Are you thinking about getting a Solo Stove Smokeless Fire Pit? I got a chance to try one out and, in this review, I give my impressions, pain-points, pros and cons! I also give a follow-up after 8-months to let you know how it is still working.
Note: I did NOT receive this item for free. A family member purchased this at full price, and I am providing our impressions on using it. If you purchase something through one of the links I may earn a commission, but at no extra cost to you.
Time-Saver: If you don’t have time to read the whole detailed review, this is what it says:
The Solo Stove is an innovative idea for an outdoor fire pit that uses a patented design that works surprisingly well. It is worth the money and will last a long time. A summary of the pros and cons:
- Little to No Assembly Required
- Easy to Start Wood Fires (burns wood not gas)
- Produces Lots of Heat
- I Estimate 80% Less Smoke than a Typical Backyard Fire Pit
- Well-Made a Durable (Stainless Steel Construction)
- Portable – Can Bring it Camping
- Sidewalls Limit Accidental Fire Spreading
- Not Truly “Smokeless”
- Awkward to Empty the Ash
- Not Easy to Put Out the Fire Mid-Burn
- Very Hot for Small Children
By the way, I am just a regular guy giving my opinion of the Solo Stove. I did not get anything for free in exchange for this review; I hope this is useful!!!
Solo-Stove Review: A Self-Contained Fire Pit
This is my review of the Solo Stove outdoor bonfire. My mother and father-in-law bought the Yukon model and we tried it out last March. They’ve been using it all summer and they’ve really enjoyed it.
Overall, I would say this is definitely a solid investment. Having said that I want to make sure I give a full review of what this thing is capable of. In some ways it is absolutely amazing. In other ways it could use some work.
What is a Solo Stove?
The Solo Stove is designed to be a self-contained fire pit. What this means is that you can position it in your backyard, on your deck, or take it camping, and it allows you to have a low-smoke fire pretty much anywhere. The design makes it so that the wood burns very efficiently and results in significantly less smoke than a traditional fire pit (you don’t smell like you’ve spent the day in a coal mine afterwards).
It’s got a carrying case for easy transport: once you are done using it, let it cool down, empty the (minimal amount of) ash, put it into its carrying case and put it in the back of your car and you are ready to go.
The stainless-steel design looks good, produces plenty of heat and still provides those mesmerizing flames that make fires excellent gathering places.
How Smokeless is “Smokeless”?
One of the things that I was really excited to try out was the fact that I have heard these called a smokeless stove. I couldn’t imagine that this could actually be smokeless. It just seems like such a preposterous claim, and for the most part that is correct, there is a certain amount of smoke. But I do have to hand it to Solo Stove, it is significantly less than I’ve ever experienced with a bonfire outside.
To be fair, the word “smokeless” does not appear on the Solo Stove website, at least not that I could find. It may have been there at one point, but not anymore. I suspect this is a case of a popular, intriguing-sounding name catching on beyond what is really practically possible.
That being said, here are my thoughts on the reduced amount of smoke that the Yukon’s (and presumably the other models) produce.
It definitely has significantly less smoke than what you would experience with a normal bonfire. If I had to put a number on it, I would say that you’re only going to see about 10 to 20% of the smoke that you normally would.
Since smoke blowing on people is a big reason that bonfires can be annoying, I would say that this decrease is really a nice feature of this stove.
Another thing that helps cut down on the smoke quite a bit is the fact that you have these walls that make up the sides of the stove. So even if there is some amount of smoke, it’s generally coming out 2 ft higher than it would if you were having an open fire.
A few more words on the smoke. Generally, the smoke that you experience from the Solo Stove is at the beginning and at the end of your fire, where the combustion is not quite as complete. Once the fire is going is really when you see the magic happen in terms of complete combustion – with very little smoke.
Again, I won’t go so far as to say there’s no smoke, but it is significantly reduced. And definitely you see the most reduction in smoke during the hottest part of the fire which is typically toward the middle of your burn.
Unique Airflow Design of the Solo Stove
I’m going to start with the pros on this unit. The first thing is that due to the unique design (its patented by the way), the way the air flows through this thing is an engineering marvel. There are holes located in strategic places so that the airflow moves in such a way that you get really complete combustion with this unit.
When you’re done burning wood there’s almost nothing left, it really is astonishing. You can put 5 to 8 logs in here and when you’re done you have about 3 or 4 cups of ashes. I’m not kidding you!
Because of the really good airflow, one of the things that’s nice is that fires tend to be really easy to start. I’ve had cases just trying to start a fire on the ground where, for whatever reason, the fire just can’t get the proper airflow. It’s not necessarily the wind direction, it’s just the fact that oxygen can’t get to the fire source quickly enough.
Solo Stove Secondary Burn (source: Solo Stove Blog)
Fire needs three things in order to propagate. Those things are heat, oxygen, and fuel. You can add all the fuel you need like tinder and so on, but because of the cold ground oftentimes you don’t get enough heat from the match or cigarette lighter that you’re using. So, I think the main reason that fires are difficult to start is often the fact that you don’t have enough oxygen.
This is why you see people frantically blowing on fires in order to get them going. The Solo Stove has this really cool design where the airflow gets in efficiently and due to the way that the hot air moves out of the unit it’s constantly drawing fresh air into the system. This makes it so that the fire always has fresh oxygen to burn. That’s really the secret to why this thing is such a great bonfire.
I’ve heard some of these types of efficient stoves use little fans and batteries, and that never really appealed to me. What’s the point of being out camping if you have to plug in some batteries or use little fans in order to get your fire going? I like the fact that the Solo Stove doesn’t have any of that kind of stuff and just uses simple physics in order to give you a really good burn.
Because it’s burning efficiently, it’s also better for the environment. Incomplete combustion of wood causes the release of worse pollutants that more complete combustion. When wood fuel does not fully combust, pollutants such as CO, methane (CH4), and nonmethane hydrocarbons (NMHCs) as well as PM are released (ref). The more completely you can burn the fuel, the less of these noxious gases are produced.
Construction of the Solo Stove
I like the fact that it has these stainless-steel walls. This is great for keeping the fire contained. It seems like many times when you have a bonfire or campfire there is some concern about whether the fire is going to get away from you.
For this reason, you need to surround it by bricks or do a pre-burn where you burn the grass around the area where you’re going to have the fire, or at least rake all the leaves, twigs, and other flammable materials out of the way. Even then it’s possible that a stray gust of wind could take a few coals and blow them into the long grass and start a brush fire. Obviously, this isn’t what you want.
The sidewalls on the Solo Stove stop this from happening. The fire really is contained very well.
Speaking of the construction of this unit, another thing that’s really nice about it is that there’s almost no assembly required. You pull it out of the box and start using it pretty much immediately! The only thing you really have to do is set the Solo Stove on top of the mount. There’s also a ring around the top that you flip upside down for storage, so you flip that over and put it on top and you’re good to go.
When you’re ready to pack it up, just lay the bag down, lift the stove up and set it inside of the bag, then pull the sides of the bag up over it. Turn the top lip upside down, and then place the base on top of that, and you’re good to go.
The stainless steel also looks really nice. After using this Solo Stove for 8 months, it still looks pretty good. I purposely didn’t clean this thing up for these photos so that you could see what it looks like after 8 months of use without being cleaned.
There’s definitely some ash on the outside and the top ring is a little bit charred (mainly because of my own user error), I had the top ring upside down the first time I used the Solo Stove! Oops…
But other than that, the unit is in really good shape. You could wipe this thing down with a soapy rag and it looks good as new again.
I also took a photo of the inside of the unit. Again, I didn’t spend a lot of time cleaning this thing so you can see that there’s ash inside, and that’s what it looks like…
I must say that with having super-hot fires inside of this unit – it looks really good.
Burning Efficiency of the Solo Stove
Another thing about the Solo Stove is that it burns really hot. I was really amazed by the amount of heat that this thing puts out, and I guess that is because of the improved airflow over a regular campfire.
This is both good and bad. I would say that if you have small children this could be a concern. It does get very hot and of course stainless-steel conducts heat very well, so if you touch the outside of this, or if you fall against the side, for example, you could get a burn.
I wouldn’t be comfortable with small children or toddlers walking around this thing. And the Solo Stove website does make that pretty clear – that you need to be careful with small children around it.
On the other side of the coin, the fact that it gets hot is pretty nice especially if you’re using it in colder weather. It really does put out a lot of heat, which keeps the people surrounding it toasty warm.
Cooking Over a Solo Stove
I really haven’t seen any issue cooking hot dogs or s’mores over this thing at all. Having said that, I wouldn’t recommend using it to grill hamburgers or brats. Anything that’s going to drip a lot of grease inside the unit should generally be avoided. I didn’t try it, but I can just imagine if you had a grease fire inside of this thing it wouldn’t be pretty!
I understand that Solo Stove has now made a compatible griddle system. I haven’t tried it so cannot comment how well it works.
Does the Solo Stove Get Hot Underneath?
Another question that I had before seeing the stove in operation, was how hot it gets underneath it. I haven’t seen much said about this in the reviews that I read so I wanted to be sure to mention it.
My father-in-law has a deck made from maintenance-free decking material – not plastic exactly, but some sort of composite material that is not wood. I was worried that the hot fire would melt it. Similarly, I was wondering how it would do on a wooden deck as well. That was really the desired place to use this unit, so I was wondering if it would destroy the deck completely or if it would work okay.
Originally when they got the Solo Stove, they did not have the mounting ring underneath, so it was used on top of a piece of wood laminate.
Once the Solo Stove Stand became available it was a no-brainer. They bought the stand and they’ve been using that on the maintenance-free decking ever since – no issues or damage whatsoever. It’s amazing that it doesn’t get hot enough to do any damage to the deck.
They use it in this way regularly, and underneath the Yukon, on the deck, it stays cool. It’s definitely a huge bonus to be able to use this on a wooden or plastic decking material. It just improves the experience so much!
Is the Yukon Solo Stove Portable?
The Solo Stove website talks about the smaller units (Ranger, Bonfire) being more portable, and the Yukon being more of a stationary fire pit. I guess I would agree with this for the most part, however I have found the Yukon to be pretty portable.
It comes in a carrying bag that, once the fire is out and the Solo Stove has cooled down you put it in the bag. It has some carrying handles, and you really don’t have to clean it out that much. I find it pretty easy to put in the back of a car and honestly, I don’t think it’s all that heavy.
The Yukon has a diameter of 27 in and weighs 38 lbs. So, if this amount of weight seems excessive for you then probably it’s not considered portable. I wouldn’t have a problem bringing this along on a camping trip, as long as I had the room.
For reference, the Solo Stove Bonfire weighs 20 lbs., and the Solo Stove Ranger weighs 15 lbs.
How to Put Out a Solo Stove Fire?
One of the negatives of this unit is that once it’s going it burns really hot and there’s really not a good way to put the fire out if you want to stop the fire before all of the wood has been burned.
I suppose you could throw water on top of it to put out the fire, but I’m not exactly sure what that would do to the hot stainless steel. Taking that hot metal and cooling it down so rapidly might damage it. I’m just not sure and honestly, I haven’t tried it. I suppose in an emergency that would work, but as a regular everyday practice it probably should be avoided.
Because of this you need to plan out pretty far ahead of time how long you’re actually planning to burn and then use the right amount of fuel accordingly.
The corollary to this is that since it burns so hot and you don’t have a lot of control over when it’s done burning, if you want to pack it up, it remains hot for a fairly long time after you’re done burning. So, this is one of those things where you may be wanting to have a fire and then let it cool overnight before you pack it up the next day.
I’m not saying it would take that long to cool down, it’s just that you probably would have to wait I would guess about an hour until the unit would be cool enough to touch and pack away.
Emptying the Ash in a Solo Stove
The other thing that’s a little bit of a negative about this unit is emptying out the ash. Because it’s so big and a little bit awkward and, potentially hot, it is kind of hard to empty out the ash.
Again, I don’t have too much trouble lifting heavy things so I wouldn’t say it’s a showstopper, but it definitely can be a bit awkward to empty out the ash. I’m not saying it’s difficult, you just tip the thing over and then upside down and let the ash dump out, but since it’s kind of large and doesn’t have any handles on it, it can be a little awkward to tip it over to get the ash out.
The other thing is that it’s hard to get all of the ash out of the Stove, so you typically end up with about a cup or a cup and a half of ash left in the unit. That’s not a huge deal because when I’m done using it goes back in its carrying bag anyway, so if I need to put it in a car or back in the garage or something, it stays plenty clean, it’s just that if you’re a neat freak, be aware that there’s going to be small amount of ash still in the unit unless you take the time to thoroughly clean it.
I understand that there is a handle for this unit that can be purchased after the fact. I haven’t tried it, so I can’t comment on its effectiveness, but I imagine that the reason they came up with it was for this very purpose.
[Update January 2022 – My FIL ended up getting the handle as a Christmas gift, and it works very well.]
Does the Solo Stove Produce Sparks?
There is also a spark screen specifically designed for the Solo Stove that can fit on the top of the unit. I haven’t used one of these so again, I can’t comment but I could see that being kind of nice. Depending on the type of wood that you’re burning it can sometimes produce sparks, that will fly up. So, I could see that being a nice handy feature especially if you live in a dry climate.
How full can you fill the Solo Stove?
You can fill it right up to the top holes inside the unit. This is basically full. I would say that if you consider the Solo Stove to be like a cylinder, you can fill it about 80% full of wood, and then you will be up to those lower holes. That’s a lot of wood. I wouldn’t say you’d need to do that unless you wanted a really hot fire for some reason!
How Many People Can Sit Around a Solo Stove?
When we were using the Yukon, we could fit five or six people around the still very comfortably. If you didn’t mind sitting a little closer together seven or eight would be doable.
The other thing is that depending on the weather you could probably even get more people than that if you could get away with sitting a little bit further away from it – how much heat everyone needs to feel.
Where can I Buy a Solo Stove Bonfire?
Solo Stoves can be purchased at Amazon or from the Solo Stove website. I recommend checking both, as each may have sales at different times of the year. The unit that I have used and reviewed here is the Yukon (27″ diameter).
The other units are the medium-sized Bonfire (19.5″ diameter) and the ultra-portable Ranger (15″ diameter).
Solo Stove Yukon (27″ Diameter)
Solo Stove Bonfire (19.5″ Diameter)
Solo Stove Ranger (15″ Diameter)
In conclusion if you are looking for a good-looking bonfire unit you really can’t go wrong with the Solo Stove. Especially if you have limited space. Another thing I would recommend is that if you’re using this on a deck or other surface, I would highly recommend getting the base for the unit. Even if I were using this on my yard, I would probably recommend getting the base. The reason for this is that it just does such a nice job of protecting the surface underneath it. It would be good for protecting the grass underneath so that you don’t end up with any kind of burned or charred area.
Concerning the portability, it depends on what you consider portable. I could see one of the smaller units being really handy for camping, especially if you have limited space in your vehicle. I personally wouldn’t have a problem hauling the Yukon around, especially if you have a larger group, and if you’re going to be using it in colder weather.
I hope you found this review helpful as you scope out whether or not to get a Solo Stove bonfire unit! If you already have one, I would love to hear your comments! Do you agree or disagree with anything in this review? Let me know in the comment section below!
Take Care and All the Best!