any pharmacy, it burns amazingly and now each time I use the Whisperlite it gets cleaner! Thanks!

  7. Lorenzo says:

    Thank you so much guys I’ll try that out: as I am planning a trip through Eastern Asia I doubt I ll be able to find white Gas so I m going to try out how it works with Unleaded Petrol and Diesel.
    Do you perhaps know which of those two is more available in country such as Laos China Indonesia Malaysia?
    Again thanks!

  8. Lorenzo says:

    Also do you think I should get a expedition repair kit?How often do you actually change your O-rings? It makes me mad because as I understand what’s the most useful is the O-rings but still one would have to pay about 30 euros to get some useless things with it such as the key that of course was provided with the stove!
    Well sorry for complaining but I just had to :)

    • Steve says:

      I have had my Whisperlite Internationale for 22 years. I’ve replaced the o-rings once in all that time. Take a maintenance kit with you – the expedition kit is good – merely for the peace of mind you will achieve knowing you will be able to service the stove if required.

  9. friedel says:

    The expedition repair kit does have some useful tools in it (we actually used the key quite a bit for little tightening jobs), and the replacement shaker needle. The o-rings, however, you can buy at any plumbing / hardware store. Even in developing countries they have a large supply.

  10. Lorenzo says:

    Thank you so much everybody: tonight, following your superb advices, I managed to boil water on my whisperlite without having soot at all!
    I guess it was the diesel’s fault… with unleaded and alcohol priming it was clean all the way.

    Thanks again

  11. Imran says:

    I second Lorenzo, amazing advice and I’m now making rice, coffee and the cooker gets cleaner each time!
    In case anyone plans to travel through West Africa, Unleaded is easy to get, and alcohol can be got in any chemist.
    Thanks!

  12. Guy says:

    Hey,

    I just bought a used Wisperlite and I noticed the control valve is not properly inserted as it turns endlessly in both directions and I am not able to secure the ‘arm’ over the valve (its an older model). Any advice on getting the control valve back in place without causing any damage to the threads?

    Thanks! Love your site :)

    • friedel says:

      If it’s turning endlessly, maybe the threads are already damaged? Without seeing it, it’s really hard to say. Maybe there’s a group of enthusiastic campers that you could ask for help, in your area? You could also email MSR. We’ve found them very helpful in the past.

    • Stovve says:

      Take a close-up photo of the valve part of the stove and post it on the spiritburner.com forums. They will help you out no doubt. Maybe there is no o-ring inside of the valve? Be sure to replace it with the correct size or you might end up ruining the plastic pump housing when putting it back together. Good luck!

  13. Ekapon says:

    Hello.

    Do you guys carry spare gasoline ? (besides from the main MSR gasoline bottle)
    If so, what container are you using?

    Many thanks.

    • friedel says:

      We’ve rarely needed to carry spare gasoline – only occasionally in places like Kyrgyzstan. We just used empty pop bottles.

      • Ekapon says:

        Many thanks. So we don’t need a spare MSR bottle.

        Pop bottle is a good idea. I was thinking only about PET water bottle which is too soft.

  14. barbara says:

    do you have any eperiences with using it on high altitudes like on the pamir highway? is it still working?

  15. Adam says:

    On the topic of burning unleaded gasoline. A lot of people I have talked to (including the people at the store I will likely buy from) have said that burning gasoline will smell bad and make my food taste like gas. They said I should only use white gas. Gasoline seems a lot easier to find in the proper quantities (a can of white gas won’t fit in a 590 mL bottle), and it is a lot more expensive. Have you noticed any negatives burning gasoline (smell or taste) other than having to clean the stove more frequently?

    Thanks!

  16. “I love the smell of gasoline in the morning”. I find once you get the blue flame going then there is no petrol taste in the food you cook. On the note of cooking porridge, I use the MSR Skilliet Pan. I’m surprised out how versatile this pan is as it has a non stick surface. Cooking porridge is a lot easier and the pan cleans ok too. Treat it with care and it will last a while.
    I also use petrol in my Whisperlite and find the soot comes of really easy once finished cooking. When it’s cool I use a twig and the soot just falls off really easy. I love cleaning up after cooking. It gets you looking forward to the next meal.

  17. Osa says:

    I am from malaysia and hv just bought a used whisperlite fr ebay. Since white gas is unheard of in malaysia, the only thing to burn is unleaded petrol. And i prime it first with alcohol to reduce soot buildup. The unleaded petrol here is clean. After getting the blue flame, the smell of petrol is gone. As a matter of fact there is a retailer of msr products here in malaysia.

    • Bart says:

      What do you people mean with priming it first with alcohol to reduce soot buildup. How does that work?

      thanks for the replay

  18. Bart says:

    What do you people mean with priming it first with alcohol to reduce soot buildup. How does that work?

    thanks for the replay

    • Peter Jordan says:

      Hi Bart,
      At the bottom of the stove there is a small cup like attachment with a wick in it. For the stove to work you put a small amount of fuel ( alcohol or petrol ) into the cup/wick and light it, about a teaspoonful. This then burns under the brass pipe which takes the petrol or whatever fuel you are using from the fuel bottle to the stove ( the bottle has to be pressurised first ) and the heat turns the fuel in the brass pipe into a gas which is ignited after about a minute when you gently open the fuel knob. The procedure is called priming.
      Don’t ask how the fuel turns into a gas as that bit is magic. The reason some people use alcohol is that it heats/primes up the pipe without leaving any sooty residue on the stove. Try Google next time as I’m sure the answer is there somewhere along with videos.

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