I’ve been using Solo Wood Stove for close to a year now and like using it when I feel like having a fire at night for cooking and mood enhancement but don’t want to build one from scratch. And while it’s nice not to have to carry fuel when hiking in a forest, weighing 9 ounces, this stove doesn’t provide a huge weight reduction savings compared to an alcohol or canister stove for short trips – which is all most people have time for anyway. For longer trips where you don’t have access to a resupply point, cooking with wood is an excellent fuel and expense reduction strategy provided you are allowed to burn fires where you hike and there is dry wood available. Even then you might want to pack a few Esbit fuel tablets as an emergency backup in case it rains for a few days and dry firewood is unavailable.
Leave No Trace
I also like the Solo Stove because it is much easier to cook with than a campfire and much lower in terms of environmental impact. It requires astonishingly little wood to boil a pint of water, a separate windscreen is unnecessary, it’s easy to simmer with, it’s self extinguishing when all the fuel burns up, the Solo has a base so it doesn’t scorch the ground, and all the wood burns down completely to ash which is easily buried to leave no trace.
Unless you build a leave-no-trace style mound fire, which is time consuming, a cook fire built outside of an existing fire ring requires much more fuel and time to cook with, is much harder to manage and put out, and leaves an ugly disfiguring scar on the ground marking your passage. And while there are many other wood stoves available today, including ones made out of flat panels that disassmble for easy storage, few come with a burn plate underneath that prevents your fire from scorching the ground or leaving a soot trace on a rock. That kind of thing matters to me, even if it means having to carry a slightly heavier wood stove with a closed base.
A Gassifier Stove
The Solo Stove is in inverted double wall gassifier stove, basically a can within a can with a pot stand, that burns wood and smoke more efficiently than a single walled can with holes punched in it. Air flows up through the holes between the cans, is heated, and helps burn the smoke produced by the wood that’s burning in the inner can. It
works like this.
- Burning wood produces smoke.
- You get more heat/energy if you burn wood and smoke.
- The trick is to burn the smoke before it gets away. Some gets away when you start your fire, anyway.
- You do this by adding oxygen to it from the top down (inversion).
- The fuel supply (dry wood) is infinite. No need to carry it.
- The stove is dead simple. Nothing to adjust or maintain.
If you want to build your own, here’s an article by Dave Sailer that explains how a single wall inverted down draft gassifier stove works in greater detail and gives you MYOG instructions.
Integrated Pot Stand
The Solo Stove has two components – the main burn chamber and a separate pot stand that drops inside it when inverted for easy storage. The pot stand is a metal ring with three feet and a gap that lets you add more fuel to the fire. Your cook pot sits flush on top of the feet. When you pile sticks in the burn chamber, you want to make sure that they don’t poke above the top of the feet.
Boiling Water and Simmering
You can boil water or simmer using the Solo Stove, simply by feeding it more or less fuel. For example, to cook Ramen noodles, fill the Solo’s wood chamber with kindling up to the diameter of your pinky or ring finger and about the length of your thumb in length. Collecting the wood takes no time whatsoever and you should be able to find plenty of sticks on the ground that you can break to the right dimensions. You really only need about 3-4 handfuls max to cook a two pot dinner with. Light the wood – I use cotton balls smeared with vaseline as a fire starter – and off you go. This first load of wood should be enough to boil a pint of water, but if it’s not, just add more through the gap in the pot stand. Solo recommends that you start the fire on top of your pile rather than the bottom, but either way works just fine.
To simmer, simply add more wood to the burn chamber after your water has boiled: the amount of heat produced depends on how much fuel you feed into the fire. It also helps to take the cover off the pot at this stage to guage the strength of the simer and prevent boil overs. You can of course cook a proper meal on this stove in addition to boiling water – my backpacking meals almost always start with boiling water to purify it before mixing in my other ingredients.
Best Pot/Stove Combination
You can use just about any pot with the Solo Stove, although you will experience a bit more instability with a very large, wide pot, especially if the stove is resting on an uneven surface like the ground. My preference is to use the Evernew Titanium Pasta Pot because the Solo Stove and pot stand drop into it without rattling too much, making the entire system easy to transport inside my backpack. When packing up, I put the cover onto the pot and wrap the entire stove/pot system in a mesh bag to keep soot from the outside of the pot from rubbing onto the rest of my gear. I also make a point to wash the outside of my pot before I put it away, by scraping it against the sand and rocks in the nearest streambed. This scouring action helps remove most of the soot buildup if performed regularly after each meal.
When I take the Solo on trips, I also bring Esbit fuel tablets along in case the wood supply is wet or it’s raining so hard that I need to cook under my tarp. Under such circumstances, it’s possible to use the Solo Stove as a wind screen and stand for Esbit fuel tablets, obviating the need to carry a second stove system. Here are a couple pointers worth noting:
- Don’t use the Solo Stove pot stand when burning an Esbit tablet in the stove because it doesn’t not provide enough protection against the wind, wastes too much heat, and distances the Esbit tablet too far away from the botton of your cook pot to provide efficient heat transfer.
- Esbit fuel tablets will fall through the metal grate inside the stove when they burn up and get progressively smaller. To prevent this, you need to place the Esbit fuel tablet on a small piece of metal or tin foil on top before you light it so it will burn completely on top of the inner grate.
- Don’t place the Esbit fuel tablet in the center of the stove grate but closer to one side. Position your pot so it sits on top of the stove rim, but doesn’t completely close off air to the stove’s fuel chamber. The
air gap can be quite narrow and still be effective. Your pot will remain stable as long as you have a small diameter pot, like the Evernew Titanium Pasta Pot I recommend above (Solo also now sells a compatible 900ml stainless steel pot).
The Bushbuddy Issue
Gassifier wood stoves have been around for a long time (Germany used them to power automobiles in WWII when they ran out of oil),and Solo isn’t the first company to produce a inverted double walled gassifier wood stove. But they are the best known, vastly outmarketing their nearest competitor, a Canadian company named Bushbuddy, by selling the Solo Stove on Amazon and over the web via a first class web-site.
Some people in Ultralight Backpacking community have complained that this dilutes the creativity and sustainability of cottage manufacturers, which is just hogwash IMHO. The people at Solo Stove are just better businessmen. They figured out that people wanted a product that cost less than $100 (($89.95 retail/$70.99 Amazon Prime) more than one that weighed a few ounces less. This is basic pricing psychology. Lower price means higher volume sales. Higher volume production means lower prices for consumers. End of story.
If the thought of having a small campfire at night appeals to you but you don’t want the hassle of builing one,or you want to minimize the amount of fuel you carry on a long trip, the Solo Wood Stove provides an economical way to use the fuel around you for cooking and backcountry entertainment. While there are slighly less expensive and lighter weight wood stoves available, the Solo is one of a very few commercial wood stoves that comes with an integrated heat shield that prevents the ground from being burnt or scorched under the stove. If you camp at pristine locations, this is a must-have in order to keep your campsites pristine and Leave No Trace.
Disclaimer: Solo Stove provided Philip Werner (SectionHiker.com) with a free stove for this review.
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