Twig stoves are handy and eco-friendly — you don’t haul fossil fuel, you just collect sticks wherever you’re camped. Plus they’re dirt cheap to make. DIY versions include “rocket stoves” that ensure secondary combustion of wood gases, making them super efficient and nearly smokeless (see MAKE Volume 27, “Wood Gas Camp Stove”); some of these incorporate fans to stoke the fire. Commercial versions are available too, but Brooklyn-based BioLite, a Kickstarter success story, has gone them all one better.
The BioLite CampStove ($129.95) is a fan-stoked rocket stove with a thermoelectric module that converts heat into electricity (see MAKE Volume 15, “The Amazing Seebeck Generator” ). So this stove charges its own battery, and, via USB, charges your cellphone, GPS, headlamp, or other gadgets too.
I tested the BioLite last week and I was impressed. I’m looking forward to meeting the BioLite team at Maker Faire Bay Area on May 18–19. They’re developing a large, home-sized BioLite stove for use in developing countries, and they’re hinting at more big things to come this year. (They’re also awarding tickets to Maker Faire and other fun prizes for their BioLite “reMAKE your Box Competition” — check out the winners at their Biolite Maker Showcase at the Faire.)
Here’s what I found: Power up the fan and your dry kindling will blaze up easily with a single match. (You can save the included firestarter sticks for damp tinder or bad weather.) A single charge of hardwood twigs boiled 1 liter of water in a little over 4 minutes, comparable to gas canister and liquid-fuel stoves, and burned just long enough to boil 2 liters. Combustion is super efficient; you’ll see a vortex of flame but virtually no smoke, and little ash. After burning a third load of twigs, I got the green light for charging my iPhone; it charged tolerably fast (4W max power) but if you want a full charge you should plan to feed the stove continually, as a mini-campfire after dinner.
BioLite recently debuted a grill attachment that looks great for hot dogs and burritos, though I didn’t have time to really test it on burgers, steaks, or backcountry trout as I’d like.
MAKE contributor Adam Flaherty tested the stove too, and we agree on the pros and cons: it’s great for car camping, gives a “real fire” experience, and come on, you can charge your phone with twigs! On the downside, it takes repeated stoking for a full charge (or a long simmer), and you’ll have to wipe soot off your pots. It’s heavier (2lbs+) than most backpacking stoves, but the extra weight easily cancels out if you’re leaving behind your liquid fuel, fuel bottles, solar charging gear, and/or spare batteries.
Overall I think it’s a great new option for green-minded campers, particularly for car, bike, and kayak/canoe camping and longer backpacking trips. And I love that I can stash it in my vehicle, ready for impromptu overnighters (or apocalypse bug-out), without the mess or danger of storing volatile fuels.
Plus it just reminds me of Luke Skywalker’s campstove after he crashed the X-wing on Dagobah — didn’t he plug R2-D2 into it to recharge? Yep: