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SOLO STOVE
TEST SERIES BY BRIAN HARTMAN
LONG-TERM REPORT
October 14, 2012

CLICK HERE TO SKIP TO THE FIELD REPORT
CLICK HERE TO SKIP TO THE LONG-TERM REPORT

TESTER INFORMATION

NAME: Brian Hartman
EMAIL: bhart1426ATyahooDOT com
AGE: 44
LOCATION: Westfield, Indiana
GENDER: M
HEIGHT: 5' 9" (1.75 m)
WEIGHT: 145 lb (65.80 kg)

I have been backpacking for over 20 years throughout Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky and most recently in Western USA. In addition to backpacking I enjoy family camping with my wife and kids and being outdoors in general. I would describe myself as a mid weight backpacker. I use fairly light weight equipment and gear but still like to bring more than the bare essentials with me while on the trail.


INITIAL REPORT

PRODUCT INFORMATION & SPECIFICATIONS

IMAGE 1 Manufacturer: Solo Stove
Year of Manufacture: 2012
Manufacturer's Website: http://www.solostove.com/
MSRP: US $89.99 (Currently on sale for $59.99)
Listed Weight: 9 oz (280 g)
Measured Weight: 9 oz (280 g)

Size (nested): 4.25 inch (10.8 cm) diameter, 3.8 inches (9.7 cm) tall
Size (assembled): 4.25 inch (10.8 cm) diameter, 5.7 inches (14.5 cm) tall
Material: Hardened 304 stainless steel; nichrome wire
Time to Boil (per manufacturer): 8-10 minutes to boil 34 fl oz (1 liter) water

A couple things of note are that the Solo Stove ships free of charge in the USA via USPS Priority mail and Solo Stove offers a 30 day money back guarantee and one year warranty from date of purchase.

INITIAL IMPRESSIONS

IMAGE 2 The Solo Stove arrived at my doorstep in a small lightweight cardboard box with Solo Stove's logo and usage instructions printed on the side of the box. Upon opening the box and removing it from its storage pouch, I found the Solo Stove in all of its glory. As one who appreciates well engineered products, I must say that pictures do not do this stove justice. From my initial inspection, it was obvious that a lot of effort went into the design and manufacturer of this stove, from its one-piece stainless steel outer shell with no welds or seams to its meticulously crafted inner firebox, wire grate and formed ash pan. Of course the stove is made completely of 304 stainless which doesn't hurt its looks either. Upon close inspection I could find no sharp edges on any of the formed pieces or vent holes and just the slightest hint of welds inside the firebox and on the cooking ring. As a matter of fact I couldn't find any smudges or even a fingerprint on the stove. The stove exudes quality and I think that's testament to the top notch manufacturing that backs up its impressive design.

The stove features intake holes on the bottom of the outer shell. These holes draw air through the inner wall of the stove to just below the combustion chamber and wire grate where it feeds the primary combustion of twigs and sticks. In addition, the double walled construction allows heated air to travel further up the inner wall to the firebox vents where it mixes with smoke and burned particles in a secondary combustion process. According to the manufacturer, this results in a cleaner, more efficient fire with very little smoke. The inner cooking ring sits on top of the stove and supports a cooking vessel with three small pot supports. The ring has vented holes around its circumference to allow additional airflow and also has an inner lip that directs flames upward for minimal heat loss.

TRYING IT OUT

IMAGE 3 The Solo Stove was amazingly simple to set up. I simply removed the cooking ring from its storage spot inside the stove and inverted it so it rested on top of the stove with its three pot supports pointing up. As it had rained all night and there were no dry sticks in my backyard, I used a cotton ball with some Vaseline on it as a fire starter and a large handful of popsicle sticks as kindling for my first fire. After lighting the cotton ball, I placed 5 or 6 popsicle sticks in the firebox to get things started. During the next minute or two I added a dozen or more sticks to the fire until I had a considerable blaze with flames approaching 6 inches (15 cm) in height above the pot supports. I set my GSI mug full of water on top of the stove and started my stopwatch. At this point the fire was consuming my sticks almost immediately and during the next three to four minutes I found myself feeding the rest of my kindling into the stove. I quickly went back into the house to get more kindling but when I returned a minute or so later I was surprised to find that the fire had gone out. I stoked it with more kindling and waited. Nothing happened for a few seconds and then slowly flames began to emerge from the firebox until after a minute or so the fire returned to its previous size. During this entire time I found that I could easily add more kindling to the stove without removing the pot - I just slipped popsicle sticks through the vent holes and the opening in the cooking ring. In total, I was able to bring 16 oz (497 g) of water to a rolling boil in 9 minutes and 20 seconds. The popsicle sticks burned completely and all that was left in the bottom of the stove was ashes. As can be seen in the photo, my stainless steel mug was coated in black soot. In a matter of minutes the stove cooled down to the point where I could hold it and empty out the ash pan. Since most of the soot on the stove was inside the cooking ring, I didn't bother to clean it. However, I spent several minutes scrubbing my mug with soap and water and was able to get most of it clean. Cleaning my mug was quite easy to do in the comfort of my house but I will need to come up with an alternative solution in the field where water is precious

During my initial test, I did not have any problems keeping my mug balanced on the pot supports but then again the stove was resting on my driveway. It will be interesting to see if the stove continues to provide a stable base when used in the field as it does not have feet to compensate for uneven ground. Much of the time while I was cooking, flames from the stove engulfed my mug and so it would not have been possible to grab the mug handle if it started to boil or tip over. In this regard, I'm curious to try cooking with a larger diameter pot to see if it makes a difference.

Here are a few observations I've made so far:

Pros IMAGE 4
1. Compact and lightweight. I won't have to carry liquid fuel bottles or worry about half used canisters that may run out of fuel during my trip.
2. Incredibly simple to set up. Its as easy as starting a fire. :)
3. Built tough. I have no concerns about its reliability.

Concerns
1. Uncontrollable flames (all wood burning stoves). This means that I will likely only boil water on this unit.
2. Eating a hot meal is based on finding plenty of dry kindling.
3. Boil time for 16 oz (497 g) water was long. This could have been the result of the kindling I used. I will experiment with other kindling and a larger pot during the next few months.
4. Soot on cooking pot (inconvenience).

SUMMARY

I really had fun using the Solo Stove for the first time and look forward to the next several months of Field Testing.

This concludes my Initial Report for the Solo Stove. I will post a Field Report in approximately two months so please check back then for further information. Thank you to Solo Stove and BackpackGeartest.org for the opportunity to test this item.


FIELD REPORT

FIELD LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS

During Field Testing, I used the Solo Stove on a three-day backpacking trip to Franklin County, Indiana and on a weekend trip to Oldenburg, IN. Unfortunately, for the past month, a Stage 1 Burn Ban has been in effect throughout Indiana and this has limited my further use of the stove. According to Indiana law the ban applies to all fires, charcoal grills and wood stoves except when used at designated recreation sites with fire rings. Not wanting to take any risks, I simply decided to eat my meals cold.

Weather conditions for the past three months have been hot and extremely dry with daytime highs approaching 100 F (38 C) and drought warnings in many counties throughout Indiana. Nighttime lows haven't offered much relief with temperatures staying around 80 F (26 C).

1. Franklin County: During this three-day outing I hiked mostly on wooded trails and covered 12.4 miles (20 km) across moderately hilly terrain. Temperatures topped 95 F (35 C) by mid afternoon on two of the three days. At night I pitched my tent in low areas near water hoping cooler air would settle there and give me temporary relief from the heat. Elevations ranged from 570 ft (174 m) to 710 ft (216 m).

2. My second trip was near the town of Oldenburg in Southeastern Indiana. During this two day outing I mainly hiked off-trail through woods and farmland several miles outside of town. I covered 9.1 miles (15 km) across moderately hilly terrain while temperatures approached 100 F (38 C).

PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD

IMAGE 1 I have really enjoyed using the Solo Stove so far. It has forced me to take time for breakfast and lunch and not be in such a hurry to get back on the trail as is sometimes the case on my backpacking trips. The process of gathering sticks and building a fire has been more time consuming than simply lighting my white gas stove, but it has brought me back to the essence of backpacking which is being in touch with nature.

Finding Fuel - Given the hot, dry weather this year it has been very easy for me to find fuel for the stove. So far, I have been able to find plenty of kindling and small sticks in the areas where I have set up camp without having to search too far away. It usually takes me 10 minutes or so to gather enough twigs and small sticks to build my fire. This amounts to several large handfuls which is more than enough fuel to boil water or cook a small meal most of the time. The determining factor for how long my fires last and how hot they get is based on the type of wood I'm burning and whether it was lying on the ground or pulled from a dead tree. A side benefit to using this stove is that I have become more observant of the different types of trees and ground cover in the areas where I am backpacking. The more mature forests that I have been gravitating to in the hot weather, because of their excellent shade, do not have as many small sticks and twigs as younger forests.

Stove placement - Because the stove has a flat bottom with no feet to keep it from tipping on uneven ground, I have found it best to position it on a nearby trail or close to a creek. If there's a fallen tree or someplace convenient for me to sit next to it that's even better. The photo above shows one of my favorite spots to set up the stove and that is on trail steps. This works particularly well in that I can sit a step or two below the stove and easily tend to the fire. Another ideal spot I have found is on any large rock as it gets the stove up higher so that plenty of air passes through the intake holes near the bottom of the stove.

Lighting the stove - Lighting the stove is straightforward. So far I have simply used a cotton ball soaked in Vaseline as my fire starter. Once the cotton ball is lit I place twigs and other kindling in the stove as if I were lighting a campfire. After a few minutes I add small sticks into the firebox to build the flames and create a hot ash bed. I have experimented with a number of types of wood as well as pine cones, pine needles, grass etc and found the following to be true for me:

IMAGE 2 Pine cones and pine needles work well for kindling and pine, spruce and fir are good for starting a fire because they are resinous. However they do not work as well once the fire is started as they burn faster and with less heat output. They also tend to be sooty and smoky. In addition, I have found that cedar and spruce tend to pop a lot and throw sparks. Therefore, once the fire is going, I prefer to use hardwoods as they are denser and tend to burn slower and hotter with lower flames. I like to use oak, hickory and maple as they are readily available and produce lots of heat and long lasting embers. The forests in central and southern Indiana consist mainly of oak, poplar, beach, maple, walnut, hickory, cedar and ash so this is what I have to pick from. I have not had the opportunity so far to cook with this stove in wet weather. If given the chance (hint for more rain) I plan to experiment with different woods to see which ones burn best. Ash is one wood I've read about that sounds promising when wet. I found that small finger-sized pieces of wood worked well once the fire was going and were readily available on the trail. Thicker pieces would have burned longer, but were too hard to break with my hands.

Cooking on the stove - While backpacking in Franklin County, I used the Solo Stove to boil water for breakfast and dinner each day. In the mornings I made oatmeal and in the evenings I made freeze dried soup. I have also experimented at home with eggs, hamburgers and sausage but I don't like to take anything on the trail that must be kept cold or frozen. In that regard, it may be a while before I cook gourmet dinners on the trail with this stove, but for now I'm quite happy boiling water for simple meals. Winter may be the best time to try these other items.

Cleaning up - Regarding clean up, I let the stove cool down on its own before dumping the ashes and wiping things down. Typically it takes 10-15 minutes for the stove to be cool to the touch once the fire has died out. It would be a lot quicker to douse the stove in a stream or dump water on it but I'm usually not in that big of a hurry. Getting the soot cleaned up is a pain as it gets over everything but that's the nature of the beast when cooking this way. I recently read that coating the bottom of my bowl with detergent or soap would make cleanup easier. I will give that a try on my next campout.

I found the stove easy to pack. It is not fragile and consequently it had no problems in my backpack. It is lightweight and compact so I typically pack it on top of my other items where it's easy to access. When not in use, I kept the stove in its cloth storage pouch and my pot in a plastic bag to prevent soot from getting on my clothes or the backpack. IMAGE 3

SUMMARY

I have really enjoyed using the Solo Stove in the field. In a world of gas cooktops and microwave ovens, the thought of gathering wood, building a fire and waiting for it to heat up seems primitive, but I found that once I adjusted my mindset it became a very gratifying experience. I really like the simplicity of the stove. It is built very ruggedly and there are no moving parts to break. I like that my fuel source is readily available and I don't have to carry it with me. I don't like the sooty mess that comes from burning wood, but that is an issue for all wood-burning stoves. My impressions of the stove at this time are very similar to my initial thoughts a few months ago.

Strengths:
1. Simple
2. Durable
3. Lightweight and Compact

Weaknesses:
1. Soot on stove and cook pot makes for messy cleanup
2. Relatively long boil times

Jury still out:
1. I am getting better at regulating the stove's temperature but it is still somewhat tricky
2. The past few months have been so hot and dry that I have not been able to test how easy or difficult it is to cook with wet fuel

This concludes my Field Report for the Solo Stove. I will post my Long Term Report in approximately two months so please check back then for further information. Thank you to Solo Stove and BackpackGeartest.org for the opportunity to test this item.


LONG-TERM REPORT

LONG-TERM TEST LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS

IMAGE 1

During the long-term test period, I used the Solo Stove for a total of five days on two separate trips to Brown County State Park in Southern Indiana. Brown County State Park is Indiana's largest and most visited State Park with over 16,000 acres of rolling hills. It's a great place to backpack in the fall when the leaves are changing colors and it's sometimes referred to as the 'Little Smokies' because of its semblance to the Great Smoky Mountains.

My first trip to Brown County was for three nights over Labor Day weekend where I encountered wet weather and temperatures in the low 80's F (28 C). My second visit was for two nights in mid October. This time the weather cooperated and conditions were perfect the entire weekend with mostly sunny skies and daytime highs in the upper 60's F (20 C). I hiked approximately 14 miles during this trip and slept well with nighttime lows in the mid 50's F (12 C).

I also took the stove with me to a local park in Central Indiana where I cooked eggs, sausage and hash browns, something I wouldn't normally due while backpacking in the wild.


PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD

The Solo Stove has continued to perform well in concert with my earlier experiences. Two new things I was able to try during this test period were 1) cooking food on the Solo Stove rather than just boiling water and 2) using the stove in the rain. Since I do not cook meat or other foods that need to be refrigerated while on the trail, I decided to give it a try while visiting a local park near my home. I packed a cooler full of food so that I could try my hand at cooking on the Solo Stove. I am happy to report that I cooked a full breakfast and lunch and both meals turned out fine. However, I found it tricky to prep the food, keep the fire tended and not burn my meal. The fire went out on me twice and at one point I had to gather more sticks. The stove was also less stable with a large skillet on top, and it tipped over by accident at least once. Despite my success at cooking with the Solo Stove, I doubt that I will ever do much more than boil water on this stove when solo backpacking.

In regards to boiling water in rainy weather, I found that my cook times went up significantly because I was using wet kindling for my fire. Without a dry shelter for cover, I was forced to cook under the canopy of large trees which provided only marginal protection from the rain.

SUMMARY

Overall the Solo Stove has been a pleasure to use. It offers a compact, lightweight alternative to gas fired stoves with no canisters or bottles to carry around. And although stated in my earlier reports it is worth mentioning again that this stove is really well built. With its quality design, stainless construction and no moving parts, it has been a very reliable piece of gear.

This concludes my report for the Solo Stove. Thank you to Solo Stove and BackpackGeartest.org for the opportunity to test this item.

This report was created with the BackpackGearTest.org Report Writer Version 1. Copyright 2012. All rights reserved.

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