Leave the Gas at Home – Solo Stove Lite Review
Usually, camping stoves require that you carry three major components – a pot, a burner, and fuel. If you eliminate one of them, you can’t cook much, right? Wrong. (Sort of!) The Solo Stove Lite uses fuel available in nature, so you don’t have to carry fuel in your pack.
What is Solo Stove?
Solo Stove makes biomass-burning backpacking/camping stoves out of stainless steel. They have three stove models and also manufacture a backyard fire pit. The fire pit makes sense, but the rest of the stoves bring up two questions: Can you really cook all your camping meals over burning wood? And, what if there isn’t anything to burn?
To answer the first question, yes, in theory, you can cook all your camping meals over burning wood. The trick is in Solo Stove’s design, which is a version of a rocket stove. Solo Stoves have double walled sides and two sets of holes, one at the base of the stove and one around the inside of the upper lip. Inside, the fuel is raised above the base on a wire grate, which has a small pan beneath it.
As the fire burns, it creates airflow out of the top of the stove. This draws fresh air in through the bottom holes. That fresh air travels along two paths – it feeds the fire through the wire grate and it travels between the inner and outer walls of the stove, getting heated along the way. When the heated air comes out of the holes inside the upper lip, it creates almost an after-burner effect, combusting any remaining fuel in the smoke. This both reduces smoke and gives you a hotter flame, which allows easier cooking and less soot on your pot bottom.
On the minus side, the answer to the second question is: you’re screwed. If there is nothing to burn, the Solo Stove is dead weight in your backpack. It might be a good idea to bring along an Esbit tab or three if you know you’ll be camping above treeline. Or, bring a different stove on that type of trip.
Solo Stove Lite Specs
All Solo Stove models are made out of 304 stainless steel. The Solo Stove Lite is their smallest model, designed for 1-2 people and weighing in at 9 oz. Other than that, there really aren’t any specs to mention. Boil time varies based on the fuel you have available. There are no moving parts or anything else of import. It’s a simple, solid-state device.
For comparison, a complete Jetboil Sol Ti kit (their lightest) weighs 12.1 oz. without fuel. If one were to go balls-out light and get, say, a BRS 3000T stove and use a Snow Peak 450cup with a Ruta Locura carbon lid, your kit would weigh 3.6 oz. before fuel. A full, Jetboil fuel canister weighs another 6.8 ounces. 3.3 ounces of that is the canister itself. In theory, then, you could have a full cook kit, with fuel, for 0.8 oz. more than the Solo Stove Lite.
Of course, you still need a pot! Solo Stove sells a 900ml stainless steel pot for $35 which weighs 8 oz, bringing the total weight to 17 oz. You can purchase lighter pots (from other companies) to reduce weight.
Solo Stove also makes the Titan for 2-4 people (16.5 oz) and the Campfire for 4+ people (2.2 lbs). To complete those sets, they offer an 1800ml pot ($70) and offer pot sets – $80 for a 3L/1.5L set and $70 for a 2L/1.5L/1.25L nesting set.
Review: Solo Stove Lite
While it may seem primitive, the Solo Stove Lite manages to shave weight off of your average backpacking stove setup because you carry no fuel. It’s simple to carry, requires almost no setup, and is reliable as all get-out because it has no parts to break.
It’s pretty easy to get the Solo Stove burning, as long as you have just a tiny bit of experience building fires. Just like a campfire, you can’t dive right in with the big sticks. You have to start with small combustibles like pine needles or, if you’re handy, wood shavings. Once things are rolling, anything that will fit and burn is fair game. Pine cones smell nice.
As mentioned above, Solo Stoves only work when there is fuel available. For most people, that isn’t an issue. However, in places like Colorado, where it’s easy (and gorgeous) to camp above treeline, the Solo Stove may not be the best choice. If one was to bring the Solo Stove on the Colorado Trail, for example, there would be nights when you wouldn’t have fuel unless you picked it up along the trail during the day. In that sense, a Solo Stove is a great piece for a hammock camper – wherever you can tie up your bed for the night, you’ll probably have fuel. By the same token, Solo Stoves can be trouble when it’s raining. It may be a good idea to bring along, and keep dry, some form of fire starter that you can use if the skies have doused your local fuel with water.
Bonus – because you don’t have to carry or find compatible fuel, it’s extremely easy to travel with the Solo Stove. It also means that you save more weight over longer trips because you’re replacing even more fuel in your pack with the locally available material.
Should you buy a Solo Stove Lite?
As long as you know the limitations of the Solo Stove design and can live with them, it’s a good alternative to the usual fuel canister and burner setup. You’ll probably save some weight by not carrying fuel in your pack. You’ll also eliminate the risk of stove components breaking.
There are some similar stoves out there that are lighter or cheaper or both. Amazon offers a pair of what look to be identical wood-burning stoves from Ohuhu and Canway that look to function similarly to the Solo Stove, but cost $15 and $14, respectively. These two, though apparently the same, list different weights. Both are more than the Solo Stove. On the other end, Toaks offers two sizes of their titanium wood stoves – small and large. Both are lighter than the Solo Stove Lite and both are less expensive than Solo Stove’s MSRP. The design does not appear to be as efficient at the secondary burn, however. And, people complain that the Toaks stoves are too tall to be stable.
Is a Solo Stove worth the premium over generic Amazon brands? Probably. It’s certainly nice to have an American company with real customer service behind it. But, it ends up being up to you!