MSR XGK EX Review: The Rugged Backcountry Stove

msr_xgkexIf you are thinking about doing any backcountry hiking or snowshoeing, a good stove is a must-have. Starting fires are always fun, but in snow, ice, or during a storm, a fire just won’t cut it. Also, there is a good chance that you may be in locations without easily accessible wood. So I have the XGK EX stove, which is a well-designed backpacking stove by MSR. Models of the XGK have been in production for over 35 years!

When I started thinking about a backpacking stove, I started building a list of what I need out of my stove. I came up with the following requirements.

The stove must be:

  1. Able to use multiple liquid fuels including gasoline, diesel, or kerosene
  2. Rugged and able to be dropped and still function perfectly
  3. Small enough to easily fit in a backpack
  4. Simple to operate
  5. Able to operate in multiple conditions such as in the snow, wind, or rain

Require #1: Multiple Fuels


Boil and burn time with different fuels

First, liquid fuel stoves are more expensive than a simple portable propane stove, however, they do offer a few advantages. Liquid fuel stoves are lighter and the fuel offers more energy per pound compared to propane. Also, you never know when you are 100 miles from the nearest sporting good store and you forgot to get propane or specialty burner fuel.

Requirement #2 and #3: Durability & Size

It is so important that the stove is durable! I don’t want to drop my stove and be stuck without heating equipment. My preparation for the backcountry is that I should always plan for the worst. Having a rugged stove that doesn’t break is an absolute requirement. The MSR XGK EX does have rugged construction. When the stove is packed up, all the sensitive components are protected by the feet folded in and the outer metal casing. To break it, it would require a specific rock blow, or someone specifically attempting to break the stove.

Requirement #4: Simple To Operate

The fourth requirement comes from using old stoves. If you have used them, you know how they can have the really interesting starting processes, like “light a paper towel and put it under the fuel tank to pre-heat the fuel.” I don’t know about you, but an open flame under a tank full of a highly flammable liquid makes me a little nervous. I wanted a stove with a simple starting procedure. The procedure for the MSR XGK EX is simple and easy to understand. It doesn’t require preheating the tank. It does burn with a large yellow flame for a few minutes before the flame turns blue and cooking can be started. However, that is normal for all liquid fuel stoves. It doesn’t seem overly scary.

Requirement #5: Operate in Multiple Conditions

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Using the stove to boil water

The last requirement, functional in all weather conditions, is a survival requirement for me. I don’t know what type of conditions I will be in. I could be caught in a snowstorm, thunderstorm, or be stuck above the tree line. The MSR XGK EX comes with a windshield, so I feel confident that it will function in most weather conditions.

Using the MSR XGK EX Stove

So, the MSR XGK EX meets all of my requirements for a portable backpacking stove. But what is like to use? It is simple and easy to use. It does burn hot and it took me approximately 5 minutes to boil about one quart of water.  However, I don’t have any real complaints about using it every day.

There are a few things that could be an issue though.  The MSR XGK EX is quite loud when running and sounds like a jet engine. Not a big deal for me, as I am not looking to be overly quiet in the woods. I don’t think this is an issue unless you feel like cooking while hunting. Another issue is the valve doesn’t seem to have a ‘middle’ position. The flame is either full on or off. It is quite difficult to find the simmer position.

The truth is, these are minor issues for an otherwise awesome backpacking stove. I am looking forward to continuing to use it during my summer and snowshoeing adventures!

You can get the stove at


  • Paul Wowk

    Paul Wowk has owned Snowshoe Magazine since 2015. He enjoys snowshoeing regularly with his wife, Susan, and dog, Grizzy.

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