Stoves have come a long way since the humble primus: turbo flames, jet boilers and ultra-light portables are just some of the options around. But now there's the BioLite, a stove that burns twigs and charges your phone all at once. I know, it should erect your tent for you too.
It's a bio-fuel burning camping stove with a re-chargeable power unit attached. This holds a fan to assist combustion, and an ingenious system which recovers heat from the fire, turning it into electricity which you can then use to charge your gadgets via a USB port.
Wilderness lovers and Ray Mears-types who can't bear to be without their phone/GPS unit or other USB powered devices.
OK, it may look like a cheese grater, but the perforations are a key part of the design. The fan in the clip-on power unit, which attaches to the side of the stove with a rather-phallic-looking probe, sends the air via ducts into the base of the combustion chamber. It's held in place by the fold-out feet which, being tripod in form, give the whole thing stability on uneven ground. When stored in its bag, the power unit sits inside the stove. The orange power unit is simply-designed with just a power switch; a USB port which is protected by a flip-out rubber flap, and two status LEDs. With not a hint of khaki or green, it's unashamedly brash and modern-looking.
Following the clear instructions, getting a fire started is quick and simple - just make sure you have a ready supply of twigs. Once fire has taken hold, a single press of the power button sets the fan purring on low and illuminates the orange LED. The fanned flames form a miniature fire tornado in the incinerator, and within two minutes will be heating a pan of water quite rapidly. It takes around six minutes of fierce burning before a green LED indicates that charge is available from the USB port. It will keep charging as long as you keep adding fuel, aka, twigs. Hope you have a forest at your disposal, gadget fans.
Twigs and leaf litter really do = (add your own Jeremy Clarkson impression here) POWER.
Thanks to the fan and clever ducting, it burns extremely well which, given its primary function, is essential. Plus, there's no need to carry gas canisters or foul-smelling fuel tablets.
At $130 a pop, this is no frivolous purchase. You can make a hobo's stove which will burn twigs and leaves for a few pence, so this is a lot of moolah just to have a few amps at your disposal.
The power unit contains a large re-chargeable battery which has to be charged fully before first use. It begs the question, why couldn't you just use that as an emergency power supply?
Another oddity, even when the fire is extinguished and the chamber is cooling down, the fan will keep switching itself on, even when you repeatedly turn it off.
- 14:30 lit firelighter.
- 14.32 pan on stove, fan on, intense roaring flames.
- 14.36 green means go for USB charging.
- 14:42 17 oz of boiling tears (it's an eye-wateringly priced ticket).
- If you spend a good deal of time camping; fishing by remote rivers; hiking or biking in the wild yonder, then actually this is a worthwhile purchase. Sure, you can probably find a system to cook more quickly or cook using foraged bio-fuel, and there are probably other means to charge your electronic essentials off grid. You'd be hard pressed though to find all these things in one package that looks near as good; is as solidly constructed, and provides you with quite so much entertainment/satisfaction whilst doing the job, mind.
Packed dimensions: 4in x 8in
Fuel twigs, pinecones and found biomass
Charge Output Max continuous: 0.5 amps, Peak: 1 amp
Compatible with: charges/powers most USB powered devices
Charging time: (claimed) iPhone 4S (2G), 20 minutes of charging provides 60 minutes of talk time. Charging times vary by device and by strength of fire.
Update: BioLite got in touch to clarify a few potentially-odd things:
First on the integrated battery:
The battery has a similar role of a battery you'd find in your car - to kickstart the whole thing - but isn't the primary power supply. The battery is what jumpstarts the fan, after which the TEG (Thermoeletric generator) kicks in to supply the electricity via the heat-to-electric conversion.
Second on the fan constantly switching itself back on:
That's a purposeful safety feature. We have smart logic built into our power module where the fan will turn itself back on until it senses a low enough temperature (it's actually pretty cool). A fire might die out, but hot embers are still a safety concern so the fan stays on until the burn chamber is truly no longer hot; the fan will turn itself off when it's ready, and all you're left with is a tiny bit of ash for easy disposal.