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

 

Comments

  1. Richard says:

    Hi C.S., i could not find the comment section in your article on the solo stove.
    Was going to mention that i have used the sierra “zip stove” for over ten yrs. It is based on the same principles. Light weight. Compact and no bigger than others using and including gas type fuel. Twigs and leaves..etc. can be wet. Looked like the same type of metal as the solo. The “zip” has a battery that fans the natural fuel you need to continualy add as mentioned with the solo. Believes this helps in burning wet items.
    Both seem to be good products.

  2. Norbert says:

    Hi,

    I use a Kelly Kettle, it’s almost the same… The complet kit contains:
    - a fireplace (basement), it’s really slightly different,
    - a wather container (middle part),
    - pot rack + stainless pot with cover,
    - potholder.

    If I “build” the whole thing up, I can boil wather and heated something in the pot, in the same time. With the same amount of fuel!

    The essential part of the device, the middle section itself. Which is like a chimney, increases air flow and provides a good draft over the fire. The fire becomes self-generating.

    But if you want, you can use just the base, the fire place, like the Solo Stove.
    I love it, because it’s a multifunctional device… :-)
    http://www.kellykettle.com/

    Norbert Csontos
    EU – Hungary

  3. Green Eyed Jinn says:

    Nice review. I would love to see you do a follow up — especially in trying to moderate the heating or for cooking full meals.
    Would this stove do as well with a larger camping pot? The pot-holder area looks OK for your camping cup, I wonder how stable it would be with something bigger.
    Also, while I know it’s designed for using biomass fuel, do you think it would do well with hexamine/”Esbit” style fuel? (I’m thinking for cave exploring, desert, mountain or boat use.) How about a lump of charcoal that could be ignited with a starter fire – to get a slower cooking rate? I know this sorta begs the issue of not needing to bring fuel with you, but I’m looking for versatility.

  4. Pete says:

    Good review Creek.

    I went with an emberlit stove for my cooking option.
    It is a small cook stove that burns small biomass, and you can order it in 2 sizes depending on your needs.
    It comes in stainless steel, and titanium for those wanting to keep weight to a minimal.
    The great thing about this stove is that it is completely flat when packaged up, and after playing with it a few times, sets up in under a minute.
    The design allows you to feed larger fuel to the fire from the bottom and get a bed of coals going, vs the gasification stoves that are typically fed from the top and burn smaller fuels.
    It cools down quickly for packing and can come ordered with a sleeve for storage.
    It is of very comparable price to other stoves out there, and comes with a lifetime guarantee.

  5. Jc Shannon says:

    Hey Creek, you should check out the BioLite stove!!! Works on the same premise, and can charge electronics as well.

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  8. benblizz says:

    hey creek, do you think that adding pine pitch to the fuel would increase the burn time long enough to do other small tasks like cooking and finding more fuel?

  9. dave says:

    Thanks for the review. I agree that it is nice to get that quiet campfire feel and is a bonus that is is also a great survival stove. There are so many different stoves and prices that it can be hard to filter through them all. The solo stove design definitely put it in a class above many of the others. I have always been one to enjoy stoking the fire so I don’t mind too much about the continued need for this. Probably not for everyone but is a very nice stove.