MSR Whisperlite International Review

  • Wilderness Backpacker

MSR Whisperlite International Overview

When I called my dad to tell him I was going to be reviewing the MSR Whisperlite International, his first response was “I think we have one of those in our garage. Still works too!” Released in 1982, the Whisperlite quickly became a favorite amongst adventurers on expeditions and long backpacking trips. Or in my dad’s case, landscape photographers who spent their summers in remote sections of the western United States. These durable and adaptable stoves might just outlive every other piece of gear you’re currently using.

With its capacity to use multiple fuel types, its generation-spanning durability, and its ability to be broken down into pieces and cleaned, repaired, or replaced, the Whisperlite International is like the Duracell Bunny of backpacking stoves. It just keeps going, and going and, well, you get the idea.

For its versatility and long-standing use we’re recommending the MSR Whisperlite International as our Premium Pick for the Wilderness Backpacker.

With that said, you should know it is a liquid fuel stove, so if you’re used to Isobutane canisters you may want the WhisperLite Universal, or a different stove. There is a learning curve with all liquid fuel stoves, but it’s one that most people appreciate. Learn about the different stove types, and if this one is right for you, in our guide to choosing a backpacking stove.

Read below for the full MSR Whisperlite International review.

Whisperlite International Specifications

Feature Type Feature Specs What This Means
Weight 11.2 oz (320 g) This is the weight of just the stove and fuel pump. The Whisperlite also comes with a windscreen, heat reflector, and repair kit, which adds another 3 ounces. Then you also need a fuel bottle, which adds more weight. It’s not the lightest option out there. More on backpacking stove weights in our Guide.
Stove Type Liquid Fuel Stove Liquid fuel stoves work best with white gas. They allow you to fill up your own fuel bottle and pressurize it before use. They are versatile but more time consuming than other stove types. More on backpacking stove types in our Guide.
Fuel Type(s) Liquid Fuel: white gas, kerosene, and unleaded auto fuel The Whisperlite runs best on white gas, which can be found in most camping stores. Only use kerosene and auto fuel when absolutely necessary, as it gets the stove really dirty. More on backpacking stove fuel types in our Guide.
Output Not Listed MSR doesn’t list the output or BTU numbers for the Whisperlite, or most of its stoves. In general the company measures how quickly the stove can boil a liter of water, and how much time it takes to consume 20 oz. of fuel, which are more practical measurements. More on backpacking stove output and BTUs in our Guide.
Boil Time 3.4 minutes per liter With white gas, the Whisperlite can boil a liter of water in roughly 3.4 minutes, depending on altitude, temperature and wind. That number jumps up if kerosene is used. This is relatively fast, and doesn’t account for the priming time liquid fuel stoves take. More on backpacking stove boil time in our Guide.
Piezo Ignition? No The Whisperlite doesn’t have automatic ignition. Use a lighter or matches. More on how Piezo ignition works (and what it is) in our Guide.
Included Items Fuel pump, windscreen, heat reflector, small-parts kit, repair kit, instructions and storage sack There are a lot of pieces to the Whisperlite package. You can repair it fully in the field, and each piece is instrumental. Note that you’ll have to buy the fuel bottle separately.
Dimensions Opened Size: 6.5″ x 5″ x 4″ A decently large stove when opened. Supports many wide pots and is very stable. The arms fold together for a smaller packed size.
Manufacturer Warranty Limited Lifetime Warranty MSR has an excellent warranty and covers all of its products against manufacturer defects and workmanship issues for the life of the product. The company has been making Whisperlites since the ’80’s, and the design is relatively unchanged. These stoves are best known for durability and longevity of use, so if you feel a component has a defect, definitely send it in.
Retail Price $99.95 A high price for an ultra-durable stove that can feed groups of people. It’s overkill for some, but those who want a reliable liquid fuel stove can’t go wrong.
Price Check

Gear Review of the MSR Whisperlite International

Revelation: The Moment I Knew

After I learned that my dad had long relied on his old MSR Whisperlite for lengthy backpacking trips, I was thrilled to test out the most recent model. I took the stove on a four-day loop through the Golden Trout Wilderness, a swath of land nestled in the southern Sierras that spans over 300,000 acres. During the hike I saw as many people as alpacas — which is to say exactly three of each.

MSR-Whisperlite-International-golden-troute-wilderness-2
The Golden Trout Wilderness. As idyllic and empty as this picture makes it out to be.

When I’m out in such a remote wilderness I don’t want to deal with gear that malfunctions, is finicky, or burns through fuel quickly. I knew the MSR Whisperlite had a history of performing well in adverse conditions, so I felt confident that I could take it apart to repair it if necessary. Its refillable fuel canister also held more than enough white gas for my four day trip. In short, it put my mind at ease before I’d even left the trailhead, which is a good feeling when trekking into new territory.

I’m happy to say it performed admirably for the duration of my trip.

MSR-Whisperlite-International-liquid-fuel-attached
The MSR Whisperlite attached to the fuel bottle (which you have to buy separately). How many times have you seen these?

I know we’re skipping ahead a little here, but the moment of revelation came a full day after I had returned home and finally began unpacking my bag. Out of curiosity, I opened the fuel bottle for the stove and was amazed to see that I had barely put a dent in the fuel I packed! Not only could I fill the fuel bottle for $7, this stove was remarkably efficient over four days of cooking breakfasts, lunches, and dinners.

Digging Deeper

Stability

Nothing sticks in my mind quite like the time I spilled my entire dinner due to a small and unstable cook surface. In fact, though the rest of that trip was fine, I still remember it as a “bad trip” solely because of my cooking fiasco. On this four day trip through the Golden Trout Wilderness, I did not want a repeat of that fiasco. Especially because I had packed exactly enough food for four days, plus a handful of emergency bars that I really didn’t want to eat.

MSR-Whisperlite-International-boiling-water
This is not the hugest pot in the world, but if you look closely you can see the stove prongs sticking out well beyond its edges. You can cook with large pots and pans on the Whisperlite.

Where the MSR Whisperlite International really outshines its competitors is in the realm of stability. The stove sits low to the ground, with three stable legs that fan out to provide a rock solid base to accommodate even the largest backcountry cook pot. Using the heat reflector as a flat base, this stove felt like it would stay upright through anything short of a well-aimed kick.

Simmer

The largest issue I took with the MSR Whisperlite International can be summed up in three words: mac and cheese. A more clarifying three worlds would be: doesn’t simmer well.

This stove is amazing on full blast, which is why it has become a perennial favorite amongst winter mountaineers that need to melt snow for water. However, its relatively long fuel line and small gas nozzle mean that it goes from a medium flame to off without a whole lot of middle ground. Unfortunately once the Whisperlite has turned off, you’re best waiting 5-10 minutes for the stove to completely cool before attempting to light it again, unless you’re not terribly attached to your eyebrows.

MSR-Whisperlite-International-large-flame
The stove is priming here, but the flame tends to be either “large” or non-existent. After a lot of practice you can coax it to a lower setting.

MSR knows the Whisperlite isn’t a stellar simmer-er and has created other liquid fuel stoves, like the MSR Dragonfly, to fill the gap.

Ease of Setup

Learning to set this stove up before I left home was an absolute must. But that’s not to say the Whisperlite is a challenging stove to operate — far from it. However, it does require a little more time and knowledge than your average canister stove. Each subsequent use of the stove becomes faster and faster until I was able to do it in the dark, which I found out the hard way on the last night of my trip.

MSR-Whisperlite-International-review-components-laid-out
All the pieces that come with the MSR Whisperlite International (plus the fuel bottle). It will take some time to setup, especially if you’re used to canister stoves.

Boil Time

Have you ever tried to eat your lunch with a bug headnet on? It’s not a great look. Yet that’s exactly what I was trying to do as I huddled in the only patch of shade I could find at lunch on day two of my trip. And this is where I ran into trouble with this stove.

The MSR Whisperlite International takes a few minutes to set up, another two minutes to prime, and close to five minutes to boil a few cups of water for lunch. Granted this isn’t a huge issue if you’re relaxing in camp at the end of a long day, but it can seem daunting when you’re slowly being eaten alive by every mosquito in Southern California.

MSR-Whisperlite-International-fuel-hose
The hose on the Whisperlite connects to the fuel pump, which goes into the fuel bottle. Each extra piece of connection adds time to the setup.

Grievances

As I’ve mentioned above, the MSR Whisperlite does a host of things incredibly well, but like with any gear there are some issues. The big two for me were a moderately slow boil time and the inability to finesse the flame down to a simmer. Admittedly, these issues were most noticeable on the first day of my trip. Once I had adapted to the stove’s quirks, it became as easy to use as your typical canister stove and substantially more powerful and fuel efficient.

Final Word

The MSR Whisperlite International has long been a favorite with those who want to get out into the mountains and stay there for long periods of time. If you’re looking for a stove that can go the distance with you, then the MSR Whisperlite should definitely be on your wish list.

Where to Buy MSR Whisperlite International

We tested the MSR Whisperlite International using the 20 ounce fuel bottle by MSR. There are two other versions in the Whisperlite series — the MSR WhisperLite, and the MSR WhisperLite Universal. (Yes, all those capital and regular “Ls” are correct, according to MSR.)

The MSR WhisperLite is the original version of the stove, which is basically unchanged from the ’80’s. It features differently styled legs, which change the weight and pack size, and it only works with White Gas, instead of multiple liquid fuels.

The MSR WhisperLite Universal is the same as the International, but it can also use isobutane canisters like a canister stove. It comes with the included attachments and canister stand to make this easy.

We recommend either the International or the Universal. Get the International if you only want to deal with liquid gas, or the Universal if you plan on using this stove with isobutane as well. Both are listed below.

Price Check
kara kieffer bio pic

Kara Kieffer

Kara grew up a grubby tomboy in Boulder, CO, where she spent most of her time outside collecting rocks in her pockets, much to her mother's chagrin. Now, as a Los Angeles based art director and writer she still loves being outside and exploring every chance she gets. On any given weekend, you can find her backpacking, hiking, or running ridiculous distances up and down mountains. You can follow her blog, Wild Country Found, or check out her personal website for more information.

Review Policy: We do not accept payments or gifts from brands and vendors, and strive to provide unbiased, independent advice. Brands typically provide review samples which we return, and in some cases we purchase the item so we can keep using it long after the review. Affiliate Policy: We support the hours that go into our reviews and testing through affiliate commissions on purchases made through links in this article. These don't effect the outcome of our reviews or selection of gear, as per our Review Policy.