The BioLite Campstove has been around for a little while, offering the gadget-obssessed a way of keeping their toys alive when out in the wilderness. The whole affair uses a wood-burning stove paired with a thermoelectric generator that trickle charges a single device over USB. A smart design and built-in fan helps keep the fire stoked.
This summer I got to try out two cooking attachments for the stove: the KettlePot and the Portable Grill. If you think you can squeeze in one more camping trip before the summer wraps up, you'll want to check them out.
The Portable Grill works simply enough. It has two collapsible legs that prop the grill up on top of the Campstove unit. A lid opens to let you put more fuel inside, or shut it to redirect the flame beneath the grill. The whole unit breaks down into three pieces for cleaning, which you'll absolutely need to do after each trip. Soot happens, so don't get too attached to that shiny finish.
The unit comes with a single-piece plastic cover for the large top section and the stove entry point at the bottom. I snapped the connecting piece for this cover pretty much right out of the box when trying to remove the lower section, but honestly, I think it worked out for the better; the band connecting the two was just as likely to get caught on something in transit. Plus, the top lid works well as a plate in a pinch.
The KettlePot is designed to boil and cook just about anything else not suitable for the grill. It has a collapsible, thermally-protected handle. A silicone sealing lid helps keep heat in, though a tab is there to make sure you can take it off without getting burned. The lid has a clear top so you can see how the food's coming along and there's a spout for pouring.
Arguably the coolest part of the KettlePot is that the BioLite stove itself fits inside the pot, allowing you to transport both together in the included draw-string bag without any problems. The plastic bowl fits perfectly inside while stowed, even with the stove in there. A heat shield around the bottom allows the KettlePot to drop snugly onto the stove and protect the flame.
The BioLite Portable Grill does a solid job at cooking. I had a few meals cooked on there, and it managed to maintain consistent heat. The close confines of the stove and fan help a bunch with getting started, and once it's up to full blast, you're good and set. Naturally, the heat was noticeably stronger near the stove spout, but ultimately even enough to cook everything through and through with enough fuel. Though the grill is technically "portable," it's still pretty big. I found it was only really practical to strap to the outside of my pack, which can be a challenge if you need that space for other gear.
The KettlePot performs admirably, and the tight, concentrated flame means much less babysitting than the grill. For meals you'll still need to open the lid and stir occasionally, since the pot is rather tall and the heat is going to be largely concentrated at the bottom. For coffee fiends this little kettle will be a godsend, even if you've got to settle for instant while out camping. Though plenty of room is being saved by stowing the stove inside the pot, the whole package ends up being big enough. You can fit it in a backpack, but it will take up a lot of room.
As for BioLite's ability to charge devices, you can take a look at our review of the CampStove alone over here. I found I got about 1:1 burning charge to usage time, but your mileage will vary dramatically based on phone, running software, and strength of your fire. Basically, don't count on having an absolutely fully-charged device all weekend long, though if you're prudent with your usage, it should be alive and kicking when you need it.
Despite the undeniable novelty value of charging your phone with fire, there are a few caveats. For one, you'll need to keep a close eye on the fire and keep it continually fuelled for sufficient heat to maintain a steady charge. This means having wood that's dry and small enough to still be able to close the grill's lid. On top of crossing your fingers for no rain (or going through the hassle of carrying dry kindling), many campgrounds maintain the local biomass to keep the decomposition cycle going. Basically, if everyone took all the twigs off the ground of a campsite, there would be nothing for new and young plants to feed on. Besides that, most campgrounds don't permit open fires during dry weather for safety purposes. These roadblocks can leave you with a great gadget you can't use.
- Charge your phone with FIRE
- Stylish and functional design
- Fire needs regular attention
- Full set can be pricy
Serious campers will probably be able to find smaller, cheaper, and more fuel-efficient stoves out there, but BioLite really is the only show in town with USB charging. Even then, don't crank up your screen brightness to max and shoot photos all day expecting a full charge for the next. This system does double duty for cooking your meals and giving you a little extra juice, and in the process you'll make a couple of compromises on both utilities. If you supplement BioLite charging with other methods, either back-up battery packs or a solar charger, like GoalZero's, odds are you'll be the most connected guy in the woods - assuming that's what you want to be.
The KettlePot goes for $49.95, the Portable Grill for $59.95, and the BioLite CampStove is $129.99. That might be a little steep for occasional campers, though it's nice to have around just to know that when the zombie apocalypse hits and there's no more electricity anywhere, you'll still be able to take some baller selfies with your phone. Before taking the plunge, keep in mind that two new products are coming out from BioLite next month: an all-in-one kettle charger, and a larger stove with grill built-in.