Tag Archives: camping

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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Exploring RV Living – Home Is Where I Park It

(This post is part of a series. If you’re new to my blog or this is the first you’ve seen of this series, you might look at the introduction first.)

Living in an RV means that home is indeed wherever you choose to park it. But where? The possibilities are virtually endless, limited only by your imagination, resourcefulness, and sense of adventure. Let’s look at some of the options.

RV Parks And Campgrounds

First of all, what’s the difference between a park and a campground? There’s no real rule and sometimes the difference is in name only. Generally speaking, however, an RV park is oriented more toward longer-term residency — months, seasonal, or full-time. Campgrounds tend to be geared more to short-time visitors, and usually allow non-RV camping too.

Hook Me Up

RV Parks will almost always have full hook ups, meaning water, electric, and sewer connections. Cable TV, telephone, and WiFi may also be available. They are a good place to stay for someone who wants or needs the conveniences of “on-grid” living.

Campgrounds are often more rustic, and may offer fewer or different amenities. They may or may not have electricity. There may not be water or sewer hookups at each site, but rather a shared dump station and water spigot for campers to dump and fill as needed. Since campgrounds usually allow all types of camping, including tents, tiny trailers and vehicles without their own facilities, there are often toilets and showers available. You’ll frequently find picnic tables and fire rings. Campsites tend to be spread out more than they are in densely packed RV parks. You are not likely to find cable TV nor telephone hookups, and WiFi is rare, too.

Private Property

If you like privacy and space, and plan to stay put for a while, a plot of private land, rented or owned, may be a good option. If you are renting, your ability to customize the property might be limited. If you own the land, you are free to do as you please, minding local codes, of course. You have the choice of using available electric, water, and sewer infrastructure, or going off-grid with solar or wind power and your own well and septic system. You could even plant a garden and grow your own food! While you might enjoy a similar lifestyle in a small cabin or “Tiny House,” the advantage of an RV is that you can travel in it whenever you want, knowing you have your own home base to return to.

With the downturn in the economy, some private homeowners rent space to RVers to raise extra cash. Space, hookups, and amenities vary greatly, but it can be a nice alternative to an RV park. Craigslist is a good place to find such opportunities. Look in housing > parking & storage. While many of these private RV spaces are in exurban and rural areas, you can find them in cities and suburbs too.

Living Free

So far I’ve talked about places that will probably cost money. There are also places you can park and camp for free. You may give up some convenience as well as most amenities, but the price is right. You’ll need a fully self-contained RV for most of the free options.

Wally World

Parking lots are good for overnight stays. Wal-Mart is a popular spot; most of their stores are RV-friendly, knowing that the occupant is likely to do some shopping while there. Sometimes, however, local laws get in the way – if you’re not sure, check with store management or security. If you arrive late in the evening and leave early in the morning, you can usually get away with overnighting in almost any parking lot. Just use common sense, keep a low profile, and if you’re asked to leave, be polite, apologetic, and compliant.

Truck Stops

Truck stops are another place to stop overnight or even for a few days. On the plus side, they have some useful amenities for the traveler: fuel, restaurant, laundry, showers, WiFi, and a store. Many truck stops even cater to RVers by providing a separate RV parking section, water and dump station, and propane. On the minus side, they can be busy and noisy, and some might find the diesel fumes unpleasant.

While parking lots and truck stops may be fine for spending a night or two along the road between where you were and where you’re going, you wouldn’t want to spend too much time there. So what to do when you get where you’re going?

This Land Is Your Land…

Plenty of public land, mostly overseen by the US Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management, is available for what is called dispersed camping. This is totally free camping outside of designated improved camping areas. It’s an opportunity to get away from it all, enjoying nature while testing your own self-sufficiency. There are no hookups or amenities of any kind. You bring what you need, and take everything back out when you go, leaving the land exactly as you found it.

While there’s a 14-day limit on dispersed camping, the BLM maintains Long Term Visitor Areas in Arizona and California that allow seasonal camping for up to seven months (September 15th – April 15th). These areas have dump stations, potable water, and trash dumpsters available. LTVA camping is not free, but it’s darn close to it at $40 for two weeks or $180 for the whole season.

Thousands of full-time RVers spend their winters on BLM land near Quartzsite, AZ in either the LTVAs or dispersed camping areas. I spend some time there myself each winter, part of it attending the annual week-long Quartzfest ham radio gathering in January.

Unfortunately there really isn’t a good single source of information regarding camping on public lands — you’ll have to start by going to each agency’s website (BLM or USFS) and then choosing the state you are interested in. A couple of crowd-sourced online databases look interesting — boondocking.org and freecampsites.net — the first allows you to search based on proximity to desired GPS coordinates, while the second lets you browse by state.

Friends and Family

Last but not least, if they have the room, you might be able to camp in a friend or family member’s driveway or yard. It’s a great way to visit loved ones, or to support them in times of need.

Please share your thoughts — comments are open!