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Sunday, December 18, 2016

Review: The Soto Amicus

Who is making the highest quality backpacking stoves available today?  At least in the US market, it's Soto Outdoors of Japan.  Their latest entry is the Soto Amicus (OD-1NV), an upright canister stove.

Note:  In addition to this review, I have two preliminary posts on the Soto Amicus that contain additional information and photographs:


The new Soto Amicus
What's an upright canister stove?  Please see my recent blog post:  What is a Remote Canister Stove? which describes the two major types of canister gas stoves (upright and remote) and lists the advantages and disadvantages of each.  It's worth knowing the difference.

Overview
The Soto Amicus is a small, relatively lightweight, relatively inexpensive upright canister stove.  There are dozens of such stoves available on the market today.  How is the Amicus any different from any other stove?  Well, the Amicus is the best built of the lot and has a really nice design, but that's not what sets it apart.  Soto claims that they have developed a new type of burner head, one that can handle wind better than other stoves.  This windproofness would set the Amicus apart from other stoves.  So, either the Amicus handles wind better or it's really nothing special.  Therefore, wind testing was the major focus of my field testing.  Is Soto just "blowing smoke" or are they really on to something here?

See the sections on "Wind Testing" and "The Bottom Line in Wind," below.
Simul-testing the Soto Amicus vs. the Optimus Crux at Crystal Cove State Park
Build Quality
Who is the largest auto maker in the world?  Well, it used to be General Motors, an American corporation, but now, it's Toyota, a Japanese corporation.  Why?  They build a better automobile.  We've seen this transition from American corporations to Japanese corporations in many fields such as bicycles, electronics, fishing gear, etc.  Typically, the Japanese engineering, ergonomics, and build quality is just plain better, and people are willing to pay more for it.

We may now be seeing this trend in backpacking gear as well.  Montbell (of Japan) is a much sought after brand among backpackers in the know.  Evernew (again, of Japan) makes some of the best ultralight titanium pots.  And Soto makes the best backpacking stoves available today.
The Soto Amicus deserves an award for excellence in engineering.  Such attention to detail.
Pot Supports
Soto's engineering and build quality is beyond reproach, but that doesn't mean that they've always read the market perfectly.  Their first upright canister stove available in the United States, the Micro Regulator, was a good stove and was met with wide acceptance, but there were those who found the pot supports "fiddly" (they had to be first moved to a particular spot on their arms and then rotated into place) and didn't like that sometimes the pot supports would flop down when there was no pot on when the stove was moved.
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Soto then came out with the WindMaster, which I consider to be the best upright canister stove available in the US market today.  For those who are interested, I have a review of the Soto WindMaster available here on my blog.  Again though, the pot supports were "different."  They detached when the stove was packed away.  The detachable pot supports could easily be lost if one were not careful.  I myself was not bothered by this; I simply used a micro carabiner to clip the detached pot support to the valve handle of the stove the minute I took the pot support off.  However, a lot of people just absolutely hated this feature.

On this, the Soto Amicus, Soto's third entry of this type into the US market, I think they've finally gotten it right.  One does rotate the support into place, but on the Amicus, one does not have to find the "sweet spot" on the pot support to get it to rotate.  One simply pushes it up into place in one smooth, effortless motion, and, once in place, they're not going anywhere.  One has to push up and then push out, against the spring loading, to retract the pot support.  It's easy to retract the pot support, but it's unlikely to happen on its own.
The spring loaded pot support rotates into place in one smooth motion and then clicks onto a hook and stays put.  Nice.
The pot supports are literally so simple that a child could do it.
The pot supports?  So easy that a child can do it.
And they work.  Not only are they easy to extend and retract, not only do they stay in place once set, they're just danged good pot supports.  Of its class, the Amicus has the best pot stability that I've seen.  The WindMaster, if one gets the optional 4Flex pot support, has far better pot stability, but the WindMaster is a larger, more powerful, ultralight stove and is really not in the same class as the smaller, budget minded Amicus.  The only stove that really comes close to the Amicus in this class is the Snow Peak GigaPower.

Part of why the Amicus has such good pot stability is that it has not the typical three but rather four pot supports.  The Amicus also has more "teeth" on it's pot supports than most stoves, and those teeth are precisely made, gripping pots better.  Many pot supports on other stoves are a bit rounded off, and they just don't grip as well.
My daughter demonstrating the stability of the Soto Amicus with a 1.9 L pot, which is a pretty good sized pot for such a little stove – but it's really not a problem with the Amicus.
Now, I've said that the Amicus has good pot stability.  Does that mean you can use any size pot you like?  Probably not.  Something on the order of a 3L pot is probably a practical upper limit, and you'd want to be careful when stirring.  I compared the pot stability of the Amicus to each of the following stoves.  The Amicus had better pot stability with a wider range of pots than any of these stoves except the WindMaster (with 4Flex support mounted) although the GigaPower came close:
  • MSR Micro Rocket
  • MSR Pocket Rocket
  • Optimus Crux
  • Snow Peak LiteMax
  • Snow Peak GigaPower
  • Soto Micro Regulator
  • Soto WindMaster
Compactness/Packability
The Amicus is a fairly small stove.  It's about the width of my hand.
The diminutive Amicus.  It packs down small.
When the pot supports are folded away, it packs down pretty small.  It fits easily in a 550 ml mug type pot.  However note:  While I could get the Amicus and a 110 g sized canister of fuel into the 550 ml mug type pot, I could not close the lid.  However also note, I'm not aware of any stove that could fit in my little mug type pot along with a 110g canister with the lid closed although the Snow Peak LiteMax comes very very close.  Even the Optimus Crux, which is a pretty flat stove when the burner is folded, cannot fit in this 550 ml mug with a canister and have the lid closed.  The Amicus is about as packable as an MSR Micro Rocket.  A Snow Peak GigaPower is slightly more compact.  An Amicus far more compact than the MSR Pocket Rocket.  The Soto Amicis is more compact than either the Soto Micro Regulator or the Soto WindMaster.
The Soto Amicus in a small 550 ml mug type pot.
Special Features
One of the outstanding features of the Soto line of upright canister stoves is their "Stealth" piezoelectric ignition system.  The wire is run up through the burner column (rather than being on the outside), and the spark point is in the center of the burner rather on the rim.  The Soto ignition is far less likely to snag on things and is less obtrusive.
The simple red button and housing of the Amicus' excellent piezoelectric ignition.
Notice how there are no exposed wires and that there is nothing mounted to the side of the burner.
With the spark point of the Stealth ignition located in the center of the burner, it is not directly in the flame, giving it an edge in reliability over other ignition systems.
The silver strip of metal in the center of the burner head is the spark point of the Amicus' excellent Stealth piezoelectric ignition.
Of all the stoves I have in my collection that have various forms of piezoelectric ignitions (I have at least 10), the Soto ignition system is far and away the most reliable, most sophisticated, and least obtrusive.  No one else in the industry even comes close to the quality and reliability of the Soto Stealth Ignition.

That said, "good" and "perfect" are not one in the same.  The Stealth ignition is the best in the business (nobody else really comes close), but even the best ignition is subject to breakage or failure.  Always carry a second (or third) source of ignition such as a lighter, matches, or fire steel.

Note that the Stealth ignition is optional.  A version of the Soto Amicus is available without the ignition.

Weight
Per the Soto website:
  • The Soto Amicus weighs 2.6 oz/75 g in the version without the Stealth ignition.
  • The Soto Amicus weighs 2.9 oz/81 g in the version with the Stealth ignition.
However, on my scale, the Amicus with ignition weighs 2.8 oz/78 g.  For comparative purposes, I'll list the weights of several stoves in the same class.  For reference, I'll also list the weights of the other two upright Soto canister stoves even those are higher end stoves and are not in the same class.  These weights were all measured in grams by me on my scale.  Weights per the manufacturer may differ.
StoveGramsOunces
Soto WindMaster (with ignition)662.3
Soto Micro Regulator (with ignition)692.4
MSR Micro Rocket (no ignition)732.6
Soto Amicus (with ignition)782.8
Snow Peak Gigapower  (no ignition)863.0
MSR Pocket Rocket  (no ignition)863.0
Optimus Crux  (no ignition)883.1

The weight of the Amicus is generally in line with other stoves of its class, however there are higher end stoves like the Snow Peak LiteMax that are quite a bit lighter. There are also some really inexpensive stoves coming out of China like the FMS-116T at 1.7 oz/48 g (sold in the US as the Olicamp Kinetic Ultra), the FMS-300T at 1.6 oz/45g (sold in the US as the Olicamp Ion Micro), or the incredibly light BRS-3000T at 0.9 oz/25 g.  Note however that none of the stoves out of China has anywhere near as good pot stability, and neither do they have the sophisticated ignition of a Soto stove.  But each to his or her own I suppose.

In addition, it is worth noting that Japan has some of the highest gas stove safety standards in the world.  I am not aware of any Chinese stoves that have been able to meet the strict Japanese standards.  I have seen some US (Coleman) and European (Primus) brands on my trips to Japan.

The BRS-3000T is not to my knowledge certified to operate in the US. You can get one sort of "under the table" on eBay or Amazon, but no company sells it in the US.  If the stove causes an injury or fails, you have little legal recourse.

Cooking Ability
Canister gas stoves generally cook well.  They have a highly adjustable flame.  If you adjust the flame well and have appropriate cookware, there isn't really much in the way of limitations to what you can cook.  The Amicus is no exception.  On the Amicus, I was able to get a barely there flame capable of a very low simmer.

Wind Testing
OK, now to the heart of the matter.  As I said in the beginning, either the Amicus lives up to its claims of windproofness or there's really nothing that sets it apart from a whole host of similar stoves.  Sure, the Amicus has better build quality and the really nice Stealth ignition – which absolutely should be considered when evaluating a stove, but those qualities alone aren't enough to make the Amicus truly stand out.  On the other hand, Superior wind resistance would absolutely put the Amicus ahead of the pack.

But first, why should anyone care about wind?  Well, in the extreme, a stove can just plain blow out, and blow out so often that one just can't cook with it.  See the rather dramatic first video in Windburner vs. Jetboil Wind Testing.

But that's the extreme case.  What about more typical winds?  Well, depending on the circumstances, wind can really cut your fuel economy.  Instead of the heat going into the pot, the heat gets blown out and away and is wasted.  Whereas you might normally be able to boil 500 ml of water with 7 g of fuel, in wind, you might take 10 or 11 g of fuel.  If you normally use 25 g of fuel per day, you're on a four day trip, and you're carrying a 110 g canister of fuel, you can't afford to be burning an extra 3 to 4 g of fuel per 500 ml boiled.   At 3 to 4 g extra per 500 ml boiled, you're talking about something like 6 to 8 g extra of fuel per day which over four days equates to 24 to 32 g more fuel needed than usual – you're going to run out of fuel before the end of your trip!

Note:  The above numbers are intended to be illustrative.  I chose 25 g per day because 25 is easy to work with when you have a four day trip and canisters are between 100 g and 110 g in capacity. They are reasonable numbers, but they are not not actual observations.  See Calculating the Fuel Needed for a Trip for how to calculate gas consumption for a trip and for how I got the quantity 25 g.

A stove with better wind handling has more constant fuel consumption which allows you to plan more accurately so that you don't run out of fuel.  Of course you're going pick a sheltered spot to cook and all that, but still, wind can make your stove unpredictable.  So a stove that can handle wind well is a desirable thing.

So, how did the Amicus do?  Well, check out the below video.  I'm just using my iPhone to shoot the video, so you'll have to turn up the sound.
Basically, I found Soto's claims to be true.  This isn't all that surprising given that  I had already established that their WindMaster was better in wind than other stoves.   See the video in my review of the Soto WindMaster.  But I couldn't just assume that the Amicus would be as good.  Yes, the Amicus did have the same type of semi-enclosed, concave burner head, but the Amicus' head was smaller and farther away from the pot.

How did I establish that Soto's claims of superior wind handling are true?  By running simultaneous test after test after test.
Side by side, simultaneous testing of the Soto Amicus vs. the Optimus Crux.
My "baseline" stove was the Optimus Crux.  Both the Crux and the Amicus are rated at 10,200 BTU's.  In still air, they both boil water in about the same time; there's no significant difference in boil time between the two.

However, as soon as the wind kicked up, the Soto Amicus always pulled out ahead.  Both stoves took longer to boil in wind, but the Crux was far more affected.  Just in observing the flame, I could see that the Amicus' flame was far less affected by wind.
A highly trained Adventures in Stoving engineer observing the flame characteristics of the Soto Amicus in wind.
Not only could I visually observe that the Amicus' flame was far less affected, I could run the Amicus at a far lower setting.  As low as I could turn down the flame, the Amicus never blew out.  Not so with the open burner Crux.  I was doing a simmer test with the Crux, the flame was steady and had been running for some time, but when a gust of wind came through, the Crux blew out, and I had to re-light the stove.

But it is the boil times that speak the loudest.  The normally equal Amicus would boil 40 to 45 seconds faster than the Crux in moderate winds with occasional gusts.  Clearly, the Amicus is the better stove in wind.

Are these results fairly universal?  I mean I just tested the Amicus against one stove, right?  Well, it is true that I did test against just one stove, but burner heads are fairly generic.  With open burner heads, the flames are just more vulnerable.  In addition, I got the same results with the WindMaster (which was tested against a different stove).  The Windmaster has the same type of burner head as the Amicus.  I am therefore pretty confident that the Amicus will fare better in wind than any unprotected burner head.

Now, does this mean that you can cook in gale force winds with the Amicus?  Uh, no.  If you want that kind of windproofness, you've got to go with something like the MSR Windburner or the MSR Reactor.

The Bottom Line in Wind
The Amicus will be far more consistent and predictable than other stoves, giving you the ability to a) plan more accurately, b) conserve fuel, and c) simmer better in wind.

Price
The price of the Amicus is something of a first for Soto.  Soto has heretofore introduced fairly high end stoves.  Their first upright canister stove available was the Micro Regulator, MSRP $70, and their second was the WindMaster, MSRP $75.  The Amicus, with ignition, has an MSRP of $45, and without ignition, the MSRP is $40.  This is a huge jump in affordability for a Soto stove, and you're getting a heck of a lot of quality and functionality for that low price.

Summary  – The Soto Amicus

What's good about it?
  • Excellent build quality
  • High quality piezoelectric ignition system
  • Best of breed pot stability
  • Good packability/compactness
  • Easy to use, well thought out pot supports (I think they finally got it right with the Amicus)
  • Affordable (in line with other major stove company prices)
  • Clearly superior wind resistance

What's not so good about it?
  • It's a little heavier than I would like.

The Soto Amicus:  Highly recommended

In conclusion, as I reflect on the Soto Amicus, I find that there isn't much that I dislike about it except that perhaps it could be a bit lighter.  It's a nice stove that's head and shoulders above the other stoves in its class.

As always, I thank you for joining me.

HJ

Appendix I – Technical Data

Manufacturer:  Soto Outdoors
Date Available:  Currently available
Manufacturer's Website:  http://www.sotooutdoors.com
MSRP:  $40 (no ignition); $45 (with Stealth ignition)
Weight (measured):  78 g/2.8 oz
Materials:  Primarily steel
Packed dimensions:  1 9/16" x 1 9/16" x 2 7/8" (40 mm x 40 mm x 73 mm).
Unpacked dimensions:  4 1/8" x 4 1/8" x 3 5/16" (105 mm x 105 mm x 84 mm).
Size/Model tested:  The version with the Stealth ignition.
Requirements:   A standard threaded canister of gas (sold separately).
Warranty Information:  Contact Soto Outdoors through their website (see above).
Colors available:  Silver.

Appendix II – Disclosures

The stove used in this review was provided by Soto Outdoors at no cost to me.  Inasmuch as I own three other Soto stoves as well as over 100 other stoves of various types, sizes, and vintages, a free stove is highly unlikely to influence my review one way or the other.  I have reviewed this stove as objectively as I am able.  I have had no business dealings with Soto Outdoors other than to contact them in order to obtain the stove used in this review.  I receive no remuneration from Soto or anyone else for my reviews.  I receive no benefit when someone purchases a Soto stove.  I do own multiple Soto stoves; all such stoves were purchased through third parties except the stove used in this review.

In addition, just so you know, I earn very little from this blog – typically about a dollar a day, maybe a little more.  I've earned $30.71 according to Google for this month.  That's enough to pay for hosting fees and for fuel, so in that sense the blog is self-supporting, but that amount of money is nothing when one has a family of three to feed, house, etc.  Basically, this is my oddball little hobby, and that's about all it is.

Appendix III – Calculating Fuel Needs

This section has been moved to a separate blog post:  Calculating Fuel Needs.

3 comments:

  1. So now the $30 question: Is the Windmaster worth the extra cost over the Amicus?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ha ha.

      It depends. If you need a more powerful stove, then maybe the Windmaster. If you want to cook with larger pots and pans, then maybe the Windmaster (with the 4Flex option). If you do a lot of long duration simmering, then maybe the Windmaster (which has a regulator). If weight is super critical to you, then maybe the Windmaster.

      On the other hand, if pack volume is critical to you, then maybe the Amicus. If you are budget conscious, then maybe the Amicus. If you detest the idea of a pot support the comes off in order to pack up the stove, then maybe the Amicus.

      Delete
  2. Jim,
    Thanks so much for all your stove wisdom, I have really learned a lot!

    I have a 'new' version MSR Reactor 1.0-L. About 14.7oz. But I'm hoping to go lighter, while staying with a canister stove. Is the Amicus (or the Windmaster) much lighter? Would they be an improvement in other ways? Or would I just be feeding 'gear lust'? :)

    ReplyDelete