Solar Options for Outdoor Electronics
Everyone has experienced a time when they wanted to use their cellphone, flashlight or radio out in the wilderness and discovered the battery was dead. In order to avoid a drained battery, especially on a length excursion, a great way to keep your gear charged and in tiptop shape is to go solar.
Solar chargers and batteries can be a life saver in the wilderness. There are a myriad of solar options when it comes to outdoor electronics, and it helps to know the wide variety of devices, chargers and related paraphernalia that's out there. Chargers, battery packs, flashlights, water purifiers and watches only begin to scratch the surface, and hikers, campers and other outdoor enthusiasts have to know the best possible devices for their own personal needs.
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Of course, one of the main reasons to get outdoors and into the wilderness is to connect with nature, not electronics. As such, you'll also want devices that are unobtrusive and minimal, so that you can use them when needed, rather than feeling the need to constantly adjust, manage and generally fuss with the electronics. Luckily, solar options are becoming slimmer and more manageable, with better options for the minimal backpacker or the camper that likes to take the kitchen sink with them.
Solar Panel Chargers
The bread and butter of solar outdoor electronics are solar panel kits. Focused on charging devices, these solar panels often come with protective sheathing, carrying cases and/or straps to attach them to your pack. This allows hikers and backpackers to attach them while on the move, keeping their devices charged during the day, or to set them up during rest periods to grab a quick charge periodically throughout the day.
With so many different solar panel options out there it is important to know their different uses as well. The most basic options include one or two panels that can plug directly into your device to charge it up, like the Goal Zero Nomad 7 panel included in the Goal Zero Guide 10 Solar Recharging Kit. These types of chargers work best with smaller electronics, such as cellphones, cameras, iPods, GPS devices or tablets. These options also often come paired with a battery pack charger that will allow you to use rechargeable batteries with non-chargeable devices, such as flashlights.
Panel chargers scale in size with need, with larger options like the Goal Zero Boulder 30 being capable of powering RVs, cabins, or paired power packs for sustained energy over time. These types of panels aren't suited for hikers and backpackers, but can be very helpful for lengthy camping tips or those using a lot of electronic gear in the wilderness, such as for filming.
The varying sizes and carrying solutions for solar panel chargers allow for flexible use, static position charging and large-demand needs, or pocket-sized devices that can charge up a smartphone for emergency use in a flash. These provide the basic function for any solar needs, with the greatest versatility in the field.
The solar-paired battery packs on the market come in nearly as much versatile sizing as the panels. Small chargers for AAA and AA batteries are still usable by hikers and backpackers, while large-scale kits like the Goal Zero Extreme 350i are designed for generator replacement for cabins and RVs. These devices are used for holding a charge over an extended period of time, rather than a quick top up, but you sacrifice carrying space if you plan to move around a lot with one.
The Goal Zero Sherpa UI provides the best of both worlds in terms of battery packs. If you're looking for a lightweight pack that can still be used to charge a laptop or other larger devices that need an AC outlet, the Sherpa is the best bet at only 12.4 oz in weight.
Other recharger pack options can charger smaller devices via USB and come in varying weights, and selecting the right one will provide you with a backup energy source for after the sun's gone down, or if you're trapped in a cave or shrouded forest.
Though few, there are still a variety of lighting options that can be directly paired with solar panels and charger packs. The Goal Zero Bolt offers a traditional flashlight option, while the company also makes several varying lighting solutions that can be paired with their other solar options. Beyond that, many charger options include rechargeable batteries that can be used in any flashlight that takes the same type.
Lighting isn't the only accessory that is gaining ground with solar outdoor electronics. Speakers are also growing in popularity, especially for camping in groups or listening to some music without blocking out the sounds of the wilderness around you. The Goal Zero Rock Out 2 Portable Speaker comes in a variety of colors, a water-resistance case and syncs with several devices for direct playback and audio control. While setting up a panel and battery pack in direct sunlight might seem easy, optimizing the placement to get the quickest charge can be important, especially if that power needed to be used sooner than you expect. Mounting systems and tripods are another accessory that some people might be interested in. These options often pair better with larger panels, like the Goal Zero Boulder 30, but can optimize your solar use quickly and efficiently.
While these aren't the only accessory options that pair well with solar panels and chargers, they are some of the most useful and versatile that you might need on any hike, camping trip or long-term outdoor excursion.
Another key devices that many people opt in for a solar option with are watches. Many different kind of watches charge via solar, and include many other features that you might want for camping or hiking. The Casio Pathfinder, for example includes barometric pressure, altitude sensors, temperature and a compass, all solar charged to keep it working for years, while being water and shock resistant. These types of options can be incredibly helpful for hiking and backpacking, keeping you from getting lost, or for many other activities from running to swimming.
The latest devices to feature solar integration are water purification systems. The Steripen Freedom Solar Bundle includes a solar charger for the kit's steripen purifier, keeping it working even on long trips and helping to drink pure, clean water. The Steripen system uses ultra-violet light to sterilize water, destroying giardia, e-coli, shingella, legionella and other bacteria and viruses.
With solar chargers, panels and devices, there are right and wrong ways to use them. The first thing is to make sure you're using the solution that meets your needs. If you want to charge up a laptop to blog your backpacking adventure, a basic solar charger might be too weak. However, if you're just looking to keep your smartphone and GPS running for your entire trip, the larger power packs and panel pairs might be a bit overboard.
The best way to set up a solar charger when resting is ensure it's aimed at the sun, hook it up to a power pack and let it charge up. Then, when you're on the move you know your battery is up to speed and ready to go. Most solutions are sturdy, reliable and flexible, so you don't have to worry about being overly careful with them or staying out of a river for fear of getting them wet. Additionally, with smaller options being able to be strapped to a pack, if you're hiking with the sun at your back you can charge up while on the move.
Investing in a solar option can help you live out in the wilds for longer periods of time, get off the grid and enjoy life with some of technologies luxuries still available. Whether going on a day hike or spending weeks in the deep country, solar can be a lifesaver and help you prepare for many emergency situations. In the wrong circumstances having a fully charged cellphone, GPS or emergency radio can be the difference between life and death, so make sure you're prepared with the solar solution that meets your needs the best.