Old School Meets High Tech – BioLite CampStove Charges As It Cooks

When it comes to cooking, a wood fire is about as old school as it gets. BioLite has brought the basic wood fire into the 21st century with their CampStove.

Why would I be interested in wood as a cooking fuel? My little motorhome has a fully equipped kitchen including a four-burner gas stove, but sometimes it’s just nice to cook outside. It also doesn’t hurt to be prepared for anything.

Why Wood?

While BioLite’s target customer probably camps somewhat more primitively than I do, why would they even be interested? Compact gas and liquid fueled stoves are abundant, convenient, and reliable. I’d like to think that, for at least some, there is a simple romantic or nostalgic attraction to a wood fire, but there are other good reasons, too. How about not having to carry fuel and empty fuel containers? How about wood being a naturally renewable resource? Oh, and how about if, on top of all that, it could recharge your phone or other devices while it cooks your food?

High Tech

Oh yeah. This is about as high-tech as cooking on wood gets. It uses forced ventilation for efficient burning, reduced emissions, and a really hot flame. And while there are other fan-driven wood camping stoves on the market, they all require batteries to run the fan, and that means batteries to remember and replace. The BioLite uses thermoelectric technology – the heat from the fire is converted to electricity to power the fan. Not only that, but it generates more electricity than it needs for its fan, and makes the surplus available via a USB jack so you can charge your phone, LED light, or other gadgets. Pretty neat, huh?

I first read about this sometime last year and just had to get my hands on one. At the time they were still in development, but they were taking email addresses of interested parties. I signed up and eventually forgot all about it until one day, out of the blue, I get an email telling me they’re accepting reservations for preorders. Eventually I was invited to place an actual order, which finally shipped last week and arrived this week!

Nicely Packaged

I was impressed from the moment the UPS driver handed me the box. Much smaller than I was expecting. The box, that is. It was exactly the size it needed to be, but not a millimeter larger in any dimension. And no polystyrene peanuts nor plastic bags, either. BioLite gets extra points in my book for smart eco-friendly packaging. In the box was the stove (in a drawstring nylon stuff sack), a short USB cable (for initial charge-up of the internal battery), a handful of sawdust-and-wax fire starters in a waxed paper bag, and a sheet of instructions.

Nicely Built

The stove is very well built. Excellent fit and finish. The “power module” (orange unit containing the fan and electronics) stores inside the fuel chamber. For use it attaches to the side of the fuel chamber and is securely held by extending the legs, one of which engages with a protrusion on the bottom of the power module.

Get Ready

I connected the power module, using the supplied USB jumper, to an AC powered charger to “condition” the battery prior to initial use. This is only necessary the first time, or if the stove is stored for more than six months.

The BioLite burns wood or other biomass, so I went about collecting some. It didn’t take long to collect a handful of twigs, plus some bark and pine cones fallen from nearby trees. I collected a variety from smaller than pencil thickness up to about as thick as my thumb. I broke them into about 5-inch lengths.

First Firing

I attached the power module to the side of the stove and deployed the legs.  I loosely filled the fuel chamber with a few pieces of bark and the smallest of the twigs. I twisted a bit of newspaper up into a “stick” of sorts and stuffed it in. I lit the paper with a long barbecue style butane lighter, sticking it down to the bottom to get the bottom of the paper and some of the bark burning as well.

Once it looked like it was burning well enough, I started the fan (doing it too soon would just blow out the flame), and after another minute or two, it was going quite nicely, so I added a couple pine cones and some of the thicker twigs. I switched the fan to high and put on a pot of water.

Charge!

While waiting for the water to boil, I watched for the LED bar above the USB jack to turn green, indicating that it was ready to use as a charger. I connected my combination cellphone and UHF/VHF radio and sure enough, the phone’s display indicated it was taking a charge. I was using fire to charge my HT/phone — how cool is that?

Tea Time

I probably should have started a timer, but it wasn’t three minutes before the water started to bubble a bit, and in less than  five it had achieved a vigorous boil. During that time I had to lift the pot once and feed the fire. I made myself a nice cup of tea and took some photos.

Conclusion

In all, I’m very pleased. I can honestly say the BioLite CampStove has exceeded my expectations. It’s a great little stove; burns hot and clean on a handful of twigs. It’s so efficient that it only left a couple of tablespoons of ash. I can also see it being really nice as a compact portable (tabletop, even?) campfire. I don’t know how often I’ll have a need for the USB charging feature, but it never hurts to have a backup plan. It might work nicely to directly power a small LED light — maybe to see what I’m cooking at night?

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Oh, and  what’s more, BioLite is using sales of the CampStove to help fund the design and construction of a larger version for use in developing nations. For more info or to get your own CampStove, check out BioLiteStove.com.

Manufacturer’s Specifications:

  • Packed Size  Height 8.25 inches  Width 5 inches
  • Weight  33 oz (935 grams)
  • Fuel  Renewable biomass (twigs, pinecones, wood pellets, etc.)
  • Fire Power Output  Peak: 3.4 kW (LO), 5.5 kW (HI)
  • USB Power Output  Max continuous: 2W @5V, Peak: 4W @5V
  • Compatible Devices  Powers most USB-chargeable devices including smartphones.
  • Charging Time  20 minutes of charging provides 60 minutes of talk time. Charging times vary by device and by strength of fire.
  • Boil Time  4.5 minutes to boil 1 liter of water. Varies based on strength of fire.
  • Fuel Consumption  1.6oz (46g) of wood to boil 1 L of water
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20 responses to “Old School Meets High Tech – BioLite CampStove Charges As It Cooks

  1. This is very nice. How much it will be costs..

  2. I saw this on Treehugger.com or someplace like that and was impressed with it. I’m considering maybe doing some primitive camping/hiking down the road when I get things back to ship shape and this looks like a nice design. If I do go anyplace I’ll have my iPhone with me and keeping it charged while out in the boonies is important. This solves a lot of issues. Thanks for the write up.

  3. That sounds like something nice to have at my off grid camp.

  4. Great review Mike. My stove shipped on the 3rd and should hopefully be here soon. Can’t wait to check it out.

  5. This looks like a very interesting stove solution, although a bit on the heavy side for my lightweight camping desires :) Thanks for the thorough review!

    Also, you mentioned you have a combined cellphone and UHF/VHF HT. Being into HAM radio myself, I got curious. Can you tell me which one it is and whether you would recommend it?

    • I didn’t realize there was more than one HT/phone out there. I have the Puxing. It’s probably a better radio than it is a phone, but I like it. UHF/VHF, unrestricted (so it’s useful to monitor non-ham frequencies, but you must be careful not to transmit where you’re not allowed). You could probably get away with using it for FRS/GMRS frequencies, but as it isn’t type accepted for those services, I can’t recommend you do so ;)

      Since it uses the phone’s “brain” to control the radio, it is fairly sophisticated. scanning, standard and custom splits, dual watch (can be same or different bands), channel naming, and more. Even integrates nicely with the phone – phone will mute for incoming radio call or vice-versa, or you can set priority to one or the other.

      The phone is pretty basic, but it has everything you’d expect from a “feature phone” though some signs of lack of foresight exist. Probably the most glaring defect is the camera; it is front-facing only. Perfect if you like to take pictures of yourself, but very difficult to take pictures of anything else as you can’t see what you are shooting as the screen faces the same way as the lens.

      The RF performance seems to be pretty good on both the phone, and radio. I have no problem hitting repeaters 30 miles away with its two watts and stock rubber duckie. Receive selectivity could be a little better – seems a bit more susceptible to intermod and other QRM than some of my other radios, but not terribly so. It’s quite usable.

      One thing I especially like, in addition to having a single device for my everyday communication needs, is the drop-in charger that simultaneously charges both the radio and phone, as well as it being my only USB-chargeable HT.

      Wow… I suppose I should do a more in-depth review of it sometime, as its own post. Thanks for asking, Jesper.

  6. I looked at this the other day but have questions. The most important one is probably how big a pot can you put on this stove? Can I use a skillet?

    • The manufacturer specifies a weight limit of eight pounds or a gallon of water. Stability might be an issue with an especially wide pan like a skillet. The leg spread is pretty good, making the stove itself nice and stable, but the part that your pan sits on is only about 4-1/2 inches in diameter. I haven’t tried my cast iron on it yet (though I’m sure it gets plenty hot enough) – I might have to give it a try – but a smaller, maybe six to eight inch lighter-weight (stainless or nonstick) skillet would probably be perfect. Thanks for the great question, Linda.

  7. And if you don’t have a sunny day but the wood is wet what you going to do then?

    • If you’re talking about me personally, Aaron, if I had to go for more than several days without enough sun to charge my house batteries, and couldn’t even find enough dry wood to use the stove for charging small electronics, I suppose I’d have to run my generator or start the motorhome’s engine.

      If you are talking more generically, and perhaps about a hiking trip, where there’s no access to a vehicle as a backup charging solution, then you might just have to eat cold food and go “cold turkey” with the electronics. Of course, it really doesn’t take much to get this stove going – you’re likely to be able to find enough that has been sheltered from the rain (or perhaps pack a small handful) to get the fire going, and once you do, you should be able to feed it slightly damp fuel, if you do it slowly, once you’ve got it burning. at full power.

  8. I just saw this “Camplite” on WIMP and googled it some. I came across your blog and i must say it’s very interesting, especially for someone who used to live in her car, I’ve entertained the idea of RV’s and possibly moving from the car to the RV (Not really an option now since i no longer live in one but still something i have thought about since living in one place makes me restless in the contrast of how i used to live.) so this tickled those knowledge regions of my brain that plan for the zombie apocalypse. I like that your have a sharp mind and are able to do things that the more cowed half of america fears due to lack of “necessities” that are demanded for a “normal” life. (White picket fence american dream, blah, blah. I don’t mean to sound cynical, it just ends up that way.) So i applaud you for showing others your lifestyle and allowing people to learn from what you have done so they can move outside their comfort zones and maybe follow in your footsteps (Traveling enriches one’s life). Thanks for all your time on this blog and thanks for sharing!

    -Senirra Face

  9. thanks for the review. My housemate got one too and we’ve tested it already and were able to cook some pasta on a single 4-feet tall thin hibiscus tree that died last year from frost. But I’m not convinced I want one. If I go hiking, I can definitely live without hot meals and if I want fire I prefer a real one, it’s just nice to look at it etc. Whereas even one extra kilo of this stove is too much for a hiking trip. But I would consider it in places where making fire is not allowed but I would need a warm meal.

  10. Hey Mike

    Four months or so on… do you use this Biolite Campstove often? Why/ why not? Is the battery still doing OK? (we were going to get a Biolite Campstove to test out for our team and maybe get another 7 or so, but heard reports of the battery being dead and help being slow to come, so we’re still thinking), still it’s innovative and for a good cause.

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