Truth be told, one of the best aspects of bikepacking or long days out on the bike in the hills is the point at which you decide to stop and break out the stove. Quite why this is the case, I’m not exactly sure. Perhaps it is the promise of a warm drink or much needed sustenance after a long day in the saddle. Or the inner cave dweller being afforded the opportunity to unslip the shackles of modern living and burn some shit. Or the warming inner glow that I always associate with the sound of a fire in full flow.
One of my fondest memories is that of an overnighter in the Cairngorms where after coming down off of Ben Macdui in a whiteout, we reached the shelter and safety of Glen Derry. Packs were dropped and the stove, an MSR Dragonfly, set to work. For those who aren’t familiar with it, the Dragonfly in full burn sounds to all intents and purposes like it has an afterburner. It produces so much power that I wouldn’t be surprised if it slightly alters the pitch of the Earth every time one is used. Ever since then, I have been a bit of a stove nut. As such, when I heard that Lyon Equipment were bringing Solo Stoves into the UK, I was excited. Forget your meths, petrol and butane/propane mix, Solo Stoves are for the real stove aficionado (pyromaniac? – Ed). No need to lug around a heavy gas canister or bottle of stinky meths; just burn what you find on the trail.
Introducing the Solo Stove Lite – one for the pyro in you.
The Solo Stove Lite is the baby of the range but shares many of the same design features as its bigger brothers and sisters. Built from stainless steel, the burner unit comprises a double wall design with air holes drilled around the base and around the top of the inside wall. In practice, what this means is that air gets drawn in at both the base and the top of the stove which according to Solo Stove results in a hotter fire with less smoke. Towards the base of the stove on the inside is a cross hatched nichrome wire gate. This holds the fuel in place while allowing airflow up through the fuel while the burner catches all burnt fuel in the base with its built in ashpan. In addition, the ash pan means you’re not scorching the ground below your stove – if you’ve ever been to a local beauty spot after a spot of fine weather and seen the burnt rectangles left by portable BBQs, you’ll recognise the value in ‘leave no trace’.
So far, so simple. Also supplied is a very neat cooking ring which sits flush within the burner when not in use but which when inverted, sits securely on the top of it. Again, this features built in air holes. Topping things off, both literally and figuratively, is a 900ml stainless steel pot. Volume markings in millilitres and fluid ounces are marked down the side while there are two fold flat wire handles t stop your fingers getting burnt when you pick up the pot.
The pot features a spout for ease of pouring while the supplied stainless lid sits securely in place until you need to lift it by its rubber coated lift tab. The whole package packs down into two supplied bags for carrying and storage. Weight wise, the whole shebang including bag comes in at a bit less than 500 grams which means it isn’t exactly a heavyweight option.
Feel the burn.
Cooking on an open fire is a bit of a novel experience for me and it took a little bit of time to adjust. Being a dyed in the wool fan of gas burners, having to forage for twigs was a bit of a novelty. No instant lighting, no crazy fast boil times, the Solo Stove is a very different beast. Supplied with easy to follow instructions, I set out fire steel and kindling in hand ready to release my inner Ray Mears. Collecting twigs to burn is easy although trying to find ones that are dry here in the UK less so. Breaking the twigs up into short pieces of two to three inches, I found that filling the burner to the top then adding shavings of resin soaked kindling sticks and Vaseline soaked cotton wool balls was the most effective mix when it came to sparking up. I’ll admit that it took a bit of trial and error to get there though.
Solo Stove’s promotional video of tanned Americans with surfer hair dressed in checked shirts and looking outdoorsy chic would have you believe firing up the stove was the easiest thing in the world. What they should have done was solicit the services of a wet Scotsman doing his best to avoid being Menu Del Dia at a midges’ all you can eat buffet while stumbling through nettles and wet undergrowth in a doomed attempt to find some fuel that may once have been dry, albeit in the last century. My first couple of attempts were a bit of an exercise in frustration. I don’t mind admitting that I missed my trusty MSR Dragonfly.
However, in an act of forward thinking that surprised even me, I decided to pre pack my stove with twigs and kindling and carried it ready to go. No kindling and fuel anxiety for me. Once up and burning, even damp twigs would burn well. I had solved my problem in one easy move. Ok so I know it isn’t quite as easy as Solo Stove would have you believe but a little bit of planning paid off in spades.
Not the fastest but sometimes it is all about the journey.
Once lit, I really warmed (if you will pardon the pun) to the Solo Stove. Water boiling times aren’t quite glacial – it taking at least ten minutes to boil a full pot of water but they aren’t outside the realms of acceptability. In my experience, meths is no quicker and a good deal smellier. However, unless you like your marshmallows with a meths tinged taste, you aren’t going to be making smores over a meths stove. Not so the Solo Stove. There is something just incredibly appealing about an open fire. Cooking on the stove took a bit longer than normal too but I found that with a bit of practice, I was able to cook almost as easily as with a gas burner.
The key was to keep a supply of broken twigs on hand in order to keep the fire going. Every time I made a hot chocolate, cooked some soup or got a bit creative with fresh ingredients, I had this peculiar sense of satisfaction. I suppose I could wax lyrical about how I felt closer to nature and more connected with my environment at an almost spiritual level but that would just be flowery wank. Rather, it just felt good to be cooking on an open fire in the outdoors with none of the downsides that a normal open fire would bring.
It wasn’t all plain sailing though. I found that damp twigs didn’t burn as cleanly as fuel that was bone dry leading to a build-up of soot on the pot, while the occasional partially burnt twigs that dropped down below the nichrome wire mesh could be a bit of a pain to tease back out. Moreover, if I wanted a fast brew up, I had to accept that the Solo Stove wasn’t the best tool for the job. In windy conditions, it would definitely have benefitted from the optional wind guard as the flame sometimes looked like it was going more sideways than up!
Kick back and chill.
However, in terms of encouraging me to take my time and relax as the pot gently bubbled away, the Solo Stove was a winner. I found that I would take it out with me whenever I wanted to build in a stop to a walk or a ride. On trips where bad weather was forecast, I would reach for a gas burner but when things looked promising, the Solo Stove was a natural choice.
In the US and other dry climates, the Solo Stove makes a lot of sense for the backcountry explorer where dry fuel is available in abundance. Here in the UK, with a little bit of planning and prep, I found that the Solo Stove was still a viable choice most of the time.
So should you buy one? For the money, I think it represents good value. The design and quality of construction are hard to fault. Unlike pretty much every titanium pot I have ever used, the slender pot arms did an excellent job of insulating my fingers from the heat. The open flame design which at first struck me as a bit of a novelty soon won me over. Difficulties in finding dry twigs aren’t the show stopper I thought they might be as once up and burning, pretty much anything would burn.
Would it be my only choice of stove? Probably not as other designs are better in wet conditions or when you want to cook fast. However, the Solo Stove is an interesting alternative to more traditional designs and is all the better for it. I love it!
|Product:||Solo Stove Lite|
|Price:||Stove £74.95, 900ml Pot £39.95|
|Tested:||by Sanny for 12 months|