camping pot

PowerPot V

MSRP: $149.00 (

Let's get this out of the way first. You don't need to bring your iPhone on a multi-day paddling trip, and if you're worried about charging your helmet cams in the wilderness, you might want to check whether anyone is actually watching your YouTube page.

That said, the PowerPot V cooking/charging apparatus is very cool. So cool that it sold out its Kickstarter campaign.

It's a miniature power station posing as a one-quart cooking pot. As you heat water for your morning Joe, or to bring your freeze-dried Stroganoff to life, the thermoelectric generator built into the bottom of the hard anodized aluminum pot supplies up to 5 watts of juice. Just plug any USB device into the heat-resistant USB cord, and you're in business.

Post the news to Facebook while you wait for that water to boil. Instagram your breakfast. Live-tweet your charge. Do all that, because you've got time to kill.

Experienced PowerPot V whisperers report charging performance equal to a wall outlet. I don't doubt it, though my test results were considerably less impressive. They say PowerPot has a learning curve. Like a '68 Volkswagen bus, it won't let you down if you consider its moods.

A controlled test on my gas range at home boosted my iPhone4 from 37 percent to 40 percent charge in 29 minutes. I converted half of that boiling quart into delicious French Roast, then topped off the pot with cold water. Twenty minutes later my battery was up another 3 percent.

I did a little better in a field test with my trusty MSR Whisperlite—a 10 percent boost in about 20 minutes. The PowerPot V performs best with a small heat source dead center on the bottom of the pan, so it works well with most backpacking stoves.

A thermoelectric generator, which is the technical term for the gizmo embedded in the bottom of the PowerPot V, creates electricity from the differential in potential energy between the water and the heat source. It works better when you start with cold water, and best when melting snow.

The PowerPot V is meant for heating water and charging things. It'll handle broth and, if you really want to press the issue, pasta. Stews, thick soups, rice and couscous are off the menu. If you have to braise, blacken, fry or sauté anything, you'll want to use the included frying-pan lid. And whatever you do, don't let the water boil out of the PowerPot V. It needs at least an inch of water in the bottom to maintain the health of the thermoelectric unit.

That unit also adds weight (the system weighs in at just over 18 ounces, including cords and the frying pan/lid, as compared to about 8 ounces for a straight-up aluminum pan and lid). Water also takes a little longer to boil so you'll use a little more fuel. It's not quite a free lunch, but we can say it is deeply discounted.

Summary:A great gift for anyone planning long wilderness trips where charging cameras, communications devices and infrared water purifiers is important.