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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.

comingtobayareamakerfaire_2013I 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-Camp-Stove-How-it-works

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:

LUKE: You ready for some power?

Luke has ignited a little fusion furnace which throws off a warm glow. He warms his hands, then plugs a power cable into Artoo’s nose. The droid whistles his appreciation.


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Comments

  1. Alan Fisher says:

    I really like the stove and plan on using it tons, my one complaint is the storage/break down of the stove. The copper “heat” collector protrudes past the firebox and makes for storing it awkward. If they had made the Copper collector threaded and removeable, I think that the heat transfer would not have been lessened too much, and one could slide the fan/battery charger unit into the fire box a little better!

  2. Amanda says:

    We purchased 3 BioLite stoves last year, gifting one and the other two are kept in our cars. As a suburban mom- I keep the BioLite in the small floor storage in my SUV and feel better knowing its there ‘just in case’ along with a few other emergency supplies. We recently got our grill attachment and can’t wait to give it a try!

  3. Looks more efficient than the PowerPot, but why bother with backpacking if you’re just going to be on your phone the whole time (you’d have to be to deplete the battery during a single trip)? Why not market this towards actual hikers who need to charge batteries for their headlamps and radios?

    1. “but why bother with backpacking if you’re just going to be on your phone the whole time”

      It has nothing to do with being “on the phone”:

      1.) Some people use their smartphone as a GPS device when hiking.
      2.) For those that use dedicated hiking GPS units, hey specifically mention recharging GPS units in their marketing.
      3.) Even if you don’t touch your phone, hiking in low signal areas causes cell phones to lose charge *very* quickly by just simply being powered on. I’ve seen my cell phone go from 100% to dead in two hours flat in areas with limited coverage because the phone is constantly searching for signal.

    2. Keith Hammond says:

      Good point, James, I go to the backcountry to get away from phone calls, email, and texts. I never make or take a call, but I bring my phone anyway because it’s my smallest camera, it’s got GPS and compass, and I load topo maps on it. If you look at the smartphone (or tablet) as the convergence of many pieces of communications, navigational, and other gear, then backpacking starts to look more like this:

      Bring backpacking:
      1) BioLite stove
      2) iPhone in weatherproof case (I like my LifeProof case) or better yet that new Earl tablet, http://www.meetearl.com/
      3) Charging cable

      Leave home:
      1) Liquid-fuel stove
      2) Liquid fuel
      3) Fuel bottles
      4) Still camera
      5) Video camera
      6) Flashlight/headlamp (make do with the phone’s screen glow or camera LED)
      7) GPS unit
      8) Pile of spare batteries for camera, videocam, flashlight/headlamp, GPS unit, etc.
      — or –
      8) Solar panel and battery charger
      9) Compass
      10) Maps
      11) Map case
      12) Emergency radio or walkie-talkies
      etc.

      Not that we need a sack full of technology in the backcountry, but I know at a minimum I’m bringing camera(s) to capture views and memories, and bringing topos and compass, and some kind of flashlight. And frankly I like having the cellphone just in case someone’s hurt. So, why not bring the all-in-one smartphone (or tablet) and a biofueled charger, and leave a long list of traditional gear at home?

      1. That’s a good point. Personally, I wouldn’t put all of my trust into any single device. I guess if the destination is more important than the journey, a smart phone would be a smart choice.

    3. Walter says:

      you are absolutely wrong. the biolite charges at HALF the rate of the powerpot so it doesnt charge anything and its not constant. it turns off charging and then turns back on for 5 minutes and then goes off again. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=58b8Acjwtl4 watch this video about the biolite

      1. EQNish says:

        I have to agree Walter, on a recent outing I finely got to try charging something with the BioLite, and it was weak at best, the stove work as desired (it cooked/heated water) but I found after 10 or so mins I had to empty the coals and start a afresh. This would be a issue if I was solo as I was able to cook what I had for me, but I had to start over for my girlfriend and her little girl!

        so far I think the power pot charges better, and since I can basically put it in the fire (on the coals) it’s pretty easy

      2. Efficiency =/= Performance.

    4. Cindy says:

      The phone could also be needed in case of emergency!

  4. m leary says:

    I really like the idea of having a little cookstove that runs on twigs – whatev for the cell phone charge – imo, it’s all about the ease of collecting sticks.

    1. Dr. Heywood Floyd says:

      Yes, collecting twigs is a natural way to enjoy the backcountry (where not prohibited). Charging a battery seems rather out of place by comparison…

  5. EQNish says:

    Really??? I would consider my self a “Real” backpacker/hiker (have completed most of the AT, in sections a week at a time here or there) I carry this and the PowerPot to keep my phone and light charged. I don’t use the phone as a leash to the world, but since I do most of my hiking alone/solo it sure makes a nice life line, it also is a nice music device and camara, and don’t forget the GPS/compass. I usually turn off the cell signal so as not to wear down the battery too much but it still happens.

    Just because it has a the ability to make a call or get on the Internet does not mean it has to! and don’t forget going away does not always mean 100% isolation…

    1. Dr. Heywood Floyd says:

      See now, this is exactly what’s wrong with society.
      Backpacking is perhaps the LAST “sport” made ESPECIALLY for achieving “100% isolation”.
      Leave FB and all of your buddies at home and live like a man while in the wilderness.
      Might do you some good.

  6. D. M. says:

    Terrific website. This is my first visit to the website. I came here to read reviews on the Biolite Stove before purchasing one. I’ll continue my research on other sites, but I wanted to leave one suggestion. Civil discourse, please. Instead of personal attacks, consider comments such as “it’s been my experience” or “my research or experience was just the opposite” or “I find it more peaceful or regenerative to leave FB and my buddies back home when I hike.” It’s more respectful and your points are more likely to be accepted by the readers.

  7. Matt Dart says:

    Wow, this is a remarkable breakthrough in the camp stove sector. Having the ability to recharge its own battery, plus a few other gadgets, is really amazing and it almost sounds like an infinite energy storage device. Now, we can actually camp out in the wild and not worry about losing contact with our loved ones who are back at home, because this device can charge our cell phones.

  8. Alan Fisher says:

    I gotta Say I was really hopeful for this product, so much so I bought it with out question as soon as they had it available. I just returned the stove (after slightly less then a year) because it was not charging for more than a min or two at a time, and required MASS feeding for anything other than a cup of water, after a some ordeal with the customer support, they are exchanging my stove for a new one, which will promptly be put on ebay!