MSR Whisperlite vs Esbit Pocket Stove

katahdinOne recent fall weekend my wife and I went to hike Maine’s Mount Katahdin in Baxter State Park. It was a gorgeous hike, as you can see in the image. The hike wasn’t for sissies, however; that or we’re just old, but we hiked for about 8 miles and 8 hours before we were back at our campsite and ready to eat a little Mountain House for dinner. Yes, we could have packed a full grill and made a meal fit for royalty, but that means packing the grill and a whole lot of effort. After a full day of hiking? No thanks. Mountain House is fast, easy, and it tastes good. Besides, I wanted to test a new stove, the Esbit Pocket Stove, to see if it would have a place in our camping/emergency gear. Could a disposable, light, tiny stove heat the water we’d need for food and drink? It could be life changing! Well, not really, but it could certainly change our approach to some hiking/emergency situations.

msrflameJust in case it didn’t go well, I’d brought our standard hiking stove, the MSR Whisperlite. Most people are familiar with the MSR brand of stove, the Whisperlite being the most common. They’re solid, time-tested, with simple mechanics. They can be a little messy at times, particularly when starting them, and you have to carry liquid fuel, but they work. I’m not sure one brand in this style of stove is any better than another. Jetboil seems like another nice brand, particularly if you like using propane. Propane is cleaner and can be set to simmer. The Whisperlite-type stoves can burn multiple fuels, however, better for survival situations.

pocketstoveflameLet’s get back to the Esbit stove, though. I’d never heard of this thing, but it seemed to have potential. “Use for cooking, boiling water, making hot coffee or tea,” the package reads. It’s made in Germany, which has a reputation for producing decent products. The box contains a foldable “stove” (a foldable, metal frame to hold a small pot of water or pan) and 6 half-ounce fuel cubes. The burn time, it claims, is approximately 12 minutes per half-ounce cube. The fuel cubes are stable, non-toxic, and they light easily with a match or lighter. The manufacturer claims that, depending on conditions, one cube will bring one pint of water to a boil in approximately 8 minutes. Not bad! The exterior conditions on that weekend were nothing short of beautiful. Figuring how the package also says the stove works well at altitude, I figured we were all set with “depending on conditions.” We had ideal conditions.

If you’re sensing this is shaping up to be a David versus Goliath matchup, you’re probably right. I’m not so naïve as to think a ten dollar, solid fuel, disposable pocket stove has a fair shot against an eighty-five dollar, white gas-fueled camping stove. The difference in construction and power between the two stoves is obvious. It’s clearly not an apples-to-apples matchup. Still, it was an interesting experiment for me. If the Pocket Stove did what it said it could do, there would be a whole range of situations I’d prefer to have a Pocket Stove over an MSR Whisperlite or comparable stove. When, exactly? I’d use a Pocket Stove over an MSR in any of the following scenarios:

  • Flying overseas. We had a recent trip to Iceland. The airfare there was reasonably priced, but once you’re staying there, everything is expensive. Gas is expensive, beer is expensive, souvenirs are expensive, and dining out is very expensive. We packed our MSR Whisperlite with an empty fuel bottle that we filled there. The plan was to hit the grocery store and cook anything easy from the stove to save money. It’s the scenery you’re after in Iceland, after all. The first day there we searched Reykjavik for Coleman white gas, a bottle that we used little of by week’s end. A solid fuel Pocket Stove would have been much more convenient and we could have packed it on the plane.
  • Day hikes. Here in New England, it’s not uncommon for us to make a day trip to a local mountaintop. It’s nice to do it not bogged down with weight/gear. It’s also nice to have a hot cup of coffee or tea at the top, and maybe a hot lunch if it’s late season hiking. I don’t know how much the Pocket Stove weighs, but it’s barely anything. The MSR and its bottle of fuel have weight, weight I’d rather leave at home.
  • Emergency kits. The Pocket Stove is tiny and easy to slide into an emergency kit for your vehicle or backpack. No worries about liquid fuel, and less costly to purchase if you’re only buying a stove for just-in-case purposes. One of these Pocket Stoves, a small pot, a few Mountain House meals, and you’re in good shape.
  • Bug out bag. Theoretically, your bug out bag (BOB) only needs to get you from point A to point B. Hopefully that’s not a great distance to travel, and if you’ve got to do it on foot, the less weight and size your stove has the more weight and room you have for other items. The Pocket Stove seems more suitable to a BOB.

The more I think about it, the scenarios above are exactly the types of situations I use my Whisperlite in, so the Pocket Stove—if effective—could prove to get far more use than the Whisperlite.

So what are the Pocket Stove’s advantages?

  1. Lower cost
  2. Lighter weight
  3. Smaller size
  4. Stable, solid fuel
  5. Fewer moving parts

The MSR, of course, has its own advantages:

  1. Gas power
  2. Multi-fuel
  3. Larger, more stable cooking platform
  4. Made in the U.S.A.

stoves-on-tableSince 80% of my entire stove use is to boil water, either for drink or to add to dehydrated food, the test was simple: see how each compares when boiling one pint of water. I lit the stoves and they were off to the races!  I know, I know, the MSR fuel canister looks awfully close to the Pocket Stove flame. I just moved the can there for the pic… *ahem.* This Whisperlite always takes a little tinkering to get it going, but the Pocket Stove fuel was easily lit with a lighter. However, you can see the significant difference in the flame. The Whisperlite has a healthy roar to its sound. The Pocket Stove’s solid fuel is more like a dancing flame than the Whisperlite’s burner.

The Whisperlite’s bendable windscreen is a great benefit. Not only does it help reduce wind hitting the flame, but it reflects the heat back toward the burner and up the sides of the pot for greater efficiency. The Pocket Stove has no such screen, making it more susceptible to wind. There was another problem, however. The Pocket Stove’s flame is very low to the surface level. Needless to say, it caught the picnic table on fire in the process.  Sorry Baxter State Park officials!

boiling_stoves_msr_esbitBut soon we had reached full boil… well, the MSR did.  Your can see here the MSR was at a full, roiling boil. It took 4.5 minutes—fast! You can also see here where the Pocket Stove’s lack of windscreen left the flame blowing out the side resulting in poorer efficiency. Mind you, this was by no means a windy day. The air was quite still. Conditions were ideal.  That said, Esbit claims it takes 8 minutes to reach boil, which is still fast, so we kept it going. Except, the fuel cube burned out at 7.5 minutes, despite Esbit’s claim that each cube will burn for 12 minutes. I stuck my finger thermometer in the water and it read slightly warmer than lukewarm.

pocketstoveflameonsideI attributed the failure to burn to the flame blowing out the side rather than sitting fully under the pot. I moved the stove to the ground to save the picnic table, lit another cube, and surrounded it with the Whisperlite’s windscreen. That still didn’t seem to help.  The second cube eventually burned out and after 13 minutes and 20 seconds sitting over the Pocket Stove’s, flame the water was finally hot enough for tea, but still not boiling.

Sadly, this little stove failed to live up to the claims. The only purpose I can recommend it for… is… well I guess I can’t recommend it for any purpose. I took the remaining fuel cubes and tossed them into the campfire to watch them burn. The foldable stove I threw in the trash. I guess you could use the fuel cubes for emergency fire starters, then the unit goes from being a cheap stove to becoming an expensive set of fire starters. You can do better than that. Esbit could do better, too.

Don’t buy the Esbit Pocket Stove. Save your money and splurge on an MSR, Jetboil, or similar quality camping stove. You won’t be disappointed.

Derrick Grant is the founder of Prepper Press, a publisher of post-apocalyptic fiction and survival nonfiction. Follow his Facebook writer page for all things apocalyptic.

All Photos Courtesy of: Derrick Grant

Interested in writing for us? Send a sample of your work and an introductory statement to [email protected] If you’re a good fit, we’ll publish your work and compensate you accordingly.

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save



Written by Joel Jefferson

Joel is one of the original founders of SurvivalCache.com. After college, he joined the USMC where he served as an (0302) Marine Infantry Officer. Joel is an avid outdoorsman and spends much of his free time in the mountains. Joel’s hobby is researching survival gear & weapons as well as prepping. Read his full interview here. Read more of Joel's articles.

3 thoughts on “MSR Whisperlite vs Esbit Pocket Stove”

  1. How appropriate that this review was done by a fiction writer, facts are apparently optional! The Esbit folding stove is not new, it is said to have been developed during WW2 for use by the German army and is still being made and used in very large numbers. The Esbit is a multi-fuel stove for in addition to the fuel cubes it can be used as a wood stove (read twigs, not logs), an alcohol stove (even a used tuna can will work), with chafing fuel canisters (unfold, rotate 90 deg., lay on the canister to use as a wind shield and pot holder), and my personal favorite, tea light candles with about half a cotton ball as wick (which put out a lot of flame for about 4 cents each)! The Esbit can carry its own fuel internally and a small piece of aluminum can be used as a wind shield and fit easily inside when stored! Your test seems a bit bias toward the MRS stove, don't all gas-based stoves burn hotter than solid-fuel-based ones? Except maybe thermite! The MRS is a great little stove, a bit pricey, but not too bad, but it is a camping stove, the Esbit is a survival stove, apples and grapes! I prefer a small propane stove for most camping because propane is the easiest fuel to use IMHO and once you've had a liquid fuel leak into your backpack (not a good memory, Coleman fuel) you're not only out of fuel but your gear is now a potential flaming suicide pack! IMHO, the Esbit is the BEST survival stove ever made, the only one that comes close is the canteen cup stove that takes up almost no space when mated with the canteen cup and canteen! GLAHP!

    Reply
  2. Since I do not go (anymore) above the tree line or into austere desert areas I go with ground litter and a #10 can punctured in all the right places. this also allows me to carry a fire bundle or dry tinder to another site. It also contains the fires coals and if you puncture with a nail it limits sparks and can use it as a sieve to cover traps a empty #10 can with a wire handle has many uses and cost nothing after you eat the contents.

    I take a propane torch head w/ piezo igniter and a couple of slender 1 pound cylinders a torch will do things a stove will never do and since all I use it for is a light for a tinder fire it's infinite control allows it to be used to heat without smoke heat items like stuck lug nuts start a fire in a blizzard if you got the gonads you can start it with one hand and cauterize a wound. it has a blue flame not real obvious if you needed a covert fire to boil water this is it no worry about liquid fuel leaking or catching you or your BOB on fire and worse blistering your skin.

    I am a prepper not a camper although I can camp if you have an adapter you can refill 1 pounders and it is important to KNOW HOW or become a flaming skin beach ball.

    A 1 pound bottle last 4 hours at full flame daffy dope could start a fire with ice cubes in 4 hours with a torch.

    Reply
  3. The writer is a fool. Use two tabs if one doesn't get you to the temp you need. The stove is also usable with other fuels such a sterno,Heet,hand cleanser, and denatured alcohol placed in the lid of a mini altoids tin, inside the stove. Conveniently, it can also be used as a twig stove when solid or liquid fuel is unavailable. Think outside the box…adapt and overcome.

    Reply

Leave a Comment