Solo Wood Stove Review

Solo Wood Stove in the Sandwich Wilderness

Solo Wood Stove in the Sandwich Wilderness

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.

Solo Stove and Evernew Pot

Solo Stove and Evernew Pot

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.

Lighting the Wood Stove: Post Ignition

Lighting the Wood Stove: Post Ignition

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.

Evernew Titanium Pasta Pot

Evernew Titanium Pasta Pot

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.

Complete Solo Stove and Pot System Stored in a Mesh Bag

Complete Solo Stove and Pot System Stored in a Mesh Bag

Multi-fuel Utility

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.

Recommendation

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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23 Responses to Solo Wood Stove Review

  1. Kevin O July 29, 2013 at 8:33 am #

    I love the article and this is something I’d consider getting into. I generally don’t carry a stove, but I’m considering doing a long section of trail to finish Mass and start VT (Long section for me). For that trip, a wood stove w/ an esbit backup sounds… Even if just for the sake of Coffee!

  2. Jason July 29, 2013 at 9:38 am #

    Thanks, great article. I’ve been thinking of making a wood stove just for fun. It will probably make my pack slightly heavier, but there is something cheery about burning wood that I miss when I’m solo hiking and don’t build a fire.

    • Philip Werner July 29, 2013 at 9:54 am #

      Exactly! Very comforting and uplifting.

      • Jason August 14, 2013 at 1:40 pm #

        This article inspired me to finally build my own wood stove, similar to this one: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BxODae_BS74. The only modification I made was to make the pot stand from a crab meat can with two rows of 3/8th inch holes drilled around it. Performance was outstanding with wood and with esbit. This will be my go-to stove from now on!

  3. Jason July 29, 2013 at 9:59 am #

    An interesting survey might be to ask what people do in camp at night when they’re solo hiking. When I’m hiking with friends, they always want to build a fire at night. When I’m on my own, I get bored in camp, so I just fiddle with my shelter a bit and then go to sleep early. I often wonder what others do.

    • Philip Werner July 29, 2013 at 10:07 am #

      Good idea. I look forward to going to sleep early – I sleep better on solo backpacking trips than any other time, often for 10-12 hours a night. Pure bliss.

  4. Ben July 29, 2013 at 10:16 am #

    I have the Bush Buddy. I find that the alcohol burner from the caldera cone works great in the bush budyy (and I’m assuming the solo stove since they look identical) if you prop it up about 3/4 of an inch so the distance between the burner and the pot is about what it is in the cone. I just use circular piece of foil for this. The burner will fit in the bush buddy for storage and with a windscreen I get excellent performance. The burner itself is so light it is hardly any weight penalty. I like to use wood in the evening and then use the alcohol in the morning to save time.

    • Philip Werner July 29, 2013 at 10:29 am #

      I do the same thing with esbit – slightly faster than cooking with wood in the morning.

  5. Albert July 29, 2013 at 2:16 pm #

    Philip – Love the pic. I dream of Jeannie? What did you wish for?
    :-)

    • Philip Werner July 29, 2013 at 6:18 pm #

      Glad you like my eye, Al. Framed signed copies are available for sale! LOL.

      • Joe July 30, 2013 at 1:04 pm #

        I just bought the Solo Titan because of you. Argh, you end up costing me so much money!

        • Grandpa July 30, 2013 at 4:43 pm #

          Philip’s cost me a lot of money, too. For that matter, some of it’s even gone to him! I’ve got his old tarp and Black Diamond light, both of which made a trip back to the Whites this summer with me while he was in Texas near where I live. I consider the return on investment to be of high elevation, perhaps even above tree line.

  6. Walter Underwood July 30, 2013 at 9:50 pm #

    I have not yet had a chance to fire mine up in the woods, but I was impressed with the heat output when I tried it on our patio. Pluses, you can take it on an airplane. Minuses, probably not OK during our “no wood fire” periods in California.

    https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10152894081695437&set=pb.500260436.-2207520000.1375223590.

  7. Tim Moon July 30, 2013 at 11:04 pm #

    That seems a little pricey for a rather simple stove. But it sounds like it works great so maybe it’s worth it. I like that it’s a double wall design. Great review.

  8. Silkyman July 31, 2013 at 12:49 pm #

    Had a wood-burning stove once, but down here in the deep south most of the dry wood is from coniferous trees with lots of resin; hence, lots of gunk left on your pot … didn’t like that and still don’t. I don’t usually build a fire of any kind in the summer; in winter, I like a fire if it makes sense. These days I use an alcohol stove (WhiteBox or TrailDesigns’ beer can) and Caldera Cone to cook on, with Esbit for backup. I don’t build fires unless I happen upon a fire ring and I have time. Some people cannot live without building a fire … I used to be that way, but got over it … I’ll admit though, there is something in our genetic makeup that makes staring at a fire a spiritual event.

  9. PaulA August 2, 2013 at 9:10 am #

    I love my Ti Honey Stove (http://www.backpackinglight.co.uk/wood-burning-stoves/RD106.html). Packs flat, weighs around 4oz (when the SS grill is left at home), it can burn Esbits pretty efficiently and function as a windscreen for an alcohol stove. Not cheap though!

  10. Nick August 5, 2013 at 4:56 pm #

    Has anyone tried using charcoal briquettes in such a stove?

    • Grandpa August 5, 2013 at 7:44 pm #

      I have a Sierra Zip stove and charcoal briquettes are an awesome fuel. My brother also has one and uses briquettes when car camping. He’ll set the stove up in the vestibule of his tent and a couple briquettes will last all night and keep the tent quite a bit warmer than the outside. The Zip is a different stove but I’d think the concept would work.

  11. Joe August 8, 2013 at 12:45 pm #

    Ok, on your recommendation (and Amazon reviews), I did my investigation, and then bought the Titan version of this stove.

    It is AWESOME.

    Sat on the banks of the Kancamagus at Otter Rock yesterday. Made a little hole in the wet sand, built a fire with dry sticks (pine cones smoke) and roasted some hot dogs and made some s’mores with the gf. We had a frickin blast. Stove works better than described. This is a miracle machine.

    Pros:
    Does everything you need. Sticks, make fire. Clean up is a cinch.

    Cons:
    Not cons, but considerations: needs a camp grill to cover it if you want to do cooking, which we didn’t have, so we were depending on the stability of the stove, which wasn’t insanely high.
    Get your dry woods first. Make a pile.

    This thing totally made the trip. You can have self-contained fires wherever you want. Totally changes everything.

    • Philip Werner August 8, 2013 at 12:50 pm #

      Fantastic! Exactly, Gather your wood first. It doesn’t take much, and go. And you do need a grill and probably the larger sized stove if you plan to cook meat/fish.

      • Walter Underwood August 8, 2013 at 12:53 pm #

        If you pick up a little wood along the trail, you can avoid stripping the campsite area. Because the stove is so efficient, you don’t need to carry armloads, just a handful small sticks you can break up at camp.

  12. Art Wray July 31, 2014 at 12:30 am #

    A great option and a simple, sturdy well made piece of gear .

  13. vallehombnre December 13, 2014 at 12:23 pm #

    Have been using this stove for about a year almost exclusively. Agree with the ease of use and utility of the Solo Stove. Living in the SW and traveling around here fuel is no problem and mesquite as a fuel is the best there is. Be advised however, my experience is that this is a company that does not waste money on customer service so just deal with it.

    Pro: Just as advertised, solid, well made, easy operation

    Con: Chinese manufacture, company generally non responsive once the sale is made.

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