TBAR Reviews The Biolite Camp Stove 2 Bundle
So, I want you to picture this:
It’s a warm summer’s evening, and you’re sitting on a log on the beach. The air has cooled from its midday power, and now, with that salted breeze, the temperature is just about perfect. To your right are your people, your fellow warriors. Your friends. To your left is your surf board, dry now, but man, she took you home today. In front of you lies the mighty Pacific, and behind you is all that other imperfect shit that you can’t quite remember in this moment. That’s where I want to start.
Folks, I have to be honest. This one got complicated. You see, several months ago, when BioLite approached us to snap a few photos and write a few words, I thought it would be easy. After all, that’s what we do here at TBAR, and if we can’t deliver for those folks, what good are we?
In particular, they wanted us to shoot and write about the Camp Stove 2 Bundle. Again, no problem. But as we used it and we really thought about it and we really tried to understand what it was that we wanted to say about this stove, a conflict emerged between what we felt and what we wanted to feel. But we want to be honest in our actions and in our words and in our pictures, and honest we’ll be.
A couple things we need to get out of the way before we go further: BioLite is an awesome company doing awesome things in Africa with larger versions of this stove. And to that purpose, this design is super effective. More on this later. Also, mad links for conducting your own research:
Important to point out is that what we say about the Camp Stove 2 from here doesn’t give any bonus points for the company or its mission or the origin of the product. This is our assessment of the product itself, and what it is, and what it isn’t. Anyway, buckle up.
I’ll start with the facts. Included with your purchase of the BioLite Camp Stove 2 Bundle—retailing at $239.99, you’ll find:
1 BioLite Camp Stove 2 (with yellow power supply)
1 BioLite Portable Grill
1 BioLite Kettle Pot 1.5L Capacity
1 BioLite Flex Light (This is an LED light powered by the stove. More later.)
1 Package of 6 Fire Starts
Compared to other camp stoves we’ve used, the bundle is bulky (5.20” x 10.20” when packed inside the kettle pot, according to the BioLite website. Grill attachment does not fit in the kettle pot, 9.5” x 12” x 3.5”), and it’s heavy (33 oz stove, 16 oz kettle pot, 30 oz grill). This brings the total weight to almost five pounds, which is a lot for backpacking. I have a hard time imagining weight- or space-conscious outdoor enthusiasts wanting to carry it. Obviously, though, if space and weight are not at a premium, it is small enough and portable enough to bring along anywhere you would want to use it. Moving on.
Easy. The yellow brick mounts to the side of the stove, and the tripod legs fold down. If you’re grilling, the attachment fits right on top. If you’re not grilling, the included kettle pot fits fine. But if you’re not using the grill attachment or the kettle pot, be careful: The stove’s surface has a wide opening to feed the burn chamber. Some pots might not sit on it correctly, and you could find yourself having to hold them in place yourself, or maybe MacGuyvering some setup with a couple Y-shaped sticks. Either way, not ideal. Moving on...
How it Works:
Okay. So, the way the stove works is the big bet that made BioLite, and it’s the central idea behind all the design decisions that went into this stove.
So, most camp stoves run off liquid fuel. When you run out, you go to REI, or wherever, and you tell them you need some fuel, and they give you a canister and then you pay them some dollars and you can use your stove again. The fuel itself burns pretty cleanly and efficiently, so it doesn’t take much to cook a meal, but it does run out and you do need to refill it.
BioLite stoves don’t burn liquid fuel. They burn solid fuel. You can purchase the pellets, but the real intention was to create a stove that will burn twigs and sticks that you can find in the woods. So you never have to buy more. If you’re in the middle of the wilderness, you just gather twigs, or wood shavings, or something that will burn, and the BioLite will burn it, and it will burn it with crazy efficiency. This is why the middle of the stove has that chamber. It’s a combustion chamber that houses the small fire that heats your dinner.
So then, what’s that yellow brick on the side of the stove all about? Well, it’s a fan/temperature gauge unit that runs off the energy generated by the heat from the flame.
Fire has many good qualities, like how it gives off light and heat. But it’s hard to control. Gas stoves get around this with a constant and precisely-regulated stream of fuel. But with the BioLite, the fuel is not a stream, it’s not constant, and it’s not precisely-regulated. You just dump the shit in there, and off we go. So this necessitates a feedback unit that attempts to keep the burn steady and the temperature constant. Enter the fan and the temperature gauge. Fire’s not hot enough, fan turns on. Fire’s too hot, fan turns off. Obviously, if you want to cook, it’s important to maintain a consistent temperature.
But since the fire itself produces way more excess energy than is needed just to cook the food and operate a small fan, the engineers at BioLite had the great idea to add a USB charging port to the brick. It’ll charge your phone, or it’ll operate the Flex Light, which comes with the bundle. It’s a small LED light on the end of a flexible stalk which is powered by USB. You can shine this light on whatever you’re cooking, and it’s useful for night grilling. Anyway, the unit has a battery that holds charge between uses, so you don’t actively have to be burning wood in the stove to, say, charge your phone. Also, before your trip, you can plug the unit into the wall and start out with a battery full of juice rather than having to build it up over several days of cooking. Moving on.
Using the Stove:
Now, I light a fire starter and toss it into the stove body, along with a few twigs to heat things up. No fire starter? Use whatever you need to get ‘er going: grass, pine straw, leaves, etc. I add a little more wood and this stove is ripping hot. The temperature gauge detects the heat and turns on the fan, and now we’re cooking with flame. I fill the kettle pot with water and set it on the heat. It boils.
But any camp stove can boil water, right? I want to see the grill in action, and today, that means salmon on the shore of the Pacific. Extend the long support legs, line up a hole on a hole, and our wood-fire grill is ready to go. There’s even another hole on top with a lid that allows us to feed our fire while we grill, and this turns out to be important. I let the surface grates get nice and hot, and I throw on our filets.
And we’re off. I plug in my phone, and it charges. The time is 12:43 p.m. I take a few selfies. I feel self-conscious and delete them, and then I check the time. It’s still 12:43.
Our two salmon filets fit on the grill. Three might, and four won’t. As they sizzle, the air fills with the smells of wood smoke and cooking fish, and life is not so bad. And so, we crack a pilsner, and we wait.
And we wait.
At 1:00, we aren’t even close, so I add more wood. The stove gets hotter, as indicated by the temperature readout, but the fish still cooks slowly. Grilling in general is not as efficient as, say, boiling because a lot of that heat dissipates into the air and not into our salmon. To this end, a cover would be nice. Maybe three filets instead of two would provide a similar effect and trap more heat, which would let us cook faster, but as it sits, our two pieces of fish are taking their time.
At 1:15, I flip the salmon.
At 1:27, I pull it off. It’s delicious, and the ocean is beautiful.
One note: Grilling salmon makes a mess. Cleanup is not quick and easy, especially out in nature. Whereas pasta boils in water and sauce pans clean will a little coaxing, searing meat is a violent process, and it leaves its mark on the grill in the form of carbonized oils and bits of fish charred onto the grates. After a few uses, getting the grill back to its old form requires soap, water, and a Brillo pad. No way around it. If you’re on a multi-day trip in the woods, could you get the attachment semi-clean and live with it until you get back to civilization? Probably. Would you be in danger of getting the scent of cooked fish all over everything it’s packed near? Also probably.
First, BioLite’s mission to bring “Energy Everywhere” is spot on, and we at The Beans and Rice applaud it. And the Home Stove, which is the bigger, less portable version of the Camp Stove, is a brilliant product for advancing that mission. It’s found great use in impoverished countries where access to electricity and safe cooking methods are limited. Again, you can read all about it in the links above or on the BioLite website, but this strikes me as the perfect use case for this type of stove. It requires less wood and spits way lower emissions than just open fires or kerosene lamps, and it produces reusable energy at the same time. Add that it burns materials that can be found outside, and we have a model for success. The Home Stove can and does save lives. It’s safer heat, and it’s safer light.
And so is the Camp Stove 2. If you lived in an impoverished third-world country, the larger Home Stove seems appropriate, but I could see the Camp Stove fitting a disaster aid scenario. On the eastern sea board, for instance, after a hurricane, if electricity is out and debris and flooding make it difficult to cook or acquire fuel for your gas-burning camp stove that doesn’t power your cell phone. In fact, that’s exactly what happened after Hurricane Sandy(https://gadgetwise.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/11/06/biolite-stove/), when BioLite set up tables with their stoves to offer folks hot drinks and charging stations. And in this case, the Camp Stove was a well-engineered product that met a need in a difficult time. Big ups.
But, if you asked me if, deep in my heart, I would want the Camp Stove 2 with me in the backcountry, I’d have to say no. It’s larger and heavier than other camp stoves I’ve used, especially if you bring the grill attachment. Also, I can’t say I’d be psyched after a long day to have to gather a bunch of sticks and twigs before I could start my dinner. Every day. Plus, if it rains, starting the fire will be frustrating. Gas-burning stoves don’t care about the rain, and they don’t care about the wind, and they don’t care about wet wood.
Could you make it work in this setting? Sure. If the idea of cooking with wood you’ve found resonates with you, and if you’re willing to shoulder the weight and the volume and the effort to gather fuel, I don’t see why not. But you might be better served with a compact gas-burning stove and a portable charger. Or, you could even leave your phone off and turn it back on when you return to civilization, like in pioneer times.
Anyway, just one more thing: I’m not ready to write off the Camp Stove 2. Not at all.
There’s something simple and pure and natural about cooking in a special place with special people. In making a meal you’ll remember for a long time, and that’s why I started this piece on that coastal evening. Because that’s where this stove fits. You aren’t in the backcountry, so it’s not too much, but you’re not car-camping, so it’s not too little, and you don’t want pasta, and you don’t want some greasy, overcooked burger soaked in pan juices at the bottom of a cast-iron skillet. You want to kick it up a notch. Boom. You want to grill.
I love the idea behind the stove. It’s sustainable, it’s natural, and it’s cool! But the bottom line is that, in most cases, I’ll choose the practicality of the gas-burner over the romance of the BioLite Camp Stove 2. But you, dear reader, will have to decide for yourself.
The Beans and Rice
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