Tuesday, June 12, 2012

MSR Stoves

Prompted by Bobskoot's post on his stove purchase, I thought that it would be useful to compare the two models I have. Let's see what thirty years of experience gets up.

The first one is the G/K model that I purchased in the late 1970's to replace a Primus white gas model that I used for years hiking in the mountains around Southern California. The Primus didn't have a pump and relied on heat from your hands warming up the fuel tank to generate pressure. Once it was primed and started, the heat from the flame would keep the tank pressurized. One of the problems is if the tank overheated, you would get a blowtorch from the pressure relief valve when it decided to vent. The MSR G/K had a pump, it came with two jets one for diesel/kerosene and the other for gasoline. Since I was starting to winter camp and looking forward to bicycle camping trips, this seemed to be the stove to get. I used it on many trips including winter climbing trips, bicycle camping trips and many car camping trips since. The built in spark ignition is very convenient as you don't even need to carry matches and being able to buy fuel at any filling station you come across was very convenient. Back in the early 80's on a bicycle trip to Cabo San Lucas, I filled it up at a gas station where fuel was 6¢ per gallon. The pump didn't even register a penny, I wasn't charged anything. This stove had the reputation of burning very hot and was pretty loud. It worked very well and came with this aluminum heat shield which is sturdier than it looks. On some backpacking trips, I would bring a steel wok and the heat shield was a perfect base for it and the stove was hotter than any home gas range I've ever used. The rigid pipe does make it a bit more difficult to pack and if you used diesel, there was a fair amount of soot. My carrying bag for the stove is pretty filthy inside.

MSR Whisperlite International
The new stove is an MSR Whisperlite International that I picked up at REI on sale last December and is also multi-fuel meaning it'll run on just about anything that burns. It also came with a collection of jets for the different fuel options. It routes the fuel tube through the flame just as the older G/K version to vaporize the liquid fuel. More specifically, fuels like kerosene or diesel. The white gas version doesn't have or need the fuel line running through the flame. I am planning on using my old fuel bottle and was pleasantly surprised to see that the new stove works with my old pump which seems to fit better on the old fuel bottle anyway. Since the new pump is very light, and essentially packs inside the stove, I will probably bring it along as a spare. You would normally leave the pump attached to the bottle all the time as there is no reason to remove it. The newer version seems to have an extra fitting and an extra jet to burn bottled gas (isobutane I think) in addition to liquid fuels. This adds even more flexibility to an already good design. The one thing that I think I'll miss is the built in flint ignition. It packs small enough to fit inside of the non-stick pots that I have.

Airhead Fuel Lines
As you can see, the fuel lines on my bike are readily accessible and I can easily disconnect one to refil the MSR fuel bottle. No tools required, no fuel pump, just open the valve. The other side of the bike has the same fuel line layout. To me, that is the real attraction of the liquid fueled stoves. I do have a 1liter Sigg fuel bottle and if I can find a convenient way to carry it outside of my hard bags, I may use that one instead as I can probably get almost ten miles on that if I had to. The only reason I picked up a new stove was that replacement parts were getting hard to come by.

I'm starting to pull all of my gear together for the trip to see what I don't really need as I still think the list looked too long. With a compression stuff sack, one pannier will easily hold my sleeping bag, tent (without poles), ground cloth, small camping chair and rainsuit with still about 1/3 to 1/2 of the volume still available so I think that I'm in pretty good shape.


  1. Richard:

    I lit my MSR Whisperlite Universal the other night. Have never used liquid fuel before. It was neat, and sounded like a quiet jet engine. The round piece (shield) went RED HOT. I can also use canister gas as it comes with a different jet and inlet connector. My cooking will be limited to heating up stuff (RTE), BTE: Boil To Eat sacks, and perhaps hot beverages.

    Riding the Wet Coast
    My Flickr // My YouTube

    1. You now have the best of both worlds. The convenience of compressed gas and the flexibility of liquid fuel. With the liquid fuel, you can pump up the pressure and get an insane amount of heat out of the little stove but very little control. Very useful if you are melting snow for water (just don't scorch!) or for stir frying.

      Years ago, I pressure canned razor clams on the beach and it was useful to get the canner heated quickly then moved to a Coleman stove for more modest heat but way more control.

  2. That was a nice in depth review Richard. I like the idea of being able to use your bike fuel as fuel for the stove, but being clumsy I'd be spilling it everyone.

    Everyone around me is safer when a Jetboil is being used as opposed to a multi-fuel stove.

    1. Thank you, I really like ability to just drain out of the tank. Plus, you can always pour it back in the tank if you are running a bit low. My old bike makes it simple and easy to fill the fuel bottle. Not easy at all on anything newer with F.I. and a high pressure fuel pump.

      I looked at the Jetboil several times as it seemed to be a compact system but ended up getting what I was familiar with...