The above photo shows an ideal setup: the stove is
position on a large granite boulder making it impossible to
accidentally set a fire. The sticks shown in the foreground were
my typical fuel, in this case the picture was taken before I broke them
into small enough pieces to fit the box.
The picture at
right depicts several key points:
1. I found it advantageous to use the stove near a water source for
cleaning purposes. Between the petroleum jelly on my fingers,
soot from the pots, and food bits on my hands/face I set up the stove
near a creek or lake whenever possible.
2. This photo is from day five of my trip and the pot is getting
noticeably blackened not only on the bottom, but well up on the sides
and even on the handle. I found it helpful to dip the pot in
running water after cooking was complete to both rinse off any loose
soot, and to cool down my meal for quicker eating. In creek beds
as shown to the right with gravel bottoms I could swish the pot in the
gravel to remove as much soot as possible.
3. The sticks shown to the left of the stove are the typical length and
the optimal diameter for burning. I believe in this picture they
Though I have mentioned the issue of soot on the pot several times in
this report, I was pleasantly surprised at how little build-up I had on
the pot and the interior of the stove. This stove burns so hot,
that there is almost no smoke produced. Also, I was fortunate to
have hardwood to burn, I may have more issues in the future with
creosote if I use pine sticks.
One of the issues I had discovered by this time is I consistently
forgot to open the damper completely when starting the fire. I
could still get the fire going with the fan on High, but it certainly
works much better with the damper open.
I did find the damper very useful for simmering. By turning the
fan down to Low, and closing the damper about 80% I could maintain a
reasonable low boil for making rice.
Ash disposal: I found that burying the ashes in a cat hole was the best
way to dispose of them. It left no trace, and a damp hole in the
ground is unlikely to catch fire in the event that I hadn't let the
embers go out. I found that if I simply let the stove cool while
I ate dinner, by the time I was cleaning up the stove was cool to the
touch and all the embers were out. Nonetheless, it is a good idea
to be cautious about disposal.
One more note on soot control: as shown in
the photo at left I found that storing both my pot and the stove in a
zip-top plastic bag prevented any mess in my backpack. The pointy
parts of the stove eventually caused several tears in the bag, but this
was not an issue as any soot was still prevented from rubbing off onto
my pack or its contents.
I did find the stove reasonably easy to pack. I simply laid it
down on its feet near the bottom of my pack and jammed other gear on
top of it. The stove is not fragile and suffered no ill effects
from such packing.
Thermal Shield Pin Follow up
After returning from my Ozarks trip I contacted SolHuma customer
service on April 9, 2009 to see how they wished to proceed. They
answered immediately and indicated they would send a new thermal
shield, which arrived April 20, 2009. Once again, great customer
service. The rest of this report was conducted with the
NCT Trip Observations
This trip was conducted with the new thermal shield. I had no
problems with the hinge pin falling out. I did have issues with
the thermal shield fitting in to the base, and continued to stow it
sideways (loose) in the slot.
I used the Vital stove for cooking dinner the
3 nights we were on the trail. Nights 1 and 3 were Zatarains
meals (dirty rice, red beans and rice with pepperoni), night 2 was
The picture at right is from night 1 at Copper Falls State park.
This was a car camping night as the hiking party was driving in from
around the state. The meal I was making can be seen in the box at
right in the picture.
I find the Vital stove to be an excellent match for these kinds of
meals that require long cooking times. The dirty rice meal was
about a 25 minute simmer, and the red beans and rice meal just over a
half hour. On this trip I found I was becoming more adept at
simmering. It requires turning the fan to low, closing the damper
about 75%, and making sure there is not an excess of wood in the
burner. I found 3-4 small sticks to be just the right amount:
enough to keep the fire going, but not so much that the hot fire burned
the food on the bottom of the pot.
The last night on the trail brought a special treat.
One of the other hikers taught me to recognize and pick wild onions or
leeks, also known as ramps. We picked them along the trail and
munched on them as we hiked. They are so flavorful that the
hikers toward the rear of the column could smell them when folks in the
front chowed down. These
plants were growing in profusion -- after a while we saw so many of
them that we didn't bother to stop and pick them.
At left is a photo of a large bunch I picked on the last night on the
trail. I dug them up with my cat hole trowel, trimmed them with a
knife, washed and cleaned them in water in my cooking pot and sliced
them into bite-sized pieces. I tossed them into the pot bubbling
away on the Vital stove for the last 5 minutes of cooking. This
was quite a treat: the flavor and texture was an extraordinary
accompaniment to the Zatarains Red Beans and Rice.
SHT Trip Observations
This was a car camping trip (Finland State Forest CG). I used the
SolHuma Vital Stove for one dinner, a reprise of Zatarains Red Beans
and Rice but with the addition of a package of Little Smokies sausages
for protein. I was cooking for two people, myself and my camp
mate. My camping mate was amazed at how little wood was required
to get the water boiling and simmer for 30 minutes -- only a handful of
On day 2 of the trip I gave a presentation at the annual meeting of the
SHTA on my 100 Mile Wilderness hike of May 2008. At the end of
the talk I did a little show-and-tell of the gear I am currently
testing. The wood stove really caught everyone's attention, and a
crowd of attendees came up after my talk to ask questions and
inspect the stove more closely. There seems to be a lot of
interest in wood-burning stoves in Minnesota, because fuel is bountiful
on the trails.
Kekekabic Trail Observations
One things this trip did not lack was available wood for burning.
The trail has been decimated in the last few decades by a blowdown by
straight-line winds and several major fires. Finding sticks to
burn consisted of cleaning up the campsite area of twigs!
Interestingly one of the other hikers in the group also had a
forced-air wood burning stove, an old Sierra Zip stove so I had a
chance to compare the two side-by-side:
"She-who-starts-fires" with her Zip stove, the Vital Stove in the lower
The Zip stove is known to be easily tipped, but this one was modified
with a custom base for stability. Both stoves performed equally
well, though we didn't do a controlled experiment to see which one
boiled water first. The other campers were impressed by the Vital
stove's detachable thermal shield; it folded up much more compactly
than the Zip.
By this trip I had fallen into a predictable usage pattern: Vital stove
for cooking dinner, Jetboil for quick boils of hot water for tea at
breakfast. It is just too much hassle for me to light a fire
every day first thing in the morning to boil water for a hot
beverage. Interesting, the rest of the group followed a similar
pattern but used an alcohol stove in the morning. That was my
intention as well, but I ran out of time before this trip to build
another alcohol burner.
I have really enjoyed using this stove in the field. It is extra
work to use wood fuel, but I find I have to distinguish my feelings
about using a wood-burning stove in general from my thoughts on the
SolHuma Vital Stove in particular. I really liked the freedom of
having an unlimited amount of fuel to make meals that required longer
cooking times. I don't really like the sooty mess that comes from
burning wood, but that is an issue with any wood-burning stove and
certainly not unique to the SolHuma Vital stove.
Areas for improvement
- Hot fire for quick boils
- Good temperature control with variable speed fan and damper
- Reasonably compact for packing
- Stowing the thermal shield under the unit between the support
legs is bothersome, and the fit is very tight
- Better retention of the pins that hold the thermal shield together
- Perhaps improved labeling would help me remember to open the
damper when I start the fire
This concludes my Field Report for the SolHuma Vital Stove.
Long Term Report
|June 11-14, 2009
|July 11-12, 2009
|North Country Tail (NCT), Chequamegon section in
|Mt. Lemmon, just north of
|1050 ft to 1650 ft
(320 m to 500 m)
|7450 to 9100 ft
(2271 m to 2774 M)
|Heavily forested with maple and pine.
Streams, lakes, bogs and beaver dams.
||Mountain meadows rocky ridges
|Coldest nighttime low was 41 F (5 C), daytime
highs around 74 F (23 C), very light winds. Mostly sunny with
rain shower June 13.
||Nighttime low of 60F (15 C),
daytime high at lower altitude of 88 F (31 C)
North Country Trail
I used the Vital stove for cooking breakfast and dinner on day 2 of the
hike. Breakfast was cheese grits and lots of tea, so I needed a
lot of hot water for cooking. Dinner was spaghetti with meat
sauce. The stove performed flawlessly for these meals. Wood
used was small maple sticks.
I had about a dozen companions on this trip, and several of them
expressed a lot of interest in it. One of them thought the stove
would be great for family outings when cooking for several people,
which greatly diminishes the weight carried per person. He
thought it would also give the younger folks something to do, picking
up sticks, feeding the fire, etc. I know I have enjoyed this
aspect of the stove all along; it is pleasant to have an activity
around dinner time.
On July 5th I moved to Tucson Arizona for a new job. I took
enough backpacking gear with me to continue my testing, but not all of
it. I didn't think I was going to need my winter sleeping bag for
a while! My backpacking gear including the SolHuma stove were
packed tightly in a duffel bag. I left the stove outside of the
backpack in the duffel suspecting that TSA would want to have a look at
I was able to get out for a 1-night backpacking trip the weekend of
July 11. I drove up to the top of Mt Lemmon, hiked down to the
Arizona Trail trailhead, and continued downhill until I got tired from
the altitude and constant strain on my quadriceps. I had noticed
some nice camping areas on the way down, and climbed back up to right
near the Arizona Trail head where I had spotted a great campsite with a
terrific western sunset view. Camp was set up, and I immediately
prepared to cook my evening meal with the SolHuma stove. I took
some pictures of the stove in operation at sunset on the mountaintop,
but they returned to Minnesota with the camera and my wife :(
When I was ready to light the stove, HORRORS! The slide switch
was broken off! This must have happened in transit as the duffel
bag was loaded/unloaded from the airplane. Fortunately it broke
off with the switch in the High (II) position where I last left
it. I plugged the battery pack into the stove and had a roaring
fire in no time and was able to cook my meal with no problems.
The only downside of this condition is I cannot use the Low setting for
simmering, and to turn the fan off I have to unplug the battery cable.
My overall opinion has not changed since I write the Field Report, and
the list of strengths and areas for improvement still hold.
The broken slide switch was the third malfunction of the unit I
experienced: cracked base foot, thermal shield pin falling out and
lost, and broken slide switch. This unit has had far more
reliability problems than I would have anticipated given its relative
heft. My bottom line is this is a stove that attracts interest
wherever it goes and performs well, but needs some re-thinking to make
it more robust for daily use by backpackers. I do not treat my
gear gently, but I don't abuse it either, so I suspect my use would be