Source: received for testing via the Trailspace Review Corps (Sample provided by BioLite for testing and review)
In the right venue, this little stove is a nice complement to cooking, heating, and ambiance. After using it at home, backpacking, and canoeing, the stove works best as more of basecamp/tailgating/car-camping stove.
- Burns very hot
- Uses all types of biofuel
- Recharges electronics while using the stove
- Nice to have grill option
- Grill is the best cooking feature
- Very portable
- Great base camp or survival stove
- Noisy. The fan must be used while burning fuels
- Uses 6" or shorter sticks. Hard to break bigger sticks down
- Hungry fire. Must re-fuel constantly
- Annoying to refuel while trying to cook with a pot
- Can be very hard to light
- Heavy for backpacking
My best short answer is this stove fills a niche place in the world of outdoor cooking. It can be very effective in the right application.
I have used the BioLite at home, backpacking, and canoeing. With the nice weather all summer, I have not had the chance to try it in wet conditions.
With that, however, I did have to use it in VERY windy conditions while backpacking. In calm weather, the stove worked pretty well. In the wind, though, the fire was especially difficult to get started and keep going until the stove got hot. The stove created copious smoke, which made dealing with restarting especially difficult.
The stove, as a crossover piece of both electronics and a simple fire chamber, did need the battery to be pre-charged as instructed by the manufacturer. I just hooked it up to my computer and left if for several hours. I have not had to re-charge it again this summer, even after several uses, as the stove recharges itself as well as can charge other small devices.
After the precharge, the stove is very easy to set up. Just put the power module into the sensor slot, open the the stand which holds the module in place, pull out the other two feet, and the fire box is ready to stoke. Keep in mind, that unlike a gas stove which if properly ventilated, one could use indoors. This stove CANNOT be used indoors because of the fuels it requires. It's essentially a high tech fire place, and this stove MUST be used out of doors, always! One could probably put this stove on a wooden table to cook, but I would put some kind of heat shield under it as a precaution. Just make sure, like all stoves, it is reasonably level.
Starting the fire to me was the most aggravating part. Windy conditions made it very challenging to start at all. But this stove is not instant start even in the best of times. The easiest way to start is was to use the included firestarters, but that is not practical. After all, this is supposed to use all bio-fuel. While canoeing, I even used dried cow chips. That was very effective at getting the fire going and getting the fire box hot.
After getting the fire going, it took several minutes to get the fire box hot enough to stabilize the fire, then be able to cook on it. I was so frustrated by the time it took, I stopped using it to cook breakfast. I had much more time in the evening to get it going well, so I used it for dinners and grilling.
The stove can have some flame control. The fan on low produces much less of an aggressive flame, and if simmering is required, one could just the coals. But using the stove like that makes it very touchy and time intensive.
For example, it was very frustrating that while trying to cook or boil water, I constantly had to lift the pot and feed the stove. It would have been less aggravating had I had a pot with a handle, but instead I had to take off the lid, use the pot grabber, lift the pot, feed the fire, and repeat frequently. Only once was I able to boil water without feeding it, because I took lots of time to prep wood that was thick enough and short enough to get into the fire box.
When the fire was running well, it took less than 2 minutes to boil 2 cups of water. But as previously noted, I found the stove portion to be fussy to fuel and tend when trying to cook.
When using the pot on the stove, it did feel quite stable. The fire ring is about 3.5 inches across, so the base of the pot gets quite a lot of heat. The feet of the base is 8" from back foot to front foot, and 6" across the front feet. The whole stove stands at about 8.25", but with the wide base, it never felt top heavy.
The battery/fan pack comes off easily with folding the back leg down, and the pack fits inside the firebox, and the whole system slides into a bag. The stove takes up about the same space as a Nalgene. With all parts included (extra pot ring-1oz, firestarter- 1.75 oz, stuff sack- 1 oz, battery pack -15 oz, fire box -17 oz), the final weight was 37.75 ounces, thus 2.35 pounds, about the same weight as a full Nalgene.
This stove takes about 20 minutes to get to recharge heat, and if used for long periods of time, the firebox must be emptied of used embers. Also, the stove can take 20-30 minutes to cool if emptied of coals, and much longer if allowed to naturally burn down.
One of the best features about the stove is that one can have a fire anywhere using a stove is approved. In the case of testing this stove while canoeing the Missouri Breaks and returning home, we had three places that fires were just not permissible, and it was wonderful to have a fire in the evening.
It was nice to not take a second device to charge my iPhone. I wanted to try just using the phone as a camera, so I had to leave it on all day. I also had limited extended coverage one day to check in at home, which really drained the battery, so I had to recharge three times during the trip.
For charging, I found that the stove had to get hot, which took about 20 minutes before the charging aspect would even kick in. Then, I discovered that the charger would kick on for about 10 minutes, and on high, it would only give 2% a push. So it took 3 hours to get a 30% charge.
Two days later, I needed to charge again, but this time I used the low setting. Going through the same heating process, each charger push actually gave me 4% a time. I got 35% charge in about hour and 45 minutes.
A nitpick of the stove is when it is running, it is noisy. Because I was charging my phone, I had to let it run for hours, as noted. Thus, I also had to learn how to dump the firebox while keeping a few starter coals, and had to listen to the fan as it ran, which out in the quiet got kind of old, and rather defeated one of the reasons I was out in the first place.
Another nitpick is, as I alluded earlier, it took a lot of preparation to get the right size of sticks, especially for cooking. I had to either hatchet them down, or stomp them into usable chunks. If I was just enjoying the fire or using the grill, it wasn't so bad. But the prep work took me up to 20 minutes or more, which I did so I could tend to other camp chores as the phone charged, or I was ready to soak up the ambiance of the evening.
Ultimately for me, this is a great second stove. I would stick with car camping/tailgating/canoeing/ or emergency fire and cooking option. It was a nice tool to have on the long canoe trip. But I think it's a niche product. It works, it has some very cool features, but it would not be my first go-to stove. However, the grill and fire box aspects are what really made this product a great stove to have "out there".
Source: borrowed it
This might not be the most ideal product for backpackers, but its ingenuity and usefulness are too much to resist. If you appreciate the "pros" enough and can use some common sense to combat the "cons," let the good times roll!
- Cooking qualities are excellent
- Charging qualities are a plus!
- Great heat!
- Stable and safe for cooking
- Heavy (who doesn't want the lightest thing ever?)
- Dirty (bring a grocery bag or two to contain it in the backpack after use)
- A bit noisy
- Promotes bringing more gadgets ("Simplify, simplify" -HDT))
A friend loaned this ingenious product to me for the summer, and I am eager to get one of my own. I understand why many people don't like, but it is what it is. . . As always, I would highly recommend that you read the directions carefully and experiment at home before taking it to the woods.
Start-up: Without the use of fire starters, the tinder, twigs, and fan had the flames roaring within 5-6 minutes. The battery was pre-charged at home, so there was no down time before the fan could be used. BioLite recommends the pre-charge to expedite use for phones and other devices in addition to the fan.
For cooking purposes only, this is an extremely effective option in the field. The BioStove is a bit heavy for a backpacking stove, but well worth the weight when considering the charging capacity of the product for phones, iPods, GPSs, and headlamps.
Fuel: As directed, tinder was used to start the fire and larger pieces of wood were used , maxing out with ½ inch diameter sticks. Egg-sized embers from the campfire became the fuel for the stove on our second night at basecamp. It worked infinitely better as the heat was more clean and hot.
Without a doubt, embers are the best choice if a campfire is burning nearby. Whether it was the ember-style or using wood, it took little effort to keep the fire going to charge our electronics.
Cooking: A quart of water with the fan on low was boiling in less than five minutes without a lid, which is outstanding compared to other stoves on the market. This is one of the more stable stoves I have ever used with respect to its wide base diameter with the landing gear down- way more than my JetBoil. I would highly recommend a pot lifter for moving the pots to and from the stove. “Safety first!” Even with the use of the top pot stabilizer, users should be incrediblly careful while cooking. One bump and boiling water or food could do some impressive damage or send your meal flying onto the ground.
If using it at a campground or basecamp, a long metal spoon for scooping embers from the campfire works great. We used half of an old pie iron left at basecamp years ago. A cheap and effective alternative would be this product or a long handled serving spoon from a local store. Wind is a concern if you let the flames lick the generator side- YIKES! Keep an eye on it. Easy enough.
Clean-up: After allowing the stove to cool, we tapped out the leftover ash and wiped the inside of the stove out with wet then dry paper towels. I double-bagged it in grocery bags while in my backpack. Upon returning home, I washed the stove section in the dishwasher and cleaned smeared ash from the generator section with a hot dish towel.
Cons: The noise from the fan was a bit loud. It didn’t bother me, but my friend works for networking company and listens to fans all day at work in the control center rooms. He was begging me to put it on the edge of camp to charge our phones and headlamps because he associated the sound with work.
Source: received for testing via the Trailspace Review Corps (sample provided by Biolite for testing and review)
The Biolite Camp Stove is an innovative design utilizing TEG (Thermal Electric Generator) technology, and if continued to be developed has the potential to make revolutionary changes in the outdoor community. With the Biolite Camp Stove you can cook your food, keep your electronic gadgets charged, and have a little ambiance at the camp site. The Biolite Camp Stove is not without flaws, but with a little fire building practice and some patience it can be a reliable and useful piece of kit.
- Boils 2 cups of water in as little as 2 minutes
- Boils 4 cups of water in as little as 4.5 minutes
- Charges a multitude of USB devices
- Will charge an Iphone 4 (1420mAh) 1% every 4-5 minutes
- Will charge a Blackberry Bold (1260mAh) 2% every 4-5 minutes
- The stove is heavy at 33oz
- Can be challenging to get a strong, healthy fire capable of charging devices in a short amount of time
- Burns fuel rapidly and is not fuel efficient compared to other wood burning stoves
- Cannot feed stove fuel with a pot on the stove
(Provided by Manufacturer)
I had the pleasure of testing the Biolite Camp Stove for the past two months. Through the course of testing I conducted about 200 test burns, and used it in the field backpacking 4 days. Building a healthy and strong fire in the Biolite can be challenging, but with a little practice and patience you will quickly learn the trick. Charging devices on the stove is amazing and incredibly frustrating all at the same time, and again with a little practice and patience you will learn the quirks of the stove.
When I first received the Biolite I was very impressed with the quality of the packaging. It comes in a very robust, well designed, and professional looking package, this package far exceeds the quality of any other package I have ever received from any manufacturer.
The Biolite Camp Stove weighs in at 33 oz, and is slightly larger than a 1L Nalgene bottle when disassembled. Three fold out legs lock the power module in place, and provide a very stable platform for the stove. Pots can be placed directly on top of the stove thanks to a integrated pot stand. There is not a removable ash pan to allow the stove to be emptied of ash while in operation. The overall build quality of the Biolite is just as impressive as its packaging; it is evident that a thoughtful and skillful team used proper tools and machinery to construct the stove. There are no sharp edges, all seams are rounded and pop riveted, and there are no burrs on any of the cut or drilled surfaces. In my opinion this is a truly quality product. A stuff sack is also provided to store the stove when not in use.
Design, and Fire Building Quirks:
The actual design of the Biolite I feel impairs upon proper fire development due to lack of natural ventilation/ airflow, and with a few modifications would overall be a much better product. With that being said, I found the Biolite easy to use and operate once the quirks are understood. The instructions that come with the Biolite are clear and easy to understand, however are not as useful in practical application of the stove.
There are not enough ventillation holes in the bottom of the fire chamber in my opinion. So a higher pressure air is coming out of them which in turn blows harder on the fire, which makes also makes it a bit harder to establish a healthy fire at times.
Building a fire in the stove can be a true lesson in patience at times. Unless you are using perfectly dry wood, and a mix of some soft and hard wood it can take up to about 15 minutes to get a healthy enough fire to cook on with no risk of the fan blowing it out and impairing development.
With ideal wood you can have a healthy fire going in about 3-5 minutes. With wood scavenged from the ground that is at least somewhat dry I found that on average a healthy fire could be obtained in 5-9 minutes. With less than ideal wood or somewhat damp, wet etc the time can be as much as 20 minutes to obtain a healthy fire.
I found that if you are following the instructions that came with the stove and filling the stove loosely with fuel, adding a lit fire starter, and waiting 10 seconds before turning on the fan to LO you will sometimes not be able to easily get a healthy fire started. I found that in the majority of instances I needed to wait at least 1 minute before turning the fan on.
Turning on the fan too soon would impair the fire from developing and it would just smolder and smoke excessively and for a prolonged period of time instead of combusting into flame. Turning the fan on HIGH before a healthy fire is established with the fan on LO will also impair fire development.
My testing found that it is better to wait a little longer than the manufacturer recommended 10 seconds before turning on the fan for optimal results. It is also critical that the stove be loosely filled with fuel. There are a limited number of ventilation/air holes in the fire chamber and they can easily be blocked by adding too much fuel and as ash builds up during operation.
Building a fire in the Biolite to cook on is fairly easy, but I find that best results are achieved when you loosely fill the stove with fuel, and light the stove from the top. Once you build a fire, get it burning good for 30s-1m, turn the fan on LO and wait an additional minure or two and then turn the stove to HI, feed it continually every 15-30s, and you can cook to your hearts content.
Over the course of my 200 test burns, approximately 80 of them were using a variety of pots to boil water. It is important to note that this stove consumes fuel very rapidly when the fan is on HIGH, and thusly you must continuously feed the stove for optimal performance.
Below are the averaged results of approximately 20 burns per pot.
Average Boil Time-2 Cups 4 Cups 8 Cups/*Full
Snowpeak 700ml mug: 2m 51s N/A 4m 23s
Mors 1.8L Bushpot: 2m 5s 4m 37s 10m 48s
MSR Alpine SS 1.5L pot: 2m 33s 4m 53s 9m 39s
MSR Alpine SS 2L pot: 2m 20s 4m 29s 10m 17s
Times listed above are after a healthy fire has been established, with the Biolite fan on HIGH, continually adding fuel as needed to maintain a strong fire.
Charging devices on the Biolite is really quite simple, IF you have the time and patience to do so. The Biolite is capable of charging at 2W@5V continuous, and 4W@5V peak. I was able to charge my Iphone 4, Blackberry Bold, and L&M Solite 150 headlamp successfully with the Biolite.
Before the first use of the stove the manufacturer recommends conditioning the Biolite Camp Stove’s internal battery by pluging the power module into a USB port using the provided cable for approximately 6 hours or until the light on the Biolite turns solid orange. I performed this step overnight when I received the Biolite and the next day I began testing.
On the very first test I was able to boil 4 cups of water in my Mors pot in 4m 19s, and the green charge indicator came on at the 8m 22s mark. I was initially impressed with the amount of time it took both to boil water and to get to a state where it was able to charge. I immediately plugged in my Iphone 4 and was able to charge my phone 1% every 4-5 minutes on average.
Needless to say I was very impressed, and I was able to maintain the fire in the stove long enough to charge my Iphone 15% before needing to dump out the ash. The charging capabilities of the Biolite are by no means lightning fast, but is ample to keep a device topped off while making your normal meals out on the trail. To charge a device you need to maintain a very hot and healthy burning fire. A mediocre fire will significantly add to the time required to enable the charge function
After the first test I was really looking forward to putting the Biolite through its paces. I had never worked with TEG technology before, and to say the least was intrigued and really excited at the potential this stove had to offer. Sadly, that is where my excitement ended.
The Biolite gives priority to the fan of the power module, and any left over power is what is available for charging devices. So if you have recently charged or ‘conditioned’ the power module battery you will be able to start charging devices in under 10 minutes of building a fire. Through the course of testing the Biolite the amount of time until the charge light came on steadily increased.
2nd test burn: 9m, 3rd Test Burn: 11m 33s, 4th Test Burn: 13m 5s, 5th test Burn: 13m 10s, 6th Test Burn: 14m 45s, 7th Test Burn: 15m 11s, 8th Test Burn 15m 19s, 9th Test Burn: 16m 55s, 10th Test Burn: 17m 3s, 11th Test Burn: 18m 51s, 12th Test Burn: 19m 27s, 13th Test Burn: 22m 19s, 14th Test Burn: 24m 41s, 15th Test Burn: 36m 44s.
As you can see the time steadily increased with each burn. I decided to test a theory and I again conditioned the battery of the Biolite Stove by leaving it plugged into my computers USB port overnight. The next day I began testing again, and once more had a charge light at around 8-10m for the first few burns, but it again began to steadily increase. The longest time it has taken for the charge indicator to turn on was 36m 44s, and by the time you have reached this time and the indicator has turned on you only have 10-20 minutes or so before needing to empty the ash and start all over.
I tried several times to find a way to remedy this significant time increase. I attempted to just let the fire burn without charging any device for up to 30 minutes at a time on three separate occasions, but this seemed to have little to no effect. I believe part of the root cause of this issue is the amount of time it can take to establish a healthy fire in the Biolite if you are not using kiln dried wood. It can take as little as 3 minutes or as long as 20 minutes to get a healthy fire burning, and during this time the fan is running and is also assumedly not being charged by the TEG.
This continual draw I feel contributes to the extended times it takes to get a charge light after the first few uses. Plugging the Biolite into a USB port for even as little as an hour will again bring the charge light time down to below 10m.
I feel there is a combination of factors at work here.
1) A poor design that does not provide natural ventilation/air flow to the fire without the use of the fan, which during startup can cause unnecessary use of the fan which I believe draws down the battery/ DC bus.
2) No way for ash to fall out of the stove or into an ash pan, which essentially makes the maximum time the stove can be used about 45m-75m before needing to dump out the stove and restart.
3) A possible faulty battery which will not effectively hold a charge for any significant length of time.
The Biolite Camp Stove would be best for the unweightconscious backpacker, car campers, or even home preparedness and disaster use. I found the Biolite to be a good camp stove, although a tad on the heavy side for a camp stove at 33 oz.
The weight of the stove, and the time factor involved to achieve all of the benefits from this stove are not the best match for most backpackers. However, the Biolite can match or beat most any stove in regards to boil times.
When compared to other wood burning stoves the Biolite stacks up quite well: Bushcooker LT1- 2 cups in 4m 20s, Antig woodstove- 2 cups 3m 8s, 4 cups 5m 17s, Homemade coffe can stove- 4 cups 5m 55s. (all times averaged over 3 burns utilizing Mors Bushpot). Even when compared to other types of stoves the Biolite still shines, Whisperlite- 1 liter 3.9 minutes, JetBoil- 2 cups 2m 15s (manufacturer specs).
However, building a fire in the Biolite does take a little time, takes practice to get proficient at it, and you must let the stove cool down after use. Charging devices on the Biolite can be a lesson in patience, but when you finally get that charge light to come on it is a very easy way to keep your devices topped off.
The Biolite Camp Stove is a neat and novel idea, but in my opinion is not best suited to long distance backpacking, and to gain the most benefit from the Biolite I would limit its use to trips of 3 days or less in duration. I would not take the Biolite stove with me unless I brought a backup stove of some sort, because I have not seen any other wood burning stove be as finicky about getting a healthy fire going and simply put I cannot trust this stove to be 100% dependable in regards to its functionality as a whole.
The Biolite instructions say not to use any other type of fuel or accelerant, however I wonder if a companion alcohol burner could be used for that quick cup of joe. I have a companion burner that would fit, but have yet to use it during this period of testing to be able stay within accordance of the Biolite instructions and guidelines.
Source: bought it new
Price Paid: $129
Handy for campouts or emergency power outages. Fast and efficient. A little extra weight makes up for the fuel you won’t need to carry. Highly recommended.
- No need to carry fuel cans or hazardous liquid fuel
- Feel good purchase knowing you are, in a way, helping underdeveloped countries
- Very stable
- Weighs almost 2 pounds (but no need to carry fuel)
After reading other reviews and reading what the company is doing with the technology I was excited to see how this stove really works. When I got an REI gift card from a friend there was no doubt in mind what I was going to do with it.
Out of the box I was a bit skeptical as to how I would get it started as it has one opening at the top. The stove does come with a small pack of starter sticks but I didn’t want to get into them yet. As long as you use a good amount of tinder at the bottom you will be able to start it up quite easily.
I DID NOT pre-charge the fan battery as it had some life to it. You do not need to pre-charge it but it does make the fire/charging process go a lot faster.
I was truly amazed that there was almost no smoke. You can keep the fire going on your own but once the fan kicks in the heat really comes and getting a liter to boil took just a couple of minutes. The low level fan is strong enough to get the tender to go and when you kick in the higher speed fan it really gets the fire hot. The small charge I had on the battery died out in about 90 seconds but the fire was already going. I used some birch twigs for this fire and it was able to charge up the fan battery in about 1 minute. As the fire grew more intense I was able to kick in the high level fan.
I plugged my iPhone 5 in and monitored the percentage and noticed that it took less than 90 seconds to charge it 1 percentage point (I started at 55% but not being sure as to how long it had been at 55% I clocked it once it hit 56%).
I have USB powered speakers that I plugged in and was able to listen to the music on my iPhone. This was just to test it out as the speakers are not a priority and there is only one USB port.
I have read reviews where a con was that they had to “babysit” the fire. Weather you have a wood fire stove, camp fire, white gas stove, canister, stove, or any other heat generating devise in the wind it is your duty to “babysit” it.
This is a great product and I highly recommend it.
Source: bought it new
Price Paid: $120
Good idea, but disappointing overall performance.
- Integrated fan gives efficient burn
- No batteries required
- Complete solution for cooking and charging devices
- Reasonable price
- Charging is inefficient
- Unstable cooking surface
- Fuel can only be added by lifting the pot
Works well with good combustibles. Becomes much less efficient when conditions are less than ideal and good dry wood is not available.
Pots are unstable on the stove due to long cylinder shape and narrow surface to rest on. Wood burns really fast and the chamber is small, so you end up lifting your pot to add fuel every two minutes (top feeding only).
The most disappointing of all is the charging function, which is inefficient. I could never get more than 10-15% charge on a smart phone, even after 1hr+. Works ok for charging smaller devices like a Petzl headlamp.
There are better options out there, though more expensive.
Source: bought it new
Price Paid: $129.99
I tried charging an iPhone 4, a Hero 2 GoPro, 4-AA batteries, a Nook and some speakers. I thought it may be hard to start a fire in such a small opening but just light some birch, drop it in and the fan does all the work. You can check out my field test video below.
- It Works!
- Triple wall reduces burns
- No need to carry fuel
- A lot of thought went into the design
- Wouldn't rely on it for large devices like laptops
- 2.1 pounds / 33oz
- The main unit is plastic!
I tried charging an iPhone 4, a Hero 2 GoPro, 4-AA batteries, a Nook and some speakers. I thought it may be hard to start a fire in such a small opening but just light some birch, drop it in and the fan does all the work. You can check out my field test:
It does everything is says it will do, cooks your food while charging your iphone. It is about the size of a Jetboil or Nalgene and just over 2lbs at 33oz. That may be heavy for some but remember you make that weight up by not having to carry any fuel.
The fan allows you to make a fire quite easily upon start up and keeps the fire going efficiently while cutting down on smoke, the opening is a little small though. The tripod feet are very stable. The triple walls allow for great heat ventilation so you can pick up the stove and move it while lit.
Although we tested 5 devices and they all worked we would not rely on this device for any larger devices such as an iPad or laptop.
The convection unit is plastic! Watch out for high winds or running the device for long periods because all the orange you see is plastic. We would like to see a titanium version coming out. Some may say it is bulky by comparison. Sure, to an alcohol stove, but with what it can do we are willing to over look this and besides it is really no bigger than today's top stove, the JetBoil.
Source: observed and tested at youth campout
A potential life saver in emergency with the charger, but otherwise as cooker and burner is below average.
- Through charging cell phone or gps tool could save camper in emergency
- Poor design and performance of firebox makes it below other manufacturers and even homemade devices
I did not purchase this product but observed and tested one. I did not use the charger as I had no devices to test at the time. The charger performance as has been detailed by other reviewers. My comments are based on the cooking and design features of this wood gas stove.
As someone who has built several homemade wood gas stoves for tents with large enclosed fireboxes and backpacking ones with small open flame burners, I was interested to compare the product with the competition. Though wood gas stoves were invented around the time of the French Revolution, I have read the current types under discussion were only designed in 1985 and came into commercial production in 2003! One scientific paper describes its production as as much art as science with much of the engineering and science still unknown.
This has resulted in many different models none of which have achieved perfection, with the precise measurements needed to achieve optimum efficiency still not quantified. Though I have made numerous prototypes I still cannot give measurements as to the best size and number of input and output holes, wall gap dimensions, and neither it seems can anyone else.
That being said, some stoves work better than others and the Biolite has to be placed at the bottom end of the spectrum. There are two types of wood gas stoves, powered and unpowered. The Biolite as a powered stove should give a better hotter burn, than unpowered ones, but in fact gave a poorer flame than my 3 litre homemade paint can version. When combined with the charger the Biolite takes up about as much space as the unpowered standard paint can, but is much heavier.
I have built power fan based wood gas stoves like the Biolite but found that though it burned much more vigorously, than conventional stoves, the fast fuel consumption and potential for mechanical failure in a wilderness situation made it unsuitable for solo backpacking. An unpowered stove is practically indestructible and will always work with suitable fuel that is readily available almost anywhere campers are likely to venture. For that reason I no longer use powered wood gas stoves.
The very poor design of the burner is inexplicable to me as there are numerous commercial and homemade wood gas stoves being made in the public domain which could have been copied by the maker with better results.
One basic flaw which all other versions I know of have avoided is the Biolite inability to add fuel with the pot on top. It has to be removed to add fuel lengthening boiling time to 10 minutes for less than a litre of water from igniting the flame. Though boiling time will vary with fuel quality this is below unpowered backpacking wood gas stoves. Most of these stoves use a metal collar with gaps between the stove and the pot in order to add fuel and let out flames while cooking.
In what seems like an expensive afterthought, the company offers as an accessary a grill for cooking, but though it enables fuel to be added while cooking, the grill surrounds the burner rather an being on top of it where the most heat is, making boiling impractical and grilling a slower process.
Another inexplicable design feature is the third outer wall which is heavily perforated. Usually wood gas stoves have only an inner and outer wall with the gap between the two containers being used to provide fresh air and gas up the burner for secondary smoke and gas burning. The Biolite third wall could have been used to insulate and thus improve performance but the number and size of the holes suggests it is meant to air cool the outer touchable surface.
This will reduce the chance of getting burned, but it adds weight and space which could be better used for a larger firebox (in the case of a firebox size does matter and bigger is better from an efficiency viewpoint). I found with my paint cans that the outer can never got hot enough even to burn off the lining that comes in modern paint cans or the paper labels on the outside. This caution I think unwarranted given that most people realize stoves can get hot.
That being said this is a unique product and well worth the manufacturers improving on. Though I don't use cell phones (which are usually out of range) and gps while in the wilderness, there are situations where it could save your life, and particularly while travelling solo in the wilderness as I do. Cameras operating battteries have consistently failed me at 40 below and the sun is not always out when you need it for solar charging.
The Biolite's ability to provide power 24/7 in almost all situations is not something that can be ignored. For this reason alone I give it high marks despite its shortcoming as a stove.
Source: bought it new
Price Paid: $107
Very easy to use and definitely creates a hot fire for cooking.
- Easy setup
- Lightweight when compared to traditional stoves and fuel
- Slow charging time
- Requires a constant resupply of small twigs to maintain enough heat for charging
Great product when compare to traditional hiking stoves. Would still recommend a solar charger.
Source: received it as a personal gift
A very innovative product - that needs a little more development. A good replacement for a gas stove that you'd normally take camping... Provided you have twigs and sticks around to fuel it, and some small fire-starter sticks to start it. It is extremely safe while lit, has a consistent flame, burns fuel efficiently, and can quickly bring water to a boil. And it did in fact charge my cell phone!
- Flexible fuel (any biomass that is combustible!)
- Can charge mobile devices (phones, cameras, etc)
- Safe to handle when lit
- Extremely "cool"
- Somewhat difficult to light
- Weighs more than a backpacker's pack-stove
- Weird USB cable required to recharge if battery goes dead
Setup: The setup of the stove was a no-brainer. The fan component, which stores inside the stove for travel, easily attaches to the side, locking in place when the tripod legs are unfolded.
Ignition: I found it somewhat difficult to light without using the provided firestarter sticks... It seemed hard to get the fire started inside the canister alone... It would be best to get some sticks burning outside and then put them in. Once there's a flame, the fan really gets other sticks ignited quickly. I would suggest bringing along a stick lighter and solid firestarter sticks for this one...
Flame Control: The flame on this stove is mostly adjustable based on the number of sticks that are burning at any given time, along with the fan level. The fan has 2 levels - low and high. When high is engaged, the fire does burn hotter, but the primary adjustment is the amount of twigs in the canister. The flame quality is very consistent under a pot, as the flame actually swirls due to the vent layout and the fan.
Boil Time: I didn't time it exactly, but it did seem to take under 5 minutes to bring a few cups of water to a boil... I was impressed.
Wind: Once this stove was lit, wind seemed to have a very small effect on the flame. Even with high gusts, the flame seemed fairly consistent and the stove remained lit.
Fuel Efficiency: This was what impressed me... by the end of my boiling water and letting the fuel burn to completion, there was very little ash left in the chamber. I had put A LOT of sticks there too - though it was only lit for maybe 20 minutes. I didn't see any visible ash in the air during while it was lit, so I'd have to guess that the combustion was fairly efficient. There's no way to dump the ash while the flame is lit, however.
Fuel: Sticks. Lots of tiny sticks. You don't have time to go searching for them while the stove is lit, so you better build a good pile before you light it. You have to sit there babysitting the stove, putting in sticks every 1-2 minutes, based on the size of the sticks. I managed up to 1/2 inch by 6 inch sticks at the largest. It was somewhat annoying having to constantly take a pan off to refuel the fire. Once the fire was going, I was able to fuel it with slightly damp sticks as well - like the kind you may find under some light snow.
Stability: With the standard tripod base, it seems pretty stable - even with fan hanging off one side. I used it on uneven rocks in the snow and the base didn't slip easily. The top however, could be a problem. There is only 3 small points of smooth contact with anything you'd place on top to cook in, and I had a hard time keeping my pot from sliding off the side. Even with it slightly tilted, I had to watch it. The points of contact are simply too smooth and shiny.
Packability: The fan component fits inside the combustion chamber for transport, but it seems an awkward fit. It could easily rattle around as it does not fit snugly... and it has the power-generation heat pipe awkwardly sticking off the side. It doesn't seem like they thought about this aspect of the design as well as they should have. Also, the fan component does not secure in the chamber, so you've got to use the provided (cheap) bag to keep it together. It's much bigger and heavier than a weekend backpacker stove, but it has an indefinite fuel supply - so it may be better for longer trips (provided you can find sticks).
Features: Once the stove was up and running, I confirmed that the USB port could, in fact, charge my smartphone - very impressive. 5v at 400mA, 800mA peak is plenty to get your peripherals back up and running, provided you're willing to sit there feeding the stove tiny sticks all night...
The stove uses this weird male-to-male USB cable to charge the fan from a computer if the internal battery ever gets too low... if this cable is lost, you could have a big problem - it's far from a standard cable. I honestly don't know where you could get one aside from contacting BioLite directly.
Safety: I though this stove was IMPRESSIVELY SAFE to use. Once it is lit, you can basically hold to stove from any part without fear of being burned (minus the top, of course). The cage around the combustion chamber and the bottom of the stove seemed to stay very cool while I was using it, and at no point did I fear of being accidentally burned. Also, if you wish to quickly extinguish the fire, you can do so simply by shutting off the fan. Without the fan, the stove has minimal airflow, so the fire will die out in a minute or so.
Also! The stove shuts off on its own when it runs out of fuel. It must shut off when it recognizes that it is no longer generating much energy with the thermoelectric generator... When the chamber is no longer producing sufficient heat, it will turn off the fan - though you can force it back on if you want to keep the fire going until the very end. Thus, you could technically walk away with it lit and when you come back, it will be off and the internal battery wouldn't be dead (from needlessly powering the fan or something).
Construction: It seems very well made, though I have not used it enough to attest to the durability of the plastic fan compartment or the battery life...
Conditions: I used it in the snow, in about 20 deg F weather, but only long enough to boil water. It was fairly windy, and I had lots of dry paper with which to light it.
Conclusion: I think it's super cool, and a much better thing to take on long backpacking trips than a propane or kerosene stove that you'd have to lug around fuel for. However, for short trips, it may be too much of a hassle to light and too heavy. If you are a technology-packing outdoorsman with a camera/phone/gps and whatnot, the USB charge feature is definitely for you! This stove is pretty cheap considering all the USB craziness, and you're supporting a good cause if you buy it!