The Way of the Whisperlight: An Evolution in Camp Cooking

By Wilderness Adventures May 23, 2012

While the world’s first portable camping stoves burned animal fat and whale blubber as their fuel sources, the first mainstream, portable camping stove (the Primus) was invented in the late 1800s by Swedish factory worker Frans Wilhelm. Since bringing his original blow-torch-inspired, kerosine-fueled portable cooker to the masses in 1892, portable cooking technology has been at the cornerstone of all great outdoor journeys.


Still accessible in the markets of post-Soviet countries, the original, kerosine-burning Primus was such an innovation in portable cooking technology because it didn’t give off the abundance of soot and smoke like other portable stoves of its day.


Throughout the first half of the 20th century, the Primus was the staple in the cook kits of outdoor and expedition chefs — fueling the first successful journeys to both the South Pole and to the summit of Mount Everest.


As camping became a popularized activity in the 1960s, the recreation market readied itself for the next wave of outdoor recreation innovation. Frustrated with the safety of much of the day’s contemporary climbing equipment, engineer and Mountain Safety Research founder and engineer Larry Penberthy created the first MSR Model 9 camp stove to combat the onset of dehydration and corresponding altitude sickness among climbers. The stove burned clean, safely and efficiently, and was the first camp stove with a separate fuel canister and burner.


It was amidst this Renaissance of gear and innovation that Mike and Helen Cottingham pioneered the first student outdoor adventure program with the goal to connect young people with the natural world in ways that are at once meaningful and enjoyable. The modern MSR Whisperlight stoves that our teen outdoor adventure camps use today bear striking visual similarities to the first, MRS Model 9. Likewise, 40 years later, our outdoor leadership adventures continue to connect great people with great environments through fun and substantive activities.


While we’ve continually worked to innovate and lead the outdoor education industry, the fundamentals of our teen adventure program are as true today as they were in 1973. With the proper implementation, outdoor travel has the ability to develop leadership, cooperative living and self esteem in ways that are imperatively applicable to the “real world.” Our teen adventure programs connect the best environments, leaders, activities and students, which (combined with our 40 years of pioneering experience in the industry) assures each of our students depart their adventure having shared the best and most profound summers of their lives.