The BioLite camp stove is probably one of my favorite pieces of gear that we have. I like food, and I love cooking and not just cooking but really delving into flavor and texture combinations. Without a stove, this would still be possible but just very different. We decided to go with a wood burning stove, even though it is heavier and more cumbersome than some of its gas fueled counterparts because in the long run, cost efficiency is necessary for us, and wood is generally everywhere and free. It does present a number of challenges like how to perk a pot of coffee when it's raining, if you didn't collect wood before it rained-how do you work with wet wood, and, one we've not yet encountered: how to cook when no open fires are permitted. Originally, we planned to obtain a small gas burner as a backup which would solve essentially all of these problems. This plan is still in place, however, on the backburner (haha) at the moment.
The campstove is 2 parts: a double-walled aluminum cylinder, which I also refer to as a canister, with some holes spaced along the inner layer and a battery pack. The yellow battery also houses a fan and has a copper rod coming out of it which fits into a hole in the aluminum component and is held in place by one of the three folding legs which are on the bottom of the cylinder. Once you've got a bit of a fire started, you turn on the fan which feeds the flame the necessary oxygen in a vortex pattern through the holes in the inner wall of the cylinder, the flame gets bigger as you add more fuel which heats the copper rod which transfers that heat to a thermoelectric generator where it is converted into electricity to charge the battery and power the fan...which is feeding the flame...that is powering the battery. So you can see by now how this is a brilliant piece of technology. But wait! There's more!
When the generator is receiving enough heat and the battery has enough charge, you can charge devices from a built in USB port. While this feature is great, and probably a selling point for many, we've found that unless you have a lot of time and a lot of wood, it's not really an effective method for charging something fully. It's a nice little extra that could just save your life. When perking coffee, I'll gain maybe 3-5% of a charge on my iPhone5, but while cooking a meal that has 3 or 4 things in it (steamed vegetables, rice, chicken patties, soup) I can gain about 9-12% of a charge. Your mileage may vary. Some precautions to take when using the stove are to find as level and stable a surface as you can and to always keep the battery upwind of the aluminum cylinder. This will keep the battery cooler and extend its overall lifespan.
As with many things, there is a learning curve to concocting the perfect gourmet 5 course dinner on a single wood burner, but I assure you that with plenty of preparation, a little patience, and some practice, it is certainly possible! We practiced with eggs and coffee before we left Indianapolis, and I'm really glad we did because starting that first fire was a strain on my patience. With such things, I like to remind myself that I wasn't born knowing how to walk, and I've really gotten good at that by now, so in time, this too will become easy. And it really has become easy, I can whip out the stove and perk up a pot of coffee before you can say "cream 'n' sugar"! As long as the wood is dry, that is. Damp wood can be very frustrating to work with. Thankfully, we've never run completely out of wood before having to use damp wood, so when I have had to use it, I at least had some dry to start out with. I can't emphasize enough the importance of collecting and keeping dry wood when you are depending on it for your heated food.
While we were camping at the Davisdale Nature Conservation Area outside Rocheport, MO, I came up with a decent solution to help minimize the efffects of damp wood. When you are done using the stove and turn off the fan, the fan might turn itself back on again to keep the battery from overheating. After a time, it will turn itself back off again. I assume this is done using a sensor. Even after the fan is off, there will still be some coals at the bottom of the canister. I was in desperation at Davisdale: water had soaked through the bottom of our tent, seeped into my water resistant sleeping bag through the zipper, it had rained hard at night and drizzled solidly all morning until 11:00 or so, and I hadn't left the tent since the night before, so I was becoming rather miserable. I had collected and kept dry enough wood for coffee and also lunch, but there was so much humidity absorbed by the wood that the fire was hard to start and difficult to maintain. Damp wood smokes a LOT, so it was in this situation that I was pining for a gas burner. Pining, no matter how genuine or strong, will not conjure a gas burner, so it was either figure something out and work with what you've got or go without. Well, me being me, I flung myself straight in that challenge and would not give up, no matter how much thick smoke blew into my face. Go ahead and suggest I sit upwind of the flame if you like, it would not have mattered in this situation. The wind was very shifty--like it owed me money and I was like, "hey where's my money?" and it didn't have it.
I'm getting off the point. The solution I found is not perfect, but I think it certainly helped more than if I hadn't done it at all. What I did was collect some damp wood, having used up most of the dry wood aforementioned, and stuck it into the canister of the stove after having made a pot of coffee and lunch so the heat of the coals left in the bottom would help to dry out some of the moisture. I occasionally flipped the sticks to put the other end in and noticed that the ends now facing upwards were slightly blackened and had embers burning, so it was obviously working. I decided to leave many twigs upright in the canister and think of it as a functional bouqet thinking that keeping the twigs upright would also better expose them to circulating air thus helping them dry more than if I hadn't. The operative phrase here is "more than if I hadn't" the air was so damp and the ground so saturated all along the river that I'm not sure that I had one easy fire the whole time we rode along the Missouri river, but the day after that downpour at Davisdale, even if the twig bouqet didn't make any difference, I think I wanted to believe that it did. I didn't really get to see the experiment through because it started sprinkling again soon at which point I decided to accept what I had and put it under the tarp for later use.
In using this wood, I am certainly very glad that we had a good stockpile of dry wood, but it was dwindling, so I worked with it, and every task took longer, and the wood smoked a lot more than it burned, but by the end of it, we didn't have to go without coffee, a hot lunch, or a hot dinner. I joked that we were having smoked coffee that day because, even if the wood isn't burning much, smoke is still hot and there was enough intermittent flame to get the job done. What I ended up doing was using about 1 dry log for every 2 damp logs. My person and clothes were well bathed in smoke after all was said and done, but, like I said, we had hot meals that day, and it was worth the struggle.