Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Soto - micro regulator stove OD-1R


To be able to contact a manufacturer these days and receive a personal reply solving your problem is a rare thing.

Not only did Tomo at Soto achieve this, but he replied immediately, offered me options for solving said problem and kept me informed throughout. And when head office in Japan could not help because it was holiday season, Tomo organised for the American office to ship the replacement part, all for free  - OUTSTANDING!!! With products winning awards and wonderful customer service, the only way is up for Soto!

I feel that I am in some way doing Soto a disservice in starting with this mention of a problem, (actually a manufacturing 'defect') but in some ways these after market services are what actually distinguish one purchase from another. Often we won't have experience of alternative products, but it is safe to say that these days in most sectors, there are many products which will perform their intended function admirably, so what really stands out is aftersales; warranty, information, and how problems are rectified - the dreaded 'customer service' or lack thereof.


In my research, I looked at many examples of similar products, but none fitted the bill, for me, quite so well as the OD-1R, despite its lack of awe inspiring name, as from other brand offerings; Rocket, Reactor, Devil, Dragon, Zip Flash...

Having experience with a Trangia set up and alcohol burners, I decided I wanted the reliability of a gas stove. I had spent much time, effort and of course money putting together my ideal lightweight set up. It started with my intentions of long distance cycle touring, but on seeing the benefits, it organically spilled over into every aspect of my enjoyment of the outdoors, culminating in a full hike/camp set up of just over 6 kilos, without water, which I tested to great success and satisfaction on the Camino de Santiago Pilgrims trail across Spain.

Main considerations of course, lightweight, small pack size and not too extreme a price tag, when we are talking about minimal gains for big bucks. 73 grams including a built in igniter, at £70 the OD-1R ticked all the boxes. No messing around with a lighter or matches in a high wind, just get the gas flowing and click the igniter.

There were many canister top stoves like this, at around the same weight, but add an igniter and weights almost doubled. This little thing seemed a bit too good to be true and so alarm bells started ringing. Why were other manufacturers not able to offer an equivalent? So I read up more on the 'built in igniter' situation. Turns out, in the past, built in igniters were none too reliable. They can get affected by wind and being a piece of outdoor kit, it is not ideal that they succumb to the inevitable rust, muck build up etc. Well, Soto's solution to this problem is to have an internal igniter, within the burner post. This protects the igniter from the outdoors and so improves ignition, which, as we can all understand, is pretty high on the agenda when it comes to stove performance.

I looked at the equivalent jet boils and their efficiency, but pack size wasn't all that fantastic and nor was the weight by comparison. I looked into all aspects of weight and pack size, considering overall cooking set up and the different combinations each stove type allowed. Despite this, the OD-1R still stood out for me. I then read up on the clumsiness of a canister top stove and so came across the standalone burner with connector tube.

Still hooked on  the light weight and size of the OD-1R, I came across an elegant (lightweight) solution to the instability concerns.

'Super legs'
So, exhausted from trawling the internet, I committed!

First thoughts

First thoughts on receiving the product were just how small and light it really was, how well put together it seemed. The one thing that I noticed straight off and that many people on checking it out had also noticed was the seemingly flimsy pot supports. You can see from the image how they fold away.

The legs pivot upwards into their usable position and then the pivot slides down to lock out. To pack away, you simply pull the legs upwards and pivot them down into the position you see here.

Noticing this as a potential pitfall, I was always very careful to make sure I locked them out properly before loading them with pot weight.

Unfortunately though it was a leg that failed for me whilst out. The stove was still usable, but a bit of a tilt was required to stabilise the pot in the future. Thank God for my super legs!


So what can I give you compared to all these other reviews which are worth checking out on the same product.
- Test Report by Curt Peterson
- LFTO review
- Pete's blog

I really find that no matter how much you look for reviews, you can't get enough information when you are looking into buying kit and as much as magazine reviews are enlightening and you get all your measured tests done, what you can't necessarily get is layperson's terms usage experience. Those little quirks of experience that can only come from ongoing usage. And when you are still not sure what to get, you make a choice, sometimes a reasoned one, often based on price, sometimes on asthetics, but you are never quite sure, so I suppose I can in this case tell you that if you are in the same situation as me, not totally sure, if you go ahead and buy it, then if it does go wrong, Tomo is a reasonable man and there to help out, so you can be safe in that knowledge. And because of that, I also want to help Soto and compliment them and their product, because they have treated me superbly and I have gained much pleasure from my reliable little stove, so with that in mind...


Standard twisting installation onto the top of the gas canister. Extend the regulator handle which neatly folds up for storage. This allows you to unfold the pot supports/legs. Once locked, all you need to do is give the smoothy actioned regulator handle a few good twists until the gas is flowing and then click the large red igniter button - As easy as that!

The igniter is damn reliable as well, so much so that I now, rightly or wrongly, don't bring a lighter as back up. Two or three clicks at worst and you have a roaring gas stove.

And when it comes to packing away, the OD-1R comes with a neat little bag, which stops you scratching your expensive non-stick pans, if you store the burner within.

With this stove the simplicity of the process is the key!

Aside from what I hope is an anomoly in the leg failure, the main negative to note is the lack of wind protection. The effect of wind is noticable, both visually and when it comes to heating time. However if, like me, it is a matter of wildman/woman pride for you to achieve suitable protection from a tree or other wilderness feature, then this is not such an issue. It is a noteworthy point nonetheless.

This burner kept me sane on a lonely and cold cycle tour when hot food was imperative, has assisted in many a wet wood fire start, and easily fed four people on the Camino de Santiago, in wet conditions and at temperatures as low as -5. It has definitely had a hard ride and I had this in mind when I first tried it after a 6 month trip away. I attached a canister and despite my concerns, it lit after a couple of clicks of the igniter. I am now convinced of it's performance and longevity -  A trusty companion for the outdoor life.

Next generation

So if you haven't noticed, I am a big fan of this stove and I was excited to see Soto advertising their more recent offerings. It is refreshing to see that they have developed what from the product name is to be the replacement for the OD-1R, the OD-1RX, which now incorporates an updated burner head to address the one area, where the performance was only average in the tests (and in the real world), wind protection.

Check it out for yourself, I think if my OD-1R wasn't looking like it was going to last forever, then this would be on my shopping list... or maybe I'll just donate the 1R to a friend and upgrade anyway!

Friday, 22 June 2012

I should be in the Western Isles of Scotland

I should be in the Western Isles of Scotland
I should be a few kilos lighter
I should be midge bitten
I should have a lean physique with bulging quad muscles
I should have grown used to passing many hours with only my self for company (yikes!!!)
I should be sporting a fantastic cycling tan

I shouldn't be feeling sorry for myself, but I AM!

I was just reading about a friend Ben Allen's awesome touring trip from from Canada into Mexico. Read here. He has recently ditched the bike to set off hitchhiking down Mexico. Seems as though he is enjoying the freedom of experience as I had intended, while I am sitting here, day by day on a sofa watching TV, jealous.

Add to that the annoyance at having been this very evening deceived by yet another person's feigned interest in buying the car I NEED to sell to be able to survive this summer, it is safe to say that things aren't going to plan!

Initially I was able to keep my touring hopes alive. But after 5 weeks of physio, the physio and I agreed that it would be worth testing the waters, injury wise. So I sensibly chose the short blast to Brighton - 45 miles as a good testing ground. To make it even easier, (whilst also testing the back to back riding that is required in touring), I split the 45 miles into two days - 20 and 25 miles respectively. Considering I was happy doing 60-80 mile days, back to back before injuring, you will see that a puny 25 miles, even in a weak state shouldn't have presented a problem. However, after weeks of rest and physiotherapy and constraint, my injury manifested itself similarly just before arriving in Brighton.

Oh the frustration, I cannot tell you - The kind of morbid acceptance which seemingly allowed an odd satisfaction in cycling one legged into a city, enjoying the odd looks of car drivers and pedestrians. Very weird!

So, referral back to the doctors. This now means an acceptance of the fact that I am going to have to call off my circumnavigation trip, at least for the near future. I imagine it to be unlikely that I will see a knee specialist before the end of the summer and I don't expect there to be a miraculous cure. In fact I am wondering whether this is going to hinder my potential for an active life...well, for life. I suppose we'll just wait and see.

Either way it does not fill one with optimism when the doctor says, "yes... well...normally with knee injurys, cycling is the one thing we CAN recommend because it is a low impact controlled movement".


So - new plan - learn to sail. More on that and the reasons why, later.

Friday, 4 May 2012

Injury delay and photo highlights of trip so far

So after some unexpectedly painless early miles on Sunday's attempted start of the remainder of the UK Circumnavigation, my knee sent me a message that I was a bit premature in trying to get going. It pretty much seized up just after stopping to take a photo of Southend Pier. That was 40 miles in.

Route completed so far - Hope Cove to Southend - Not exact route,  but a good representation
I accepted defeat and bought a train ticket home, thinking that for optimism and sanities sake I should get an open return. This gives me a month for recovery and to get back to Southend with bike and gear.

Doctor Tuesday morning, referred me to a physiotherapist, though annoyingly over a week away. Doc mentioned that my lower leg might bow outwards slightly more than other peoples, meaning that ligaments and tendons might be moving over more prominent bones than they would in normal people, meaning more friction, inflammation and subsequent pain. This makes sense with regard to the type of injury it seems to be, (Iliotibial band syndrome - Tract up the outside of your leg - lower knee to hip, that exists to give lateral stability to the knee)

Overall, it's annoying! Just an anatomical issue, which I can't really get around. Oh well!

Now that I have had to (hopefully) delay and return home from Southend, I am contemplating what I can do to fill this time void, previously to be filled with pedalling. I am in recovery mode now, dosing myself up with Ibuprofen and applying anti-inflammatory gel intermittently. I am going to give it one week of full rest, no activity, in which time hopefully I shall get a physio appointment. I was going to write this - [Then I am going to consider climbing and slacklining again. This will coincide nicely with my brother returning me my climbing gear and my slackline. Climbing I am sure will not stress the ITB and I need to be active some way and slacklining, I hope will just aid with conditioning. We shall see!] But then saw this - ACTIVITIES I CANNOT DO WHILST RECOVERING FROM ITB SYNDROME.

Sports activities to avoid while symptomatic

Enough of the negative - here are some photo/images of what I have already experienced in the 500 miles of what I have achieved so far on the circumnavigation of the UK.

Getting used to my Garmin which is superb piece of kit I run off solar power. I can record all the details of a day on it, as you can see down the left hand side.  As well as knowing exactly where I have gone. Tough days like my first (above) on the undulating coast of South Devon. 1,614m of altitude gain is the equivalent of cycling up Ben Nevis and then some. Can see by 188 beats per minutes max heart rate how difficult some of those hills are!
Torcross - Slapton - Bank of shingle protecting a cut off freshwater lake, supporting much wildlife, particularly the winged kind. A beautiful part of the world, a place I have visited much and a really nice part of first day ride. Nice and flat for a few miles before that coast in the background towards Dartmouth really ramps up.
Dartmouth Castle - Kingswear Castle across the river mouth. Used to string a chain between the two castles, to prevent enemy ships entering the then very influential shipping Port.
First Ferry Crossing - Only here did it
feel like I was actually starting the trip
Ferry to Kingswear
Shaldon looking over at Teignmouth
Another Ferry crossing from Starcross to Exmouth,
avoiding a long detour into Exeter
One of the most spectacular views I have EVER seen - no exaggeration!!!
Start of Jurassic coast East of Sidmouth
First night's camp just outside....

Lyme Regis harbour
Amazing cliff  'Golden Cap' so named for prominent shape and shade of sandstone - highest cliff point on the entire South Coast of UK at 191 metres 

You can see just how high golden cap is here. On a good day, you can see Dartmoor and  top of the picture, all the way down to the end of Chesil Beach. Was my first foray away from the bike. I took my road bike off road for a couple of miles to get to the base of the 'cap' without puncturing, then gave my feet some fresh air. It was wet, so a really nice climb!
Who's that Pillock?!
Portland Sunset, Rainstorm at Sea - superb view. End of a long day, heading out to Portland Bill, best time to get a good ol' puncture is twilight. 4 miles off road earlier in the day and you puncture on the road. One of those evenings, as I also thought that two pieces of my equipment, including my navigation (Garmin) had failed. Luckily was still in good spirits post puncture and enjoyed heading out to the Lighthouse under the ominous skies. See below
Portland Bill - Beautiful moments... These storm clouds were rolling across the coastline for miles. I felt like I was the only person on the South coast out of the firing line as the storm passed along the mainland coast, leaving the tip of Portland with clear skies above.
2nd night - poor horses. I woke with a start in the early hours and frightened the hell out of that pair, who took flight. 8 o clock a lady parked across the road, came down, opened the gate, fed the horses and left. I said hello, she said hello, completely nonplussed by my presence. So refreshing!
Top of image - Sleeping within spitting distance of ol' Bill. A highlight of the trip so far!!! Like this photo!
Met some cyclists in Wareham after passing the Saxon walled city defences, (now grassy mounds surrounding the city) .Garmin not working, they suggested a route down to Corfe castle where I could then get onto the Studland peninsula road, taking me all the way to the toll ferry,across to Sandbanks
Studland Peninsula. Amazing place! A cross between the new forest and the Gower peninsula. Felt like I was in Spain on checking out the beach.
After the long stretch along the promenade from Poole to ferry crossing at Mudeford, (totally flat riding), and from there, east to Lymington, I turned north into The New Forest, through Beaulieu, with the intention of staying at a friend Hannah's house in central Southampton. Nothing like a last minute phone call for a request to stay the night! Through The New Forest, take the advice of anyone suggesting that you stop at Bucklers Hard. A bit of a surreal place, but all the better for it. 
Portchester Castle - Amazing ruins

Bosham - pronounced 'Bozzam'. I don't think I quite checked it out as I should have, but still appreciated the amazing little village. I continued my way round the Chichester harbour on a bit of a nostalgia trip, having spent much time down here, my dad being a frequenter of Chichester yacht club. I miss estuary mud! Got stuck in it when I was a toddler on an investigatory mission. Turns out, even Red wellies and bow legs can't help you from getting stuck in that shit!!!
Brighton's dead pier
the Alive one
Left Brighton on the morning of the Brighton marathon. A bit hectic but a cool experience!
More days of riding the flat part of UK's coast. The original intention of the trip was to get to know the UK better. I have already learnt a major truth that I was unaware of. Much of our coastline is flat. Having grown up spending much time in the west country I had grown used to the steep undulating nature of the South West coast of the UK. I suppose I just assumed the rest of the UK was the same, without really thinking. How wrong you can be! 

From Lyme Regis east, generally speaking the UK's coastline is flat. I am told this is the case up to pretty much just below Yorkshire. Seems weird, a flat coastline, but when you understand the origins of the coastline, it is not so strange >

> I am reading a book by Nick Weston, (of BBC's 'Coast' fame). He explains how the english channel ocurred when the ice retreated off the North of the UK mainline. The weight of the ice that was once rested on the North of the UK was immense and after it's retreat, it lead to a see saw motion of the land that now makes up the British Isles. This resulted in the North rising and the South losing altitude. Along with the warming (which lead to the retreat of the ice), sea levels rose and so with these two combined, water started filling the lowlands [then created] between what we now know as Northern France and Southern England. This continued in from the tip of Cornwall, eastwards up into the North Sea. The final blow was the submerging of a land bridge that used to exist off East Anglia that is now known as 'Doggerland'. The name relates to the naming of sea or 'weather areas' that you will recognise from the shipping forcast. "Dogger, Fisher, German bight..." Cool to see what the land was like then. 

So long way round of saying why much of the South coast and lower East coast is flat - the relatively low lying and flat landscape allowed the sea to cut us off from mainland europe. And the remaining coastline is not that much higher than sea level.

Anyway, more days of riding the flat coast took me into Kent and the White cliffs - an obvious exception to the flat coast comments above.

A bit of off road up to Beachy Head
A nice scene in Hastings! Somewhere I've never been before but enjoyed!


This part of the trip was lovely. Ruins at Winchelsea (above) followed by Rye below. Absolutely lovely parts of England worth a visit if ever in the area. Superb!

They were both parts of the confederation of Cinque ( pro - 'sink') ports. The main ports were Hastings, New Romney, Hythe, Dover and Sandwich. There were also 7 limbs towns and 2 'antient towns', Winchelsea and Rye as mentioned. > "The five ports are supported by the two so-called "Antient Towns" of Rye and Winchelsea whose councils traditionally maintained defence contingents for the realm of England."

Rye gunnery level
Unfortunately the wonderful locations couldn't help the fact that it rained on me and then  froze  overnight. Worst night outdoors I have ever had! It was pretty unsafe actually! Oh well, if you live, you learn huh?

Then I had a bit of a mishap. Certainly an eventful few days! Coming up to a roundabout my front brake went with the wheel as I breaked and pulled clean out of it's mount. Scared the monkeys out of me and I went careering across a roundabout. Not great! Having lost the allen key bolt, I had to go searching in the next town. They are not the most common thing in the bicycling world. I was lucky! 

View over water from Ramsgate

Lovely Broadstairs
After terrible freezing night, I had to stay in a room overnight in Margate. Just what was needed, cheap and easy accommodation and a good sleep!

Whitstable Bakery - These ladies kept me company for half an hour whilst taking stock after a very wet morning. As long as it is warm enough, I don't half enjoy cycling in the wet.

So when you decide to undertake something like this, where do you start? Small book is the pocket guide (to take with me), big one is the more comprehensive version of the same book, for reference purposes. 'THE MOST AMAZING PLACES ON BRITAIN'S COAST'. Straight to the point really! I went through the whole thing so as to order the pocket guide because annoyingly, it is in alphabetical order, not ordered geographically. It was worth doing to make sure I hadn't missed any places I might be interested in. Still, over 1000 places took quite some reading.
Southend Pier - too bloody far out to take photos. Over a mile long, I mean honestly!
I put the camera away and my knee had seized, so Southend station > back home for recovery. I can't wait to continue! These photos remind me just what you can experience in a trip like this. Pretty intensive!!!