Trip snapshot: Three-week trek in a remote area of Nepal with limited and expensive access to electrical power.
Review snapshot: Exceeded my expectations.
For this trip I wanted a product that would allow me to rely solely on solar power if necessary.
Due to weight restrictions only the following electronic devices accompanied me on the trip: kindle, smartphone and point & shoot camera.
My ideal recharger would have at least two USB ports, get fully charged with a solar panel in 8 hours or less and store enough power to charge all three devices.
The search started with Brunton. The Ember 2800 has a built-in solar panel (to be used for emergency charging) but the website does not say how long it takes to be fully charged. Their solar panel Explorer 10 has great power but only one USB port. It can be combined with an Ember power pack for power storage and an additional mini USB port. Both products are less expensive than their Goal Zero counterparts, so I would definitely recommend them for less remote situations.
Now onto Goal Zero. I immediately discarded the Guide 10 Plus kit, which charges batteries only.
These are the three solar panel + recharger kits that I compared:
It has one USB port and stores power for only one smartphone charge. Comparable to Bruton’s Explorer 10 + Ember power pack. Too little power.
Can charge a smartphone 7 times but weighs more than three pounds and cannot be charged via USB. Too much power for me, but great if you need to recharge your laptop.
Total weight of 1.5 pounds, has 2 USB ports and stores enough power to charge a smartphone four times. This was the one. It turned out to be super sturdy, light and efficient. The panel attaches really well to the outside of my pack and works in cloudy conditions. It definitely helped me achieve my goal of power self-reliance during the three weeks I spent in the Khumbu valley.
A note on their websites:
Goal Zero’s is beautifully designed. Their clear product descriptions and product comparison makes you feel that you are making a well-informed decision. Brunton’s website is less intuitive and I had to rely on other sites to compliment my research.
|Switch 10 + Nomad 7||Venture 30 + Nomad 7||Sherpa 50 + Nomad 13||Ember 2800||Explorer 10 + Ember power pack|
|Charge time with solar panel||4-8 hr||8-16 hr||8-16 hr||Only for emergency use||Unknown|
|Weight||1.45 lbs||1.5 lbs||3.15 lbs||5 oz||2 lbs|
|Number of USB ports||1||2||1 + 12v and AC||1||1|
|Can be charged via USB?||Yes||Yes||No||Yes||Yes|