Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Solo Stove Review Redux

Erin's love of the Solo Stove is well-established, so based on her recommendation I recently acquired a pair of their smallest models, the Solo Stove Lite, through one of the sales Solo is known for. Erin has shown how the Solo performs at sea level in decent weather, but I wanted to see what it could do at 4500' and sub-freezing temperatures.I'm not a fan of crazy "torture tests" that put products through a gamut of tests that prove precisely nothing, but I do love putting gear into real-world situations and seeing how it stacks up.

I didn't have the time or light to run all the tests Erin did, but I ran the one that mattered the most to me: boiling water.

It has been cold and messy in my beloved high desert lately. The high today has been in the high 20s, and the weekend was the same story. We've had a pretty solid bit of moisture as well, and all of my firewood is stored outside, so it was icy and wet -- much like it would be if I was scavenging wood in the hills.

Knowing that my wood was questionable, I followed the lessons from my bad weather firemaking post. My Solo is about the size of a baby formula can, so I used a knife to split small sticks down to sizes that I would normally use as kindling. This also exposed the dry inner wood, making it easier to burn. I also had to knock the ice off the outside of a couple pieces before I split them.

I'll admit to having a bit of difficulty with my first couple attempts, just like Erin had. I lit my tinder, put my cup on the cooking ring, and watched the fire die. After a couple attempts and feeling like I'd forgotten everything about making fire, I decided to forget about cooking and try just to make a fire in the stove.

In a mirror of Erin's experience, once I let it burn for about a minute with nothing on the top, it turned into a raging little blast furnace and I heard the exact same whistle as air was aggressively drawn into the fire chamber. Even my wet, frozen wood dried quickly and burned hot.


The water boiled after 7 minutes, which isn't a whole lot slower than using the cooktop in my kitchen. That may be what impresses me the most about this little unit: I can make tea or soup, or just purify water, in about the same time than it would take at home.

Fuel consumption was surprisingly low, as well. I managed to boil 16 oz of water in a steel cup on roughly a double handful of kindling-size fuel. That amount is about what I tell people to gather to start a normal campfire, and I was also using questionable wood for fuel.

Closing Thoughts
The one issue I have with this stove is the same as I have with the Esbit and other stoves of this type: It leaves a sooty residue on your cooking utensils, so don't use it with your good cookware, or you'll be spending some quality time with a steel wool pad getting things clean.

The other lesson to be garnered here is to play with your toys. Practice with your gear when it doesn't matter, so that you know how to run it when it does matter. The Solo is a wonderful design, but if you don't know what you're doing, you'll drive yourself mad when your health or life may depend on cooking something while you can.


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