20 Year Old MSR XGK Edges Out New Version In Snow Melt Test

Post by WildSnow.com blogger | February 4, 2010      

Touted as the blow-torch of petrol campfires, the MSR XGK backcountry cook stove has been my hydration savior since it was invented back in the 1970s. So it was with much joy I acquired the latest model, replete with the well engineered fold-out base legs that work super well on a stove board, and the wide pot supports that hold a big snow melting kettle like they were designed for it.

MSR XGK Stoves

MSR XGK Stoves, venerated elder to left, new EX model to right.

The boys were out on a Denali test camp a few weeks ago, and mentioned that the new XGK didn’t seem to burn quite as hot as the older one they had along. Not only that, but they reported that the new stove kept cutting out on them.

I was less than joyed to hear that, as I’m in the middle of trying to finish our Denali gear acquisition as well as learning how to sat-phone blog, so did I have time for stove repair and testing? Nope. But yeah, with about 30 years of XGK repair, maintenance and testing under my belt, the boys just naturally assumed that Lou would dig in like he was after one of those EU pastries he consumes with such unmitigated gusto. They were right. After all, it’s a lot more fun to fiddle with a stove than test an Iridium phone at a zillion bucks a minute.

We just got a nice 5 1/2 liter snow melting kettle, so I figured what better test than rendering some ice crystals down to liquid? To simulate, I did all testing outside on our snowy porch at temperatures below freezing. I did two different test sessions, one last night and one early this morning. To get extreme, I even stuck the fuel tank in our freezer last night and brought it down to zero Fahrenheit.

First, the good news is I couldn’t get the new model XGK EX to quit without abusing it. The stove did quit when I dripped water on the burner, or over pressured and went full throttle before the stove was warm. Also, I discovered that the fuel diptube was reversed in orientation, so once the bottle was half empty the stove would indeed cut out. That’s probably what happened to the boys, as I couldn’t get anything else to occur.

Now, for the not so good. In a number of tests last evening, the new XGK melted snow to 5 liters of water in 18 minutes. That’s not terrible, but to my tuned ear and well educated sense of what an XGK should do, the stove seemed to not be quite the blow torch I’m used to. So I grabbed the 20 year old XGK from our gear museum, stuck in a new jet, fired it up, and yeah! The flame was noticeably higher, louder, and cleaner looking. It melted the same snow to 5 liters water in just under 17 minutes. I did the whole test twice. The new model is thus about 6% slower.

To be sure something weird wasn’t going on, I removed both the jet shaker/cleaner and the fuel filter from the new XGK. The old one has neither of those “features,” (remind you of a software “upgrade?”).

So, is one minute more melting time per 5 liters snowmelt worth bringing the nicely designed new XGK model? Or should we just acquire some older stoves? Main thing is that we bring all the same model of stove, so we don’t get confusion with repair kits and such. Also, the better base and pot supports of the newer XGK EX model eliminate a lot of hassle, not to mention keeping the stove up off the stove board so we don’t need as much heat resistance in the stove board. Thus, this is an important decision. But a decision I’m surprised we have to make.

My recommendation is we go with the new model. The numbers work something like this: If we run two snow melting stoves, one stove will have to melt about 32 liters of snow a day (to be liberal, as we’ll also have two cooking stoves going and can melt with those as well). That means the melt time (not the boil time) will be around two hours a day. Enhance that by 6% and the day’s snow melting for our expedition would take around 7 minutes less if we used the older model stoves. Clincher is that the older stoves also require more fiddling with the supports, and since they sit on the stove board you have to be a lot more careful when you prime them so as not to burn the stove board. In all, my bet the time factor is a wash. But why can’t Cascade Designs eak a bit more heat out of the new model? Indeed, why in the world didn’t they INCREASE the output a bit over the previous model? Strange.


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51 Responses to “20 Year Old MSR XGK Edges Out New Version In Snow Melt Test”

  1. Clyde February 4th, 2010 12:20 pm

    Better pots (Primus) would make up for the difference.

  2. Bill Johnson February 4th, 2010 12:24 pm

    Clearly the flaw in your testing was using modern fuel in 20 year-old stoves. As I have a cache of 20 year-old white gas sitting next to the pile of oily rags in in my garage I would be willing to part with 40 or 50 gallons for a reasonable fee.

  3. Tom Gos February 4th, 2010 12:25 pm

    Come one Lou, this sounds like it’s begging for a gear mod. :cheerful: Lets see what performance you can tune out of the new stove!

  4. Lou February 4th, 2010 12:25 pm

    Yeah Clyde, this is worst case scenario. I didn’t make much effort for efficiency, but I did do it the same with both stoves. The windscreen is too tight, for one thing. We’ll have to make another one just for the snow melting pots.

  5. Lou February 4th, 2010 12:27 pm

    Same gas in both stoves, but I could get the oily rags and light them for a campfire?

  6. Lou February 4th, 2010 12:29 pm

    BTW, thought I’d mention that for this trip I’m not to concerned about efficiency, just raw power, as we can haul some extra fuel up the glacier as well as probably get some from descending groups if necessary.

  7. Chris February 4th, 2010 12:35 pm

    Did you analyze fuel consumption? maybe it runs slightly slower because it’s more efficient. This may be a big help on a big trip, except when you’re at 16k and you need water NOW!

  8. Lou February 4th, 2010 12:40 pm

    All I care about on this trip is having a stove that’s HOT. But like I said, the slight decrease in output isn’t a deal breaker. The design of the stove is so much better than the older models it’s a slam dunk in my opinion. But it is too bad they didn’t at least make sure it equaled the output of the older models. I’m now wondering if I can mod something that’ll increase the fuel flow a bit…. it seems to have some sort of built in regulator.

  9. Tyler February 4th, 2010 1:09 pm


    We were convinced you took out an essential piece just to throw us for a loop! We could picture you shaking your head as we poured white gas on each other, lost parts and generally FAILED at getting to new stove to run consistently. We suspected the dip tube too, strange that it was reversed.

  10. Lou February 4th, 2010 1:45 pm

    Yeah, the dip tube was oriented so that it stuck up towards the top of the tank/bottle, instead of the bottom. When the bottle got to half full, the stove sputtered out unless the bottle was at an angle, etc. But you guys should have caught that, D- on MSR stove troubleshooting (grin).

    Steven, yeah, I think it’s an ok stove. Wish they’d bumped up the output a bit, instead of reducing it or keeping it the same.

  11. David February 4th, 2010 2:04 pm

    Interesting comparison. The question about overall efficiency is a good thought, but I’m with Lou in that I want heat and speed from the XGK.

    I’m still intrigued by the integrated jetboil/reactor pots and sorta wonder if the new big Reactor pot could be used on top of a XGK. Probably not practical, but I suspect it would speed up the process.

  12. Steven February 4th, 2010 1:08 pm

    Lou, thanks for the write up. Glad to hear the news isn’t as bad as it sounded the other day on the new XGK’s. I was concerned since I have just received a new one for Christmas.

  13. Lou February 4th, 2010 2:42 pm

    As they say in powersports, there is no replacement for displacement. I’m planning on fancying this up a bit, but the fiddle factor of removing a cozy every time one needs to add snow to a melt session seems a bit counter productive. But we’ll do something. Seems like the main thing is to have a decent wind shield heat director. Stove directions say this is supposed to be about an inch away from the pot, for best efficiency. When Louie gets home he can make a taller one. And perhaps an insulated lid.

  14. Chris February 4th, 2010 4:27 pm

    Keep in mind, your test was probably done at <6500 ft elevation in a sea of oxygen. I'd be wary of tinkering too much at home given where you plan on taking the stoves (though I doubt you're looking to bore out any orifi). It would be pretty cool to take the old timer up the mountain and see how it performs against the young blood up high (not-too-subtle analogy intended!).

  15. rod georgiu February 4th, 2010 5:01 pm

    :ninja: I had trouble with a XGK last year, and sent it back for service, no idea what they did, but it roars now. Before, I wasn’t able to get the last 40% of the fuel in the bottle.

    Which one is the fuel diptube ? And how is it supposed to be oriented?

  16. RobinB February 4th, 2010 5:04 pm

    That seems like a fairly small number in terms of percentage. I wonder if you compared several new model stoves if you may get a similar variance???

  17. Lou February 4th, 2010 5:33 pm

    Rod, your diptube was oriented wrong. You’d better learn what that is! It’s the thinner tube on the pump, and naturally, it needs to be down! That is unless gravity reverses some day.

  18. Lou February 4th, 2010 5:34 pm

    Robin, yeah, but I hate to see it going backwards. How about the new one being 6% hotter? Now that would rock.

  19. Jon Jay February 4th, 2010 7:01 pm

    I had a ton of trouble with the XGK EX on a trip in Norway, but since then I realized all I have to do is flip the fuel tank so the control switch is facing the ground (causing proper diptube orientation) and it works fine. Any way you can mod the diptube so it faces down without sacrificing the control switch?

  20. Sam Reese February 4th, 2010 7:24 pm

    Ditch those stupid floppy pot stands from the old-old XGK and get the new-old u-shaped ones… they hold a pot way better, though I admit, still not as well as the new stands.

    I took an angle grinder and cut off wheel to mine, and made a bunch of sharp grooves in it, which grab the pot pretty well (like the PocketRocket’s pot stand).

    I have a serious loathing of those flippy-floppy l braces.

  21. Mal Con February 4th, 2010 7:41 pm

    We got the original MSR stove when it first came out in the 70’s, it became the XGK later. It sounded like a 707 nOT 747 and would melt a hole through an AL pot if you did not add water first. It was designed for melting snow, oldie but goodie. :wub:

  22. Lou February 4th, 2010 7:46 pm

    Jon, on my pump the dip tube is just press fit in, and easily rotates to correct position. I wouldn’t flip the tank, that causes the check valve and air pump port to be immersed in fuel and I don’t think that’s really intended, though it might not be a big deal.

  23. Dostie February 4th, 2010 9:27 pm


    Didja consider that efficiency might drop as you rise in altitude? IOW, a 6% difference at 6,000′ might become 15%-20% at 17,000′. In that case, the older model might be worth the extra hassle with inferior legs, etc. If you plan for it, you could overcome those factors a lot easier than losing even more efficiency with less oxygen.

  24. Mark W February 4th, 2010 10:13 pm

    I know a guy who used the 2.5 liter Jetboil pot for about 2 months straight in the Wind Rivers last summer and loved it. He said the fuel consumption was drastically reduced to perhaps half of previous cook pots.

  25. tom February 5th, 2010 9:09 am

    Hi Lou,

    You may want to check airline regulations on whether or not you can fly with a gasoline stove that has already been used in the past. To my knowledge it is not allowed. You may be mailing them to your pilot in Talkeenta.
    Have a great time on Denali. I summited in 1990. Watching two Swiss skiers pass us on the way down made us realize how slow showshoes are!!!!

  26. Jordan February 5th, 2010 9:27 am

    Hey Tom,
    About half of our group should be driving up, so no worries there, but I have flown with stoves and fuel bottles in the past couple years, you just have to be absolutely sure the fuel bottles smell like soap rather than like fuel :).

  27. Nick February 5th, 2010 11:38 am

    Lou, Caleb actually did catch the dip tube orientation problem on the trip. We didn’t fix it though, just refilled the canister. So he at least gets a B eh?

  28. Lou February 5th, 2010 11:45 am

    Typical, trying to negotiate your grades up. We’ll have to get Louie involved. B- ?

    Or were you guys actually trying to test ME?

  29. Lou February 5th, 2010 11:48 am

    Pretty funny, when I removed the 20 year old pump from the fuel bottle, the dip tube AND the air line both broke off due to age. I guess that stove is finally toast (grin).

  30. Anthony February 5th, 2010 3:10 pm


    I see no mention here of a heat exchanger – Classic MSR strap on or Primus eta pots which have the heat exchanger as part of the pan base.

    See below from Primus website. They say they can be used with any white gas stove, although pans are smaller than yours, and increase efficiency6 by 1/3rd.


    EtaPower pots are made of hard anodized aluminum with a multi-layer titanium nonstick surface on the inside. The pots have lids and separate handles and are equipped with a heat exchanger on the bottom, which makes your stove approximately one third faster and more efficient. The pots are available in 1.7, 2.1 and 2.9 l and can be used with any existing LP gas or multifuel burner on the market. Comes in a practical net stuff sack.

  31. Gatier February 5th, 2010 3:43 pm

    Why you just don’t use the MSR Whisperlite int?
    Faster cooking, lighter, cheaper…
    We used Primus Himalaya on our trip (mt. Logan) and it took us 1h 20min to boil the water. The other party used Whisperlite and were boiling twice so fast.

  32. Lou February 5th, 2010 4:35 pm

    Oh, I think we’re all used to the XGK, already have them, and they are a flamethrower, so we’ll be fine.

  33. stephen February 6th, 2010 12:27 pm

    FWIW, we took an old XGK (pre-shaker jet) an a Dragonfly to India last winter and had trouble with both,. The XGK frequently clogged and needed the jet cleaned at least once daily. The Dragonfly had fewer problems, but was harder to fix; seems like the dirty (unleaded) fuel resulted in hard carbon deposits on the throttle valve needle, which then compromised stove function.

    We tried kerosene on a previous trip to India – never again! Much dirtier, smellier and harder to light. Next time, would be inclined to take either a Whisperlite or XGK *with* shaker jet, or just give up and use gas cartridges now that they are starting to be reliably available on the sub-continent.

  34. John Dough February 7th, 2010 9:30 am


    Just curious. Why not the reactor? Seems like it would be preferable although the pot is smaller. Better in the wind, altitude, and cold. I’m a newb to the mountaineering, thing but not camping, and I’m wondering if there is a general dislike for canister stoves on mountaineering expeditions.

    I understand that the fuel bottle stoves are more easily repairable in the field, is that why you are leaning towards them? Or is it just the fact of carrying all those canisters?

    BTW I have an old XGK I haven’t used in years. Good to hear it can still compete.


  35. Lou February 7th, 2010 8:43 pm

    As far as I know, canister stoves are a hassle on Denali. Much easier to just arrive with your XGK, buy white gas from Taleetna air at the landing strip base camp, then have at it. Thousands of climbers who’ve used XGK for successful Alaskan expeditions couldn’t be wrong…

    That said, sure, if we had the time and need, I’d experiment like crazy with other options. But the XGK is what we have and are familiar with, and it works, so it’s a done deal come what may. Gotta move on to other gear issues, just about 100 days and counting.

  36. Hikin' Jim March 7th, 2010 12:49 am

    The problem with canister stoves is typically cold. Butane stops vaporizing at about 31F. Isobutane and propane vaporize at lower temperatures, but still, there’s a point at which you just won’t get much pressure even out of a fresh canister. White gasoline stoves will operate at as low a temperature as you care to expose yourself to.

    The XGK is a hard duty stove. The Internationale is a light duty stove. The Internationale is great — until it conks out on you. Don’t ask my friend Mark about the Internationale! If your trip and perhaps your life depends on your stove, don’t try to save a few bucks or a few ounces with an Internationale. The XGK is pretty rock solid. Compare the vaporizing tubes some time. The Internationale has a much smaller tube. Lighter? Yes. But sometimes lighter isn’t better when reliability is what matters.


  37. Doc Mark December 3rd, 2010 11:36 am


    I am addicted to stoves, and have a collection of about 500 specimens, from all around the world, the oldest being from 1872. In particular, I have loved the X-GK, and all it’s family of stoves, both previous, and after, since I got into collecting them. In my experience, the X-GK family can out-perform tons of other offerings, including those from MSR. I like the earlier stoves, like the MF, G, GK, and early X-GK models, the best, but also love the new X-GK EX, as well. I rebuild the older yellow pumps, and think they are much better than the newer offerings from MSR. All the pump models, after the yellow ones, and until the newest pump offerings, have had problems with tab breakage, and therefore are not that dependable, IMHO. In any case, if I choose a stove for a trip like Denali, I’d happily take along one of my X-GK stoves, new, or old, and be very sure that it would get me through the trip!! For what it’s worth, and despite it’s age, I think those stoves are far more dependable than many more modern offerings, and they are very easy to service in the field, too. We had horrible problems with the original MSR Whisperlite Intl, and it failed on us, miserably on the PCT in 1991!! Burning good, clean K-1 kerosene, the stove continually plugged, and was soon worthless despite meticulous cleaning and servicing. Only later, did an MSR Tech admit to me that it was never meant to be used with fuels heavier than Coleman fuel, on a regular basis, and should only burn kero in emergencies!! GRRRR!! The X-GK would have seen us through with no problems, at all!! Take care, and God Bless!

    Every Good Wish,
    Doc Mark
    Southern CA

  38. Lou December 3rd, 2010 11:52 am

    Very cool Doc, you got any of those stoves on a website?

  39. Doc Mark December 3rd, 2010 12:05 pm

    Hi, Lou,

    Thanks, very much! At this time, I do not have a website of my own, pertaining to stoves, but I am a member of Classic Camp Stoves, where I’ve posted a ton of stuff: camping, testing, cooking, and other such things. Hikin’ Jim is also a member of that site, and quite active there. Here’s the site, if you wish to check it out:


    I will be posting a thread after Christmas, with photos of my own collection of older MSR stoves. I have 15 in the X-GK family, but will have given one of those to a good friend by that time. So, I’ll photograph the remaining 14, beginning with a Model 9A, and ending with the X-GK EX.

    One of these days, I’ll have my own site, but it will offer stuff on other things, as well as stoves. When that happens, I’ll give you a shout, if you would like to check it out. I have a domain name already, but have done nothing to get it up and running, as of yet. Thanks, again, for the kind words of welcome, Lou, and keep up the good work supporting the outstanding X-GK and it’s family members!! Take care, and God Bless!

    Every Good Wish,

  40. Lou December 3rd, 2010 12:17 pm

    I have to say that the X-GK series has probably saved my life a couple of times, and definitely enabled hundreds of incredible backcountry trips that I would not otherwise have pulled of in as elegant a style. That including our recent Denali trip, but going all the way back to Michael Kennedy and I doing a first winter ascent on the North Face of Capitol Peak.

  41. Nicochan November 27th, 2011 4:56 pm

    I just tested my 1993 XGK with Regular Unleaded Gas that has been sitting in the fuel bottle for 13 YEARS. It fired right up and ran like a runaway freight train. I guess that you could call that dependable. I do like the new design of the pot supports though. I like the older, rigid style of fuel line because it allows you move the stove after it has been lit. This can come in handy during the warm up period, if the wind shifts or you are too close to something flammable.

  42. Lou November 27th, 2011 6:01 pm

    Nic, the flex line has some advantages, such as it being much easier to pack, but it’s really weird how the old stove is 6% hotter. Really a drag, for those of us with newer models that burn 6% cooler.

  43. Fort Mental January 7th, 2012 4:31 pm

    Those old XGKs have a rigid feed tube to the head making it easy to mod the stove into a wind-proof hanging unit. Several years ago, my 1982 model ran pretty much non-stop on Denali, rescuing a MSR Reactor-using team and helping out another team (whose XGK EX internal tube was reversed)…. Pictures at: http://www.summitpost.org/hang-your-stove/483666

  44. snwcmpr February 26th, 2012 3:06 pm

    Recent tests by a stovie in Scotland finds that one of the causes for loss of efficiency, of the XGK, is the reduction of carbon monoxide achieved by raising the pot supports to raise the pot. The boil times did increase. REI seemed to have been the one to initiate this, and Cascade Designs continues this.


  45. Bushman512 September 25th, 2012 12:32 am

    the MSR REACTOR, while being a canister stove….has a pressure valve that allows FULL OUTPUT, and FULL USAGE (until empty, no matter the temps) of a canister of isopro. . It is the ONLY canister stove that is capable of that. I have used the Reactor at – 25 celcius temps at 9000+ feet and it still performs like it does at sea level in summer…..sub 3 minute boil times for 1.3 liters of glacial river water.

    dont discount the Reactor………its a stout performer.

  46. Grizzlybarr February 22nd, 2014 8:50 am

    You might take into consideration the fact that the orifice of the jet and any other constrictions might have been bored out by the passing of many gallons of fuel over the past 20 years. This would lessen the efficiency of the stove but allow more fuel to get through the jet at one time.

    Just a thought.??

  47. Latman June 6th, 2014 11:27 pm

    I have a 33 year old MSR GK which has seem much action through my youth and I love to death, but my recently acquired Optimus Nova+ is:
    1. a tad faster yet in the boiling stakes
    2. will fold to a smaller package
    3. do a real simmer, if called for
    4. has an all metal pump that inspires a lot of confidence, compared to MSR plastic!
    The MSR XGK EX would have been a backwards step in all four areas compared to the Nova.

  48. Lou Dawson June 7th, 2014 6:50 am

    Thanks Latman, I’m confident that at some point all today’s stoves will be better than the ones we used 30 years ago. But it’s pretty funny they didn’t improve faster than they did. Overall, I still think someone should sell mod for the MSR that increases output for snow melting. Doesn’t have to be radical, just perhaps 10%.

  49. Jelte Klas January 15th, 2017 8:54 am

    As mentioned earlier, the pot supports have been slightly raised to lower the CO output.
    But also, the old one has seperate jets for gasoline and for kerosene. The new stove has a “universal” jet, which means that the jet size is on the low side for gasoline, and on the high side for kerosene, but works with both.

    So, you’re having a 6% reduction to have (WAY) lower CO output, and to not have to switch the Jets when switching fuels. (except for Diesel)

  50. Lou Dawson 2 January 15th, 2017 8:59 am

    Lower CO output is good, but how about a series of special jets only for gasoline, for specific altitude ranges, and perhaps even specific pot support heights? Time for some ultra fine tuning. Lou

  51. Jim Milstein January 15th, 2017 7:45 pm

    It is interesting to read that camp stoves can emit Colorado as if it were a noxious gas. Colorado is not a noxious gas. ¯\_(?)_/¯

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