550 Paracord: $8 for 100 Foot Hank

550 7-Strand Paracord
Only $8.00 / 100 Foot Hank
15 + Colors
Military Spec
Made in USA
http://willowhavenoutdoor.com/store/products/category/550-paracord-3/

 

Bug Out Pack Review: The All-Purpose Lightweight Individual Carrying Equipment (A.L.I.C.E. Pack)

I wish I had $1 for every time someone mentioned or had a question about the military ALICE Pack.  This Bug Out Bag Review Post is long overdue.  In my experience with discussing the ALICE pack with survivalists, campers, soldiers and outdoors men and women, there seems to be very strong feelings about this pack – either people love them or hate them.  I’ve used an ALICE pack before for short overnights but never really put it through the rigors of a potential Bug Out Scenario or hiked with it fully loaded as a 72-Hour Kit.

So, with BUGGING OUT in mind, this post is a review of the MEDIUM Military ALICE Pack as a potential Bug Out Bag.

First, the specs:

  • Main compartment 19 inches x 11.5 inches x 9.5 inches
  • Three pouches (5 inches x 2.5 inches x 9 inches)
  • Main compartment capacity (approximately): 34 litres (2075 cubic inches)
  • Total capacity (approximately): 39.52 litres (2412 cubic inches) – this is maximum volume of all the compartments
  • Separate pouch inside large main compartment
  • Accessory loops for storing extra gear (12 on the top front under top flap, 2 on bottom, 3 on each side)
  • Capacity: 39.5 litres / 2413 cubic inches
  • Material/Fabric: Nylon

Size/Space

As I transferred over the contents from my existing BOB to the Medium ALICE for my 6 mile test hike, it was quite clear that everything wasn’t going to fit.  I normally recommend Bug Out Bags being in the 3000 cubic inch range and the Medium ALICE comes in at around 2400.  I now completely understand why the ALICE pack was traditionally paired with a Belt & Keeper system shown in the illustration below.

This system was designed to carry a variety of items including canteens, entrenching tools and ammunition pouches.  However, when you pair these two items together, you look exactly like a classic soldier – not really a look I’m going for in a Bug Out.  Thus, if using the ALICE pack as a BOB, I would opt not to use the Belt System.  However, the ALICE pack does come in a LARGE size which is about 3800 cubic inches – plenty big for a BOB.  So if after reading this post you decide you might want to try the ALICE – I might suggest the LARGE over the MEDIUM as a primary BOB.

Pack Design

The ALICE pack was built with one purpose in mind – rugged performance.  Field tested by countless soldiers around the world, the ALICE has earned its reputation as a rugged beast of a pack.  With that said, it is a NO FRILLS pack.  Don’t expect the posh features and design of a recreational back-pack.

The Medium Alice has 1 Main compartment with 1 inside pocket, 3 outside pouches and 1 flat velcro pocket on the flap.  it is not hydration compatible but you could probably rig one using the large pocket inside of the main compartment.

The side of the pack does have several webbing loops (top, middle,bottom) which can serve as lashing points.  The middle webbing is horizontal and the top/bottom loops are vertical and though not designed to be MOLLE compatible you can still strap on MOLLE pouches.

The above photo is a view from the bottom of the pack.  Especially with the MEDIUM ALICE, you will have to strap your tent/tarp and foam pad to the bottom of the pack.  There is webbing on the bottom of the pack to help with this.  You can also use the aluminum frame as a lashing point as well.

Speaking of the frame, notice the pack in these photos is mounted to an aluminum frame.  You can use the ALICE pack without the frame but don’t waste your time – especially with loads of 40 lbs or more – it is really uncomfortable.  The frame helps to distribute the weight and makes a HUGE difference with heavy loads.  It also keeps the pack away from your back – which is nice in warm weather.

The ALICE pack isn’t the most comfortable pack in the world.  I can certainly tell the difference in the padded straps and hip belts versus some of my other recreational back-packs.  For extended hikes, this is important.  For this post, I hiked about 6 miles in the medium ALICE with about 35 lbs of gear and the comfort level was manageable, but less than desirable.

I’m used to easy access bottle pockets and without the belt accessory to carry a canteen, you pretty much have to take off the pack to get a drink of water unless you’ve jerry-rigged a hydration system.  This was a huge frustration for me.

My biggest frustration with the ALICE pack was the strap closures and adjustments.  I hate those OLD SCHOOL metal strap adjusters and closures where you have to feed the webbing in and out of the metal buckle to get open or adjust a pocket.  It is ridiculously time consuming and frustrating and nearly impossible in cold weather with gloves on.  I much prefer modern squeeze buckle closures.  Fortunately, the 3 pouches on the ALICE at least have snap closures but I hate snaps too.  The main compartment is controlled by the old school metal adjusters.

 

Bottom Line

The bottom line is I LIKE the Medium ALICE pack, but I don’t think I’ll be switching it to my BOB anytime soon.  I certainly wouldn’t turn it down or turn my nose up at it as a BOB, but it’s not my first pick.  Unlike many others I spoken with, I do not LOVE or HATE the ALICE pack.  In general I really like it, with a couple frustrations that would prevent me from getting too excited.  It would be a great secondary BOB for an additional family member.  The ALICE pack has been been phased out by MOLLE Packs in most of the military branches.  Thus, surplus units can be found on-line or in military surplus stores for a very affordable price – typically $60-$80.  This is an excellent value if your style is to go with a traditional military style pack versus a modern recreational style pack.  Everyone has different preferences and the fact is that some people just like and prefer military gear and some don’t.

As I’ve said many times before, choosing a BOB is a very personal decision and the fact is that MANY different types and styles of packs will work.

 

Medium ALICE Pack Pros/Cons

Pros:

  • Built to last
  • Rugged & Tough
  • Versatile
  • 2 sizes (both sizes mount on the same frame)
  • Proven by 1000s of soldiers in the field
  • Very affordable
Cons:
  • Not the most comfortable pack on the market
  • Old school metal adjusters and closures
  • No easy access pockets for bottles, etc.

If anyone is interested in picking up a Surplus Medium ALICE pack – we have a few in stock for $65.  Here is the link: http://willowhavenoutdoor.com/store/products/medium-surplus-military-alice-pack/

I know some of you LIKE the ALICE packs and some of you HATE the ALICE packs.  Help others reading this post make an informed decision by sharing your thoughts and personal reviews in the comments section.

Remember, it’s not IF but WHEN,

Creek

How well do you know your Venison (Deer) Meat Cuts?

Survival Infographic: How To Build a Cold Weather Debris Hut

Product Review: KA-BAR 5704 ZK (Zombie Killer) Chop Stick Machete

**Note** This is a GUEST POST from Bill Anderson. Bill is an avid survivalist and has worked in the commercial natural disaster and hurricane preparation industry providing first response for natural disasters including hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Ike.

As an outdoor enthusiast, I own several different styles of machetes that I use for different purposes. My pack always includes a Woodman’s Pal, Latin and Bolo machete. I am constantly on the lookout for new styles or an “improved version” of the machete. I am a huge fan of the Walking Dead series and I was excited when Creek asked me to try out the new Zombie Killer line of KA-BAR machetes and write a review.

KA-BAR provides the following description for their line of ZK machetes:

In an ever-changing world, the need for preparedness has never been greater. Without notice the game can change and the rules no longer apply.

Questioning your gear at a crucial moment is not an option. Whether setting up a camp or securing your perimeter, ZK knives are designed to perform under the most rigorous, unexpected and apocalyptic situations.

This is my review of the KA-BAR 5704 ZK (Zombie Killer) Chop Stick Machete:

I am not going to go into details about how nice the packaging is (and it is). I do not care about the box. I choose a machete for its functionality and features.

Specifications:

  • Blade Length: 9”
  • Overall Length: 14-5/8”
  • Weight: 1.25 lbs
  • Thickness: 0.205”
  • Steel: SK5
  • Made in Taiwan

 Features:

  • Angled blade: Ideal for cutting limbs and clearing brush
  • Full tang: Durable
  • Pry bar tip: Useful for opening doors, sewer drains, etc.
  • Pry bar hook: Located at base of handle
  • Neck Knife: Additional blade included with Chopstick
  • Interchangeable Glass Filled Nylon Grip: Reduces fatigue and slippage
  • Nylon Sheath: MOLLE compatible with a micro sheath for neck knife and large stuff sack with Velcro pad
  • Lime green shoe lace: Ideal for lashing

 When unpacking the Chopstick the first thing that I noticed was the ZK Apocalypse symbol on the blade.

Unfortunately just beneath it at the base of the blade it reads “Made in Taiwan”. I was a little disappointed by this.  I prefer to purchase American.

There are a few features packed into the Chopstick. The “Zombie” green handle can be changed out to a black grip that is included. The sheath is MOLLE compatible and very well built.  (More details on the sheath to follow)

 

Functionality:

Having unpacked the Chopstick, I was anxious to put it through some field tests so I set out into the woods.  The machete has a nice weight to it, but it is not evenly balanced.  The bulk of the weight lies along the cutting area of the blade, so when it is out stretched in your hand, your wrist has a tendency to turn downwards.  It was immediately apparent that the machete does not come with a sharp edge.  I set to work trying to chop through random saplings only to find that I was expending entirely too much energy.

 

I had checked the sharpness of the blade before setting off into the woods and decided it would be in my best interest to pack a sharpener. Prior to sharpening the blade I wanted to compare the difference to the machete straight out of the box and after sharpening it so I took a 2” caliper branch and made over 20 chops to the branch. After sharpening the ZK Chopstick I made 12 chops just a few inches to the left.

 

 

The rounded handle and beveled grip should allow the user to make repetitive chops while reducing fatigue and hand cramps. In my experience, my hand was feeling the shock after the initial attempts to cleave through the branches with a dull blade.  I think this was made worse by the uneven weight of the blade.

A unique feature of the ZK Chopstick is the tip of the blade.

 

 

The blade itself makes for an excellent pry bar. In an urban survival scenario the pry bar could be utilized to pry open a variety of things from doors, man-hole covers, etc. In addition to the pry bar tip there is also a hook at the base of the handle.

 

 

I am assuming the hook could also be used as a smaller pry bar, but due to the width of the hook as well as its size I do not believe there are many practical uses for it.  It also has a rounded edge and I do not believe it was designed to be utilized as a gut ripper. However, I did find it useful to support my pinky finger at the base of the hook when gripping the handle. This allowed me more flexibility when gripping the machete and enabled me to grip the handle further back from the blade.

 

The ZK Chopstick also comes with a neck knife.

 

 

KA-BAR’s idea to include a neck knife with their line of ZK machetes is great. Unlike the machete itself, it actually has a nice edge to the blade right out of the box. I love this concept as it gives the user the ability to cleave through brush and branches with the Chopstick while having a smaller blade for intricate details or bush craft. As said, the concept is great, but the reality….not so much. The neck knife is made in China and in my opinion is not worth the time they took to stamp it. It appears to be made from a very low grade steel and I found it very uncomfortable to grip in my hand barely being able to get three fingers around it.  In my opinion, the handle needs to be longer.  I considered wrapping the handle portion in paracord but if I did that then it would not fit in the micro sheath. That being said, nobody is purchasing the ZK machete line for the neck knife, so if you own one or are considering purchasing one I would recommend changing out the neck knife for a sturdier better built neck knife.

Sad, but true:  My favorite thing about the ZK line of machetes is the sheath.

 

 

As previously mentioned, the sheath is MOLLE compatible though it does not include straps. It would be necessary to purchase a set of Blackhawk or Condor straps to attach to other MOLLE webbing. It has a large belt loop allowing the user to attach it to any size belt. There are two lashing holes at the top and bottom of the sheath. The sheath has a Velcro pad on the front of the large stuff sack allowing you to add your favorite “Zombie Hunter” patch or any other patch that you like. In addition to the adjustable Velcro straps and snaps for the machete there is and additional micro sheath with snap for the neck knife. The front stuff sack is huge. I am 6’2” and can fit my entire hand in it. It would be ideal for storing a sharpening stone and a mini survival kit while still leaving room to spare. Once again the ZK logo is displayed (back of sheath)

 

After using the KA-BAR ZK Chopstick in the field I have decided that I will not be including it in my gear.  I really had high hopes for this machete because I am both a KA-BAR and Zombie fanatic.  I had wanted to make a home for the machete in my zombie apocalypse kit alongside my DEET free Zombie repellant and Hornady .40 cal Zombie Max rounds.  There is no doubt that the machete looks tough and after sharpening the Chopstick, it was very proficient at chopping and splitting wood. However, there are several other machetes on the market including the Bear Grylls Parang (See previous review by Creek) that do a better job and are more comfortable to use.  The retail price on the KA-BAR website is $79.41.  Hummmm.  It is manufactured in Taiwan, the weight distribution of the blade is off, and the neck knife is more of a novelty than a functional knife.  In short, my favorite thing about the machete was the sheath.  There are much better options in this price range.

 

All that being said, , if you are a collector or a zombie apocalypse fan, then the ZK Chopstick (along with the other machetes in the KA-BAR ZK line) is a cool novelty blade to display.  I have no doubt that if the zombie apocalypse was to ever come, it would be a very good tool for splitting a few zombie skulls.  But for everyday use in the woods, I believe there are more practical machetes on the market.

 

**Note** This is a GUEST POST from Bill Anderson. Bill is an avid survivalist and has worked in the commercial natural disaster and hurricane preparation industry providing first response for natural disasters including hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Ike.

Creek’s [Evolving] Every Day Carry (EDC) Backpack

This is the pack I carry every day.  Thought I’d break it down for you.

 

 

Survival InfoGraphic: 3 Survival Rules of 3

Questions from the FRONTLINES: An On-Going Willow Haven Q & A Series

I am spending an increasing amount of each morning answering e-mails with questions about a variety of survival related subjects.  Most often, they are from people who have picked up a copy of my book (Build the Perfect Bug Out Bag) and have some follow-up questions.  I find myself always saying, “That’s a really good question,” and I’m sure there are others out there that could benefit from the answer.  Consequently, I have decided to start a post series titled Questions from the FRONTLINES where I list and answer these questions (anonymously of course) in a regular blog post for all to read – and offer feedback of their own.

With that said, many SURVIVAL TOPICS – especially BUGGING OUT are very subjective topics.  Oftentimes, there are no right and wrong answers – rather preferences.  These answers are my personal opinions and some of you may not feel the same way.  This is fine and expected.  Voice your opinions in the comments – tactfully, of course.

 

Questions from the FRONTLINES

 QUESTION: I am a beginner at creating my BOB and am in the process of obtaining items for my families bags. This is a fundamental question about a crisis and how you prepare… at what point do you have to think about Staying At Home Prepping, an 72-Hour Bug Out Bag (I assume to get to either a shelter or a predetermined location) and an INCH Bag? I am about ready to purchase my primary bag and am trying to determine what size to get, something around 2500-3500 cubic inches for a BOB or something like a Bergen which would be more for an INCH bag. I only want to purchase one bag and one set of equipment for the bag. Do you plan for an BOB Bag and hope you only need it for 72 hours and if it is longer you fend for yourself or do you plan for an INCH bag knowing you might be overkilling it a bit but you can sustain yourself for much longer?

Creek’s ANSWER: First of all, for those of you who have never heard the phrase INCH bag, it means  your I’M NEVER COMING HOME bag and is designed for LONGER than 72 hours.  These are some great questions which I will address in TWO sections:

Section # 1: STAYING AT HOME PREPPING – otherwise known as BUGGING IN

You should always be thinking about this.  Hopefully you will never have to abandon your home.  Ideally, you will be able to stay at home if something crazy (natural or caused by man) does happen.  You must think about how to address the SURVIVAL CORE SIX within your home in the event of a disaster or grid-down scenario.  The CORE SIX are SHELTER, WATER, FIRE, FOOD, FIRST AID( and Hygiene) and SELF DEFENSE.  This includes all kinds of considerations such as heating, food storage, water storage, electricity, home protection and medicines.  It can be a bit overwhelming to think about this if you are just beginning.  Here is how I suggest starting.  First tackle a few critical categories for a 1-week GRID OUT time period.  If you are forced to go COMPLETELY OFF GRID FOR 1 WEEK, make sure:

– You can heat your house for 1 week 
– You have enough water for 1 week (or have a back-up system in place to get it)(i.e. hand well pump)
– You have enough food storage for 1 week
– You have a supply of prescription meds for 1 week
– You have a plan for disposing of waste (human waste & trash waste)
– All of this: FOR YOUR WHOLE FAMILY
 

Prepping for 1 WEEK in the small list above covers you for THE VAST MAJORITY of all GRID DOWN Disasters and will really force you to at least get a plan of some sort in place – which is more than 99% of people out there.  It will also force you to really start thinking about preparedness.  However, you wouldn’t be asking about an INCH bag if you didn’t believe something more catastrophic is looming (or at least possible).

Prepping starts to become a lifestyle once you start planning for longer periods of GRID DOWN or INFRASTRUCTURE FAILURE.  You’ll start to consider SYSTEM SOLUTIONS rather than STORAGE SOLUTIONS.  You will begin to think about things like Solar Power (or NO POWER) living, Off-Grid Water System (Water Well with Hand Powered Pump/Rain Harvesting/Fresh Water Spring), Wood Burning Stove (for heat and cooking), Gardening & Canning, Partnerships with others, and Self Defense & Hunting Tools (and training).

Bottom line, BUGGING IN should always be an option and you should be prepared to do so.  It happens to people all the time.  Even harsh winter storms can take out power and trap you inside for a few days.  Many disasters, though, can drive you away from your home.  This transitions us to the next section.

Section # 2: BOB & INCH Bags

My thoughts on INCH bags….hmmmmm….   As a GUY and SURVIVAL INSTRUCTOR, I love the IDEA of an INCH BAG.  However, as a practical survivalist, I know that if you are NEVER COMING HOME or are trying to SURVIVE LONG TERM, you will want more than a Back Pack – I don’t care what you have in it.  My answer to this question is simple.  Focus on a 3-Day BOB (approx 4000 cu. in.) and find a good Bug Out Location (BOL).  I’m a huge proponent of outfitting a BOB to last longer than 3-DAYS, but it just isn’t practical to live out of it long term.  Your BOL is the place to store your long term survival tools.  However, the addition of a few key items in a BOB can really extend your “SURVIVAL TIME-LINE” if necessary.  These revolve primarily around WATER & FOOD.  A good water purification system can keep you in fresh drinking water for months.  Some basic hunting and food prep tools can also help supplement any food items in your pack.  A good fishing kit with frog gig, a .22 pistol, some snares, a decent cook pot and some spices could all drastically improve your food situation – especially when combined with some basic Wild Edible Plant/Root Training (shameless plug).

CONCLUSION

You can’t prep for everything.  We live in a crazy world that’s getting crazier by the second.  I find it easier to set manageable goals with time limits when it comes to prepping: for example, a BUG OUT BAG for 3-DAYs, Food and Water Storage for 2 weeks at home – it’s very difficult to prep for completely open ended time-lines or vast scenarios.  I hope I’ve answered your questions without raising MORE!

 

QUESTION: OK so we got and read your bug out book and we are looking to build ours for our family of 5 (two adults 3 children 8,6 and 2 years old) and our two fidos a large mastiff pit mix and a med brittany lab mix. We are lost on what to do for shelter. All backpacking tents are max 4 people, that may hold the 5 of us if none of my children grow. But realistically we are afraid we will need a bigger tent. Any ideas to fit the 5 of us at a reasonable weight for our BOB. We live in XXXXXX,MO and also have the long cold winters and hot long summers with very wet springs and falls. So a 3 or 4 season is needed.

Creek’s ANSWER: You raise a good question. Sometimes, there just doesn’t seem to be a perfect solution for certain scenarios. After some thought, my personal choice if I were in your shoes would be to pack 2 light weight 2-3 man tents – 1 in the main pack and 1 with the 2nd strongest person’s pack. I would practice setting these up so that the doors are next to or close by each other so that it somewhat feels like 2 rooms to the same tent if at all possible. I hate the idea of separating the family in 2 tents but I really think it’s your best option. A larger 5+ man tent is just going to be too bulky for 1 pack.

 

A Great Bug Out Bag Back-Pack: REI Crestrail 70

I get TONS of e-mails from people asking me what pack to choose for their Bug Out Bag.  I wish I had a BLACK & WHITE answer to these questions.  The fact is that we (people) come in all kinds of shapes and sizes and quite frankly, different packs work best for different people.  My 92 lb. Mom would never carry the same size/make/style BOB as I would or as my 200 lb. Dad.

If you’ve read my book you already know that I cover some important Pack Selection Criteria but I don’t get into specific pack names/brands/etc…  Because this is such a popular question I’ve decided that when I see a good Bug Out Bag Pack I will do a post about it.  I think this will help people select specific packs.  I will only mention packs that are Bug Out Bag worthy.

My first featured Back Pack in this series is the Crestrail 70 by REI

I recently had an opportunity to try one of these packs on and was really impressed.  It has everything you need for a BOB.  I normally suggest a pack in the 4000 cu.in. range so this pack even in the SIZE M is a little larger (4271 cu.in.) but, wow, is it a solid pack.  Below is a list of features directly from  the REI web-site:

  • Sculpted FreeFlow back panel has multiple peaks and valleys to reduce sweaty contact areas and allow warm vapor to escape; soft foam conforms to your back for a stable fit
  • ActivMotion® hipbelt pivots to follow the natural motion of your hips, helping keep the pack balanced and stable on your back when hiking on uneven terrain
  • Hipbelt webbing tightens with a forward pull for easy adjustment; 2 zippered pockets provide handy access to snacks
  • Tubular aluminum perimeter frame is lighter than HDPE/stay frame sheets; it transfers weight to your hips and stabilizes the pack, helping prevent unwanted side-to-side sway
  • Top-loading main compartment also features 2 zippered access points to the main bag, plus separate access to the sleeping bag compartment
  • Large zippered front pocket, stretch stash pocket and lightweight lash points provide storage and organization for often-used gear and clothing
  • Side bottle-locking pockets secure bottles or other items, helping prevent them from falling out when bushwacking or taking your pack off
  • Speed Hook ice axe attachments are strategically positioned to avoid interference with pockets and access zippers
  • Over-the-top and dual side compression straps pull the load closer to your back, minimize bulk and provide external attachment points for gear
  • Floating top lid extends, allowing the pack to handle large loads
  • Cordura® fabric resists abrasion and tears; Durable Water Resistant finish repels moisture
  • Water-repellent zippers help keep your contents dry and eliminate the need for fabric zipper flaps
  • The REI Crestrail 70 pack features a hydration-ready design that allows your reservoir’s drink tube to be routed over either shoulder (hydration reservoir sold separately)

At $239, the Crestrail is a little on the pricey side but for the size and quality I don’t think you’ll get a better deal.  REI also has an awesome return/replacement policy should anything ever fail you.  You might even be able to find a used one on Ebay or Cragislist – don’t forget those options.

I like that the Crestrail comes in muted earth-tones.  Remember, you don’t want to be a beacon.  Bright colors are good for signaling but save all your bright colors for INSIDE your pack.  Give yourself the option to be discreet if you need to be.

It’s also hydration compatible and although I don’t use a hydration bladder, this is a nice feature for those who do.  The bottle pockets on the side are a huge PLUS for me.  Your standard Nalgene or Klean Kanteen will lock right into place and save primo space inside the pack.

I’ll also bet the Ice Axe Strap system would work for all you guys who can’t leave home without your Kukri machete or Tomahawks.  That’s right – set this thing up Bug Out style 🙂

Remember how I mentioned that we all come in many different shapes and sizes.  Well this pack adjusts in more ways than most that I’ve seen and I was able to quickly adjust it to my liking with no hassle at all.

 

REI has also filmed a really nice video on the Crestrail which can be seen here: http://www.rei.com/product/809761/rei-crestrail-70-pack#video-inner

Here is also a Women’s Version: http://www.rei.com/product/809763/rei-crestrail-65-pack-womens

For those of you who are looking for some specific pack suggestions I would recommend considering this pack.

Anyone out there currently using this pack?  If so, share your thoughts….?  Myself and 1000’s of others who read these posts would love to hear them.

Remember, it’s not IF but WHEN,

Creek

The Solo Stove: When you just want to go Au Naturale

When it comes to Bugging Out (and camping in general) I’m always testing new gear and trying to hone my kit to find that perfect mix of products and tools that feel ‘just right’.  It’s been a while since I’ve changed out an important component of my kit because quite frankly I’ve been fairly satisfied with the items I’ve been using.

I’ve been on a big push lately to find a natural fuel stove that I really like.  I carry an Esbit folding stove with solid fuel tabs in my Bug Out Bag and I’m fine with that.  The Esbit is a perfect little stove for 1-Cup meals in a 3-day disaster scenario and works very well.  I’ve even used the Esbit with natural fuel before, but it’s not ideal.

When I go camping or take bush trips to practice skills I like to cook over an open fire, but sometimes I like the option of using a small cook stove as well – especially when I’m trying to be discreet or really want to leave-no-trace.  There has also been a fire-ban here in the mid-west for most of the summer due to the drought- making open fires illegal.  I really like the idea of using a small pack stove that works well with naturally gathered twigs, sticks, wood shavings, pine cones, etc…  versus one that is dependent on other fuel: solid fuel tabs, alcohol, canister gas.  

Call me old fashioned, but I just like a wood fire.  I see enough chemicals in my daily life and I really don’t feel like burning chemicals when I’m in the woods.

I also wanted one that was compact, lightweight, durable and affordable.  After a lot of research I decided to go with the Solo Stove.  I’ve heard about this stove from several of my students so I was excited to try it out when it showed up in the mail.

Before I get too deep into this post, here are the specs directly from the Solo Stove Web-site:

  • Fast to boil: 8-10 minutes to boil 34 fl oz of water
  • Fuel: Burns sticks, pine cones and other biomass
  • Packed size: Height 3.8 inches, Width 4.25 inches
  • Assembled size: Height 5.7 inches, Width 4.25 inches
  • Weight: 9 oz
  • Materials: Hardened 304 stainless steel, nichrome wire

The compact stainless stove comes packed is a little drawstring bag – this is a good thing as I will mention later.

The pot holder is stashed up-side-down and to set it up you just flip it upright.  Notice the cut-out in the pot holder.  This is the spot where you drop in additional twigs and sticks as the fire burns.

The Solo Stove is a double walled design and the outside wall has cutouts that feed the fire inside with plenty of oxygen.

For intense breathability and so that ashes don’t get in the way, there is a wire fire platform inside.  This feature is critical to the efficiency of this stove.

Now that the general overview is finished, I will be writing this post in 3 sections: PROS, CONS and FINAL CONCLUSION

SOLO STOVE: PROS

  •  Traditional Fire: I love building fires.  I also love practicing starting fires.  The Solo Stove maintains the authenticity of the fire building process.  You still have to start a fire, you still have to fuel the fire with twigs and sticks and you still get the added bonus of having a real wood fueled flame.  Nothing takes the places of a small calming camp fire companion.  You hear the sticks pop and crack as they burn versus the annoying roar of a canister stove or the sizzle of solid fuel tabs.  This is a true stick built fire stove.
  • Au Naturale:  When I go into the woods, I want to keep things as simple as possible.  The Solo Stove burns all natural fuel.  I’ve never in my life been camping in an area where you couldn’t find fuel for the solo stove.  I carved up the little piles of fuel below in about 5 minutes from a few sticks in my yard.  It literally uses small twigs and sticks as fuel. NOTE:  I started the fire with a Dryer Lint PET BALL. ALSO NOTE: It had rained all morning and the sticks and twigs below were slightly moist.

  • FAST:  This thing heats up fast.  It only took about 4 minutes to bring my cup of pine needle tea to a rolling boil.  I was shocked.  I was really impressed with how incredibly easy it was to get my moist kindling going.  Though I haven’t done it yet, there is no doubt a few dry leaves and some small twigs would be all you’d need to get a Solo Stove fire blazing.
  • EFFICIENT: Wow, is this thing efficient.  You can see by the beginning photos and the last photo up above how much kindling I burned.  I expected there to be a can full of ash.  To my surprise, there was just a thin layer of white ash in the bottom of the stove.  I’m no physicist, but whoever designed this stove knew what they were doing.  They call it “Gasification” on the web-site.  Here’s the quote: “A unique gasification and secondary combustion process lets our stoves achieve a highly efficient and more complete burn. This means you’ll use fewer twigs to achieve a boil. It also means less smoke.”  Whatever that means…it works.  Below is the picture of my ridiculously small ash pile which I made disappear with just one puff.
  • Compact & Lightweight: I don’t mind the size at all.  It tucks away nicely in my Get Home Bag (which is where I’ve decided to keep it).  For those of you who carry a pot, it will probably slide right in it.  It is super light too – only 9 0z.  During use, the stove gets pretty hot.  However, due to the double walled design it cools down very quick and is ready to stow away in just a few minutes.

SOLO STOVE: CONS

I’ll be honest, I don’t have some serious critiques for this stove.  However, I’d like to point out a few things worth mentioning.

  • I thought my ex-girlfriend was high maintenance: If you want to do other things while cooking your dinner or making your tea, forget about it.  This stove is so efficient that it require constant attention.  You have to pretty much be fueling it from start to finish as it lays waste to whatever you stick in it’s mouth.  It’s not like a canister stove or even a traditional camp-fire where you can set out a pot and then do other things.  You have to feed this hungry beast – constantly.

  • SOOT: Because you are burning natural wood and/or biomass, get ready for your pot to be a little sooty.  I personally don’t mind this but if you are the anal type, this might be a deal-breaker for you.
  • Simmer Me Gently: This stove pretty much has 2 settings: FULL ON and OFF.  If you want to simmer something, this might be a little tricky.  Maybe I just didn’t mess around with it enough to figure it out, but I thought this was worth mentioning.

 

FINAL CONCLUSION

So if you, like me, are looking to go AU NATURALE with your stove fuel, I’d definitely recommend considering the Solo Stove.  I’ll be keeping mine in my Get Home Bag.  I always prefer open pit camp fires, but the Solo Stove is the next best thing when you don’t have that option.  From a Survival/Preparedness perspective, it’s a great piece of kit to have on hand.  You already have enough fuel in your back yard to run this stove for countless meals or boilings.  In a time when other fuels might be difficult (or expensive) to come by, you’ll never run out of fuel to keep this little guy burning strong.

The Solo Stove is $69.99 from http://www.solostove.com.  I honestly believe this is a very fair price – especially considering that you’ll never have to buy fuel again (gas, tabs, alcohol, etc…)  I can testify that I think the stove is durable enough to last many, many years.  As long as you don’t abuse it, I actually can’t identify a part that could break or malfunction.

If any of you guys out there are using a different natural fuel stove I’d love to hear about it in the comments section – I’m sure others would as well.

Remember, it’s not IF but WHEN,

Creek

 

Creek's new survival fiction novel, RUGOSA, now available on Amazon.com!