Camping season ain’t over yet! One gadget that I’ve been eyeballing for some time is the BioLite CampStove, and I finally got some time to give it a shot. Yes, you charge your iPhone with fire. It’s pretty awesome.
Here’s how it works. The stove comes in two parts. The main body has foldable legs air vents, and an all-metal body. The second part is stored inside the main body, and clips onto the side while in use. It has a thermoelectric generator, heat probe that slips inside the stove, and a fan system to continually stoke the fire. The fan doesn't kick in right away, mind you; once you get a decent blaze going, it kicks in automatically, then eventually ramps up to a second high power setting. The charging section also includes a USB port so you can charge your iPhone or other gadgets, though it's also used to prime the generator before its first use. In addition to those two main parts, the package also comes with a rope-tightened nylon bag, chunks of firestarter, a standard USB cable, and a small brace so you can cook up dinner in a pot over the stove.
The real question here is, how efficient is this? After all, renewable power chargers like solar panels usually take awhile, and aren’t always worth the wait. I was actually quite happy with the output I got from my fire with the BioLite. Mileage is sure to vary depending on fuel used and lots of other conditions, but after an hour long fire, I got a half hour worth of use out of my iPhone 4 - about 10% of the battery. To fuel the fire, I used a pocketful of pinecones, a bunch of twigs and two larger sticks. If you’re expecting to charge your phone all the way to the top with the stove, you’re probably in for an obscenely long fire, not to mention gathering up a ton of fuel and constantly shoving it into the fire, but if you’re going to be starting up a fire anyway and could use a little bit of extra juice, this is a fine solution. My only real complaints are that the LED indicator lights are really bright, and combined with the constant whirring of the fan, it can ruin the traditional cozy campfire ambiance.
The guys that made this have also smartly expanded the solution in a number of directions. Recently, they’ve announced a new KettlePot system that’s built for the stove, and packs with it seamlessly. It looks like the KettlePot will be ideal for those that live and die by morning coffee or tea, but I’m sure folks will find plenty of uses for it when it comes out in the fall. If you want to do hot dogs or the like while out on the trail, there’s a separate grill attachment. My favorite part about the technology these guys are working with is that they’ve developed a larger version called HomeStove geared towards developing countries to minimize smoke from cooking and provide a renewable power source.
Whether you’ve got one more camping trip in before it gets too chilly out, have an outdoorsy person you’re starting Christmas shopping for, or you just want to make sure your iPhone stays charged through the zombie apocalypse, the BioLite stove is a great little investment with lots of potential expandability.