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Gear Junkie: Wood-burning camp stove generates heat, electricity

Sun., Aug. 26, 2012

With my camp stove, I am boiling a pot of water. I am charging a cell phone on the side. Meet the BioLite CampStove, a wood-burning wonder machine that generates electricity from heat, allowing you to power up a device wherever a bit of wood is found.

The unit is simple to use: Stuff some kindling and wood inside its chamber and light it with a match. Press the ON button to power up a small hidden fan. Air circulating inside the stainless steel vessel then perpetuates the flames, creating a hotter and hotter fire.

A converting unit on the side of the stove steals heat and changes it to electricity.

There’s a small port at the base of the stove that fits a USB plug, letting you hook up a device and recharge it in the wilderness like you have a wall outlet.

Phones, cameras, GPS units, lights – these are all small items that might need recharging in the backcountry. The BioLite lets you charge one at a time while you cook.

In my test, the unit’s fan seemed to work pretty swell, spinning on once my fire was lit and licking the flames until they roared. I put a pot of water on top of the stove. It boiled in less than five minutes.

Meanwhile, plugged in on the side, my phone nabbed power from the BioLite plug-in, the phone’s screen status showing an animated battery icon filling back up.

A recharge with the stove is not fast. My phone plugged in for a half-hour of burn time resulted in a partially charged battery, but it was nowhere near full. You’d need to burn a lot of wood to fully power up a camera or other device.

For an iPhone, the company cites 20 minutes of burn time to recharge it enough for about “60 minutes of talk time” on the phone.

Charging times vary by device and by the strength of the fire, the company warns.

The stove works only with USB-chargeable devices, so many small electronics may not apply. But most phones, GPS units and cameras are compatible.

Packed up, the BioLite is about the size of a 1-liter water bottle. It weighs about 2 pounds. After use, you need to let it sit for a while before putting it away, as the outside metal is hot to the touch.

New this summer, the BioLite will sell for $130. It’s a neat solution for anyone wanting to cook over a contained fire with the added benefit of a small “power station” on the side.

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