I first came across BioLite over two years ago when the camping stove was still in the prototype phase. The original purpose of the stove, to make cooking with wood as clean, safe, and easy as petroleum fuels, remains the same with the current production model, but the company has added the upside of being able to charge your gadgets from the stove at the same time.
The BioLite CampStove cooks your meals and boils water using nothing but twigs, pine cones, and other solid biomass you collect around camp, eliminating the need to carry fuel along with you. The camping stove unit is made up of a high-temp steel fuel chamber with lightweight protection screen and anodized aluminum legs, power module, and USB cord for charging your phone or headlamp.
The power module houses a thermoelectric generator that converts heat to electricity. This module also contains a small microprocessor, which manages the flow of power both to the fan and USB port. By regulating the flow of air through the fuel, the high-temp steel fuel chamber gasifies wood and promotes clean combustion. A copper probe that fits into the fuel chamber controls the flow of heat to the thermoelectric generator.
The stove is easy to use and relatively quick to light, especially with the help of a fire-starter stick. You can toggle between a high and low fan to control the intensity of the flame. Although the BioLite CampStove may boil water in a similar amount of time to other wood burning camp stoves, it supposedly does so more efficiently, cutting down on the amount of wood required. With just a tiny handful of twigs, I was able to boil a 1/2 L of water in around 4 minutes.
Contrary to all the buzz surrounding the BioLite CampStove at the moment, the number one purpose of the thermoelectric generator is not to charge your gadgets, but to the run the fan, making the fire much more efficient than just an open flame. Only when there is extra electricity available, can the generator be used to charge small electronics like mobile phones and LED lights.
I found the fire needs to get really hot before the green light comes on indicating enough extra heat has been generated in order to charge your gadgets. This is usually hotter and at a much longer burn time than needed to simply boil water. If you are cooking a bigger meal, small charging burst might be possible, but you will need to keep the fire going on high for a long time to get some decent charging out of the unit. This seems a bit of a waste of time and twigs to me.
I also own a Jetboil Sol Ti cooking stove, so for my recent trips up to the Tahoe region for camping and backpacking, I had to weigh up which stove was appropriate in each situation. I put together the following comparison chart to help frame my thinking. I do not own a Backcountry Boiler, but I added it simply as a comparative wood burning stove. This chart is in no way scientific, more of a visual of the pros and cons of each type of camping stove.
I concluded that the Jetboil stays for backpacking trips, not only because of weight, but also mainly because of versatility. Desolation Wilderness, where I spent three days last weekend, does not allow fires, so the BioLite CampStove was simply not an option.
In open fire areas, if I really wanted to go the wood-burning camp stove route, I would probably choose the Backcountry Boiler for backpacking simply because of weight. Car camping, however, is a different story. The BioLite CampStove has that fun factor you just can’t get with the other stoves. Charging your gadgets is a nice to have and you can make s’mores over the open flame, all without having to worry about any extra weight.
I personally think BioLite should have stuck to their original camping stove model, which did not have the gadget-charging feature, leaving the stove possibly a bit lighter than its current state. I completely understand the charging feature on the HomeStove unit, however, for use in countries where cooking over an open fire is the way of life and electricity may not be readily available.
If you want to see the BioLite CampStove in action, below you will find a video from the company that gives a great overview on how to use the camping stove. The CampStove retails for $129 and is available now. The sales of the CampStove help fund the company’s efforts with HomeStove sales in developing countries.