No matter the size of the backpack, the gear carried, or the length of the hike, every backpacker has one thing in common: they have to eat. The right stove can be the difference between eating to sustain and eating to enjoy in the back country. One possible backcountry stove is the Whisperlite International.
There are currently three versions of the Whisperlite stove: standard, international, and universal. The most prevalent differences between the three stoves are price and fuels that can be used. Prices and fuels of each stove will be mentioned, but the main review will be focused on the International.
The Whisperlite consists of four parts: the stove, the windscreen, the heat reflector, and the fuel container. Fuel containers are sold separately from the stove and windscreen in various sizes.
Including the windscreen, heat reflector, and repair kit, but not the fuel bottle…
Advertised: 14.9 oz
My stove: 14 oz
Standard: White gas
International: white gas, kerosene, unleaded gasoline
Universal: White gas, canister fuel, kerosene, unleaded gasolene
Although there are instructions included with the stove on how to use it, I recommend watching an instructional video. I also recommend trying the setup for yourself a time or two at home before taking it into the backcountry.
This stove works a lot like a small burner on a gas stove. There is a large amount of heat output over a wide area and the amount of heat can be adjusted to a certain degree. It is easy to turn off, and can be kept on for exactly the amount of time desired. There are many sizes of available fuel containers and all can be filled to any level, making it easy to take the exact amount of fuel needed for a trip.
In my experience, the setup is somewhat lengthy, between having to pressurize the fuel each use and the necessity of priming the stove. However, once it is on it boils water quickly, and also turns and cools off quickly as well, making for easy and fast clean up and repacking. The stove has a wide footprint and low profile, making it highly stable even when using large pots.
Whisperlite stoves can be turned off with the turning of a lever, unlike cat food/alcohol stoves and solid fuel. Some areas, mainly areas with high fire risk, require stoves to have a way of quickly being turned off. It has a wide footprint and low profile, making it less likely for the stove to be accidentally knocked or blown over. It is highly collapsible and can often fit into the pot being used for cooking, helping with packability and space saving.
Refillable fuel canisters mean you don’t have to decide between finishing off an half-used pressurized container and possibly running out of fuel and having a bunch of half-used pressurized containers that don’t have enough fuel for a trip. You put in the amount you need, and if you don’t use it all, you add more fuel to the container the next trip.
This stove is not the easiest to set up. Anyone who’s seen the movie Wild may recognize the standard version of this stove. (Reece Witherspoon wasn’t acting here; she was actually trying to set up the stove with no prior experience) Definitely try this at home first, or have someone who has used a Whisperlite before with you on the backpacking trip.
Finding a fuel that works with the stove may be problematic. This becomes less of a problem as you go up in price with the stoves, as it opens up more fuel options. During my Icelandic Adventure and at Fish Lake on my Oregon Trip, MSR PocketRocket fuel cansiters were plentiful. However, these are pressurized and so cannot be used with the standard and International versions of this stove. The Universal version appears to solve this problem; as I have not owned this stove I cannot be certain.
This stove has a long setup time, and takes physical effort. This can be very annoying at the end of a long day of hiking, when you just want to sit down and eat something.
The Stove for You?
Whether this is the right stove for you depends on a couple factors. This stove puts out a large amount of heat over a relatively large area–perfect for heating up a large amount of water. If your backpacking group is large, this stove is great as it can cook many meals at once.
For backpackers who enjoy gourmet meals in the backcountry, this stove is also a good option. It has a degree of heat variability, and highly controllable heat times. Stoves that cannot be put out (like alcohol and solid fuel stoves) are good for heating a consistent amount of water each time, but not if the times needed are variable. Want complicated meals? This is a good stove for you.
However, if you are like me–a solo backpacker, who wants a simple 1-pot meal that just involves boiling some water and adding food, this stove is overkill. Much smaller stoves, such as the alcohol and solid fuel stoves mentioned a couple times, are plenty for this type of cooking, and are much lighter and easier to turn on. There are also smaller stoves for this type of backpacker that have off switches if you’re in an area that requires those.
Overall: this stove is great, if you are the type of backpacker that will put its advantages to good use.
Standard vs. International vs. Universal
Which of these three Whisperlites is the best option depends on the type of backpacker is using them. If you are going on long backpacking trips, such as thru-hikes, where you will have to be refilling on the trail, International or Universal stoves are the better option, as they increase the options of fuels you can use.
For people who backpack in shorter trips–those who can do all their refueling at home–the standard Whisperlite is plenty. Options are less necessary since you won’t be buying fuel at random campsites.