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: Solar Chargers For Travel

Solio Classic 2 Solar ChargerKeeping all of our electronic gadgets charged while traveling can be a real challenge, particularly if you’re visiting a remote part of the world where electricity is at a premium. But just as the gizmos we carry with us have gotten more sophisticated so have the options for keeping them powered. One of those options is taking a solar charger with us when we hit the road. A solar cell provides clean, efficient and, in theory, limitless power for our tech toys.

Here are two distinctly different solar chargers aimed at very different types of travelers. Both are excellent for what they do, and while they each use light from the sun to create electricity, their similarity pretty much ends there.

Solio Classic2
The Classic2 is Solio’s second-generation, travel solar charger, replacing their older Classic model, which was one of the earliest compact chargers on the market. The Classic2 improves on its predecessor in some key areas making it a much more efficient option to have in your pack when you travel. Those improvements include doubling the battery capacity and adding a full-size USB port integrated into the device. The previous version came with a number of special adapters, which were incredibly inconvenient to carry along on a trip. Since most devices, including smartphones and cameras, now charge via USB, this was an evolutionary, but very welcome, change.

The Classic2 features three small solar cells, each embedded in its own arm. When collapsed the device is small, lightweight and compact. It weighs just 10.1 ounces and easily slips into a backpack, carry-on bag or luggage. When ready to collect energy from the sun, it opens up like a flower, exposing all three cells for maximum efficiency. The energy is then stored in a 3200-mAh internal battery, which in turn is used to charge our devices via the built-in USB port.Solio says that it should take 8-10 hours to charge the Classic2’s internal battery from the sun, but in my testing it was definitely closer to the high side of that estimate, if not longer. Cloudy days and the amount of exposure to direct sunlight can impact that charging time dramatically. Fortunately, the internal battery can also be topped off from a wall socket or from a USB port on a computer. In both cases, it takes roughly six hours to charge the battery.

The built-in USB port on this charger provides up to 1 Amp of power, which puts it on par with a typical wall charger. That means it can charge a smartphone or MP3 player in fairly short order. Solio claims charging an iPhone takes about 90 minutes, although again I found it took a bit longer. It was closer to 2 hours in my testing, although the internal battery did provide nearly three full recharges on an iPhone 4S. It should be noted that the Classic2 is also capable of charging an iPad, although it is a slow process and it will drain the entire charge.

The Solio Classic2 is perfect for travelers who enjoy traveling light and may need to juice up their gadgets a few times while on the road. It’s compact, easy to pack and works as advertised. I’d recommend using it for cellphones, GPS units, MP3 players and point-and-shoot cameras. Anything more than that is likely to provide results that are a bit more frustrating.

Goal Zero Guide 10 Plus Adventure Kit
Goal Zero's Guide 10 Adventure KitLarger and more powerful than Solio’s offering, the Guide 10 Plus Adventure Kit from Goal Zero is designed for the adventure traveler that intends to be in the backcountry for an extended period of time. It features twin 9-inch solar panels that are capable of generating up to 7 Watts of power, charging up the included battery pack in as little as 3-4 hours. Like the Solio Classic2, this kit features a built-in USB port capable of putting out a 1 Amp charge but it also includes 4 AA batteries, a rechargeable flashlight and cables that help round out the package, providing everything you need to keep your gadgets charged while living off the grid.

Putting Goal Zero’s solar charger to the test, I found that it wasn’t necessarily faster at charging up my devices than Solio’s much smaller device. That’s in part because they both share that same 1 Amp USB charging port, which made charging times on smartphones and cameras roughly the same. Where the Guide 10 Plus shines is that it can charge its battery pack much more quickly and consistently than the Solio Classic2. Collecting power from the sun is a more viable option with the Guide 10 Plus kit, and while with Solio’s offering it, it was a more uneven experience.

The Guide 10 is considerably larger than the Classic2, although it does fold up into a rather compact form for transport. The solar cells are designed to connect to a backpack so that they can collect the suns rays while hiking throughout the day. That means by the time you make camp in the evening, you’ll have gathered plenty of power to charge your gadgets overnight.

It should be noted that like the Solio Classic2, the Guide 10 kit is more than capable of charging your iPad using nothing but solar power. No matter which device you use, it can be a slow process, particularly with the higher capacity batteries of the iPad 3. The larger solar cells make this a more efficient process on Goal Zero’s offering, however, and that is the option I’d recommend if you absolutely need to keep your tablet powered while in the field.

Both the Classic2 and Guide 10 are viable options for using solar power and I think they are both good at what they do, provided you understand their strengths and limitations ahead of time. The Classic2 is small, compact and easy to carry everywhere. Its battery pack is good for 3-4 recharges of various devices, although it is slow to refill using the sun. On the other hand, the Guide 10 can charge much more quickly and reliably, but it is larger and bulkier to carry with you.

Most travelers will find the $99 Solio Classic2 will fit their needs quite nicely, while backpackers, mountaineers and long distance trekkers will appreciate what Goal Zero’s Guide 10 Adventure Kit delivers. That $159 solution has everything they need to stay powered up for extended journeys and its more rugged construction is designed to stand up to punishment on those kinds of excursions.

It’s great that we’re finally to the point where solar power is a true option for gathering power while traveling.

Bonus gear deal: Goal Zero Nomad 7 solar panel + free speaker kit for $99

goal zero solar panel

Looking to recharge your gadgetry on the road, without having to rely on the power grid? The Goal Zero Nomad 7 is a very compact dual-panel solar charger that delivers 7 watts of charging power. This means your phone will charge just as efficiently as when it is plugged in to AC power. With a decent amount of sun, you’ll get your Blackberry from 0 to 100% in just one hour.

The charger delivers power from a 12 volt plug and a USB plug and features a device pocket, keeping your phone, PDA, camera or other gadget out of the sun. I recently tested this in the winter sun, and it charged my phone in under an hour.

Normally, this impressive solar charger retails for $99 – but Goal Zero is taking advantage of the holiday shopping season by throwing in a $40 Rock-Out rechargeable and rugged speaker for free.

We’ll have a full review of this product tomorrow – along with a chance to win yourself a Nomad 7 with a Rock-Out speaker of your own!

To order, or to learn more about other Goal Zero products, head on over to their web site. The free speaker promotion last till the end of December, but keep shipping deadlines in mind if you are shopping for a gift.