Nineteen years ago, and just two years into our marriage, I introduced my wife Julie to the joys and pains of backpacking. We were living in central Wyoming at the time, and I went to the venerable Wild Iris Mountain Sports in Lander to buy an Optimus Crux stove ahead of our first big trip to the Big Horn mountains.
At the time, the Crux was made by Brunton in nearby Riverton, Wyoming. Brunton – famous for their compasses and optics – has since been bought and sold by various interests over the years, and the Crux is still on the market today.
The tiny Crux, a canister stove, had been a trooper on two continents for almost two decades, never clogging, and admirably resisting wind and moisture. It’s super light (83g), and it folds and stores neatly in the concave base of the butane canisters that the Crux requires.
But it had its limitations. Perched on top of those canisters with its small folding burner heads, your pot can get a little tippy if you’re not careful, and at only 3000W, it isn’t exactly a powerhouse.
The burner heads on our Crux were starting to warp and bend after hours and hours of burn time, necessitating frequent readjustments with my multi-tool to get them to fold correctly. I worried that I would eventually snap one off, and we’d be truly stuck. It works only with butane canisters, which in many parts of the world are difficult or nearly impossible to find.
Twenty years is an excellent service life, and the old Optimus had seen us through some pretty amazing adventures, but it was clearly time for a new stove.
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Of course, cooking during a vehicle-based overland adventure is very different from backpacking. When we’re living out of our Defender, my ancient two-burner Coleman has served us (and before that, my parents) well and faithfully for decades. More cooking space means bigger and better meals, and there are fewer worries about weight penalties. However, I always find it handy to keep a smaller stove in the galley for a few reasons.
First, sometimes it’s just more convenient for a quick meal or beverage than hauling out the two-burner. A pre-dawn start from camp or a quick road-side coffee as a pick-me-up in the afternoon is the perfect time for a compact stove. Second, if you do want to saddle up for an outdoor adventure away from the vehicle, you’ll be ready for backcountry meals at the drop of a hat by tossing it in your backpack. Lastly it’s an excellent back-up. Ran out of propane? Can’t find a place to fill it up? Need one more burner to help wrap up that elaborate gourmet base camp dinner? Your compact stove will be a life-saver.
I settled on the MSR WhisperLite.
The WhisperLite’s claim to fame over the last 35 years is its ability to burn pretty much any fuel you can throw at it. Gasoline, diesel, paraffin (kerosene), white gas, mineral spirits, butane/propane – you name it, and the WhisperLite will cook with it.
In addition, the stove assembly is extremely simple and serviceable in the field. MSR supplies it with replacement o-rings for the fuel connectors and hoses, a dedicated tool, and a variety of brass jets to accommodate different fuel types. As opposed to a canister-style stove, the burner is much more stable, as it rests on low-slung legs on the ground or your table, rather than the canister itself. The wide burner head welcomes all pots, large and small, and it folds neatly to reduce packing space.
The beefy flexible steel-braided fuel line features easy-on, easy-off attachments to swap fuel types, and the finely-tuned fuel control valve offers a wide range of heat settings, from full afterburner for the quick boil, to a low simmer. The lowest settings are especially useful, since many thin-gauge pots designed for backpacking scorch easily. As with the butane canister receiver, the WhisperLite’s multi-fuel pump attachment is straightforward and easy to use.
Also included are a two-piece aluminum wind shield and heat reflector (which seems a bit flimsy on first touch, but has proven to be very robust), a stand for keeping butane canisters secure and angled in the optimal position for good fuel delivery, and a carry bag. All the pieces of the WhisperLite are replaceable or serviceable, and MSR stocks the tools and components to do both.
If there are any drawbacks to the stove that set the industry standard over three decades ago, they are these:
Those issues aside, if you are looking for robust versatility and durability in your portable stove, the ability to actually cook real food efficiently and accurately, not just heat up water, and the flexibility to use whatever fuel you can find, it’s hard to beat the WhisperLite. It’s longevity on the market only confirms it.
You can shop MSR stoves and other kitchen accessories and equipment right here on Overlander.com
What's your stove strategy? Kitchen questions? Leave them down in the comments below!
Photos by Julie Edwards
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