Sunday, February 20, 2011

Whisperlite, and simmering.

One of the key pieces of gear coming along on this trip is our stove. Or more accurately I should say 'stoves' as there will be three. One for each cook group, and a backup. Our stove of choice, and the first choice of many expeditions is the MSR Whisperlite.

Yes, it is heavier than a canister stove. Yes, you have to prime it. But that is where the disadvantages end. It is much more efficient in terms of fuel use than anything else. It is extremely reliable. It will run well in the cold, and the wet. It packs small, and supports a big pot. It is easy to maintain in the field, and almost never needs it. It is an easy choice.

There is one other complaint people have with this stove, and that is that it doesn't simmer well. In fact it doesn't simmer at all. If your boiling water it isn't a major issue, but once you really start cooking you may need the ability to simmer. Many times I will just regulate heat by moving, and/or holding the pan above the flame. And this works well enough. There is also a device called the 'scorch buster' which goes over the flame and creates indirect heat. I haven't used it, but it has a great reputation.

There is of course one other method. This method isn't in the directions for the stove. I learned it in Alaska in 2000. I have to stress, attempt this at your own risk. I am merely illustrating a technique. I don't believe this is recommended by the manufacturer or anyone else. But here it is. Light your whisperlite as usual.

1. set up your stove with wind screen and heat reflector. Attach the fuel bottle which has been pressurized with around 10 pumps.

2. open the valve on the pressure pump to allow some liquid fuel into the priming cup on the bottom of the stove. When the cup has a little fuel in it, close the valve.

3. light the liquid fuel in the priming cup with a match or lighter. Allow this raw fuel to preheat the stove.

4. As the fuel is about to burn out open the valve again, allowing fuel to flow out of the fuel bottle, it gets heated and vaporized in the fuel line, where the gas exits the top of the stove you will now have a nice blue flame. Your ready to cook.

Here is where you adjust the system to make it simmer.


5. After preheating your stove, and having it ready to cook, turn off the fuel valve, and blow out the stove. You should still hear the sound of gas escaping for a few seconds.

6. Pick up the entire stove from the fuel bottle, as the stove is very hot. Unscrew the pressure pump just enough to allow the fuel bottle to become unpressurized. Do not do this near an open flame.

7. Put the stove back down, open the valve on the pressure pump to allow fuel to flow again, and light the stove once more at the burner - not the priming cup.

You now have a stove set to simmer. you may need to give it one or two pumps every now and then to keep it going. Or, you could buy a simmer lite, or dragonfly, both of which offer good flame control. Have I mentioned NOT to try this technique? Good. Here is a video illustrating the above method. Unfortunately in daylight you can't see the difference between the regular flame and the simmering flame.

Simmering with a Whisperlit from Paddling Otaku on Vimeo.

One thing worth mentioning, a lot of people turn off their whisperlite incorrectly. Many will turn of the pump valve allowing the stove to extinguish itself. And while this works, it also causes the stove to sputter to a stop, which creates soot which can clog the jet. A better method is to turn off the valve, and blow out the stove. The remaining - vaporized - fuel will just vent out of the fuel line.

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