So, does the Solo do its job? Yes. You can boil water, make tea / coffee, cook food, and make S’mores with the Solo using only biomass and tinder that you find at your campsite.
However, it takes longer than most of us are used to. My average boil times in cold weather (-4 to 37 degrees Fahrenheit) ranged from 13 to 26 minutes from first match strike to boiling water.
It takes around 10 minutes to get a good base of hot coals in the firebox, then once you’re up and running, the stove does a great job of transferring heat to the pot with relatively no smoke at full burn.
Obviously the colder it is the longer it takes, but the stove does work just as well in frigid winter temps.
This probably goes without saying, but dry tinder is ideal for shorter start times and less smoke. But I was impressed by the stove’s ability to convert wet/damp/frozen tinder into usable fuel.
Adding a fire starter to the stove before building a fire is also ideal, as it is difficult in the smaller stove to get a match or lighter down into the tinder to start a fire. I used cotton balls dipped in vaseline a few times with great success, as well as Esbit solid fuel cubes.
The fuel cubes are powerful—they can boil water on their own in ~8 minutes—but they have one major drawback: they smell like fish when first opened. Solo Stove sells fire starters on their website that are worth checking out, but the takeaway is that I’d recommend bringing some sort of fire starter on any trip with this stove.
The stove and pot each come with their own durable but thin drawstring bag. When the stove is in its bag, it fits perfectly inside the pot with the lid on.
When the pot is also in its bag, there is still room to store lighters and fire starters. This complete package is much lighter than any other cannister stove I own, and takes up less space in my pack.
The simplicity of the Solo Stove design allows for easy cleaning. The pot is 100% stainless steel and has only a small amount of rubber on the lid. The stove is stainless steel and has a small amount of nichrome in the ring.
While I haven’t found any supporting info on Solo Stove’s website, I’ve tossed the entire stove and pot in the dishwasher after each use and cleaned the bags by hand with no issues. Over the course of about seven meals I’ve blackened the pot a good deal, but it doesn’t shed soot after washing. Solo Stove recommends coating the bottom of the pot with a thin layer of bar soap to keep it from blackening, but this hasn’t bothered me yet without soap.
In hindsight, I regret going with the “Lite,” which is the smallest of the Solo stoves. My thinking was flawed when I was first asked to review one of these stoves, as I was still functioning in the “quick and light” mindset of campsite cooking and wanted a small footprint.
While it is a novel idea to have a “small portable campfire” in your backpack, the Lite doesn’t provide enough heat to actually warm yourself. It boils water fine, but if I’m foregoing the convenience of a Jet Boil or other rapid boil stoves, I want the benefit of warmth and comfort.
If presented with the option again, I would go big here. Honestly, the Campfire version of this stove looks great, and I want one. It seems like it would work best for car camping, and could be an amazing combo for making food and sitting by the fire.
I would also definitely be interested in seeing how much warmth and comfort the Titan produces, and if it would be worth sacrificing pack space to carry it.
If you’re willing to slow down and take your time cooking, this is an innovative and functional stove. It’s kind of the opposite of a quick-cooking Jet Boil, yet it works well in the cold, packs effectively, and cleans easy.
If you do decide to go with the Solo Stove, I’d recommend going big—with either the Titan or the Campfire. The Lite has been fun, but in this case, I think bigger is better.