Every year, I like to recognize the piece of new gear that has had the greatest transformational influence on my enjoyment of hiking and backpacking. This year’s winner is the Solo Wood Stove (click for my review from earlier this year), an efficient wood stove that lets me cook my meals on backpacking trips without leaving any trace of a fire. I find myself trying to take it on every trip I take because it’s so satisfying and enjoyable.
The thing that got me hooked on using the Solo Wood Stove was how easy is it to cook real food with. I started making more complicated 1 Pot meals on backpacking trips this year and found that cooking with a wood fire was a great way to unwind and enjoy them. There’s something cheerful and relaxing about cooking over a wood fire after a hike that you just don’t get from using an alcohol, canister, or white gas camping stove.
Leave No Trace Cooking
But starting a campfire a fire feels like a big chore when I hike alone, especially since I won’t start one unless there’s a pre-existing fire pit that I can use. There are too many people who create fire rings in the woods and deface the forest by leaving a visible scorch mark on the ground. That’s just not my scene. I don’t want to see widespread evidence of campfires in wilderness areas and I don’t to ruin someone else’s wilderness experience by leaving such an obvious and lasting trace of my visit.
That’s a key reason I like the Solo Stove. It has a burn pan in the bottom of the stove that collects all of the hot ashes produced by the fire so they never scorch the ground. Fires in the Solo stove burn completely to ash, so I don’t have to leave burned bits of wood on the ground near my campsite and I can bury the ash in a shallow hole so no one has to see it. A stovefull of wood also burns out completely within 15 minutes, which means I don’t have to sit around for hours for a fire to go out once it’s been started or haul a ton of water up to put it out. And I can get all of the wood I need from a downed branch and never have to break branches off of live trees or go hunt wood to cook with. It’s usually right at my feet!
All camping stoves can boil water, but it you want to actually cook something in a pot like a polenta dinner, spaghetti, or rolled oats, you need the ability to simmer. When I cook a 1 Pot meal with the Solo Stove, I bring my water to a boil with the first load of wood and add the food I want to cook to the pot. To simmer, I just add a couple of stick at a time, enough to keep the water boiling, but not enough to scorch my food and burn it to the bottom of the pot. Simmering like this is surprisingly easy and controllable.
It gives me a lot more satisfaction to cook my dinners and breakfasts like this. It’s a little slower, but not by much.
Easy and Simple
Frankly, I had a lot of reservations about using a wood stove on backpacking trips before I started using the Solo Stove on a regular basis. I worried that a wood stove would smell up the rest of my gear and whether I could water or cook if it rained. Those aren’t things you need to worry about if you use a Jetboil on your camping and backpacking trips.
I dealt with the wood smoke issue by storing my stove in an outside pocket in my pack away from the rest of my gear. I carry the pot and the stove in a small mesh bag in order to keep the soot from my pot from making the backpack pocket dirty. The stove fits in to my medium-zised (1L) Evernew Titanium Pasta Pot (a great cook pot!), making for a very space efficient package.
When it rains, I cook with Esbit solid fuel cubes. I put a cube of Esbit inside the stove, which acts like a wind screen, and then put the pot on top of the stove so it covers ninety percent of the opening (without the ppot stand). This provides the fuel cube with plenty of oxygen to burn and keeps rain from putting it out. Esbit cubes weigh a half ounce each and burn for 14 minutes, so it’s easy to carry a couple with me. Simple.
It’s difficult to explain how much enjoyement I’ve experienced by cooking on the Solo Wood Stove this year. At 9 ounces, it’s not the lightest wood stove you can carry although it’s just a few ounces off. The weight savings for me comes from not having to carry extra canister stove fuel on trips, especially when I just need it for a couple of meals. If you live someplace with plenty of wood and where you are permitted to cook with a controlled wood fire, I really recommend this stove. It brings me closer to a wilderness experience every time I use it on a trip.
Disclaimer: Solo Stove provided Philip Werner (SectionHiker.com) with a free stove for review in 2012.
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