“CampStove – Turn fire into electricity using wood. The BioLite CampStove generates usable electricity for charging LED lights, mobile phones, and other personal devices. Burning only wood, the CampStove creates a smokeless campfire that can cook meals and boil water in minutes.”
Over Memorial Day Weekend, I got my new BioLite CampStove out to central Nevada for some true off-the-grid testing. I had given the CampStove a trial run at home before heading out, and was excited to use the stove in a real camping scenario. The setting was in a lightly maintained Forest Service campground an hour drive from the nearest paved road. In some places, gathering wood in a campground may be frowned upon, but this particular campground is overgrown. Half of the sites have gone back to nature, only distinguishable by a picnic table barely visible in the middle of the bushes. Downed limbs, branches, and twigs are in abundance in the remaining opening sites, so collecting the wood actually helped clean the place up. In other words, it was perfect for a BioLite stove.
Before first use, or after the stove hasn’t been used for several months, you must charge it up with the supplied USB cable. Once it’s fully charged, the stove will recharge itself with regular use. Assembling the stove is easy. Slide the battery/control module into the stove and extend the support legs. When not in use, the battery/control module drops into the center of the stove for more compact storage.
Lighting the Stove
Like any campfire, collecting most of your fuel beforehand is the best first step. This was an easy task with the BioLite CampStove, since it doesn’t consume much wood to get the job done. I broke down a few sticks into sections shorter than the stove, separating the smaller pieces for kindling, and the larger pieces for my fuel wood. To get the fire started for morning coffee and tea, I filled up the stove with the smaller kindling twigs. I used one of the supplied starter sticks, a combination of sawdust and wax. I simply lit one end of the starter stick and placed it in the stove. Later for dinner, I tried starting the stove with homemade tinder, a cotton ball with a little bit of petroleum jelly in it. It worked equally as well. In absence of prepared fire starter, any natural tinder should work. It just needs to start easy, and burn long enough to get the kindling ignited. Using the long starter sticks or tinder on the end of a twig makes it easy to light the fire without burning your fingers.
I turned the fan on low once the kindling started to catch fire, about ten seconds after lighting. Once the fan was turned on, the swirling fire spread quickly. I added larger fuel wood after the kindling was going good. The fire smokes at first as the wood heats up and ignites, but then quickly goes smokeless. At this point, there’s not much you have to do other than add fuel to keep things going. Easy. The wood burns pretty quickly, so selecting larger fuel wood will decrease your fire maintenance time. Since the heat of the fire also charges the battery, available fuel is the only thing that limits burn time.
Using the Stove
Once the fire is going, you can start cooking. The pot supports also serve as heat shields for the battery and pot handle. For best flame protection, turn the battery and pot handle into the wind. The CampStove fan also has a HI setting to boost the flames and heat. This also burns the fuel faster, so use accordingly. It’s best to use once you’ve added your largest pieces of fuel, or have a larger pot of water to boil. Fan noise increases from a whisper to a light whine on HI mode, but is not what I’d call annoying. While it’s nice to have both settings, LO seemed very effective all on its own.
Soon after the fire is going, the green light comes on that signals power is available to the USB port. The heat from fire charges the battery that runs the fan. Once the fan’s power needs are met, excess power is available to charge your electronic devices. I wasn’t real interested in charging my phone (or even looking at it!), since one of the reasons for this trip was to disconnect for a few days. I did, however, plan to charge my USB rechargeable headlamp. Unfortunately, I brought the wrong cable, so this test was not done. The CampStove comes with a bright 100 lumen FlexLight. Simply plug it into the USB port, and tap the back of the light to turn it on. With nearly 15 hours of daylight this time of year, I was ready for bed by the time the sun went down, but I can see the FlexLight being very handy for those times you arrive late to camp and dinner preparation goes past sundown. It’s a great addition to the CampStove package.
We also tried roasting a few marshmallows over the flames, and that worked great as well. My son kept the stove stoked as he made us all dessert. It’s a mini campfire. BioLite also makes a Portable Grill attachment for the CampStove that allows you to cook things over the stove that you don’t want to put on a skewer.
When you’re done with the stove, you simply let it burn out. The fan keeps everything burning down to white ash, and then stops automatically when the stove has cooled. I was surprised at how efficiently the wood was burned up, and that there was very little ash to dispose of. Nice to have a fire that doesn’t scorch the earth and doesn’t leave much waste behind!
Some weight comparisons
The BioLite CampStove is plenty light and compact for car camping, but how does it measure up to backpacking specific stoves? The CampStove is noticeably heavier than other stoves I own, so I decided to weigh them, as carrying too much weight in my pack is definitely a concern.
- MSR Pocket Rocket with 8 oz fuel canister: 1 lb, 1.3 oz
- MSR WhisperLite with 11 oz fuel bottle: 1 lb 12.6 oz
- BioLite CampStove (stove and battery module): 2 lb, 0.6 oz
The CampStove was definitely the heaviest. But when focusing on stove weights and sizes, I think we tend to forget about the weight and volume of the fuel. With one fuel bottle, the WhisperLite and CampStove are pretty close in weight. Add another fuel bottle for extended days or cooking for larger groups, and then the CampStove starts to become the lighter option (your fuel weight would decrease over time with gas, but not the storage volume). BioLite also makes a simpler CookStove that is 1.6 lbs, saving weight by instead using a smaller 30 hr run time rechargeable battery (with no USB charging port).
Here’s a quick video of the CampStove in action. Note: The nearby creek masks the fan noise until the closeup shot at the end.
When I first opened the box and looked at the instructions, I was concerned that the CampStove looked complicated, but I was surprised at how well and how easy the CampStove worked. Campfires can be finicky, but the CampStove technology keeps the fire burning good from start to finish. Thanks to the circulating air from the fan, the fire starts within seconds after lighting, and then you only need to periodically add fuel to keep it going. It’s simple. I was also impressed with how little wood it took to boil a liter of water. Thanks to using small pieces of fuel, the stove goes out pretty quickly when you’re done using it. Accomplishing the same task with a regular campfire would use a lot more wood and create considerably more waste. Not having to calculate and worry about liquid fuel needs in the middle of nowhere is a big plus. I had a seemingly endless supply of fuel all around me.
The biggest concern for the CampStove in my area will be seasonal fire restrictions and wilderness regulations. At some point, only gas stoves with shut-off valves will be allowed into some areas. This means the CampStove (and even ultra-light alcohol stoves) will not be allowed. Some wilderness areas prohibit wood gathering above a certain elevation at any time of the year. Thankfully, there will still be many opportunities to use my CampStove in other areas without restrictions throughout the year.
One of my favorite things about camping is the cooking ritual. It’s the perfect task for a morning warm up, and great way to relax in the evening. The campfire feel of the CampStove enhances the experience. It’s fun! People that are in a hurry or eager to get on the trail may prefer the simplicity and speed of the latest gas stoves, but I’m definitely more leisurely in my activities. The few minutes of extra time gathering and adding fuel isn’t much of a concern to me. The fact that the stove charges its own battery for perpetual use is pretty incredible. Cleanup is also easy. I dumped my ash in the nearby fire ring since I was in a campsite, but burying the small amount of ash in a cat hole would be a good way to keep the environment clean in an undeveloped area. Since the stove doesn’t produce a lot of smoke and soot, a quick wipe down was all that was needed before putting the stove back in the storage bag.
The USB charging capability of this stove is probably one of the first things that make people stop and notice the BioLite CampStove. I definitely plan to test this feature more extensively for future reviews with my phone and headlamp. I’m also looking forward to taking the CampStove out for some bikepacking and backpacking. Stay tuned for some followup reports!
UPDATE: CLICK HERE to see how the CampStove performed on a three day backpacking trip!
Purchase the BioLite CampStove now and save $10 at the BioLite website by CLICKING HERE (or on the banner above), and help support this website.
Disclaimer: This product was given to me at no charge for test and review. I was not paid to do this review, and provided honest and personal views throughout the entire process. As a BioLite affiliate, I receive a small percentage of sales initiated from my website.