Whether you are tent camping, RVing, or at home in the backyard, there is something magical about lighting a campfire. Memories are made around the burning, crackling embers as you shoot the breeze with good friends around the fire’s glow, spend a romantic evening cuddled up with a loved one in front of a fire’s dancing flames, or sit silently by yourself getting lost in a fire’s flickering patterns beneath a star-studded sky.
Today, having a home fire pit for entertaining is becoming the norm, but if you’re like me, building a sturdy and safe fire pit is cost-prohibitive, and if you are a camper living the van life or are a tent camper or RVer, you are finding that open campfires are prohibited at many campsites and fire rings are becoming scarce. Not to mention how nasty a debris-filled fire ring can be to clean up when you arrive at camp.
Fear not! There is a portable and economical alternative that provides a safe solution to having a warm and cozy campfire at your backyard party, your campout, even for Scouting -- it’s the Solo Stove Ranger.
The Science Behind Solo Stove
Okay, we’ve established that we all love campfires, but how many times have you tried to get comfortable next to a roaring fire toasting marshmallows or s’mores only to find yourself endlessly readjusting where you’re sitting as the wind shifts and blows the smoke plume right in your face? Wouldn’t it be great if there was a smokeless wood-burning stove?
That’s how the idea for Solo Stove was born. They came up with the perfect design to virtually eliminate smokey fires while providing portable ambiance for life’s outdoor moments.
The patented design is simple enough. The 304 stainless steel unit has a double-wall construction with plenty of vent holes in the bottom and the top of the drum. The bottom holes allow an intake of cool air while the double wall allows pre-heated air to flow upward to the top holes, providing a secondary combustion that makes burning wood more efficient -- leaving only a handful of ashes to clean up while reducing smoke to next to nothing.
Since its inception, Solo Stove has designed units small enough for backpackers to carry along on overnight treks through the wilderness and the huge 16-by-27-inch Yukon model. The Ranger -- which is only 12.5 by 15 inches in size and weighs in at 15 pounds -- is the perfect mid-size unit for most people, and it fits well in compact spaces.
Putting It All Together
The Ranger is a two-piece unit with a base price of $194.99. The price includes the Ranger, its fire ring, and a heavy-duty, almost indestructible drawstring storage bag. The fire ring channels the flame through the top opening, making it even more efficient and, again, helps cut down the smoke even more. There are a couple of accessories available that you may want to consider purchasing separately or as part of the Backyard Bundle for your Ranger.
The first is the optional spark screen. This handy mesh cover fits neatly on top of your Ranger and gives you peace of mind in knowing that rogue embers and sparks from the fire are being contained. The screen fits perfectly on top of the Ranger’s fire ring and has a separate opening that allows you to easily add more wood to the fire. To do this, the spark screen comes with two grappling utensils that allow you to pick up the cover without getting burned.
The second accessory is the fire pit stand. The stand not only has additional ventilation, which provides an even more efficient burn, but also lifts the Ranger 2.75 inches off the ground, allowing you to use the pit on more heat-sensitive surfaces, like your wood deck or on grass as I did.
As mentioned, these accessories can be purchased separately or as part of a Backyard Bundle, which includes the Ranger, spark screen, stand, and a heavy-duty shelter cover so you can leave the Ranger out in the elements without worry.
Now, whenever I purchase a product and it comes with a single one-sheet set of instructions, I get worried. They usually don’t tell you enough about installation and using the product, which results in hours of researching it on Google or YouTube for additional information. But that’s not the case with Solo Stove. The one-sheet instructions are simple and easy to read and provide all the info you need to get a fire started within minutes.
To assemble the Ranger, simply place the fire ring on top (bevel side up), load up your choice of fire starter and wood, and off you go! You will want to use logs that are no more than 10 to 11 inches long, otherwise they will poke out the top and you will have more smoke.
If you are using the optional stand, first place the stand securely on level ground and center the Ranger on top of it. If you’re using the spark screen, place it on top, remove the top screen cover, and add your wood. That’s it. Easy.
Fire In The Hole
Starting your Ranger is just as easy as assembly. Simply remove the fire ring, add kindling or fatwood (some people use dryer lint), light it up, then, when the starter is good and flaming, start adding your wood.
The beautiful thing about the Ranger is that by using the stand, it does not scorch the earth or vegetation, making it perfect for practicing Leave No Trace.
I found that a good-size log burns down in about 90 minutes. When you’re ready to call it a night, simply let the fire burn down and allow it to be cool to the touch. Remember, this is stainless steel, and it will get hot. Do not pour water on the Ranger to douse it. Water will cause the welds in the steel to expand and severely damage the unit.
To clean the Ranger, simply pour the ashes out and wipe down with a paper towel. While you will love the gleaming 304 stainless steel finish of the Ranger when you first take it out of the box, your first good fire will tarnish the finish. That’s not a criticism of the product. It’s just the nature of fire.
The Bottom Line
The Solo Stove Ranger is simply the best thing to come along when it comes to campfires and fire pits since matches. It’s lightweight, compact, easy to assemble, operate, and clean, and it really is smokeless. Yes, you purists out there will say, “all fires have some smoke,” and that’s true, but you will have a hard time finding it while using the Ranger. But remember, the amount of smoke produced is also contingent on the user -- make sure the wood you use is not wet or damp, keep the length of the logs short so that they do not protrude from the top of the Ranger, and use good quality wood, nothing that leaves a lot of creosote behind. Not following these guidelines will alter how much smoke is produced.
Heat wise, this is not the most radiant of heat sources. The heat from the Ranger mostly rises from the top, but still, considering the efficiency of the unit, it does a good job warming you up. And speaking of efficiency, considering the amount of airflow through the Ranger, it does burn more wood than an open pit or fire ring, so keep that in mind when gathering your firewood.
Your next question will be, Can you cook on it? No, the Ranger is not designed for grilling, although some people have adapted grills to put over it. The Ranger does, however, lend itself to roasting marshmallows, s’mores, and hot dogs. In fact, the spark screen has notches you can use to rest your favorite roasting stick in.
There are a couple of things we need to remind you about when it comes to building any fire: First, when packing the Ranger along for a camping trip, do not bring wood from your home area to the campsite. Many state and national parks forbid transporting in wood from external sources because they could introduce insects to the forest that could be devastating to the trees.
And remember that the Ranger does not qualify for use during a burn ban. Check your local, state, and federal regulations for more information.