Surviving Covid-Confinement with a Campfire
Imagine a wild scenario - you’re going to be under lock-down at home for weeks or even months, unable to go camping ‘cause the whole of the outside has been declared ‘closed’, crazy right? Yeah, I know, we’re living it right now …
We started thinking of things we could do at home during the Covid-19 lockdown (besides snack, drink and watch Netflix) and wanted some excuse to get out of the house because, well, it can get a bit depressing or at least too “samey” if you’re spending the evening in the same place that you’ve been working all day - you just crave a change of scenery.
While we’re nowhere close to the level of outdoor-type people that our friends at Off-Road Discovery are, we thought a fire-pit might be a pleasant way to relax in an evening and an excuse to get out the house without just, well, sitting staring at the lawn. Who doesn’t love a camp-fire after all?
Guest post by Off-Road Discovery friend, Simon
Almost as soon as I started looking at fire-pits I came across a reference to the BioLite FirePit and was immediately intrigued by the high-tech nature of it - a fire-pit that had a battery pack, bluetooth and a connected app?!? I was kind of sold already just because I love gadgets but I hadn’t heard of the company before and the claims of it being smoke-free sounded good … but how realistic? Looking at their site, they seemed to be big into camping gear so I checked with our camping friends if they’d heard of them - not only did they recommend them as a company with a great reputation, they already had one of their camping stoves which re-charged batteries when burning wood in it to cook (what?!?).
After a little hesitation (because it is kind of expensive compared to just a cheap metal cage you can burn logs in) I decided to take the plunge and order one. Part of my hesitation was deciding where I should order it from - the Mountain Equipment Company had them and offered free shipping, but didn’t sell the complete kit. BioLite sold a complete kit of the FirePit itself, a FirePoker (with a hook designed for the FirePit, we’ll get to that later) a FireMat heat-proof shield to protect a deck or grass and a Solar Power Cover that could recharge the battery. I wasn’t super-bothered about the solar cover but as it ended up costing the same for the kit and delivery I figured it was effectively like getting it for ‘free’. I pressed the button and was quoted 10-12 days shipping.
I was excited … and immediately put into motion operation “how to justify to my wife that I’ve just spent a load of money on a high-tech fire-pit”. Fortunately, she thought it was a good idea, partly because I sweetened the deal by telling her I also ordered a double-camp chair, a cosy blanket and a BioLite HeadLamp that she could use for her cross-stitching (total lie, I wanted one ‘cause they looked cool!).
While I waited for it to arrive, I figured I’d be going to need some firewood to use with it. And that’s pretty much where my fire-pit’ing expertise stretched to. Firewood is one of those things that you’ve definitely seen while out and about but can’t remember exactly where you saw it. Was it outside the local 7/11? Canadian Tire? Walmart? Maybe all those places, but remember that Covid thing? It’s not really the time to go browsing round the shops, so I looked online. Sure enough, many places sold it typically in small packs (enough for a single fire?) for around $10. So each time I sat outside it was going to burn another $10? Oh noes!
But as I searched I soon came across wood suppliers and they had things like a weekenders-bag for $70 plus big palette loads that you could order, some of them $400-$600 for kiln-dried firewood of various flavors. Flavors? Yes, I’d never thought about it much but different trees burn differently, there’s more types of fire-wood than just “dry” and “wet”. Then I learnt about ‘Cords’ of firewood, which appeared to be the unit you purchased things in. Except people didn’t just sell cords, there were full-cords, face-cords, 1/6 cords, 1/4 cords, and it was really difficult to equate it to how much you actually needed. It’s a pity no-one thinks to explain it in simpler terms, like “great for a summer’s worth of occasional 2-campfires a week”.
Why is it a pity? Well, as well as the price of the wood there was the price of delivery because we don’t live inside the Calgary city-limits where most delivered for free. I found a place called WonderTote that sold what looked like a fairly large bag’s worth of white birch for a reasonable price and a smaller delivery fee than most of the others so decided to go with that. It cost about $180 all in and would be delivered in a large tote bag (hence the name).
Here’s my logic: It wouldn’t be too much if it fits in a bag and if $10 buys you one fire worth, and $70 buys you a solid weekends worth, how much would you really get for less than double that? Really? It didn’t look like too much:
This is where the fun starts. I was excited about my new FirePit and chatted to my Off-Road Discovery friends about it, mentioning that I’d ordered some wood. When she asked how much I’d ordered and how much it cost, I tried to describe it. She said it sounded like a lot, like the amount of wood they used to go through in a year when they had a wood-burning stove in their house for heating.
Eek! Now I was afraid of how much wood was going to arrive!
Before it did though, my FirePit was delivered! In the end it only took about 3 or 4 days to ship across BC from Vancouver. I was all set, and only had to wait another day before I got at email that my wood was going to be delivered.
I learned it was been delivered when my wife’s phone beeped and she looked at the camera feed: “why is there a fork-lift truck on our driveway? OMG, how much wood did you order? I have to call Off-Road Discovery!!“. She immediately started a video chat and rushed out to share the delight and I could hear the laughter from them both.
On our driveway was what I imagine would be a lifetime supply of firewood. It was a lot. We called our two boys down to help us coerce the big pile into the garage. We couldn’t lift it, but we got a big piece of cardboard under it and managed to slide / walk / shuffle it in.
I think we’ll get through it eventually and it seems like a bargain compared to some of the other prices - definitely better to get more than you expected for the money and we can always give friends and neighbours “the gift of firewood” for every occasion in the next 2 years. Kids 6th birthday? Which kid doesn’t love firewood! Anniversary? Whatever the year, I think you’re meant to give firewood.
But of course, it then started raining. It rained for what felt like 40 nights (in reality it was only 2) but my wife wasn’t willing to sit out in the rain for a campfire and I also didn’t want to get my brand new FirePit wet. A few days later though, the sun was shining, it was time.
I’d had a couple of days to watch and re-watch the BioLite instructional video and had split some of the wood to make kindling (look at me, learning camping lingo!) and in the meantime charged up the battery, installed the mobile app and made a rare trip out to stock up on firelighters, charcoal (‘cause it can be used for cooking as well!) and some lighters. Even I had got a little bored of my waving the lighter flame around in the kitchen doing a “Crazy World of Arthur Brown” impersonation, my wife certainly had.
We got the chairs out, put some wood in it and fired her up.
I put the fan on low once the kindling looked like it was lit and that seemed to really get it going pretty well. I put the first log on and sat back to play with the app a little.
It does feel slightly surreal having a camp-fire, which is the epitome of “basic and natural”, but then be able to remote control it via your phone. With the tap of a button I could change the fan speed which ranged from blasting it with oxygen to get things roaring (hotter, but less flame) to a low fan to allow the flame to reach higher and the wood to last longer. Whatever you have it set to, the phone shows you how long the battery is expected to last on that setting.
On low it was barely audible at all and you got a nice, relaxed flame with enough power for days of use.
There was a slight noise at the higher speed but only max was really noticeable (and sounded awesome, like a turbo-incinerator). The phone camera really picks up the sound and makes it sound much louder than it seemed in person. It really gets the fire going well.
In the couple of weeks since we’ve had it we’ve probably had at least half a dozen fires if not more. We’ve toasted some sausages and smores but haven’t yet gotten round to using it as a BBQ to cook on. Remember I mentioned the hook on the FirePoker? You can also burn charcoal with the basket suspended higher on hooks and then use the poker to lower it for burning logs on - perfect to cook some food and then enjoy a campfire. I have some kebab recipes that I’ll be trying out soon.
It really does deliver on the promise of a smoke-free fire. You still get the odd puff of smoke if you overload it or when putting a new log on with some bark, but cranking up the power soon stops it. Compared to the fire our neighbours had one night, which was billowing smoke, ours was clean and smoke free.
The FireMat is a useful addition. Although it didn’t feel like there was too much heat coming from underneath they don’t recommend using it directly on a grass or deck. It makes it feel safer to use on the grass without damaging it and will also protect from any embers that could drop from the cleaning panel underneath if you didn’t check was closed or accidentally caught it while setting up.
The sliding panel does makes cleanup easy - just burn up the wood into ash (running it on Max power mode speeds that up) and then leave it 10 minutes to cool down after which you can brush out the ash using a bristle paintbrush into a tray to dispose of.
I initially thought the solar charger was a bit of a frivolous extra that I wouldn’t have much use for but other than the initial charging, we haven’t plugged it in to charge up once. It means we don’t have to take the battery-pack off - just put the cover on and leave it near the patio doors or out on the deck to charge in the sun. I can imagine it would be especially useful if going out camping for more than a few days so you have power all the time (and of course, the power-pack can also charge phone batteries and power lighting).
I’m super-happy with my BioLite FirePit and would definitely recommend it. Although you can of course get cheaper metal-only fire-pits they take up space whereas this can be easily packed away when not in use (such as over the winter).
We’ve only ever camped at managed campgrounds which have fire-pits built in but if you were going away doing ‘proper’ camping for a week or more I could see it being put to good use, especially as it folds up so compactly and can keep itself charged up with the solar cover. I’m sure our Off-Road Discovery friends will be keen to borrow it and write a true campers-review of it.
But for us, it’s definitely going to make it easier to pass the time at Covid-internment-camp (our new name for “home”) and in a couple of weeks, when the home-brew wine is ready, we’ll have everything we need to enjoy the relaxing summer evenings in our very own private campground just behind our house.
I also purchased a BioLite Headlamp at the same time which is really useful for tidying up after it’s gone dark. I borrow it from my wife because it turns out to also be really great for doing stitching crafts. We posted a separate review of the BioLite Headlamp on her blog.
Guest article by Simon