The formula is cotton balls + petroleum jelly + oak sticks.
The Two Problems with Solo Stove Lite
I’ve owned my Solo Stove Lite for several years. I love the concept. The idea of using natural materials while camping instead of fossil fuels is very appealing. Not having to buy gas cans is appealing as well. But I’ve only used it sporadically because of two annoying issues.
First, it was always a pain to light it and get going. Now, once the fire is going, it is amazing. But it was always super tricky to get the fire lit.
Leaves were too bulky. Fatwood was too sooty. Sticks, no matter how small and dry, are not good tinder. Little fire starters didn’t burn hot enough or long enough. On and on.
I was really frustrated with this issue since everyone on the Internet ignored it. Solo stove’s manual glosses over it. YouTuber reviews always skip the ignition part and go right to the burn part. Seasoned bushcraft veterans just skip over it assuming that everyone can light wet sticks in 5 minutes.
Second, it was sooty and smoky. I mean – wow. Concentrating the heat also meant concentrating the smoke. And even though it does burn most of its smoke, my pot always came out black and gross.
The Solution to a Good Solo Stove Burn
The thing about cotton balls + petroleum jelly is that it lights quickly and burns a little while. The cotton ball will light with the tiniest ember. And the petroleum jelly / Vaseline is literally oil…which burns a while.
That combo is a decently well-known DIY fire starter, but it’s especially useful for a solo stove since it’s small, quick, and burns long enough to ignite a few tiny sticks.
The solution to soot is two-fold.
First, the wood needs to put off less smoke.
Second, the wood needs to burn hotter to trigger the stove’s gasifier effect (and burn cleaner at first).
Oak, especially White Oak and Red Oak, burns the hottest and cleanest of any common wood. Maple and hickory also do well. And Ash is best (if you can find it).
I do most of my backpacking in the East, so oak is generally everywhere.
But oak is also tough to ignite. That’s why I’d usually add in a bit of pine or hemlock. Both of which produce a ton of soot even they ignite well.
So – that circles back to the petroleum jelly. It will burn long enough to catch a tiny oak stick on fire, which you can use to build from there. You can also supplement with an oak or maple leaf.
It usually takes me 5 to 7 minutes to get a good fire & gasifier “bloom” depending on conditions. From there, it’s 5 minutes to boil 8 oz of water.
It’s not as fast as an isobutane Pocket Rocket, but I find it more fulfilling and more fun overall.*
*I will bring a back-up alcohol stove, but keep the overall cookset lightweight. And if it’s crazy rainy + cold or crazy summer humid…I will go back to a Pocket Rocket. Like all things in backpacking, there is no such thing as “best” – only “better for this situation.”