BioLite Stove Review: Now We’re Cooking With Wood

My wife Julia and I have used a BioLite stove on our latest car camping trip. Who knew you could use twigs and pine cones to boil pasta and charge your phone? In this post, I review the BioLite cook stove. Read on to learn if cooking and charging your phone with a wood-fired stove might work on your next camping or road trip.

Our BioLite cookstove. Here, in Maximum Overdrive Liftoff mode. In this photo, I have just lit the stove and the internal fan is cranked all the way up. There’s a lot less flame once things have settled down.
Our rig, a 2015 Subaru Crosstrek towing our homemade gypsy wagon. Well, it was until the crash, which is a whole different story. You can get Julia’s take on why we’re stranded in an RV park now in Susanville, Oregon right here.

You Gotta Eat Right on the Road

When you’re out rambling the country in your camper, whether it’s a homemade rig like ours or a giant RV with 4 slideouts, it’s tempting to fill your stomach and gas tank at the same time. Eating on the go is fine but it’s hell on your budget and guts so Julia and I try to avoid it.

Before heading out on our current road trip we loaded up a footlocker with staple foods and simple cooking equipment. That way, we could cook most of our meals on the road instead of eating meals at restaurants and gas stations.

The footlocker that serves as our food chest. The locker is made of pine and was found on the side of the road by one of Julia’s close friends. She painted the box and Julia keeps her art supplies in it when it’s not holding coffee, raisins, lentils, olives, onions, garlic, split peas, mustard, pecans, and cheese.
The footlocker doubles as our table
The complete package: wood stove, foot locker, and our vardo camper. We were the only people in this RV park that cooked their meals on a wood stove. Supper that night was pasta with garlic from our garden. (Ontario, Oregon)

The Camp Stoves I’ve Used

I’ve traveled and cooked a lot on camp stoves. Past trips include riding a mule from the Atlantic to Pacific Oceans, driving a wagon from Canada to the border with Mexico and also across Newfoundland. Eating well on the road is important to me, so I always carry a camp stove on my trips and go to lengths to prepare good meals.

In the past, I’ve cooked my meals on gasoline stoves, either an ancient Optimus Ranger 8R or an MSR Whisperlite. They’re both great stoves. I prefer the Whisperlite because it’s more reliable. On this trip, I decided to bring along my BioLite wood stove.

The BioLite stove. Here, cooking a piece of cheese I sliced off a wheel of cheese our friends Susannah West and her husband Cyril gave us. Susannah is an author, equestrian and life coach. Read more about her work with horses at torchlighttraining.net.

The BioLite burns small pieces of wood in a stainless steel burning chamber. The burning chamber contains a fan and rings of holes. This makes for efficient combustion. The stove also contains a TEG (thermo electric generator) that makes electricity. The electricity is stored in a small battery in the stove housing. This electricity can be used to charge phones, headlamps, and other light-duty electronic devices equipped with a USB fitting.

Using the BioLite to charge my phone.
The BioLite stove was developed to provide clean cooking and energy generation for people in developing countries. It comes with an LED light. The stove charges an internal battery while it is in use. Here, I am using the stove’s LED to light up our gypsy wagon.
The luxury life: Julia reads in the wagon as the BioLite keeps things bright inside

Why We’re Cooking With a Wood Stove

Julia and I go on long-distance saddle trips. We’ve ridden mules out our front gate and spent six weeks riding from our home in western North Carolina to Virigina and back. A while back, I rode my mules Brick and Cracker from our home 2,300 miles to Idaho.

Riding the Virginia Creeper trail . Julia is riding Dusty and leading Brick. Mule Polly is bringin up the rear. (outside Damascus, Virginia)

We’ve used MSR Whisperlite stoves on these trips and they work great. A quart of gasoline is enough for us to cook two meals a day for a week. On our next trip, though, we want to head into the backcountry. That means we won’t be able to buy gasoline every week to keep our cook stove going. The BioLite stove, because it burns wood, would let us gather fuel as we went. This would let us stay much longer in the backcountry on our next saddle trip.

Wood Stove Fuel

The BioLite stove burns twigs, branches, pinecones, bark, and grass. On our current trip, I brought along a box full of short pieces of wood for fuel. Along the way, I’ve scrounged the places we’ve camped for additional wood. I still have as much wood as I started out with. It turns out there’s fuel everywhere if you know what you’re looking for. So far, we’ve burned cottonwood twigs in Wyoming, juniper and redwood in Oregon, and ponderosa pine splits in California.

I’ve learned that the best sticks for burning are four inches long and the size of your pinkie. Anything bigger takes longer to ignite and anything smaller burns too quickly. Not that that’s a big deal. You’ll just spend a bit more time tending the flame.

My box of kindling
East coast wood and West coast wood. I’ve added to my firewood collection on this trip as I’ve gone along.
The hatchet I use to chop stovewood. It’s over 100 years old and belonged to my grandfather who lived in Switzerland. He’d be proud I was using it but appalled at how rusty it’s gotten. At least I keep it sharp.

What’s it Like to Cook on a Wood-fired Stove?

Cooking on a wood-fired stove is the same as cooking on a gasoline stove like an MSR Whisperlite. The flame makes direct contact with the bottom of the skillet so if you’re sauteing you may have to lift the pan off the flames to keep whatever you’re cooking from scorching. Boiling water on a BioLite is the same as boiling it on a gas range. It’s hard to burn water.

Cowboy coffee: we don’t use a filter or press to make coffee on the BioLite Stove. We boil the water, dump in ground coffee, and wait until the froth goes down. The grounds fall to the bottom of the pot and we pour the coffee into mugs.
The burning chamber: here, burning juniper we picked up outside Bend, Oregon
The digital read out: (L – R) Temperature, fan speed and battery charge
Hot coffee and breakfast cereal. The Pear Fig preserve was a gift from our friends Susannah and Cyril, the same friends who gave us the cheese.

The Pros and Cons of Cooking on a BioLite Wood Stove

Julia and I think you shouldn’t have to spend a lot of money to travel. We travel in a homemade gypsy wagon pulled by the same car we run errands with. We also think it’s important to eat well while we’re on the road. For us, that means cooking as much of our own food and eating out as little as possible. The BioLite stove lines up with what matters to us on our travels. I’ve enjoyed using our BioLite stove on our current trip and look forward to using it on our next long-distance horse and mule voyage.

While I enjoy wood gathering, I understand it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. Cooking on the BioLite is more work than cooking on a regular camp stove because you have to feed it a steady diet of little sticks. It’s also smokier, something that might bother some people.

Here are the pros and cons of the BioLite stove:

Pros:

  • Fuel is available almost everywhere
  • The internal battery can be used to charge phones and other devices with a USB connector
  • Stove can be used for months in the back country
  • Offered with an LED light that makes cooking at night a treat

Cons:

  • Can be smokey to use
  • Heavier and bulkier than a lightweight gasoline camping stove
  • Needs constant fueling
  • Limited 12-volt charging capacity

More on BioLite Stoves

More about the BioLite stove at BioLite Energy (https://www.bioliteenergy.com/collections#campstove-family)

No, I don’t get a kickback from BioLite if you order one of their stoves.

What’s Your Experience Cooking on Wood-fired Camp Stoves?

What’s been your experience cooking on wood camp stoves, whether the BioLite or any of the other wood-fueled stoves out there? Leave me your thoughts where it says Leave a Reply (at bottom of page). I always enjoy hearing from fellow pyromaniacs travelers who like to cook and heat with wood.

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[…] in Mullen, Nebraska Home cookin’ on the road. Julia and I enjoy camp cooking. We use a BioLite stove that uses wood instead of propane or gasoline for fuel. Here, I’m boiling water for coffee. I […]

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[…] Julia and I went back to our camper and cooked supper. Supper was homegrown garlic sautéed in olive oil with lentils and spinach salad, all cooked on our BioLite wood-fired stove. […]

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