Tuesday, January 26, 2010

White Box SOLO Alcohol Stove

Yesterday, a new alcohol stove arrived from Bill Ballowe, designer and maker of the White Box StoveTM. (Click here to visit Bill's website.) He's been making these backpacking stoves from aluminum drink bottles since 2006 and has sold 7000+ stoves worldwide. Bill now sells two models—the Original which holds 3 ounces of fuel, and the SOLO which holds 1.25 ounces of fuel.

According to the White Box website, the SOLO was "designed for the backpacker who goes it alone." The website info adds that the stove "will hold approximately 1.25 ounces of fuel and boil up to 3 cups of cold water. It has a total burn time of about 14 minutes. This stove was designed with a smaller diameter fire ring and is suitable for pots like the MSR Titan Kettle, Snow Peak Trek 900, Vargo .9L Kettle, Firelite 900, Optimus Terra Kettle, GSI Pinnacle, etc." Part of my interest in the SOLO stems from the fact that I do carry the MSR Titan Kettle as my backpacking pot.

The SOLO, coming in at a mere 1 ounce, should be good for short day hikes where I only want to boil enough water for a hot drink and/or a dehydrated meal. However, with a little extra fuel in tow, the stove should also be useful for backpacking trips lasting two-to-three days or more.

Click pictures to enlarge.
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White Box stoves are named for the white box in which they ship. Inside each box is a backpacking stove, an instruction sheet (click here to see enlarged instructions), an aluminum wind screen, an aluminum heat shield, and a four-ounce fuel bottle with a pop-up spout.

My SOLO model, pictured above, measures 1 11/16" tall (4.3 cm) and 2 5/16" wide (5.9 cm diameter). Fifteen equally spaced jet holes circle the outside of the cylinder, and the internal portion consists of a funnel-like reservoir made from the inverted bottle neck. The stove features the more recent "Cope RollTM" edge along the top. Older models used a three-rivet design to marry the internal portion to the outer cylinder. However, the newer method, according to the website, creates an incredibly strong rim capable of supporting 400 pounds. To the eye, the SOLO certainly appears minimalist and strong.

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Early trials revealed the need to take care and allow the stove to "prime" such that the side jets blossom with flame before placing a pot on the stove. On average, priming time with stove and heat shield took about a minute. However, while I was researching the SOLO, I happened across an internet commentary that recommended a priming pan for the stove, and I did go ahead and order a pan at the same time I ordered the stove. The accessory I bought is the is the "Prime-Lite Primer Pan" made by Trail Designs—available at the Trail Designs website. The pan is simple to use and does make a considerable difference in priming time, easily reducing it by a half-minute or more.

In terms of usage, the SOLO is a study in efficient functionality. My kettle maxes out at roughly three cups of water. With the SOLO filled with fuel, a lid on the kettle, and the wind break in place, the stove can get three cups of water boiling in the neighborhood of seven to eight minutes. By nine to ten minutes, the water is at a rolling boil, and burn time on the stove continues till about the fifteen-minute mark. At the end of the burn, the flames do diminish gradually as the pressure inside the stove begins to dissipate.

Update (July 28, 2010):

Here is a demonstration I taped way back on January 30, soon after receiving the stove and after a snowfall in the area. Intending eventually to create a more polished HD video, I held off on posting the version below. However, given that months have gone by and I still haven't recorded anything, I finally decided just to upload the extant video to YouTube and embed it here as part of my update.

I have owned the White Box SOLO for six months now and have used it repeatedly on trips afield. Most recently, I took it on a solo backpacking trip to test out some other gear, and as always, the SOLO was a reliable and minimalist addition to my kit.

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The stove, along with a mini Bic lighter, nests inside my 300 mL double-walled Snowpeak Ti mug, which in turn nests inside my MSR Titan Kettle. The kettle also has room for a Trail Designs priming pan as well as other odds and ends like coffee/creamer packets and a handkerchief. Outside the kettle, in a ziplock, I carry my pot lifter, the wind screen, and my fuel bottle. Sometimes, I upgrade to an eight-ounce fuel bottle, depending on how much cooking I'm going to do.

I have quite a few other backpacking stoves, including a homemade SuperCat alcohol stove, a Trangia alcohol stove, an MSR SimmerLite white-gas stove, an MSR Pocket Rocket canister-fuel stove, and Bill's Original White Box stove. However, it's the White Box SOLO I turn to the most when I set foot outdoors these days.

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