There’s something intriguing about being able to charge an iPhone by using a wood fire. At a unique intersection of caveman and cybergeek, BioLite’s CampStove promises to cook your food and charge your electronics — by burning stuff you find on the ground. It has been very much the, erm, hottest stove this year…but does it work?
The CampStove burns biomass — sticks, pinecones, leaves — so if it burns, the CampStove can use it. You light a small wood fire in the chamber, which powers a fan, which keeps the fire going, and when it has a little leftover energy, directs energy to the USB charger at the bottom of the fan module. BioLite lists the USB power output as “Max continuous: 2W @5V, Peak: 4W @5V.” Here’s what that meant during my tests: While boiling a pot of water and keeping the fire hot enough to power both the fan and the USB port (when the fire is low, the USB charger shuts off), my iPhone gained a percentage point of charging every couple minutes. So depending on how long you’re willing to keep a fire going, you can reasonably charge your stuff.
The stove is stable, boils water reasonably quickly (one liter in just over five minutes in my tests), and is about the size of a one-liter water bottle when packed. It weighs 33 ounces, heavy for a backpacking stove, but a selling point is you won’t have to carry fuel when you use it. A hot fire is dependent on dense fuel — basically, wood. If you’re willing to keep tossing pinecones and leaves into the canister, you can probably keep a solid fire going to keep your phone charging, but it’d be hard to boil water when you’re constantly lifting the pot off the top of the stove to add fuel.
The stove ships with six firelighters, which are easy enough to use — light one, drop it in, and the fire starts right up. When you run out, BioLite recommends using a “long match” which would be a new addition to my backpack/car camping box. Without the firelighters or long matches, getting the fire going in the bottom of the canister might be a little bit of a challenge.
BioLite’s idea is to sell CampStoves to fund its venture to manufacture and sell a larger verson, HomeStoves, to the three billion people around the world who cook over open fires (1.3 billion of whom lack access to electricity). BioLite says the HomeStove uses half as much fuel, produces 91 percent less carbon monoxide and 94 percent less smoke, which they hope combat climate change and premature deaths due to carbon monoxide inhalation.
The verdict: BioLite works, and HomeStoves could make a positive difference in the world, but other stoves work better (especially the Jetboil), and carrying a simple battery pack like the Brunton Inspire (5.5 ounces, $72) will weigh less and charge faster and easier. Jetboil + Inspire + fuel weighs about 26 ounces and costs ~$175.