FIELD REPORT: SOTO Stove (Curt)
- Here's my FR for edits. HTML version will be in the test folder as soon as I can get logged in!
SOTO OD-1R Usage
The SOTO stove has had plenty of use so far. In the past couple months I've hauled the stove up my local trail climb at least a dozen times. I try to do this trail 2 or 3 times a week and have taken the SOTO on the majority of the hikes. Temperatures and conditions have been all over the place. With the exception of a couple of days near 70 F (21 C) with sun, this spring has been incredibly cool and wet. I've had my rain jacket on more this spring than ever before. Typical days have been in the 40s (single digits C) with anything from drizzle to sideways driving deluge rain. It has not been pleasant. Unfortunately, the one thing I have not seen has been sub-freezing temperatures.
The SOTO stove has been used so extensively in these conditions because I've used it in a compact kit (see pic below) to carry up early in the morning to make my a.m. coffee. There are definitely much more relaxing ways to get a cup of coffee, but I've been on a quest to climb this mountain 100 times in 2010, so morning coffee has been at sunrise on the cliff many times. So far, the SOTO has been a great morning companion in the mountains. A couple of minor issues have emerged, but overall it's proving to be a very capable backcountry cooker.
To date, 100% of use has been to boil water in a titanium pot. I will try to use it to cook food during the next phase of testing to see how well it simmers and handles more demanding cooking ranges. Whether in my pocket or in my backpack, the SOTO has been essentially unnoticed as far as carrying. It's so small and so light that adding it to even short trips where I'm not sure I'll even be cooking is a no-brainer. The water I'm absorbing in my clothes during the soaking rain almost certainly weighs more than this tiny cooker setup. Here are some of the highlights of the first couple months of testing:
Cold Weather Performance
Unfortunately, I have not been able to use the SOTO in sub-freezing temperatures yet. I'll do my best to change this during June and July. There are still plenty of freezing nights in the mountains to be had, and a possible Mount Adams climb in July would certainly have very cold temperatures. As cold temperature performance is one of the major marketing claims of the SOTO, I will make every effort to find some cold weather to test this out. In temperatures a few degrees above freezing, the SOTO works flawlessly. It is much more affected by wind in these conditions than it is by temperature, so for any trip I'm planning at or above freezing I would have absolutely no hesitation bringing the SOTO as my primary stove.
I know many canister stoves pack down small, but the setup I'm using with the SOTO is particularly compact and efficient. It all packs up so small that I often second guess myself and doubt that I have included everything. To have a pot, lid, stove, canister, pot grabber, sipper, and even a small spoon all in one tiny package is incredibly convenient. For my nasty weather trail climbs I've taken to sticking the whole thing in a rainjacket pocket. Even with a full canister it's basically the equivalent of sticking a can of soda in my pocket as far as weight goes. With a partial canister the entire thing weighs about the same as a few energy bars. I have a couple mini Esbit burners and have tried a few tiny alcohol stoves as well. I'm hesitant to use them in this manner because of potential spills, difficulty lighting the stoves in poor conditions, and comparatively weak performances. I love those stoves for camping when I have time to get a solid setup and fiddle, but there are times that quick, instant, raw power is what I want and the SOTO is proving nearly perfect for this situation. Screw on, push a button, fire. That's about as simple as it can get.
Compact SOTO Stove Setup - Everything Needed for a Cup of Coffee
SOTO Bringing 600 ml (18 oz) of Water to a Boil in 3:46
The only concern I have at this point in testing has to do with the support arms. They deploy very easily, but that means they fold down just as easily. The supports are very strong vertically and hold the pot with no bending, sagging, or problems at all. In fact, they're some of the strongest small canister stove arms I've used. My issue emerges when I lift the stove up and tip it. It usually happens when I move it to a different spot that I think is more level or give it a quick swirl to check the level of fuel or mix the butane and propane in cooler temperatures. This usually happens with the stove off - but still hot - making flipping the arms back up a challenge. I admit to having done this with the stove running as well. Certainly not advised and probably downright foolish, but it's something I've done for years with no problems. Having a red-hot support arm flop down while a pot of boiling water is in my other hand is not particularly fun. It's easy enough to re-set with a spoon that won't melt - mine is titanium - but a little more of a "click" or locking mechanism when the arms are set would be great.
Easily the highlight of the test so far is the igniter. I have never liked igniters because they simply don't work well in my experience. The SOTO igniter has worked 100% of the time, and once I figured out the correct way to open the valve, it has done so on just 1 button press. Every time. Truly impressive in my opinion. I've learned that 3/4 of a valve turn is perfect. Less than that and not enough fuel escapes to start a fire, and one or more turns starts out with a roar. 3/4 turn gives a nice small flame that is then ready to adjust to whatever is needed. I've become so confident of the igniter that I haven't even brought matches or a lighter on the last half dozen dayhikes. This is something I have never felt comfortable doing. I can only guess that the fixed position of the igniter keeps it from getting jarred like most others. This definitely appears to be a superior design and it's the first igniter I've ever used that has been reliable for me. I usually end up stripping stoves of the igniter because it's dead weight when it inevitably fails or is such a hassle that a match or lighter is the better, simpler option. Not this time. I couldn't be more pleasantly surprised with this feature!
Long Term Testing ....
During the next couple months there will be a lot more remote trail use. School is ending, the snow is finally melting, and getting into the high country - and lower night temperatures - will be common. A mid-June trip is already planned plus almost every weekend in July will be backpacking in the Cascades. I look forward to using the SOTO in colder temperatures and noting the durability as testing continues into the summer.
My thanks to BackpackGearTest.org and SOTO Outdoors for the opportunity to test this interesting new stove!