Thursday, July 5, 2012

Biolite Camp Stove - Full review

Quite a few months ago my sister emailed me a link to the BioLite preorder page. I signed up to be notified when they are preorderable. When they became available, I ordered one. About two months later I became one of the first people to receive one. I paid $129.

I normally don't get excited about new gadgets, but this one captured my attention. The BioLite camp stove is a wood burning camp stove that has an electric fan to feed oxygen to the flame and a charging station that allows you to charge almost anything that can be charged from a USB port.

Yes, you heard right. It can charge your iPhone from a fire.

Very cool.

But does it work? We shall see....

The first thing I would like to clarify is its size. The manufacturers web site compares it to a Nalgene bottle. This is deceptive.

I did not have a Nalgene bottle handy to compare it with, so I used a standard aluminum bottle for comparison.  At its skinniest the BioLite is about as thick as a Nalgene bottle, but at its widest it is much larger.

It collapses nicely, but is still quite bulky. It takes up a lot of room in all of my packs.

Another drawback is its weight. The BioLite it marketed towards backpackers and day hikers. At over two pounds, I doubt I will ever put it in my day pack. It is heavy. It does eliminate the need to carry stove fuel and a solar charger, so the weight issue might balance out for you.

The fire box does not hold much wood. This should not be seen as a negative. It is amazingly efficient. You can basically cook a meal with a solid stick about three feet long and an inch wide. My biggest frustration was breaking twigs in small enough pieces to fit in. You do not want anything sticking out of the top.

Starting the fire is a little tricky. If you do not have a decent fire to begin with, the internal fan will blow it out. I use fatwood to start the fire.

Once the fire catches, it is an inferno. Literally shooting out like a jet engine. Amazing.

The flame you see in the picture above is shooting out sideways like a blowtorch. It is a very hot flame, much hotter than a normal campfire.

Here is a very short video showing the flame:

And another shot of a stoked flame.

It is so hot, adding fuel is tricky. I had to add more fuel about every five minutes.

The BioLite boiled a half full kettle in less than ten minutes. The fan system absolutely works. I give the BioLite an A+ in the stove department. It truly amazed me.

The draw of the BioLight is not in its cooking ability, it is in its charging ability. Does it actually charge stuff?

Yes. Quite nicely.

After about three minutes of having a nice fire going, the light on the front turns green. This means it is ready to charge.

Simply plug in your device......

....and charge!

How fast does it charge? Certainly not faster than your wall charger. It is not ideal for completely recharging a device, but it is great for topping one off or bringing a dead battery back to life.

Unlike a solar charger, it can charge at night and on cloudy days. This is a big plus in my book.

The construction of the BioLite is decent. Wouldn't want to drop on on concrete, but it will hold up well to careful use. The legs are of most concern. Their hinges just look and feel delicate.

Clean up is easier than I expected, but still messy. If you let the fire die down naturally, all that will be left is a white ash. However, there is still a sooty build up on inside of the fire box and on the heat probe. The sooty heat probe is difficult to clean and will get soot on your stuff.

So, in conclusion:

The BioLite camp stove is big, heavy, and messy.

It is convenient, fuel efficient, cooks well, and charges electronic devices.

Will I use it on a day hike? Probably not. Will I use it camping? Oh, yes! More importantly I feel more secure owning it. The knowledge that no matter what, I can cook food and charge a battery is very comforting. I have a generator and keep five days worth of fuel on hand. I also keep three weeks worth of camp stove fuel on hand. But sometimes disasters last for months, not days or weeks. The BioLite is something I recommend everyone get for their emergency kit.

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