MSR XGK EX Review

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Base stats:
– BTU:  10,500 (White Gas)
– Weight:  13.2oz min
– Weight:  17.2oz max

As the original and therefore de facto king of fuel bottle based liquid fuel stoves, there isn’t much about the stove that hasn’t already been said a thousand times over, in reviews all over the world, and in every language.

The XGK EX is arguably the linear, direct descendant of the original fuel-bottle based liquid fuel stove, created by MSR founder Larry Penberthy in 1969, after realizing it was inefficient to carry a fuel bottle in addition to a stove + tank “lunchbox” type stove.  DSC05373

It’s advantages are known well….

  • It’s considered among the most reliable stoves out there, running all kinds of dirty fuels without failure, and minimal maintenance.
    • You won’t find dirty fuels in the US.
    • Dirty fuels are fuels with less quality control.  Bencina petrol, Tinsel Diesel, Haas Kerosene, Prexim Diesel, and numerous others around the world
  • It’s considered to be THE stove in extreme conditions, be it far below freezing, or high up on the tallest mountains.
  • In remote parts of the world, where often the only fuel available is dirty gasoline, the XGK has proven reliable where other rugged stoves fail
  • In parts of the world where kerosene is the de facto standard, the XGK keeps on trucking.
  • It’s one of the few stoves that can run dirty diesel over long periods (rather than just in emergencies)
  • The fuel line, while super thick and barely flexible, is not a con, as it lends to the uber reliability of the stove.
  • The stove can carry very heavy pots filled with a couple of gallons of water without issue

The notable cons are really only 3….

  • The pump, ubiquitous across all MSR liquid fuel stoves, has been known to have issues, so either carrying a spare plus light maintenance, or having a full expedition repair kit is wise.
  • The stove doesn’t simmer well. Some say it doesn’t simmer at all. There is a separately sold simmer plate, but even then, the stove burns very hot.
  • The stove is considered neither light or compact by today’s liquid fuel standards.

 

If you’re heading to or are in a country that has access to high quality fuels (e.g. Van Doren, Coleman, Harris, Glider, MSR super fuel, Klean, K-1, etc.), the XGK is both overkill in some ways and lacking in some ways, making it less than ideal compared to other stoves.

But if you’re heading to remote parts of the world where the only available fuel is likely dirty kerosene, dirty unleaded petrol, or dirty diesel (e.g. Bencina petrol, Tinsel Diesel, Haas Kerosene, Prexim Diesel, etc.), the XGK is the stove that will require the least amount of maintenance (except for the pump, of course. the pump is bleh).

For more on why that is, read the side bar below.  If you already know the difference between a generator coil and heat concentrator, skip it.


LONG SIDE BAR:  Generator coil vs. heat concentrator

Liquid fuel needs to be vaporized before it comes out of the nozzle to be burned.  To continuously vaporize the liquid fuel before the fuel emerges from the nozzle, liquid fuel stoves need a channel to allow the heat from the flame to constantly vaporize the fuel.  This is done via a generator coil or a heat concentrator.

  • generator coil is metal tube that is curved around the stove head so that at least part of the tube gets hit by the flame.  (e.g. XGK, Whisperlite, Muka, Edlerid Hexon, etc.).  See the image on the left (e.g. MSR XGK EX)
  • A heat concentrator relies on the heat of the bell, firewall, or just the stove head itself, to transfer heat down along the fuel egress point and below, to vaporize the fuel.  (e.g. Nova, Nova+, Omnifuel, Polaris Optifuel, Omnilite, Dragonfly, etc), see the photo on the right (Omnifuel 2).

 

Because that vaporization is actually the process of cooking the fuel, turning it into a gas, one naturally occurring “problem” is that any part of the liquid that doesn’t burn inside the heat concentrator or generator coil turns to carbon. often black, sooty, sticky carbon. Like cholesterol clogging up arteries, that building carbon increasingly narrows the fuel pathway over time.

Which means that EVERY liquid fuel stove needs maintenance to varying degrees. The frequency depends on two things: the engineering behind the fuel pathway, and how dirty the fuel is.

  • Stoves that have two throttles, one at the fuel pump end and one at the stove end, clog up more easily.  The fuel throttle at the stove end, which gives the stove such great simmer capability, also makes such stoves more susceptible to clogging through carbon buildup.  The mechanism to throttle fuel is a very long needle, or screw.  That needle or screw has a channel or gap running along it, like a river bed, to allow fuel to get through.  The very tip is the fuel dam, and this is where carbon buildup is worst.  because that needle is actually a screw, with the threads at the very tip, the groove or “riverbed” is cut through the threads, and is very narrow.  This means that just a little carbon buildup leads to clogged stoves.  With very dirty fuels, the stove performance can start to degrade within 60-90 minutes of use, and start failing with a few hours.
  • Stoves that have just one throttle on the fuel pump end and use a generator coil typically have less maintenance.  The generator coil typically has a wider pathway than the rest of the fuel line, so sticky carbon deposits take longer to build up and block fuel throughput.  Still, even then, carbon does buildup over time.  Some manufacturers require changing the generator coil after X number of liters of fuel. (e.g. Soto Muka). Some manufacturers offer a cleaning wire to pass through the generator coil.

All this to point out just how special the XGK is compared to other stoves for this one issue.

The XGK is a fuel bottle side single throttle stove, and what makes the XGK (and also the Soto Muka), rather unique is that the stove puts out so much heat, that as it vaporizes the fuel in the generator coil, a lot more of the additives get burned, so there is less deposit left in the generator coil.

Having a single throttle removes precision simmering, but replaces it with a much more reliable stove that just works and works, with significantly less maintenance.

Yep, if going to really remote places where only dirty fuels are likely to be available, the XGK is undoubtedly the stove I would take (along with a replacement pump and extra expedition kit)….
That does add some weight, but the pump is very light plastic (compared to a heavy stove), and when you’re out in the middle of nowhere, the last thing you want is an unusable stove.


 

BACK TO THE XGK

When folded up, the MSR XGK EX has three “C” shaped steel rods that are all turned inwards.

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You turn the “C” shaped rods until they open all the way out until the ends of the “C” are facing away from the stove head.

 

 

 


NOTE:  NEXT SECTION IS A COPY FROM MSR WHISPERLITE UNIVERSAL REVIEW (SAME CONTENT).  SCROLL PASSED GREEN TEXT TO SKIP.


Side bar:  Make sure to get an MSR fuel bottle, not Optimus or Primus.

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CAUTION:  The MSR pump cap does not fit because Primus and Optimus fuel bottles have a wide rim.

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THE PUMP AND FUEL CONNECTOR

 

The MSR pump is ubiquitous across all MSR stoves including the XGK and Dragonfly.

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The L-Shaped dark tube is the air pressure pump.  The small white tube with the filter tip is the fuel intake, which sends fuel to the red hole.  The red plastic pump is a pretty good size and action is reasonably smooth.  The brass portion with the red tab throttles the fuel.

Connecting the tube is fairly easy.

While this isn’t official (like it is with other stoves), lying the bottle down one way sends fuel through, and lying it down the other way through sends air through, allowing you to clear the fuel line of fuel, by pushing air all the way to the stove head.

This is because the white plastic fuel intake is angled to hit the side wall of the fuel bottle.

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If you’ve read my other reviews of liquid fuel stoves, you’ll know that I’m not a fan of any pump that is:
– L-shaped pump
– Uses a soft plastic intake tube.

The MSR fuel pump is even more problematic.  There are so many plastic components.  The plastic turns brittle with age and very low temperatures.  Being too forceful in throttling or screwing on the cap can easily cause the plastic to fracture, split, and break the seals.

Frankly, considering how amazing MSR stoves are, I’m genuinely surprised that the company continues to use this pump.  MSR could easily create a new pump that requires no changes to the fuel line connector (ensuring compatibility with all stoves), that is considerably better than the current version.


NOTE:  END OF COPY OF CONTENT FROM MSR WHISPERLITE REVIEW


 

Like many liquid fuel stoves, you chance the fuel nozzle at the stove head for different types of fuel.

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The recessed screw you can see in the center of the image has a tiny hole in the center.  The size of the hole determines what fuel it runs best with.

The rule of thumb is, the cleaner (more efficient) the fuel is, the wider the gauge (size of the hole).  The MSR XGK comes with two:  One for white gas and one for Kerosene/Diesel.  Just unscrew it and replace with the other when switching fuels.

Another rule of thumb is, if you have a mixed bottle at roughly 50/50, go with the smaller gauge.

NOTE:  You see that thin wavy bar that goes from one edge of the outer chassis, through the inner bell on one side, forming a wavy “U”, going through the inner bell on the other side, and going out the outer chassis on the opposite side?  Well, this bar is designed to keep the bell in place.  When you remove the nozzle, you can then remove the square shaped screw, and this in turn allows the bell to spin around for maintenance.

Ugh….such a pain.  The MSR XGK EX shouldn’t need this rod.

 


If you plan on going any distance to remote parts of the world and you selected the XGK for reliability, I’ve said this earlier, but can’t stress it enough….bring an extra pump.

The stove is insanely reliable, works with any crappy low quality fuel, and is superman tough compared to other stoves, but the pump on the other hand, is frankly not very reliable.

One more item you absolutely should take with you is a field maintenance kit.

The field maintenance kit contains items to repair a fuel pump (yes, backup of a backup), and also contains the more commonly damaged items, like rubber o-rings.  There is also a gauge or hole cleaning wire, and a simple multi-tool.  Finally, there is some silicone grease that is useful on the o-rings as well, but is primarily designed for keeping the pressure cup well greased.  The pressure cup is this small leathery cup shaped piece that going inside the pump itself.  it needs to stay greased.  The maintenance is very intuitive and it takes little understanding of how things are put together will quickly find the corresponding parts on the fuel pump.

No other tools are required other than the one that comes with this kit, and it is highly intuitive.

 


One item you might have noticed in these photos that doesn’t come with the MSR XGK EX (It does come with the US Marines version) is the diffuser plate:

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The diffuser plate helps to both even out the heat across a wider area, and in so doing, helps to reduce concentrated heat, technically allowing for a lower concentrated level heat over a smaller area.

Does it help reduce the extreme heat?  Well…sort of.  I think of it as the difference between a shotgun slug and shotgun shotshells….Either way, the heat is intense, and while the diffuser does help to diffuse the heat, you won’t be doing a 1 hour simmer stew with this stove.

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Above:  The diffuser plate hard at work.


SIMMER TRICK

Okay, this is not a recommended trick, but by pumping the fuel bottle to low pressure rather than high pressure, you will get reduced stove head heat (less pressure, less speed of fuel egress, less heat)

But there’s a catch.

Part of the stove’s core function is the ability to burn off carbon.  Most fuels leave some deposits.  But…the hotter the flame, the fewer carbon particulates build up inside the generator coil.  By simmering, the base of the generator coil doesn’t get hot enough, and therefore carbon builds up faster.  The problem is, once carbon sets, it’s harder to burn off.  In fact, you sort of have to scrape it off.

Now, the MSR XGK EX has a very wide gauge generator coil, so there is a scratch wire you can buy.  You basically unscrew the fuel line from the generator coil, unscrew the nozzle screw (screw where the fuel emerges at the fuel head), and run the wire through the generator coil, scraping out the built up carbon.

This does, unfortunately, speed overall wear and tear of the unit over time.  I’ve found that with every stove, there are parts that are meant to be taken apart often, and parts that are meant only to be taken apart a few times.  The generator coil connection to the fuel line isn’t really designed to be taken apart more than a few times before the seal becomes risky for leaks.  So, this simmer approach may be useful for a while, but does shorten the overall lifespan of the stove.

Long story short, you can use this trick, but know that it’s really one for emergencies.


So what pots and mugs does it fit inside?

Surprisingly, considering it’s massive bulk, it actually fits in some pretty small pots and pans, so it is possible to get your pack relatively compact.

 

Snow Peak 1400:  Fits without any issues.  And there’s room for the field maintenance kit and the defuser as well.  Sadly, it doesn’t fit the Snow Peak 900.

 

 

 

Optimus HE Weekender:  I was really surprised that it fit inside this pot set.  As you can see, the defuser plate and the field maintenance kit does not fit.  But still, pretty impressed.  Of course….why would you couple an Optimus HE Weekender with the fire power of the XGK EX?  I imagine over 100 uses, eventually, the XGK EX’s explosive flame would damage the heat exchanger at the bottom of the Weekender.

 

 

It does not fit even the larger of the the Snow Peak Mult-Compact cook set.  No surprise here, very few liquid fuel stoves fit inside this kit.  Notable exceptions being the Soto Muka and Edelrid Hexon.

 

 

Good news for Toaks 1600 owners.  It fits without a problem.  It fits the field maintenance kit and diffuser plate too!

On a side note though, in sub-zero weather, I’ve had titanium crack on me before.  I imagine with the MSR XGK EX’s scorching heat (the wide temperature difference between the extreme heat of this stove versus the freezing), over time, a titanium or aluminum pot would be damaged.  Aluminum melts impressively liquid-like when over-heated, and titanium produces a super loud bang when it cracks.

Most people, if at least a little careful’ish, shouldn’t worry, but I wouldn’t consider this ideal.

 

 

 

MSR Stowaway 1.6L….Awwwwww….So close.  Actually, close enough that you could sort of get away with it if you turn the stove on its side, and wrap the hose over the stove head instead of around it.  But I found that method to be inefficient, because then you can’t hook the hose tip. But, yes, you could force it to fit.

Having said that, the MSR Stowaway 1.6L is the BEST pot for the MSR XGK EX in terms of every day use.  This is probably the only pot among my backpacking pots that can take the heat of the MSR XGK EX long term, day in day out.  If I had plenty of access to dirty fuels like Bencina gas or badly refined diesel (not the clean diesel you get in the US, but dirty diesel you get in remote parts of Mexico, Eastern Kenya, etc.), and needed a backpacking stove and backpacking pot, this is the combination I would bring.

 

The MSR Stowaway 1.1L, on the other hand, does not fit, Oh well, too bad.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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