A few months ago, Jeff, from Solo Stove, emailed me and asked me if I would be interested in reviewing one of his Solo Stove’s. I will admit, my experience with wood burning stoves was pretty slim, not to mention, wood burning stoves weren’t necessarily my stoves of choice, but, being that I do enjoy tinkering with stoves, I said sure. So, not long after that, the stove was in my mail box!
The first thing that I noticed was that the stove came in a nice, secure, and informative package. Upon opening the box I found the stove wrapped in a black stuff sack with a cinch cord (but no cord lock) at the top. There were no extra materials inside the box since the outside of the box included a set of brief instructions on how to use the stove. (However, if more information is required, there are lots more info that can be found on the Solo Stove website.) Inside the black stuff sack was the stove itself, which comes in 2 pieces. The first is the body of the stove, or the fire chamber/box, and the second is the pot stand. The pot stand was flipped upside down and stored inside the body of the stove.
I must admit, from the packaging to the actual stove itself, it is a very attractive set-up. The stove body is made from stainless steel, and is all one piece (which is said to “increase the overall strength and lifespan of your stove”). Then, the words “Solo Stove” are pressed into the outer body of the stove, making the name stand out with nothing more than the body of the stove itself. Inside the stove body is a grate made from Nichrome wire (which has a melting point of 2,552 F!) Beneath the grate is a “floating ashpan” which contains the “mess” by catching all the coals and ashes from the fire. Last is the pot stand. As far as I can tell, it looks to be made of the same stainless steel. It’s design allows it to be flipped upside down and to nest inside the firebox of the stove, making it compact for storing or carrying. Then, when in use, the design is said to also direct the heat towards the cookpot, as well as act as a bit of a windscreen. The pot stand features 3 prongs at the top which makes balancing a cookpot almost fool-proof, as well as a wide opening to allow one to continue to feed sticks into the stove when a cook pot is placed on top of the stove.
After fondling the stove for a bit, I did what any “lightweight” backpacker would do… and pulled out my scales. The Solo Stove is listed at 9 oz on the website, and to be very honest, this is a bit of a turn-off for me, despite the fact that this stove allows me to save weight by leaving my fuel behind and using “found-fuels.” The fact is, 9 oz sounds heavy to someone (me) that has carried a sub 3 oz entire kitchen set-up that only requires 0.5 oz of fuel per meal. Not to mention, (especially for wood stove newbies, such as myself) the time it takes to use a wood stove. One has to spend time collecting wood for the fire, then building and tending the fire, and then waiting on the fire to burn out so it will be safe to discard the ashes. And lets not even talk about the soot that a wood fire creates…
So, as I mentioned above, a wood stove is not necessarily my stove of choice, however, I do see some benefits of using one. As well, lets face it, playing with fire (responsibly) is fun, and I do like to tinker with different stoves… I will admit, about 80% (or maybe slightly more) of my trips will not allow me (due to personal choices) to carry and use a wood burning stoves, but there are occasions that I wouldn’t mind trying them out. In fact, I did spend some time on a few trips last year using wood fires in my Sidewinder cone to cook (boil water) over.
Anyway, as I was saying… I pulled out my scales an plopped the stainless steel beauty, complete with stuff sack, down on top of it. What I got was 8.9 oz. Next, I removed the stuff sack and weighed just the stove… 8.6 oz, so the stuff sack is 0.3 oz (not 0.2 oz like I state in the video below…) Lighter than advertised! Now, don’t get me wrong, even at 8.6 oz, I still wouldn’t describe this as an “ultralight” stove, especially since I still have to carry the stuff sack, my cook pot, a spoon, lighter, some fire starter and a cup. By the time I add in these items, I am starting to creep up to a full pound in my kitchen gear. However, I will say that this is an acceptable weight whenever you compare it to some of the other commercially available cooking systems. In my opinion, this is where one has to make a personal decision. For me, this stove will not be on a majority of my hikes, but, as I said, there will be some trips that will allow it, and after using the stove a bit, I will say that this stove will still make it into my pack for some of those trips.
So, enough about the weight… how about the stove itself…
Since receiving the stove, due to holidays, birthdays, work and even a backpacking trip (that this stove did not make it on) I have only been able to use the stove about 8 or 9 times. Most of those times were around the house, just tinkering with it, and 2 of those times were on some day hikes. After using the stove just these few times, I have got to say that it is pretty straight-forward.
- Remove the stove from the stuff sack.
- Remove the pot stand from the stove body.
- Start a fire in the firebox.
- Place pot stand on top of stove.
- Place cook pot on pot stand.
- Boil water, or cook…
There are 2 different methods of starting a fire in the Solo Stove (or really most any other wood stoves). The first, that I am more familiar with, is the bottom-up fire. This is done by placing some sort of tinder directly on the grates, lighting it, and then begin to lay small sticks over the fire, working my way up to slightly larger sticks until the fire is self-sustained. Then, there is the top-down method, which is the recommended way on the Solo Stove site. This method calls for one to fill the stove with larger (finger size) sticks along the grate, and then once the firebox is filled up, build a small fire on top. As the fire catches, it will begin to work its way down into the larger sticks. This method should not require one to continue to need to feed the fire once going like when building the fire from the bottom-up. I will admit, I still prefer the bottom-up method since it is easier for me to accomplish. (But who knows, once I get better at it, I may prefer the top-down method???)
Anyway, once the fire is going, the stove seems to work fine. The stove is designed to create a secondary combustion, which takes place at the holes inside the firebox, near the top of the stove body. Air will enter the stove through the holes around the outside of the stove body near the bottom. The air will travel up, between the walls, and feed the fire from beneath the grate, as well as through the holes at the top, on the inside. The air coming out of these top, inner holes will already be heated, and once it makes contact with the fire, it will produce a hotter, cleaner flame. I have found that the better/bigger the fire inside the firebox is, the more this secondary combustion takes place, however, as the fire inside the firebox dies down, the secondary combustion will also stop.
So far, all I have done is boil water on the stove, which is all I need for about 96% of my meals. As far as this is concerned, I have not timed any of the boils since I don’t find it necessary since a wood fire burns super hot and will easily bring even cold water to a boil quite fast (not to mention that fuel is not necessarily a concern with wood stoves). The fact is, the bigger the fire, the faster it will heat water, and even in small stoves such as the Solo Stove, it can happen fast, as long as the fire is going.
So, once the desired amount of water comes to a boil, I do not add any more sticks to the stove so that the fire will begin to burn down, and finally out. Unfortunately, this requires a certain amount of time to make sure the “fuel” has burned out so that I can safely dispose of the remains. (This happens to be one of the negative aspects of any wood fire stove for me.) Again, I have not timed how long it takes for this to happen, but for me, a burn out time is more important that a time for the water to reach a boil. Anyway, I can say that once the water has come to a boil, it has not taken more than about 15 minutes for the remains to finish burning out to the point in which I can actually grab the stove with my bare hands. At this point I will go ahead and work on dumping the ashes, and making sure everything is out… The pictures below show the progression of the “fuel” burning down to the point that they are ashes and I can safely dispose of them.
Another important aspect of wood burning stoves for me, is soot. No matter what sort of wood stove one uses, rest assured, there will be soot produced. With the Solo Stove, so far all of the soot has been kept inside the fire-box, and for the most part, on the inside of the pot stand. As far as the ashes from the wood, they are all caught and contained inside the ash pan beneath the grates inside the stove. All-in-all, so far I have not had any issues with soot, or ashes on the outside of the stove, which is definitely a plus.
As far as the soot created and deposited on the cook pots, well, that is another thing. I have used my 1.3L Evernew cook pot when firing up this stove every time, except for the last time. Today, when I took the stove out with me I decided to use a narrower IMUSA grease pot, just to see how it would do on the Solo Stove. As can be seen in the video below, the grease pot was very soot free before using it over the stove, however, afterwards, there was plenty of soot on the bottom and most of the sides of the pot. However, here again, this is to be expected when using wood fires, so I can’t really knock the Solo Stove for this. However, I do feel like as I use the stove more, and get a better “feel” for the way it burns, I may be able to reduce the amount of soot that ends up on my pot. But, for the time being, I can either deal with it until I get home and can scrub the pot, or apply some of the tricks other wood stove users implement, such as smearing a thin layer of dish soap over the outside of the pot before using, or better yet, layering a sheet of aluminum foil over the bottom and sides of the cook pot. Either way, even a sooty cook pot can be stored inside a container, such as the one in my video. (However, this is also additional weight…) Here is a photo of the cook pot after using it a single time over the Solo Stove this afternoon:
So, at this point, I feel like there are some good things about the Solo Stove, as well as one thing in particular that I personally would like to see improved upon. First, I will start with what I like about the stove:
- It uses found fuels.
- It is easy to use/operate.
- It appears to be built very well/professionally.
- Being made from stainless steel, it is very durable.
- It packs down rather compact (for what it is).
- The soot and ashes from the fire is well contained.
- It is stable.
- It is easy to feed sticks through the port at the top to maintain the fire.
- It is attractive. (Hey, it is, so I may as well acknowledge it.)
Now, here are some things that I personally would like to see changed/improved about the stove:
- It is heavy. Maybe not to everyone, but to me, it is.
- I can’t really think of anything else…
In my opinion, there is a bit of a learning curve with a wood stove, and not just the Solo Stove, but any wood stove. But, I would say that the biggest learning curve would be in building and maintaining the fire in the stoves rather than figuring out the stoves themselves. Although, I would say that the Solo Stove may be one of the easiest wood burning stoves to use being that it is simply 2 pieces. I found it very easy to figure out, right out of the box, even if I wouldn’t have read the instructions. There are no extra pieces to tinker with, or to set just-so. With the Solo Stove, just flip the pot stand over and set it on the top, and done.
But, despite all the good things about this stove, when it comes down to it, for me, if this stove is going to see more trail time, it is going to have to go on a diet. I am not an expert at building stoves by any means, however, I would like to see this stove in a lighter weight material (say, titanium?). I understand though that cost would likely go up (which is not always so popular with the vast majority) and maybe even some production changes would be necessary (which may be more costly for the maker). So, maybe a lighter weight Solo Stove will come one day… maybe not… For the time being though, I feel like for those that enjoy wood stoves (and maybe don’t mind a little extra weight) that the Solo Stove would be a great addition to one’s stove collection.
One more time though, as I mentioned above, it is not just the weight of the stove that has a negative impact on me, but the entire process of using a wood fire combined with the weight. Cooking over wood is still relatively new to me and clearly not one that I have mastered. Maybe in time I will though…
Anyway, for those that like video, here is a video I did today when I took it out:
Thanks for reading/watching everyone!
Disclaimer: The Solo Stove was provided to me free of charge, and for the purpose of this review. However, the statements above are my own and were formed after spending the last few months with the stove.