Lovers of tech and gadgets, and outdoors-men like hikers and backpackers don’t often mix and match. The techies lament the lack of a power outlet deep in the woods, while most nature-loving campers dislike having too much tech at their disposal and are more inclined to play card games or board games when they’re bored.
Enter the BioLite CampStove, a mildly successful attempt to merge the best of both worlds by making a backpacking stove. This isn’t your ultralight backpacking stove that’s light and easy to carry while you hike, this is more of a camping stove that people are going to bring along car camping.
How does it work?
The BioLite is a solid fuel stove that uses twigs, leaves and other wooden debris to make a fire. It has a small on-board fan that fans the flames into a small inferno, and has a small thermoelectrical converter that’ll recharge its internal power-bank, which can in turn recharge your phone, gadget, or anything else that can be recharged via USB.
It’s a pretty cool idea, and it does what it sets out to do with some semblance of success. Frankly, we’re not too pleased.
When it might be really useful
In a survival situation, like big power outage or some other mishap, this stove can give you a minor charge to your phones, GPS and other electronics. It can also boil solid fuels without needing an external power source, the heat from the fire quickly turns the internal fan on and the stove works.
If you’re into prepping, having this stove at your home and a couple of bags of softwood wooden pellets (the bags are about $30) will let you cook meals and boil water for a few months if you’re alone, or at least a month if you’re with your family.
Even if the power grid fails, telephone antennas will usually work, and you’ll be able to call for help or access the Internet to get informed.
But other than this specific situation, this stove is outclassed by both other stoves and other power sources.
The first problem with it: it’s really heavy
This stove is about 2 lbs. Most other backpacking and hiking stoves are under 1 lb. While it doesn’t sound like much, every oz counts when you have to lug the item for a hike. Even groups of campers reported that the stove is just too heavy, even when they split up the parts of the stove equally among themselves to distribute the weight.
The disadvantages it has against regular propane stoves
This stove has an unremarkable boil time of about 4.5 minutes, which means it’ll boil a liter of water in 4.5 minutes. Halve this time and that’s how much time you’ll need to cook up a basic dehydrated meal or some eggs on a pan.
It’s not a bad stove, but specialized propane hiking stoves can boil water in under 2 minutes, which is fantastic. Canisters are also easy to carry, and it’s a lot easier to have a spare canister than to carry spare firewood or debris with you on a trip, because propane is much more energy dense than biomass.
The disadvantages of biomass stoves
Biomass stoves are comparatively inefficient when put against liquid or gas stoves, but the fuel is often just laying around everywhere. Until it isn’t, as many campers before you have taken all the dried up twigs and leaves around campsites and already used them as kindling.
It’s a good idea to constantly stock up on dried branches you find along the way.
This stove will require almost constant “babysitting” to keep a decent flame going, because the small fan constantly fans the fire into a frenzy.
The disadvantages of the internal 18650 Power-bank
The 2600 mAh power-bank is nothing to write home about; most smartphones are in the 3.5 mAh range or even 4 mAh, meaning that even when completely full, this stove won’t charge more than about 50% of your phone’s battery.
The other drawback is the construction and the basic design idea; in order to have more heat and to generate more electricity, the stove blasts the flame with the fan.
This, in turn, spends a good amount of electricity you’re going to generate, and you’ll be left with a half charged phone after 6 grueling hours of keeping the fire going. This is in almost no way acceptable on the trail, and veteran hikers often just bring extra batteries, power banks or solar panels, all of which are lighter and more efficient at recharging your phone.
One more feature
This stove has small backup lights that can help you around at night. They don’t take much juice away from your phone, or the power bank. These lights are okay, and are a nice touch.
In conclusion, just bring extra batteries
This stove is too heavy to be backpacked, and it won’t charge your phone better than a solar panel. It’s also heavier than most power banks and batteries out there, and you’d be better served with bringing a spare.
This stove is also useless when you’re going car camping, because your car’s battery will recharge your phone better and faster than this stove can. Besides, car camping allows you to bring a grill or a bigger stove that’s easier to use and cooks faster.
The only situation that this stove is useful in is being a part of your bug-out bag load out when there’s a big power grid failure like due to a hurricane, earthquake, flood or some other Act of God. And only if you have dry food pellets or shavings around. We actually really liked this stove in such, thankfully, theoretical events we discussed.