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Reviews > Cook Gear > Stoves > Solo Stove > Test Report by Katie Montovan

SOLO STOVE


TEST SERIES BY KATHRYN MONTOVAN
INITIAL REPORT: April 21, 2012
FIELD REPORT: August 21, 2012
LONG TERM REPORT:
October 16, 2012

TESTER INFORMATION

NAME: Kathryn Montovan
EMAIL: sull0294(at)gmail(dot)com
AGE: 29
LOCATION: Groton, New York, USA
GENDER: F
HEIGHT: 5' 5" (1.65 m)
WEIGHT: 150 lb (68.00 kg)

I have been backpacking, climbing, kayaking, canoeing and winter camping for over 10 years. My excursions are mostly weekend and occasionally weeklong backpacking and kayaking trips in the wooded and often wet, rolling terrain of western New York. I usually tarp camp with a small to large group and love to cook fun and delicious foods on my trips. In general, I strive for a compact and light pack but value well-made and durable gear over ultralight items.


INITIAL REPORT

PRODUCT INFORMATION & SPECIFICATIONS

IMAGE 1
Image courtesy of Solo Stove
Manufacturer: Solo Stove
Manufacturer's Website: www.solostove.com/
Model: Solo Stove
Year Manufactured: 2012
MSRP: $89.99 US
Listed weight: 8.6 oz (244 g)
Measured total weight: 9.1 oz (303 g)
Measured Weight of Stove: 7.3 oz (252 g)
Measured Weight of Cooking Ring 1.6 oz (45 g)
Measured Weight of Storage Bag: 0.2 oz (6 g)
Nested Size: Diameter: 4.25” (10.8 cm), Height: 3.8” (9.7 cm)
Assembled Size: Diameter: 4.25” (10.8 cm), Height: 5.7” (14.5 cm)
Material: Fully hardened 304 stainless steel and nichrome wire
Listed Time to Boil 34 fl oz (1 L) of water: 8-10 min
Measured Time to Boil 34 fl oz (1 L) of water: 9.5 min


PRODUCT DESCRIPTION

The Solo Stove is a stainless steel double-walled wood-gas stove. It uses a “natural convection inverted downgas gasifer” design and the secondary combustion of the wood gases to create an efficient and clean fire. There are two separate parts: the stove and the pot stand/windscreen. When packed, the pot stand inverts and fits inside of the stove and can be stored in the included reusable bag.
IMAGE 2
Packed for storage next to a 1 liter bottle


The stove has an outer wall which has holes at the bottom where air enters the stove. The outside shell, base and inside firebox are all one solid piece. The firebox extends about halfway down the stove with a Nichrome wire grate at the base and 18 holes at the top which create the secondary burn from air that has been warmed between the stoves walls. Below the firebox is an ash collector that is suspended by three posts that are spot welded directly to the firebox. This ash collector is raised and because of this design should not burn or scorch the surface below. There is about a quarter of an inch (6 mm) gap between the ash collector and the base, and between the ash collector and the firebox.

The cooking ring is constructed from five pieces spot welded together. The base keeps the stand securely on the stove, directs heat towards the pot, and fits nicely within the stove during storage. The windscreen is welded to this base. It has a gap 1.75 inches (45 mm) wide for feeding the fire with the pot stand in place. It also has 10 large holes at the base that enable air flow to the fire. The pot stand is three small metal pieces spot welded to the windscreen. They raise the pot 3/8” (1 cm) above the windscreen.

INITIAL IMPRESSIONS

The Solo Stove arrived quickly and was well packed, complete and in good condition. It looks just like it did on the website, and feels very sturdy. When I squeeze the stove it is solid and feels like it would be hard to dent or break. The storage bag is lightweight. It is substantial enough to protect my gear from soot on the stove, but I wonder how well it will hold up to field use.

IMAGE 3
The inside of the assembled
stove after one firing
The stove arrived with a short set of directions on the outside of the shipping box. They instructed me to set up the stove on level ground away from wind by flipping over the cooking ring that is stored in the top of the stove. Then I was to collect small pieces of dry wood, light the fire and start cooking, feeding the fire with dry twigs as needed.

There were no explicit directions for the best way to light this stove. So I went to the manufacturer's website and found a video showing the stove being lit. In this video the stove was started by dropping a lit cotton ball fire starter into the stove and adding small twigs and sticks. After the fire got going pencil sized sticks continued to be added to keep the fire going. When I have used wood burning stoves of a similar design in the past I have had very good results from filling the stove with sticks up to the secondary air holes and then lighting the fire on top of the prepacked wood. The fire burns down through the wood and requires less feeding and often burns more cleanly. This stove is fairly shallow for this method so I will try both approaches and figure out which works better.

TRYING IT OUT

IMAGE 4
My setup for the stove test
I couldn't wait to test out this stove, so I went into the backyard and gathered some sticks. Assembly was straightforward, I simply pulled the cooking ring out of the stove, flipped it over and inserted it into the lip at the top. My next task was to fill and light the stove. I used the method for starting that I am more familiar with and filled up the stove with roughly 2 inch long (5 cm) pencil-sized sticks, then made a small pile of kindling on top. With the cooking ring off, I lit the kindling and used some small sticks to help the fire get started. It took about 2 minutes to get the fire going well using this method, and once it got going I didn't have a problem keeping it lit.

When the fire was going strong, I placed the cooking ring onto the stove and started heating 34 fl oz (1.006 L) of water. It took 6 min for the water to start bubbling and 9.5 minutes to a full rolling boil. I added sticks throughout the boiling time to keep the fire hot. When I finished boiling the water there was a nice bed of coals which produced a steady, low heat that kept my water simmering for another 8 minutes.

I tested the stove a second time by starting the fire with a fire starter and many less sticks in the firebox. There was better airflow for the initial fire, but I am not sure that it was easier to start and it certainly took a lot longer to get a hot fire and a good bed of coals built up. I will continue to play with the best way to start the stove over the field testing period.

IMAGE 5
The secondary burn jets
in action
Overall, this stove performed very well for the test runs. The air flow was good and easily kept the fire going well. There was very little smoke, even when feeding the fire. The base also stayed cool throughout the cooking process and the ash collector did its job. The pot stand was solid but driveway tests are never a good predictor of how tippy a stove will be on semi-level dirt and rocks. The only problem that I had was in trying to feed the fire. It was a little difficult to slip the short sticks into the stove and get them to clear the cooking ring while not burning my fingers on the pot or stove. I think that this will come with practice.

SUMMARY

I am looking forward to seeing how this stove works in the field. I will do a good amount of water boiling, but I will also test the capabilities of the Solo Stove (and my fire-building and cooking skills) by cooking s'mores, sautéing, simmering, and backcountry baking. I think that with practice I will be able to build low or high heat fires to make it possible to cook a variety of dishes on this stove. In addition, I look forward to testing the possibilities of using the Solo Stove as a pot-stand and windscreen for my homemade alcohol stove. The secondary fuel option would be useful when I am above the tree-line or otherwise unable to build a fire.



FIELD REPORT

IMAGE 1
Baking a pizza with a twig fire
on top of the lid

FIELD CONDITIONS

Trip 1: Teaching a 2-night backcountry cooking course backpacking on the Finger Lakes Trail near Ithaca, NY. The weather went from sunny and 90 F (32 C) the first day to heavy rain and 35 F (2 C) the second night.

Trip 2: 5-night canoe camping trip in the boundary waters near Ely, MN. Temperatures ranged from 70 F (21 C) to 95F (35C) and weather covered most options including high wind, beautiful sunny days, drizzly rain, and sudden downpours. We cooked a wide range of foods- including bacon and eggs, pizza, couscous pilaf, and thanksgiving in a pot.

Trip 3: 2-night car camping trip to Stillwater Resevoir, near Lowville, NY. Weather was sunny and 75 - 85 F (24 - 29 C). We cooked fancier car-camping foods that we normally don't get to eat when camping.

Trip 4: Solo 2-night backpacking trip along the Finger Lakes Trail, near Ithaca, NY. It was sunny and humid for the whole trip and temperatures ranged from 57 - 88 F (14 - 31 C). Elevation ranged from 400 - 1700 ft (120 - 520 m). I mostly rehydrated meals and boiled water on this trip.

FIELD REPORT

This stove arrived just in time for a back country cooking class I was teaching. The main stoves used on this course are pressurized white gas backpacking stoves, but I brought the Solo Stove and my homemade alcohol stove along so that my students could try a few different kinds of stoves. On our first morning out, one of the pressurized white gas stoves failed, starting a small leaf fire and burning one of the students. That event changed the tone for the whole trip. The students became very interested in learning how to cook over an open fire and using the Solo Stove because the dangers were more predictable.
IMAGE 1
Fruit crisp cooked over
the Solo Stove

I taught a student how to use an alcohol stove by placing the alcohol stove inside of the Solo Stove. The Solo Stove worked well as a pot stand and windscreen for the alcohol stove. I was impressed by how the Solo Stove seemed to make the flames larger and increase the heat output (while also increasing fuel consumption). We used it to cook the mushrooms for our pizza and were very happy with the results. Then we fired up the Solo Stove with twigs to rehydrate and heat the pizza sauce. It was drizzling rain and it was still easy to start the fire. One of us paid attention to the pizza sauce while the other fed the fire.

Next, we combined the pizza sauce with a dough we had made and attempted to cook pizzas over the Solo Stove. We put the pizza in a pan designed for backcountry baking, put it over the stove, and rotated the pan while the pizza cooked. We also built a fire on top of the lid to bake the pizza from above as a way to practice some fancy backcountry baking skills.  The pizza turned out beautifully! Crispy on the bottom, cooked all the way through, and not burnt at all. We found that we really needed two people for this adventure (one to feed the fire while the other paid attention to the food). With so much going on it was easy to forget to feed the fire and let the stove go out.
IMAGE 1
Cinnamon Rolls baked over the Solo Stove

Rain: We cooked a second pizza over the stove but by this time it was pouring rain and getting the stove lit was much trickier. If the pan wasn't over the stove, the rain would put the fire out. We used an aluminum wind screen to shield the stove from the rain. It was also challenging to keep the twig pile for feeding the fire dry. Feeding the well established fire wet twigs worked, but appeared to decrease the heat output and lengthened cooking times.

Stability: When this stove is placed onto a nice flat surface it is pretty stable. But when I have used it to cook on a bumpy rock or slightly uneven ground, I have had problems with it tipping over. Because the base is a solid, flat circle, any rocks or bumps within the circle make the stove tippy. It is a manageable problem when the pot over the stove is fairly narrow, but when using a wide frying pan I had to be very careful to not tip everything over. On a couple of occasions I was not careful enough and ended up with food and fuel spilling all over the ground. As a result, I am always careful to keep the potgrips next to the stove so that they are ready at a moment's notice and to always use them when doing anything with the pot that is on the stove.

Solo Cooking: This stove was tricky to use on my own because I had to continuously watch the fire while also prepping and dealing with the food being cooked. I found that I could boil water or cook pasta on my own, but if I attempted anything more complicated on my own, the fire went out while I was dealing with the food and I had to restart the fire before I could finish cooking. I carry my alcohol stove in the Solo Stove and have found that it is a really nice option for times when I want to cook more involved dishes, but don't have someone available to help me with the fire.

SUMMARY

This is a solid and well-made wood stove that works very well. I have been impressed with the design and construction of this stove and only have concerns about its stability. I have discovered through testing this stove that using a wood stove is very different from other types of stoves and comes with its own set of drawbacks (sooty pots, smoky smelling clothing, continual need to be fed). I love the versatility of this stove but am not always up to using wood as a fuel. The Solo Stove combined with an alcohol stove works great for me. When I am sleepy in the morning and don't want to mess with starting a fire I can use the alcohol stove, but when there are a couple of us cooking dinner and we don't mind hanging out and feeding the fire, then the wood stove works great.

LIKES

  • It won't explode
  • Solid construction doesn't deform in my pack
  • Works great as a windscreen and potstand for my homemade alcohol stove

DISLIKES

  • It is tippy with a large pan on top
  • General woodstove drawbacks:
    • It is hard to start and keep the fire going during a downpour
    • It is a lot less efficient when the wood is wet
    • Sooty stove and pot
    • Smokey smelling clothing and gear
    • Difficult to cook complicated dishes alone

LONG TERM REPORT


FIELD CONDITIONS

Trip 1: 2-night kayak camping trip to Cranberry Lake in the Adirondacks of Western New York. Temperatures ranged from 55 F (13 C) to 75 F (24 C) and with high winds and drizzling rain.

PERFORMANCE

The Solo Stove continued to perform as it had in my field testing. It has become my main stove on trips in combination with an alcohol stove, replacing the white gas stove I have used for years. I have found that it is extremely durable, easy to use in good weather, and works great as a potstand and wind screen for the alcohol stove. Often I keep a couple of esbit fuel tablets in the stove bag to help light the stove in wet conditions. I was surprised to find that the Solo Stove worked well for a range of tricky meals (e.g. pancakes, pizza, cinnamon rolls) and that the heat level was controllable by adjusting the amount and size of the wood that I used as fuel.

SUMMARY

The Solo Stove is a durable, versatile stove that fills all of my needs when combined with an alcohol stove for crummy weather, sleepy mornings or solo fancy cooking. I keep the stove in its bag and the pots in a bag to contain the soot, and collect dry twigs when I can so that I have a supply of dry wood to get the fire started.  I really enjoy being able to carry less alcohol and knowing that if I run out of fuel I can use wood for the rest of my meals. I do wish that there some kind of tripod that I could attach to the base that would help stabilize the stove when used with frying pans or on less even ground.

LIKES

  • It won't explode
  • Solid construction doesn't deform in my pack
  • Works great as a windscreen and pot stand for my homemade alcohol stove

DISLIKES

  • It is tippy with a large pan on top
  • General woodstove drawbacks:
    • It is hard to start and keep the fire going during a downpour
    • It is a lot less efficient when the wood is wet
    • Sooty stove and pot
    • Smokey smelling clothing and gear
    • Difficult to cook complicated dishes alone

Thank you to Solo Stove and BackpackGearTest.org for the opportunity to test the Solo Stove.


Read more reviews of Solo Stove gear
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