Whether you are looking for a small stove for camping or emergency preparedness, the BioLite CampStove 2 is worth taking a look at. And who knew? Making fire to boil water or cook food can make electricity. Whether this stove is right for you though remains to be determined. It’s also a bit complicated… Let’s look at the good, the bad and the ugly. And then let’s consider some alternatives.
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- Basic Stove Choices
- The BioLite CampStove is a Mini Wood Stove
- Basic Operation
- Charge Your Phone
- Here’s The Bad. No, it’s Actually The Ugly
- BioLite CampStove Advertising Myth Number 2
- Some Commonly Asked Questions
- BioLite CampStove 2 Specifications
- Add Ons
- Consider the Alternatives to a BioLite Campstove
Basic Stove Choices
There are a few popular options for portable or camping stoves. By options, we are mainly referring to the type of fuel they take. Without writing a novel, let’s look at the differences in fuel quickly so we can understand the true versatility of the BioLite CampStove and put it in perspective for this review.
The first option that always comes to mind are liquid fuel stoves. Ie. Your typical, old-school, Coleman stoves that used to be in every household. These run on liquid petroleum known as “white gas”. In other words, additive free gasoline – but nowadays it’s a more modified kind of blend. Some of these stoves require occasional pumping to pressurize the tank. Unfortunately, these stoves can stink, leak and break. The iteration we have was made by Coleman for the military and should be bulletproof. Except it died this year after only a couple years of service.
Your next format is gas. We have a Jetboil Half-Gen (bigger stove for overlanding) that runs on those little green propane bottles. Separately one can purchase an adapter to have it run on regular propane tanks. We also have a MSR Pocket Rocket (tiny backpack stove) that runs on isobutane or a mix of isobutane and propane. Both are excellent. Just bear in mind that isobutane stoves stop working as the temperature goes below freezing. Also, they both require gas replenishment. Gas that costs money and has to be hauled with you – as you can’t replenish it in the woods.
Related: Jetboil Flash Java Stove Review: Hot water in under 100 seconds!
The last choice here is the most straight forward and that’s a wood burner. BioLite likes to refer to it as “renewable biomass” whatever that’s supposed to mean. The title reads solid fuel and by that we mean anything that burns is technically fuel. This could include dried grasses, pine combs, bark, paper and so on.
The BioLite CampStove is a Mini Wood Stove
This is where the BioLite CampStove shines. I mean really shines. Wood is everywhere, limitless and free. There’s no hauling of fuel nor running out – which makes it impeccable as an emergency backup stove or simply as a cooking monster in the woods. Now when we say wood, it’s more like twigs and branches but you get the point.
As with any wood fire, here’s the bad. It can take a while to get a fire going. And wet wood does not burn! While an experienced woodsman can always find dry wood even in the wettest forest, it’s a lot of extra work. When finished cooking, you’ve got some hot ashes to dispose of safely and a hot stove to deal with… Not good if you are on the move and in a hurry. Feeding the stove can be a bit challenging as well but we’ll cover that later.
Step 1 is to find fuel. Twigs, branches, small chunks of wood and so on. You’ll want to collect a decent size pile as it takes quite a bit to keep the stove going. Next it’s time to unfold the stove’s legs and set it up on a level surface. Keep your newly collected pile of fuel close to the stove and ready to go – as you’ll be stuck there feeding it. Out of that pile, you’ll need to separate some of the smallest pieces for that initial burn.
Next you’ll need to prep what you are actually cooking. A very common task out in the bush is boiling water. This is typically for sanitizing drinking water, making coffee or tea and simply boiling water for a tasty MRE. If actually cooking something like a soup, have it all ready to go so you don’t need to leave the stove.
Light it Up
Now it’s time to light the fire, literally! Included with the stove are some fuel tablets. These types of fire starters are easily purchased in outdoors stores and are a really good way to get things going. I always carry vaseline soaked cotton balls and even little tinder bundles in my pack which also work great. If you’ve exhausted your tinder: birch bark ripped off a tree works wonders.
I prefer to light my tinder and drop it in the stove as it’s fairly deep and narrow. Once the tinder has caught, it’s time to add that pile of the littlest pieces of wood we gathered above. It will catch more easily and provide a nice bed of coals to keep the stove going. At this point, it’s great to turn on the stove’s built in fan which really aids in combustion. I try to keep the fan anywhere around low to medium until the fire is going strong. After that, it’s just a matter of feeding the stove until you are done cooking. Higher fan speeds will increase the heat but will burn through your “fuel” faster.
The Good: It’s Also a Battery Charger!
The stove part of the BioLite is no different than a $5 metal emergency folding stove. Well, I shouldn’t say that, the quality and durability is infinitely better. But the basic function is the same: fire = heat for cooking. That is until we get into its battery and controls!
The BioLite Campstove has a 2600 mAh battery. This battery is what powers the stove’s fan. As your fire grows in intensity, the stove’s built in charger will charge the very battery that runs the fan. This is done by converting heat into electricity.
In essence, the fan draws less power than what the charger outputs providing a net increase in energy. Think of it like your own personal generator that stores its power in the stove’s battery. The system is simple and ingenious. If your battery isn’t full, it will eventually become recharged if you run the stove long enough. That’s the good. The ugly is how long it takes, keep reading we’ll get there…
By the way, as you cook and all of this is going on: charger output, battery level and fan speed will be known to you in great detail. All three functions are perfectly on display thanks to LED lights that provide level indicators for these functions.
Charge Your Phone
Or tablet, headlamp, flashlight, GPS navigator or ANYTHING else that charges off a USB port! It’s as simple as plugging into the USB port on the BioLite CampStove’s battery pack. The fact that it can charge your devices and then recharge itself by burning wood is the stove’s main selling feature.
The BioLite CampStove also happens to come with a USB FlexLight. While that may sound hokey at first, it’s actually excellent for cooking at night.
Here’s The Bad. No, it’s Actually The Ugly
BioLite was running an ad on Facebook that reads: “Brew a morning coffee and charge your phone with just a handful of twigs”. Hopefully you know that short form LMAO. It means laugh my ass off. First of all, a handful of twigs will get your fired started – you’re NOT brewing anything at this point. Second, it takes a VERY long time to recharge the battery and I learned that the hard way when I actually needed it.
This Island Experience
Last summer, I did a simple overnight island camp with my son. We arrived mid day and by night my iPhone battery was almost dead. At this point I turned to our usual 6000 mAh battery power bank to charge a 3969 mAh iPhone – which it failed to do. After some choice curse words, it was obvious the power bank had some false advertising as well or age simply reduced its power. By lunch of next day, the phone was pretty low again.
Being hungry and having a poorly charged phone, we confidently whipped out the BioLite CampStove as if the fire/techno gods themselves had come to the rescue. It did help charge the phone alright but ended up draining itself in the process. That’s with a fire going… Which we kept going for a very, very long time out of the will to see if it would indeed recharge. That and perhaps an ounce of island boredom.
We ended up staring at a low battery level indicator. Put it this way, a turtle could get to Mexico faster than we could charge this stove. We got one or two bars after an hour or so and we gave up. For those of you thinking we did something wrong, the charging indicator was all the way up the whole time which means the fire was more than sufficient.
The BioLite CampStove would eventually re-charge itself if you kept a fire going long enough. Is it worth the effort? Not unless you are in a really bad situation and desperately need to charge something. And if that is ever the case, I know what you’ll be doing for the next few hours:)
Up until now, we haven’t mentioned that the CampStove’s battery can also be charged via USB. The next day after our island camping fiasco, we charged the stove back up by plugging it in at home. And then we ordered a real power bank from Amazon that packs a 20,000 mAH punch. It can charge the phone 5 times over. Even if there’s any overinflated marketing on that one, there’s a nice safety net there and we should get at least a minimum of a couple charges out of it.
So What’s the Point of the BioLite CampStove
Remember the Facebook Ad we talked about. Countless people wrote in comments that it’s a great stove. I agree as it’s easy to like this stove for some strange reason. It’s solid, throws a lot of heat and the fan function can aid with keeping a stubborn fire going. It also has a battery bank – while not the biggest, it’s still something. If you are desperate enough such as in a SHTF situation like a major power outage, yes, it will eventually recharge itself by burning wood. The little camping iterations of solar wouldn’t be any faster either, they just require no effort.
BioLite CampStove Advertising Myth Number 2
With its fan based fire products, BioLite advertises “smokeless” fires. Reality is when wood burns, it’s NEVER smokeless. Dry wood, hot fires and good airflow will generate less smoke. The BioLite CampStove’s fan does aid in in the airflow department, which means less smoke in general. But NOTHING ever beats using dry wood!
My second comment takes a completely different approach. Smoke from a wood fire emits something called “aromatic hydrocarbons” and the human brain is programmed to love this smell! Since the existence of mankind, that smell means warmth, security and a means to cook food. If the smoke from a tiny wood stove to make yourself a coffee is really that troublesome, you shouldn’t bother with a wood burner. And, for what’s its worth, you don’t belong in the woods either. That renders the smoke aspect a moot point, in fact why are we even talking about it?
Some Commonly Asked Questions
BioLite CampStove 2 Specifications
It wouldn’t be a review if we didn’t provide some specs. Below are the specs as advertised by BioLite:
- Fuel: Biomass (twigs, sticks, pellets)
- Live Output: 3W peak
- Integrated 2600 mAh internal battery
- Input: Micro USB (to charge internal battery)
- Output: USB
- Boil Time: 1L in 4.5 min (varies)
- Packed Size: 8.5″ x 5″
- Weight: 2.06 lbs
- FlexLight: 100 lumens
Included in the Box:
- BioLite CampStove 2
- BioLite FlexLight
- Stuff Sack
- Micro USB Cable
Yes, the stove has available add ons which are really cool. The CampStove Complete Cook Kit comes with a Portable Grill, KettlePot and CoffeePress. While we don’t have the full kit and can’t speak to the grill, we did purchase the KettlePot and CoffeePress. I have to say, they both work well and the quality is there.
The stove nests inside of the KettlePot. It’s not the easiest thing to get everything to nest when you factor in the press but I can however get it to all fit. Even though it’s not pretty. I must say, I’ve boiled a lot of water in the pot and have made a lot of good coffee with the press! Truth be told, anytime I took the stove with me on a trip, it was because of the pot and press – without it, I believe the BioLite would sit on the shelf and collect dust.
Consider the Alternatives to a BioLite Campstove
Generally we read reviews before buying something. We all want the best bang for our buck and I’ve provided my honest feedback on the BioLite. Here are some alternatives that will add up financially in the same range and provide the same basic functions:
The MSR Pocket Rocket Stove Kit is great. We own it, in fact it’s excellent! Lightweight and back-packable. You’ll need to buy gas separately and a travel coffee press of some form. Perhaps the Aeropress Go.
If you are dead set on wood or want a stove for the really cold temperatures, consider the Emberlit Stainless Steel Stove. The cool factor is back in its flat packing form. We aspire to have one.
The ABFOCE Solar Power Bank (20,000 mAh) power bank covers all the energy needs. We own it and it’s also excellent!
As always, thank you for reading the review and for your support. Please share and let us know what you want to see next.