BioLite CampStove: Three Month Boundary Waters Test

Filed under: Cooking 

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The BioLite CampStove burns wood, pine needles, or other combustible organic material, all while producing electricity on the side. Amy and Dave Freeman put it to the test for three months in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area

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My wife and I have been exploring the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness for the past 8 months. During that time, our only direct fossil fuel usage has been white gas for our MRS Dragonfly stove.

About 3 months ago we had a BioLite CampStove ($130) sent in with a resupply. It has proven to be an effective wood burning stove that is fun to use, boils water quickly, and helps keep our headlamps, phones, and other small electronics charged. Plus it has reduced our fossil fuel usage by 75% or more.

Long Term Test & Review: BioLite CampStove

We were a little skeptical before we tried BioLite because it looked like a flashy piece of gear that might not live up to the hype. After trying it we were really impressed and we cook almost all our meals with the BioLite CampStove now. Over the last few months, we have learned a few tips and tricks.

Gather Proper Fuel

The ideal fuel for the stove are 3 or 4-inch pieces of wood that range in size from smaller than your pinky to a little bigger than your thumb. It is important to have dry wood. Green wood, or slightly wet wood will burn once you get the stove going, but it is harder to keep the fire going and it takes more constant tending to cook effectively. Do yourself a favor and gather some good, dry wood.

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You only need a couple handfuls of good wood to boil a liter of water so take the time to find dry wood. It works fine to pick up little twigs and branches that you can break with your hands, but we have found that we prefer to use a small saw and hatchet to cut and split mini logs. When it has been raining for days the hatchet and saw allow us to easily produce plenty of dry wood to feed our BioLite stove.

If we were backpacking and counting ounces we probably would forgo the saw and hatchet unless we were traveling with a larger group and the weight could be dispersed among 4 or more people. Also, when we are expecting wet weather we carry a small stuff sack filled with dry kindling which makes it easy to light the BioLite stove even in the rain when all the wood around us is wet. On a shorter trip carrying a few fire starters might be a good idea.

Lighting The BioLite CampStove

Once you get the hang of lighting the stove it is not much harder than lighting a white gas camp stove. The key is starting with a few small pieces of dry wood, and a fire starter, piece of birch bark, or something that lights easily. Do not overfill the stove. Get the fire going in the bottom, turn on the fan to circulate air for efficient combustion after about 10 seconds, and then slowly add small, dry wood.

It usually takes about a minute for the stove to really get going. Once it is well lit, all you have to do is add a few sticks every couple minutes. If you forget to add wood and the fire burns down, add some small stuff and give it a few seconds to catch before you place the pot back on the stove.

Woodburning Stove: Cooking & Boiling Water

It typically takes 15 to 20 minutes to bring 2 liters of water to a boil, which is a just few minutes longer than it takes with our MSR Dragonfly. We don’t notice the time difference very much, but you do have to keep feeding wood into the CampStove, where a gas stove is just set it and forget it. However, most of the time it is fun and relaxing to gather the wood and tend the fire.

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The fan has a high and low setting. We typically use the high setting when we bringing water to a boil and then turn it to low when we add the pasta, rice, oatmeal, or other food. Even on low it is hard to really turn down the heat, so for pancakes or something that requires lower heat, we hold the pan a few inches above the stove, or take the pan off and on the stove every minute or two to keep the pan for getting too hot.

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If we are done with the stove, but know that we will want to heat water for dishes, or use it again soon we often put a couple longer sticks into the stove, turn the fan to low, let it slowly burn. This way the stove stays lit, but we don’t have to tend it as often.

Charging From The BioLite CampStove

There is a USB port which we usually plug a small, rechargeable battery into while we are cooking, but the charging capabilities of the stove are minimal. If we have the stove burning hot it might charge a cell phone 10% in 30 minutes.

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The power output seems to drop quickly if the flames are not actively flowing past the metal rod that sticks into the fire box, which captures heat and converts it into electricity. It can help extend the battery life of a cell phone or other small electronic device, but we are more impressed by the BioLite CampStove’s cooking ability.

Final Thoughts

We really like the BioLite CampStove and use it for most of our cooking. We used it for about a month as our only stove and it worked great. If we were on a shorter trip we would probably leave our gas stove at home. However, we now carry our Dragonfly and 1-liter fuel as well in case of a fire ban. The BioLite stove is not allowed in some areas if there is a fire ban (in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness it is not allowed during a ban, this may vary from place to place).

Because we are out in the Wilderness all summer we need a gas stove in case there is a fire ban. Plus, we have groups coming in and traveling with us periodically throughout the summer. It is nice to have a second stove when we are traveling with a larger group. For most folks, the BioLite CampStove is the only stove you will need and you will be able to leave the fossil fuels at the trailhead and find your fuel along the way.

BioLite CampStove Specs

  • Fuel: Renewable biomass (twigs, pinecones, wood pellets)
  • Weight: 2.06 lbs (33 oz)
  • Charging Time: 20 minutes of charging provides 60 minutes of talk time. Charging times vary by device.
  • Fire Quality: 1.6 oz (46 grams) of wood to boil 1 liter of water
  • Fire Power Output: 3.4 kW (LO), 5.5 kW (HI)
  • Packed Size: Height: 8.25 inches (209.6 mm) Width: 5 inches (127 mm)
  • Compatible Devices: Powers most USB-chargeable devices

—Dave Freeman and his wife Amy are spending a year in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in an effort to protect the Boundary Waters from a series of sulfide-ore copper mines that are proposed along the edge of our nation’s most popular Wilderness. Throughout their Year in the Wilderness they are sharing regular reviews on GearJunkie.com. Amy and Dave were named National Geographic Adventurers of the Year in 2014.

tagged: BioLite review
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