BioLite – More Than Just A Stove

The BioLite CampStove™was easily the one item we were most excited about seeing at Outdoor Retailer Summer Market last month. More than just a compact stove (about the same size as my JetBoil Flash) that happens to also generate electricity to charge your devices via USB, the CampStove technology is being used to improve the quality of life in developing countries around the globe.

BioLite CampStove
BioLite CampStove

This little engineering marvel is so efficient, excess heat from burned wood is converted into electricity. Hanging off the side of the stove is a Power Module, which contains a lithium ion battery, a fan, and some electronics to make it all happen. Despite this relatively complex process going on while you cook, it’s actually quite simple to use.  We gathered three great minds (myself, a Scoutmaster, and a well-traveled minimalist camper) in the Industryoutsider test lab, which is also known as my front yard, for an impromptu test of the stove’s heating and charging abilities. After removing the BioLite from its drawstring bag, and attaching the Power Module to the side, we unfolded the legs to form a sturdy base and lock the Power Module in place.

BioLite CampStove ready to boil water
BioLite CampStove ready to boil water

Once it was set up, we placed some dry wood in the form of twigs and small pieces of broken branches in the chamber, and dropped a small lit branch on top. Note that for the least amount of soot, stick with hardwoods, and avoid leaves altogether. We filled the stove a little less than half full, but not tightly packed, as some room is required for good airflow, which will help generate a nice hot fire. Once it started burning a bit, we pressed the button on the Power Module to set the fan on low speed, and promptly blew out the fire. The second try, we waited until the fire was a bit more established before hitting the fan which circulates air around the chamber.

Introducing extra oxygen into the combustion chamber creates a hotter burning fire, but the fan is powerful enough to put out a weak fire. This time, we got the fire up to full heat quickly, then added some bigger pieces of wood and turned the fan to high. As the fan hummed along, it created a very hot fire which burned the wood more efficiently. This means less waste, less smoke, plus some of that extra heat gets returned to the battery as electricity. After adding a few more substantial  pieces of wood (walnut from a recent wind storm), we were ready for the boil test.

Since we had the GSI Ketalist on hand (read about that tomorrow) we filled it with water and set it on the top of the CampStove. BioLite advises that an established fire should boil a liter of water in about five minutes, and our test confirmed that. Had it not been early evening, we could have knocked out a third review, and used the hot water for our Grower’s Cup article, due to be published the 29th, National Coffee Day.

We were quite impressed with the CampStove. Once we got it sorted out, we had a nice hot blaze with no noticeable smoke. When it showed a full green light on the side, we plugged in a phone, and the fan hesitated for only a brief pause as the electrical load changed, then went back to fanning the flames while the phone indicated a charge in progress. A hot fire will generate electricity for recharging your phone, GPS, light, or other small electronic device. The design of the stove keeps it cool enough on the outside to avoid burns, with only the uppermost parts too hot to touch.

Charging rate will depend on how hot the fire is, but keep in mind that unless you plan of maintaining a blazing fire for four hours or so, the BioLite is best for topping up devices. For emergency use, it can provide heat for cooking, plus about 60 minutes talk time on your phone after a twenty minute charge. That’s a rough estimate, actual times may vary. Combine this with a portable solar option, and you can generate electricity day and night. BioLite advises that cookware made of stainless steel, aluminum or titanium can be used, as long as the diameter is ten inches or less. Because you’re burning wood and not gas, cookware may get a bit sooty, but it’s easily washed off.

Interestingly, Kirk advised that although he liked the concept and BioLite’s mission (see below), he felt the extra weight of the Power Module was not worth it to him, because when he camps, he wants to get away from his phone and electronic devices. Fair enough. But he conceded the burning wood was handy. Luis felt that the added weight was not a penalty, as it meant he could charge his phone ( for GPS use) while on extended bike-camping trips, and there would always be plentiful fuel available, as opposed to carrying extra gas canisters. If I could only have one stove, I would choose the CampStove strictly for its ability to burn wood, and view the charging as an added bonus, especially as part of a 72 hour kit.

Why should you buy a CampStove from BioLite? Besides the fact that it combines fire and geekiness, your purchase helps fund the HomeStove, which is a larger version of the CampStove, designed for everyday use. Not currently available for sale in the US, it addresses many important issues facing people in third world countries. Of the three billion people worldwide that do their cooking over open fires, 1.3 billion have no electricity. And those fires contribute to about 2 million premature deaths due to smoke alone. HomeStove improves the lives of users by eliminating over 90% of the smoke and carbon monoxide, while providing electricity to power LED lights, which are less expensive than kerosene lamps, as well as zero emissions. The design of the HomeStove also reduces the amount of wood required by 50%. Cutting down the time spent collecting wood, or the cost of purchasing fuel, is a huge benefit when you consider that for many people in developing countries, 20-30% of their income is spent on fuel alone. So purchase a CampStove knowing that it’s not only a great piece of gear, but you’re supporting a worthwhile cause, and a company that puts people ahead of profits.

– Brian (with assistance from Kirk and Luis)


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