Gadling Gear Review: Goal Zero Sherpa 50 Solar Charging Kit

Goal Zero Sherpa 50 solar charing kitLet’s face it; in the modern era of travel most of us rarely hit the road without a slew of gadgets in tow. Smartphones, tablets, digital cameras and a host of other devices have all made travel simpler and more enjoyable than ever before. But keeping the batteries on all of those items fully charged can be a real challenge, especially when traveling through remote locations. Fortunately, there have been some excellent advances in solar charging, which have made gathering energy from the sun a more viable way to power our devices while on the go. The most impressive of those options that I’ve seen so far is the new Sherpa 50 charging kit from Goal Zero, a system that is so powerful that it can even charge your laptop.

At the heart of this kit is Goal Zero’s excellent Nomad 13 solar panel, so named for its ability to generate up to 13 watts of power, and the Sherpa 50 Recharger pack. The two work in tandem to provide an excellent on-the-go charging system for just about any device you could possibly carry with you on your travels. Both are durable, compact and lightweight, so they won’t take up too much room in your pack either. Together they tip the scales at just 2.7 pounds, which isn’t much when you consider how useful this kit can be.

The Nomad 13 solar panel folds open to collect as much of the sun’s rays as possible and can either directly charge a device from its built-in USB port or store energy in the Sherpa 50’s internal battery, which is capable of holding up to 50 watt hours. Charging times depend greatly on the amount of available sunlight but one of the strengths of the panel is that it is capable of drawing power even on overcast days. In bright sunlight the Nomad 13 can fully charge the Sherpa 50 in as little as five hours, but in the real world, however, it only operates that quickly under the most optimal of conditions. It is more realistic to expect a seven to eight hour charge time under normal circumstances, and on cloudy days it could take as much as 12 hours or more. The Sherpa 50 can also be charged in as little as three hours via a wall outlet, which is convenient for having it ready to go before you ever leave home.Once its internal battery is charged, the Sherpa 50 becomes a portable generator that provides plenty of power for all of your gadgets. It features multiple built-in ports for plugging in all manner of devices, including both a USB port and two 12V ports similar to what you find in a car. Goal Zero also offers an AC inverter for the Sherpa 50 that actually adds a standard wall outlet to the mix. The inverter was included in the test unit I was provided, although it is an additional $50 add-on if you purchase the Sherpa 50 as an individual component and not as part of a kit. It is well worth the extra cost, however, as it greatly extends the usefulness of the battery pack. With the inverter included with the Sherpa 50 you can quite literally charge or operate just about anything powered by electricity.

A fully charged Sherpa 50 is capable of recharging most smartphones seven to eight times and a tablet such as an iPad twice. It will even fully recharge a laptop via the AC inverter or a special 12V adapter one time before needing to be topped off by the sun once again. When plugged into the inverter, my MacBook Air charged quickly and efficiently and the Sherpa 50 still had a little juice left in the tank when it was done. I found that to be pretty impressive, as it meant I could still power up a couple of other devices before needing to recharge the Sherpa itself.

Goal Zero Sherpa 50 battery packGoal Zero has created an efficient, easy to use solar charging kit that a lot of people are going to really like. Backpackers, campers, mountaineers, sailors and other outdoor adventurers will definitely want to add the Sherpa 50 kit to their mandatory gear list before heading out to explore the world. The system is perfect for keeping satellite phones, GPS devices, rechargeable headlamps, camera equipment and other items running even when you are hundreds of miles from the closest power source. And if you want to shed a little weight, both the Nomad 13 and the Sherpa 50 are perfectly capable of providing useful services on their own, although the battery pack could become dead weight without a way to keep it charged.

As much as I like this kit there are a few improvements I wouldn’t mind seeing being made to future iterations. For instance, I was annoyed that the Sherpa 50 only had one USB port built in, as there are a lot of items that I carry with me that charge via USB and it would have been nice to charge two of them at a time. I got around this limitation by adding a USB 12V adapter to the mix, but that was just another small item that I needed to keep track of while on the road. Additionally, the USB port that is built into the Nomad 13 solar panel only puts out 1 amp of power, which is fine for many devices but isn’t enough for an iPad or even an iPhone 5. It would be nice if you could simply plug those devices directly into the solar panel itself, but they just won’t charge directly, even if the Nomad is in bright sunlight. The problem isn’t with the panel but the low powered USB port, so hopefully future models will be able to correct this issue.

The other element of the kit that I would like to see improved is more design related. While its weight is only 2.7 pounds, that can still be a significant amount to add to your pack when you’re wanting to travel light. Hopefully future versions of the Sherpa 50 kit can find ways to reduce the weight further, while still managing to keep performance high. This is less of a criticism than it is wishful thinking though, as it wasn’t all that long ago that we would have thought it impossible to have this kind of solar charging option in such a compact package.

As someone who has really come to appreciate having good travel gadgets with rechargeable batteries, I find the Sherpa 50 to be an amazing product. It works well, is simple to set up and it delivers on Goal Zero’s promise of free energy from the sun. I liked this kit so much, in fact, that when I had to return the review unit after I was finished testing it I immediately went shopping for one for myself. I don’t want to get caught without one the next time I head out on a big adventure, as I think it is going to make life much easier.

[Photo Credits: Goal Zero]

Gadling Gear Review: Energizer Pop-Up Lantern

Energizer Pop-Up LanternNow that spring is officially here warmer weather can’t be far behind. That means it’s time to head back outside to enjoy our favorite activities. Few things reconnect us to the outdoors better than a spring camping trip and just in time for the start of the season, Energizer has introduced some great new lighting options for use around the campsite. One of the best of those new options is the Pop-Up Lantern, a compact and rugged light with an ingenious design.

True to its name, the Pop-Up Lantern features a bright, clear lamp that springs out from the base of the light. When it is in its most compact form, the lantern collapses down to just 4 inches in height, which is actually smaller than a can of soda. That makes in incredibly easy to pack and store, and since the entire thing weighs just a few ounces, you’ll barely know that you have it in your backpack. When you’re ready to use it, the light quickly and easily extends upwards, not quite doubling the overall size.

But don’t let its diminutive size fool you. This is an incredibly bright lamp, providing 150 lumens at its highest setting. That’s plenty to illuminate a fairly large campsite and it is actually far too bright for the interior of a tent. Fortunately, holding down the power button allows the user to dim the light to a custom setting, which makes it more useful in a variety of settings and can greatly extend battery life. Considering the lamp can get up to 100 hours of run time on the included AA batteries, you won’t have to worry about getting caught out in the backcountry without any light for quite some time.Energizer built the Pop-Up Lantern to be durable enough to survive in the outdoors, and while its case is made from plastic, it doesn’t feel fragile in any way. In fact, it has a surprisingly solid feel that will give you a sense of confidence when packing it for just about any outdoor excursion. The lantern is even water resistant, which makes it a great choice for use on a boat and will keep it from shorting out in an unexpected downpour. Energizer is so confident in the build quality of this light that they even ship it with a lifetime warranty. That should give you a sense of just how durable it truly is.

The Pop-Up Lantern has a simple and easy to use design so it is difficult to find much fault with it. The lamp does exactly what you would expect – provide super-bright light whereever you need it. The fact that it is also very efficient with battery life, built to withstand plenty of wear and tear and can collapse down to a very small, packable size is just icing on the cake.

Best of all, Energizer is selling them at an incredibly affordable price. The Pop-Up Lantern is just $19.99, which is a real bargain for a product of this quality. It is so good, in fact, you just might want two.

[Photo Credit: Energizer]

Video: Trekking The Annapurna Circuit In Nepal

Widely considered to be one of the best trekking routes in the entire world, the Annapurna Circuit wanders through the Himalaya, deftly mixing cultural experiences with breathtaking views. The trail ranges in length between 100-145 miles depending on which route a hiker takes, meandering through numerous tiny mountain villages along the way. Passing by the Annapurna Massif, the trail rises to a height of more than 17,700 feet as snow capped peaks tower overhead.

Recently, filmmaker Gerardo Sergovia sent five weeks walking the trail with a group of friends capturing more than a terabyte of video footage in the process. He has managed to distill all of that footage down to this one four and a half minute clip that does an amazing job of capturing the splendor of the Himalaya so well. If you love the mountains, you won’t want to miss this video. It may even inspire you to want to make the trek yourself.


5 Spring Break Trips That Don’t Require Boozing In Mexico

Neon colored fruity cocktails consumed poolside with college students and bad house music in the background not really your thing? Spring break can be a lot of things, and it doesn’t have to fit the classic stereotype of sunburned jocks taking tequila shots in Cabo.

Spring is that perfect time of year when it’s not quite summer but the weather’s nicer so you can take full advantage of the great outdoors while still avoiding the larger crowds of tourists. If you’re willing to invest a little time in adventure planning, you can get some serious payoff. This is the time of camping and road trips after all.

So start packing your tent and down sleeping bag and get ready to explore. And although you might not be boozing at Senor Frogs, feel free to bring a flask of high-quality whiskey. It’s perfect around a campfire.

Explore Red Rock Country, Southwestern Utah

Some of my best spring break trips have been spent in southwestern Utah. This is the hotspot of mountain biking, canyoneering and just good old-fashioned exploring. If your mountain biking legs are itching to get out, you can’t do any better than the White Rim Trail. Arches National Park is always busy no matter what time of year, so either be sure to reserve your campsite in advance or opt for the less frequented Canyonlands; Squaw Flat Campground in the Needles District is easy to access from Moab, but is far enough out that you’ll definitely feel off the grid. You’ll freeze at night, but during the day you’ll get dessert spring heat and low crowds. Be sure to bring ample down and wool for when the sun sets.

Hike in Yosemite National Park, California

One of the most iconic and most visited National Parks in the US, you should do whatever you can to avoid Yosemite National Park in the peak of summer. Springtime, however? Have at it. Because you are at elevation, you will need to pack layers, and you’ll need to be ok with the potential of waking up to snow on the ground, but you’ll have a beautiful park with a touch more peace and quiet than most people see it in. Take a day hike to explore a small part of the John Muir Trail.

Highway 101 Road Trip, Oregon and California

It might not be warm enough to do the Pacific Coast Highway in a convertible, but a drive down the coast of Oregon and California in springtime is a beautiful thing. There are plenty of state parks along the way, which are much less crowded this time of year, and you’ll pass through enough cities that you can log in some urban adventures.

Bike in Yellowstone National Park, Montana

In the summer you can barely see a buffalo without a tourist and a camera right next to it, and cycling within the National Park would be near suicide, but in the early spring when the roads are plowed and the crowds have yet to arrive en masse, cycling is an excellent way to explore Yellowstone. It’s still a time of year when you are subject to the desires of the weather gods, so you will want to check with the local park service which roads are open.

A Hut-to-Hut Trip at Mount Rainier, Washington

Cross country skiing and snowshoe in the Mount Tahoma Trails Association‘s hut and yurt system. The trail system lies just outside of Mount Rainier National Park, and includes two cabins and a yurt for overnights. You’ll want to be sure to check availability online, and weather can quickly change your winter adventure into more of a muddy hike, but the views of Mount Rainier from High Hut are stunning and certainly worth it.

[Photo Credits: Anna Brones]

How Cheap Is Nicaragua? How About $2 Beers In A Luxury Hotel Minibar

minibar pricesIf I ruled the world, I would issue a decree commanding every hotel to install minibars stocked with $2 bottles of beer. But since that’s never going to happen, you might have to go to Nicaragua to experience such an enlightened minibar alcohol policy.

I’m a frugal traveler – a cheapskate, if you will. And so I rarely – almost never, in fact – use the hotel minibar (unlike David Samuels of The Atlantic, who recently wrote a long and bizarre piece about how hotel minibars provide him with companionship). But last week while staying at the Hotel Plaza Colon in Granada, Nicaragua, I made liberal use of a hotel minibar for the first time in my life. The Plaza Colon is probably the most luxurious hotel in Granada and it’s one of the finest places to stay in the country, but I was shocked and delighted to discover that ice-cold bottles of beer cost just $2 in my room’s minibar. Bottled water cost $1, and a small bottle of rum was just $6 (or $8 if you wanted higher quality stuff).

You know you’re in a delightfully cheap country when a luxury hotel prices beer in the minibar at $2 and, sure enough, Nicaragua doesn’t disappoint on the value scale. Tim Leffel, author of “The World’s Cheapest Destinations” considers Nicaragua to be one of the world’s cheapest countries and after a recent visit there, I have to agree.


Two dollars is actually a pretty high price for a beer in Nicaragua, where most places charge $1 for a 12-ounce bottle of local beer. The Hotel Plaza Colon is an outstanding hotel and room rates there hover around $100 a night. Basic hostel beds go for $3-8 and in many parts of the country you can find a decent hotel room with A/C for $30 or less. If you are very, very frugal, you can travel for about $15 a day in Nicaragua.

If you patronize a restaurant that caters mostly to locals, like Asados Juanita in San Juan del Sur, you can eat a big dinner of freshly grilled meats, plantains, rice, beans and salad for about $4 (see video above). At the other end of the spectrum, you can eat at a touristy place like Abuelos, which is right on the gorgeous Laguna de Apoyo, for roughly $8-10 each. At Abuelos, you can gorge yourself on freshly grilled meats and then take a dip in the lake to cool off (see video below).




Car rental isn’t particularly cheap, but even in the most touristy areas of the country you can hire a driver to take you around for $50-60 for a full day, depending on how far away you want to go. A ride on a local chicken bus will cost about 60-80 cents an hour and more comfortable minibuses aren’t much more. A short ride in a taxi in Granada and other cities can cost as little as 50 cents each because the drivers stop to pick up other passengers. The one hour, twenty minute ferry ride to Ometepe island costs less than $2. A good one hour massage will set you back about $15-$25.

Entrance fees to tourist attractions, like the volcano parks and other natural wonders, rarely exceed $5. We paid just $3 to get into the Ojo de Agua, a gorgeous natural spring on Ometepe, and thought we had died and gone to heaven (see video).




After a budget busting week in pricey Costa Rica, we were thrilled to arrive in much more affordable Nicaragua. I don’t think it’s the cheapest country in the world, but it’s definitely the cheapest country that is close to the U.S.

[Photo/video credits: Dave Seminara]