Section Hiker Gear of the Year Award: Solo Wood Stove

Solo Woodstove

Solo Woodstove

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.

Fill the burn chamber with finger size sticks and light it from the top with a firestarter

Fill the burn chamber with finger size sticks and light it from the top with a fire starter

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!

Simmering

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.

The Solo Stove and my Evernew Cookpot fit in this small mesh sack

The Solo Stove and my Evernew Cookpot fit in this small mesh sack

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.

Recommendation

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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17 Responses to Section Hiker Gear of the Year Award: Solo Wood Stove

  1. baz carter November 11, 2013 at 9:32 am #

    I’ve found that pine cones work well as simmering fuel because they burn steady and slowly. And with the added advantage of not having to feed the fire as much.

    • Philip Werner November 11, 2013 at 10:54 am #

      I find that they burn a little fast. Good fire starter though.

  2. Brian November 11, 2013 at 10:32 am #

    Please do check with your local forestry/BLM departments before using this stove in the back country. Some locations consider this stove as maintaining and or keeping a fire.
    I do like mine when I can get out of the fire restricted areas. I don’t have to worry about fuel or how long I can keep it going.

  3. Walter Underwood November 11, 2013 at 12:51 pm #

    In California, we have wood fire restrictions for a fair chunk of the year. We’re still waiting for the first rain of the season in the SF Bay area.

    I do consider this a wood fire and do not use it when there are fire restrictions. It still sends up a few embers when it is getting going. But it is far safer than a fire on the ground. It can never start a root fire, because the outside stays cool to the touch even when it is burning.

    I helped put out a single-tree fire that started in a root system, that was nasty. It was from an illegal campfire, not at an established campsite and almost certainly built during fire season. I doubt it had smoldered for months.

    http://wunderwood.org/most_casual_observer/2009/08/fighting_a_wildfire_with_milk.html

  4. Ray November 11, 2013 at 1:31 pm #

    Didn’t they just steal the design from Bushbuddy?

    • Philip Werner November 11, 2013 at 2:48 pm #

      No – the Bushbuddy is about 1/2 the weight, but twice the price.
      http://bushbuddy.ca/indexs.html

    • Ron March 1, 2014 at 5:16 pm #

      Yeah, they pretty much did. I’ve owned a Bushbuddy for about eight years now and have seen this stove. Pretty much the exact same design. Kinda too bad, but most good gear ideas get stolen like that with no credit given to the original creator.

  5. Ray November 11, 2013 at 2:51 pm #

    Solo Stove: diam 4.25 height 3.8.
    Bushbuddy: diam 4.25 height 3.75.
    Visually they look VERY similar.

    I’m just pointing out what I thought was obvious to me (and other) when I saw their stove a long time ago. There is a good article on what Fritz did in designing the BB. Hobos or not there more to the design. I feel bad someone pretty much just copied it. I’ll work on getting over it though. Thanks for the advice. Next time we talk in person you can show me the differences. I’m sure it’s a great stove. I love my BB. The Solo certainly is more affordable and available for people. I even recommended it to a Boy Scout troop leader because of those reasons about a year ago.

    http://www.backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/forums/thread_display.html?forum_thread_id=60260

    • Philip Werner November 11, 2013 at 3:03 pm #

      There are only so many ways to manufacture a gassifier wood stove. They’ve been around since WWII afterall. Bushbuddy aimed for the ultralight backpacking market and Solo aimed for everyone else, including scouts, regular backpackers, car campers, and emergency preparedness folk. Guess which market is bigger? But that’s no reason to discount that marketing innovation on the part of Solo. They understood that many more people would be willing to buy a much heavier stove, manufacturered in China rather than by hand in Canada, and sold via Amazon and other outdoor retailers. Bushbuddy squandered their chance at commercial success by not offering a more affordable version of their product.

      • Ron March 1, 2014 at 5:19 pm #

        Yep, vote with your dollars and go China.

  6. Tom Murphy November 11, 2013 at 10:05 pm #

    Backcountry TV. I have a woodgaz stove from ZELPH STOVES. I have not used it without backup yet. Lots of fun.

  7. Louis Brooks November 18, 2013 at 6:38 pm #

    I have gone back and forth of trying one of these. Think I will finally get one after reading this review. My problem is I usually don’t even feel like boiling water after a day hiking. If I didn’t hAve to make coffee in the morning I would go cookless.

    • Philip Werner November 18, 2013 at 6:49 pm #

      I’m just the opposite.

      • Walter Underwood November 20, 2013 at 1:17 am #

        I’m not sure what “the opposite” is here. You always want to boil water after hiking? You never want coffee in the morning?

        I have considered bringing ground coffee and trying the old Copenhagen snuff slogan, “just a pinch between cheek and gum.” But I might bring a stove, too.

  8. Josh camp November 19, 2013 at 9:07 pm #

    What kind of firestarters are you using in that picture? My guess would be that’s a straw section with a Vaseline soaked cotton ball stuffed in it, which is what I use. Do you burn the whole thing including the straw in your stove and if so does the plastic straw damage the stove at all?

    • Philip Werner November 19, 2013 at 9:14 pm #

      I tried that straw with a vaseline soaked cattonball on it technique but gave it up. Just too messy to make. I just scoop the vaseline onto the cotton balls now and store them all in a sandwich bag together. They tend to congeal together, so I just pull out a bit at a time, usually less than one cottonball. But used cliffbar wrappers work just as well or I use birchbark if it’s handy. The firestarter doesn’t hurt the stove at all.

      • Walter Underwood November 20, 2013 at 1:09 am #

        I’m still working on the “right” firestarter. If you carry hand sanitizer, be sure and carry the 65% alcohol stuff, because the burns nicely. I can’t recommend that in my Boy Scout course, because liquid flammables are forbidden for starting fires in non-emergency situations.

        I’m not real fond of the vaseline cotton balls because I get flammable stuff stuck on my fingers. Not a good idea.

        Now that I think about it, maybe I’ll get a box of the tapers we used in the candle lighters when I was an acolyte at church. Hey, the Internet has them: http://www.almy.com/Product/72310

        Good ol’ CM Almy, friend of backpackers everywhere.

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