It can’t just be me, but it really does feels like spring. These days, even technology is seasonal and it’s time to look at the sort of tech that makes life outdoors or on holiday a little bit easier, and a bit more fun. Whether you’re heading for the beach or the hills it mightn’t just be the teenagers in the back of the car who are worried about keeping smartphones and iPads powered up over a long weekend. Maybe we’re too reliant on our phones but if you’re touring or camping, keeping a phone powered up when you’re away from home is a very sensible plan.
The BioLite Camping Stove is an average size camping stove, standing around five inches tall. It’s a somewhat curious looking device but it has some clever technology that could change how we cook outdoors. Incredibly, that comes in the form of a thermoelectric generator. Unpacking the stove reveals the components that make up the kit. There’s a curious looking bright orange battery pack, a fuel chamber, some firestarter sticks, a pot adapter, a carry bag, and, a USB cable.
The generator attaches to the fuel chamber easily and the device is so well designed, I hadn’t at first even noticed the three aluminium legs which unfold to make the stove look sturdy and settle it on the bench or ground for use. I dropped in a some twigs and then I lit and dropped in a couple of the included firestarter sticks. On top of that, I put in some more twigs and a few larger pieces of kindling wood. As the fire took hold, I pressed the On button.
The stove has two power settings, Hi and Low and you use the Low mode initially as the ‘Startup’ mode. As the device powers up, the fan starts and this forces a flow of air around the chamber to burn improving combustion and making for a cleaner and more efficient burn. I added more wood, set the power setting to Hi the as the increased dramatically. Despite the intense heat, thanks to a cleverly designed honeycombed heat mesh the body of the stove remains remarkably cool to the touch.
Running on high power, this is a remarkably efficient camping stove. I boiled a kettle of water in less than five minutes and the optional Portable BBQ Grill (€70) grill is so well designed to integrate with the stove it performed equally impressively. The heat spreads perfectly across the BBQ grill enabling me to load up the grill with an array of chicken and sausages and vegetables. The electric fan and the efficiency of the burn meant that I was able to grill quickly but with almost none of that fat generated smoke and the stinging eyes that we’ve all come to expect from back-garden BBQs.
As the chicken and peppers sizzled contentedly, I reached for my smartphone, attached the cable and plugged it in, to the stove. The phone chirped and cooking and charging were underway at the same time. The BioLite has a little probe that sits in the fire and captures excess heat which it turns in to electricity and it delivers a few Watts of power for charging through the USB plug. Twenty minutes of charging at good heat will give you around an hour of talk time on your phone. You can charge many different devices, including phones and cameras. It’s unlikely you’d rely on it for fully-charging any specific device but it is perfect for topping up a phone or a GoPro after an evening on the beach.
There are few negatives about this quirky piece of outdoor tech. Capacity or size was a challenge for me though as I found myself topping up fuel a couple of times as I cooked. Yet the device is the perfect size for packing in the boot or a back-pack so I’d accept the compromise.
BioLite make larger versions of the CampStove which are growing popular in disconnected communities around the world and they reinvest a portion of every sale in their work to bring clean cooking and energy across India and sub-Saharan Africa. This is outdoor tech for old fashioned weekends, made with precision that really does turn fire in to electricity. Not only does it work well, it does good.