The MSR WhisperLite Universal is a lightweight and portable emergency cooking stove - an essential part of your Prepper toolkit. In an emergency, you are likely going to need to boil untreated water from unknown sources, cook food, and stay warm – all of which can be difficult if you do not have a safe, controlled way to burn whatever fuel you can find. Having a portable stove gives you the flexibility of fire without being connected to a gas line or electrical grid and without having to resort to striking matches against wood for hours at a time.
To find a stove that is truly designed to handle any emergency, the best place to turn to is the backpacking world. Backpacking gear is designed for survival away from the infrastructure we are accustomed to having around, so products intended for the hiking audience tends to perform well under the demands of an emergency.
The best emergency stove that every Prepper should have in their home is the MSR WhisperLite Universal. It has been recognized as one of the best hiking stoves on the market for decades and can serve double-duty as the best emergency stove to keep in your preparedness kit. After years of using this stove in the backcountry, the stove has almost always worked flawlessly and was easy to fix in the field when something went wrong.
Why the MSR WhisperLite Universal is the Best Emergency Stove for any Prepper!
MSR WhisperLite Universal
The MSR WhisperLite Universal stove is a compact, yet powerful stove that offers an excellent balance between conservative fuel consumption, output power, weight, and durability. In addition to being a go-to piece of my Prepper gear kit, this stove has been the choice of backpackers and mountaineers for serious expeditions for more than 30 years. Above all else, it comes with the peace of mind of knowing that it will not let you down when your survival depends on it – the same quality that makes this the best survival cooking stove in an emergency.
Liquid fuel stoves
The MSR WhisperLite Universal is both a liquid fuel and canister fuel stove, which means that it can use a refillable liquid fuel bottle attached to the stove as a fuel source OR a small fuel canister. A key feature of this stove is the ability to use both fuels and choose whatever is most readily available. There are pros and cons for both liquid fuel and canisters in general. Canisters can be easier to use at times, but my preferred fuel source is liquid fuel - which is great because this stove can do both!
Liquid fuel stoves in general use naphthalene as their fuel source, which is cheap to purchase, widely available, and has a shelf life of at least three years. Canisters, on the other hand, use propane as the fuel source – which is fine, except that the canisters are not refillable, are more expensive than naphthalene upfront, and are bulky if you are storing them in large quantities. But don't worry, the MSR WhisperLite Universal can manage all fuel sources, including kerosene and unleaded auto fuel for greater versatility depending on what you have available.
Ease of operation
Operating the MSR WhisperLite Universal can be confusing for first-time users – I nearly lit a field on fire the first time I used it, more than a decade ago. But once you have some practice with operating the stove, it is a cinch to use. The stove itself has three parts – the burner, the pump, and the pipe – that must be assembled before and taken apart after each use along with the fuel canister. After a couple uses, this becomes a quick ritual that takes only a minute or so, although pressurizing the pump can be tricky since the amount of pumping required depends on the level of fuel in the bottle.
Before using the stove, you will need to prime it - essentially vaporizing the liquid fuel to create an even distribution of flame throughout the burner. This process takes practice and patience, and during your first use priming can quickly result in a ball of flame. Even for experienced stove users, priming involves working with an open and sometimes billowing flame, so MSR highly recommends against operating the WhisperLite inside a tent or other tightly enclosed area. Priming never does get simple, but with practice it can become second-nature and a small victory when you get it right on the first try.
Once the stove is up and running, it is extremely easy to adjust the flame by simply turning the choke lever on the pump. However, I have found that it is also easy to inadvertently cut off the flow by turning the lever just slightly too much, and hard to keep the flame going even if you undo the mistake quickly. Unfortunately, simmering is difficult to achieve with the WhisperLite – while the flame is adjustable, it tends to be hot enough that it will keep water at a rolling boil even after adding in dried foods and you’ll want to make sure that your pot does not boil over.
Fuel efficiency and boil time
The MSR WhisperLite Universal is rated to burn steadily for 2 hours and 35 minutes on a standard 20-ounce bottle of fuel. However, the fuel efficiency of the WhisperLite and any other portable stove can vary greatly depending on the conditions in which you are operating the stove. The WhisperLite comes with a foil windscreen that doubles as a heat reflector, which surrounds the stove and pot to help with efficiency. If weight is not a concern, it is certainly possible to design a more heavy-duty reflector that can help your fuel go even further. Priming, which is unavoidable, also uses up some fuel, although this is a very small amount in terms of an entire fuel bottle.
Not counting the few minutes it takes to set up and prime the stove, the WhisperLite is capable of boiling one liter of water in approximately seven minutes – a short enough time that you can easily use up with food preparation. Even the fastest portable stoves, such as a JetBoil, boil water only one to two minutes faster, so there is not much room for improvement here. In addition, the WhisperLite’s boil time suffers far less in windy conditions than most other portable stoves, which makes a huge difference when you are trying to cook in bad weather.
Where the MSR WhisperLite Universal shines above all other portable stoves, and what makes it the best survival stove for preppers, is its ability to be maintained in the field. The stove requires only an included ultralight tool to take it fully apart and put it back together. I, like most anyone who has used a WhisperLite for years, can disassemble, troubleshoot, and reassemble the stove in under 30 minutes in the backcountry – making issues with the stove a quick detour rather than a crisis.
Better yet, in most cases you can fix issues with the stove without taking it apart thanks to the built-in self-cleaning needle. The needle is positioned inside the fuel vaporizer such that shaking the stove up and down allows the needle to dislodge and fuel crud that is often the cause of malfunctions. In extreme cases, I have found that shaking the stove while applying pressure through the fuel pump almost always forces fuel through the stove to get it going again.
The MSR WhisperLite Universal weighs in at 14.9 ounces, making it one of the lightest liquid fuel stoves on the market. This is a major advantage for backpacking, and similarly can be important in an emergency if you need to move and have to carry your gear with you on your back.
A portable stove is a critical component of your survival kit. The best survival cooking stove should be easy to operate, but more important it should accept a widely available fuel source or a range of fuel sources and should be designed to work no matter what the conditions. The MSR WhisperLite Universal stove has been a faithful companion for me in the backcountry for years and satisfies all of these requirements. Most important, it offers superior confidence that it will serve you without fail when your life depends on it.