While camping last year at a primitive campsite along the North Shore of Lake Superior near Duluth, Minn., I realized I needed a power source or a portable solar panel to power my iPhone 5S and camera batteries.
It took me about a year to find a solution — with stumbles along the way — but it appears I’ve solved the problem with a portable solar panel kit called the Nomad 7M.
Finding the right product took some time. The first portable solar panel I tried was the Powertraveller Powermonkey Extreme 12V Solar Battery Charger ($199) purchased at REI in Bloomington, Minn. I tried three times to charge my iPhone 5S with no luck, so back to the store it went! (REI has a great return policy, especially if items don’t work, so no worries there.)
I wasn’t ready to give up on finding a portable solar panel, so I looked at what a manufacturer called Goal Zero had to offer. I noticed the Boy Scouts of America sold Goal Zero products on their website, leading me to think that must be an indication the solar panels really worked for their scouts out in the wilderness.
So I headed back to REI to search for the Goal Zero solar panel. From my tiny hometown of Murdock, Minn., the drive to REI is more than two and half hours, but I didn’t want to just order off a website. I wanted to look, touch, and learn in person.
It was the Goal Zero Guide 10 Plus Adventure Kit Solar Charger ($120) that I wound up purchasing along with an additional Goal Zero Guide 10 Plus Battery Pack ($49).
The first day I tested the solar charge (aka the Nomad 7M solar panel), I was amazed that my iPhone 5S was charging in my backyard off the sun. My iPhone 5S charge went from about 50 percent battery power to 100 percent in just about one hour! Plus, I was able to get this brand up and running on the first attempt using the kit, which made me a happy camper.
How to get started with the portable solar panel
First, I unfolded the solar panel, and using the daisy chains or hoops on the side of the solar panel, I attached the panel to a hook on the side of an old garage to collect energy in the sunniest spot I could find.
After realizing I needed to make the solar panel more portable, I used a step ladder to hang it in a way that could be moved around the yard to the sunniest locations, although it was overcast for most of the morning while I was testing out the kit. You could also use cords, carabiners, or hooks to attach the solar panel to a backpack, tree, or other location to collect solar power.
There is a description and diagram located on the backside of the solar panel with instruction on how to properly use the panel to collect solar power.
Fast charging steps – smartphone, tablet, and more
I’ve put together helpful steps to get your smartphone charging fast, along with some comments from Lisa Janssen, Public Relations Manager at Goal Zero.
It’s important to note: If you are planning a camping, wilderness trip, or anticipate a natural disaster or emergency, charge the Goal Zero Guide 10 Plus Battery Pack, aka the recharger, to full battery power before heading to locations where you will not have access to electrical power.
Also good to know: Charging from the USB cord direct to the solar panel could take several hours and is not recommended. Using the combination of the solar panel with the recharger — the design of the Goal Zero Guide 10 Plus Adventure Kit Solar Charger — will help you charge your smartphone faster.
For the Goal Zero Guide 10 Plus Adventure Kit Solar Charger
(Charging smartphone with portable solar panel and recharger)
- Find a sunny location or the best location even if it’s cloudy outside. Unfold the Nomad 7M. Hang the solar panel on a tree, backpack, or other location to collect solar power. Remember to look for directions for best solar collection found on the panel’s backside.
- Turn smartphone to airplane mode to save energy, or turn it off, to help charge faster. If you are trying to make or receive an emergency call, charging time might be longer. If the iPhone is off, you can’t see the percentage of battery power, but you could turn it on and off when needed to check on the charging progress.
- Plug USB cable, the cable that comes with your device, into the smartphone and into the front side of the Goal Zero Guide 10 Plus Battery, the USB port, located above the LED light on the center front.
- Go to the back of the Nomad 7M solar panel, and find the Guide 10 cable, and plug into the Solar Input on the front side of the Guide 10 Plus.
- Turn the switch on the Guide 10 Plus to “On”, or to the “I” position or middle location. Note: You will hear iPhone make charging sound and there will be a green light on the back of the solar panel indicating the panel is collecting solar power. This means you are charging your iPhone with both the solar panel and the recharger.
- Monitor solar panel to make sure it’s in the sunniest location or make changes. The Guide 10 Plus is designed to charge on cloudy days.
- Now just be patient and wait. You can still use your smartphone as you are charging, if needed. Charging times depend on weather conditions and the device you are charging.
(Charging GoPro, Garmin watches, and other small devices)
“You would use the charging cable that comes with the device and plug it into the USB port on the Nomad 7 Solar Panel. They can also be charged from the Guide 10 Plus,” said Lisa Janssen.
She also suggests if you have a GoPro camera you might want to follow the directions listed above to charge a smartphone fast as the GoPro is notorious for terrible battery life.
I was able to charge my iPhone 5S from about 50 percent to 100 percent battery power in approximately one hour using the Nomad 7M solar panel with the Guide 10 Plus Battery (the recharger). The recharger was almost at 100 percent before starting the direct solar charge with solar panel and recharger, which is the best practice if you know you are going to be heading in the wilderness or off the grid.
The fact that it only weights 19 ounces and folds into its own carrying case is also a plus for hikers, as every ounce add up while walking long distances!
The material from which the solar panel is made — monocrystalline — along with the design, makes the solar panel efficient and durable. There is a video on YouTube of a van driving over a Nomad Solar Panel, and still working after the test! I’d say that’s a good sign if you are heading into the great outdoors and likely to come across a few bumps or possibly drops of your solar kit during an adventure!
At this time, I plan to keep the solar panel kit and go on a few adventures!
About the author: Jannet Walsh loves cutting-edge innovation and using new technology to engage people’s attention in today’s social media world. Her videos have aired on CNN, CNN iReport, HLN, and elsewhere. With a background as a New York Times Company staff photographer, you can find her latest multimedia work at JannetWalsh.com/portfolio.