The BioLite CampStove 2 is a wood-burning camp cooker that also charges your gadgets. We put it through its paces to see if it’s a viable option for the campground or your emergency kit.
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Whether you’ve been dragged along camping or suffered a sudden power cut, the prospect of an evening without electricity strikes fear into the hearts of many urban Kiwis. How will you boil a jug, charge your phone or see what you’re doing once night falls?
The CampStove 2 ($247 from gearshop.co.nz) claims to be the answer. It’s a portable cooker with a difference, burning twigs instead of gas and converting spare heat from the fire into electricity so you can charge your gadgets.
While the marketing shows happy campers cooking up large in the wilderness, the ability to produce off-grid power means it’s also found favour with survivalists.
The stove’s made from stainless steel and aluminium, standing 21cm tall on three legs and weighing just under 1kg. The brains of the CampStove is a detachable yellow module containing the power generator, battery and fan.
The idea is you light a fire in the burn chamber and stoke it with “renewable biomass” (sticks, small logs, wood pellets or pine needles/cones). An internal fan blasts air through 51 jets in the burn chamber to recirculate smoke, stoke the fire and achieve a more efficient burn in a process called gasification (where smoke is forced back through the flames).
As the fire builds, an LED dashboard indicates the strength of the burn on a scale from one to four. The stronger the fire, the more electricity produced by its thermoelectric generator (TEG). The TEG powers the fan and uses leftover electricity to charge an on-board 2600mAh Li-ion battery, which supplies power to your devices via a USB port. Also in the box is a 100-lumen USB light.
Once the fire is roaring away, you can use the stove to boil a billy while you charge your phone or brighten up the campsite with the supplied light.
Ease of starting
We found starting a fire easy. We just needed firelighters (a starter pack is supplied) and a handful of dry twigs. Once things start heating up you can add sticks of increasing size, but we obtained best results with pieces about the size of a middle finger.
In addition to sticks and small logs, you can also use wood pellets, pine needles or similar, but the stove can’t handle coal. The deep and narrow burn chamber means firelighters are essential; we found it difficult to start a fire using just newspaper and kindling. The fuel also needs to be very dry, meaning the BioLite shouldn’t be the first choice for Fiordland Deerstalkers.
Getting it going
When you power up the module, the fan starts on a low setting but, as the fire strength indicator climbs, you can increase the fan speed while adding more fuel. Within 10 minutes the fire will be at full strength and you can set fans to maximum – looking inside the burn chamber you’ll see a swirling vortex of flame as the air jets force the smoke to fully combust. When burning dry fuel the BioLite is largely smokeless, so you won’t stink up the campground.
BioLite claims the stove can boil a litre of water in 4.5 minutes when burning at full strength. However, it took us more like 8 or 9 minutes, though that’s only a minute or two longer than the portable gas stove we used for comparison.
Ease of use
We identified a couple of ease-of-use niggles when cooking on the BioLite. The first is that the size and shape of the pan support mean it works best with shorter, flatter pots – the tall, narrow ones we tried were a little unstable.
The second is you need to remove the billy to chuck in more fuel, increasing your boil time. When it’s running full-bore, you’ll need to refuel the stove every few minutes.
BioLite sells a KettlePot ($110, 1.5L) designed to nestle snugly atop the CampStove, along with a portable grill ($150) so you can fry up over wood smoke in the backcountry.
As a battery charger, the CampStove works well. We found the USB output can sink up to 3W into your devices – not quite fast-charging but that will have a flat smartphone at full charge in about an hour-and-a-half – and the 2A USB output is sufficient for tablets. The internal 2600mAh battery charges as you cook, meaning you can detach the module and use it as a powerbank later without needing to light another fire.
Despite a couple of minor ease-of-use gripes, the BioLite is a nifty piece of kit that mostly does what it says on the tin. It works well as a both a cook stove and a power source, and is easy to light and keep burning.
However, the speed and convenience of lightweight butane stoves mean gas cookers are probably the better option for most trampers. For survival kits, the best long-term cooking option is having a barbecue with a spare LPG cylinder. Battery powerbanks with 4 times the capacity of the BioLite’s inbuilt battery are available for less than $100, while solar USB chargers are available for as little as $60.
That said, the BioLite is the ideal gift for the survivalist who has it all or those who want to be the talk of the campground this New Years’.
First Looks are trials of new or interesting products from the perspective of our product experts. Our lab-based tests offer truly objective product comparisons.
By George Block
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