Biolite Camp Stove first impressions

charging my iPhone

Biolite Camp Stove
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.

Biolite Camp Stove

Biolite Camp Stove

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.

Biolite Camp Stove

Once the green light came on, it was time to plug in my iPhone and let the charging begin:
Biolite Camp Stove

of course, you can charge anything that has a USB cord so for balance, here’s a Samsung Galaxy S3:
Biolite Camp Stove

Cleanup is fairly straight forward since you can rinse out the burn chamber with water.
Biolite Camp Stove

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:

BioLite Campstove action photo

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.

12 Comments

  1. Duane Storey says:

    It’s pretty neat.

    2W is pretty low though. It’s a trickle charge for an iPhone, but would probably take forever to charge an iPad (which charges slow enough when used with a 5V adapter). But it definitely would charge it.

    Does it have an advertised second use – like is it meant to warm you up or anything, or is it solely a charger that you burn stuff in?

    • John says:

      Yup…you can put your pots on top and use it as a stove. I don’t know if that’s an advertised 2nd use though since stove is in the name :)

  2. kk+ says:

    fucking incredible. i totally want one.

    john, i’d love to see what else you’d put in your BUGOUT bag. we should do a lil series or something.

    also, are you having having a garage sale or a POTLATCH anytime soon?

    PS. both you mofos should plan a trip to hang out with me on Galiano this summer. put your stove to good use…. :)

    • Duane Storey says:

      I’m game for that. I need some nature in my life again soon! You guys pick a day/weekend and I’ll try and make it! I’ve never even been to Galiano.

    • John says:

      Bugout bag series sounds awesome! As does trying out the stove on Galiano this summer. We’ll have to compare iCals.

  3. That is all sorts of awesome. Thanks for the review, John!

  4. raincoaster says:

    My god, why did I not know about this sooner?

    Bugout bag series…that’s article worthy. If you do it, ping me and I’ll profile you!

  5. Bill says:

    I bought a BioLite camp stove because I liked the idea of being able to cook, heat water and charge gear, with an unlimited amount of fuel at hand. I have had Mr. Murphy strike too many times on past campouts, hunts and hikes –fuel runs out, leaks, or something else unforeseen happens, like your phone’s battery dies right before you need to use it, or the GPS dies right before the unannounced blizzard strikes. So the concept of both unlimited fuel and charging gear made sense.

    Does the Bio Lite have disadvantages? Sure. It’s a bit of weight. I live in Colorado, and we were under burn bans for most of the summer. So I didn’t use it until this weekend. I do carry a MSR Superfly stove for cases when you can’t use an open flame. A BioLite is certainly not the be-all-end-all camp stove.

    But I can say that it did function as advertised. I was able to boil enough water for two Mountain House food pouches in 2.5 minutes for our dinner. The MSR took 6 minutes to boil the same amount of water for breakfast. Granted, it took about a minute or two to get the BioLite stove to burning at high speed, so from fire start to boiling times are roughly comparable.

    Yes, the MSR kicks on instantly –I do like the piezo ignition. That’s one reason why I keep it in my survival pack –instant heat and firestarting capabilities (assuming I remembered a fresh canister of fuel.) The MSR can be shut off instantly –a requirement around here during fire ban. Another reason why it stays in my survival bag. But fuel can run out. If you didn’t pack in an extra canister or two… you are SOL and eating cold food, or making a cook fire.

    The BioLite caught fire very quickly and used a very limited amount of fuel. Honestly, it was about one small stick’s worth of fuel to boil the water –maybe the equivalent of 5-10 pencil’s worth of wood. Less kindling than a campfire would need –just to get started. The BioLite also put out a lot of heat. Enough that you could warm yourself by it quite nicely if you were getting hypothermia after an unexpected dip in an ice cold creek. It put out a lot more heat than the MSR did.

    And yes, it did charge things as well, and that’s something the MSR just can’t do. I have a small Kodak Playsport video camera (the size of a cel phone), and it charged while the fire was going. So, it did function as advertised. No gimmicks. It can charge your GPS, cel phone, LED headlamp or flashlights, or most anything with a USB connection. And it can cook food and boil water. Pretty spiffy –it did everything they said it could do. This is really handy if you have electronic gear that has internal batteries.

    If your needs are different, and every ounce matters, then this is probably not the stove for you. But it worked perfectly for me, and I’m looking forward to using it next weekend, and it is definitely going with me on my late October elk and deer hunt. It would be great for BoB.

    …And yes, I do like the idea of the developing nation cook stove that they are working on. I salute their desire to make these work for them, and I feel good in supporting a company that is trying to do something positive. I’d also love to have one of those larger Home stoves for power outages or larger family campouts. It’s a great concept. If more folks buy these and keep the company afloat, then maybe they can make a real difference. There are certainly worse things we could do with our money.

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