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The BioLite Campstove considered

Sunday, August 18th, 2013

Biolite Stove - making tea

Making tea on the Biolite Campstove

I picked up a BioLite Campstove this spring and have taken it on two short tours around Washington State: 4 day tour around SW Washington and a week+ trip to Victoria BC. I wouldn’t consider this extensive testing by any means but I can certainly offer my impressions so far.  Let me set the stage first: so far I always tour solo, self-contained and do fairly ambitious cooking. That is to say I’m not just boiling water, I’ll actually cook things where it may take a long time (like rice say), you are pretty active in the minding the cooking (like a stir fry) or you need temperature control (something like oatmeal, or the rice, etc).  I’ve been using alcohol stoves since I’ve been touring and I’m a pretty diehard Trangia fan since picking one of those up a couple years back. I also have been experimenting with electronics and charging systems for most of my tours. These experiments I’ve pretty well documented in these two posts on my blog: charging systems and charging systems revisited.

One of my recent touring goals has been one reducing overall dependency on services. Two aspects of that IMO are buying fuel and charging devices. So the BioLite seemed to offer solutions to those problems. Now as always I’ve done my research and knew that the BioLite is not going to offer much charging unless you just sat there feeding the fire for hours. However in my experience if you are serious about charging stuff what you want is an external battery and you should always keep that charged. You also should keep your devices charged as well instead of running it all the way down. The goal should be to be able to only drain your batteries in a give day as much as you can recharge in a typical day. That is if you use 10% of your smartphone battery per day you should be able to charge it 10%. So anything that offers additional charging along with its primary function is an advantage – if and only if it does the primary function well.

Biolite Stove - cooking soba

Cooking soba noodles with tofu and veg

So how does the BioLite work for cooking? I have to say not bad.  I made soba noodles the both times I used it, which is a pretty go to dish for me. However it’s not one that demands a lot of temperature control. I mean its nice to turn down your stuff once the water is boiling so it doesn’t boil over but you can deal.  You can control the fan speed on the BioLite between high and low and that gives you a rough temperature control. You also as you use it build up coals inside and you actually can have a nice lower temp burn up going.  But it’s hard to keep it at that. This is because you need to constantly feed the stove. It’s small – which is good cause otherwise you wouldn’t tour with it – but that means it doesn’t hold much wood.  For pure boiling of water from my kettle it pretty much kicked ass, at least as fast as my Trangia with kettle.

I have a style where I tend to either setup or take down my camp while cooking (if the food prep isn’t too demanding). This is true in the morning especially where I always make oat bran and coffee and can pretty much have all my gear beyond the cooking gear packed by the time breakfast is ready. This is much more difficult with the BioLite.  Since I used my Trangia cookset with the BioLite I carried it packed with the alcohol burner me and used it for breakfast cooking.

Biolite Stove - getting the water boiling

Getting the water boiling water for my Soba noodles

So my thoughts on this is that the best way to use the BioLite is to carry another stove, one that ideally fits in your cookset and thus isn’t much more bulk. One could carry less fuel in this case –  basically one bottle of HEET being the typical minimal amount I can buy. One would want to use the BioLite as much as you could but in the cases where you find no twigs – say in grassland type camping – or where you don’t want to feed the fire, or are in a rush you use your other stove.  This does bring up the last point worth mentioning. The BioLite is pretty heavy and bulky as far as it goes. Since you have to carry at least some sort of cookset along with it, your space for your cooking gear is a lot bigger. If you could use it exclusively the weight savings on carrying fuel would I think be pretty close but the bulk is unavailable. In multi-person groups I think a lot of these problems would be alleviated – the bulk is less of an issue, someone needing to constantly mind the stove is less of an issue, carrying a backup is less of an issue.

Biolite Stove - charging an external battery

Using the Biolite to charge an external battery pack

I did use it to charge my external battery on my first time using it and it worked fine. But I’d need to do a lot more experimenting with it to say how much I’d count on charging in a typical cook session. Unless you just barely use your devices I wouldn’t count on it to keep your stuff charged. But if you have another system (generator, solar or frequent mains access) it certainly will help. I did not end up using it to charge on it’s second outing as I’d forgotten my iPhone USB cable (D’oh!) and that was the only device I’d really run down. It can’t charge the iPad, hence the external battery which it CAN charge, but I think it’d be perfect for “topping off” a smartphone which I’ve come to realize the trick to self-charging devices on tour.

Biolite Stove - getting the fire going

Getting the fire going

I suppose it’s also worth noting that this is a fire you are cooking over. So there is smoke, soot and flames.  I rarely made campfires in camp myself but I do enjoy them. The BioLite does give you a nice, easy to make fire for that purposes. But you do smell like smoke and your cookgear gets a lot more dirty. As noted you also really go through the little sticks and it’s worth trying to get larger ones going after the fire is well and truly burning. I gathered a much larger supply on my second use of the stove and still found myself running through them by the time I was done.  For me I’d have to gather a pretty good stash the night before if I wanted to cook breakfast with the stove.

Anyway as I use it more I’ll post some more experiences.  In the end I think it works as advertised but there are a lot of things to consider. But this is the case with any cooking gear so everyone will have to decide what the tradeoff and benefits they are willing to make.


Note: I always intended to review the Biolite Stove here, but I ended up writing a long post over on the Adventure Cycling forums after my first use of the stove which I’ve based this post on.

April Overnighter

Saturday, April 27th, 2013

April Overnight Day 1 - Atlantis, loaded for bear

Atlantis, loaded for camping

The end of April graced us with several spectacular days. Around noon on the 24th I decided that I was going to go on an overnighter up at Potlatch State Park, which I had been to on my 2011 tour and knew wasn’t too epic of a route.  So began a flurry of packing and prepping  and by 2:45 I was on the road. A brief stop at a downtown Olympia grocery store and I was on the road.

April Overnight Day 1 - End of Puget Sound

Mud Bay

Day 1
It being mid-afternoon when I hit the road it was pretty much at peak temperature in the low 70s (F). I was riding in as light of clothing as I ever do – seersucker shirt, shorts, sandals – which is so nice.  This route is a pretty familiar one for me having ridden parts of it on three different tours and various other parts in my rides around Olympia over the last year. I still had Google Maps generate me a route to see what it would suggest. It had more options off of the highways, which while adding some miles made for some nicer riding.  However as seems to be increasingly the case it had some quirks to it.  The first of these was just past Mud Bay where it routed me over hwy 101 and toward what was labeled as a dead end road. Now it looks like you can get into the Capitol Forest and wander around on logging roads and trails and make it back to 101 a few miles up the road, but not an even remotely reasonable route fully loaded and without a lot of time. So I took 101 on that stretch but did take advantage of Google Maps routing through Shelton.  This added a few miles and did put me on some busy county roads but still nice to be off 101.  Going through downtown Shelton I noted that it had been rather built up since I’d last been here. There was a brewpub and more coffee houses and touristy sort of places. Nice to see.

April Overnight Day 1 - Google maps routed me up this

Google maps routed me up this trail out of Shelton

Google Maps then threw me another monkey wrench.  From downtowan Shelton there is a serious climb out from the sea level town back up to 101.  I’d ridden up that hill fully loaded (and with serious knee problems) on my 2007 tour) but Google Maps instead put me on a trail up.  The trail up Library Hill turned out to be a dirt path with a series of switchbacks. I pushed my bicycle up which might have been about as much effort as riding the road up the hill. At least there was no traffic.  Back on the bicycle it was back roads through this part of Shelton and then onto 101.

April Overnight Day 1 - Olympic Mountains in the Distance

Olympic Mountains in the Distance on hwy 101

It was magic hour now, with the sun dipping behind the Olympic Mountains.  101 at this point is a two lane highway and really pretty decent riding.  Its mostly downhill to Hood Canal and I made good time. I arrived at Potlatch State Park a bit after 7pm to find one other party camping, plus the campground host.  Half or more of the campground was closed for the season including the section with the bulk of the hiker/biker sites. There was one in the open loop so I moved in and setup camp. As per usual I cooked as I setup and within 10-15 minutes of completing my setup was eating Green Curry Noodles. Nice thing about an overnighter is you can put together a meal at home, ready for cooking at camp.

April Overnight Day 1 - Full moon over the Hood Canel

Full moon
shimmering in the water —
the purr of the frogs

By the time I’d finished cleaning up, it was dark and a beautiful full moon had risen over the hills. I walked down to the water and enjoyed views of the moon, reflected in the water.  It was cooling down, but it was a nice early spring evening. Soon enough I retired to my tent for reading and such before sleep.

I rode 41.9 miles on this day.

April Overnight day 2 - Campsite

Old trees in Potlatch State Park


Day 2
I was in the tent reading when another camping showed up. He came in, parked and then walked around camp looking for his spot before relocating there. With nearly the entire campground empty he chose to move into the one space between myself and the one other group of campers. Odd. I’d only taken this spot as it was the only H/B site; personally I like a little more space between campers when I can take it.  Still not so bad as there was a big space between my site and his. I slept all right though it eventually got colder than my gear is really rated for. Even though the day was in the 70s (F) the night still got down to the uppers 30s (F).  In the morning I performed my usual tour routing of cooking breakfast as I packed up.

April Overnight day 2 - Old trees

Old trees in Potlatch State Park

Doing a spur of the moment trip like this you are bound to forget something.  Well I had forgotten my coffee mug which of course also has my coffee filter in it.  So as I had ridden out here I kept stopping at stores and gas stations until I found a place that sold a metal mug.  I also grabbed a couple of coffee filters from a gas station and thus was able to make coffee is not as nice as I’m used to. My usual oat bran with dried cranberries and walnuts accompanied said coffee.  Not being at all in a rush on this day I leisurely enjoyed my breakfast, reading the news on my iPad (which I also didn’t have to worry about keeping charged).  I washed up and finished packing and now I was ready to go.

April Overnight day 2 - Beach

The tide is out in the Sound

But as I noted I had plenty of time so taking my coffee with me I walked down to the seashore.  I walked on the beach and sat in the sun and just generally enjoyed being on the water on a nice sunny day. I sat on a picnic table and worked on my journal and read from a book of Chinese poetry. This poem struck me on this day:

Passing Rushfields
-Ching An

Where the willow shade is deep…
the water chestnut flourishes.
Endless, silver sands…
where the tide’s retreated.
Thatched booths with wine flags flapping
tell me there’s a market town nearby.
A whole mountain of red leaves:
a girl child carries kindling.

April Overnight day 2 - pink flower

Wildflowers in the woods

From the beach I returned to the campground and then into the woods. There was a system of trails behind the campground, the entrance just south of my site.  I didn’t want to take an epic hike, but I did want to get out into the woods. I’d bought a pair of trail runner shoes and part of the goals of this trip was to see how I’d like them. I felt they worked well in keeping sand and stones out and were fine on the trails.  They are supper light and compact well so seem like a good addition to my kit.  The woods were pleasantly cool with wildflowers blooming.  It was getting toward noon and I wanted to get to Shelton for lunch, so I presently set off.

April Overnight day 2 - wetlands

Lowland wetlands before the climb up to Shelton

April Overnight day 2 - Porter at the Grove Stree BrewhouseIt was a lot more uphill riding to return to Shelton, but this time I didn’t have any time pressures. I stopped frequently checking out trees and streams and waterfalls. There is just an absolutely fantastic section of 101, that climbs for about 2 miles along a stream.  Old, moss laden trees surround this babbling brook and traffic aside it is just a pleasant, pretty stretch. From there it opens up and I was able to duck off the highway and take backroads to Shelton — including riding the steep road down Library Hill bypassing the dirt trail. I’d seen the Grove Street brewhouse as I’d ridden through Shelton the day prior and I made a beeline for it.  I had very good veggie sandwich accompanied by a Golden IPA which was refreshing and citrusy and a classic porter rather in an Anchor Porter vein. A nice break before hitting the road again.

April Overnight day 2 - Olympics behind Shelton

Olympic Mountains behind Shelton

Getting out of Shelton of course meant climbing a big hill on the south side, but it had a decent shoulder and at the top was a scenic overlook where you could see the while town with the mountains behind it and the sound in front of it. From here it was a short ride back to 101.  Once again I alternated with frontage roads and riding on the highway.  101 has a big shoulder and a well placed rumble strip so it really is pretty easy, if not super pleasant, riding. I was always happy when I was on the frontage roads which often wended well away from the highway and was in trees, pastureland and crossed several streams.

April Overnight Day 1 - Wending through the streets of Olympia

Wending through the streets of Olympia

I was definitely feeling the warmth and the several days of riding and was pretty tired when I made it back to Mud Bay.  The return trip has more climbing which at least for this trip was preferable – I was in a rush getting to camp but able to take my time returning. It was even hotter today than the day before, but the low 70s (F) is just perfect riding and nothing to complain about.  Soon enough though I was back at Mud Bay and the long climb back up to Olympia. I made a detour to a store for some dinner supplies and then made my way home. I was back before 6pm, a bit beyond a rigid S24O but still in the ballpark. Less than 30 hours for the whole trip and a good time was had.

36.4 miles ridden today
78.3 miles total for this trip.
Check out all of my pictures from this trip in this Flickr set: April Overnighter.

An efficient use of space

Wednesday, January 16th, 2013

Touring Kit - An Efficient use of space

Touring Kit - An Efficient use of space

Touring Kit - An Efficient use of space

Touring Kit - An Efficient use of space

Journey to the East: 4 July 2012

Thursday, July 5th, 2012

Fireworks at the Stone Arch bridge, Minneapolis (not my pic)

Celebrate America by blowing up a piece of it
Another day off at my cousins. I’d planned to be out of campgrounds on the fourth so another bit of good timing with my arrival in the Twin Cities. I spent the morning running errands and then working on the bicycle: put on the new wheel, adjusted the brakes and replaced the chain. Also put the panniers back on and replaced the bulk of my stuff. Almost ready to resume touring. After dinner (excellently prepar by my cousin) we went downtown. He gave me a tour of the Mill District and environs and we hung out a bit at an Irish Pub that had Black Butte porter. After that we headed to the Stone Arch Bridge to watch the fireworks. It was crazy crowded and our view was a bit obstructed (hince the photo from Flickr up top) but still got some nice views. Not an overly long show, which with the heat having topped 100 (F) today was just fine. A nice way to celebrate the fourth and a excellent conclusion to my well deserved long break in the Twin Cities.

Tomorrow’s Song (excerpt)

The USA slowly lost its mandate
in the middle and later twentieth century
it never gave the mountains and rivers,
    trees and animals,
      a vote
all the people turned away from it
  myths die; even continents are impermanent
-Gary Snyder

Journey to the East: 3 July 2012

Wednesday, July 4th, 2012


Alexander Calder, The Spinner (1966)

Walker Art Center
Another rest day in the Twin Cities. This one I spent at the Walker Art Center and the associated Minneapolis Scultpure Garden. Really an excellent sculpture park with nice pieces from Alexander Calder, Richard Serra, James Turrell, Sol LeWitt, Isamu Naguchi, Mark di Suvero and many, many more. A nicely laid out garden with most of the pieces fitting in very well. One nice bit was a row of trees in which Pierre Huyghe’s Wind Chimes (after “Dream”) was installed. Right as I walked through it the wind picked up and they all started to chime. This was echoed by the massive peels of church bells from the nearby Basilica of Saint Mary. A lovely sonic experience.


Pierre Huyghe's Wind Chimes (after "Dream") (1997/2009)

The James Turrell lightspace, Sky Pesher, 2005 was the third of this series I’ve experienced and I always love the atmosphere these pieces create. I spent nearly two hours in the garden before the best drove me to the cool interior of the Walker itself. I’ve wanted to visit the Walker for a while and I have to say it lived up to its reputation. Of particular interest to me on this day was two exhibitions highlighting pieces they’d gotten from the Mercentile Cunningham archives. The first of these focusing on the collaboration with Robert Rauschenberg was excellent filled with many of the costumes and sets of absolute classic dances. The other featured a single large piece from Ernesto Neto. A large soft, drooping organic nylon piece that was suspended from the ceiling the gallery also featured video of the dance and music from John Cage.


Ernesto Neto, Otheranimal (2004)

There was really too much other stuff that I looked at to really go into detail here. A poppy, kitchsy, transgressive exhibition curated by John Waters, a very rough, raw and vital set of video installations by the South Korean artist Minouk Kim, a rather uninterested examination of art in then1980s and finally an exhibition of works from the permanent collection thematically arranged around the “dreams and private visions that have given rise to some of the most remarkable art made in the past 150 years. This did indeed have some nice pieces and it was good to see the collection highlighted.


Mark Rothko No. 2 (1963)

Journey to the East: 2 July 2012

Tuesday, July 3rd, 2012


Since I didn't ride today, here's a trail into Minnesota

I’m spending a few days at my cousins in the Maple Grove suburb of Minneapolis. The timing on my arrival was fortuitous as the heat wave that is plaguing the bulk of the nation is in full force here as well. I also was in need of re-upping some supplies, so I spent most this day running errands. I managed to get almost all the things I needed including a new riding shirt as my original Rivendell seersuckers disintegrated on this trip. My rear wheel had become wobbly so I took it in to be trued but it turned out the rim was severely cracked and it needed a rebuild. And of course nobody had a touring quality wheel in stock and what with the Fourth of July holiday one couldn’t be ordered in a timely fashion. After trying three shops the last one did have a decent enough rim and would be able to build me a new wheel by tomorrow. So that was a relief, if an unexpected and unfortunate occurrence. Major thanks to my cousins family for facilitating all this running around.

I also while I’ve been here been uploading photoes every night to the Flickr group. The most recent batch includes Glacier and the crossing of Marias Pass. Check em out here: Tour 2012 Photoset. Below I’ll embed one of these recent uploads.

Tour 2012 Day 35 - macro flower 2

Journey to the East: 1 July 2012

Monday, July 2nd, 2012


Paddleboat on the Saint Croix river in Stillwater, MN

no place to hide from the blazing sun
the water flows by

The days just keep getting hotter and the humidity just saps your soul. Luckily this was a short day prior to a few days off in the Twin Cities. I rode from the Float Rite party zone back into Minnesota – my Wisconsin adventure being quite short lived. There was a short, steep descent down to the Saint Croix river and once across I was back in the land of Ten Thousand Lakes in the quaint town of Stillwater. I spent a bit of time wandering around Stillwater before climbing the massive hill out. I was following a highway but pretty shortly a trail appeared and I rode along the highway separated from the traffic. It wasn’t a flat trail by any stretch but when I turned south onto the Gateway Trail it was much flatter and much more shaded. The trail system in the Minneapolis-St. Paul region is pretty amazing and I just brushed the surface of it. I rode that trail for nearly 10 miles and then wandered through neighborhood streets for a bit. Finally I arrived at Como Park where I’d arranged for my cousin to pick me up. So not a long days ride but with the heat and being in general need of a rest day that was a-okay.

The sun shines wearingly down –
are those vultures circling overhead?

Journey to the East: 30 June 2012

Saturday, June 30th, 2012


Entering Wisconsin

Down in the village
the din of
flute and drum,
here in the mountains
everywhere the sound of the pines

On, Wisconsin
A long, hot exhausting day today. The campgrounds have become sparse on the route and there are none at the terminus of this section of the route, Stillwater, MN. Since I was planning to ride into Minneapolis/St. Paul along the spur route I needed to be as close as possible to Stillwater so as to not make it too much of an epic ride. The route crosses the St. Croix river and then one is in Wisconsin for oh 30 miles or so. The closest campgrounds were slightly off route in Wisconsin so i ended up spending one night in the state. The day was hot, hot and humid and mostly though farmland. This of course is more open and thus more exposed to the scorching sun. Once in Wisconsin the route became hilly, first along the river but then again in open farmland. I missed a turn on the route but it ended up taking me directly to Float Rite Park one of the two camping options. Overheated and worn out I decided to stay here. This turned out be be party oriented ‘ground, literally: they sell booze, have a bar and a band played into the night. I’ve not really seen a ‘ground quite like this. I was put right amongst the throngs but a sympathetic security guard who was interested in my tour suggested I move to a shady spot above the main party area. I gratefully agreed. It was of course loud and crazy but I was away from it all and was tired enough to sleep alright once the band packed it in.

Looking ahead only brings anxiety,
the past is a trap;
dwelling in the present is the way

Journey to the East: 29 June 2012

Friday, June 29th, 2012


Tires eye view

It’s all falling or burning —
     rattle of boulders
     steady dribbling of rocks down cliffs
     bark chips in creeks
Porcupine chased here —
From Tillamook a thousand miles
Soot and hot ashes. Forest fires
Upper Skagit burned I think 1919
Smoke covered all northern Washington.
     lightening strikes, flares,
Blossoms a fire on the hill.
Smoke like clouds. Blotting the sun
Stinging the eyes.
The hot seeds steam underground
     still alive.
-Gary Snyder, from Burning

Those hazy days of summer
It was hot humid and hazy today. The wind off Mille Lacs Lake had blown in thousands of mayflys which where everywhere, though still not their peak a campsite worker assured me. The route was at first along the lake then turned more southeast into more farmland. Still plenty of trees and little lakes and bogs of course, but definitely more fields of young corn. The day had dawned clear blue but then this haze came in and persisted. Listening to Minnesota Public Radio at camp that night I found out that this is smoke from the massive Colorado wildfires. Crazy. It’s just going to get hotter too over the next couple of days. Anyway by late afternoon I’d arrived at the Springvale Campground which in marked contrast to Castaway’s is an excellent private ‘ground. Very low rates for touring cyclists and all the amenities. As the daylight dwindled the hazy sky was painted brilliant shades of orange and pink.

Homeless by choice,
freely wandering this land
living in the moment

Journey to the East: 28 June 2012

Friday, June 29th, 2012


Flooded roads

Ice is civilization.
-Paul Thoreaux, The Mosquito Coast

Walking on water wasn’t built in a day
I fled from the mosquito infested campground without even cooking breakfast and headed to the tiny town of Jacobson where I got my coffee. The locals there told me the flooding had my the genially bad mosquito situation worse. Signs of the flooding she everywhere with rivers running to the edge of the roads, portions of resorts under water, access roads closed and so on. I rode through these flooded wood lined lakes and rivers in the morning and then after a more real breakfast at the Roasting House I turned westward. The road was marked as closed but rode past the barrier and soon found out why. A good stretch, maybe 1/3 of a mile was fully underwater and the current indicating more ws still coming in. I rode through the flooded section, the water reached up beyond the bottom of my front panniers. The rode turned due west which in some sort of cosmic injustice the wind had finally returned to coming out of. So another 15 miles or so of he’s wind before turning. This last stretch before Aitkin was in more open land near the Mississippi and signs of flooding where again everywhere. Pretty highly trafficked road and with little shoulder and sidewinds not much fun. In Aitkin, where I’d planned to stay for the night, the campground was flooded and closed, so I just pressed on.


Sunset over Mille Lacs Lake

Pretty hot ride in the late afternoon, but away from the lakes and rivers at first. Also some altitude was gained, but about all I think at least until after the Twin Cities. Thankfully the route returned to the woods and larger lakes appeared. As did resorts and campgrounds and I finally settled at Castaway’s Campground just outside of Malmo, MN on Mille Lacs Lake. The most expensive campground to date and not much to justify said expense. Methinks they are jouking the fishermen. Still talked to some good people here as has been the case generally in Minnesota. Ended up riding over 80 miles today; the longest ride to date.

The waters
of the flooded roadway
are cool against my feet