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Thursday, March 1, 2012

Primus Omnifuel vs. MSR Whisperlite Universal

There are some really nice expedition class stoves out there on the market right now.  One of the really nice features that's come out in the last couple of years is the "hybrid" stove, a stove that can burn not only liquid fuels like gasoline and kerosene but also nice, clean, no-priming-needed canister gas.  Perhaps the two best known stoves in this category are the Primus Omnifuel and the MSR Whisperlite Universal.  I thought I'd do a brief comparison of the two.

For more information on the individual stoves themselves, please see the following reviews:

First, travel mode.  Both come with nice stuff sacks.  Both stuff sacks have a nice zipper pouch so you don't lose any small parts.
The MSR Whisperlite Universal (left) and the Primus Omnifuel (right)
Note that the Whisperlite Universal makes a little bigger package than the Omnifuel.  This is because a) the Whisperlite Universal is the bulkier of the two and b) you get more items included with the Whisperlite Universal.

Here are the major components that come with the Whisperlite Universal:
The major components that come with a Whisperlite Universal.
Back row (L to R):  Heat reflector, inverted canister stand, and windscreen.
Front row (L to R):  burner,  fuel pump
The major components are listed in the caption above.  Of course you also get a stuff sack, a liquid fuel adapter, and a little parts baggie with spare jets, a wrench/tool, and lubricant.

By contrast, the Omnifuel:
The components that come with an Omnifuel
Basically, you just get the burner and the fuel pump (and of course the stuff sack with the wrench/tool, spare jets, and lubricant).  You (typically) don't get a heat reflector, windscreen, or inverted canister stand.  Note:  There are a lot of package deals out there with the Omnifuel; shop around.  Some packages even include a fuel bottle.  The Whisperlite Universal is typically sold separately from a fuel bottle.

The MSRP of the Whisperlite Universal is $140.  The MSRP of the Omnifuel is $160.  However, always look for deals.  I've seen all sorts of special packages and deals out there on the Omnifuel.  Be sure to shop around.

Value for the Dollar
Generally though, I'd say the Whisperlite wins on a value for the dollar basis.  There's just more included with a Whisperlite.  A windscreen is really important.  It's included with the Whisperlite Universal.  You've got to buy it separately with the Omnifuel.  I've read that there's a "built in windscreen" with the Omnifuel.  I don't buy that.  You need an external windscreen for anything more than a breeze.

Also, that little canister stand that comes with the Whisperlite Universal is actually pretty handy.
The inverted canister stand of a Whisperlite Universal
Convenience in cold weather operation
What does the canister stand buy you?  Convenience in cold weather operation with canister gas.  Yes, you could just switch to liquid fuel for cold weather operation, but there are advantages to gas like improved simmering, greater mechanical reliability, and the elimination of priming.  With the stand, you can easily invert a canister for improved cold weather operation.  Generally, inverting the canister means you can operate your stove in weather that is 20F/10C colder than you could if the canister were right side up.

The really nice inverted canister stand of the Whisperlite Universal
Notice the Omnifuel's connector just to the left of the Whisperlite Universal's canister stand.  Not only does the Omnifuel not come with a stand, but the control knob makes it hard to keep a canister inverted.  Sure, you can DIY something, but the nice, professional stand that MSR gives you is really pretty nice.

Convenience in switching between gas and liquid fuels
In terms of switching between gas and liquid fuels, the Omnfuel wins, hands down.   On the Whisperlite Universal, you have to change adapters on the end of the fuel line, and you have to change the jet.  On the Omnifuel, there's no adapter to change; you just change the jet.  Whether gas or liquid, the end of the fuel line stays the same with the Omnifuel.

Overall Build Quality
The Primus Omnifuel is a thing of beauty.  It's precision engineering at it's best.  It's almost more work of art than stove.  It's hard to sum up the difference in a photo or two, but let's take a quick look at the respective pumps.
Top:  The MSR standard pump.  Bottom:  The Primus Ergopump.
Now,  the plastic MSR pump is a perfectly serviceable pump, but there's just no comparison to the engineering marvel that is the Primus Ergopump.  The smooth, precise stroke of the Primus pump is such a pleasure.   The MSR pump feels a bit tinny by comparison.   Don't get me wrong.  I think they're both good stoves, but if you like precise Swiss watch-like engineering, the Omnifuel is for you.

Simmering
The Omnifuel has a valve at the burner, and is the better simmerer, particularly on liquid fuel.  With the Omnifuel, it's easy to simmer, and anybody, even the rankest newbie, can do it.  However, the Whisperlites are the best non-valve-at-the-burner simmering stoves that MSR makes and are a huge improvement over previous generations of the Whisperlite.  Simmering with the Whisperlite Universal takes a few tricks, like leaving a lot of air space in the fuel bottle and only pumping up the bottle with about 1/4 the normal amount of pump strokes.  With a bit of practice, the Whisperlite Universal really can simmer, but it's not as easy nor as automatic as with the Omnifuel.  The Whisperlite Universal does have a large burner head which distributes the flame well which reduces the chances of hot spotting.

Compactness
The Omnifuel has a real advantage here.  The Whisperlite Universal has a larger burner head in the first place, and for whatever reason MSR decided to go with a really stiff fuel line, a fuel line that's a real pain in the neck to pack up.  
The Primus Omnifuel is far more compact than the Whisperlite Universal
Note how in the below photo that the hose on the Whisperlite Universal sticks up in the air, supporting not only its own weight but also the weight of the canister adapter at its tip.  Now that is a stiff hose.
The Whisperlite Universal has a very stiff fuel hose, so stiff that it will stick into the air, unsupported
By contrast, the Omnifuel's hose wraps easily around the body of the stove.  NICE.
The flexible hose of the Omnifuel is easily wrapped around the stove and tucked into the folded pot supports.
Noise
The Omnifuel is just plain loud.  It's not the loudest I've ever heard, but it's definitely not going to enhance the peace of the wilderness.  
The Omnifuel with a roarer burner (left) and the Whisperlite with a ported (or baffled) burner (right)
The Omnifuel has a "roarer" type burner, and roar it does.  Now, the good thing about a roarer burner is that it's easy to clean and handles wind well.  But it is loud.  The Whisperlite, as one might surmise from its name, is far quieter.

There is however a solution to the noise problem of the Omnifuel:  You can get an after market silent cap.  The best cap I've seen is the OmniDawg silent cap from Bluewater Stove Restoration.  It's a wonderfully quiet solution that also reduces the carbon monoxide emissions of the stove, but it's typically pricey. 
An OmniDawg silent cap shown between a Primus Omnifuel (left) and an MSR Whisperlite Universal (right).
See my Omnifuel review for more information including videos on the OmniDawg silent cap.  OmniDawg silent caps are only sold through "BernieDawg's Store" on eBay.

Disclosure:  I am not affiliated with Bluewater stove restoration or "BernieDawg's Store."  I am merely a satisfied customer.  I cannot help you obtain a silent cap.  Please use eBay if you would like a silent cap for your stove.

Pot Stability
I'd say the Whisperlite Universal has the edge on pot stability.  I tested the Whisperlite Universal with an enormous (in backpacking terms) one gallon (3.8L) tea kettle.  Steady as a rock.  The pot supports on the Whisperlite Universal have a radius of approximately 94mm.  That's a pretty good sized pot support!  That's larger than the previous generation of Whisperlites which already had great pot stability.  With pot supports like that, you can use large pots for snow melting, an essential expedition task.

Now, that's not to say that the Omnifuel has poor pot stability -- far from it, but the Whisperlite Universal has the edge here.  The Omnifuel has pot supports with a radius of approximately 84mm.

Pot Compatibility
On pot compatibility, the roles are a bit reversed, at least with smaller pots.  The Whisperlite Universal with it's big burner head has trouble with smaller pots.  There is a gap of approximately 42mm from the center of the Whisperlite Universal's burner to the inner end of the pot supports.  In other words, your pot has to be wider than 84mm in order to be used on a Whisperlite Universal.  Obviously, the Whisperlite Universal wasn't meant for small, solo style mug type pots.  Unless you've got something like an MSR Espresso Star, which spans pot supports so that you can use a small pot or espresso maker, stick with a bigger pot.
An MSR Espresso Star on a Whisperlite Universal
Weight
Here's where I think the Whisperlite Universal really shines, particularly on liquid fuel.  Let's take a look at the numbers. 

Canister Gas
Primus Omnifuel        427g/15.06oz         
Whisperlite Universal  315g/11.11oz

Liquid Fuel
Primus Omnifuel        530g/18.70oz
Whisperlite Universal  369g/13.02oz

Basically, on canister gas, the Whisperlite Universal is about 112g/4oz lighter than the Omnifuel, and on liquid fuel, the Whisperlite Universal is about 161g/5.7oz lighter than the Omnifuel.  Yes, the Omnifuel has a beautiful metal pump, but you pay for it in the weight department.  Whether on canister gas or on liquid fuel, you save at least a quarter pound with the Whisperlite, and your weight savigs go up to almost 3/8th of a pound when using liquid fuel.

Note:  For the purposes of comparison, I did not include the windscreen, heat reflector, or canister stand since those only come with one of the stoves.  I wanted an "apples to apples" comparison.  Included are the stuff sacks, one jet, spare parts and tools, stove, and pump (for liquid fuel only obviously).  On the Whisperlite Universal, the appropriate adapter on the end of the fuel hose was included.

Concluding Remarks
So, which is the better stove overall?  You tell me.  :)

Seriously, it's up to you.  Take a look at the various categories I've laid out above.  It's up to you to decide which mix of price, weight, and features matter to you.  Some people won't get an Omnifuel just because it's loud.  Others won't go with the Whisperlite Universal simply because it has a plastic pump.  I can't decide for you which categories matter to you and in what way, but I hope that by laying out some facts, figures, and thoughts, this post will help you get a better understanding of which stove might better suit your needs.

Special thanks to Martin C. who helped me recover this post after it was obliterated in a Blogger error.

As always, I thank you for joining me on another Adventure in Stoving,

HJ

Technical Appendix -- Detail Weights

Whisperlite Universal Weights
Item Grams Include? Grams Ounces Pounds
1 Stove 232 Y 232 8.18 0.51
2 Pump 65 Y 65 2.29 0.14
3 Windscreen 60 N 0 0.00 0.00
4 Manual 57 N 0 0.00 0.00
5 Stuff Sack 35 Y 35 1.23 0.08
6 Canister Adapter 31 N 0 0.00 0.00
7 Liquid Fuel Adapter 22 Y 22 0.78 0.05
8 Reflector 17 N 0 0.00 0.00
9 Canister Stand 14 N 0 0.00 0.00
10 Spare Parts Kit 12 Y 12 0.42 0.03
11 Canister Gas Jet 5 N 0 0.00 0.00
12 Kerosene Jet 3 Y 3 0.11 0.01
13 Gasoline Jet 3 N 0 0.00 0.00
TOTAL 369 13.02 0.81
Upright Gas 315 11.11 0.69
Inverted Gas 329 11.61 0.73
Liquid Fuel 369 13.02 0.81



Primus Omnifuel Weights
Item Grams Include? Grams Ounces Pounds
1 Stove 348 Y 348 12.28 0.77
2 Pump 103 Y 103 3.63 0.23
3 Tool 42 Y 42 1.48 0.09
4 Stuff Sack 30 Y 30 1.06 0.07
5 Lubricant 5 Y 5 0.18 0.01
6 Canister Gas Jet 2 N 0 0.00 0.00
7 Kerosene Jet 2 N 0 0.00 0.00
8 Gasoline Jet 2 Y 2 0.07 0.00
TOTAL 530 18.70 1.17
Upright Gas 427 15.06 0.94
Inverted Gas 427 15.06 0.94
Liquid Fuel 530 18.70 1.17


20 comments:

  1. Nice review, but there's a Titanium version of Omnifuel, called Omnilite Ti, which is also advertised to be a bit more fuel efficient. Also more pricey.

    http://www.primus.eu/Templates/Pages/ProductSheet.aspx?ItemId=93966

    Here's a review of the Omnilite Ti.
    http://www.hikinginfinland.com/2012/02/primus-omnilite-ti.html

    Its also claimed to be more fuel efficient, using Mfg numbers Omnilite Ti claims 43 mins of fuel time per 100g, while Whisperlite is something above 20 mins. These are MfG numbers so they're probably both lying. Also I think Omnilite has much better winter performance and reliability, comparable to XGK. And winter is the time when you actually need a liquid fuel burner.

    Here're my numbers. Caveat emptor since I do not own a LF burner at the moment.

    Whisperlite MFG numbers:
    - Stove and pump: 311 g
    - Maintenance kit: 96 g
    = 407 g

    Omnilite Ti (not Omnifuel!):
    - Stove: 219 g
    - Pump: 105 g ?
    - Multitool 42 g
    - Maintenance kit 54 g
    = 420 g

    You can probably strip both maintenance kits, but if those number are correct close to being Whisperlite is only few grams lighter.

    The thing is, if Omnilite Ti is even 10% more fuel efficient, with 1000ml of fuel, its already 100g less weight. If it were the Mfg claimed 30%, it would be obviously 300 grams less than Whisperlite.

    Maybe you could test both with some fuel and see how much long they burn, or put a big kettle of water at room temperature and check how much the temperature has risen which gives you the exact joule number. Winter conditions would be a bonus because that's the time you need LF burner especially.

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  2. The Omnilite Ti looks like a really nice stove. As to whether or not it will measure up to manufacturer's specifications in the field, now that is a different matter. I'd love to test one, but they are quite expensive.

    HJ

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  3. Nice review, thank you. Question: Is the ergo pump compatible with the MSR Whisperlite Universal system? Seems to me, albeit at an additional cost, that you could have the best of both worlds, with the exception of the "stiff" hose.

    gswarren@att.net

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    Replies
    1. Why is this the best of both worlds?

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  4. The ergo pump is compatible with the MSR Whisperlite Universal provided that you use the Universal's gas attachment. I discuss this and show some photos in my Whisperlite Universal Review in Seattle Backpacker's Magazine.

    HJ

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  5. can I use MSR fuel bottles with Primus Omnilite Ti stove

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    Replies
    1. Yes. The threads are the same and the MSR bottles work fine.

      HJ

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  6. Replies
    1. You bet. The Omnilite is a nice little stove. Enjoy it!

      HJ

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  7. Hey,

    I am fairly new to compact hiking stoves and thus am asking a lot of questions so please forgive me. I remember in an earlier comment that you preferred the quality of the Omnifuel but said that the Universal was less likely to clog when ran on poorer fuels. If I were to end up in more remote places with poorer fuel options would you recommend the Universal or is the Omnifuel easy enough to clean up? Do the fuel choices damage any parts?
    Also are parts on the stoves like the jets and attachments pretty easy to switch between?

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    Replies
    1. Buddy,

      Based on my experience, I'd rather have a valve-at-the-pump only stove like the Whisperlite with poor or potentially dirty fuels. The single valve design is easier to clean and maintain.

      Using something like diesel can leave deposits in the fuel lines leading to the jet. Those deposits can clog the stove and cause it to cease burning. White gasoline, canister gas, and good quality k-1 grade kerosene should always be your first choices where available. Diesel is last choice.

      The jets are pretty easy to switch out on both stoves. The Omnifuel doesn't need to switch out the connector. The Whisperlite's connector is fairly easy to switch out.

      Read through the posts here about the Whisperlite Universal. You'll see some videos I shot of changing out the connector.

      HJ

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  8. Takes 15g Shellite (white spirit) fuel to boil 1L on the Primus Omnifuel with a wide Ti pot and a windshield. 10min boil time @ 20C and 100m above sea level. Not as simple as canister use. It takes a bit of practice to learn the proper connection (eg priming) and disconnection (eg line bleeding) procedures in order to avoid fuel spilling on to your hands. My advice is to do at least 3 or 4 boil tests on this stove to set your usage and procedures. Exercise caution - Don't be anywhere near a flame when connecting or disconnecting the pump. You need to pressurise and depressurise at the right points of the sequence. This goes for all similar pump stoves. Great remote canister stove too. The Svea 123R is simpler to operate, but more fickle setting the flame.

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    Replies
    1. Hi, Peter,

      Thank you for sharing your exprience.

      Boil tests are a good idea, particularly if done in conditions similar to what one will encounter in the field. It's important to note that boiling in cold, windy weather frequently uses a lot more fuel than boiling on a warm, calm day.

      HJ

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  9. For me, the clear winner is WLU. I just picked it up for 20 bucks out of pocket, brand new from field and stream.

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    Replies
    1. Wow. That's an awesome price. Did you have to get a subscription to Field and Stream?

      HJ

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    2. No sir, they were giving away gift cards on black Friday, and the ones they gave me totaled 60 dollars. i held on to them a month or two and I found the stove was on clearance for 83 which allowed me to also use a 10 dollar off a 50 dollar or more purchase, so after taxes the grand total was like 20.63 out of pocket.

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  10. Can both stoves you any type of fuel i.e. gas, kersoene, jet fuel, isobutan etc...

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    Replies
    1. Yes. Both stoves can use all of the standard liquid fuels as well as canister gas. The only common fuel they are not designed for is alcohol.

      HJ

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    2. i won both. the primus blows out every time a drop of condensed water falls off the pot into the burner area. setting up on a substantial tilt mostly solves the problem. i suspect the msr puts out a LOT more heat at full throttle.
      cheers,
      peter v.

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    3. Hi, Peter,

      Are you the Peter's Headnet's Peter? I've met you a couple of times at the GGG at Coe.

      That's really weird that the Primus goes out if a drop of water hits it. That doesn't sound right. Are you using white gas? Canister gas? Kero? And are you using the jet (nozzle) designed for that fuel?

      The W'Lite Uni and the Omnifuel both have a max rated BTU of about 10,500 BTU/hr although that will vary with fuel type. Using canister gas in inverted mode will give you the maximum amount of BTU/hr from either stove.

      HJ

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