Earlier this year I heard about a new gadget that sounded very interesting, the Biolite Camp Stove. It enables the owner to burn just about anything in it’s burn chamber. But what makes it special is that it has an orange power module attached that has a USB port on it and uses the energy created by burning materials in the main chamber to charge your devices at the campsite. I pre-ordered it on the spot and it just arrived this week.
Of course, I couldn’t wait for a camping trip to try it out, so I set it up on my back patio. Included in the kit is a the main burn chamber with fold out legs on the bottom, the aformentioned power module which clips into one of the legs, a nylon stuff sack to hold everything and a USB to USB cable to charge the power module for first use and some fire starter sticks.
According to the product page, the power generated is:
- Fire power output (peak): 3.4 kw (lo) 5.5 kw (hi)
- USB power output: Max continuous: 2W @5V, Peak: 4W @5V
I didn’t actually get a chance to run it for an extended period to see what that actually means as far as charging my iPhone, a camera battery, etc. For my initial tests, I used one of the included fire starter sticks and a small cardboard box that I ripped into smallish, twig-like sticks to feed the fire. This worked really well. You can apparently use just about anything, with dense wood being the preferred fuel or even pinecones although wet materials will obviously not burn as well and smoke quite a bit.
You get the fire going in the burn chamber and then press the power button which will light up yellow. A small fan will then start and draw air into the chamber creating a mini cyclone of fire (in the chamber). The influx of oxygen makes the fire burn much better and in a few seconds, the USB port will light up green indicating that you’re generating power and can plug something in to charge it.
You can hear it in action in this video:
One thing that does concern me about the build quality (which overall is excellent) is the flimsiness of the legs…the aluminum seems quite thin and due to the odd angles of the legs, I can see these getting damaged rather easily due to a rushed folding of them.
It’s apparently even dishwasher safe. The power module though is not and shouldn’t be used in heavy rain or immersed at all.
Once I have it going during an upcoming camping trip, I’ll get a better idea of how long/how much juice you get from an average cooking session but for now, it seems to work exactly as advertised. Oh and you can cook on it as well – I just didn’t dig out my camp cookware for this post.
This is definitely going into my bugout bag!
Biolite also makes a larger home stove model that looks pretty awesome and very useful.
UPDATE (July, 2012): I finally had a chance to field test the stove:
I was able to charge my iPhone up about 25% during the time it took to make dinner (probably about 1/2 hour). I was using twigs and pine cones from around my campsite and some cardboard pieces as a fire starter.
I tried again the next day to charge another phone and was unable to get past the orange power light stage…it needs to be green in order to start charging a device. The manual suggests adding more fuel for a longer period to get the internal battery back to a sufficient level but after trying for about an hour, I was unable to charge again. I suspect I had drained it completely on the first day and simply didn’t give it long enough to get it back up to a level needed to power both the fan and the charger. I got tired of scrounging for twigs so abandoned it for the rest of the camping trip. I’ll try again soon and see if I can get it producing power again.