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Solo Stove Review – First Look

Before I begin this Solo Stove review I need to explain that I think building a campfire is an important skill. It connects Scouts to many things, sharpens their ability to plan, and is almost always a group activity. I once thought that we ought to do all of our cooking over fires and not stoves, then I acquiesced to the idea that stoves were quicker and to the misapprehension that gas stoves were a responsible low-impact method (they aren’t when you consider the impact of making and disposing of a gas canister). Now I am convinced we need to rethink using wood for fuel not only to sharpen our skills but to minimize our impact.

I started researching the subject several years ago. More than a third of the world’s population cooks over wood and charcoal (about 2.5 billion people). Researchers have been quietly developing sustainable, easily adaptable technologies to improve the efficiency of burning wood for fuel. These ideas have been adapted for recreational camping with mixed success. I’ve tried lots of different ideas, built my own tin-can stoves, tested some commercial ones – all were disappointing in one way or another – until I was asked to test the Solo Stove – Eureka! This is it.

The double-walled Solo Stove is a “natural convection inverted down gas gasifer”. Air intake holes channel air to the bottom of the fire and direct warm air up between the walls creating a burst of preheated oxygen causing a secondary combustion of the gases (smoke) given off by the burning wood.

Follow that?

What it means is the stove turns the wood and gasses given off by the wood into a strong, concentrated, efficient flame that burns like a blowtorch! A generous handful of smallish sticks will boil 32 ounces of water in less than fifteen minutes.

When I unpacked the stove I could tell right away it was a quality product. Constructed of stainless steel and Nichrome wire it measures a compact 5.7 x 4.25 inches weighs only 9 ounces (that’s less than the fuel canister for my MSR stove).  I carried the stove on out most recent backpacking trip (it fits in my 2 quart pot) and was not only pleased  but frankly amazed at how easy it was to light and use.

I collected a few small (pencil lead sized) twigs and broke some small sticks into small pieces lit a pea-sized chunk of sawdust and wax fire starter had a pot of boiling water ten minutes later. When I was done eating there were very few embers and ashes left in the stove (once the fire burned out the stove cooled off very quickly. I carefully dumped these on the ground, stomped them out cold and packed the stove up.

Thoreau once claimed that he could walk to town faster than someone riding the train because he would not have to first spend the time to earn the train fare. That’s sort of the way to look at this stove. It will take you a bit longer to gather fuel, you’ll have to feed the fire, and it will make your pot sootier than a gas stove. The trade-off of these slight inconveniences is never having to buy a gas canister again. More importantly you won’t be using the embodied energy and environmental impact of extracting the material, manufacturing and delivering that gas canister to you. Gas canisters can’t be refilled safely so they become hazardous waste that leads to further consumption of resources in disposing of them.

I’ve only had my Solo Stove along on one trip thus far but I can heartily recommend it. It is extraordinarily well-made, it works , it weighs less and has minimal impact on those wild places we treasure.

Available from Amazon

NOTE – I received a Solo Stove for evaluation by the manufacturer.