Biolite Camp Stoves – Off Grid Cooking
Biolite camp stoves are designed for off-grid cooking and power production. They use the thermoelectric effect to make electricity from heat. The primary use of the generated electricity is to run an onboard fan that increases the efficiency of the fire, and they also feature a USB port to allow charging of electronics. Increasing the efficiency makes for a smokeless wood fire along with less fuel being required. Taking all of the features into account, how will these products perform during grid-down, SHTF, bugging out, or even a camping trip?
We will be testing the Camp Stove Combo and the BaseCamp Stove, the names can get confusing when talking about both at the same time. Both products retail for the same price. Besides the different sizes and layout, the main feature difference between the two is that the combo comes with a kettle/pot while the BaseCamp doesn’t come with a cooking container.
The BaseCamp does not come with a cooking container but its design allows for almost any pot or pan to be placed on top.
We will take a look at the CampStove first. With the ability to manually control the fan to gain airflow you can get a hot fire roaring shortly after lighting it. With a strong fire going and the fan running you get a tornado of fire effect out of the top. This is nice for roasting foods over an open flame but can make adding more fuel difficult as it needs to be placed directly into the top where the flame is.
The CampStove can make a nice flame but feeding it short sticks can leave the hair on your knuckles singed.
If you are roasting something like hotdogs or marshmallows over the open flame on the CampStove it’s fine to use some longer sticks but that is not possible while using the kettle or the grill attachment. Using small short sticks I found that I would have to remove the kettle of water several times to refuel while trying to boil the water. This operation leads to longer cook times and the danger of burning yourself as you are moving hot water several times on and off of a stand that isn’t very stable. One of the last things I want is a bad burn during an emergency, or anytime.
Thanks to the vents at the bottom of the kettle you can maintain a strong fire with it placed on top of the CampStove. However the fuel will only last a couple of minutes before needing to be replenished leading to a potentially dangerous operation.
The grill attachment is easier to refuel while cooking and also adds some height to allow slightly longer sticks. However, you will still have to use a stick or utensil to flip the lid back and forth. The grill is a clever design but almost doubles the size of the package since the stove nests inside of the kettle for transport.
Unless grilling something that would fall apart like hamburger, I think it would be a better idea to roast over the open flame than to carry this grill attachment due to the size and increased refueling difficulty.
Moving on to the BaseCamp I found it much more intuitive and more practical to use. Loading the fuel from the front makes the fire much easier to control and maintain. The onboard fan is automatic and only turns on when the temperature gets to a certain point. The automatic feature is nice but makes it take a little longer to get the fire burning strong. There are no attachments that need to be switched out. To switch between the grill and boil you only need to throw a lever, and the same lever can be used to control the heat at the cooking surface.
The BaseCamp made quick work of toasting some bread and grilling some spam.
With a flip of the lever you can quickly boil water. In the time it took me to eat my spam sandwich the BaseCamp brought a quart of water to a strong boil. (The smoke in the background is from the fire going out in the other stove. These stoves are smokeless except when starting or extinguishing the fire thanks to the onboard fans.)
Both stoves have the feature to charge USB devices, while the BaseCamp can store energy and provide some charging ability without a fire. I look at this as a secondary feature as I prefer solar for charging, but this makes a nice backup if you are already using it to cook with.
After using both the CampStove and the BaseCamp, I prefer the BaseCamp by far. It is much larger and heavier, but the CampStove is not so light or compact that I would consider carrying it in a backpack for any serious hike. If I were only going to purchase one, I would go for the BaseCamp. It’s much more versatile and would be great to keep stored for an emergency or to toss into a bugout vehicle or camping near your vehicle. It’s fairly easy to carry with its bucket-style handle and the legs fold for a more compact storage. I find the only times I fold the legs are to transport it in a vehicle.
The only drawback to the BaseCamp is that you will not get the kettle with the package. This is not a big loss as the kettle is specifically designed to fit on the CampStove whereas you can use any cooking container on top of the BaseCamp. Overall the BaseCamp is far superior to CampStove. I originally purchased the CampStove to go in a bugout bag, but due to the weight and bulk it is not feasible, also if it is not used for six months the battery needs to be charged, so this is not a sit it and forget it unit. The BaseCamp does not need its battery maintained.
If I were to do this again I would only purchase the BaseCamp, as I don’t forsee myself ever using the CampStove. The BaseCamp will be stored in my storm cellar for an emergency and possibly be taken on camping trips that will be based out of a vehicle. My kitchen stove runs on propane so even with a power outage I can still cook, but the BaseCamp may be pulled out to keep the phones charged. My main concern would be damage to the house from tornados or strong storms and the BaseCamp would still give me the ability to cook or sanitize water if no other options were available.
As for the fate of the CampStove, it will most likely be posted on eBay. I’m sure somebody will be more than happy to have it. It has its uses but doesn’t fit my needs or parameters.