The idea of a lightweight, clean-burning wood stove that’s about the size of a 1-liter water bottle is promising. Not having to worry about fuel canisters (or carry them) is pretty cool, too. Quickly boiling water with nothing more than a handful of twigs is awesome. Recharging your iPhone using firepower? That’s mighty magical. These are the promises of the BioLite CampStove.
We took the BioLite CampStove, KettlePot and portable grill out for field testing at the Middle Fork of Lytle Creek and an undisclosed location in Big Sur. Would the BioLite make it into our gear kit? Here’s what we found.
We took the BioLite CampStove and KettlePot up the Middle Fork of Lytle Creek for some stove testing with our friend Hikin Jim. Later, we took the stove, kettle and portable grill on a car camping excursion in Big Sur.
The first thing you’ll notice is that there’s a lot of stuff. BioLite likes to show how the stove is roughly the size of a 1-liter Nalgene bottle, but the KettlePot is definitely larger. Fortunately, the stove fits within the KettlePot, so you might be able to fit it in a side pocket of your backpack.
The portable grill is fairly light, but bulky. If I were carrying this, it would probably be strapped to the top of the pack. More thoughts on that to follow.
How it works
The BioLite CampStove has two parts: a double wall cylinder where you put your fuel (typically a handful of dry twigs), and a battery pack/fan assembly. The battery must be charged before you use it, so be sure to take it out and charge it at home before you head out.
The battery’s primary purpose is to drive the fan, which is what allows the BioLite to burn so hot and clean. It really is remarkable how well it works. You can use a bit of paper with the twigs to get things started. The fan feeds the fire with a steady flow of air. As the fire heats up, this energy is stored in the battery. There’s even a USB port for you to charge your phone off of it.
Once the fire gets going, it really does burn hot and clean. There is very little smoke, and when the fire is finished, very little ash remains. The BioLite earns high marks for efficiency in that regard.
I was able to boil two cups of water–a typical quantity for dehydrated backpacking meals–in the KettlePot in less than three minutes.
On the downside, the stove is less than ideal for cooking food in a pot. I typically don’t do this, mainly because I dread the cleanup, but it’s worth noting. Because you’re working with fire, the only way to regulate the heat is to adjust the intensity of the fire or increase the distance between the fire and the pot.
The top of the stove has a curved “receptacle” for the KettlePot. It is possible to balance a different kind of pot on the stove, but it would be precarious at best. Basically, if you get the CampStove, you’ll likely want to get the KettlePot. And you’ll want to stick to boiling water.
Field-testing the Portable Grill
The portable grill accessory has folding feet and rests over the mouth of the BioLite CampStove. A hinged cap provides access to feed the stove with twigs as necessary. Closing the cap allows the heat from the stove to dissipate under the grill.
As you grill, you’re cooking over indirect heat rather than directly over the flame, which is exactly what you want.
As you can see, we grill a couple of filets using the stove with the grill. I’m familiar with grilling on a gas grill at home, and the cook time was roughly double on the BioLite, mainly because it’s an open grill. Other than the extended cook time, it worked well and allowed us time to enjoy the sunset while we grilled.
BioLite suggests that the grill can accommodate four burgers or six hot dogs, which sounds about right and would be a perfect application.
Notes on Charging
I did test the charging capabilities of the BioLite. It was able to add a charge to my iPhone, but frankly, I wouldn’t rely on this as my sole source of power. For a boost of emergency juice, it will suffice. I’ll continue to carry an external battery for reliable, faster charging.
I’ve heard of a few people say they use the BioLite when backpacking, but it is not what I’d consider part of an ultralight setup. When I’m backpacking, I’m still carrying a canister stove.
For car camping or luxe backpacking, the BioLite CampStove is a great addition. As long as you can find a handful or two of twigs, there are no worries about fuel. And it packs really small compared they typical car camping stove.
The grill is a fun accessory, but I wouldn’t typically bring it backpacking. It’s perfect for car camping with a small group (4 people or fewer).
Note that in California, you need a (free) campfire permit for both campfires and stoves. Get yours here.
Get the BioLite
You can find a bundle with the BioLite CampStove, KettlePot, Portable Grill and a LED light (I didn’t test this) here on Amazon* At the time of writing, it listed for about $120, making it a great value, especially considering fuel costs are zero.
And if you’ve used a BioLite backpacking, please leave a comment and tell me why you think I should reconsider.
Learn more about BioLite on their website, BioLiteEnergy.com.
*This is an affiliate link, meaning we make a small commission on sales through the link, at no additional cost to you. Proceeds go right back into improving SoCalHiker.
Thanks to BioLite for providing the stove and accessories for testing.