There are two ways to cook while camping: build a fire and grill burgers or hot dogs, or bring a propane stove and cook plenty more. The former feels like what camping should be, but it takes a while and is unpredictable. The latter gives you more options and is faster, but you have to deal with propane and—admit it—it kind of feels like cheating.
The BioLite Basecamp ($200) straddles those options by allowing you to grill your burgers over a self-contained, wood-burning stove. As opposed to a typical campfire, the Basecamp purposefully focuses the heat from the burning wood directly onto its hibachi-style cooking surface, making camp cooking more efficient and predictable. And because it burns wood, you don’t have to deal with propane. If you’re the woods, your fuel is all around you.
The Basecamp looks like a small Stanley Cup on stilts. Wood is loaded into its burn chamber, which is the bottom portion of the Stanley Cup, through a window in its side. The burn chamber is bottomed by an extending tray that allows you to burn wood pieces too big to fully fit inside the chamber.
On top of the Basecamp’s body is a metal bowl with a round grill similar to a hibachi (although it doesn’t come with a top). Slapped on its side is a powerpack. Capturing surplus energy from the fire, the powerpack drives a fan that blows back into the burn chamber, increasing combustion and further heating the stove. The powerpack also has a USB port. You can plug in the included LED lamp, helping you see what you’re cooking in the dark, or you can use it to charge your phone.
I tested the Basecamp with its add-on PizzaDome. The PizzaDome comes with a top for the grill, a ceramic cooking stone, a metal platform for the stone, and an internal thermometer. The bundle is $270, but if you have a Basecamp already, you can get the pizza-making add-ons for $70.
Attaching the PizzaDome to the Basecamp transforms it from the Stanley Cup to the Imperial Spy Droid from The Empire Strikes Back, which on its own probably makes it worth the expense. Nevertheless, we cooked a frozen pizza with it [Ed. note: That’s cheating!]. The oven instructions called for twenty minutes at 450 degrees Fahrenheit. We were able to get the stove up to about 250 degrees, and it took forty minutes to fully cook the pizza. But it worked, and the pizza cooked evenly. And it doesn’t have to be pizza—you can bake cookies, melt cheese sandwiches, toast flatbreads, and so on. With the Pizza Dome, your camping menu gets a little more diverse.
Finding wood of an appropriate size for the Basecamp was not easy. Small twigs fit well, but they burn so quickly that you’re going to spend your time scavenging and feeding the burn chamber. Even with the extending tray, the larger branches you find will be too long. If you have shorter pieces of wood lying around, or a small saw, you may want to bring them along.
Your food is inevitably going to capture some of that campfire smoke. You won’t mind this on traditional camping foods (burgers, dogs, etc), but it might throw you a bit on pizza or cookies.
Although we were ultimately successful, we had trouble maintaining a steady temperature. I suspect that we were forced to rely a little too much on the boom and bust of sticks and twigs. Had we better-sized wood at our disposal, we probably could have gotten the temperature a bit higher and kept it steady.
8/10 – Excellent, with room to kvetch.