The Solo Stove design is a stainless steel can-shaped wood-burning container of numerous sizes from easy carry for backpacking, to a monster that needs two people to lift it. For this review, we will take a look at the Solo Stove Lite, the smallest of the Solo Stove offerings. Part 2 will address a larger Solo Stove stove, and a campfire-sized Solo Stove.
The Solo Stove Lite is a beautifully engineered and executed stainless steel wood stove not much bigger than a can of beans. But what does raise eyebrows is the price; about $70. And even more surprising than the price is that those who use it absolutely love it! So much so that the price drifts into the ether becoming a non-issue after only a few uses.
The Solo Stove is a dynamic option for those comfortable with placing their cooking needs in the hands of wood. And I am one who does. The Solo Stove is a trifecta of physics, engineering, and materials. On the physics side, the flow of oxygen to the Solo Stove’s main fire chamber follows a dual route “from the bottom to the top,” to quote the Talking Heads. As air enters the base of the Solo Stove through external holes lining the lower parameter, it carries ambient oxygen to the lower vent, and also to upper openings in the main chamber. The oxygen level in air is far above the O2-starved fires inside the stove. So much so that it appears as if flames are flowing out of the upper parameter holes into the main flow of flame. It truly is both inspiring and mesmerizing. You’ve got to see it to believe it.
Also Read: Survival Gear Review: MSR Whisperlite Stove
Air begins its journey under the main fire due to a wire grate that delineates the base of the burn chamber from a sub-chamber that doubles as an ash trap. As the combustion gasses ascent to the upper levels of the stove, they are heated before pouring into the chamber through the holes lining the upper reaches of the inside of the inner wall. The hot air offer an abundance of oxygen causing a gassification effect that takes the tradition campfire wood heating to amazing levels.
An additional benefit from the dual airflow system is that there is extremely little smoke from the stove when burning efficiently. Like none. Of course there is plenty of smoke on both ends of the time you use the stove, but a large part in the middle burn time when cooking and campfireing are done has no noticeable smoke. There is still plenty of woodfire smell, however. One time from a bit of a distance, I thought my stove was pouring out the smoke only to realize as I neared that it was spraying steam like a train whistle out of a snug fit pot lid. And no smoke.
When burning wood, you don’t have to be diligent about the stove’s operation. You can add some wood and walk away. If it burns down, you add more. If your water boils, then good and it will just boil longer. But the Solo Stove completely removes the worry about conserving fuel. And once you get into the Solo Stove mindset, you see fuel everywhere and in abundance.
The Solo Stove Lite is a wood stove on the smaller side that punches well above its weight class. The Solo Stove is made of 320 stainless steel which just means that its made of the most common stainless steel. But stainless steel nonetheless. The welds between the two “cans” are impeccable, and a thing of beauty. A mesh grate of nichrome wires criss-crosses the inside bottom providing a limited but ample supply of air to keep the coals humming along while allowing gravity to remove the spent wood. Sometimes a minor shake of the burning stove tidies up the fire by cleaning out the carbon from the fire.
There are two pieces to the Solo Stove, a main dual container consisting of the two layers of steel, the ash basin, and plenty of holes above and below main chamber. The other piece is a ring of steel with a lip that can either dip into the main can for storage or fly above it as a pot support and doorway for adding more fuel to the combustion chamber.
The riser is essential for cooking over the stove. Without it, a pot or pan would sit flush on the Solo Stove blocking the flow of hot gasses. But there is no need for the riser if just using the Solo Stove as a campfire pit. The riser can easily be added or subtracted from the system with a fire blazing. In fact, it is much easier to get the stove started without the riser.
I’m not sure if it’s right or not, but I’ve extinguished my Solo Stove Lite simply by dumping water on it. The water does run out the bottom holes carrying with it plenty of smaller pieces of wood and charcoal. The stove, when dry then clanks like a baby rattle until you dig out all the pieces of detritus rolling around in between the stainless walls.
Being a wood stove, the Solo Stove Lite will get dirty. And depending on how loose you are with the wood input, your pot might just have a black bottom, or the entire pot will become jet black and sticky with creosote. I’m happy to report that the Solo Stove made it through the normal cycle in my dishwasher. I can see the potential for rust however as stainless means less stains, not rustless. But it was nothing more that what I noticed after using the Solo Stove Lite for a few rainy days on a backpacking trip.
In use, I had a boiling quart of water in 10 minutes plus or minus. Usually plus. I used a commercial fire tinder to fire up the stove quickly, but you can use traditional tinder and firesticks to launch this rocket. Some of the benefits include no real concerns for fuel. The only time I ran into a fuel shortage was when I was over 11,000 feet in the Beartooth Mountains of Montana and there was literally no dry cellulose around large enough to burn. I did try to burn mountain goat dung in the Solo Stove Lite, but just couldn’t keep the flame long enough to boil water. Yak dung maybe? Just fresh out of yaks around here.
Even at 10k feet I located plenty of material primarily in two locations. The first was in natural microstream channels where the rain piled up small sticks at congested areas between rocks and narrow water pathways. The second was where small animals had made a home using locally sourced building materials. And in one case, where I knew I was headed to a high spot, I just grabbed a few inch-to-inch-and-a-half thick branches, stripped and resized them, and slid them into my compression straps on by backpack. When arriving at camp, I just processed the branches into Solo Stove-sized fuel. I got about two quarts of boiling water out of each three-foot branch.
I have a 900 milliliter titanium pot and small fire making kit I carry with my Solo Stove Lite. The pot is made by Snow Peak and I use an MSR titanium lid from another cooking kit to cover the pot. My fire kit includes a Bic lighter or two, some matches, a firesteel, some commercial tinder/firestarter, and a tiny saw that I considered a joke until now. The Solo Stove Lite fits neatly inside the pot, and the whole kit fits into a mesh stuff sack with is important to reduce the sharing of black carbon with the rest of your gear.
I am so enamored with my Solo Stove Lite, that it has moved into my primary campstove position. And I have a dozen or so other stove choices. During a bug out, any liquid or compressed gas stove has a short life. However, should you want to run a liquid fuel in your Solo Stove Lite, there is an optional alcohol can with adjustable lid available for burning fluids. So if you can get over the price, the Solo Stove Lite is an exceptionally useful, efficient, and potentially life saving tool for fun and survival. I have absolutely no hesitation in recommending the Solo Stove Lite.