Charging electronics off the grid is as much about your approach as it is about the equipment. I desire to find myself in unpopulated areas where charging electronics via a wall outlet is impossible. I need generate my own power for charging electronics off the grid. I accept this. The best method for charging electronics off the grid right now are solar chargers, cache batteries, and dynamos.
I think the most important factor about charging electronics off the grid is consumption. Don’t get caught up in trying to create a lot of power. Focus on creating a system that does not require a lot of power.
My approach is not to be able to create MORE power but to need LESS of it. I want my power consumption to be as ultralight as my equipment list.
We take to the outdoors to get away. It’s great that we can capture and preserve some precious moments on these adventures but have a little perspective. I see a whole lot of chatter online about how a product didn’t work because it couldn’t create enough power to keep a smartphone running as a GPS all day long. Understand and embrace the fact that you do not have the convenience of a wall outlet. That should be a feature of getting away and not a detriment.
- My Canon SD780IS has an optical viewfinder. The LCD screen stays off as much as possible. I know the settings inside and out so when I do need the sceen on to adjust for special conditions it isn’t on for long.
- I journal using an old fashioned notebook and pencil. When I am composing I am using no power. Only when I need to publish will I use stored power.
- I navigate using paper maps. If you think you are going to use a smartphone to navigate, and log your trip in real time think again.
- I connect and back up my camera’s SD card via my AirStash with my smartphone sparingly.
- I carry a large supply of SD cards
Charging Electronics Off The Grid with Solar
I used a solar charger paired with a cache battery on my last tour. I was able to keep everything going but it was much harder than it had to be because I needed too much power. I was trying to use my phone as a GPS and I had to abandon that plan. Solar charging is slow and methodical. It’s not as simple as strapping the Solar Panel to the rear panniers and forgetting about it:
- Some chargers come with lots of small charging tips with connections that can be finnickey on a rough road and hard to replace.
- Some chargers are not waterproof and need to be stowed when the rain comes.
- Some chargers don’t marry well with smartphones.
- Some chargers don’t generate the capacity to charge some electronics. Know the relationship between device and charger before you buy.
- To get the most out of any solar charger it needs to be repositioned as the sun arcs it’s position overhead.
- You cannot predict how much sun you will get on any given day.
If you can minimize these factors and lessen your needs for power generation you can be successful creating power with a solar charger.
I have tested the following chargers:
GoalZero offers a number of solutions that will work for the modern adventurer. It’s relatively light weight and foldable making it easy to carry. It comes with loops sewed on it making placement a snap. The Guide 10 battery pack uses AA and AAA cells that I can use for across my whole electronics kit as well as serving as a cache battery for a smartphone or iPod. The battery pack doubles as a flashlight.
Some negatives on this product stand out on a good deal of forums. The proprietary cable and charging tips would be hard to come by if you lost them or they broke/bent, it’s not waterproof, many users complain about smartphone charging abilities, and Sanyo Eneloop rechargeable batteries are preferred over the batteries that ship with GoalZero products.
In my experience the GoalZero is a nice piece of equipment that works for charging electronics off the grid.
Brunton Explorer and Inspire Power Pack: I used a Brunton Explorer paired with a Brunton Inspire battery on my last tour. I was not overly impressed with it’s power output and charging my smartphone directly from the panel was inconsistent at best. It ships with absolutely no directions so I had to figure everything out for myself. While I like the simplicity of the USB charging port I think there are better options out there for the mobile adventurer. I sold my Brunton Explorer on Ebay but I hung on to the Brunton Inspire battery.
In my experience Brunton Explorer and Inspire Power Pack does work but would be a better solution for someone who was staying in the same camp for a couple days at a time.
JOOS Solar is a product I have not yet tested but I like it’s simplicity. Granted it’s a tad bit heavy at 24oz. because it comes bundled with a battery pack. Reviews online suggest that it’s Monocrystaline solar cell is more efficient and will charge in many overcast environments. It’s small and would be easy to position on a handlebar bag or pannier. The back panel opens up and the battery is replaceable and water-tight.
I am very excited to test the JOOS Solar. I like it’s small size as it will easily fit on the front and back of my bicycle. It’s a tad bit heavy but I really go for the form factor.
Charge Electronics Off The Grid with Cache Batteries
Storing the power you create via a charger or bringing power with you from you home is entirely possible with a cache battery. My typical usage is to use the sunlight to create power all day long and store it in the cache battery. When I am sitting in the tent at night I can recharge my camera, ipod, etc. Many companies are creating these batteries and they get more powerful and cheaper every season. The beauty of a cache battery is that it charges much easier than a smartphone. If it’s overcast you are not going to draw enough power to charge an iPhone but you can trickle charge your cache battery. Then you use the battery to top up the smartphone. The best part is that they are not that expensive.
Anker cache batteries were suggested to me by Dave Conroy at TiredofIT.ca and after reviewing the specs I am excited to add one of these to my kit. They come in sizes up to 16000 mAh that will charge an iphone or android phone up to 9 times. Some of the units can recharge iPads and android tablets.
Storing power is just as important as creating power. Look at Anker cache batteries to handle your storage needs.
Charge Electronics Off The Grid with Dynamos
I just bought a brand new set of custom wheels from Peter White Cycles that do not include a hub dynamo. I wanted to keep my bicycle as close to it’s original build and that meant using the Hugi Compact hubs it came with.
My cycling mentor, Mr. Paul Pisani [team 7-11], taught me that there was nothing more important than your wheels. Don’t add excess weight to them and make sure to maintain them. I have never had a custom set of wheels before and I did not want the complications of a dynamo hub. Many people are using them and I wanted to include a short blurb here about them.
There is a dynamo product called THE ATOM by SivaCycle that has caught my attention. I am hopeful that more products like this will be available over the course of the next year that I can test an integrate into my kit. I look for new solutions like this everyday and hope that they are robust enough to add into my kit to solve problems.
The way I am approaching this is not to be able to create MORE power but to need LESS of it. I have already made great strides by choosing to use a handheld device. My capture methods veer toward the bare minimum. I want to get away from my normal life as much as possible on my next adventure as oppossed to carrying it all with me.