Duelling banjos is a series where you get your questions answered by our resident gear freaks. We operate with the idea that most questions do not have discrete answers, i.e. they have more than one correct answer. The idea is that by given you more than one perspective, you'll be better placed to make the proper decision. This episode's thorny subject: What to think of the Biolite CampStove.
Mr. R., if you want to know what type of stove you need ask yourself what type of camping you do. Simple as that. If you are a luxurious car-camper than you can get something a little heavier and a little bigger (usually meaning in a lower price bracket, usually) as you will be storing it in your Kia minivan alongside your portable DVD player (the new MSR Whisperlite International is a classic workhorse for the family camping scenarios). If you are a serious hiker who has a braided beard and doesn’t bring soap because it is a waste of space then maybe a more ultralight, compact stove is in order (check out the MSR Microrocket). So there really is a stove for everyone. Let’s check out the Biolite Stove.
It is powered by anything that is burnable (maybe not those green armymen we used to melt as kids), so no need to buy these or this anymore- that means less petroleum use. Yippee. The really cool thing about the Biostove is its nifty trick of converting heat into usable energy it can recharge all your electronic gadgets (ok maybe not your portable DVD TV/player combo). Heads up all you folks who need to change your fb status every time the wind changes, you can now have a fully charged smartphone everywhere you go, even deep in the woods. My MSR does not do that, sad face.
Is it for you Matty? If you live above the treeline permenantly then I would say no, but if you camp in areas where trees grow, which a lot of us do, then why the heck not. It isn’t the lightest or most compact toy on earth, but damn is it even a cool toy. Seriously, it charges your stuff. Recharable batteries on your headlamp, you iPhone, your headmassager that zaps batteries etc. If you are such an Angry Birds addict that you play it on your camping trips then I say buy the Biolite Stove! I must say that roasting marshmellows over a small fire while watching youtube videos in Yosemite National Park would be a great novelty.
Ahhh, the Biolite Campstove. At first glance, I was left unsure as what to feel. I adored the genius of being able to recharge electronics with fire, yet felt it looked oddly incompatible with my vision of the outdoors.
After some careful consideration and more than a few fine single malts to get the cognitive juices flowing, I’ve come to the following conclusion. The concept is ambitious and even with perfect execution, it will be a borderline good idea. Poor performance will leave this product severely wanting. Here’s why, in my somewhat humble opinion.
All the pictures have the Biolite charging up an iPhone. No doubt they’re hoping the iPhone’s success and enviable brand image will rub off on their own pretty cool product. However, if I need to recharge something out in the woods, it will much more likely be a headlamp and that is why I think the Campstove can be a real boon for the outdoors camper. There are more and more headlights that are charged via USB, such as the Black Diamond Sprinter. However, the jury is still out for charging performances and I fear the worst.
The basic idea of the Biolite as a charger really works best for the HomeStove, which will be fired up for extended periods of time, which almost certainly won’t be the case for the CampStove, especially because of its small wood capacity. I figure you’ll have to refill the container every 3-4 minutes. Which would be fine in an emergency. But regularly? Not so much. I think it’s fine to get water boiling, but can you imagine doing that for however long it takes to properly charge a headlamp?
Speaking of wood. Using it as fuel is a double edged sword. It’s great in that if you’re in a forested zone, you don’t have to carry any fuel. It also means you avoid contributing to landfills. However, you would need to make sure you’ll be spending your camp time in a forested zone that also allows you to burn wood. That’s not so obvious these days.
I see the Biolite as useful less for camping and more for off-the-grid living, such as a cabin for a misanthropic writer. Or hunting. In that case though, I would recommend the HomeStove rather than the CampStove.
In the end, I think the Biolite is a really cool gadget. A great concept betrayed by less than optimal usability. I do remain open minded, and all those who disagree, please let me know. Same thing for those who have gotten one and have an opinion to share.
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