In the outdoor gear world, there's a fine line between being innovative and being gimmicky--and when it comes to cooking for a group of ravenous backpackers, you better believe there's no room for stunts. Maybe that's why when I unpack my new BioLite CampStove during a backpacking trip, the debate begins almost immediately: in one camp you have the traditionalists, the ones who think a wood-burning stove that charges your electronics at the same time is more stunt than savvy. In the other camp you have tech aficionados ready to marvel at the inventiveness of a clean-burning stove that could cut their fuel costs to zilch. Gimmicky? Go ahead and call it what you want--I'll be over here with a full charge and a full belly.
The gear: The BioLite CampStove
The breakdown: This biomass (wood) burning camp stove uses its own heat to power a thermoelectric generator that in turn powers a fan, providing airflow for a fast and efficient fire. Extra electricity is sent to a USB port for charging devices, like a GoPro camera or smart phone.
What I loved:
-Wood-burning stoves and fire-cooking solutions are inherently difficult to use--not so with the Biolite CampStove, which was surprisingly simple and straightforward. Using the provided fire starter blocks and a match, my fire started and burned rapidly and the fan kept a consistent and powerful burn going for more than an hour.
-Using a biomass-burning stove means I'm using a renewable resource, saving money on fuel, and keeping fuel canisters out of landfills. I also never have to worry about running out of fuel.
-Setup and breakdown is simple and quick, and all parts of the stove pack together snugly inside of the optional KettlePot, saving space in my backpack.
-The stove wasn't dirty like I'd expected--I simply dumped the cool ash from the burn canister and gave the inside a quick wipe. There was barely any soot or residue, and the included stuff sack ensured little mess in my bag.
-You can use this stove to cook food, boil water, and heat up cold hands and wet socks where open fires aren't permitted assuming you completely let your ashes cool before disposing of them. I like the idea of keeping it in the bed of my truck for a quick cup of coffee post surf.
-Buying a BioLite CampStove means supporting BioLite's ongoing program to bring efficient heat and light to developing nations, where people often die from inhalation of smoke from inefficient indoor fires.
-Charging my electronics was a welcome perk as I cooked my meals and gave me a feeling of extra security as my battery dwindled during the day.
-This stove doubles as a great option for a bug-out preparedness kit, providing heat and electricity in emergency situations.
What I missed:
-The main issue I have with the stove is that you need a constant source of dry wood for the stove to work, and I often backpack and camp in wetter, cooler regions where dry sticks are difficult to come by. In this case, non-biomass stoves are more reliable.
-At 33 ounces, the product is undeniably heavy for a backpacking stove, and in most instances carrying a fuel canister and a lighter camp stove option will be enough to get you through a few meals. However, to get all of the perks of the BioLite CampStove, you'd need to pack solar chargers and enough fuel for at least 2.5 hours, bringing your total weight to 44 ounces, according to BioLite. Weight is very subjective, but the BioLite stove ends up being more cost efficient--check out their comparison chart for yourself.
-Charging your electronics is a non-essential function on the trail when you could tote along a solar charger, extra batteries, or a spare battery pack extension--you need to build a fire to get a charge, which can take a while (charge times vary, but an iPhone 4S takes about 20 minutes of charging for 60 minutes of talk time). However, while a backpacker should never rely solely on a smart phone for navigation, having a phone available could save your life in many situations, and it's a good tool to have in your arsenal.
-The wood-burning canister is small, meaning you can only use small pieces of wood and will need to continuously tend to your fire with new pieces of dry wood.
The verdict: If you're a casual backpacker or car camper searching for an efficient camp stove and like the idea of being able to charge your electronics while you cook, the BioLite CampStove is a great option. The available accessories, like the KettlePot and Portable Grill, give the stove unlimited uses, and a sleek, clean look and foolproof setup.
The price: $129.95 at biolitestove.com/campstove
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