Solar chargers just keep getting better and better.
The EnerPlex Kickr IV is a good example. This is a new brand for me. I’ve generally used Goal Zero in the past. But I packed the Kickr along on our two-week family canoe trip in Killarney Provincial Park this past summer. It seemed a little lighter, and I definitely needed to cut down some weight. Packing all my camera gear, plus my daughter’s “extras,” made portaging a nightmare.
The Kickr IV is certainly compact, portable and yet still durable. It measures about 18 cm x 23 cm and less than 2.5 cm thick, and then folds out to 76 cm with its four solar panels. The total weight is only 240 grams.
Of course, it has the same issue that all solar-charging devices have. It works great in full sun but not-so-great at other times. To be honest, solar power isn’t the fastest way to boost your batteries. But it’s still a good choice while out on a trip.
The company states the Kickr IV charges devices just as qyucky as a wall outlet. My field-testing showed that it’s pretty close on a full sunny day when the charger is laid out on a flat rock, angled directly into the sun. Most of the time, however, I had the panel hanging from my pack on a portage or stored on top of the gear in the canoe. I’d get it to charge up half as fast. However, that’s still better than carrying a bunch of batteries.
The Kickr IV is 6.5 watts of unregulated input power and six-watt, five-volt regulated. The built in USB will give you 1.2 amps of charging power. That means it won’t fully charge your iPad but will easily charge your cellphone, taking about two hours in full sun. My Sony Adventure Camera (similar to a GoPro) was the main thing I kept charging. It eats batteries. I was able to fully charge it in about half-an-hour.
If you’re planning to use any solar charger, it’s best to charge a battery pack from the solar panels and then charge your devices from that. You get a better charge that way and you’ll always have backup power stored for cloudy days or in the evenings. For my two-week Killarney trip, I had to power all the normal devices (GPS, three headlamps, a satellite phone and SPOT navigation device), but I was also filming the trip and had two cameras — so I needed a lot more power. For storage I packed one of my Goal Zero Guide 10 Battery Pack as well as EnerPlex Jumper Slate 10K All that gave me lots of backup power to play with.
The Jumper Slate was a $100 and would be overkill for most campers. For me, however, it was a perfect addition (and I even got it on sale for $60). I had no issue with it charging all my cameras and devices. It’s lightweight and takes up minimal space in the pack (less than seven millimetres thick). There are smaller models, but the 10K model has dual 2.4 amp outputs, which allows you to charge two devices at once. The battery capacity is an incredible 10,000 mAh — meaning you can power-up a lot of stuff from one charge. It can fully charge an iPhone five or six times.
There was one more solar device we packed along on our trip: the EnerPlex Surfr Battery Case. This was my wife’s purchase. She wanted to bring her iPhone to take pictures, but knew I’d be protective of my battery packs. So, she picked this small charger up on sale for $60. It acts as a storage case for your phone, has an internal backup battery and collects solar power on the go. The 1,400 mAh internal battery doubles the life of your phone. That’s the cool part. Also, the solar capabilities worked perfectly for my wife on our trip. She simply placed it in on the canoe seat beside her and it charged while we paddled. However, she did note that there were some poor online reviews of the Surfr. It seems people were noticing it didn’t charge as well as expected. This all makes sense. Most users wouldn’t have their unit sitting in full sun, all day, while they paddled across a lake. They’d probably catch a few rays here and there throughout the day. For our trip, the Surfr served its purpose, however. She’d get about one-quarter to half-charge most days and never needed to borrow any of my power while on our trip.
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