Monday 10 December 2018

Classic Gear: The MSR XGK Stove

The original MSR Stove as pictured in the 1973 MSR catalogue
Next in the Classic Gear series that first appeared in The Great Outdoors last year: a revolutionary stove design.

The remote burner stove with a fuel tank at the end of a long hose is now a standard design. Every stove company makes at least one and there are models that run on butane/propane canisters as well as liquid fuels like petrol and paraffin. These stoves are efficient and reliable, especially in cold weather.  However back in the 1970s they didn’t exist and burners sat on top of fuel tanks. Such stoves were okay for summer use and with small pots but weren’t that good in sub-zero temperatures or with big pots. 

This was all to change when a new company in Seattle called Mountain Safety Research (MSR) set out to design a more practical and efficient stove, in particular one that could easily melt snow when winter mountaineering. After much testing MSR worked out that a remote, pump pressurised fuel tank was the answer and in 1973 the original remote burner stove was launched, using a fuel bottle as the tank. Originally just called the MSR Stove, soon changed to the MSR Model 9, this stove revolutionised stove design, though it took a while for the idea to spread. The Model 9 ran on white gas such as Coleman Fuel plus unleaded and leaded petrol. Apparently meths could be used too ‘if the air inlets of the burner are mostly closed with foil’. It weighed 340 grams, which was very light for a liquid fuel stove.

The MSR Model G, introduced in 1978
Since 1973 MSR has continued to improve the stove. The Model G and Model GK stoves replaced the Model 9 in 1978 and had field-maintainable fuel-lines, a big breakthrough. The GK version could also burn paraffin, diesel and some aviation fuels as well as petrol. These two models were merged in 1982 as the X-GK.

The MSR XGK II Shaker Jet
The next major improvement was in 1994 when the Shaker Jet was introduced in the X-GK II. This involved putting a weighted needle in the jet that pushed any dirt out of the jet when the stove was shaken or moved but which didn’t interfere with fuel flow when the stove was in use. Before the Shaker Jet a jet pricker had to be used. This was a very fine wire needle on a piece of aluminium that had to be prodded into the jet to dislodge dirt if it became blocked. Jet prickers were awkward to use, especially with cold fingers and by torchlight, and easy to break or lose – I used to carry two or more and once had to resort to using a toothbrush bristle when I mislaid both. Jet prickers also pushed the dirt back into the fuel line from which it could rise up and again block the jet.

Today's MSR XGK EX
From the Model 9 to the X-GKII all the stoves had rigid metal fuel lines. These were tough and easy to clean but rather awkward to pack. In 2005 MSR changed this to a flexible line in a braided metal sheath. This makes packing the stove much easier and is still stiff enough for easy cleaning.
A significant extra advantage of MSR’s design was that because the burner was separate from the fuel tank it could be fully surrounded by a windshield. To this end MSR introduced the now ubiquitous lightweight and compact folding foil windscreen.

The XGK continues as a workhorse stove, ideal for melting masses of snow and boiling big pots of water. I used one regularly when I led ski backpacking trips and cooked for ten or more people at a time. I took one on my length of Scandinavia walk back in 1992 too as I didn’t know what fuel would be available along the way and I wanted a multi-fuel stove that would work with dirty fuels and was easy to clean. I ended up mostly using paraffin and needed to clean the fuel line every so often. The XCK never let me down on any of these trips. 

Whenever you use a remote burner stove remember MSR and the Model 9 and XGK. That’s where it began.


  1. I don't have the MSR, but I did buy an Optimus Nova remote burner stove several years ago (on your recommendation of course!), but have yet to use it. However, I'm toying with the idea of snowshoeing the Kungsledden Trail someday,where I'll dig out the Optimus. I'm not sure whether my motivation is to experience the beautiful and challenging Arctic pretending to be Scott, or as an excuse to use my Optimus Nova?

    I've always been curious about your ski touring/guiding experiences Chris. Any plans to write about them? Seems to be a somewhat 'hidden chapter'?!

  2. I have written about my ski touring/guiding experiences in the past. A few of the stories appear in my recent book 'Out There' and some ski ones in a long out of print book called 'Wilderness Skiing and Winter Camping'. They're a long time ago now so I haven't written about them recently.

  3. I almost re-bought your book Out There on my Kindle just now, not realising that I've already got it. Yet another re-read to distract me from finishing Seven Years in Tibet!