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Reviews > Cook Gear > Cook Sets > GSI Outdoors ULSoloist Cook System > Test Report by Rebecca Sowards-Emmerd

GSI Ultralight Soloist Cook System
by Rebecca Sowards-Emmerd
Initial Report: April 10, 2008
Field Report: June 24, 2008
Long Term report: August 19, 2008


Tester Information
Name: Rebecca Sowards-Emmerd
Email: rebecca@backpackgeartest.org
Age: 30
Gender: F
Location: Sunnyvale, CA
Height: 5'5" (1.65 m)
Weight: 130 lb (59 kg)

I am usually a weekend warrior style backpacker, although I like to get out on longer trips a few times a year.  California has such variety in scenery and terrain that I am never lacking in a place to visit, and most weekends find me off in the mountains exploring new (to me) trails and peaks.  I follow lightweight, but not ultralight, backpacking techniques, but am known to carry a few luxury items from time to time.  In addition to traditional backpacking I enjoy snowshoeing, skiing, and snow camping, as well as long day hikes, geocaching, and peak climbing.  These activities are enough to keep me busy year-round in the great state of California.

GSI Soloist CooksetProduct Information
Manufacturer: GSI Outdoors
Manufacturer's Website: http://www.gsioutdoors.com
Year of Manufacture: 2008

MSRP: $29.95 USD
Manufacturer Specs:
  • Total Weight: .594 lb (9.504 oz) (0.27 kg)
  • Measurements: 5.15" x 5.15" x 5.6" (13 cm x 13 cm x 14.2 cm)
Measured Specs:
  • Total Weight (w/stuffsack and stove bag): 10.0 oz (283 g)
  • Lexan Lid: 0.9 oz (25.5 g)
  • Pot (with built in handle): 6.2 oz  (176 g)
  • Cup/Bowl (insulated): 1.5 oz (42.5 g)
  • Stove bag: 1.1 oz (31.2 g)
  • Stuffsack: 0.35 oz (9.9 g)


INITIAL REPORT
April 10, 2008

Description

The GSI Ultralite Soloist Cookset is a nesting set of cookware that includes a 1.1 L (1.16 Q) pot with a strainer/sip lid, a handle, a mug/bowl with neoprene sleeve, and a storage sack.  

The pot is made from a proprietary hard anodized alloy called Halulite.  GSI claims that Halulite is as light as titanium and also conducts heat better, which in turn leads to better fuel efficiency.  The hard anodized material is scratch and stain resistant.  From GSI's claims, it sounds like this material is a nice balance of aluminum and titanium.   Attached to the pot is a rubberized handle that collapses and folds over the pot to hold the set together when packed.

LidThe lid is lexan and includes strainer holes for pouring out cooking water, and also an open 'Sip-It' side to allow for drinking out of the pot without a sloppy mess.  

The 14 fl oz (0.41 L) mug/bowl is made of a recyclable plastic and comes in a bright orange that matches the handle of the pot.  There is also a thin insulating neoprene sleeve that is removable.

The mug nests inside of the pot, and when the lid is on the handle snaps tightly into place on top, holding the whole thing together.  There is also a small 'stove bag' pouch for protecting the pot from scratches when a canister stove is stored inside.  

The set is designed to nest with a standard medium fuel canister as shown in the drawing right on the pot.

When all nested together, this all fits into the provided storage bag.

The nesting process in pictures:
The side of the pot provides a nice outline about how to nest the pieces.
Nesting Picture

I will be storing a medium fuel canister and my tiny Optimus Crux stove, which comes with its own padded storage pouch:

Fuel and Stove

The fuel goes in the bottom, and the stove sets on top of the fuel canister.  On top of that, the cup sits upside down.  The lid goes on top of that, and the handle snaps into place on top to hold everything together.  The whole thing fits nicely into the storage sack.
step 1 step2 step3 step4
Step 5 Step 6


The GSI website provides a lot of information that also comes with the set's documentation.  Important to note are the warnings regarding cooking and cleaning.  Many warnings are common-sense, but there are a few things to emphasize:
  • Watch out for steam venting through the holes in the strainer lid!
  • Be careful when grasping the handle - due to the difficult to control, high temperature design of most backpacking stoves, it is easy to overheat components of a cookset.  It is best to use medium and low heat.
  • Do not use abrasive materials with the non-stick material.
  • Strain off extra food bits into a waste bag to limit environmental impact.
Expected Field Conditions and Test Plan

Over the next four months I will be using the GSI Ultralite Soloist Cookset for all of my outdoor cooking needs.    I follow freezer bag cooking techniques, mostly with my own dehydrated foods.  I also enjoy Enertia Trailfoods for my dinners, and the cooking method for these are either freezer bag style or simple single-pot preparation.  In other words, my camp food preparation is usually simple, requiring only a couple of basic items:  a pot that boils water efficiently, a cozy for rehydrating, and something to stand my freezer bag in to keep it from tipping and to protect my hands from burning while I'm eating.   I also need something that is flexible enough to occasionally allow me to cook simple one-pot meals or pasta from time to time.   I sometimes treat myself to tasty boil-in-bag Indian entrees from Trader Joe's as well, so I like a pot that is big enough to handle one of these bags.

My test plan includes:
  • How easy is the pot to clean in the field?
  • How well does the pot pour?
  • Is the mug/bowl the right size for freezer bags?
  • Does the plastic of the mug/bowl hold on to odors and grease?  If I drink my coffee in it in the morning, will my evening sip of adult beverage taste like coffee, or for that matter, the spaghetti sauce from the night before?
  • How efficiently does my stove pack with this set?  I use a small Optimus Crux canister stove.  It comes with a storage sack that allows me to fold up and nest the stove in the bottom 'pocket' of a medium sized fuel canister.  I expect this will pack nicely into the Soloist Cookset.
  • Does the handle heat up or does it stay cool to the touch?
  • How well does the lid strainer work?  Can I easily hold onto the lid while straining without burning myself?
  • When using the Sip-It hole in the lid, does the lid stay on securely?   Is the material of the pot too hot to do this when making hot beverages?
  • Home care:  After a week in the field, will the pot, lid, handle, and mug clean up easily at home?
  • If I am able to get out to the snow before this test is complete, I will see how well this pot works for melting snow.

Over the next four months the GSI Soloist Cookset will be used on all of my backpacking trips.   So far, my planned trips include four days along the Lost Coast of California, known mostly for the relentless wind, rain, and sand.  Fortunately it has the scenery to make such weather a mere nuisance and not a deal-breaker!  But one must carry gear that can handle such conditions.  Other trips include a three day backpack in Northern Yosemite and a week along the High Sierra Trail in Sequoia National Park.  There will be many weekend overnighters as well, but these generally aren't planned in advance and destinations are often chosen last-minute.   Summer conditions in the Sierra are pretty consistent - warm and sunny days with nights around freezing, and occasional afternoon thundershowers.  I hope to get in another weekend or two in the snow as well, before winter conditions quickly transform into summer.

This concludes my Initial Report.  Check back here in two months for the Field Report.

 


FIELD REPORT
June 24, 2008

During the Field Testing period the GSI Soloist Cookset was used over eight days on the trail, spread out over three trips.  

The first trip was to Cache Creek Wilderness in central California.  This wilderness is in the lowland ranges between the California coast (to the west) and the Central Valley and Sierra Nevada (to the east).  This trip was an overnight where temperatures were rather cold, with daytime temperatures around 50 F (10 C) and nighttime temperatures dropping below freezing.   The wind was constant as well - not brutal, but strong enough to be annoying and make shelter setup difficult.  These hills sit near sea level so there are no altitude issues to deal with when cooking.

The second trip was four days of backpacking along the Lost Coast of Northern California.  The Lost Coast, so named because of its rugged, inaccessible stretch of Pacific coastline, experiences some of the fiercest weather in California.  Under a constant deluge of wind and rain, hiking the Lost Coast can be a challenge, especially on the beach route we took.  Hiking along the beach for four days, our campsites were exposed and on sand.  One night we relied on a rough driftwood shelter to protect us from the wind.  The second night we were able to tuck ourselves back into a canyon, but it didn't keep us out of the cold drizzle.  The third night we were camped right at the high tide line, but the sun had come out and the wind was gone, making for a very pleasant beach camping experience.  

The third trip was an overnight into Kaiser Wilderness in the Sierra Nevada where we camped  at a lake situated at about 8500 feet (2591 m).  This was a warm summer weekend where weather was not a challenge - it was calm and sunny and warm, just about perfect backpacking weather!

On all three trips, the GSI Soloist cookset was shared with my husband. Our cooking needs are very simple and the Soloist set was more than enough for the two of us to share. There are three ways that the set was used for cooking.

1.  Simple water boiling  

I don't like fussing with my meals after a long day on the trail, so I like simple preparation. I mostly use Enertia Trail Foods for my dinners, or food I've dehydrated myself. Both follow the 'freezer bag cooking'  method, in which water is boiled and then added to the plastic freezer bag that contains the dehydrated food. The bag is then left in a cozy to reconstitute for 5-10 minutes. This is a simple way to cook, requires no clean up, and is surprisingly tasty, especially when I experiment and make my own dehydrated meals.  For this type of food preparation I don't ask for much in my cook gear - a fast boil, and a pot that can pour easily (it can sometimes be tricky to pour into a freezer bag, so the more reliably a pot pours, the less likely I am to burn myself).  The GSI rubberized handle allows for me to pour the boiling water out of the pot perfectly. It is probably the sturdiest pouring pot I've ever used on the trail, with no dripping, spillage, or chance that the handle will fold back on itself.

On my Optimus Crux canister stove, the GSI Soloist pot seemed to take a bit longer than my equivalent sized titanium pot. But, on the first two trips I encountered a lot of wind and this could have been a factor. It seemed to boil much faster on the last trip during good weather (and the altitude could have helped as well).   Most of my trips are at altitude where water boils at a lower temperature, so I was probably being a bit impatient with it on the first two trips near sea level.   The rest of my trips with this cookset will be at altitude, so I'll be paying closer attention to the boil times that I'm used to with this stove.

When simply boiling water for freezer bag cooking or a hot drink, the Soloist cookset pot is plenty big enough to boil water for the two of us at once.  On all the trips I'd boil the water for both of our coffee together in the morning with a lot of space to spare.

The cup is just the right size for me to stand the freezer bags up in when eating, which allows for some stability and keeps me from having to hold the uninsulated, hot bag in my hands.  One thing I'd love is if the storage bag had a bit of insulation so that it could double as a cozy, and I could leave my other cozy at home.  I'm always looking for dual use items, and this would make the stuff sack much more useful, as opposed to something I might leave at home.   The picture below shows the cozy I normally use - one thing which I could leave at home if the storage bag could be used for the same thing.


Boiling in bag

2.  Boil-in-bag cooking:

The above picture also shows the GSI Soloist Cookset pot in use for a boil-in-bag Indian meal from Trader Joes.  These are fully cooked and prepared meals that come in pouches that simply need boiling to heat up.  The GSI pot fits one of these quite well.  I put the pouch in the pot and filled it ~3/4 full of water.  It quickly came to a boil and comfortably simmered away for five minutes.  I kept a close eye on it since I wasn't sure how full I could get it without it boiling over, but I didn't have any problems.   Once the meal was heated, I used the leftover boiling water to freezer bag cook instant brown rice, and had a delicious meal with no cleanup!

3.  Cook-in-pot meals:

Cooking in the pot

On our last night on the Lost Coast, I had one Enertia Trail Foods meal (Parker Pass Potatoes) that required some simple in-pot cooking.  I had saved it for the last night since I wanted to test the ease of cleaning the GSI pot, and just in case it didn't clean so well I wouldn't have to cook in it again on that trip!  I cooked up the meal (potatoes, leeks, corn, cabbage, and sauce) in the pot (finished meal shown in the picture above), and after I had finished eating I let the pot sit for a while so the remains could get good and dry.  I wasn't going to make cleaning an easy task!  

After the pot had sat for a while, I took some water and paper towels and began wiping the pot down.  I don't like using soap, nor do I clean my pots in streams, so I was making due with the tools at hand.  Surprisingly, the pot wiped perfectly clean quite easily, which is more than I can say for the titanium spoon also pictured!  I expected more of a battle from those caked-on dried potatoes!

Miscellaneous Comments:

As described in the Initial Report, the set nests quite nicely with a canister and my Optimus Crux stove.  On the last trip, when my husband and I were splitting our shared gear up, he ended up carrying the stove and fuel, which left me the space inside the GSI set for storing other things.  I have an Evernew Titanium mug that nested in the set nicely, along with my lighter and my Benchmade 530 folding knife (3.25 inch blade (8.3 cm)).

The handle sometimes becomes offset, or crooked, where one side will snap in to position but the other side won't.  This skews the handle sideways and it requires a bit of manipulation to snap it back into place.  This only happened a couple of times during my first few uses - I know the 'feel' of the handle now and can keep it from doing this.

I've used metal utensils (mostly the titanium spoon pictured above) with no scratches to the pot.  Similarly, the exterior of the pot has remained spotless and unscratched, even after eight days in a pack and scattered about campsites.  It's very durable.

I haven't used the lid yet for pouring or straining.  I will do this during the Long Term test period.

I've greatly enjoyed this cookset so far since it meets my cooking needs so well.  I look forward to getting it out on the trail more.  During the Long Term testing period I will get it out on several Sierra trips, a couple of which are a week in duration.  Check back here in two months for the final report.


 


LONG TERM REPORT
August 19, 2008

During the Long Term Testing phase I used the GSI Soloist Cookset on a total of thirteen days spread over three trips.  All three trips were in the Sierra Nevada during warm summer conditions, spanning elevations from 4,000 feet (1219 m) to 12,000 feet (3658 m).   For three days in the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne in Yosemite, as well as on an overnight trip to Island Lake in Tahoe National Forest, the pot was shared with my husband.  The cookset was used solely by me on a week long trip along the High Sierra Trail in Sequoia National Park.
 
My experience with the GSI soloist cookset during the Long Term Testing phase was just as positive, if not moreso, than during the Field Test period.  I stuck with the same simple cooking techniques described in the Field Report.  The minor concern I had with boil times as compared to my similar-sized titanium pot were unfounded.  Once I got the pot out in the High Sierra conditions I am most used to, I saw very little difference in boiling times between the two.   I am also very impressed with the durability of the materials.  The set has now been used on twenty one trail days and still looks as good as the day it arrived.  There are no scratches in the pot or on the plastic pieces.
 
Rain storm cookingWhen it came time to choose my cook gear for a week long backpack along the High Sierra Trail, I didn't automatically choose the GSI Soloist Cookset since I had already completed the required number of testing nights.  Since this was a week long trip, I was carefully selecting my items for maximum efficiency of weight and space.  With all of my titanium and aluminum pots, stoves, bowls, and cozies spread around me and my scale, I weighed several different possible configurations. 
 
What I found was that the GSI Soloist cookset with my Optimus Crux stove was the best option for a week long trip.  All of my configurations weighed within an ounce of each other, and the GSI set won based on its compactness and packability. Other configurations were a selection of random pieces of kitchen gear that didn't nest (origami bowl, duct-wrap cozy, titanium pot too small for the stove and fuel canister to nest, Jetboil with additional kitchen items, etc).  All of these functions were served with parts of the GSI set, including the cozy.  Since conditions were forecasted to be warm, I decided I did not need the full insulation of my regular duct-wrap cozy and the black cover of the GSI set was sufficient for rehydrating my freezer-bag style meals.   The picture below shows the black cover being used as a cozy to rehydrate my Enertia Trailfoods dinner.

Cozy Use
 
I was very happy with this selection and it met my needs perfectly during this week long trip in the High Sierra.  There was only one thing that wasn't great, and that was the night I had fresh cooked trout.  I realized I hadn't brought anything to make trout easy to eat.  I ended up cutting my trout up and eating it out of the orange plastic cup with my titanium spoon.  This worked okay, but the plastic cup absorbed the fish smell and stank for the remainder of the trip, even with as vigorous a back country scrub as I could give it.  I made sure to store it in my bear can to keep it from being carried off by a fuzzy midnight visitor.  Fortunately, a spin through the dishwasher when I got home removed the smell.
 
I'm really happy with this set and am glad to say that it has displaced my previous camp kitchen setup as my cook gear of choice.  It will see many more trips with me!
 
At Precipice lakeLikes:
Packability: The ability to nest my stove and fuel makes this an efficient use of space in my pack.
Durability:  Not a scratch!
Function: The set meets my camp cooking needs perfectly.
Clear Lid: I can tell exactly when my water boils by sight.
 
Dislikes:
I wish the bag was an insulated cozy!  I'd be willing to take a small weight hit if the storage sack had a bit of insulation to it.  
Plastic cup absorbs smells that don't wash off well in the back country (but does improve when washed at home).
 
A Dislike with a positive side:
The pot is generally bigger than I need for the amount of water I boil, but this size means it nests perfectly with a medium fuel canister and my stove.  So, even though the pot is bigger than others I have needed and used, it still takes up less space in my pack when considered as a whole system.







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