(Ed note: I now know the ring is upside down! Whoops!)
There is plenty of debate out there in the West about whether campfires ought to be a thing of the past. Frankly, while backpacking, I never start a fire, and while car camping, only do occasionally, depending on where I am, the weather, fire conditions, etc. Of course, millions upon millions of people do not live in the fire prone West, and have vastly different ideas about fire safety and necessity. So, I would like to say, right at the start here, we are not advocating that anyone builds campfires anywhere they like, without taking into account local conditions, regardless of whether fires are permitted there or not. There are times and places where fires are perfectly fine.
For those times, the Solo Stove is very difficult to beat.
I’ve been using the Solo Stove Bonfire ($250-$300, depending on sales) model for over a year now. It’s kinda their medium size, suitable for a few people standing or sitting around it. Before I had it, I was a big fan of propane stoves for car camping and backyard fires, for the ease and the lack of embers and soot. But forget that.
The Bonfire model has a diameter of 19.5″ and is 14″ tall. It weighs 20 pounds, light enough to sling around, into a car, into the backyard, what have you. Not while it’s on fire, of course. Don’t wanna do that. It’s made of stainless steel, is double-walled, and has air vents at the base and the top for max air flow—this fire pit burns efficiently. And gets real, real hot.
Two things are commonly said about the Solo Stove in my experience. One, a question: This thing is smokeless, right? No! No it isn’t. Solo Stove touts that it emits less smoke than, say, a simple pile of wood, but it still emits plenty of smoke, and you will have to do the smoke shuffle if you’re sitting around it. The other is a hearsay complaint: You have to stand right over it to feel warmth, right? Also, no! While yes, the heat is concentrated within the steel walls, but it puts out PLENTY of heat to sit around and stay warm. I commonly put it out in front of my house on cold evenings, and have three or four neighbors sitting around the fire, and we’re nice and toasty.
Now, it may seem too big and bulky for car camping, in terms of finding room for it among the rest of your outdoor toys in the back of your Subaru/4Runner/Tacoma/Rav4. That’s only true if you don’t fill it with other things. I usually put all my non-perishable food in it, making it not only a fire pit, but a storage container on the way to camp. It comes with a nice, thick carrying bag too, so I load it up with food, draw the carrying bag around it, and it takes up about the same amount of space a bag or two of groceries would. Simple.
It’s also just freaking great on a car camp trip. Sometimes it will be raining, or will have recently rained, or whatever, and an existing fire pit or ring will be soaked. Not your Solo Stove. Or, you’ll be car camping in a place without a fire ring. No need to build one, you’re covered, and will be leaving no trace. You can also cook over the Solo Stove with the addition of their cast iron grill top, which I haven’t used yet, but it looks badass and I will at some point and report back.
Solo Stove makes little stoves specifically for cooking, they make little stoves for one or two campers and minimal space, they make this Bonfire that will likely appeal to the broadest base of folks, and they also produce the Yukon, a 27″ diameter behemoth. For me, the Bonfire is the best blend of portability, fire size, and amount of wood consumed.
They also look cool as hell. After a few fires, the bright silver turns a gold with blue swirls as the metal heats and reacts to use. When it’s time to clean I just turn it over and bang the ash out. Done.
The only downside, at all, is that you can’t douse it with water when you’re finished with your fire. I mean, you can of course, but it’s bad for it. But, it’s so self-contained, you can disperse the wood into coals and just kinda watch it for a bit. It won’t release embers because of the tall walls.
Aside from my bikes and surfboards, this gets BY FAR the most use of all my outdoor gear. Summers not as much, because it’s hot where I live and we have lots of Red Flag days with no fires allowed. But shoulder seasons and winter, it’s nearly a daily appliance, if camping and at home in the yard.
• BUY $300