SOTO WINDMASTER STOVE
TEST SERIES BY JERRY ADAMS
INITIAL REPORT - August 25, 2013
FIELD REPORT - November 09, 2013
LONG TERM REPORT - January 05, 2013
Portland, Oregon, USA
6' 1" (1.85 m)
195 lb (88.50 kg)
I started hiking about 45 years ago. My first backpack was 40 years ago. I currently try to do one backpack trip of 1 to 5 nights every month (which can be tricky in the winter). Mostly I stay in the Western half of Oregon and Washington. In recent years I have shifted to lightweight - my pack weight without food and water is about 12 lb (6 kg). I make a lot of my own gear - silnylon tarp-tent, bivy, synthetic bag, simple bag style pack.
PRODUCT INFORMATION & SPECIFICATIONS
Manufacturer: Shinfuji Burner Co.
Year of Manufacture: 2013
Manufacturer's Website: http://sotooutdoors.com/
Listed Weight: 2.3 oz (67 g)
Measured Weight: 2.35 oz (67 g)
Measured Weight with 4 Flex support: 3.05 oz (86.5 g)
Packed size without pot supports 1 7/8" across x 3 1/2" tall (46 mm x 88 mm)
The SOTO Windmaster stove is the newest model of canister stove from SOTO.
SOTO stoves use a standard butane canister. They have a micro regulator valve rather than a standard needle valve found on other stoves, which SOTO claims will maintain the same output even if the pressure of gas changes. They also have a piezo lighter.
The SOTO Windmaster is different from other SOTO stoves, in that it has a special burner that SOTO claims will operate better in the wind. The pot support on the Windmaster is also new. The Windmaster comes with a 3 armed pot support for smaller pots. There is also a 4 Flex support (sold separately) for bigger pots. The standard pot support sticks out 2" (5.1 cm) from the center and the 4 Flex sticks out 2 7/8" (7.5 cm).
Here's the SOTO with short arms on a standard 8.1 oz (230 g) butane canister:
On top is the burner head and support arms.
Notice how the holes of the burner are recessed below a rim around the edge. This is why this stove is supposed to be more tolerant of wind. The distance from the top of the rim to the bottom of the pot is small, so there is less cross section for wind to blow through which makes it more wind-proof.
It's interesting that SOTO makes a micro windscreen to go on their OD-1R stove that goes around the burner. It's like this has been incorporated into the Windmaster without having to have a separate piece.
Notice the piezo spark electrode at the center of the burner head. It's that little rectangular metal piece with a pointy end. The spark goes from that pointy end to the plate with holes in it below.
Below that is the flame control handle. Turn 1 to 1.5 turns until gas flow is heard. This is different than other stoves that only have to be turned about 1/2 turn before gas flows.
In front of the flame control handle is the piezo starter. Push on the red button to produce a spark on the burner head which ignites the butane.
Lightweight arms removed:
They just spring load around the burner head.
SOTO with 4 Flex arms installed:
Bottom of stove:
The two red arrows point to the two O-rings that prevent butane leakage. The inner O-ring goes around the top of the Lindal valve on the canister. The outer O-ring goes around the rim on the canister.
I remember how the Challenger Space Shuttle crashed, even though there were two O-rings. I would rather have one O-ring designed to work properly, rather than add an extra one just to make sure. But, I'll just ignore my bias against redundant O-rings and if it doesn't leak in my testing, I'll be satisfied.
There's a post that sticks out at the center that engages the Lindal valve on the canister to let butane flow out of it. Just outside of the inner O-ring are the screw threads that screw onto the butane canister.
The stove fits into my 900 ml Titanium Evernew pot:
The stove with small arms attached requires a volume 4" x 3.5" wide and 3" tall (10.2 x 9 x 7.6 cm). The volume required with the 4 Flex arms is a little less because the tip of the arms pivot - 4" x 2 1/2" x 2 1/2" (10.2 x 6.4 x 6.4 cm).
Since I only use my stove with the Evernew pot, which is small, I will only use the standard pot supports because that's all I need. I'll try the 4 Flex support just to make sure it works.
The SOTO Windmaster stove looks very well made. All the pieces are smooth and fit together well.
The pot support is very clever and simple - just a single piece of metal folded once. The arms rest against the rim of the burner, so they are very short. Therefore, I assume they won't flex as much as longer arms when weight is put on them. And they are so small that they don't weigh much. Other stoves I've used have longer pot support arms which flex a little when I put a pot on them.
I tried boiling 2 cups (1/2 liter) of water two times and it worked well. It took a little less than 0.2 oz (5 g) of butane to heat 2 cups (1/2 liter), which is about the same as other stoves I've used. The real test will be when I'm backpacking to see how well it works in the wind. The Achilles Heal of canister stoves is they aren't very good in the wind so it will be interesting to see how well the Windmaster works.
I was surprised how quiet this stove is while burning.
I'll try the cheap-o Burton butane canisters, and when it get's colder I'll try some Giga Power and Jetboil isobutane canisters. The butane canisters are good down to about 40 F (4 C) and the isobutane canisters are good down to about 25 F (-4 C). I'll try to test the SOTO down to those temperatures to see how well the micro regulator works. There are small dimension variations between the different canisters, so it will be good to test different brands.
I used an almost empty canister with the SOTO until it went out. I then tried the same canister on my regular stove and it wouldn't light, so with the SOTO, it doesn't waste the last little bit of fuel in the canister which I was afraid might happen with the micro regulator.
The SOTO Windmaster stove looks like a very well made stove. I'm really looking forward to testing it.
I'll do about two trips of about 5 days in each of the Field Report and Long Term Report periods. I'm sure I'll get some cold temperatures and wind to test the limits of performance of this stove.
I really like:
* Light weight
* Well made
* Piezo lighter
* Lightweight yet strong pot support
I don't really care about the 4 Flex pot supports, but if I used a heavier pot I would. I'll mainly just use the 3 arm support and verify it works good.
I'm skeptical about the micro regulator. I've always been fine with a needle valve - if the flame goes down when it gets colder, I can just easily turn up the needle valve. But, I may be surprised and actually appreciate the micro regulator, and at the worst, as long as it doesn't fail it will be okay.
I'm also skeptical that such a small change to the burner would make a big difference to wind resistance, but I'll verify this also.
FIELD LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS
First I did a little test at home, putting it in and out of freezer to see if it leaked..
Sept 10, 2013 - 5 night backpack and 2 night car camp on Three Sisters area in central Oregon. 40 to 70 F. I used 0.85 oz/day of butane to boil 2 liters (2 quarts) of water.
October 2, 2013 - 4 night backpack and 1 night car camp in Trinity Alps in Northern California. 30 to 60 F. I used 1.00 oz/day of isobutane to boil 2 liters (2 quarts) of water.
October 14 and 29, 2013 - did some cold weather testing on my patio
November 1, 2013 - 5 night car camp and 1 night backpack on John Day and Deschutes rivers in North central Oregon. 35 to 55 F (2 to 13 C). Fairly windy.
PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD
I first tested this at home. I put the stove on a canister and weighed it. I then put it in the freezer and back out several times over a couple days and then weighed it again and it was the same. The stove did not leak any. I had a stove once that did this so I always check. I hate it when I wake up in the morning and the canister is empty because it leaked out overnight. Yeah, I could unscrew the stove, but that's a bit of a pain and there's opportunity for dirt to get in it. Also, extra screwing and unscrewing could damage the valve on the canister or the threads.
I have heard confusing reports that the SOTO is better at cold temperatures, so I did some cold weather testing on my patio. My canister was mostly empty so the small amount of propane they put in it was probably gone.
One day it was 39.5 F (4 C) with still air. I heated a pint (1/2 L) of water with both the SOTO and a conventional upright stove. They both worked just fine, except with the conventional stove it got cold after a while and the flame level got way low so I had to turn up the valve.
Another day it was 32 F (0 C). I heated a pint (1/2 L) of water with both SOTO and conventional stove. As the canister evaporated fuel it cooled down, so the flame level went way down on both stoves, so they took longer but eventually boiled the water.
I don't think the SOTO is any better at colder temperatures than a conventional upright stove, but I would like to repeat this with the temperature a few degrees colder which I'll probably be able to do during the Long Term Test period.
I used the SOTO on several trips. 18 nights total. For each night I heated 2 liters (quarts) of water. I heated 1/4 liter (1 cup) in the evening for soup, 1/4 liter (1 cup) in the morning for oatmeal, and 1.5 liters (3 pints) of water in the morning for coffee and tea. With the oatmeal and soup, I boil the water, add the food and get it back up to boil and simmer for a portion of a minute, then let it sit for a few minutes to hydrate. For the tea and coffee, I bring the water almost to boil, turn it off, and add the coffee or tea. I used about 1 ounce per day of butane, which is about the same as a conventional stove, so the SOTO is no more or less efficient than a regular stove.
One day, I didn't get the simmer level adjusted properly for the oatmeal and burned it a little. But, after this, I figured out how to adjust the simmer level properly and didn't have this problem, so it's not that the SOTO doesn't simmer, but it is different than a conventional stove so it takes a bit to figure it out. Basically, 1.5 turns is full on for lighting and boiling water. 1 turn or maybe 1.1 turns is good for simmering. Below about 1 turn, the flame goes out.
SOTO talks about how good the regulator is because the flame level remains constant regardless of canister pressure. They have this video showing a SOTO and how the flame level stays the same when the canister is put into ice water. With a conventional stove the flame level goes way down. I've always been skeptical of this because I never place a stove into ice water. I have to watch the stove anyway, so if the flame level goes down I can just turn it up.
However, in actual use, I have found this characteristic useful. I don't put the stove into ice water but when I use it in cold weather, due to evaporative cooling inside the canister, it does get significantly colder after running a couple minutes. With a conventional stove, the flame level slowly goes down so I don't notice it until after a couple minutes it suddenly occurs to me that the stove is running very slowly so I have to turn it up. On the one hand, so what, I wasted a minute or two, I was an idiot for not noticing it earlier. But on the other hand, I hate it when I call myself an idiot. It's not a feature that by itself would effect my buying decision, but I'm liking it.
I am worried because the regulator is more complicated than a regular needle valve, and thus subject to failure, but over the course of my testing I had no problems. I'll further verify this during the Long Term Test. I'd probably have to test a number of stoves over an extended period to determine this reliability so I won't be able to verify this very good during my limited testing.
One time the pot tipped over and spilled all the water. It tipped away from the handle. The pot supports don't stick out very far so my Evernew pot is just barely stable enough. This is the tradeoff for it being so lightweight. I could use the 4 flex support instead but that weighs more. But, using the standard 3 arm support, if I position the pot so the handle is halfway between supports as in the picture below, it's not so bad. Also, when I put the pot on, I tip it a bit just to make sure it's centered and maximally stable. After that one time, it hasn't happened again.
Handle half way between supports:
During my usage, I operated it without a windscreen. It was somewhat windy but I tried to place it behind a rock or whatever to shield it. It operated fine. I would normally use a windscreen. So, maybe the burner recessed below the rim actually provided some wind protection. I want to test this a little better during the Long Term Test period.
I used the piezo starter without problem. The only negative was that I put the pot on, turned on the butane, and then clicked the starter. Sometimes there was a little flash of flame. Maybe it singed some hairs on my hand. It startles me a bit. No big deal though. It's probably worse on a regular stove when I use a lighter to light it.
I am really liking the SOTO Windmaster stove.
Mostly, canister stoves are pretty generic in my opinion and no stove is much better than any other.
The SOTO is maybe a little better and lighter weight than other canister stoves. If I had to buy a new stove, I'd probably buy one, but I don't think it's enough better that I'd buy one if I already had a perfectly good stove.
It seems like it's really high quality made.
It weighs a fraction of an ounce less than most other stoves.
It seems like it operated fine in the wind. It saves an ounce or so not to have to use a windscreen like I normally do. If I don't have to use a windscreen, compared to other canister stoves that do, the SOTO is the lightest upright canister stove available (although there are many stoves within a couple ounces if I use the lightest windscreen).
The piezo lighter worked good.
The regulator valve worked fine. It's a bit useful not to have to adjust it if the canister pressure goes down as happens when it's cold and after a minute evaporative cooling cools it some.
The only negative, is the standard pot support doesn't stick out very far so my pot is marginally stable enough. After it tipped over once so I was aware of this, I've been a little more careful so this hasn't happened again. I think this is a good tradeoff for weighing a little less.
LONG-TERM TEST LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS
Nov 28, 2013 - 4 night car camp and 3 day backpack on Olympic Peninsula in Northwest Washington. 14 miles (23 km) backpacking and 24 miles (39 km) dayhiking. 32 to 50 F (0 to 10 C).
Dec 14, 2013 - 6 night backpack on Rogue River in Southern Oregon. 44 miles (71 km). 30 to 40 F (-1 to 4 C).
Testing fuel usage on Olympic Peninsula:
PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD
I used the SOTO Windmaster stove on two more backpacking trips during the Long Term test period. In the Field Report and Long Term Report periods I did a total of 12 nights of car camping and 19 nights of backpacking. The temperature got as low as 30 F (-1 C) and the stove operated fine. Sometimes it was windy, up to 2 MPH (3 KPH). Sometimes I used a windscreen.
From the Field Report period, I further evaluated cold weather performance. I tried using both the SOTO and a standard needle valve stove at 28 F (-2 C). I could get a pint of water boiled, but both stoves were slow. I repeated this at 23 F (-5 C) . Both SOTO and regular needle valve stove took twice as long as at warmer temperatures (6 minutes) but eventually the water boiled. That is about the coldest temperature I'd try using an upright canister stove. My conclusion - the SOTO offers no advantage over regular needle valve stoves at cold temperature, it's all determined by the fuel in the canister.
I used the SOTO once when the wind was about 2 MPH (3 KPH). The flame got blown all over the place and it took forever to boil some water. My conclusion is that the Windmaster cup doesn't really provide enough wind protection. I still need to carry some sort of windscreen. But that is pretty windy to expect a stove to work at. I can usually find a sheltered spot that provides better protection than that. I think maybe the Windmaster provides some better performance in wind than conventional stoves.
The advantage of the regulator valve on the SOTO, compared to a regular canister stove, is that if the pressure of the canister changes, the heat output stays the same with the regulator. I thought that this would be a useless feature, but I have changed my mind. Especially when the temperature is cold, like around 32 F (0 C), after the stove runs for a minute, the canister gets colder because of evaporative cooling. With the regulator valve, it doesn't matter. With a conventional stove, the heat output goes way down so I have to turn up the valve. No big deal, except I don't notice it for a minute or so, so it takes an extra minute to boil my water. Maybe it's just an aggravation, but the SOTO is nice not to have to deal with it.
The arms on the SOTO are short, and during the Field Report period, my pot tipped over once. This didn't happen during the Long Term period because I was a little more careful. The short arms weigh almost an ounce (28 g) less than regular arms, which I like, more than having to be more careful not to tip the pot over. That much weight is almost insignificant, but over the lifetime of using this, it makes a little difference.
Another thing I like about the arms, is that I just leave them in the same position when I store it inside my cooking pot. Other stoves I've had required the arms be pushed into the storage position, and then back out to the cooking position. This offers an opportunity for something to break.
As during the Field Report period, once again, I burned the inside of the pot on the bottom, when I was simmering oatmeal. It's just a bit difficult to find the best valve position for simmering. But I think I've got it now - three half turns to light it and boil water, and back a half turn to simmer. This is now one thing I really like about the SOTO - the position is always the same, regardless of temperature or how full the canister is.
The piezo lighter worked fine every time. Occasionally it didn't light the first time so I clicked a second time, probably because the first time I clicked before enough butane collected.
There is no sign of wear on the SOTO. I think it is very well made.
The SOTO uses about the same amount of fuel as other canister stoves I've used. I boil about 2 quarts (2 liters) of water per day and use about 1 ounce (28 g) of fuel - same for the SOTO as other stoves I've used.
I really like the SOTO Windmaster stove.
This report was created with the BackpackGearTest.org Report Writer Version 1.5
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It's well made, no sign of wear during my testing.
I like the regulator valve because I always put it into the same position - three half turns to boil or two half turns to simmer. It doesn't matter how full the canister is or how cold it is.
I like the piezo lighter.
The arms are pretty short - lighter weight but just barely stable enough to prevent my pot from tipping over - a tradeoff. With the 4 flex arms it's heavier but more stable if that's what I want. My pot diameter is at the upper limit of what the user manual says the 3-armed support should be used for - 5.5 inches (14 cm).
I tested the stove pretty extensively at cold temperatures - the regulator valve doesn't work at any colder temperatures than a regular needle valve stove - 23 F (-5 C) although this depends on what fuel is in the canister and how full it is.
I think maybe the raised cup of the burner offers a little protection against wind, but when it was 2 MPH (3 KPH) it worked very poorly, so I feel like some sort of windscreen is required like other canister stoves. But, the user manual says not to use a windscreen because it may cause overheating, which is the same as every other canister stove I've used, but I think that if I feel the side of the canister and it's not warm to touch then it won't be overheated.
The SOTO is a little quieter than other stoves I've used - not good or bad, just how it is.
I will continue to use the SOTO in the future. I have a couple other canister stoves which I'll keep in reserve in case I lose or break the SOTO.
Thanks to SOTO and BackpackGearTest.org for letting me test this stove.
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