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.
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.
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.
- 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
- 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.
Written 2012.Editor's note: Help support this site by making your next gear purchase through one of the affiliate links above. Click a link, buy what you need, and the seller will contribute a portion of the purchase price to support SectionHiker's unsponsored and independent gear reviews, beginner FAQs, and free hiking guides.
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