Thursday, October 04, 2012

Solar Power On Tour

Our recent tour of western Washington was a good field test of solar gadget charging. We had wonderful, sunny weather and each day I had a Goal Zero Nomad 7 Solar Charger strapped to the top of the tent roll on my bike's rear rack. While in motion, I had the solar charger hooked to a small USB AA battery charger. In camp, if it was sunny, I could hook the solar panel directly to my Kindle to charge it or I could transfer the charged cells to another little USB unit to charge the Kindle. The AA cells also work in my bike headlight and camera. Yeah, it's a lot of gadgetry, but I'm a gadget geek.

So, how did things work? In general, pretty good but there are a lot of trees in western Washington so a lot of times I wasn't getting much sun at the campsites. And we really had ideal weather for this tour. In rainy conditions, I know solar wouldn't give me enough juice to keep everything going. As wise travelers Russ and Laura have pointed out, an extension cord to tap AC power is often your best investment.

My Kindle doesn't draw a lot of power, but Christine and I both read a lot on our Kindles on this trip and I also used the 3G connection and Kindle web browser to check the weather forecasts, send email and update Twitter. The Kindle is an awesome device for touring, it's like having hundreds of books with you (with access to tens of thousands) in something that weighs less than one single book.

The Goal Zero Nomad 7 Solar Charger is light and tough and worth its weight. My kit keeps evolving, but I'm a fan of rechargeable batteries. The folks at Burro have a nice looking, inexpensive charger and batteries that I'll be checking out soon. I just started reading Bright Lights, No City and I'm impressed with what they're doing.

How do you keep your gadgets juiced up on tour? Let me know in the comments.

Keep 'em rolling,

Kent "Mountain Turtle" Peterson
Issaquah WA USA


Glenn said...

Interesting to see what's happened in the last few years. I had a similar type of solar charger on a long weekend trip and was so disappointed I returned it. Mine charged a built in li-on battery which was nowhere near enough to charge my gps. It was very sunny that weekend too. Yours sounds better but I'm curious about people's experiences with hub generators on long trips.

Scott Loveless said...

During the 3 day tour I took a couple months back, I only brought one gadget - my phone. It was my map, link to the rest of the world, and camera. It was off most of the time, and plugged into the wall any time we stopped somewhere with an outlet. I managed to nurse it along for most of the trip, but I'd want something more consistent if I went touring more often. Maybe a Plug or one of those new B&M dynamo lights with the USB port on the back.

Hobbes vs Boyle said...

I have a dynohub powered Zzing for touring. One of its main purposes was to feed my Garmin etrex; however, due to a worn out USB port on the GPS this doesn't really work. But it's great for charging batteries or phones and very reliable.

GeekGuyAndy said...

I have a smartphone (that I found in the road) that I use for wifi. Spare batteries were only $4 on Amazon, so I take 2 extras for less weight and size than the charger cable, and get about 60 hours of wifi use. My etrex gets 40 hours per set of Lithium AAs, so I haven't felt a need to charge it while riding.

Mimi said...

first to Geekguyandy;
you found a phone on the road and you are able to use it for wifi?? how is that?

Kent, Donald had a solar cell charger that he carried with him for a few rides. It wasn't worth the hassle of carrying for the weather he was riding through..

PS would you consider turning off the "please prove you are not a robot" feature? It is SO hard to use, and you can still moderate comments without driving your readers crazy. Thanks

Kent Peterson said...


I've turned off the word verification, but the past couple of times I did that the amount of spam comments I had to wade thru and toss daily went up by a factor of about ten. If that happens again, I'll probably turn word verification back on.

GeekGuyAndy said...

Mimi, I believe any smartphone can use wifi. I took out the phone card since I don't have a data plan and don't plan on getting one at the moment. It's great for checking emails and searching online so long as I'm near wifi, but that's not too hard these days. I save the old flipphone for actual calls, so it lasts for weeks as long as I keep it off until I actually want to make a call.

David @ Global Resource Management said...

I have an essie solar charger with me when I was on a 2-day trip last week. and I could say that it was great having it. Now, we don't have to leave our devices if we're going on a trip.

MzunguEriki said...

Dyno hub and Ewerk controller.

I bought a used shimano dyno hub/wheel for $15 a few years ago. The drag with load is so minimal I can't tell if it is on or off during the day. No more charging batteries! or forgetting and running low on battery on commute.

That works so well for lights I bought a E-werk controller. IT can regulate the current and voltage and has many adapters including USB. Expensive though.

Some also buy a small battery then pass through that before charging another device so that devices doesnt complain when you stop for a minute.

andrew said...

I also have the Nomad 7 to power my kindle and various odds and ends, but I got the AA battery charger that came with it. The charger that GoalZero makes has the advantage of using the raw output from the solar panel (the full 7 watts), rather than the 5 watt output from the usb outlet. This charger has worked great for me on tours where I was spending a full day (two nights) at one location. The charger can charge four AAs, and then once those batteries are charged, you can charge off of the battery pack's usb outlet or use the batteries in your gps, headlamps, or whatever takes AAs. I could see that it may be limited if spending the whole day in wooded areas, however I was surprised at how much of a charge I could get even without direct sun.
I've been planning on building a usb outlet for my dynohub, but haven't gotten around to it. I just can't bring myself to pay a hundred or more dollars for $5 worth of parts (a rectifier, a 7805 voltage regulator, and two capacitors).

Solar Electricity Solutions said...

Kudos to your for practising energy efficiency even during your tour. The use of solar power for charging is indeed a big help. Much thanks. Keep sharing your adventures and knowledge :)