Powering Mobile Electronics in the Outdoors

Goal Zero and other companies, like Powertraveller, in the solar charging business have developed systems of portable power to charge whatever device you have, whether you’re in the backcountry or in a plane en route to your next adventure.

Things You Can Charge

Kits of various sizes allow for simple plug-and-play use of anything from a cell phone to a laptop. As long as you choose the right power option, nothing is unchargeable!

Charging Times

Charging times vary for each individual device and are based on both solar conditions and the amount of juice your device requires. Typically, it will take roughly the same amount of time to charge something with a solar panel or battery pack as it would to charge it via an outlet in the wall. However, sometimes it will take longer to recharge with a solar panel than it does with an outlet if conditions aren’t very good.

Power Up on the Move

Goal Zero has a couple of options for backpacking, the most common being the Guide 10 Plus Adventure Kit. The solar panel provided in this kit is obviously great for powering up your devices as you eat your lunch on the summit of the mountain du jour, but it can also be hung on the outside of your pack so you can recharge as you hike! The designers even included a little storage pocket to hold your device as it charges so you don’t have to worry about losing it.

Solar Panel Durability

These things are sent around the world and beat up to see how much they can take. After being tested in extreme temperatures, at elevation, in high humidity, in the Congo during rainy season, and in snowstorms on Everest, these solar panels still haven’t failed. They can be scratched, dropped, run over, or left out in the rain, and they’ll still power up your gadgets!

Why You Need a Portable Solar Panel or Battery Pack

Not worrying about whether your GPS battery will last or not means you’ll have more time to admire the scenery around you. Being able to recharge your camera means you’ll be able to snap as many photos as your heart desires. And knowing that your cell phone won’t die means you’ll be able to keep your loved ones updated on your progress and/or tweet about #howawesomeyouare.

Panel or Battery Pack?

Solar panels are great and can be used to directly charge your devices. But even though the panels fold up to be pretty compact, they still take up more space in your pack than a battery pack does. As an alternative, you can use your solar panel—or the closest USB port—to charge up your battery pack and take all that stored energy into the wilderness to recharge.

What’s the Difference Between the Sizes?

i) 7-watt panels are one of the smallest panel options. They fold up to be roughly the size of an average paperback book, weigh less than a pound, and will charge small devices in a reasonable amount of time. The Goal Zero Nomad 7, for example, will charge the Guide 10 Plus battery pack in 2-4 hours (depending on solar conditions) or a cell phone/MP3 player/camera in 1-4 hours. ii) 13.5-watt panels are a little bit bigger and will consequently charge bigger things. If you need more power than a Guide 10 Plus power pack can offer, then get a bigger one—like a 120-watt battery—and use a 13.5 panel to charge it in as little as 6 hours (up to 10 if conditions aren’t great). iii) 27-watt panels are big and kind of heavy (3+ pounds). But they harness enough power from the sun to charge a 120-watt battery in as little as 5 hours, or your cell phone in as little as an hour.

So What Do You Actually Need?

Well, this depends a little on how much pack space you’re willing to cede, and a lot on what exactly you’re hoping to power up and how long you’ll be gone. i) Overnight trips: Assuming you’ll need to top off the power only in your phone, GPS, or camera once, a fully charged battery pack should be more than sufficient. ii) Weekend trips: You have two options here. You’ll want either a bigger power source, like a fully charged 120-watt battery, or a combination of a solar panel and a smaller, lighter battery pack. Carrying a bigger battery on its own is nice because it’ll take up less space in your pack, but if it runs out of power itself, then there’s no hope for your devices. Using a battery pack to refuel your devices at night, then using a 7- or 13.5-watt panel to recharge the battery pack during the day ensures that you’ll always be powered up. iii) Longer trips: Solar panel + 120-watt battery is probably going to be the best option for you. It will add a considerable amount of weight to your pack (5ish pounds), but if staying charged is important, then it’ll be worth it.

If you’re confident you’ll get enough sun—or you aren’t really that concerned with keeping all of your gadgets fully charged throughout your trip—then you could also bring only a solar panel. Aside from a smaller battery pack like the Guide 10 Plus, this would be the lightest option.If you’re still not sure which power option would be best for you, stop by your local Eastern Mountain Sports store before your next trip to talk more with one of our guides. We’ll make sure you get exactly what you need.