Wednesday, July 25, 2007

MSR Whisperlite International

Yikes. OK, for what it's worth, I don't recommend this stove. I've had an MSR DragonFly for years, and all things considered, it's been fine: no complaints, except maybe it's a bit heavy. But when I finally lost some key pieces to it (it's a long story, involving an airport, a full fuel bottle, and a dunderhead trying to combine the two), I thought I'd try something a bit lighter, and replaced it with a Whisperlite.

I'm reasonably confident I'll be returning it to REI this afternoon.

To start with, the directions have this encouraging quote: "A soccer-ball sized ball of flame is normal." Certainly my testing (in my garage just now) seemed to bear that out. The directions didn't indicate whether it was also normal for the stove to start spilling liquid burning fuel everywhere, but I'm guessing even MSR would consider that problematic. I managed to avoid burning the house down only by grabbing the still-burning, still-dripping-burning-fuel stove in my hand and running with it outside onto my driveway, where it could sputter and drip and burn in relative peace.

I'm not sure what went wrong, and quite possibly it was something I did: but I can say this, that in the last eight or so years I've been using my DragonFly, I've never actually felt like I was in danger of blowing myself up. A friend of mine once said, in reference to rock climbing, "I'm a father: I'm not going to participate in a sport where the penalty for a mistake is death." I'm not sure I agree with his sentiments about rock climbing, but I'm fully in sympathy when it comes to backpacking stoves.

And even after I got the WhisperLite working, i.e., not actually spilling burning fuel, I wasn't impressed. It seemed to put out barely any flame, and what flame did come out wasn't the sturdy blue flame I've come to expect from my DragonFly, but a weak, wobbly yellow thing that seemed unlikely to heat anything interesting. Maybe that's how it's supposed to be – but I'm thinking it's not what I want.


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