Stove reviews: MSR Whisperlite versus Primus Omnifuel

Stove reviews: MSR Whisperlite versus Primus Omnifuel

During our cycle ride around South America, we used our stove to cook most of our meals.  Initially, we had the MSR Whisperlite but changed to the Primus Omnistove after the former developed an ‘unfixable’ fault in Colombia (and the resulting fireball almost burnt down the hostel we were staying in), when we were roughly halfway through the 15 month trip.

Both are multi-fuel stoves – meaning that they work with a number of both liquid and gas fuels – yet we for the vast majority of the time used ours with unleaded fuel as it was easy, reliable and relatively cheap to come by.

An animal trough proved a good place for protection from the wind
A animal trough proved a good place for protection from the wind

Each stove is fairly similar in setup and operation with just a few small differences.  For example, both use screw in pumps onto MSR fuel bottles.  The fuel line then screws into the pump and attaches itself to a 3-legged stove fuel line to the foldable stove

We used the stove inside hostel rooms as well as camping and it worked fine. The foil wind screen is essential yet the footplate is not so important and we hardly use it now.

On an average week, we cooked 10 -15 simple meals on the stove. Breakfast often being coffee and porridge, lunch was instant noodles or soup and dinner was pasta with tomato sauce or rice and vegetables

The fuels we used were:

  • Kerosine (1 month) – only with the MSR whisperlite
  • Unleaded petrol/gasoline (majority of time – i.e. over 14 months)

We had one large (1 litre) and medium (750ml) MSR red fuel bottles that we stored in our water bottle holders underneath the frame of the bicycles.  They fitted to both the MSR and Primus stoves. On average they would require re-filling every 3 to 4 weeks.

What we’d wished we known about

The first time we used the stove, it took more time to clean afterwards than it had to cook our pasta.  The soot that had been produced during the priming (burning of the initial of amount of fuel to heat up the stove elements) had got everywhere.

Disillusioned, I tried to find some info on the web about how to combat this. On the MSR information sheet, it said the using one of their gas cartridges would be the cleanest fuel to use (requiring no priming) but obtaining these on the trip around South America was never going to be an option.

Kitchen with a view
A kitchen with a view

Instead, I read other accounts of using a little bit of alcohol as the replacement for the fuel for heating up the stove (priming).  After this has burnt out, you can open the valve and the pressurized liquid fuel flows through, heats up and emits as a gas.

In Brazil, I bought a bottle from the supermarket (easy to find in all South American countries) and tried this method.  Since then, I have only needed to do very occasional cleaning.  The stove itself remains soot free eve when using low grade petrol (gasoline) found in Peru.  How to prime with alcohol, step-by-step:

  1. Pour small amount of alcohol into priming dish
  2. Light the alcohol and wait for the flames to go out
  3. Turn on the fuel line and light the stove

MSR Whisperlite

The WhisperLite camp stove is a multifuel stove, you can burn white gas, kerosene, and unleaded fuel. Once we worked out how to prime the stove with alcohol it was easy to use. We had to stop using it in the end as the control valve was made of plastic and the thread on it wore away, meaning it was impossible to control the flow of fuel. On the road it wasn’t possible to fix the problem or find a replacement, it would have to be sent away for repair.

Advantages

  • It burns really ferociously – great for boiling water quickly
  • It maintains pressure well to keep consistent flame during cooking
  • Required less cleaning of the jet compared to the Primus
  • Control at the pump end so no fuel left in the line.
  • Able to remove fuel wire to clean
  • Extensive spare parts in kit sold separately
  • Simple shaking after use is enough to keep needle working well.

Disadvantages

  • After a couple of months, the foil footplate disintegrated from use
  • Both stoves struggle to simmer at a low flame but this one was particularly difficult
  • Only one fuel control valve that eventually broke – perhaps due to over-tightening, overuse or the fact it was plastic

The Primus OmniFuel 

Priming the Primus before use
Priming the stove with alcohol before use is a cleaner way than with the fuel

We had a problem with the control valve on the primus as well. The one on the fuel line got over-tightened, and stuck open never to be closed again. We were able to continue using it though as there was a second valve.

Pros

  • No plastic parts which could be worn out
  • Controls at either end of fuel line means that less
  • Flame easier to control – simmer
  • Simple maintenance with one tool rather than kit

Cons

  • Jet seems to get blocked more frequently
  • Flame goes out quicker
  • Sometimes difficult to light
  • Have to remove triangle to unscrew
  • Had to pump more frequently during cooking to maintain pressure compared to the Whisperlite

The verdict

With better simmering and controls at either end of the line, the Primus wins but only just because of the failure of the MSR.

  • MSR Whisperlite 8.5 out of 10
  • Primus Omnifuel 9.0 out of 10


3 thoughts on “Stove reviews: MSR Whisperlite versus Primus Omnifuel”

  • Really interesting to get a comparison from someone who has used both extensively. I have always just used kerosene/petrol to prime our whisperlite but will give priming with alcohol a go. Thanks for posting this.

  • Hi Pedal, i never knew how difficult it would be for someone to travel by bicycle and have to cook. When we are at hotels and resorts we complain about the kitchen and bathroom not looking a certain way or being big enough. what do you normally cook?

    • Hi there,

      We tend to live of boring old pasta and tomato sauce! However, if we have enough energy at the end of the day we can whip up a decent curry. Anything that you can make in one pot really.

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