The Biolite camp stove is a very cool, hi-tech stove for camping and backpacking. It does it’s main task incredibly well, but it’s novelty factor, the ability to charge devices, is largely under developed to be sufficiently useful. Technology in its finest form should make a task easier to achieve, or more simply it should make our lives easier. In many instances the emergence of new technology is accompanied by the emergence of new problems. The ironic part? Many of these new problems are inflicted at least in part by other technology. More on that later.
The Biolite Camp stove is relatively lightweight, it only weighs 33 oz.s, and requires no store bought fuel source, so whatever space you think you are losing because of the dimensions of the stove you gain back by not having to bring fuel for it. The stove is roughly about the same size as a Nalgene bottle, so in terms of packability, I think that the Biolite hangs well with other stoves. My Optimus Crux stove itself is much smaller and lighter but I have to bring Isobutane canisters along with me in order to fuel it. The Isobutane canister’s only last for so long as well and if you plan on doing any heavy cooking on them other than boiling water you may need to bring more than one of them depending on the length of your trip.
In regards to how well the stove does as a stove, no complaints. The fan cyclone system works brilliantly for both lighting the fire inside the chamber and maintaining the fire when attempting to boil water or cook. I felt that it was only marginally slower than my Optimus burner and if I had to guess I was able to get two cups of coffee worth of water to a rolling boil in under 10 minutes. The fan keeps the fire inside the chamber very hot and burns whatever wood fuel you add to it very efficiently. The stove comes with a tailor-made device to add stability to the top of the fire chamber for better balancing of pots and pans, which worked very well for me and I had no issues getting my pot of water to balance on the stove. I will say that because the stove burns wood so efficiently it tends to eat through that wood very quickly as well and in order to boil water you need to lift your pot periodically in order to add more wood to the fire chamber.
And yes, you are absolutely able to plug your iPhone or any other USB charged device into the stove and, when at peak power, you can charge said device. In concept the Biolite is one of the coolest pieces of camping tech that has come out in years, but while the Biolite team was able to deliver a real world product to match their brilliant concept, I feel that the technology needs improvement before it is adopted by real world professionals as a go to piece of equipment, rather than being a cool green tech novelty.
The reason being,this key phrase, WHEN AT PEAK POWER. Yes it has the ability to charge an iPhone, yes it does this by collecting heat energy from the fire that you can simultaneously use to boil your water for your dehydrated meal. The problem? To keep the stove at peak power, and actually charge your phone, you must constantly feed the fire inside of the stove.
The fire chamber is simply to small to contain any substantial pieces of timber and the stuff that will fit in there burns up really quickly when the thing is running at its peak power. It took me about 45 minutes of constant stoking of the fire in order to charge my phone to 30% power. In order to get your iphone charged to full capacity you will be spending a decent chunk of your day feeding and maintaining the fire rather than hiking, fishing, and all the other activities you would rather be spending the daylight doing.
This brings me back to my bit about new technology creating new problems that can only solved by more new technology. The Iphone itself is not necessary. Especially when backpacking, typically vacation time for me, I don’t need to have the phone. Yes it is nice to have the photo capacity and music playing but it is not actually necessary. If it weren’t for the phone I would have no need for a charging mechanism and I wouldn’t have wasted an hour of my time attempting to charge a phone. Time that could have been spent fishing.
Also, while the stove works as a stove, you have to light a fire to use it, if you can light a fire in the stove, you can light a fire otherwise in which case you could just use said fire to boil water anyways. So while I really like the Biolite, and I think that once the technology inside of it works better it will be an indispensable tool in my kit and that of professionals, I feel that much like any emerging technology, its first generation still needs a little work.
*UPDATE: After my initial review of the BioLite Camp stove, having said that I wouldn’t keep this stove in my permanent rotation of my backpacking kit, I fond myself using this stove every chance I had. The shortcomings that I highlighted before are still there and I hope that the BioLite team is able to address them within the stove platform, but the thing works so well as a stove and is just too cool not to use. Improvement is on the horizon though. Biolite has since come out with a “Basecamp” stove that is much bigger and really well suited for natural disaster relief or extended homesteading. They also released the “Kettle Charge”, a tea kettle like device that is able to provide 10W of power for vastly increased charging times of handheld USB devices.
If you want to try out the Biotite camp stove and save $20 off of your purchase follow my link below!!