After a long day on the trail backpacking, you want a hot meal quickly. But there’s also something magical about a real fire in the woods — as opposed to the hissing of isobutane burners.
There are a variety of lightweight stove options on the market these days that try to make cooking a breeze. The Solo Stove Lite is an easy way to still have a fire, without the hassle and smoke of a traditional fire. The Solo Stove uses its signature 360-degree Airflow Design that burns fuel more efficiently, creating a hotter, less smoky fire.
Solo Stove is likely best known for its large smokeless fire pits. The large steel fire pits are ubiquitous on social media and glamping sites across the country. However, Solo Stove also has a pint-sized version, specifically aimed at backpackers looking to go lightweight.
The concept is similar to the bigger version. It’s a small steel stove that generates heat using small twigs, sticks, and kindling as fuel. The Solo Stove Lite Gear Kit ($155) includes a nesting pot, an alcohol burner, firestarter, tinder on a rope, and windscreen — and the Lite stove itself.
Intrigued by the setup and promise of a low-smoke easy-to-use stove, I opted to shelve my gas fuel stove to give the Solo Stove a shot on a recent camping trip in Montana, and then British Columbia.
In short: Given the right conditions and set of circumstances, the Solo Stove Lite is a fantastic option to cook food and boil water in the backcountry. And nothing quite beats the atmosphere of cooking over an open fire. It’s no wonder the Solo Stove Lite is GearJunkie’s favorite wood-burning option for Best Backpacking Stoves.
Solo Stove Lite Review
Assembling the Kitchen
The Solo Stove Lite gear kit comes with six separate items to carry to create your backcountry camp kitchen, including the stove, pot, alcohol burner, fire striker, windscreen, and tinder-on-a-rope.
The heart of it is the ultralight stainless steel camp stove, which weighs in at 9 ounces and stands 5.7 inches tall. If this was all you carried, it would be considered ultralight. However, once I incorporated the other materials, it clocks in at more than a pound. Still, pretty lightweight all in all for a wood-burning stove.
You can also bring as many or as few of the accessories as you like. The stove on its own will work great to produce a small campfire to cook over.
Setting up the stove is pretty straightforward and easy. Simply remove the stand that nests on the stove and add tinder or sticks to the stove. Solo Stove recommends using hardwoods such as birch or maple if possible, which burn more efficiently and help with the smokeless fire. I used some sticks that did produce a little bit of smoke, but not a lot.
I shaved a bit of tinder into the fire and used the Ferro rod to spark the wood. While perhaps not as quick as clicking a starter on a Jetboil, in a short time I had a nice little fire going. The stand sits in the stove, and then the pot sits easily on top and holds up to 30 ounces of water.
The entire setup is stable and looks really sleek with all the steel. The pot with a foldable handle and lid reminds me of a big Snow Peak mug. And the various cooking options with an actual fire are nice to have. There is something about gathering downed wood to make a real fire that I enjoy, as I’m sure many other backpackers, particularly purists, do too.
The wood fire is the differentiator here with the Solo Stove, and also can be its downfall. With the number of wildfires in the West, fire restrictions may limit the use of this type of stove. Before setting out, check with local agencies to ensure that an open fire is allowed.
Cooking in the Montana Backcountry
Fortunately for me, the area I was in allowed fires, so I was able to test out the Solo Stove with the river as my backdrop.
First I decided just to try boiling some water considering that is often the extent of cooking in the backcountry. The stove accomplished this with little effort. Within a few minutes, the water in the steel pot was roiling and ready for coffee, tea, or a backpacker freeze-dried meal.
One note: The pot does get very hot, so it’s good to have a glove or bandana on hand to use when you grab the handles.
If all you are doing is boiling water, this setup could be considered overkill. Some of the other systems such as Jetboils or MSR’s WhisperLites are as light, if not lighter, and can boil water faster.
However, if you plan to do any cooking the Solo Stove is a great option to have. I mixed up some fresh soup in the pot and it worked great. Solo Stove sells various accessories that make cooking in a pan or skillet easier, too. It’s also enjoyable to have a little campfire going once you are done cooking to eat by or enjoy a drink next to.
Cleanup with the system is pretty easy as well. Simply clean the pot, extinguish the fire, empty the ash, reassemble the stove in the pot, and you are good to go.
I had pretty good weather and dry fuel to use when testing out the stove. However, if you find yourself in wet or windy conditions, it can be a little more challenging to get the stove started. That is where the windscreen or alcohol burner can come in handy.
The lightweight eight-paneled windscreen folds out and can surround the stove to help block the breeze. And the alcohol burner is a nice backup fuel option. It holds denatured alcohol and features a flame regulator as a failsafe firestarter as needed.
Solo Stove Lite: Worth the Effort?
I view the Solo Stove Lite as similar to cooking over an open fire versus a propane grill when car camping. There are pluses and minuses to both.
If you enjoy cooking over an open fire, then the Solo Stove is a great option for backpackers. It is lightweight, simple, sustainable, and relatively easy overall. Plus, you get the pleasure of the snap, crackle, and pop associated with a wood-burning fire.
Compared to a lightweight isobutane stove setup, it does require a little bit more work upfront to gather wood and start a fire, and it may take a little longer to cook with this setup.
However, there’s no need to carry fuel with this stove that is perfect for a couple of people and nests perfectly into the pot. If you are flying somewhere for a backpacking trip, convenience is nice if you carry Solo’s Lite Kit — don’t worry about finding fuel when you arrive.
When cooking, I had to make sure to continually feed the fire, even removing the pot at times to add fuel, because the system does burn through sticks and twigs rather quickly. It’s not a set-it-and-forget-it system. It requires you to tend the fire to ensure that it continues burning.
Solo Stove Lite: Specs
Lite Camp Stove
- Diameter: 4.25 in.
- Height: 5.7 in.
- Weight: 9 oz.
- Materials: Stainless steel
Solo Stove Pot 900
- Diameter: 4.7 in.
- Height: 4.5 in.
- Weight: 7.8 oz.
- Materials: 304 stainless steel
- Volume: 30 oz. (900 ml)
- Diameter: 2.9 in.
- Height: 1.8 in.
- Weight: 3.5 oz.
- Materials: Brass
- Fuel: Denatured alcohol
- Height: 9.5 in.
- Weight: 7.4 oz.
- Materials: Anodized Aluminum
Solo Stove’s gear kit is not a must-have, but it is a nice addition to get. I don’t know if I’m sold on trading out my isobutane stove for this setup yet, but I am definitely a fan and plan to use this on backpacking trips this fall.
If you have the ability and want to cook over an open fire, the Solo Stove Lite is a stellar option.