A Look at the BioLite CampStove: Boil Water and Charge Your Phone at the Same Time

by July 18, 2013 07/18/13
BioLite Stove

If you’re looking to shave ounces on your next hiking trip, the BioLite CampStove may not be the best option. It’s heavy, you can’t use it in a downpour, the fan can be a bit noisy and it may take a little practice to learn how to use properly.

But that doesn’t mean you should write it off.

The BioLite stove is still a lot of fun and can not only be a great camping companion, but is extremely useful in other situations.

Author’s Note: This isn’t a full review or test of how well it works but an overview on the basics.

BioLite CampStove

What is It?

To describe the BioLite CampStove simply, it is a wood burning stove that converts heat into electricity in order to charge USB powered devices.

Using only the sticks and twigs you find in nature, you can charge a wide array of devices with the power converted from the mini campfire you create. Because it runs on renewable fuel found outdoors, it’s also fairly “green” (if you’re into that).

BioLite Stoves make cooking on wood as clean, safe & easy as modern fuels while generating electricity to charge phones, lights and other electronics off-grid.

I first fell in love with the idea of the BioLite CampStove when I saw that they were using them during Superstorm Sandy to charge people’s phones and provide hot beverages for those affected by the power outages.

BioLite Stove Charging

Photo © BioLite – BioLite in Action: Emergency CampStove Kits Donated

The BioLite team is based out of Brooklyn, New York and instead of just marking up the cost and selling them on the street to those in need, they gathered up a bunch of firewood and setup stations that would boil water for tea and also charge the smartphones of those trying to check-in with loved ones.

Important Information

  • Compatible Devices: Most USB-chargeable devices including smartphones
  • Fuel: Burns sticks, pine cones, pellets and other biomass
  • 4.5 minutes to boil 1 liter of water
  • Packed size: Height 8.25 inches, Width 5 inches
  • Weight: 2 lbs 1 oz / 935 grams

Why I Like It

It’s fun to build a fire. Well, maybe not for everyone and maybe not all of the time but there is something rewarding about getting a fire started and just watching the wood glow while listening to the sound of sticks crackling. This stove scratches the wood fire itch for sure.

Simply put, the BioLite CampStove is also just a neat idea. If you enjoy new technology then you’ll probably love this gadget.

Backcountry Camping

I feel that this stove is totally capable of handling your needs if you are going backcountry camping. It can provide the basics of providing heat and boiling water and as a bonus, it can charge your mobile phone.

Some will argue that you shouldn’t bring your phone let alone have the need to charge it while camping. I agree that you should embrace nature without having the need to tweet about it non-stop but my phone doubles as my camera and I like to leave with photographic memories for later.

I’ll also often store some notes about the hike on my phone and having a device that charges my phone and can also pull double duty to boil water or cook food is very useful.

BioLite CampStove boiling water

Other Uses

Honestly, I see the BioLite stove really shining when it comes to an emergency or natural disaster. Power knocked out for a few days? You can boil water for safe drinking and cooking and keep your phone charged so you can stay up to date on what’s going on.

It can also be great to bring along in the car if you want an impromptu s’more or weenie roast. Yeah it sounds a bit goofy but it’s easy to set up and if you pack a few sticks (for fuel) beforehand, you’ll have everything you need to enjoy a hotdog in the park.

If you’re looking to do more substantial grilling, check out their new portable grill that allows you to cook about four burgers or six hotdogs at once. It even has it’s own system of HI, MED and LO temperature zones.

Real World Test

Again, not as a timed or metered test of efficiency but a in simple “Does it work?” test, I can certainly say that it works as intended.

BioLite Stove in ActionWhile hiking Old Rag Mountain in Virginia, I brought along the BioLite CampStove to boil water for lunch at the summit. I found all the sticks I needed right where I set up the stove and had it going in no time. It also only took just under 5 minutes to boil the necessary water.

I recommend the BioLite stove but it may not be for everyone. Does this stove fulfill your needs? There are many camp stoves that are both lighter and more inexpensive than the BioLite and they may fit the bill perfectly.

I recommend checking out a few alternatives but if you want something fun and full of new tech, give this stove a shot.

Where to Buy

You can buy the CampStove direct from BioLite or from REI for $129.95.


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JamesKA
JamesKA

I have found that the stove works well, but the USB charger will not charge Iphones or Blackberry devices. It seems to be limited in what devices are actually chargeable by the USB feature.

JamesKA
JamesKA

I have found that the stove works well, but the USB charger will not charge Iphones or Blackberry devices. It seems to be limited in what devices are actually chargeable by the USB feature.

David
David

There is a similar stove, at least from the cooking perspective, called a Sierra Stove. One problem that can be encountered is whether the stove is permitted for use in the area you are traveling. I'm more familiar with the Sierra stove so the information is based on it, but they operate the same way by using scavenged burnable material. The last time I looked into it, the Sierra stove is classified as an open fire and can be banned at certain times of the year or during high fire hazard conditions.

David
David

There is a similar stove, at least from the cooking perspective, called a Sierra Stove. One problem that can be encountered is whether the stove is permitted for use in the area you are traveling. I'm more familiar with the Sierra stove so the information is based on it, but they operate the same way by using scavenged burnable material. The last time I looked into it, the Sierra stove is classified as an open fire and can be banned at certain times of the year or during high fire hazard conditions.

yaleman
yaleman

Interesting that you mentioned the fan in the intro but nowhere else - what's the go with it?

Common Sense
Common Sense

Does anyone have experience actually using the USB charging feature?  I wonder how efficient and practical it really is.

RatSoup
RatSoup

I own the stove and grill. They are too heavy for ultra-light backpacking but on there is probably a tipping point when carrying fuel for an extended trip would weigh more than the stove. The bio light is great for car-camping, E-situations, Bike/quad excursions and really shines during winter camping. I cooked the Two of best Porterhouses of all time last weekend using the grill an approximately one half of a very small log, less than the size of my forearm. This Stove certainly has it's place.

RatSoup
RatSoup

I own the stove and grill. They are too heavy for ultra-light backpacking but on there is probably a tipping point when carrying fuel for an extended trip would weigh more than the stove. The bio light is great for car-camping, E-situations, Bike/quad excursions and really shines during winter camping. I cooked the Two of best Porterhouses of all time last weekend using the grill an approximately one half of a very small log, less than the size of my forearm. This Stove certainly has it's place.

redraven88
redraven88

Great review, Mike! Thanks! Honest and to the point.

redraven88
redraven88

Great review, Mike! Thanks! Honest and to the point.

Jason D
Jason D

I received one of these as a gift and am pleased with it.  There is a learning curve and as the author mentioned, fire making basic knowledge (spark, tender, fuel, etc) is a must.  I've found the best practice is to gather fuel/tinder as you hike so that you can ensure you have a dry and ready supply at hand without having to go looking when you're trying to prepare a meal.  It will take a few tries to find out the ideal size/length of fuel as if the fuel is too long it will protrude from the top and not allow a pot to sit on the pot supports (see above animation).  It doesn't take much fuel as the stove is surprisingly hot and efficient during use because of the built-in blower fan.  I've found the best and most reliable way to light is a single lifeboat-style match dropped right in the middle of a loose tinder bundle. I was also surprised that the outer perforated guard never gets very hot to the touch.  In fact, you can pick up and move the stove during operation without needing to protect your hands (although the flame out the top must be avoided!). I'm interested in this not necessarily for the USB port but the relative convenience of not having to mess with fuel canisters or leaky and dangerous liquid fuel/fuel bottles.

Jason D
Jason D

I received one of these as a gift and am pleased with it.  There is a learning curve and as the author mentioned, fire making basic knowledge (spark, tender, fuel, etc) is a must.  I've found the best practice is to gather fuel/tinder as you hike so that you can ensure you have a dry and ready supply at hand without having to go looking when you're trying to prepare a meal.  It will take a few tries to find out the ideal size/length of fuel as if the fuel is too long it will protrude from the top and not allow a pot to sit on the pot supports (see above animation).  It doesn't take much fuel as the stove is surprisingly hot and efficient during use because of the built-in blower fan.  I've found the best and most reliable way to light is a single lifeboat-style match dropped right in the middle of a loose tinder bundle.

I was also surprised that the outer perforated guard never gets very hot to the touch.  In fact, you can pick up and move the stove during operation without needing to protect your hands (although the flame out the top must be avoided!).

I'm interested in this not necessarily for the USB port but the relative convenience of not having to mess with fuel canisters or leaky and dangerous liquid fuel/fuel bottles.

Mike Perry
Mike Perry

For wilderness and disaster scenarios, it makes more sense than a solar array. Solar power depends on having hours of sunlight. For this, all that's needed are a few sticks. Users should be prepared to light a fire under wet and cold conditions though.

Mike Perry
Mike Perry

For wilderness and disaster scenarios, it makes more sense than a solar array. Solar power depends on having hours of sunlight. For this, all that's needed are a few sticks. Users should be prepared to light a fire under wet and cold conditions though.



David
David

JamesKA  I'm not as familiar with iPhones, but Blackberry devices can be very picky about what chargers work. They do not always work with non-blackberry chargers. While that isn't always the case, I have run into that problem more often with Blackberry devices than any other device or brand.

MikePetrucci
MikePetrucci

JamesKA Which model iPhone did you try? It worked on my iPhone 5.

GregCarson
GregCarson

@JamesKA  iPhones in particular can be a pain trying to charge. My friend's 4S wouldn't work on a hand-crank or a solar, though we didn't have an opportunity to that particular phone with the BioLite. My crappy little Android Trackphone worked fine with it, and using it to cook was awesome. The fan makes it a snap. 

David
David

@JamesKA  I'm not as familiar with iPhones, but Blackberry devices can be very picky about what chargers work. They do not always work with non-blackberry chargers. While that isn't always the case, I have run into that problem more often with Blackberry devices than any other device or brand.

MikePetrucci
MikePetrucci

@yaleman It seems to be only used for keeping the fire as hot as possible. It forms a little vortex and helps to burn up wood really well. It's automatic in how it operates too but once it's hot enough, you can toggle between low and high settings if you want to slow the burn a little.

MikePetrucci
MikePetrucci moderator

@yaleman It seems to be only used for keeping the fire as hot as possible. It forms a little vortex and helps to burn up wood really well. It's automatic in how it operates too but once it's hot enough, you can toggle between low and high settings if you want to slow the burn a little.

MikePetrucci
MikePetrucci

@Common Sense You just have to keep adding fuel (sticks) to keep the charging going. I want to do a full test next with my phone starting from 0 and taking notes on how fast it gets to certain percentages.

MikePetrucci
MikePetrucci moderator

@Common Sense You just have to keep adding fuel (sticks) to keep the charging going. I want to do a full test next with my phone starting from 0 and taking notes on how fast it gets to certain percentages. 

JamesKA
JamesKA

MikePetrucci JamesKA Iphone 4 and 4S. Blackberry Bold and the new Q10.

JamesKA
JamesKA

MikePetrucci JamesKA You are correct about the conditioning process, and I did follow the instructions to "wake up" the stove, and also the initial operation instructions to get the fire going. Everything worked fine in that regard, but once the stove was ready to charge devices (the green charge light came on) it would not charge the Apple or Blackberry devices. I was able to charge a headlamp with the stove however.

MikePetrucci
MikePetrucci

JamesKA That's interesting. I wonder if the stove was hot enough to charge or was it properly conditioned before use? I didn't get into that in the article but the instructions go over a process of plugging it into your computer to first "wake up" the stove components. It's a little finicky sometimes but once I got the fire going, I didn't have an issue. I'm looking to do some testing of more devices now.

JamesKA
JamesKA

@MikePetrucci @JamesKA You are correct about the conditioning process, and I did follow the instructions to "wake up" the stove, and also the initial operation instructions to get the fire going. Everything worked fine in that regard, but once the stove was ready to charge devices (the green charge light came on) it would not charge the Apple or Blackberry devices. I was able to charge a headlamp with the stove however.

MikePetrucci
MikePetrucci moderator

@JamesKA That's interesting. I wonder if the stove was hot enough to charge or was it properly conditioned before use? I didn't get into that in the article but the instructions go over a process of plugging it into your computer to first "wake up" the stove components. It's a little finicky sometimes but once I got the fire going, I didn't have an issue. I'm looking to do some testing of more devices now.

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