User Review: BioLite CampStove
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!