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Reviews > Cook Gear > Stoves > BioLite CookStove > Test Report by John Waters

BIOLITE COOKSTOVE
TEST SERIES BY JOHN R. WATERS
LONG-TERM REPORT

INITIAL REPORT - November 02, 2016
FIELD REPORT - March 05, 2017
LONG TERM REPORT - April 23, 2017

TESTER INFORMATION

NAME: John R. Waters
EMAIL: jrw at backpackgeartest dot org
AGE: 67
LOCATION: Canon City, Colorado USA
GENDER: M
HEIGHT: 5' 9" (1.75 m)
WEIGHT: 175 lb (79.40 kg)

My backpacking began in 1999. I have hiked rainforests in Hawaii, Costa Rica, and Puerto Rico, glaciers in New Zealand and Iceland, 14ers in Colorado and Death Valley's deserts. I hike or snowshoe 6-8 miles (10 km-13 km) 2-3 times weekly in the Cooper Mountain range, with other day-long hikes on various other southwest and central Colorado trails. I frequently hike the mountains and deserts of Utah and Arizona as well. My daypack is 18 lb (8 kg); overnights weigh over 25 lb (11 kg). I'm aiming to reduce my weight load by 40% or more.


INITIAL REPORT

PRODUCT INFORMATION & SPECIFICATIONS

Manufacturer: BioLite, Inc.
Year of Manufacture: 2016
Manufacturer's Website: http://www.bioliteenergy.com/
MSRP: US $79.95
Listed Weight:1.6 lb (0.73 kg)
Measured Weight: 1.7 lb (0.77 kg)
Unpacked Dimensions: 8.3 x 4.5 in (21 x 11.4 cm)
Packed Dimensions: 7.8 x 4.5 in (20 x 11.4 cm)
Included: nylon carrying case and a package of firestarters

Warranty: BioLite offers a 1-year limited warranty on all products
BioLite CookStove
BioLite CookStove

DESCRIPTION

"Cook With Wood. Smokeless Flames." No gas canisters needed. Not to be confused with the BioLite CAMPStove, which generates power to charge a USB device. The COOKStove is just for cooking.

It'll be fun to see how this actually works in the field and how easy it is to use. The box says to charge up the unit (which is apparently to run the 4 speed fan motor) and then it'll be good for over 20 hours of cooking. That's based on "300 seconds (5 minutes) per 1 liter (1 quart) for a 100 g (3.5 oz) gas canister" according to the box. Most of the time it takes that long to boil a liter of water on a cook stove, so I'll have to test how these figures pan out (no pun intended).

The box also says:
Speed 1 - Campfire mode for 30 hours
Speed 2 - Simmer mode for 25 hours
Speed 3 - Boil mode for 20 hours
Speed 4 - Turbo mode for 10 hours (wonder when I will need to use this)

The unit is metal. There is no specification I can locate at this time to say what KIND of metal. I need to find this out. Perhaps stainless steel, but not sure.

The unit has 3 fold-out leg supports that appear to make the unit quite stable, but the real test will come with pots and pan being used during cooking.

The rear panel is not grated like the rest of the unit. There is a 1-inch (2.54 cm) square hole for the fan to circulate air in the fire chamber. A bar at the top of the rear side is where the electronic unit hangs. The electronic unit also has a hook at the bottom that latches into a receptacle in the middle leg. When the middle support leg is fully extended, it holds the bottom of the electronic unit firmly in place (although the whole stove does wiggle a little).

The mesh around the rest of the outside appears to be for safety, since the inner chamber is probably going to get really hot.

Since a picture is worth a thousand words (and more clearly understood), here are five thousand words for additional description.
Bottom Legs Folded
CookStove Bottom Legs Folded
Bottom Legs Extended
CookStove Bottom Legs Extended
CookStove Top View
CookStove Top View
CookStove Rear without Fan
CookStove Rear without Fan
Front Fan Control Panel
Front Fan Control Panel


The top has three curved peaks to hold pots and pans.

READING THE INSTRUCTIONS

The instruction manual enclosed with the CookStove is in very tiny print. I need a magnifying glass to read it. Just looking at it made my eyes hurt. After a Google search, I was able to find a readable PDF file hidden on the BioLite website. I was not able to find the file using the website search.

There are several WARNING paragraphs and a few "tips" paragraphs as well which I will not detail here.

But as briefly as possible, BioLite informs me (the user):

1. The CookStove will arrive with the battery partially charged, but I should fully charge the battery pack prior to my first outing using the included USB cord and plugging it into an external power source. When all four LEDs (on the left of the unit) are lit and the top light is solid, charging is complete. This will take about two hours.

2. Next, I should place the battery pack upwards alongside the fuel chamber and slide the pack's hook into the chamber's metal loop. With the legs fully extended to lock the battery pack in place, I need to place the CookStove on level ground in a cleared area - no debris. Then, I should place small, dry fuel ("Fuel" refers to solid biomass, e.g. wood, pine cones, etc.) in the fuel chamber; packed loosely and not blocking the air jets. I should use a long match or the included firestarters to light the fuel. To start the fan on the lowest speed, after ten seconds, I will push the power button twice.

3. During cooking, as the fire builds, more and larger dry fuel can be added. Using the power button to cycle through the four fan settings will optimize the fire.

4. To shutdown, I should allow the fire to burn down to cold ash. To store the stove after the fuel chamber is cool, fold the legs down, remove the battery pack and slide the battery pack into fuel chamber.

5. To clean and maintain, the CookStove, BioLite recommends removing the battery pack from the stove body and wiping down with a damp cloth. All ash should be cleaned from the stove body and the body should be scrubbed with a nylon brush and then dried thoroughly. When I am not using the CookStove, I should keep it in a cool, dry, and well-ventilated place.

SUMMARY

I'll need to see how easy it is going to be to pick up enough small branches to keep the fire going. In some areas we hike in, there are no or few trees.

The next report will be from the trail as we gather wood and start cooking. Please return in mid-December to see how I fared.


FIELD REPORT

FIELD LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS

It's been three months since I wrote my Initial Report on the BioLite CookStove and I'm sad to say, I haven't been able to use it in the field at all in that time period. And not for lack of trying either.

During the last several months, all of my hiking has been day hiking. Now that would not keep me from using a cookstove normally because my wife and I prefer to have a warm meal at lunch especially in the colder weather of a normal winter. We also like an afternoon break of fresh hot tea and a snack. So, on all of our snowshoe and day hiking trips we always have a stove and fuel with us. Normally.

This has not been a "normal" winter. Every single time we have been in the backcountry, either the winds were strong enough to blow us to Kansas or the area we have been hiking in has been under a fire ban. South and central Colorado has been extremely dry and very windy which makes the dry conditions worse. While the ski resort mountain regions have been blessed with lots of snow, our area has seen below normal precipitation.

These fire bans have been Stage 2 regulations, which ban: "Building, maintaining, attending or using a fire, campfire, coal or wood burning stove, any type of charcoal or wood fueled cooking, or open fire of any type at any location."

On FIVE separate treks, I had the CookStove packed up and ready to go but when we got to the trail head, there was the dreaded "No Open Fires" sign posted. Good thing we had some bars and gels packed with us as well as our potential hot lunch. At least we didn't starve..
Highway Fire Ban Sign
Another Hike Doomed

SUMMARY

Fire Ban
We Are Under Fire Ban Right Now! Again!
What I've learned about the BioLite CookStove so far: For me, it's definitely a day hike piece of gear. It takes up too much room and is too heavy to justify for even a weekend backpack (2 nights) and it's limited in use in my usual hiking backcountry due to the potential wild fire hazard and potential legal fees.

I have a couple of day hikes planned for the next couple of weeks and a week-long trip into the snowy mountains at the end of March. I am really hoping to get a half-dozen or so trials of the BioLite CookStove during this time period if Mother Nature cooperates, and will report back around the second week of April. Should be plenty of snow in the Rocky Mountains, so fire danger should be lessened. I'm hoping.

John R. Waters


LONG-TERM REPORT

LONG-TERM TEST LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS

We have taken several long day hikes and two overnight backpacking trips all at high altitudes in Colorado during March and April, 2017. I brought the stove along with me on all of these excursions. On most of these trips I wasn't able to adequately implement the stove during the trip either due to adverse environmental conditions of high winds and fire bands as well as the lack of dry wood. And then sometimes, I just could not get the stove to heat up enough fast enough to work for me.

We have been under fire bans, NO OPEN FLAME alerts almost constantly. I'd hoped that maybe this would stop during this trial period, but it did not. The dryness in all of the counties around us got worse and the wind gusts just continued to blow at speeds higher than 50 mph (81 kmh) most days.

All locations were either in Fremont County, Summit County and Eagle County, Colorado which are all high altitude locations ranging from high plains to scrubby high desert to the higher Rocky Mountain ranges. Most of the time, the climate was very dry, dusty and windy, but we did actively seek out snow for several snowshoe trips, most notably two day hikes on the Colorado Trail near Hoosier Pass and the Continental Trail near Monarch Pass.
Afternoon Tea
Afternoon Tea on the Trail
Snowshoe Trip
Lunch on the Continental Divide

PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD

When I could get the stove lit, the wind would just blow the flame out and/or just blow ashes and smoke around. I was always looking for errant sparks and embers. I certainly would not have started a camp fire on any of the trips we took. Actually, I couldn't without the risk of being fined by a ranger at best, causing a forest fire at worst and even for the sake of "testing", I wouldn't ever violate a fire ban!

When I was trying these trials, I tried using dry kindling and some nearby dry tree branches. It seems I wasn't able to get the proper mix of kindling and firewood. It's not like I've never started a camp fire before. Heck. I even trained firefighters for the Michigan State fire marshal's office. But I found that using the BioLite stove is not as simple as just starting a regular camp fire.

If I put kindling on the bottom, lit it and added small twigs, the fire would burn okay with the fan set on the 2nd level. However, it would burn so quickly, that I would need to keep adding more twigs. Of course, since I would have a cook pot sitting on top, there was no way to see how much wood was left and if I needed to feed more in.

Since it burned quickly, I was constantly removing the cook pot to check. Then I would have to put the cook pot down, get more wood into the chamber, make sure it ignited, then put the cook pot back on the stove. This was time consuming and required too much fuss in my opinion. And the cook pot kept cooling down in-between.

When the fire did burn at its fullest, there was no way to control the height of the flames, and flames would go 3 in (7.5 cm) up the side of the aluminum pot I was using. That is when I was most concerned about flames and so didn't fill the stove all the way up with wood. Of course, not filling the stove meant the wood I did put in was burned up faster and there wasn't enough heat generated to heat 16 oz (1 L) of water in the pot to boiling. After 10 minutes it was barely warm enough for tea and my wife who is very fussy about her tea likes her tea water to be boiling!

These tests were all done above 5600 ft (1700 m) and as high as 11,400 ft (3475 m) in temperatures from 38 to 57 F (3.3 to 13.9 C).

When doing trekking in the winter where we travel, to use a stove like this, I found it is difficult to find dry kindling thicker than 0.25 in (0.64 cm) when the only way to travel is on snow shoes because the snow is 3 or 4 ft (0.91 to 1.22 m) deep. The thin dry kindling burned very quickly and really needs to have some thicker dry kindling to keep the fire going longer. Wet kindling, even if it was thicker, just caused a lot of smoke.

There, sometimes, is some kindling in the tree wells, but nothing that burns slowly. I, finally, did buy a one pound (0.45 kg) bag of wood pellets at the local hardware store rather than relying on finding dry kindling and firewood.

We always brought along a micro gas stove and a canister on each trip and we are glad we did as we had to resort to that more than once before we finally tried wood pellets.

After using the CookStove, I found that it cooled down quickly enough, within 7 or 8 minutes during which we were eating. I always made sure to have a plastic grocery store type of bag to wrap the stove in after use (and cooling down, of course). Even after carefully discarding the residue (see picture below), the stove would be very sooty and the plastic bag kept everythng else in my pack from getting sooty as well.
Fire!
Yes! Fire!
Residue
Residue from Fire

The CookStove does take up a significantly larger space in my backpack than other stove and fuel canister combinations I have used. On a long trip (weeklong or more) though that space difference becomes less of an issue when more than one fuel canister is needed.

SUMMARY

This was probably the most frustrating product I have ever had to field review. My reports have been very late, partially due to extremely dry and windy weather conditions as I tried to wait out the fire bans and high winds, but also because I believe there is a steep learning curve to get this item to perform well.

I would suggest spending a lot of time with it in the backyard with different sizes of kindling and wood fuel or risk getting stuck on the trail with nothing to eat. Using the wood pellets is a depleting weight load, but, again, I suggest getting some and spending time working with the stove before taking it out on the trail and relying on it for getting a hot meal.

The concept of the stove is a noble one and it is certainly preferable safety-wise to a traditional open campfire in using natural fuel sources, I think. But in my experience, sadly it just didn't work well for me.

This concludes my BioLite Cookstove field testing. Thank you to BioLite and BackpackGearTest.org for the opportunity to try out the BioLite CookStove.

John R. Waters

This report was created with the BackpackGearTest.org Report Writer Version 1.5 Copyright 2017. All rights reserved.

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