I rooted around in my pack, pulling out the sleeping bag, sleeping pad, tent, food, and clothes. I turned it upside down and shook out loose instant coffee packets and micro-trash from trips past, checking the side pockets and brain. It had to be here, somewhere.
But, of course, it wasn’t. Apparently, I’d left my JetBoil and fuel at home — probably on the kitchen counter. So it was a damn good thing I’d brought the Biolite EcoZoom Versa for testing. Originally, I’d only planned on using this wood camp stove to cook ground beef (for a camp favorite dinner, mac’n’beef), and that was it. I was going to boil water for noodles and everything else in my JetBoil.
That plan was out the window. Now, this EcoZoom Versa was going to be our everything stove: for noodles, beef, and water for tea, coffee, and breakfast. I was about to get really familiar with this thing over the next few days.
Accepting that fate, I scoured the campsite for tinder, set the EcoZoom up, and got a fire going within it. Flames reached up out of the top like a chimney — or a rocket engine — as I fed small sticks into the tiny open door. I filled a pot with water and put it on to boil. Then I waited.
In short: The BioLite EcoZoom Versa is an effective wood or charcoal stove. It’s durable, easy to use, and concentrates heat extremely well, just like a stovetop burner. It’s heavy and requires some multitasking skills to maintain the fire consistently while also cooking. And it isn’t nearly as fast as a butane-fueled stove.
But, it works much better than cooking over an open fire pit flame, and you can find fuel for it almost anywhere. In a pinch, it’s a reliable substitute to have on hand. It likely won’t replace your JetBoil or MSR Pocket Rocket. But for camping or as a backup or emergency stove, the EcoZoom Versa is a highly useful piece of hardware.
- Weight 14.5 lbs.
- Fuel Wood or charcoal
- Dimensions 11" x 11" x 12.5" (28.0 x 28.0 x 31.8 cm)
- Materials Cast iron top, stainless steel and silicone handles, sheet metal body, lightweight ceramic insulation.
- Fuel is easy to find almost anywhere
- Concentrates heat very well, functions like a stovetop burner
- Very little smoke
- Heavy and bulky
- Requires multitasking to cook and maintain fire
- Not quick to start
BioLite EcoZoom Versa Wood & Charcoal Rocket Stove Review
BioLite’s whole schtick is based on sustainable energy (hence the name). The brand has a stated goal of providing 20 million people with access to clean energy and avoiding 3 million tons of CO2 emissions by the year 2025. The company makes solar panels, portable power stations, headlamps, and, of course, camp stoves, among other green-minded products.
Most of their products are rechargeable and designed to use power efficiently. Even their other fire pit and camp stove products, the FirePit+ and the CampStove 2+, feature battery attachments that allow you to electronically control the heat and flame size. Both of those products even come with apps that allow you to control the fire remotely.
This stove, however, is very different from BioLite’s lineup — it’s a straight-up, no-frills, old-school-style wood/charcoal stove. The top is made from durable cast iron, the outside is stainless steel, the handles have heat-blocking silicon grips, and the inside is insulated with lightweight ceramic.
There are no batteries for the EcoZoom Versa. There is no app, no technology. Just wood and fire. All of that really appeals to me. I like simplicity when it comes to camp cooking. The last thing I want to be fiddling with at my campsite is an app on my phone, or a battery on my fire pit.
When I first pulled this thing out of the box, I was immediately struck by its weight. Unlike a lot of other wood-burning camp stoves out there, this one is not compact, and it is not designed to fold or pack down flat. At 14.5 pounds, this is a car camping piece of gear. Or, something to keep in the garage in case of a real emergency.
I held it in two hands, turning it over and admiring its solid weight and feel. It’s built like a mini industrial kiln. The front has two small doors: one larger for feeding wood or charcoal fuel into, and a smaller second one for managing airflow.
There is also a small steel platform BioLite included to make it easier to directly feed sticks into the camp stove. But that is the only auxiliary component. The rest is all one single piece — another aspect of the EcoZoom’s simplicity that I admire.
Light My Fire: EcoZoom Versa in the Field
I got a fire started in the EcoZoom Versa Wood and Charcoal Rocket Stove that first night without any trouble. The easiest way I found to do so was to stack kindling in the fuel door and to light it from underneath — through the airflow door. This would be a cinch with matches. However, I only had a Bic lighter on me, and it was hard to get the flame deep enough under the kindling to ignite it.
I lit a small branch on fire and used that to extend my reach, and it worked well enough. But next time, I’ll have a book of wood matches on me.
Full transparency: I did not use this grill with charcoal. Everywhere I used it, wood was in plentiful supply. I didn’t need to go buy a bag of Royal Oak or Kingsford. However, from reviews of the BioLite EcoZoom, it seems like charcoal works equally as efficiently for cooking. Some users say it’s notably harder to get lit — but once it’s going, the EcoZoom cooks with charcoal well.
Once the EcoZoom Versa was lit, it got going quickly. I fed progressively larger sticks into the furnace until I had a consistent flame coming out of the top. Then I poured my water in and waited for it to boil.
A Matter of Time
They say a watched pot never boils. But since you have to continually feed fuel into this stove, it was hard to take my eyes off it. So I watched it the whole time, increasing the intensity of the fire as I did. Observing the bubbles growing on the bottom of the pan, slowly getting larger, until, finally, they broke free and churned the surface of the water.
All in, from getting the fire started to getting the water boiling, it took me about 22 minutes. You could probably shave that down with practice. But this stove works at its own pace. Yes, you can control the heat by adding more or less wood. But you aren’t going to be breaking any boiling-time records, no matter how much wood you put in there.
That is my biggest gripe with this camp stove (and wood/charcoal stoves generally). I’m spoiled. I grew up in the era of FluxRing super camp stoves that boil water in under 100 seconds. Waiting for water to boil over a wood fire — even one as concentrated as the EcoZoom’s — requires a level of patience I’m not used to.
I cooked the noodles, maintaining the flames as I did. Then I removed them, put them on plates, and cooked the 2 pounds of beef. The meat was done in another 16 minutes, and it was time for dinner.
What I Liked
Admittedly, I was surprised at how evenly and easily the meat cooked on the BioLite EcoZoom Versa Rocket Stove. At this point, I was burning larger-than-finger-sized pieces of tinder. I kept pushing the sticks in until they disappeared through the front door and added more.
I don’t think I would have been able to tell a difference, had I cooked this mac’n’beef meal at home over my own kitchen stove. That’s how well the EcoZoom cooked. I was impressed by it — if a little vexed by its pace.
It was simple to operate and also easy to clean when I was finished. I just opened the two doors and dumped the ash out. Blowing into the top, the remainder of the loose ash blasted out of the open front doors. For transport, I carried it in a trash bag to avoid mess and contain the smell. That worked flawlessly.
Where the BioLite EcoZoom Versa Falls Short
There are only two aspects of the BioLite EcoZoom Versa Rocket Stove that I wish were different: its weight and bulk. Both of those features put limitations on the EcoZoom Versa. Because you aren’t going to be carrying this thing in a backpack. It isn’t as light as a Coleman Fold’N’Go. Nor is it as compact as a JetBoil or an MSR Pocket Rocket. It won’t boil water as quickly as those stoves, either.
But it’s meant to be a car camping stove that requires no butane or propane fuel. It’s great for that purpose. It would also be great if you were in an emergency and left without power for an extended period. As long as you aren’t trying to carry this stove over any significant distances, you won’t be disappointed with its performance.
BioLite EcoZoom Versa Rocket Stove: Who’s It For?
The next morning, I got the EcoZoom Versa up and running again to boil water for coffee and oatmeal. I was grateful to have that wood stove at that moment. If you’ve ever tried boiling water in a pot over an open firepit, you know how long it takes and how tricky it can be.
The EcoZoom Versa concentrates the fire’s heat like a stovetop burner, making it far more efficient. As far as wood and charcoal stoves go, this is a solid option for car camping.
As mentioned, it’s also a great stove to have on hand as a backup in case of an emergency. You can find fuel for it anywhere, and it requires no electricity, no batteries, no fuel canisters, no attachments. There’s something to be said for that level of simplicity.
I’d recommend the EcoZoom Versa to anyone who wants a stove that doesn’t use gas, and to anyone who enjoys cooking over an open fire, but wants a little more control. As long as you understand that “lightweight” and “packable” are not in this stove’s lexicon, you’ll be able to find a lot of useful applications for it.