Monday, February 1, 2016

Guest Post: BioLite CampStove and KettlePot review

by Gun Monkey

My initial impression of the BioLite wood burning camp stove was “This is some overpriced, gimmicky piece of junk.” The stove sells for around $130 and the kettle for $50. That seemed a little much for some plastic and metal that is going to spend most of its life in a backpack in my closet, but I decided to take a chance with something that might not live up to the hype. I bought the stove first, played with it, and found that I liked it before investing in the pot. I figured I could sell it or trade it for something if it was junk.

As it turns out, it's actually a good little stove.

So what is this thing?
There are two parts to the BioLite camp stove: the stove itself and the thermo-electric generator. One will not work without the other. They come apart and nest inside each other for easy storage and transport. Together the assembly weighs in at a little over two pounds.

How does it work?
It's very simple. First you assemble the stove. Next, you pick up sticks, break or cut them into small enough pieces to fit inside the stove. You then light the stove, turn on the thermo-electric generator, and feed the fire.

Lighting the stove can be tricky. The best method for that involves putting a nest of pine straw in the bottom, followed by some small sticks. To light the fire, a grill or fire place lighter works best while holding the stove on its side. You can also use a ferro rod, matches, paper, and any other starting method to get the fire started.

Surely there's more to it?
Yes, there is. The thermo-electric generator contains a battery and two speed fan; the battery initially supplies the fan with power. After the fire generates enough heat, the heat is converted into power that powers the fan and recharges the battery through the black thermocouple that sticks out into the flames.

The stove is built in layers so there is space between the layers. There are openings in the inner layer that allows air to circulate around the fire. Because the fire is being fed a steady stream of oxygen as it burns, the fire burn very hot and very clean. There is almost no smoke once the fire gets burning.

The fan has a low and high setting. More air means a hotter burn, more fuel consumed, and more energy produced.

Is that a USB port on the front? What's that all about?
The USB port is attached to the thermo-electric generator’s battery, and can be used to recharge your electronic devices once the fire is generating enough heat. The way it works is once you get the fire going, you have to turn on the fan -- the fire won't get enough oxygen to burn unless the fan is on. It takes a few minutes for the fan's internal battery to recharge from use and natural decay. 

Once the internal battery is recharged, you can use the excess power to charge your device. The fan changes pitch and a light below the power button turns from orange to green. With the internal battery charged, the fan on low, and a constant source of fuel you get 2 watts at 5 volts. Once the light turns green after about 5 minutes of burning, you have the option to turn the fan on high and get 4 watts at 5 volts. I haven't measured it for myself, but that is what the literature included in the packaging says.

According to Biolite’s website, “20 minutes of charging provides 60 minutes of talk time.” I decided to put this to the test, so I plugged my iPhone 6 into the USB slot. After 20 minutes of feeding the fire, my battery only went up 2 percent -- which is only about 10 minutes of talk time. (Yes, it was on airplane mode, and the screen was locked.)

It’s not great --if you plan on completely charging your phone’s battery, you'd better have plenty of wood and time -- but it's something.

Tell me about the kettle pot.
The kettle pot sits directly on top of the stove. The handles are covered in a silicone material so you don’t have to carry a pot holder or worry about burning yourself.

The pot holds 1.5 liters of water. According to the Biolite website, it takes 4.5 minutes to boil a liter of water. In my tests, it took about 10 minutes to boil a liter of water with the fan on high. How fast the water boils depends on the type of fuel you find, fan speed, and how fast you feed the stove.

The kettle also comes with an easy-pour lid and a small bowl.

One of the cool features of the pot is it functions as a case for the stove. The stove fits perfectly inside the pot and the kettle handles fold to the sides, which saves room in your backpack.

What about the grill attachment?
Sorry, I can’t help you with that because I don’t have the grill yet. I plan on getting it before my spring camping trip, though.

Overall Impression
It’s a little expensive for what it does, but it works. If you need a camp stove to cook food and boil water without carrying fuel around or worrying about running out of fuel, then I would recommend saving your lunch money to pick up a BioLite stove and kettle pot. Be warned, though, that any cooking apparatus you use with the BioLite is going to collect some soot, so if you get one of these and decide to test it out, DO NOT use good pans.

If you are buying this to provide you a steady source of energy to recharge gadgets, though, then you are probably going to be disappointed. The power output is not nearly enough to provide a full change to most modern electronic devices. It also takes a tremendous amount of fuel and time to charge any device.

Where the BioLite stove excels is at its primary purpose: burning wood, boiling water, and cooking food. The stove will not cook anything on its own, though: you will need the optional kettle pot, grill, or some other cooking apparatus like a pan.

(Editor's Note: The BioLite stove costs $130 on its own website but $150 on Amazon. The kettle and grill are priced identically on both sites. You can get all three in a combo pack for $200 only from BioLite.)

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