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Reviews > Cook Gear > Stoves > BioLite CookStove > Test Report by Andrew Buskov

BioLite FrontBioLite CookStove
BioLite's smokeless flame, renewable energy stove.
Andrew Buskov

Initial Report: September 11, 2016
Field Report: December 22, 2016
Long Term Report: February 2, 2017

Tester Biographical Information:

Name: Andrew Buskov
Age: 41
Gender: Male
Height: 5 ft 9 in (1.75 m)
Weight: 217 lbs (98 kg)
Email: Rescue(at)Corridor9(dot)net
City, State Zip Madisonville, Kentucky  USA

Backpacking Background:

I’ve been backpacking for nearly 30 years, and have slowly developed my ideal style. I’ve gotten my pack weight down to roughly 20 - 25 lbs (9.1 - 11.3 kg) before water, and am whittling it down every hike. Day hiking is nice, but getting out over multiple nights is really what I enjoy. I like to take my time and view the scenery as opposed to hiking hard. I also like being comfortable and insist on an air mattress. I usually tent or hammock, but stay in shelters when needed.

Product Information:

BioLite Setup

Item: CookStove
Manufacturer: BioLite Inc.
Website http://www.bioliteenergy.com/
Year of Manufacture: 2016
MSRP: $79.95 USD
Listed Weight: 1.6 lb (0.73 kg)
Actual Weight: 1.52 lb (0.69 kg)
Color: Gunmetal

Product Overview:

The BioLite CookStove is designed with efficiency, and freedom from fossil fuels in mind. The core of the CookStove is a 30 hour rechargeable fan system that injects clean air into the fuel chamber. A total of four fan speeds allows the user to control the power and rate of cooking from a rapid boil to a slow simmer. The lowest setting also allows the user to have a small campfire feel without the need for a pit or a large amount of firewood.

Product Impressions:

BioLite insideWhen I opened the box  the CookStove arrived in, I found the item undamaged in a cardboard box. The box was designed in such a way to allow the product to be seen, yet be very well protected from damage in transit. Wrapping the outside of the package is a colorful information slip that describes the product, battery type, cook time, package size, weight, and boil time. Also shown is a diagram explaining that on a single charge, the stove should outlast 20 gas canisters. Additional accessories and pictures of such are also shown on the wrap. As mentioned, on the bottom of the box is the individual device's serial number, the UPC, information about BioLite's mailing address as well as the website address. There was one additional line that always bothers me, and I tend to purchase products without it if at all possible; "Made in China".

Upon removing the item from the box I performed a small inventory check of all items included. There is a standard BioLite warranty registration card explaining the process of registration and noting that the serial number on the bottom of the box must be used during this process. The card states that BioLite has a 1-year limited warranty, and that terms & conditions can be found on their website. An additional informational card details other BioLite products as well as explaining the need for a cleaner burning / power generating stove, especially in energy impoverished countries. The third pamphlet is an instructional manual with pictographs and detailed instructions about how to operate the CookStove. Also included is a small plastic bag containing five firestarter sticks. These appear to be a pressed cardboard material of some sort.

BioLite ConnectedThe stove itself is comprised of two main parts. There is an aluminum burn chamber for the wood with multiple air openings on the inside of the chamber, and an aluminum mesh on the outside. It appears as if the mesh layer is designed to cool rather quickly by providing a large surface to mass ratio. The top of the stove is a single cupped piece with three "arms" to support a pot or pan. These arms have no ridges or knurls on them so I'm very curious to see how well a pot stays on top of the stove without sliding off. The bottom of the stove has three folding legs, two of which are the same size while one is slightly longer. The longer leg also acts as a locking mechanism for the fan device. On the "back" of the stove is a portal for the fan air to blow into the device. There is also bar near the top for the fan to hook on.

The fan motor unit is a colorful shade of aquamarine and orange. On the front of the unit is the BioLite logo as well as two rows containing four LEDs each. There is also a gray power button between the two rows of LEDs. The left side of LEDs is a battery indicator. The documentation states that the bottom LED indicates approximately 10% life left in the battery pack. The right side row of LEDs indicates fan speed. The documentation indicates that the top LED is for fast boil, the second is for slow boil, the third is for simmer, and the last LED is for campfire mode.

One additional piece of information indicated in the documentation is the auto-shutdown feature. This feature activates after the device has been in continuous use for an hour. The LEDs on the power indicator side start flashing for two minutes. Should the CookStove still be in operation, the user simply needs to press the power button once and the device will continue to function in its current capacity. However, if the power button is not pressed the device will power down. This is intended to prevent accidental discharge should the unit be activated accidentally inside a pack or left on unintentionally.

In order to power the motor on, the user must press the power button twice. The reasoning behind this is two-fold; to display the remaining power available to the user as well as protect the unit from accidentally turning on should it get knocked around inside a pack. As mentioned, a single press of the power button will display an approximation of remaining power available in the battery pack. Should the power button not be pressed again, the pack LEDs will cease again after roughly five seconds. Pressing the power button twice will start the motor on its lowest setting. Additional presses of the power button will cycle the fan speed from lowest to highest in cyclical fashion.

The base of the motor, as well as the back, contains a latching point to allow the fuel chamber to hold the motor onto itself. Also on the back of the motor is a hard rubber material in the shape of a rectangle. This rubber material is designed to provide a seal around the airflow entrance on the exterior of the fuel chamber. I can only hope that the rubber material is some form of high temperature silicone that will resist melting during use. I'll be sure to document any melting that occurs during the testing period.

Other than the lack of knurled surfaces on the pot arms, I cannot see any obvious problem areas with the design of the stove. All of the rivet points are nice and tight, the bottom screw appears to have a lock washer on it, and the CookStove does not rattle at all when shaken vigorously. I am definitely looking forward to testing this CookStove during the upcoming hiking season. Stay tuned in the next few months for the Field Report phase of my test series.

Field Report: December 22, 2016

FlamingTesting Locations & Conditions:

During the testing period I was able to get two overnight trips in that I cooked on. The first of these trips was in the area of the Pennyrile National Forrest. This forest is in western Kentucky and is an open, backcountry area for camping, backpacking, and hiking. Elevation for this area is roughly 450 - 650 ft (135 - 200 m) with rolling terrain that has a lot of valleys, cliffs, and ridges. Temperatures in the area for both trips were around 60 F (24 C) during the day and down to 35 F (10 C) at night. The second trip was an overnight in the White City Wildlife Reserve, also located in western Kentucky. This area is mainly comprised of natural gas pipeline  connections. The area is open to hunting, camping, fishing, and backpacking. Elevation that we stayed at was roughly 530 ft (160 m). There was lots of precipitation as it was raining steadily both days. This brought a very different dynamic to cooking with wood when it is all soaked and wet.

Performance:

just startingCooking on the BioLite CookStove was definitely a different experience than I've had before. While I have experience using alternative fuel stoves, soda can alcohol, Esbit, kerosene... this was my first time cooking on a wood stove. Finding fuel in the locations I camped certainly wasn't difficult. However, finding dry fuel was. The rain was pouring down steadily on both occasions causing significant issues when lighting the stove. Initially I tried to light the stove using just the sticks, twigs, and leaves I found on the ground. This worked rather well during the first outing as I was able to find a dry patch of leaves to get some nice flames and dry out the twigs. Once the twigs were dry and were able to stay lit I was able to load a bit heavier wood. However, I noticed that it wasn't until I had a good base of ash that the stove really shined.

During the second outing I had a much harder time trying to light the stove. Due the fact that it rained almost constantly for three days, all the fuel that I could find was rather soaked. It was impossible to light any of the twigs that I found and I had to resort to using one of the included firestarter sticks. Even though the firestarter stick was dry, lighting the stick was exceptionally difficult. I had to hold the lighter next to the stick for nearly a minute just to get it to support flame when I removed the lighter. This was after multiple failed attempts to get the stick to light. For whatever reason, it seems the stick just doesn't want to support combustion alone. Finally I was able to get the stick to light by shoving it inside the CookStove while it was laying on its side. Drying enough sticks and twigs to cook on though was a chore. Even with the fan on max, I had to stick in small twigs, let them dry, catch fire, the load more small twigs. The whole process took me roughly 15 minutes before I was able to cook due to the dampness of the wood.

Once I was able to start cooking, I found the experience enjoyable, though smelly. Dry wood doesn't tend to give off as much smoke, or off-gas, as much as wet wood does. As such, there was smoke pouring out of the stove. This smoke lingered around the stove at times, thus being drawn back into the fan. While I understand that smoke is simply unburned fuel, the idea of drawing wet sticky smoke back into the fan does raise questions about cleaning the unit. I tried as best as I could to gently was the unit with a wet cloth, but as to the effect of smoke on rotating fan bearings or bushings this is something I'll definitely keep my eye on.
Smoke Nice Ash Finally Burning
The stove holds charge very well and even with the three times I've cooked on it, I'm still showing max charge as per the LED indicators. I have found that dependent on the wood, especially when using in wet conditions, having the fan on its fastest speed doesn't always lead to better burning. Multiple times I've had to turn the fan down a notch or two so that I could build a better ash base before cooking. This wasn't too much of an issue though as I generally don't tend to rush when I'm cooking.

So far I'm pleased with the function of the BioLite CookStove. I haven't found anything that really bothers me. It cools off quickly enough for storage, runs rather quiet even on full speed, and packs nicely. If I had to pick anything that I would change, I would like to see a smaller design. It does tend to take up a bit more room in my pack than I would like, especially for a single-function item. however, this isn't a deal breaker for me. Check back in roughly two months for the Long Term Report.

Long Term Report: February 2, 2017

Testing Locations:

During the testing period I was only able to get an additional overnight, again in the area of the Pennyrile National Forrest. Information for this region is listed above. Due to the exceptionally mild winter we've been having, temperatures in the area again hovered around 60 F (16 C) during the day and down to 35 F (2 C) at night.

Summary:

I was very skeptical of the BioLite stove when I first looked at its design and structure. I wasn't sure how having a fan on a canister would be that much more effective than blowing on the fire with a steel straw or just pursed lips. However, after trying the stove out for a period of months, I'm convinced that having a mechanical fan to constantly act as a bellows really does improve the function of the stove overall. In addition, having the ability to adjust the speed of the fan, and therefore the temperature and height of the flame, allowed me to cook my food slowly and simmer more than I usually do with a gas canister stove. 

One of the factors that I didn't originally consider when using the stove was the choice of kindling. After a few times firing up the stove, I noticed that my food tended to take on the taste of a wood-fired grill. This made for some very interesting food combination, when I could find the proper wood. When I was cooking hotdogs and meats, the cedar and hickory woods provided a delicate yet powerful woodsy taste to my food. However, I found birch provided more of a sweet yet bitter taste. None of these aromas were in any way displeasing while I was eating. It must also be stated that I very likely could have had a stronger scent due to inhaling the burning vapors during cooking.

In all, the BioLite CookStove has stood up to the abuse I've put it through. The inside is permanently black, but there is no rust anywhere on the stove itself. There are a few more dings and scrapes on the power module, but nothing that degrades the ability of function of the CookStove. In short, it still works as perfectly as the day I received it.

One thing that I would change on the stove is the addition of a thermocouple device so that the stove's internal battery can be charged simply by lighting a fire. This would essentially negate the need for a USB charging station except in occurrences where the user wanted to start a trip on a fully charged battery. That being said, I do consider this to be a worthy addition to my backpacking arsenal.

Pros:

Compactable
Energy efficient
Burns renewable natural resources
Easy to control flame

Cons:

Relies on USB charging ability
Can be difficult to light in rainy conditions
No pot gripping fingers


I'd like to thank BioLite Inc. and BackpackGearTest.org for allowing me to participate in this testing series.


Read more reviews of BioLite gear
Read more gear reviews by Andrew Buskov

Reviews > Cook Gear > Stoves > BioLite CookStove > Test Report by Andrew Buskov



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