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Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Soto Microregulator (OD-1R)

Soto Outdoor is a high end stove manufacturing concern based in Japan.

Previously, I've done the following reviews of Soto gear:
Today, I'd like to review an upright canister gas stove from Soto, the Microregulator (OD-1R) which is the world's lightest upright canister stove with auto ignition.  Note:  In Japan, for whatever reason, the stove is referred to as the SOD-300 instead of the OD-1R.
The Soto Microregulator on high.
I've characterized Soto as a high end stove manufacturer, and indeed they are.  Their manufacturing quality is very high, and their stoves show a level of attention to detail that very few other stove manufacturers can rival.  Dare I call a stove beautiful?  If any stove may bear that appelation, it is a Soto.  Soto stoves are a study in precision manufacturing.
The burner head of a Soto Microregulator.  Note the piezoelectric ignition at the very top of the burner head.
While I think quality of manufacturing sets Soto apart from the crowd, there's another thing that makes the Soto Microregulator stand out in particular:   The Microregulator is the world's lightest upright canister gas stove with auto ignition.  Soto's site advertises a weight of 73g.  On my gram scale at home, I register a mere 70g.  Either way, it's about 2.5 ounces and is very light weight.
The piezoelectric auto ignitor of a a Soto Microregulator
Not only did Soto come up with a lightweight auto ignition, they did a darned fine job of it.  Whereas most auto ignitions look like they just crudely bolted an ignition to the side of the stove as more of an afterthought, the Soto Microregulator's ignition was clearly part of the design from the beginning.  The wire for the piezoelectric ignition runs up through the center of the burner column and isn't bolted to the side.  This is no small trick, for running the ignition wire up the center of the stove means that the wire will go through the mixing chamber where the fuel and the air are combined in the proper ratios for efficient combustion.
If you look closely, you can see a copper wire through the opening of the mixing chamber.
How on earth the Soto engineers were able to run that wire through there without messing up the fuel-air mix, I'll never know, but it speaks well indeed of the engineering expertise at Soto.  The top of the ignitor exits in the center of the burner head and is relatively more well protected than side mounted piezoelectric ignitions.  Note:  No ignition system, no matter how well designed, is ever 100%; always bring a lighter or matches (or some other means of ignition) with you on every trip.
The strip of metal that can be seen in the center of the burner head is the upper end of the Microregulator's ignition.
The pot supports and valve adjustment lever fold up well, and the stove is quite compact.
The Microregulator folds up well.
The Microregulator has a nice wide burner head which helps prevent "hot spotting" in the center of your pan which in turn helps prevent burnt food.
The burner head of a Microregulator
The pot supports swing up...
The pot supports rotate
...and lock into place.
After rotating, the pot supports slide into and lock in place.
I've seen some criticism that the pot supports slip too easily out of place.  What I've found after using the stove for a while is that the supports tighten up a bit after they've been exposed to food and weather.  I think they're reasonably stable, and there is absolutely no chance they're going to move when the weight of a pot or pan is on them.  See the video review below for, among other things, a demonstration regarding the pot supports.
Note:  Soto has introduced (Summer, 2012) a new version of this stove, the OD-1RX that has different pot supports.  I have not yet seen the new stove but the new pot supports are said to be improved.

Speaking of pot supports, I think that pots up to about 1300ml work well with the stove although I'm sure some will feel more comfortable with even larger pots.
A 1300ml Evernew UL titanium pot on a Microregulator
I also found that my MSR Blacklite pan which has a 7 5/8" (19.5cm) diameter worked well with the Microregulator. The Microregulator's pot supports have serrations that grip a pot or pan's bottom well.
An MSR Blacklite Pan on a Microregulator
Now, I've said that the wide burner head of the Microregulator will help prevent hot spots.  So, how does it do in actual cooking?  It was a little bit stormy the day I took this series of photos, so please excuse my Z-Lite pad which I was using as a partial windscreen (do NOT use a full 360 degree windscreen with an upright canister stove!).
Getting started with an omelette using a Microregulator
And how did it turn out?  Quite well, I thank you.  A bit of normal browning on the bottom, but...
An omelette cooked on a Microregulator.  Nicely done.
...quite moist and delicious on the inside.
A very nice moist omelette, thanks to the Microregulator.

Myths concerning the Soto Microregulator
For whatever reason, there are two myths out there concerning the Soto Microregulator.

Myth #1 is that the Soto Microregulator will somehow draw more gas out a canister than other stoves. Uh, no.  Not only is there no basis in either physics or chemistry for such an assertion, my testing has verified what theory suggests:  A canister that is empty to another stove will be empty to the Microregulator as well.  In other words, a Microregulator cannot pull more gas out of a given canister than another stove.  I have no idea where such a myth might originate or what could prompt such odd speculation, but there is no basis in fact to that myth.  For those interested in my testing, please see Advantages (?) of Regulator Valved Stoves, Part I

Myth #2 is that the Soto Microregulator will somehow operate better in cold weather compared to other upright canister stoves with a conventional needle valves.  Again, no.  A Soto Microregulator will not run any better in cold weather than any other upright canister stove.  The pressure in a canister is determined by a) the composition of the fuel, b) the temperature of the canister, and c) the ambient atmospheric pressure.  A regulator valve can hold back pressure, but it cannot produce pressure.  In order for a regulator to function it must have something to regulate.  When the pressure inside a canister falls off due to cold, a regulator valve has nothing to regulate and does no better than a needle valve.  This is a complex subject, but if you're interested in it, please see my testing in Advantages (?) of Regulator Valved Stoves, Part II

So, why a regulator valve?
OK, so a Microregulator cannot get more out of a canister than other stoves and a Microregulator can't run any better in cold weather than other stoves, so why a regulator valve?  Excellent question.  A regulator valve can do a couple of things for you:
1.  A regulator valve can control excessive pressure, as in hot weather.  For example, if you're doing the Pacific Crest Trail and you're crossing a desert section in the southern reaches of the trail, you could encounter some very hot weather.  In hot weather, a canister might actually have too much pressure and can "overpower" a stove.  A regulator can tamp down that pressure and keep the stove safe to operate.
2.  A regulator valve can keep a flame more constant if the canister pressure drops provided that there is additional pressure to be had within the canister.  In other words, a regulator valve can open up more on its own allowing more pressure to flow if there is additional pressure available in the canister.  A regulator valve can "smooth out" changes in pressure.  Thus, a regulator valve can give you a more constant flame.  You can think of a regulator valve as a sort of "cruise control" for your stove.    Again, though, there has to be additional pressure available inside the canister in order for the regulator valve to have something to work with.  But couldn't you just reach over and open up the valve a bit wider on a regular needle valved stove?  Yes, you could.  The Microregulator just does it for you automatically.  This automatic adjustment doesn't seem like a hugely valuable feature to me, but to some it may hold appeal.

Concluding remarks
The Soto Microregulator, OD-1R, is a well built, well designed stove, and it's the world's lightest stove with auto-ignition.  The Microregulator is certainly an excellent choice for someone desiring to do simple backpacking style cooking, but because of it's fairly wide burner head, the Microregulator can take on more complex cooking tasks as well.

There is however a lot of confusion about just what the regulator valve is supposed to do, confusion that in my opinion Soto hasn't done enough to dispel.  I think that everyone should just forget that there's a regulator valve on this stove and focus on the fact that this is an excellent stove and that this is the world's lightest stove with auto ignition.  In practical terms for someone out on the trail, the regulator valve is very much a non-event. 

Summary
The Soto Microregulator (OD-1R)
What's good about it?
  • World's lightest stove with auto-ignition.
  • Excellent design and manufacturing quality.
  • Wide burner head which makes this a good stove for real cooking for backpackers.
  • Serrated pot supports make your pot or pan less likely to slip off.
What's bad about it?
  • There is a lot of confusion about the regulator valve.
  • Perhaps the pot supports could lock into place a bit more solidly (but that's a pretty minor complaint on an otherwise excellent stove).
The Microregulator stove from Soto:  Highly recommended.

I thank you for joining me on another Adventure in Stoving,

HJ
The beautiful blue flame of a Soto Microregulator.  Truly a nice stove.

23 comments:

  1. Very thorough review - it's inline with what I've experienced with my Soto.

    One other plus - and one of the top reasons I bought mine - the Soto has the lightest available for purchase (ie non DIY) windscreen for an upright canister stove that I was able to find. Around half an ounce. Much better than the much heavier Gigapower windscreen.

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    1. Brian,

      Good point. I actually have the little windscreen, and it's a nice feature. I think there will be some efficiency gains from it although I hesitate to suggest it will offer real protection in seriously windy conditions.

      HJ

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  2. What an amazing and thorough review. I really like how easy it is to read your writing. I don't mean that you don't write an elevated level, but that you write in a manner that is pleasing to read.

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    1. Oh, why thank you. I try to make things accessible while still being rigorous.

      HJ

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  3. Hi Jim! First of of all I just want to say thanks for your wonderful reviews ;).

    I´m on the market for a stove and I will probably buy this or the MicroRocket.
    What is the size difference between these two?

    Which one would you think will handly a frying-pan better? The Soto seems to have a "wider spread" of the heat cause of the wider "top"? (sorry don´t know all the correct words cause I´m from Sweden and english ain´t my native language.

    Thanks / Henrik

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    Replies
    1. Hello, Henrik.

      The main differentiator between the MicroRocket and the MicroRegulator is that the MicroRegulator has a piezoelectric auto-ignition but the MicroRocket does not. The MicroRocket is lighter and more compact. The MicroRegulator has a wider burner head which gives a more dispersed flame. Both are quality stoves; either will do well for you.

      If you have a large frying pan (greater than 20cm diameter), you might want to try a different class of stove, perhaps something like an MSR WindPro or a Kovea Spider.

      HJ

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    2. Hello Jim and thank you for your answear!

      Yes, I´ve noticed that feature but also taken your advice not to fully rely on it ;).

      Would you say that the Soto stove is compared to the MSR Pocket Rocket size wise? Is the Soto smaller?

      I will purchase a 18 cm diamater frying pan from Trangia.
      http://www.addnature.com/product.aspx?pf_id=TRANGIA_STEKPANNA27HA
      I´m still not sure if Trangias do work with stoves like these but since it is so cheap I will give a try. Have you tried a Trangia frying pan with stoves like the Soto?

      I really want the Soto windscreen too but I can´t find it anywhere in Sweden. I´ve been looking at shipping but it is fairly expensive (77 bucks).

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    3. Henrik,

      The MicroRocket is, to the best of my memory, shorter and is certainly narrower. The wider head of the Soto will definitely take up more room, for example, in a pot.

      I have not tried a Trangia pan on either stove, but an 18cm pan from the Trangia 27 should work fine. A 22cm pan from the Trangia 25 might be too large.

      The Soto windscreen is nice, but it's not crucial. For real wind protection, you need more. I have a post here on my blog about windscreens if you are interested.

      HJ

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  4. Hey thank you for your time!

    Do you mean the MicrRocket or the PocketRocket in your last reply? I was asking about the PocketRocket.

    I ask because I have this set from GSI (Halulite Dualist set) and I´ve seen a youtube video where they fit a PocketRocket into one of the bowls. I´m wondering if the Soto also will fit. If not I will go for the MicroRocket instead.

    Oh ok I might aswell try to find something else then in terms of wind protection then.

    Thanks alot for your replies, they really help!

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    Replies
    1. Oh, the PocketRocket? Don't get a PocketRocket. Very much an older stove. Not compact at all, and the pot supports are too flexible and flimsy. There might be some struggle when deciding between a MicroRocket and a Soto MicroRegulator, but there is no struggle when choosing between a PocketRocket and a Soto MicroRegulator. The Soto MicroRegulator is far and away the better stove, particularly if you want to use a fry pan. Get the Soto.

      HJ

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    2. P.S. I don't own the particular bowl that you mentioned, but I believe the Soto will fit. If a big, bulky PocketRocket will fit, I would think the Soto will fit. The MicroRocket is even smaller and will definitely fit.

      I will do some checking tonight when I get home.

      HJ

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    3. Hi Jim!

      Sorry to make you confused ;). I saw a video of a PocketRocket fitting into the bowl so as long as the Soto is smaller than the PocketRocket it won´t be a problem. The PocketRocket was never on my buy-list, it was only for measurement.

      It will be either the MircroRocket or the Soto but leaning towards the Soto cause of the wider burner head (for frying) unless you suggest something else ;).

      Thanks alot for your help :).

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    4. Ah, yes, I realized that later, hence my second reply. I haven't had a chance to check sizes. I've been working very late at my job.

      HJ

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  5. Hi Jim!

    Hehe it´s ok!

    I actually found the stove in my local store. I checked and it easily fits inside the bowl I had in mind! The stove was much smaller then I first anticipated.

    Hmm I did notice that the "legs" were a bit flimsy but also read that yours became better after some use? Oh well, time will tell :).

    Thanks alot for your help and take care,
    Henrik

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    Replies
    1. You're going to laugh, but my pot supports actually worked better after I spilled some food on them.

      HJ

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    2. Hi!

      Haha, ok so "after some use" actually meant "after you spilled some food on them"? ;)

      Haha, oh well maybe the MicroRocket then. I like to keep things clean ;).

      Thanks,
      Henrik

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    3. Well, I did wipe off all the food afterwards, :) but after use, weather, etc, the pot supports seem tighter to me. There are a number of people who fault Soto for the design. The MicroRocket has no such problem.

      HJ

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    4. Hi Jim!

      Sorry for my late reply! Yeah they did indeed feel flimsy.

      Do you think that I would notice any difference at all when frying from the wider head of the Soto compared to the MicroRocket? The MicroRocket is cheaper in Sweden but I would pay the extra money for a better frying capability. Everything else seems equal or better with the MicroRocket?

      Cheers, Henrik

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    5. Henrik,

      They're both good stoves. I don't think you'll see a dramatic difference between the two with a fry pan, although perhaps the Soto Microregulator is slightly better. If it were me, I'd probably go on cost.

      HJ

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    6. Hi Jim!

      I came across a german online store that sells the Snow Peak Gigapower stove. I will probably get it. It is the manual version tho, not sure if the auto is much more convenient? Anyways its cheaper than both the MicroRocket and the Soto.

      Should be good right?

      / Henrik

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    7. Henrik,

      The Gigapower is an excellent stove. It's very compact and has good pot stability, better than either the MicroRocket or the MicroRegulator. It is a little heavier though.

      HJ

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  6. Henrik
    Thanks for the clear, thorough review of the Soto od-1r. I'm thinking of updating my stove, and am considering the od-1R and od-1rx. I realize you haven't yet reviewed to newer stove, and may not have even tried one. If you do have any direct experience with it, do you have any reason to prefer the od-1r or od-1rx?
    Also, I read somewhere that using a canister stove at less than max capacity (maybe half of max?), even to boil water, will increase it's overall efficient use of fuel, thereby increasing the number of boils one can derive from a single canister. Is this correct, and do I have the rate of use (about half of capacity) correct?
    thanks

    Gerry

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    1. Hi, Gerry,

      Generally a lower flame is more efficient. I'm sure there's some kind of a sweet spot where you hit maximum efficiency, but that's going to vary by stove. The important point to remember is that you seldom want to run your stove with the valve fully open. That's just as wasteful as always driving your car with the gas pedal fully pushed to the floor.

      I haven't tried the OD-1RX. I like that it has some options (two different pot supports, one large, one small), but I'm not sure if I like the idea of having to remove the post support to pack up the stove. For now, I'm happy with my OD-1R, but I'd like to test an OD-1RX if one were available.

      HJ

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