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BioLite CampStove – The Substance Beyond the Hype

BioLite Wood Burning CampStove

BioLite Wood Burning CampStove

The BioLite CampStove received a huge amount of media attention this summer for being the first camping stove that can burn wood for cooking and recharging USB-enabled electronic devices. That’s a bunch of baloney, in my opinion. There are far better ways to boil water in the backcountry and recharge electronic devices than using a wood fired stove. Especially since you need to sit around and burn wood for HOURS to recharge a cell phone with the BioLite. Instead, I’d recommend that you simply carry extra batteries or a power brick charger if you can’t absolutely live without your electronic devices in the wilderness. This product has novelty value only.

How does the BioLite CampStove Work?

The BioLite CampStove is a top loading wood stove suspended on a fold-out stand. It comes with an orange battery pack and power converter which 1) converts the heat from a fire into electric power and 2) powers an integrated fan that is used to intensify the heat produced bythe wood stove.

Contrary to what you’d expect, the battery is not used to store energy for recharging electronic devices. It is only used to power the fan. If you want to charge external USB devices, you can only do so when the fire is burning and generating more heat and electricity than the amount required to run the fan. This means you can only recharge USB enabled devices when a fire is burning.

How long does it take to recharge a cell phone?

The BioLite takes a long time to recharge a cell phone battery that has zero remaining power. It depends on the phone, but expect to sit around for HOURS to recharge a dead battery. This is much longer than the time needed to cook dinner. My advice would be to use the BioLite to top of batteries instead of relying on it for a complete recharge unless you have a lot of free time on your hands and a lot of dry wood. Even then, you’d need to burn a lot of wood for an incremental top-off.

For example, it took me 2 hours of burning wood in the BioLite to bring a empty Samsung GalaxyS Smartphone battery up to 50% power. The stove only holds a small amount of fuel and I had to constantly add more wood to the fire to keep the heat level high enough to keep it charging.

If you don’t keep the fire hot and let it die down due to lack of fuel, it won’t generate enough extra energy to continue charging your devices. In fact, it will completely stop charging them, even though they’re still connected to the power converter/battery pack, because powering the fan has priority over recharging. Even more annoying, the charger starts and stops flowing current by itself; so your device may stop charging if it’s not hot enough, even if the fire is still burning.

Recharging a Cell Phone with the BioLite CampStove

Recharging a Cell Phone with the BioLite CampStove

How long does the wood in BioLite Stove take to burn?

If you fill a BioLite Stove with wood, it will take 5-10 minutes for all of the wood to be consumed depending on the type of wood used and its thickness (if using small sticks). If you plan on recharging a dead cell phone battery, I’d recommend you gather about two paper shopping bags worth of small sticks because you’ll need a lot of wood to keep the fire burning for the 4-5 hours required to recharge a cell phone. I shudder to think of the damage that our forests would suffer if everyone camping in them gathered this much wood every night to recharge their cell phones. The damage would be equally worse in developing countries.

Further, be advised that you will need to empty the accumulated ashed from the stove after each hour of use. Despite the efficiency of the burn, the growing ash pile increasingly limits the amount of fuel you can get into the stove and the resulting heat produced by the flame.  Hot ashes alone do not generate enough heat and a raging flame is required to generate the extra energy required for recharging.

Conclusion

If you want to cook with wood in the backcountry, get yourself a decent wood stove or make your own. If you’re looking for a way to recharge USB enabled devices, I’d recommend you use batteries or a rechargeable power brick instead of the BioLite wood burning CampStove. This product is a gimmick that will be shelved in your basement after a single outing.

Likes

  • Burns wood fuel completely to ash making it easy to bury in a Leave No Trace cat hole
  • Fuel box is suspended above ground on a stand so heat from fire does not sterilize soil

Dislikes

  • Burns wood very quickly requiring constant wood replenishment
  • Requires multiple hours of burning to charge a cell phone
  • No power storage; can only charge USB devices when a fire is burning
  • Heavy at 33.5 ounces; best for car camping entertainment, not cooking or backpacking

Disclosure: Philip Werner (SectionHiker.com) received a complementary Biolite CampStove for this review. 

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105 Responses to BioLite CampStove – The Substance Beyond the Hype

  1. Johnny October 20, 2015 at 11:55 pm #

    Totally agree with you xgadjitx. Some people told that BioLite is not suitable for backpacking because it will make dirty inside backpack. But I think it not a problem.

  2. Jamie Ferrugiaro November 29, 2015 at 1:39 pm #

    Good review! I like the honesty. However, on the other side I felt it was a tad too negative. I don’t believe the intention of this product was meant to be “gimicky”; I think it’s a company and group of people trying to think outside the box. Whether it works or not, I applaud people attempting to create products like this. Ones that go beyond the traditional and try to bridge new frontiers. Why not step outside the box?

    I can’t attest to the product myself since I have never tried it, and I have very little experience than it appears (at least from this post) you have. I don’t claim to have any immense knowledge over the subject.

    However, I also feel as others have said, that the charging design was not made to fully charge a phone. It was made to give some charge, true, but never really intended to charge 100%. And in reality, if you had this stove why would you wait until your phone was at 0 charge to use it?

    As someone who has purchased many different kinds of charging packs and devices for phones over the years, you don’t wait. I live in NJ, and am often going to NYC to visit friends, etc. What do I do when my phone starts to get a little low? I plug it in. It just makes sense. I don’t often bother so much when camping or outdoors, because it’s can be a pain. It depends on the situation. Mostly I like my phone when outside for 2 reasons: in case of an emergency, and for photos.

    But the world is changing. I love being connected, and I don’t believe there is anything innately wrong with that. People share things they love because they love them. Sharing the outdoors could never be bad–hopefully it encourages more people to love them, as well.

    So the idea of companies beginning to design and create products, which will then allow us to use our phones and do so more easily is great. Maybe it’s not perfect today. But one day, it may be.

    Which brings me to my next point. I love this review a lot, but I would have liked to see you also do multiple tests in a real life situation, and not just with wood you have. I think doing so in the way you did allowed you to fully test its capabilities, which is important. However, the way you use things in a real situation is often so much different then in a staged, controlled one.

    Also, I do believe with experience, most people can give an initial opinion on anything from a first test, but I think a true review is only after having used something for a long period of time.

    That being said, although I at first really loved this stove and considered it, I ended up never buying one. I much rather have a Jetboil. But I won’t give up on the idea, and I’ll keep my eye on Biolite.

    I do have Biolite’s NanoGrid setup, which I love so far. Especially the Powerlite, which incidentally also charges your devices via a USB. Although I agree the CampStove isn’t quite the best option, it’s an interesting concept and could possibly be improved on. I know they have improved other products they sell, like the BaseCamp stove, to be more efficient.

  3. Outdoor Product Designer January 4, 2016 at 1:20 pm #

    I am an industrial engineer (product designer) by trade and an outdoor enthusiast that is bringing a new outdoor device onto the market. So I’m especially interested in other “inventions” in this space. I really hoped BioLite would live up to its promise and impress me with the experience. In fact, before fully testing it on a four day hike I told many people about my excitement with the purchase – as I bought the FULL kit – the stove, the boiling pot, the grill attachment and the “Nano Grid” which combines a power pack, bright flashlight and little LED camplights that connect with power cords (how cool is that?). If there was indeed a stove that could cook your food / boil water, without the need for cans of fuel, AND that could generate power to provide electric lighting, GPS recharging (the basics) then I would be extremely impressed, and the benefits would certainly outweigh the costs and extra weight. Now that I have thoroughly tested the device in the field, I have a somewhat unfavorable opinion (at least with the current model being sold).

    PROS

    The stove delivers on the cooking promise, it produces an oxygen powered, mostly smokeless fuel source that will boil water fast. Not as fast as my isobutane camp stove, but plenty quick enough. If you only want to power a hot flame for cooking, using only bio-material when in the bush, I recommend this product.

    Overall design and manufacturing is impressive across the board, but the component weight is concerning for backpackers – which may not be the primary consumer the product is intended for. However I did notice a little heat damage to the device after a single trip, which leads me to wonder about the longevity of the product.

    The ordering experience was very pleasant and the company was quick to send the items before the holidays. The packaging was nice (something maybe only a designer would appreciate) and the company’s intention to serve third world countries was admirable.

    CONS

    As stated, the stove and components are well made, but maybe to a point that they ended up too heavy in a pack. Even splitting the components up among members of the group proved a little heavy on the straps (considering all the gear collectively). The grill top is especially heavy, but unless they switch to expensive alloys, the added weight is most likely a necessary hindrance to having a grill type cook top when in the bush and off grid.

    It took a considerable amount of fuel to keep the fire raging, it basically requires a handful of sticks or pine cones every 2 minutes, or else the fire will go out and the fan will create a big smoke plume from the hot smoldering ash….lighting newly added sticks / pine cones from the hot ash requires a little help by blowing into the top of the stove…and getting many faces full of eye-stinging billowing smoke. Topping the stove with fuel every 2 minutes didn’t seem a chore, until I tried generating enough power for even a modest amount of electrical charge (a four hour process)….if you do the math…that is feeding the fire 120 times, and yes, THAT is a lot of collecting and work.

    This brings me to the most disappointing part. The BioLite Camp stove simply does not provide enough power to charge your electrical items, even for a modest amount of power. There is a GREEN LED indicator that shows when the unit is powering your device….this cycles on and off in competition for power with the internal fan. It was pleasant at first to see the GREEN CHARGING light come on and provide charging power…but then it became frustrating when you realize the charging would last maybe only a minute, then up to five minutes of “not charging” as the on board fan consumed the power (which you can NOT turn off while the fire is lit presumably for overheating reasons). Hence four hours of trying to get even a 20% charge to the Bio Lite Nano Grid power bank. My hopes were to simply charge the power bank during the daily meals, to provide adequate camp lighting at night…and even with four hours of feeding the fire (there are much better ways to spend time on a hike) it gave me only enough power for about 20-30 minutes of light at night using the camp lights. Which may seem “ok”…but consider we spent much of the day on a marathon burn to generate this power.

    The power producing ability was by far the most disappointing quality of the BioLite, which of course is why you would probably buy one of these products in the first place. I was willing to pay more, and deal with heavier weight if I could get free power from burning twigs in the woods…but the technology simply isn’t there yet. Hopefully the this is a growing pain that BioLite is working on, after realizing that their first generation camp stove isn’t all that efficient…and therefore the promise of power generation is more of a novelty…which comes at a high cost to consumers.

    Although my product experience was mostly good, the lack of power-producing ability leads me to believe that the camp stove was not market-ready for a widespread release…hopefully the next generation products from BioLite will be more advanced. I would like to see at least twice the power output for me to consider using it on a hike, but more importantly, for me to recommend the stove (as a fellow product designer) to others.

    Just being honest.

  4. Susan January 6, 2016 at 3:46 pm #

    I CAN’t ENDORSE THIS PRODCT…just the opposite. I bought one of their packages for my son for Christmas. He wasn’t interested because the online reviews from serious campers were poor…with customer care and support being one of the biggest issues. So in order to get your money back you have to get an “refund authorization code” from the company BEFORE you send your return. Good luck with that. They have an email address for authorization codes that they don’t respond to, and they have NO LISTED PHONE NUMBER ANYWHERE! Not kidding, you can’t get a number for these people anywhere on the web or even the phone company. And trust me…we tried. So now I’m on the very edge of the return window before they will refuse the refund….maybe that’s their whole game. This stuff wasn’t cheap! A hassle, poor product, and bad customer service. STAY AWAY FROM THIS PRODUCT AND THIS COMPANY. Pass this on to any campers you know. Thanks.

    • Scott January 11, 2016 at 3:05 pm #

      Susan – Why didn’t you just take it back to the store you bought it at???

  5. Scott January 11, 2016 at 3:18 pm #

    Phil – You mentioned the PowerPot as an alternative – Heavy & $100 and you still need a stove/fire and the Solostove which has a smaller fuel area than the Biolite would require CONSTANT FEEDING, if that’s a problem. I understand you’ve drawn your line in the sand but… as I have read the comment log you have contradicted yourself a couple of times… Sometimes you need to re-evaluate your opinion because as I have read through this log you have become more rigid against the biolite than when you started and usually the opposite happens once people make countering points! I can only wonder how much of a drag you would be to hike with if I didn’t have the exact same gear as you because you seem self absorbed and would be ragging on me the whole time… Just Saying

    • Philip Werner January 11, 2016 at 3:21 pm #

      I can cook an entire dinner with one load of fuel in a solo stove, and you have no idea what I’m like on the trail.

  6. Campin momma February 24, 2016 at 6:47 pm #

    Don’t know what you’re all on about have the whole camping system and this thing is a tank. -15 or lower Cold Alberta winters I’m burning when no one else is..put that in your fancy feast can!!
    If you take the time to learn your machinery there are pros and there are cons… this is true with everything. Do your research, know what you want for performance.
    Biolite didn’t build a gear charger… Biolite found a way to burn clean and practically smoke and ash free on the trail.. the charger is about choosing to use the excess energy efficiently..I only use it for the cooklight…..minimum extra energy.. which is all they promise. If you wanted a charger they have solar panels and the chargekettle.

    Some of you seem to forget that your giving and opinion not writing the bible.
    Do I agree there were some pain in the ass learning curves absolutely! That said once I learned what woods to burn and how to best use the resources at hand I’ll take this little tank everywhere. No questions I love it and think you all pull it out of the box play with it for a weekend and give up.

    Just saying maybe you all are having self-fulfilling prophesies about gear your not familiar with…. perhaps rent one from a gear swap and let’s get some real interesting new opinions out there.. like I’ve never seen anyone review it as a pellet stove in car camping situations…..

    That’s where this baby really shines and if you are hardwood burning instead of that soft wood “insta ash” crap most people seem burn….

    I really don’t know what all this reload every 5 mins is about! Did you try burning on low fan or high?! did you time both for a full chamber? Did you build your fire for a top down burn the first time? ’cause lighting this thing is a dream with the fan doing all the work…

    But you all go ahead and shelf that 350$ worth of free gear you were asked to review cause you don’t actually put in the work to learn what a super tool you were gifted
    …..sigh….

    Opinions are like A@@holes though aren’t they..and everyone’s got one.

  7. Flavor King March 7, 2016 at 1:08 pm #

    I’ve had and been using Biolite gear for a few years now, and love it. The camp stove is by far the best wood fired portable grill I’ve seen. It packs up small so it’s super portable. It’s still heavier than most gas camping stoves, but no gas bottles to worry about, and way better flavor. The onboard fan stokes the fire for you, which means all you have to do is add more fuel when it needs it. It can reach insanely high temps for quickly boiling water, or searing steaks, and lower temps for bacon, sausage, or burgers. The fact that it can charge a usb divice at all is icing on the cake. If you pre load it, and have it burn top down, it becomes a low maintenance enclosed camp fire that burns for at approx 30 with no stoking or adding fuel (this is also the best method for charging). I saw in the comments some questions about an internal battery, it has one. However it’s just for the fan, when your charging a phone it uses excess power from the generator and the battery to get enough juice to charge the phone, that’s why it charges in cycles (something like 10min charging, 5 min resting, 10 min charging). It may not be for everyone, but I think a lot of reviewers never gave it a real chance, they didn’t want to work through a learning curve, and wasn’t as fast as a wall charger, so they dismissed it as a gimmick and went back to what they are accustomed to… That’s just lazy and they are missing out on a truly inovative and awesome product.

    • Outdoor Product Designer March 7, 2016 at 1:29 pm #

      These last couple reviews are almost certainly from a company representative…and for the record, no I’m not a competitor to BioLite. Instead, I’m an an outdoor enthusiast who happens to be qualified in product design. Just increase your power efficiency BioLite….and you’ve really got something more than a neat gadget.

      • Scott March 7, 2016 at 2:05 pm #

        I’m not… I’m just a person who has been camping many times for days at a time and values the ability to have a hot burning stove that will charge electronics along the way. I was involved with the scouts for years and would have loved to had this stove sooner. Like the previous poster touted – the ability to charge is gravy… In fact, some of my trips it was used strictly for charging. As for power efficiency it is not bad if you know what your doing. My question to you is have you ever used one?

        • Outdoor Product Designer March 7, 2016 at 2:21 pm #

          Yes…read my review above yours. I bought their whole package….the Power Grid I think they call it. There’s no doubt about it, unless they sent me a defective unit, the extra and usable power output of the camp stove doesn’t provide even enough power to charge a cell phone to reasonable levels after hours of burning sticks and keeping the fire stoked (which takes a lot more effort than one is led to believe). If you’re goal is to ONLY get one or two emergency text messages out, then yes, the BioLight makes magic power from heat, and that is cool. I think most of the power is being siphoned by the internal fan that the user can not shut off, most likely to avoid internal overheating. BioLight just needs to make a point of this in their sales and hype messaging….so that the user will expect the results. There’s a way to craft this messaging so this aspect of the user experience is not a “let down”. I think if they published a sales message around its true power output they would have less complaints…and happier customers.

      • Neil March 7, 2016 at 5:39 pm #

        *Just increase your power efficiency BioLite….and you’ve really got something more than a neat gadget*

        This is the problem… If clumsy reviewers trash a new product they don’t understand (or that simply doesn’t suit their particular circumstances) they have the power to impact sales and with it future improvements and product evolution.

        This product IS interesting, and even in this first generation has the potential to improve the lives of millions of people. It suits some campers but not others. Any reviewer worth a dime would look for the appropriate context for the product, but this one simply hasn’t bothered. It doesn’t improve his middle-class lifestyle so the product is a piece of junk, nobody should buy it and the whole thing should die and make way for more designer titanium can openers.

        • Philip Werner March 7, 2016 at 7:05 pm #

          This review is written for backpackers. If you want to “improve the lives of millions of people,” I suggest you stop reading blogs and get to work.

      • Flavor King March 8, 2016 at 1:33 am #

        @product designer, I do not work for biolite, or sell their products. My profession is in manufacturing, and I live in the Pacific Northwest, one of the best places in the US to get out and enjoy hiking and the outdoors (biolite is based in New England). As it happens, I am qualified to design products as well. There are definitely some changes that could be made to the camp stove but some things are not realistic when it comes to production costs. As for the improvements, requests for lighter weight (titanium base vs stainless) and higher power output are requests tjat will never go away. But as long as the product see’s adoption with the first gen, a better second gen can be developed address the some of the desires of the public. I stand by the view of “use it and enjoy it for what it is, instead of complaining about what it isn’t”, save that for recommendations for the next gen.

  8. Marcin June 19, 2016 at 3:25 pm #

    Reading this review one thing was clear – the author had an expectation that this is an “electronics charging” device. It is not. This is a camping stove, with the added benefit that if you are in a bind and require emergency charging, you have that option.

    Interestingly the review does not mention how well this stove performs it primary function – cooking.

  9. Nathan June 20, 2016 at 4:01 pm #

    Just to echo earlier assessments of the Biolite’s performance… my family went car camping early this month (June of ’16), and had plenty of time to play with my dad’s Biolite stove, a Christmas gift from me a few years back.
    It worked… adequately… for boiling water, fed with finger size pieces of ponderosa pine kindling. I suspect if we had hardwood it may burn hotter and more efficiently… but we don’t have real hardwoods to speak of in our neck of the woods, at least not in camp wood quantities.
    Charging performance was a joke. We set it up to charge my wife’s android, and barely got beyond 40% from a 5% charge after hours and hours of feeding the fire.
    The constant charge/fan focus shift was especially annoying since it would turn the phone on each time it began charging- and of course these devices charge faster turned off.
    Will be looking into a solar charger for the devices… but for now plugging in while showering is a pretty decent alternative. At least in a state park.

    • Neil June 20, 2016 at 7:49 pm #

      Yeah going from 5% (dead) to 40% (can make a few calls) is a real joke. If I were you I’d smash the thing into little pieces and go check into a motel.

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