Here’s the real verdict. Me, Stuart Reid, out cooking up a storm with the BioLite Campstove 2. I’m putting this new-and-improved version of the CampStove through its paces, to find out just how tasty it is.
Sometimes you wake up on a weekend morning just knowing that it’s going to be a good day. I made that first coffee and gulped it down, eager to escape to the hills for a kit-test whilst the weather held.
With threatening skies overhead and frost on the hills, I headed to Dovestone Reservoir on the edge of the glorious Peak District. We'd had several dry days, so there was plenty of decent wood to find for fuel. On this day, though, the weather was massively changeable and the blustery winds would put up a challenge. Could BioLite deliver a steady flame and enough heat to cook lunch on an autumnal British day?
They have certainly delivered in terms of compact design. Despite all its bells-and-whistles, the CampStove is no bigger than a normal gas stove. It fit easily into my 20-litre daysack. It only weighs around a kilogram as well, so it poses no problem for a general day hike. You’d have to be doing serious mileage to start resenting the weight.
After I’d stretched my legs for a few miles I found a suitable, semi-flat area close to the water’s edge. There was plenty of flat ground and the fold-out legs sat firmly in the gravel. It was a dry day, so there was plenty of dry wood to burn. To the casual passer-by, I may have looked like a wild man of the woods, foraging for fuel.
The CampStove bundle includes the unit itself, a KettlePot for boiling, a grilling tray and a touch-sensitive light. So, once I’d found enough natural fuel, I had everything that I needed for heating, grilling food and boiling water. On top of this the fire’s thermoelectrical charge is converted into power that can charge your gadgets. And though I was out in the middle of the day, had it been night I could have used the light to brighten up my evening.
One of the most enjoyable features of the CampStove is using sustainable fuel that is just lying around. Twigs and dry dead wood are fine but, top tip, I found the best fuel was dried pine cones. I’d squirreled a few of these away a few days before and dried them out for the test. They worked a treat.
Hunting down and burning wild fuel may take a little more time than the flick of a switch on a gas-burning stove, but there is a primeval thrill in building a fire. I felt like a young Ray Mears with my flint and steel in action.
As mentioned, the CampStove has plenty of functions. My favourite, however, and perhaps the most innovative, is the Thermoelectric Generator that turns heat into power. Being able to charge from the USB point is great. The LED display also tells you exactly how battery life is left and how much charge is left in the unit.
Left alone, the main hub is reported to hold battery charge for up to six months. I haven’t had it that long, but it was certainly encouraging that I was able to charge two smart phones to full and still have plenty of power left.
Next, the taste test. I turned to that great British standard: a pack of sausages. The results were great; the sausages cooked quickly because of the constant heat, and the flames licking over the top added the right amount of smoky, BBQ flavour. I probably looked a little strange sitting with my back against a rock, chomping on a sausage butty whilst other hikers walked past. I dare say it must have smelt pretty good though and I got a few envious looks.
Providing I kept the stove well-stoked, controlling the temperature was a simple task of changing the fan speeds, which is easy to do using a simple push button. This lets you pump a variable level of oxygen into the flames, and makes the whole experience feel closer to cooking on a stove at home.
(It also bears mentioning that the CampStove is easy to clean. When it has cooled down, simply add some warm water and use a scrubbing brush to wash away the minimal mess.)
By the time I’d finished lunch the stove had cooled down naturally. It’s important that you let this happen; rapid cooling isn’t recommended. I disposed of the ashes by digging a pit, tipping out the ashes and covering with water and soil. It all felt very natural and little bit cave man-ish (which was nice!)
Obviously, there are a lot of stoves out there. But BioLite's competes with the best of them in terms of weight and design. When you get to functionality there’s nothing that can touch it. Above all of that though, is the sheer pleasure you get from combining the modern and the prehistoric in building your fire from natural fuels. Granted, if you are looking for something that will boil water in the quickest possible time, then a straightforward gas stove may be technically faster. But with the CampStove you’ll never have to worry about whether you’ve got enough gas.
If you want the atmosphere of a campsite: a circle of friends, beer in hand, cooking food over flames. Imagine how much better that feeling is when you’ve fuelled the fire.