I got my MSR WhisperLight International camping stove two decades ago for my first proper backpacking tour down the Kungsleden from Abisko to Saltoluokta. Unfortunately somehow I managed to buy some perfumed lamp oil in the little supermarket in Kiruna and ended up with a really hard to prime and very unhappy burning stove on my tour.
Newbie luck I guess. At least the stuff smelled quite good. 😀
To add insult to injury, several prior hikers left bottles of Trangia alcohol fuel in the shelters along the way for hikers in need (like me), but despite several desperate attempts the WhisperLight outright refused to burn that stuff.
The WhisperLight alcohol mod:
Back home experimenting started and soon it became clear why the WhisperLight doesn’t accept alcohol as proper fuel. It gets too much air in relation to fuel to burn alcohol. The cure for this unfortunate behaviour is rather simple. You just have to be able to adjust the air intake to convert your WhisperLight to a happy burning alcohol stove without sacrificing its ability to burn petrol or kerosene.
MSR tells their customers in their stove FAQs the WhisperLight International wouldn’t burn alcohol. Out of the box it doesn’t, that’s right, but there is an easy fix that probably would not only please a lot of Scandinavian users and will cost only penny’s.
A short stainless steel, brass or copper tube with a cross hole and preferably a short handle for adjustment, is all that’s needed to convert the MSR Whisperlight series stoves to accept non toxic and clean burning alcohol as proper fuel. Just prime it as normal, close the air intake 3/4 and slowly open the valve. Some adjustment to the air intake might be needed at first, but then is will snarling quietly along burning with a blue flame. Running on alcohol the WhisperLight will use a bit more fuel than you’re used to with petrol, though.
The MSR valve mod:
Adjusting the WhisperLight to simmer regardless of fuel is, ehm…, let’s be polite and say it is reluctant to burn other than full force or not at all. Finding the right spot at the valve somewhere between 1/50 to 3/50 of a turn (eg. between snarling full force and a quietly dying flame) can be a bit nerve wrecking after a long day hike with an impatiently growling stomach.
MSRs offers ‘help’ for this problem in their FAQ:
‘Our award-winning DragonFly™ stove has a fully adjustable flame, which makes simmering a breeze. However, with other MSR liquid fuel stoves, the most efficient way is to run the stove with extremely low pressure in the fuel bottle. A couple of pump strokes in a half-full bottle are optimal.’
Yeah, right! First you need high pressure in the tank to start the stove and heat your pot in a sensible time and then you have to release that pressure to simmer your food. Anyone else who is a bit reluctant to release pressured petrol fumes around a red glowing surface inside a tent in the middle of nowhere, while cooking?
The fix to this stupid design flaw is so simple it should be embarrassing for MSR that they didn’t get it right in the first place a quarter of a century ago:
Get a fine file, take the aluminium valve screw out of the pump and bevel the first few millimeters of the cylindrical end to a conical shape. Use some caution, make sure it stays round while you bevel away and leave some millimeters cylindrical in front of the thread.
After this tiny modification to the valve the Whisperlight and other MSR liquid fuel stoves are vastly more precise to control for easy simmering! I still remember the happy face of a long time Whisperlight user when he fired his stove up, after I applied my little fix to his valve. Luckely for me he was the guy with the espresso machine and offered me a mug of rather exquisite coffee when I crawled out of my tent the next morning!
Since the Whisperlight reflects a lot of heat to the ground, burning quite a large piece of grass in the process, I made a 30x35cm size folding board out of 5mm plywood and a hinge band. Folded, its size is 18x30x1.2cm and the weight is 366g. Weight weenies might cringe at the “huge” unnecessary weight, but apart from saving the grass, it provides a stable platform for the stove that can easily leveled.