Thursday, December 20, 2012

Palette's Product Reviews: the 180 Stove

This review is late, Late, LATE.  I'd like to apologize to the fine folks at 180 Tack who provided me with a free 180 Stove for review, and who have been waiting patiently these many months for me to finally write this thing. Part of the delay was due to me not fully understanding how best to use their product, and part of it was due to my crap skills at firestarting.

I'm going to reiterate my methodology from the last time I tested camping stoves:

A Necessary Disclaimer:
I am not very good at starting fires. This makes me exactly the right person to review these stoves. A trained survivalist can make a stove out of a cow pattie, a hole in the ground, and a mirror. I, however, am an average schlub, just like most of the people who will be using these stoves. If they'll work for me, they will certainly work for you.

These were the tests I performed on the stove:
  1. How easy it was to light and keep fed, using identical natural materials.
  2. How quickly it could bring 16 ounces of water to boil in a steel mug.
  3. How quickly it could bring 24 ounces of water to boil in an uncovered aluminum pot.
  4. How quickly it could cook a single egg on an aluminum skillet.

The 180 Stove  ($46.95)
The 180 Stove is a very light (10 ounces), very compact stove that cleverly disassembles into a package that is, oh, about the size of two packs of cards. All the parts nest for storage and come inside a sturdy, resealable plastic bag. This bag is actually cooler than you think it is, because it's of a thicker plastic than your typical sandwich baggie --  which means it can survive multiple camping trips. This is a good thing, because you can put your dirty, sooty, ash-covered stove into the bag without worrying about getting carbon on your clothes or anything else.

Also, the 180 Stove is cute.  I'm not entirely sure why I think that; perhaps it has to do with how its thin-gauge steel makes it so light that I feel like I'm assembling a toy. Once put together, however, it is surprisingly sturdy -- I mean, I wouldn't put a dutch oven on it, but it should support most camping pots & pans.

EDIT:  I just received this email from 180 Tack:
[Regarding]  the recommendation not to use a dutch oven on the stove. I wouldn't hesitate for a second to place that kind of weight on it. We've had considerably more weight on it than the 25-30 lbs that a dutch oven weighs. The point of the interlocking parts is to allow a heavier load than your typical backpacking/emergency stove while maintaining a lightweight product. 
I stand corrected. 

Test 1
I am so glad this review isn't a referendum on my fire-starting skills because, honestly, I'm not very good at it. I realize now that my previous tests were "easy mode", because all I had to do was start a small fire inside an optimized surface. This meant I only had to do the "kindling tepee with tinder on the inside" and once things caught I could just keep feeding progressively larger sticks.

The 180 Stove doesn't work like that, and was my other mistake:  I tried to make the fire with the stove already sitting on top of the fuel. As you might guess, this made things very  frustrating, as the fire first kept dying, and then wanted to subsist entirely on a diet of kindling.

So here's what you do:

  1. First, you make a bed of larger sticks. 
  2. Then you make the tepee on top of that bed.
  3. Get the fire started while your assembled stove sits off to the side. (Assembling the stove probably should have been Step 0. My bad.)
  4. Once everything is burning merrily and evenly, then and ONLY then do you drag the stove on top of the fire. You'd better act quickly because this is a good way to get burned if you're clumsy or slow. 
  5. Now you are ready to cook. Make sure you have plenty of fuel to keep shoving through the opening. Really long sticks are good for this, because you can inch them forward. 

Once I figured this out, it was easy to keep the fire going. I felt like such an idiot for not realizing this sooner -- it even says so in the instructions!  Learn from my foolishness. 

Test 2

After the learning curve of getting the fire started, everything else was simple. My 16 ounces of water in a steel mug started to steam at 5 minutes 30 seconds, boil at 6:30, and was a visible rolling boil at 7:30. This is approximately how long it took for the Solo Stove to boil the same amount of water as well.

Test 3
Weirdly enough, boiling a larger volume of water (24 ounces in an uncovered aluminum pot) actually took less time than did the mug: 5 minutes to steam, 6 to boil and a rolling boil at 6:30.  I have a theory that this is because the 180 Stove offers a larger cooking surface than any of the other stoves I tested, and therefore the pot boiled faster because all of its cooking surface was exposed to flame. (I could be mistaken, but it sounds reasonable to me.)  In this test, the 180 boiled at half the rate of the Solo, and was comparable to the Folding Firebox.

Test 4
Again the mystery of decreased time raises its head, and again I say it's because my fry pan has a greater surface area (at least on the bottom) than the pot. The egg cooked in a minute and a half, which is slower than the Firebox by 30 seconds but better than the Solo Stove.

My Rating: A
This is a great little stove that sits more or less between the Solo Stove and the Folding Firebox in terms of features and performance:
  • As light as the Solo, but easier to pack due to folding flat
  • Folds like the Firebox, but nowhere near as heavy
  • Not as idiot-proof as the Solo, but performance is better overall
  • Puts out more felt heat than the Solo, but less than the Firebox
The best thing I can say about the 180 Stove is that you can fit it inside a cargo pocket and  you'll barely know it's there. (Don't sit on it!)

The worst thing I can say about it is that its thin-gauge steel feels flimsy to me. While it easily supported anything I placed on it, I worry that sitting or stepping on it could render it unusable -- although given enough time and the proper tools, you could probably bend or hammer it back into shape. The thinness of the steel also means it cools off quickly, so there's less time wasted waiting to put it away. 

I also find it strange that it is seemingly more efficient with larger cook surfaces -- you're better off boiling your water in a cookpot and then transferring that water to your mug than you are by putting the mug on the fire. 

In conclusion, this is a good little stove, and I recommend to anyone who is interested in ultralight camping, especially if neither the Solo (too bulky) nor the Firebox (too heavy) fit your needs. Just make sure your fire-building skills are up to date!

(Obligatory Disclaimer:  The 180 Stove was provided to me free for review. I was not asked to give it a good review, nor was I compensated for it.)


  1. I was pretty much down with it until this part: Once everything is burning merrily and evenly, then and ONLY then do you
    drag the stove on top of the fire. You'd better act quickly because
    this is a good way to get burned if you're clumsy or slow.

    Let me just say that coordination isn't one of my strongest points, but I can learn eye hand coordination pretty well.  If I get the chance to practice it a lot. 

    So in a stove you won't use regularly, does that work? 

  2. In that case, I recommend one of two options:

    1)  Get a pair of Firesticks so that you can manipulate the stove onto the fire without risk of burning yourself, 
    2) Get one of the other stoves. 


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