Charge Your Mobile Device with a Campfire

New products harness heat to charge electronics anywhere

Until now, backpackers divided cooking equipment and power solutions into two totally separate equipment categories, but two new devices debuting this summer brilliantly combine these disparate gear needs into single products.

Both the BioLite CampStove and the PowerPot V use thermoelectric technology to convert heat into the 5-volt energy needed to charge most USB-compatible electronics. Although they’re both based on the same thermoelectric principle, each design takes a unique approach in form and function.

The first product is a complete self-contained stove, while the other integrates the thermodynamic element into a 1.9-liter cooking pot that weighs less and packs down smaller, but still requires a separate source of heat.

The $129 BioLite CampStove (above) folds down to about the size of a Nalgene bottle—8.25 inches tall by 5 inches wide—and contains a piggyback generator module that houses a fan and small battery. The battery powers the fan in the same way a starter motor first up a car, and once the CampStove is up to running speed, just like your car's alternator, it brings the battery back up to a full charge.

Simply feed the little BioLite with small sticks or pinecones, and the company claims the stove will boil a liter of water in less than five minutes, and it will charge small electronic devices for as long as you keep the fire fed. Twenty minutes of burn/charge time equals an hour of talk time. At 2.1 pounds, it's nearly twice as heavy as the PowerPot (shown below), but it includes the stove element.

The $149 PowerPot takes a slightly different approach by building its thermoelectric module directly into a lightweight 1.9-liter aluminum pot. The pot itself measures 4.5 inches in diameter by 5 inches deep, and it can be filled with other gear to economize space in your pack. The pot itself weighs 12 ounces, and the whole package (fire-resistant USB cable, voltage regulator and lid) tips the scales at just 19 ounces, or about 1.2 pounds. Not the lightest pot by far—but far from dead weight. For reference, a standard MSR Whisperlite camp stove weighs 14.5 ounces, costs $80, and the only thing it charges is your wallet when you buy more fuel. That said, It'll burn on anything and has a proven track record in the field.

Indeed these devices are so new we’ll have to wait for real-world product reviews to start trickling in, but the technology is undeniably exciting and the devices offer a clear alternative to portable solar chargers, which can be fickle, or the need to pack along an external power source.

Beyond selling stoves to the outdoor gear market, both companies show an interest in applying their technology to benefit the 3 billion people throughout the world who regularly cook on open fires, many of whom may have cell phones but lack a reliable power supply to charge them with. BioLite makes a larger product called the HomeStove, which offers a family-sized solution, burns cleaner and more efficiently than an open hearth fire, and can charge multiple USB devices at once. The PowerPot folks, meanwhile, offer a buy-one/give-one program, which gives altruistic shoppers the chance to donate a $149 PowerPot to a recipient in a developing nation for only $100 more.