As a woodstove fan and gadget weenie from way ‘back I’ve been itching to get my hands on a BioLite stove since I first found out about them. Cook supper while recharging your eToys: What’s not to love?
I got my chance this weekend, and lit up my sample stove in the backyard. (By now, the neighbours are resigned to my eccentricities and rarely call the cops.)
Even without the charging capability, the BioLite is one cool cooker. Its built-in fan makes it, in geek-speak, an active gasifier stove. With regular woodstoves, much of the wood’s potential energy goes up in smoke, literally. Gasifier woodstoves force those fumes between the double walls of the combustion chamber to superheat them. The fumes are then fed out through rings of holes at the top of the stove, where they burn, looking a lot like the flame of a pressurized gas campstove. Gasifying makes the stove run hotter, puts out less smoke and carbon monoxide, and consumes the wood almost completely.
Fan-forced portable stoves are not a new idea, but the BioLite takes things a step further by self-charging an internal battery instead of depending on disposable external cells.
I got the BioLite fired up quickly and was ready to start boiling water in a couple of minutes. With my coffee made, I attached the optional grill and commenced cooking burgers. They were dripping and sizzling nicely in short order.
Despite the cheery green LED bar assuring me all systems were go, I couldn’t get a charge started on either of two Android phones or my digital point-and-shoot camera. But in a retest at work this week, the BioLite had no problems juicing up an iPhone, a Sony smartphone, and a Black Diamond headlamp, so it was clearly a compatibility issue. You can confirm whether the stove will play nice with your particular toys here.
Back to the burgers: they turned out beautifully. My wife and l loved them. I look forward to wowing her with a grilled catch of the day on our next sea kayaking trip.
You need to stoke the BioLite pretty continuously as you’re cooking – it’s not the kind of stove you can fire up to let supper stew while you make camp. But once you get into the rhythm, it has the same pleasantly meditative feel as feeding a campfire. And it burns with incredible thoroughness: after running it for a couple of hours, there was about a cigar’s worth of ash in the bottom.
The BioLite looks like a more dependable option than solar panels would be here in the Pacific Northwet, especially during the winter. It would also be a great addition to an emergency kit (The folks from BioLite were out in New York after Hurricane Sandy helping people charge their phones).
The BioLite story doesn’t end with their CampStove: they’re currently piloting a scaled-up version, the HomeStove, in developing countries. All the qualities that are simply nice in the CampStove – reduced fuel consumption, less smoke and carbon monoxide, and the ability to recharge a cellphone – are serious quality of life issues when wood is your only source of energy and you’re cooking indoors. Nice to know that buying the CampStove helps further the development of the HomeStove.
I grew up on Canada’s east coast, and have also lived in and done outdoorsy stuff in Quebec and Ontario. It was Colin Fletcher’s The Complete Walker that originally inspired me to get outdoors (and to go solo). For the last couple of decades, my main focus in self-propelled activities has been paddle sports, with a sub-specialization in sea kayaking. In addition to my day gig writing for MEC, I’ve been published in several paddling magazines and a few anthologies about outdoor adventures gone sideways.
I cycle-commute pretty much year ‘round, thanks to Vancouver’s low-snow winters and MEC’s bike friendly, shower-equipped HQ. I’ve been with MEC since 1989, starting out as front line retail staff. I’m loving the way that as age decreases my carrying capacity and increases my comfort requirements, outdoor gear keeps getting lighter and cushier. If these two trends continue to offset one another, I should be able to keep on keeping on ‘til it’s my turn to help the trees grow.