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Reviews > Cook Gear > Stoves > Soto OD-1R Micro Regulator Stove > Test Report by Curt Peterson
Tester Background and Contact
I live in the Cascade foothills, just 20 mi (32 km) from the Pacific Crest Trail via trails leading right from my backyard. My outdoor time in Washington is spent dayhiking, backpacking, climbing, fishing and skiing everywhere from the Olympic coast to rainforests to Cascade volcanoes to dry steppe. I played football in college and often evaluate products from a big guy perspective. My typical pack load ranges from 11 - 20 lbs (5-9 kg) and usually includes plenty of wet weather gear.
I have used almost every mainstream sit-on-top canister stove on the market at one point or another over the last decade. The stoves have steadily become lighter, implemented more titanium into their designs, and have arguably become the most commonly used backpacking stoves. It wasn't that long ago that everybody in the backcountry had a pound-plus (half kilo plus) white gas setup, but I sure don't see many of those anymore in comparison to small canister burners. For the most part, just a handful of companies have made these stoves. They've almost all updated their models along the way, but not many new companies have joined the party. SOTO (Japanese for "outdoors") is offering their new OD-1R stove to the market and not only adding a new option to the mix, but claiming a different level of function in cold weather - traditionally a weak spot for sit-on-top canisters.
The SOTO OD-1R (simply called SOTO from here on) stove arrived at my home safe and sound. Included were the retail packaging, instructions, a cloth carrying case, and the stove itself. The instructions were some of the most thorough I've seen for a stove. When I opened them I thought that they were certainly in multiple languages as they were so long. Not so. It was all in English and very, very thorough. The one standout note from the instructions is that they do not recommend a specific brand of canister. Almost every other stove I've used recommends their own brand of canister and makes no claims of safety or reliability if using other brands. As SOTO doesn't make canisters - at least not for the US market - they apparently are fine with the stove being used with any appropriate canister. I found this a refreshing change from the norm. After reading the instructions I pulled out the stove to take a look.
There are two visible aspects to the stove that I immediately noted. The first is the burner. All of the sit-on-top canisters I've used have either flat top burners that basically shoot straight up, or flared cylinder shaped burners that primarily shoot flames out of the sides. The SOTO has a convex dome of a burner that feels and looks like it's made out of a non-stick metal material (see picture above). I've never cared for either the flat top or flared cylinder burners and I'm excited to see this shape get into a small stove. I've only used one that was similar to this shape - although not a uniformly consistent dome shape like the SOTO - and it seemed to work really well. Unfortunately that stove inexplicably included a plastic part just below the burner head that promptly melted. I'm glad that a burner head like this has found its way onto another stove. The other notable part of the stove is the igniter. I'm generally not a fan of the igniter because it rarely works for the life of the stove. In fact, my experience is that they rarely work at all. Often they can be coaxed back to life by carefully bending and re-bending the igniter to get just the right distance from the burner to work, but this usually takes much more time than simply lighting a match. The SOTO is the first stove I've seen that runs the igniter internally. It has a button on the lower shaft like most igniters, but instead of wrapping around the outside of the burner, it goes up the shaft of the stove and emerges through the top of the burner. I'll be interested to see if this increases the functionality of the igniter and increases its usefulness.
Other external features include a nice, long valve control knob. The last canister stove I had was a great little stove but had a small plastic knob that did not stick out much past the shaft of the stove. Reaching under there with my big hands was always a little like playing the game "Operation", except instead of a buzz I'd get a nice little burn. The long knob on the SOTO stove is very much appreciated! The last notable thing about the construction of the stove is that it is held together for the most part with small screws. From the design, it looks like many parts could very easily be replaced with nothing more than a household screwdriver. SOTO explicitly says not to try to service it yourself and offers instructions on how to return the stove to them for repair or replacement, but it struck me that each of the support arms, the igniter, and the burner shaft itself are all held together with what look like pretty standard screws. I don't anticipate any breakage during the test period, but if I do I will surely report on the repair process and note whether or not they swap out parts.
big change from other stoves on the market, however, is in how the
stove delivers fuel to the burner. According to SOTO, instead of the
needle system that virtually all stoves use, the SOTO uses a micro
regulator that supposedly allows the stove to boil water just as well
F (-5 C) as
it does at 70
F (21 C).
My understanding has always been that canister stoves perform poorly in
sub-freezing temperatures because of the fuel in the canisters
themselves - not necessarily because of anything that happens in the
stove. The propane and butane in a typical fuel canister burn and mix
at warmer temperatures better and separate and burn more sluggishly at
lower temperatures - or so I have always believed. I'm not sure how the
stove could change this, but I freely admit I'm no chemist or physicist
and I'm eager to find out if it works. I will be using the stove right
away in temperatures around freezing alongside a "regular" sit-on-top
canister, so I will likely get to test this soon. Because of the
micro regulator, the control valve works a little differently from most
stoves according to the directions. Instead of the usual quarter or
half turn to get the fuel flowing from the canister to the stove, the
SOTO apparently requires about a full turn or turn and a half to get
the fuel flowing. I'll be sure and note this in field testing with an
eye on how easy it is to control the flame.
Initial Report Summary
SOTO OD-1R Usage
The SOTO stove has had plenty of use so far. In the past couple months I've hauled the stove up my local trail climb at least a dozen times. I try to do this trail 2 or 3 times a week and have taken the SOTO on the majority of the hikes. Temperatures and conditions have been all over the place. With the exception of a couple of days near 70 F (21 C) with sun, this spring has been incredibly cool and wet. I've had my rain jacket on more this spring than ever before. Typical days have been in the 40s (single digits C) with anything from drizzle to sideways driving deluge rain. It has not been pleasant. Unfortunately, the one thing I have not seen has been sub-freezing temperatures.
The SOTO stove has been used so extensively in these conditions because I've used it in a compact kit (see pic below) to carry up early in the morning to make my a.m. coffee. There are definitely much more relaxing ways to get a cup of coffee, but I've been on a quest to climb this mountain 100 times in 2010, so morning coffee has been at sunrise on the cliff many times. So far, the SOTO has been a great morning companion in the mountains. A couple of minor issues have emerged, but overall it's proving to be a very capable backcountry cooker.
To date, 100% of use has been to boil water in a titanium pot. I will try to use it to cook food during the next phase of testing to see how well it simmers and handles more demanding cooking ranges. Whether in my pocket or in my backpack, the SOTO has been essentially unnoticed as far as carrying. It's so small and so light that adding it to even short trips where I'm not sure I'll even be cooking is a no-brainer. The water I'm absorbing in my clothes during the soaking rain almost certainly weighs more than this tiny cooker setup. Here are some of the highlights of the first couple months of testing:
Cold Weather Performance
Unfortunately, I have not been able to use the SOTO in sub-freezing temperatures yet. I'll do my best to change this during June and July. There are still plenty of freezing nights in the mountains to be had, and a possible Mount Adams climb in July would certainly have very cold temperatures. As cold temperature performance is one of the major marketing claims of the SOTO, I will make every effort to find some cold weather to test this out. In temperatures a few degrees above freezing, the SOTO works flawlessly. It is much more affected by wind in these conditions than it is by temperature, so for any trip I'm planning at or above freezing I would have absolutely no hesitation bringing the SOTO as my primary stove.
I know many canister stoves pack down small, but the setup I'm using with the SOTO is particularly compact and efficient. It all packs up so small that I often second guess myself and doubt that I have included everything. To have a pot, lid, stove, canister, pot grabber, sipper, and even a small spoon all in one tiny package is incredibly convenient. For my nasty weather trail climbs I've taken to sticking the whole thing in a rainjacket pocket. Even with a full canister it's basically the equivalent of sticking a can of soda in my pocket as far as weight goes. With a partial canister the entire thing weighs about the same as a few energy bars. I have a couple mini Esbit burners and have tried a few tiny alcohol stoves as well. I'm hesitant to use them in this manner because of potential spills, difficulty lighting the stoves in poor conditions, and comparatively weak performances. I love those stoves for camping when I have time to get a solid setup and fiddle, but there are times that quick, instant, raw power is what I want and the SOTO is proving nearly perfect for this situation. Screw on, push a button, fire. That's about as simple as it can get.
The only concern I have at this point in testing has to do with the support arms. They deploy very easily, but that means they fold down just as easily. The supports are very strong vertically and hold the pot with no bending, sagging, or problems at all. In fact, they're some of the strongest small canister stove arms I've used. My issue emerges when I lift the stove up and tip it. It usually happens when I move it to a different spot that I think is more level or give it a quick swirl to check the level of fuel or mix the butane and propane in cooler temperatures. This usually happens with the stove off - but still hot - making flipping the arms back up a challenge. I admit to having done this with the stove running as well. Certainly not advised and probably downright foolish, but it's something I've done for years with no problems. Having a red-hot support arm flop down while a pot of boiling water is in my other hand is not particularly fun. It's easy enough to re-set with a spoon that won't melt - mine is titanium - but a little more of a "click" or locking mechanism when the arms are set would be great.
Easily the highlight of the test so far is the igniter. I have never liked igniters because they simply don't work well in my experience. The SOTO igniter has worked 100% of the time, and once I figured out the correct way to open the valve, it has done so on just 1 button press. Every time. Truly impressive in my opinion. I've learned that 3/4 of a valve turn is perfect. Less than that and not enough fuel escapes to start a fire, and one or more turns starts out with a roar. 3/4 turn gives a nice small flame that is then ready to adjust to whatever is needed. I've become so confident of the igniter that I haven't even brought matches or a lighter on the last half dozen dayhikes. This is something I have never felt comfortable doing. I can only guess that the fixed position of the igniter keeps it from getting jarred like most others. This definitely appears to be a superior design and it's the first igniter I've ever used that has been reliable for me. I usually end up stripping stoves of the igniter because it's dead weight when it inevitably fails or is such a hassle that a match or lighter is the better, simpler option. Not this time. I couldn't be more pleasantly surprised with this feature!
Long Term Testing ....
During the next couple months there will be a lot more remote trail use. School is ending, the snow is finally melting, and getting into the high country - and lower night temperatures - will be common. A mid-June trip is already planned plus almost every weekend in July will be backpacking in the Cascades. I look forward to using the SOTO in colder temperatures and noting the durability as testing continues into the summer.
The SOTO Outdoors OD-1R has been my exclusive stove throughout the testing period. In addition to well over a dozen day trips and morning coffee uses, the Long Term Testing saw it get a good workout in the Hoh Rainforest of Olympic National Park. It provided all of my cooking for 4 days until the fuel canister ran out on the last morning. Unfortunately, the improving weather of the summer made sub-freezing tests impossible. The test period simply arrived too late in the year to give the cold weather claims of the SOTO a good test. I will use the SOTO in the fall and winter and update this report with a cold weather summary. Look for that update in late 2010.
Final Use Thoughts
The SOTO has been a pleasure to use. As noted in the Field Report, there's a lot to like about this stove regardless of the claimed cold weather benefits. It's super light, plenty tough, and seems as efficient as any other canister stove I've used. By far the top feature for me continues to be the igniter. On my last trip I did not use a match or other fire starter even one time. Two or three times a day I used the stove - sometimes starting and stopping it a couple times per use - and it never failed. Not once. That has never happened with any stove I've used before. The internal igniter setup seems to be a design improvement that is simply better. It just works and as surprising as it is to be writing this, I have total confidence that it will start up every time I use it.
The stove's folding arms still aren't my favorite feature, but I must admit I never had a spilled pot or burn or negative result of their deployment mechanism. The most I ever put on the stove was about a quarter and a half (1.5 L) and it held up just fine. The only issues arise when I am lifting and moving the stove and an arm gets wiggled or tipped too far. This is easily mitigated, but I still wouldn't complain if a future version of the stove gave a more solid seating action.
One of the pleasant surprises of the last trip was how well the SOTO held up after a spill. My backpacking partner was cooking rice in a pot and it boiled over and spilled down onto the burner. After it had cooled and sat all night, the stove lit up just fine in the morning and as far as I could tell none of the jets were clogged or reduced. The domed burner is a great design and seems to be up to backcountry use as well.
On the rainforest trip I did not use a windscreen of any kind. It wasn't particularly windy, but there was enough of a breeze to affect the flame. As with any stove, the boil times were increased and efficiency was definitely negatively impacted, but the flame was never blown out or reduced enough to prevent a boil. I did kill an entire canister in about 3 days, but with no efforts at all to minimize the effect of wind, I suppose that's not too bad.
Overall I've been quite pleased with the SOTO stove. I prefer it to all other canister stoves in my gear closet. The igniter alone is impressive enough to make it my primary stove, but the light weight, excellent domed burner, and compact storage size all move it to the top of my list. With a slightly tweaked support arm design, it could be the perfect stove in my opinion. I'm disappointed that I never got it below freezing since the regulator is one of the claimed features that separate it from the competition, but I have no doubts that I will get to test that soon enough and will add a note to this report.My thanks to BackpackGearTest.org and SOTO Outdoors for the opportunity to test this interesting new stove!
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