Behold his creation: what is now known as the MSR XGK stove:
Penberthy observed that one of the leading contributers to the cold weather killer, hypothermia, was dehydration. Why were mountaineers getting dehydrated? When all the world around you is cold, hard, and white, water is tough to come by. The stoves of the day were largely tank mounted brass stoves, beautiful works of art still cherished to this day, but hardly light. Many mountaineers, unwilling to pack their excessive weight faced dehydration instead, risking hypothermia. Penberthy, a mountaineer himself and a first rate engineer, set out to design a stove. He noticed that climbers of the day tended to carry spare fuel in Sigg aluminum fuel bottles. Why, he reasoned, should people carry in effect two fuel tanks (one as part of the stove and one in the form of the Sigg bottle)? He designed a pump that would screw into a Sigg fuel bottle, turning the bottle into a pressurized fuel tank capable of delivering fuel to a burner. His stove, now no longer sitting on top of a fuel tank was lower to the ground, making it relatively stable and bringing it down out of the wind. He then added a sheet of approximately 6" x 31" heavy aluminum foil as a windscreen. On stoves where the tank was directly attached to the burner, a windscreen of Penberthy's design could trap too much heat and cause the fuel tank to explode. On this new type of stove where the fuel tank was separate, a windscreen could be safely used. Today, we look at things like a fuel bottle used as a fuel tank with the fuel well away from the burner and an aluminum windscreen as obvious. Let us not forget that it took a visionary like Penberthy to come up with something so simple and yet so effective.
He also made his stove field maintainable: The jet could be unscrewed for cleaning or replacement with a simple slot head screwdriver. He added a cable that ran down the fuel line that could be used to scour out carbon deposits. Penberthy made the stove solid as though his life depended on it -- for in fact his life did. Penberthy climbed using his own inventions. Penberthy designed not only his brilliantly innovative stove but also ice axes, helmets, and other climbing equipment. When taken as a body of work, his genius is clearly seen.
Penberthy's stove design revolutionized climbing stoves, providing a relatively light weight, relatively wind proof, effective stove, a stove that climbers were not only willing but glad to carry. Sadly perhaps, Mr. Penberthy's design may have contributed to the demise of the classic brass pack stove. Penberthy's first production stove was the Model 9. The Model 9 was a white gasoline only stove. The Model 9 was then joined by the "MF," a multi-fuel stove. Later, the Model 9 became the G (gasoline) stove, and the MF became the GK (gasoline/kerosene) stove. Later still, the G and GK stoves were merged into one stove, the XGK. It is by the moniker "XGK" that this line of stoves is generally known. The XGK was supplanted by a somewhat redesigned XGK II which dropped the wire coil around the generator, removed the surge dampener, eliminated the flint ignition, and did away with the aluminum cup which used to come with the XGK. The XGK II had three versions: the first without a shaker jet, the second with a self cleaning "shaker" jet, and the third also with a shaker jet, a redesigned spreader plate, and a new "X" type of removable pot support. Eventually, the XGK II was replaced by today's XGK EX.
To this day, many a mountaineer swears by the XGK. In cold weather, the efficient, powerful XGK is the snow melting stove of choice. Recently, I noted with interest some photos on a polar explorer's web page. The stove in the photos? The MSR XGK. A year or so ago, I had an MSR XGK on the table in front of me at a Sierra Club function. One of the members, a serious climber, remarked, "on Aconcagua, that was the only stove that worked." Aconcagua (22,841 ft/6962 m) is the highest point in the Western Hemisphere.
It is only fitting that in my series on winter capable stoves that the XGK be included.
This week's stove is the first of the XGK II's, the pre-shaker jet XGK II.
The pre-shaker jet XGK II originally came in a long black bag, shown here beside a more modern XGK II bag:
The bag was marked with the old "Matterhorn" MSR logo.
The stove came with the following contents: The stove itself, a third generation gray and black pump, a windscreen, a heat reflector, an alcohol squirter bottle, a stuff sack (the bag in the photo is not the original XGK II type bag), instructions, and a small parts and maintenance kit.
A closer look at the contents
The original instructions say some fascinating things. Take number "6" below. It says "Use kerosene as a fuel and provide adequate ventilation..." The rest has been crossed out by hand with a black marker, but it's still readable and says, "should weather conditions necessitate the use of the stove inside a tent." There you have it, folks, the "elephant in the living room." Everyone knows that in really bad weather that you have to cook inside your tent, yet every modern stove manufacturer prints warnings in big letters to never cook inside a tent. Things were different back then. They leveled with you instead of hiding behind their lawyers.
Nowadays, MSR says "only use MSR bottles with MSR stoves." That's a pretty funny thing to hear from MSR when you consider that MSR stoves were designed to work with Sigg brand bottles! Indeed, the thread of every MSR pump and every MSR bottle is based on Sigg's threads. Again, in the old days, MSR was a lot straighter with you. These instructions, though hand crossed out, say "Exercise care in the selection and use of other manufacturers bottles."
Next, let's look at the pump. This is MSR's third generation of pumps, the gray and black pump. The very first pumps were white, the second generation, of which there were many variants, was yellow and black.
I won't go into all the details here, but basically the gray and black pump was a step backwards for MSR. The gray and black pump is inferior in every way except for the re-designed air supply tube which is an improvement. MSR took a step backwards? What happened? Well, in 1980, Larry Penberthy sold MSR to REI. REI started making changes to cut costs. They redesigned the XGK, eliminating several costly items like the surge dampener, the flint ignition, the protective aluminum cup, and the coil on the generator. They also completely redesigned the pump, coming up with the gray and black pump pictured above, a pump far less robust but much cheaper to produce. MSR then gained a reputation for having crappy, unreliable pumps. The next two iterations (red and gray, red and aquamarine) of MSR pumps were no better than the gray and black and possibly were worse. Fortunately for stove users, MSR came out with their current "duraseal" pump some time around 2005, a much improved pump. Is the duraseal as good as the old yellow and black pumps? Perhaps, but the jury is still out on that.
Well, let's have a look at the stove itself, shall we?
Included with this stove are the below shown parts: a wrench/tool, a pricker for cleaning the jet, a "sintered" brass fuel filter, and a spare jet.
Note the letters stamped into the jet, an "X" and a "K". The "X" indicates that this is an XGK jet (as opposed to any of MSR's other stoves), and the "K" indicates that this is the jet for kerosene. The jet that comes installed with the stove is typically marked "X" and "G" indicating that the factory installed jet is the XGK jet for gasoline. The "G" jet should be used with Coleman fuel, true white gasoline, automotive gasoline, naptha, panel wipe, "environmental" gasoline (e.g. Aspen 4T), aviation gasoline etc. The "K" jet should be used with kerosene, diesel, jet fuel, Kleen Heet, etc. Note: Coleman type fuel and kerosene will always be the best fuels for pretty much any petroleum based liquid fueled stove. In a pinch, you can burn some of these other fuels, but your stove will not run as well, will clog more (hope you know how to field maintain your stove), and may produce some pretty noxious emissions. Use "alternate" fuels (fuels other than Coleman type fuel and kerosene) only when you have to.
Also included was this small squeeze bottle, intended to be used for alcohol for priming.
Here, the stove is set up and ready for use. I've removed the windscreen for visibility's sake.
Here, the windscreen has been emplaced.
Time to fire her up and put the kettle on!
The XGK passes the "tea test" with ease.
Let's have a look at the flames, shall we? The XGK is known for it's power and rightfully so.
But note this shot here:
Well, there you have it, the mountaineer's friend, the ultimate snow melting machine, the MSR XGK.
Thank you for joining me on another adventure in stoving,
The MSR XGK
What's good about it?
What's bad about it?
Expensive (The XGK line in general -- although used ones can be a true bargain)
Difficult to simmer (although pre-shaker jet models simmer better)
The swiveling wire pot supports tend to move around too much during use. (Newer models have done away with the old swiveling pot supports)
The rigid fuel line, while adding significant stability, is a bit hard to pack (Pretty minor issue)
Overall, highly recommended.