Weight: 11 ounces
Guided clients demand a higher level of safety and preparation than you might find in a recreational group. Part of being safe is keeping your packs lean without skimping on necessary safety gear. While guiding I often need a satellite or cell phone to schedule pick-ups with my bush pilot, check weather, or communicate in emergencies. Over the years, I have started to use a small solar panel to charge my phone, allowing me to get through a long trip with a single lightweight battery.
This summer I tested Global Solar’s Sunlinq portable 12-watt panel while working in Alaska on Denali and in the Ruth Gorge. Three expeditions over 2 months put the panel to the test through wind, sun, snow, and rain in temperatures that ranged from -15 degrees F to 140+ degrees F (tent surface temp). The Sunlinq panel comes standard with a cigarette lighter adaptor (CLA) receptacle, CLA vehicle power outlet, battery clamps, a 4 in. barrel connector, and a 8 ft. extension cable. The package containing the folding panel and cords retails for about $169. Additionally you can purchase an iPod cable, or just use your iPod’s car charger with the female CLA cable.
The whole system (minus cables) weighs 11 ounces and is 9″ x 5″ x .75″ folded and 29″ x 17.5″ open. The panel produces up to 12 watts, enough to charge a cell phone in about an hour, or a satellite phone in 2-3 hours. Power output varied with the intensity of the sun, but this panel charged well even in cloudy conditions and when the sun was low on the horizon.
The technology driving this panel is called CIGS (Copper Indium Gallium Diselenide), and is currently the most efficient, durable, lightweight, and flexible option. The extra cost for flexibility is almost irrelevant as this panel seems to last much longer than more fragile, rigid panels. There is some cool science behind this, but more importantly: this is one of the few situations where a lighter product is also a more durable product.
A section of 3mm accessory cord tied easily onto brass grommets built into each corner of the panel. This allowed me to clip or tie the panel to the roof of my tent and run the cables inside so that I could charge a device from my sleeping bag.
Initially I was hesitant to leave the panel out at night or during rain and snow, but eventually I did this and encountered no problems with the brutal Alaskan freeze-thaw cycle.
[Photo] John Race
Most solar panels have some sort of proprietary plug-in system. As a result you end up buying and using their cables. The only two cables I find myself using in the mountains are the female CLA adaptor and a small cable made specifically for iPods. Additionally this system does not store power, which limits your charging to times when the sun is out. You can easily add this feature, but it adds considerably to the weight and cost.
If weight is a big issue check out the Sunlinq 6.5 watt panel, which weighs 7 oz without the cables.
Pros: The whole system (minus cables) weighs 11 ounces; brass grommets make the panel easy to secure; panel seems to last much longer than more fragile, rigid panels; durable, even when weathering the elements in harsh conditions.
Cons: This, like most solar panels, has a proprietary cable set; this system does not store power.