User Review: BioLite CampStove
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.