While I usually use canister fuel camp stoves on my camping trips, I’ve been curious about the wood burning solo stoves and wanted to try one. The idea of cooking with only twigs was just too intriguing to pass up – who doesn’t want to use free fuel! But which size is the best choice? This solo stove review will cover the points you need to decide.
In this review, I’ll share:
- My experience with the solo stove Titan model
- An overview of the three camping stove models
- Important points to consider before buying
- How to choose the best size for your needs
- Recommendations where you should (and shouldn’t) use solo stove
I purchased the solo stove Titan model with reward points from REI. I have no affiliation with solo stove so this review is completely honest and unbiased. My goal is helping you find the best camp stove for your needs.
Three camp stove sizes
Solo stoves camp stoves are available in several model sizes – Lite, Titan, and Campfire. The Lite stove is the smallest and lightest, and clearly intended for cooking single serving meals. Next up, the Titan portable stove is the medium size and is marketed for meals serving 2-4 people. The largest stove – Campfire, is best suited for group meals. solo stove also makes fire pits, but that’s a different article.
solo stove – What it looks like, how it works
All the stoves comes in two parts – the main stove section and a cooking ring which acts as a spacer and pot support. The cooking ring nests inside the stove for storage. To use it, flip it over and set it on top of the stove. The stove includes a storage bag which fits comfortably. In the picture below, you see the main stove and cooking ring with the storage bag – the dark color of the metal is a normal change when stainless steel is exposed to high heat. Expect the cooking ring and top of the stove to change color after the first use.
The stove features a steel mesh on the bottom which keeps the fuel off the base and improves airflow. It has a double wall with strategically placed holes on the inside and outside walls. These features allow optimal air flow around the fire to burn the wood as efficiently as possible.
All the stoves are made of stainless steel and feature secondary combustion technology to reduce smoke, burn hotter, and make the most efficient use of the wood as fuel. You know it’s working when flames come out of the interior holes near the top! If you are curious about secondary combustion – it essentially burns the soot in the smoke – check the solo stove website for more information.
My experience with solo stove Titan
Pot Support Size
The first thing I noticed about the stove is that my favorite 600 ml titanium pot is too small for the pot stand on the Titan model. In the photo below, you can see it’s carefully balanced on the three support points, but it’s not stable. If you are cooking withe smaller backpacking pots of this size, I’d recommend going down to the smaller Lite stove. I ended up using a wider stainless steel pot which worked well.
To start, I gathered up a pile of small dry twigs from around my back yard. You really need twigs rather than sticks because they must be broken into short pieces about 3-4 inches long. My pile was about the same size as the stove. I also gathered a pile of dry pine needles to help start the fire. You can also burn pine cones or bark. I don’t believe wood pellets will work (without modifying the stove) because they will fall through the metal mesh and block airflow.
Lighting the fire
I added several small twigs and pine needles to the stove and used a lighter to start the fire. With such small kindling material, the fire is incredibly easy to light. The fire smoked initially, but there was very little smoke after the wood caught and the stove heated up. This stove produces dramatically less smoke than an open camp fire. It’s impressive how fast the fire starts! You can cook with much less fuel than you expect. I found the stove worked well in a modest breeze without a windscreen.
Once the fire builds up you can easily see that the flames come up around the side of the pot. These flames could easily melt or burn plastic insulated handles, so you want to be careful what pots you cook with on the stove. The handle will also get hot so be sure you have something to grab to the handle with without burning your hand.
The bottom of the stove remains fairly cool while burning. There were no marks on the wood I used to support the stove, and I’m comfortable using it on a wood picnic table (I don’t know if it’s cool enough to be safe on plastic)
With this setup I brought 2 cups (470 ml) of water to a boil with an outdoor temperature of 74 deg F. I had small bubbles coming up in 5 minutes and a full boil at 7 minutes. During this time the flames died down twice and I added more twigs to build up the fire. You can probably get faster results if you feed the fire steadily. This stove is highly efficient and will boil water with a VERY small pile of broken twigs. I only used half of the amount I collected for the first photo. Free fuel indeed! It doesn’t take much fuel at all to cook, so it clearly has a more efficient burn than an open fire
Key points to consider before purchasing
Cooking pot sizes and support: Due to the design of the pot support, each solo stove size only supports a narrow range of pot sizes. Plan on using a pot the same diameter as the stove up to perhaps 2-3 inches larger. Larger pots will also make it more difficult to add wood to the fire. See the infographic in the size guide for my suggested pot sizes. If you intend to cook with a skillet or pan with a heavy handle, be prepared to hold it or provide extra support while cooking – the 3 point supports are just not stable enough for an unbalanced weight. This type of minimal support is common for backpacking stoves (where hikers rarely use pans or skillets), but it’s more of an issue for the larger stove sizes.
Fuel availability: The best thing about Solo Stoves is the ability to cook hot food with just a small amount of dry wood. BUT will this be available at your campsite or do you need to bring wood? Most campgrounds at state parks restrict the gathering of firewood, and the ground is bare of small kindling material anyway. This will also be an issue for beach camping, some desert locations, and snow covered ground (disclaimer – I live in the south and have never camped in the snow). It’s also a consideration if you want to use the stove as an emergency backup at home.
Cleanup: When the fire is high, open flame from the fire comes up to the bottom and around the edges of the pot. This creates a big sooty mess on the bottom and sides of the pot which is very difficult to clean. The photo below below is the bottom of my stainless steel pot after using it on the stove. The flames may also melt or burn plastic insulated handles, especially if the pot is the same size as the stove.
Note: While the flames produce significant soot on the pot, the stove itself stays much cleaner, especially on the outside. For clean up, I only rinsed out the small amount of ashes remaining in the stove.
Choose the best size portable camp stove
The key to picking the right size stove is matching the stove to your needs. Check the infographic which summarizes the size, weight, and suggested pot sizes for each solo stove model.
solo stove Lite – The solo lite stove is the smallest option and a good choice for backpacking, especially tor longer trips. At 9 oz, this little stove is a solid contender for even ultra-light backpackers. When comparing to other stoves, be sure to include the weight of the fuel in addition to the stove. An “8 oz” isobutane canister for gas stoves weighs over 11 oz when full (because of the canister weight itself). So as your trips get longer, the solo stove becomes the perfect ultra-light camp stove. This stove will leave your cooking pot with more soot on the bottom than a gas stove. I’d recommend a storage bag to keep the pot separate from other gear rather than trying to clean it thoroughly after each use.
solo stove Titan – The Titan size is the mid size option, and it’s also a good backpacking choice when cooking for multiple people. Solo Stove’s website recommends using it when cooking for 2-4 people. At 16.5 oz, it’s getting a little heavy for solo cooking and it won’t work with many smaller diameter pots. If you plan to use it for 3-4 people, consider the matching Pot 1800 by solo stove. It looks like this pot gives you the volume needed for larger groups while maintaining a good diameter for stability on the stove. Unless you are backpacking, I’d recommend moving up to the larger Campfire model if you are cooking for a group.
solo stove Campfire – The Campfire stove is definitely a better choice for group cooking despite the higher price. With a 7 inch diameter, this size is more versatile and will allow you to use more standard cookware. Cooking with an 8-10 inch pan or skillet is manageable at this size (if the handle is lightweight). At 2.2 lbs its still highly portable for canoe, horseback, or other off grid trips. Solo stove shows this stove used with a tripod which allows you to adjust the distance from the flames and the heat level. This setup preferable if you are cooking chili, thicker soups, or potentially baking in a dutch oven.
Recommended uses (and what to avoid)
Backpacking: Recommended – The Lite model and/or the Titan models are well suited for backpacking. As mentioned in the solo stove lite review above, the weight savings from fuel is useful for lowering base weight on ultra-lite trips. The size, weight, simple design, and ease of use all make this a good option.
Car camping: Not recommended for cooking – While I love the concept of these stoves, they simply don’t fit my style of car camping. I usually stay in established campgrounds where small dry wood is not available. I also use skillets and griddles as often as pots, so the smaller size stoves simply don’t work well for me. Lastly, the cleanup just is just too much work for this setting.
Portable camping fire pit: Recommended – These solo stoves are just fun! They are much faster and easier to light than a traditional campfire, plus they burn less wood and have less smoke to avoid. The Titan is a good size for a mini tabletop fire pit, and I expect mine will get regular use.
Emergency backup cooking stove: Recommended (if you have easy access to fuel). My backyard is essentially an acre of forest, so I have a continuous supply of fuel for many emergency situations. If you live in an apartment or have a small yard, this may not be the best fit. If you plan to use it for evacuations or bug-out bags, consider bringing some wood to give yourself more flexibility.
My conclusion – I bought the Titan stove simply because it was the middle size and seemed versatile. In hindsight I wish I’d upgraded to the Campfire model for my uses. At this point I plan to keep using it as a mini fire pit and backup stove for emergencies. I’m also considering one of the full size fire pits for my back yard.