Showing posts with label Solar. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Solar. Show all posts

Video: Staying Powered Up on North America's 50 Classic Climbs

This video is a bit of a commercial for Goal Zero products, but it is also a case study of what works in the field too. Over the past seven years, Mark and Janelle Smiliey have been committed to completing all 50 of the Classic Climbs of North America. As they went about that project, they found themselves looking for ways to keep their electronic gear (smartphones, tablets, cameras, etc.) powered up in the backcountry. That was a real challenge, until they found Goal Zero. The three-minute video is filled with some great mountaineering and climbing shots, and product placement is kept to a minimum. Definitely worth a watch.

Video: Rays of Joy in Nepal

Despite the fact that it has been more than a year and a half since the devastating earthquake struck Nepal, some parts of the country continue to struggle to get back on their feet. With that in mind, there have been a lot of efforts to help improve the living situation there, including a project from Goal Zero that sent solar equipment, water filters, computers, and more to help the people in areas that are still recovering. This video takes us to Nepal on just such a mission, and along the way you'll catch a glimpse of what makes this such a special country. No, it isn't the amazing mountain landscapes, although those are impressive. But it is the Nepali people who leave the longest lasting impression. Great video for heading into the Thanksgiving weekend here in the States.

Gear Closet: Solartab Portable Solar Charger

Now days it is not uncommon to travel into the backcountry with an array of electronic devices. Most of us will take a smartphone and sometimes even a tablet. We carry rechargeable headlamps, GoPro cameras, GPS devices, and a variety of other gear. The problem is, it isn't always easy to keep the batteries in all of those gadgets charged up, and without power they mostly become dead weight. But, thankfully there are some handy methods to carry extra power with us wherever we go, and improvements in the efficiency of solar panels has made them a viable option too. Which is why the Solartab portable charger was so intriguing to me as an option for backcountry power. Recently, I had the chance to put the device to the test, and came away fairly impressed.

At its core, the Solartab is a 5.5 watt solar panel that covers the front of the device. That panel is paired with a 13,000 mAh batter that can store the power collected from the sun for future use. That's a sizable battery in its own right, and enough to recharge an iPhone six times over, with power to spare, or fully recharge an iPad with enough juice for a smartphone too. When you pair that with the built-in solar panel, you have a  way to keep your gadgets running indefinitely, at least in theory.

The Solartab – which is roughly the size of a standard model iPad – also comes equipped with a custom made case that not only protects the solar panel, but also allows the user to adjust its angle to ensure that it is always drawing the most power possible from the sun. A handy light on the side of the device even tells you when it is actually generating energy, which is automatically stored in the battery pack.

Two 2.1 amp USB ports can then be used to transmit that power to any gadget capable of recharging via USB. That includes just about any small electronic device today, including headlamps, action cameras, GPS devices, UV water purifiers, and so on. A micro-USB port on the Solartab can be used to charge up the internal battery from AC wall outlet before you leave home, ensuring that you always have enough power on the go. Indicator lights on the side of the panel are a handy indicator to let you know just how much juice is in the Solartab at any given time.

The two USB ports are actually quite fast, although when a device is plugged into both ports you'll see a drop in speed. Still, an iPhone 6S can be powered up in about an hour and a half, and my iPad Mini was restored to full strength in under three hours. That's about on par with plugging those devices into the wall.

As with most small solar panels, the Solartab can be a bit of a mixed bag at times. In direct sunlight it can charge fairly quickly, and since you have the ability to turn it to face the sun, and shift the angle to get the most exposure, it works well on clear, sunny days. But, when the clouds come out its ability to draw a charge can be severely hampered. The designers of the device say that under the best of conditions it can take about 12 hours to fully recharge the device's battery, but don't expect those conditions to come around all that often.


Still, I was fairly impressed with how the Solartab performed in reference to similar devices from the competition. The issues with collecting power from the sun aren't an issue that this charger faces on its own, as pretty much every small solar panel that I've tested has performed similarly, with some not even doing as well as the Solartab. In other words, this is about par for the course for this type of solar panel, so set your expectations accordingly.

One area that the Solartab shines is build quality. Taking it out of the package I found myself pleasantly surprised with how well constructed this product is. The device is very durable, and feels substantial in your hand. Even the integrated case has a high quality feel to it, as does all of the included accessories, which range from a USB charging cable and AC adapter, to a soft cloth for keeping the solar panel clean.

All in all, the combination solar panel and battery pack is a nifty design, and comes in handy when traveling. But, the main problem I have with the Solartab is that it is a bit heavy to carry around, especially if you're someone who likes to travel light. The charger will definitely add some bulk to your pack, which makes deciding to take it with you a challenge sometimes. On the one hand, it is a handy product for when you want to stay charged on the road. On the other, it is heavier than I'd like.

Another issue to be aware of with the Solartab is that there is no easy way to affix it to a backpack for charging while you hike. This is somewhat common for a solar panel like the Goal Zero Nomad 7, but due to its size and bulk, it really isn't a possibility here. Instead, it is mean to be set up at your campsite to gather power all day, but if you're moving around a lot that isn't necessarily an option. This won't be a deal breaker for everyone of course, but it is something to be aware of.

When it was first released, the Solartab carried a price tag of $129, which I found pricey but still worth it for the right person. It is currently selling on the Solartab website for just $89, which makes it a lot easier to recommend. I've seen solar panel and large battery packs that cost that much on their own, so getting them integrated into one device is truly a bargain.

If you need portable power to keep your gadgets functioning on the go, the Solartab is a good option. It is sleek, well made, and efficient. Yes, it does add some weight to your pack, but if you can put up with that, you'll literally have a portable power station that you can take with you just about anywhere. That alone makes it a viable solution for those of us who are routinely on the go. I just hope in the next model they can find a way to cut some weight a bit and thin it down some. At that point, this would be a nearly perfect product.


Video: GoPro Camera Captures Hyperlapse Images of Solar Impulse Flight

Yesterday I posted a story about the Solar Impulse aircraft completing its round-the-world journey using nothing but the rays of the sun to power the flight. Today, I have a great video that was captured by GoPro camera throughout the expedition. The short clip is a hyperlapse of final legs of the excursion, giving us some impressive views of the trip as seen from atop the plane itself. This was a wonderful achievement to say the least, and this video helps to put the accomplishment in perspective.

Solar Impulse Completes Round-The-World Flight

Solar Impulse, the innovative aircraft powered only by the rays of the sun, completed its historic flight yesterday by landing back in Abu Dhabi, the city from which it departed from back on March 9 of 2015. In doing so, the solar-powered plane became the first to circumnavigate the globe without the use of any form of fossil fuels. 

The entire journey was broken down into 17-stages that covered a distance of more than 42,000 km (26,000 miles). The flight path crossed four continents, three seas, and two oceans, beginning and ending in the United Arab Emirates. The longest leg of the expedition took place between Nagoya, Japan and Hawaii, covering some 8924 km (5545 miles) of Pacific Ocean in the process. That stage alone took 118 hours to complete, giving pilot Andre Borschberg the record for the longest solo flight. 

Throughout the flight Borschberg split time at the controls with fellow pilot Bertrand Piccard, who was at the helm of the Solar Impulse when it made the final flight from Cairo, Egypt to Abu Dhabi yesterday, bringing an end to the 17-month odyssey that proved clean energy can be used to power an aircraft. The two pilots has hoped to complete the journey in a much shorter timeframe however, but a catastrophic failure of the aircraft's battery system caused it to be grounded for 10 months while repairs and upgrades were made. 

The Solar Impulse has a wingspan of over 72 meters (236 ft), which is larger than even a 747 commercial aircraft. Those wings contain more than 17,000 individual solar cells, which collect power and store it in onboard batteries. Those batteries can than be used to power the aircraft even at night. 

While this was an impressive demonstration of technology and the steps being taken to improve the use of clean energy, don't expect the Solar Impulse to have a dramatic impact on the commercial aviation anytime soon. Solar cells will need to improve their efficiency drastically before that can happen, as it is currently impossible to power a large aircraft using just the light of the sun. Still, this is a step in the right direction, show us a potential future where clean aircraft could whisk passengers off to remote destinations without having a dramatic impact on the environment. While that vision is still in the distant future, it is good to know that we're taking small steps towards making it a reality now. 

Gear Closet: Solavore Sport Solar Powered Oven

I'm a huge fan of using solar power for keeping mobile devices charged while traveling through remote locations. This has become easier that it was in the past thanks to improvements to the efficiency of solar panels and the plethora of options available to consumers these days. But, the sun can actually be used to do more things than just keep our gadgets powered up, as I learned recently when I put the Sport Solar Oven from Solavore to the test.

Perfect for use in your own backyard or a campsite, the Sport Solar Oven does exactly what you would expect – turn the power of the sun into heat for cooking a meal. In fact, it is so efficient that you don't even need to have direct sunlight for it to automatically start collecting the rays and generating enough warmth to cook a surprising number of types of foods. The oven comes with its own thermometer, and while testing it consistently kept a temperature above 220ºF (104ºC), which is hot enough to boil water, and while it might take a little longer, cook just about anything else too.

Set up for the Sport couldn't be easier. Simply find a good spot to place it in the sun, and you're pretty much done. Solavore does sell an optional reflector that can be added to the stove to help focus the sunlight further, which takes just seconds to install. It adds some extra speed and efficiency to the oven, but it works just fine without it as well.

The oven does ship with two graniteware pots, complete with lids, which are perfect for cooking in the Sport. Both are three quarts (2.8 liters) in size, which means they have plenty of capacity, and since the oven has enough space to hold both of the pots at the same time, you can actually cook two dishes at the same time.


The Sport Solar Oven is fairly large in size, but isn't particularly heavy. It weighs about 9 pounds (4 kg), which makes it not the best choice for carrying into the backcountry, but a great option for car camping or cooking without the use of gas or power at home too. There is just something really fun about using the oven and watching your meals come together using just the sun to cook them.

Because it uses the sun, and takes some time to cook a meal, a bit of planning and timing needs to go into food preparation using the Sport Solar Oven. I cooked several different things in my test model, and it usually took several hours for things to come together. That's a lot slower than a camp stove that uses gas of course and while getting the feel for the oven you'll want to keep an eye on things so that they don't get over done, but with some forethought and patience, you can eat some incredibly delicious meals anywhere that you can catch some rays from the sun.

To help you get started with the solar oven, Solavore offers some really great recipes on their website. I actually recommend starting with one or two of those options while learning how to use the Sport, as they'll give you exact instructions for preparing the food, as well as estimated cooking times. This will help you to get a feel for the product while you get some experience using it.

Other than the time it takes to actually makes the meal, the Sport Solar Oven is easy to use and works great. It really does open up the options for cooking around the campsite, and the fact that it doesn't need power or gas is a huge plus. The oven sells for $229 and comes with everything you need to make great meals just about anywhere. Just give yourself plenty of time for it to work its magic, and you'll be rewarded with some excellent meals.

Solar Impulse 2 Resumes Round--the-World Flight

Its journey around the world may have been delayed for 10 months, but the historic flight of the Solar Impulse 2 has resumed at long last. The solar powered aircraft took off from Oahu in Hawaii yesterday, and is now flying towards California on what is arguably the most dangerous leg of the entire project.

The innovative plane features a wingspan as large as a 747, yet it has a very small and cramped cockpit. Most of those large winds are covered in solar panels, with large batteries onboard that cover the rays of the sun into energy and store it for use while inflight. The aircraft carries absolutely no fuel, which is why flying it around the world is such a major achievement.

The Solar Impulse 2 took off from Abu Dhabi in March of last year, flying on to China with few problems. Once there however, poor weather kept the plane on the ground for several weeks, and when it did take off it was forced to land in Japan, where it suffered damage on the ground. The crew repaired that damage, and Swiss adventurer/pilot Bertrand Piccard pressed on to Hawaii.

But while on that leg of the journey, the plane's batteries overheated, damaging the electrical system en route. Safely on the ground in Hawaii, the team reviewed the issue and discovered that it would take some time to repair the Solar Impulse and get it back in the air. The aircraft needed two new batteries and an improved cooling system, which took some time to get in place. It remained in Hawaii until yesterday, when a weather window opened that allowed the plane to take off and resume its journey at long last.


Over the next few days the solar-powered aircraft will make its way to San Francisco, before continuing across the U.S., making several stops along the way. From there, it'll fly across the North Atlantic, visit Europe and North Africa, before proceeding back to Abu Dhabi sometime in the summer. If successful, the Solar Impulse will be the first aircraft to circumnavigate the globe using nothing but solar power.

Hopefully this is the last of the delays, and the airplane can now continue along on its journey without any further delays. There is still a long way to go, and it is far from out of danger, but the team behind this project is happy to see its aircraft back in the air once again.


Video: Climbing Kilimanjaro with 12-Year Old Lilliana Libecki

Today's dose of inspiration comes our way courtesy of Goal Zero and 12-year old Lilliana Libecki, daughter of professional climber Mike Libecki. In this video, the father-daughter team travels to Africa – Lilli's seventh continent – to climb Kilimanjaro together. Afterwards, they also lend a hand to a local orphanage, helping to install solar panels and lights to improve the conditions there. The entire project was Lilli's idea, from climbing the mountain to assisting at the orphanage, proving once again what we can accomplish when we set out minds to something. The 6+ minute video also provides some excellent shots of Kili itself, and shows prospective climbers what it is like to go up that iconic peak.

Gear Closet: EnerPlex Generatr S100 and Kickr IV Solar Panel

Keeping your electronic devices charged while in the field is an ongoing challenge these days. After all, we generally set out on our travels with an array of gadgets designed to not only document our adventures but keep us in touch with loved ones back home. Those devices have brought a great deal of convenience to our lives while on the road, but they also become nothing more than dead weight when they aren't working properly. Thankfully there are several companies that now offer solutions to help us overcome this challenge. One of those companies is EnerPlex, which is delivering some exciting new options for explorers and outdoor enthusiasts who need to stay connected while in the backcountry.

I first got a look at the EnerPlex line-up at this summer's Outdoor Retailer show. I spent some time with one of the company's PR reps who gave me an excellent introduction to their products, which includes the fantastic Generatr Y1200, a large scale portable battery that is capable of powering mini refrigerators or flat screen television sets. Most exciting of all, the Y1200 offers a lot of power in battery that weighs about half that of the competition, something to keep in mind when you're setting up base camp in a remote location.

The company also sent me home with two of their other products to test, and if I was impressed with their gear on the showroom floor, I was blown away when I actually had the opportunity to use them in the real world.

First up, I received a test unit of the EnerPlex Generatr S100, a smaller – more portable – version of the Y1200. This model tips the scales at two pounds (907 grams), and comes with two USB ports, a 19V laptop port, and an integrated AC inverter. In other words, it has all of the ports you need to keep your device charged while in the field. The USB ports will cover most portable devices, including smartphones, tablets, cameras, and GPS units, while the laptop port is specifically designed to keep common notebook computers fully charged using specially designed tips that are included with the S100. Best of all, the AC inverter allows you to plug any device in using a standard wall outlet adapter, which means this battery pack is capable of charging pretty much anything you carry with you.


Durable and rugged, the S100 feels very solid in your hands. It is built to be carried into challenging environments, and survive what ever punishment that comes its way. It offers about 100 Whrs of charging, which is enough to replenish your laptop one to two times depending on the size of the battery. It'll also recharge most smartphones and digital cameras 10-15 times, and tablets 2-4 times. That is a sizable amount of power to be carrying around in small package.

The S100 can be charged using its included wall adapter, but it also has the ability to be recharged in the field using EnerPlex's Commander solar panel. I wasn't able to test how well this works however, as the Commander wasn't yet available when I received the S100. In theory, it should be able to provide additional power, and fully replenish the Generatr in about 20 hours of exposure.

I did however get a chance to try out one of EnerPlex's other solar panels. The smaller and more compact Kickr IV is built to recharge your USB devices directly, and includes a built in USB port to help accomplish that task. This solar panel weighs just .6 pounds, and is built to be weather resistant.

In terms of performance, the Kickr IV is about as efficient as any other solar panel I've tested over the years. With direct sunlight, it can generate a surprising amount of power, recharging a smartphone or other device at about the same rate as a wall outlet. Of course, it can often prove difficult to get that kind of direct sunlight in the backcountry, so typically charging times are a bit longer.

One thing that truly sets the Kickr IV apart from the competition is that it is made of flexible solar panels that aren't mounted on glass or other rigid structures. That means that not only is this a lighter option than what most other companies are offering, it is a more durable one too. The flexible nature of the panels means that you can stuff this into a pack without fear of cracking the solar panels in any way. But should you manage to scratch or cut the flexible panels, they will still continue to operate at full efficiency, something that can't be said about some of the options from other manufacturers.

As with most other solar panels of this size, the Kickr IV can be mounted on a backpack to draw energy from the sun while you hike all day. I found that it works great when paired with a small battery pack such as the Limefuel Rugged. That way you can store power for when you need it, rather than simply topping off a smartphone charge.

All in all, I'd say EnerPlex is on the right track with their charging options. The company has an array of devices that can help to keep your gadgets powered while traveling, and they all have very smart design elements that help to set them apart from the competition. I am very impressed with the products that I got to test, and I look forward to seeing what this company has to offer down the line. If you're planning an expedition to a remote region, and are looking for solutions to help keep your electronic gear charged, take a look at what EnerPlex has to offer. You'll find that it is not only on par with what the other big names in this space are offering, but in many cases it exceeds them in terms of performance and capabilities, while still being very competitive in price.

The Generatr S100 has an MSRP of $349.99, while the Kickr IV costs $99.99.


Solar Powered Plane Making Way Around the Planet - Slowly

One of the big adventures that is taking place at the moment is the attempt by the Solar Impulse 2 aircraft to fly completely around the world using nothing but solar power. The plane first took off from Abu Dhabi in March and has been slowly making its way around the globe, having made stops in Oman, India, Myanmar, and China along the way. The aircraft was expected to launch its longest, and riskiest, leg of the journey next, but has now run into some difficult which will delay that attempt.

The latest stage of the journey was to see the Solar Impulse take off from Nanjing, China yesterday and head towards Hawaii as pilot Andre Borschberg attempts a dangerous crossing of the Pacific Ocean that was expected to take about five days to complete. Not long into the flight however, the aircraft was forced to land in Nagoya, Japan today due to impending bad weather. The large vehicle isn't as quick and agile as other planes, and so it must take extra precautions on its journey.

The plane was forced to wait until 10 PM local time before touching down in Nagoya. Because of its size, conditions must be almost perfect to complete the landing. Winds must be below 10 knots, and all commercial aircraft must be out of the area as well.

It is difficult to say how long the next stage of the journey will be delayed. The Solar Impulse team will watch the weather forecasts and look for a good window that will allow Borschberg to continue his flight. For now though, they'll sit and wait for good conditions to return, and will no doubt receive all kinds of extra attention while they layover in Japan.

When the journey is complete, it will have covered more than 35,000 miles (56,300 km) circumnavigating the globe. When the plane leaves Japan it will proceed to Hawaii as planned before moving on to Phoenix, Arizona and New York City. From there, the solar-powered aircraft will proceed across the Atlantic Ocean, with a planned stopover in Europe and North Africa, before returning to its starting point in Abu Dhabi. If all goes as expected, the aircraft should reach the finish line sometime in late July or early August.

You can follow the Solar Impulse on both Facebook and Twitter to get updates on the plane's progress.

Gear Closet: Bushnell SolarWrap Mini

Yesterday I posted a review of an ingenious little lantern that came packed with a host of nice features that are sure to make it a hit with adventure travelers and the outdoor crowd alike. Today, I have another product aimed at the same market that is also wonderfully designed, simple in its operation, and incredibly useful in the field. It is the Bushnell SolarWrap Mini, a small and light solar charger to keep our favorite devices operating while we're on our adventures.

Over the past few years, solar panels have gotten more efficient, and as a result, they've also become an increasingly viable way to keep all of our electronic devices charged while in the backcountry. Bushnell has taken a novel approach to the SolarWarp series by actually integrating its solar cells onto a piece of fabric that can be folded up for storage. In the case of the SolarWrap Mini those solar panels actually wrap around a tough, but lightweight, metal tube, that also houses a rechargeable Lithium-Ion battery, and two USB ports, one for storing a charge, and one for sharing it.

The entire package is 4.3" (11 cm) in length, and about 1.25" (3.1 cm) in diameter. It also weighs just 3.1 ounces (87.8 grams), which makes the entire solar charger incredibly lightweight and compact. In fact, it is so small and light, that you can toss it in a backpack, and completely forget it is there.

When you're ready to charge a device, you simply pull it out, and plug your gadget into the full-size USB port, which is located under the included rubber end caps. Those caps provide a nice level of protection to the delicate ports while traveling, and are a nice addition to the overall package. The built-in battery is capable of providing a full recharge to a smartphone, two charges to an MP3 player, or 2.5 charges to a small camera. The 1 amp output from the USB is fairly speed for such a small solar charger, and while it will work on tablets as well, don't expect it to provide a full charge for those devices.

A mini-USB port is located on the opposite end of the battery tube, which allows travelers to charge the device before heading out into the field. It takes about 4 hours to complete charge the battery from a laptop, although I found that time was considerably quicker when using a USB wall charger. Bushnell says it takes roughly 10 hours to fully recharge the SolarWrap Mini using the sun, but that time can vary somewhat depending on how much direct sunlight is available.

When fully extended, the pull-out solar panel stretches for 18 inches, and includes a conveniently placed eyelet for connecting it to a backpack. This allows the battery to soak up a charge all day long, and be ready for distributing that charge once you reach campsite for the night. To start charging, just locate your device's USB cable, and plug it in. The SolarWrap will take care of the rest.

The SolarWrap Mini carries an MSRP of $89.99, although it can be found online at discounted prices.  For anyone who needs to keep their gadgets charged while on the go, the Mini is a must-have device. It is compact in size, weighs next to nothing, and yet is capable of producing a solid amount of juice to keep our cell phones, cameras, and other small devices running. Personally, when you factor in the size and price, I think this is the best solar charger I've ever used, and I think other outdoor adventurers and adventure travelers will love what it brings to the table too.

Video: Powering the Reel Rock Tour with Goal Zero

Keeping your electronic gear powered up while you're in the field is always a challenge, especially if you're shooting some of the fantastic adventure films that we've seen in recent years. Fortunately, solar power has come a long way, and is now a viable option for any expedition. Goal Zero is one of the companies that has led the way in this category, and the video below gives you an idea of what their products are capable of. While this is a promo video of sorts, it also features some amazing shots of some of our favorite outdoor athletes in the field as they are being filmed for the upcoming Reel Rock Tour. It also gives us a glimpse of how these filmmakers work in the field. Very interesting stuff all around.