Gearing Up with Solar Power
By Grant Johnson
By Jennie Lay
Steamboat Springs, CO - Power to the pack, the paddle, the pop-up. Real solutions
for backcountry recharging have arrived in the form of mini solar panels with
beefy little batteries and USB output that lets you charge just about anything.
No longer do you need to put your iPhone on an energy diet while you’re off the grid. Whether you’re backpacking the Flattops or floating Yampa Canyon, go ahead and take photos, use your GPS, read an e-book and rock out. Downhillers, run your GoPro on every last slickrock thrill. Technology is finally up to the task of making power portable.
Powertraveller makes two pint-sized charging systems that jumped to the top of our summer gear wish list (while knowing that these would be killer accessories for winter backcountry pursuits too). Each one includes a pair of solar panels that charges a lithium-ion polymer battery from zero to full in a single bluebird day. Primed for adventure and designed for rugged handling.
Solarmonkey Adventurer is our top choice. Compact (6.5x3.5” and less than an inch thick) and light (9.4 oz), the integrated 2500-mAh battery gives you nearly two complete fills on an iPhone 5, and zips into its own thermal insulated travel case. Clip this slim, water-resistant treasure on your tent or the back of your pack and ignore it while it soaks up the sun for 6-8 hours, leaving the battery ready to re-fill your phones overnight. $130
We also like the 16-oz. Powermonkey Extreme with its 9000-mAh-capacity battery (that’s more than six full charges on your iPhone 5, or one 80% charge on your iPad 4), with panels that are the same size as the Solarmonkey Adventurer. The bigger battery is separate from the panels and connected by a cord – perhaps not as sleek as the Solarmonkey Adventurer, but ideal for longer trips where you have multiple people with more devices to charge. Plan 10-12 hours for a full charge. Also, it’s waterproof (submersible in up to three feet of water for five minutes). Think river trip. $200
Both come with a range of interchangeable adapter tips designed to accommodate charging most every energy-sucking device. They have short-circuit protection, overload protection and low voltage protection, plus thermal insulation battery protection giving an operating temperature range of 14 to 194 degrees F. Plus, you get 600 cycles (that’s a complete charge and dump) before the battery starts degrading – that’s a lot of electrified nights on the trail.