Wanna-Be Survivalist: Solar Ovens

Maybe it’s the current trend of zombie apocalypses influencing me, but lately I’ve got all kinds of interest in survivalism. A year or two ago, the county north of where I live got hit with a severe windstorm. We’re talking gusts of 75 mph (that’s 120 km/h for my international peeps). Anyway, they were without power for 5 days, which doesn’t seem like a long time at first glance. But try and picture yourself without electricity for 5 days. That means no heated water, no ability to heat food, no heat (unless you’ve got a gas line), no means to charge any electronics, and no light at night.

Even more recently comes to mind Hurricane Sandy. Having extra food and supplies on hand doesn’t seem so crazy when you’re faced with the possibility of being without electricity or in a disaster type situation.

My first priority in life is always good food. At first I wondered if solar power could run an oven, but unless you’ve got serious $$$ to install serious panels it’s unlikely. A good poor man’s option is always keeping propane tanks around to run mini-stoves or the grill, but that requires propane. Someday I still plan to build a wood-fired oven, but again that requires fuel and wood may not always be easy to come by.

The solution? A solar oven.

solar ovenThese little babies are a bit pricey (I got the accessories bundle for $320, I think the cheapest one is around $240-260) but after only two uses I’m convinced they’re worth every penny. It weighs only 22 pounds (about 10kg), folds up pretty compact and is extremely easy to use.

You’re probably thinking, well, that’s fine for the summer, but what about the winter when it’s cold outside. Aside from this thing functioning just fine at the base camp of Mount Everest, I’ve also read other blogs that it heated up just fine at 30-40F (-1 to 4C). (This other woman was successful at 22F!) I’ll have to do a winter post when the time comes.

But the proof is in the pudding, as they say. So here’s my own personal experience with the thing. First of all they tell you to clean the interior by allowing vinegar to boil in a pot for a steam cleaning. That means you can use the sun to heat up water, both for sterilizing drinking water and turning bath water from chilly to at least tolerable in survivalist conditions.

And then I wanted to test out the baking capabilities. And what better way to do it than with delicious cookies?

solar cookies prepNOTE: You can bake multiple racks of things, but you have to rotate the racks. Since there’s a lot of heat loss with an open door (true of any oven) I found doing them one rack at a time was the easiest option.

These are Jae’s famous ginger cookies—incredibly dangerous for human consumption, as they have a highly addictive effect. I may have been able to squeeze a couple more cookies on the rack, but I didn’t want them to stick together. I just used parchment paper, but you can use cookie sheets if they’re small enough to fit (and according to the user’s guide sheets might do the cooking better).

I had to pre-heat the oven, which takes about 20 min. and will get you about 300F (149C). If you wait a little longer, the oven is supposed to reach between 360-400 F (182-204 C) in ideal conditions. Mine reached 350. I popped the cookies in and set the timer for 10 min, not sure exactly how long it would take. The recipes calls for 375 F in a conventional oven for 9-12 min.

cookies solar ovenSee the white plastic parts toward the near the bottom of the glass? Those holes are your sun alignment devices. You want it to look like a perfect circle underneath and your oven is focused right (you can see a sample in the next picture). They say you need to turn it every 30 min or so to follow the sun. I just readjusted after putting in new batches. This was a 100 degree day yesterday, so not heating up my house with a traditional oven was big bonus points.

solar cookies in progressI checked on them after 10 minutes. They were starting to look good. All this based solely on the power of the sun. No electricity, no fuel. I was in survivalist heaven! If you can still bake, I think roughing it won’t be so rough. Plus, I cannot stress enough the benefit of NOT heating up your house in 100 F weather.

solar oven cookiesAnd here we have the beautiful finished product. These cookies were extra moist, and still are very soft the next day. I can’t wait to try bread and maybe even a roast of some kind. You could even do boiled items, I may try pasta or potatoes. There’s lots of options to be had.

So there you have it folks. The only downside is you need sun to use it, but if you couple this with fuel sources like wood or propane, you can make your supplies last much longer. And in the summer you can save on the A/C bill by doing the baking outside. Let’s not forget camping. Bring a little cookie dough in the cooler and surprise everyone at lunch with fresh-baked cookies.

If you couldn’t tell already, I’m loving it!

What do you think of the solar oven? Is it on your wish list now? Are you a survivalist? What other things would you put on your own prepper list in case of disaster?

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23 thoughts on “Wanna-Be Survivalist: Solar Ovens

  1. Last year I found a great site about all things alternative cooking and fuel sources. If I find the info I’ll pass it along. Have you tried baking cookies inside your car on the dash yet? I’m going to experiment with that idea.

    • I think it would take a long, long time based on my experience with the solar oven. At best, I think the interior of our cars is in the 100 degree range. My lil solar oven hit 300 easy. But, always good to keep that kind of thinking in mind in disaster situations.

  2. Nice one Jae. Food is nice to have during a survival situation. Water is critical. I too lived through the windstorm last summer and was out of power for nine days. We bailed out to three different friend’s houses who had power. I remember how much not fun that was.

    But, in a true survival situation you need to be prepared to survive for ten days on water alone. The first five days, the drinking water will still be potable. The next five days, most unprepared people will have died because of no potable water. Then you can safely venture out and find food.

    It will suck hard. Not like the people on zombie television shows. It will really suck. But if you have enough water purification pills for 1 quart per day per person for ten days at a minimum. That is a minimum starting point. After the dummies die off, you can do some things to make life better by collecting rain water, boil water on a fire, or put trash bags around tree limbs and collect the moisture the leaves put off.

    It is best to hope and pray that you never have to use your solar oven except to bake cookies. Sorry if I am being a Debbie downer. As always, thanks for your posts!

    • Nope, not Debbie Downer, at least not to me. It’s realistic. The nice thing about this is you can boil water in it too and mine came with a WAPI so I know when the water is safe to drink. We have one of those 7 gallon gatorade jugs I keep emergency water in, and I’ve been looking to additional container sources as well. The BFF has this UV light thing that helps sterilize the water. We used it a lot in Costa Rice with our nalgene bottles, never once got sick off the local water (Mexico, too).

      Sad to say, isn’t it, that there will be quite a few dummies dying off. 😦 We might be a little better off in Utah since we’re the preparedness state (seriously, most of the emergency stores are located here), but I know a lot of people couldn’t survive without electricity. We’re due to have a substantial earthquake any time now, so there’s been a big push for preparedness.

      Ugh, nine days though. It’s like extreme camping. I’m slowly figuring things out for a disaster scenario, but the solar oven is that extra bit of convenience that makes life all worthwhile.

      Have you done posts on survivalist gear and tips? That would be cool. I’ll have to do a search on your blog, but I’d love to hear your ideas. Have you heard of the website http://www.doomandbloom.net/? It’s medical tips for disaster scenarios. Makes for good research too. 🙂

    • LOL. 😉 But on that same token, I’d bet they’d be supremely handy in Africa. I imagine many places don’t get great electricity. And they can save the 3 trees they do have. 😉

  3. That is a cool solar oven.
    I do outdoor training for Girl Scouts, and have worked many years at summer camp – which combine to make my Macgyver skills quite impressive. Give me a roll of duct tape, a cardboard box, and some foil, and I could make you an impressive box oven (uses charcoal). Add some plexiglass or, maybe, plastic-wrap, and I could make a solar oven – it wouldn’t be as portable or snazzy as yours, but it would be effective.
    Also, you can take Pringles cans, put a string through them and hang them up, and that makes an effective solar oven. I know some Girl Scout troops who made pigs-in-a-blanket in them.
    Solar ovens are really a science of creating a greenhouse effect to capture and trap heat effectively.

    Cookies, by the way, are probably the most important food to have in a survival setting – earthquake or not.

    • I think it’s important to understand how things work so that if your fancy one breaks you know how to fix it. Your Girl Scouts training sounds sooooo rad! I did a girl’s camp with my church and that’s how it *used* to be. We had to figure out how to survive roughing it. They even made us use a tarp to make a tent, no real tents allowed. Now they just sleep on beds in cabins with hot showers. Totally lame.

      I hadn’t thought of Pringles cans. Great idea! Someday I’ll have to write a post-apocalyptic survival story, even if it’s just a short story.

      And as to your comment about cookies, yes and YES.

        • It’s because the people who run camp are now whannie-foo-foos who couldn’t survive out in the woods either. We even had a dude come and teach us which plants we could eat around camp if we needed to. Maybe you should go into business doing an adults survivalist camp. I always thought it would be cool to do a business like that, with varying levels of survival teaching.

  4. That is pretty spiffy.

    As a kid, when ever we lost power I viewed it as some sort of grand adventure. Whether it was from snow or thunderstorms didn’t really matter. My family and I would gather in the kitchen, light candles, and hang out while watching the weather.

    • (Tee hee, love the ‘spiffy’ bit) I think it can be a grand adventure—for a night. Then when you’ve been without power for days, that’s when the real side of people comes out, ya know. 😉 But cookies for the masses will make everything right as rain. Well, hopefully there won’t be too much rain. I needs the sun after all. I guess that’s why I’ll also have a wood-fired oven in this situation.

  5. Those cookies look delicious! I haven’t thought about a solar oven before, but we do keep a few items around just in case. The fact that my area isn’t known for severe weather didn’t stop Irene, Lee, and Sandy from pummeling through.

    • Our system is way more fragile than we think. Never hurts to have extra stuff on hand. I’ve got a friend who’s way into prepping, so I get tips from her. I’m just taking it a step at a time. My region has a major earthquake every 350 years, and we’re in year 351, so we’ve been doing lots of state prep about it. At least I’ll have cookies, right? 😉

  6. They look amazing. You have solved one of my great fears. No cookies at the end of the world. How do you think it does with fudge?

    • I haven’t really made fudge (just consumed it) but it should work, at least you could get a double boiler to work to melt chocolate in there.

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