Gadling gear review: Brunton Restore solar charger

Lets face it. When we travel today, we tend to bring more gadgets along then ever before. Depending on where we’re going, and what we’re doing, it is not uncommon to bring iPods, cell phones, digital cameras, e-book readers, laptops, and more. And while all those gadgets often make travel more convenient and enjoyable, they also require plenty of power to keep them running. That’s not much of a problem when you have easy access to power outlets to charge your gear, but when you’re off the beaten path, it can be a bit of a drag when you run out of juice.

That’s where the Restore solar charger from Brunton comes in handy. The device integrates two solar panels, and a lithium polymer battery, into a small, lightweight body that allows you to keep your gadgets charged no matter where you go. This simple, yet versatile, system has the potential to become a favorite with travelers who visit remote destinations or need power while on the run.

The first thing I noticed when I took the Restore out of the box was how solid and rugged it feels. Its tough, rubberized shell not only gives you the impression that it can take plenty of punishment, it also helps to make the Restore water resistant as well. Two USB ports, one standard 2.0 and one micro-USB, are integrated into either side of the device, while an included charging cable lines one end of the body, always available when you need it.The Restore’s built in battery stores power for you until you’re ready to charge one of your indispensable gadgets. There are multiple ways to build that initial charge before you set out on a trip however, including via a USB port on your computer or with an included DC car adapter. The dual solar panels are also an option of course, and Brunton sells an AC wall adapter separately as well. Using either the USB port or the car adapter took a little more than an hour to fully charge the Restore in my tests, but using the sun was a bit less predictable. The small solar panels took about ten hours to charge the device under good, bright conditions. Cloud cover can, and will, impact the charging time however, so some planning and patience may be required to get the most out of the device.

Once the Restore is fully charged however, it’s ready to pass that energy back to your other devices. To do that, you simply plug your gadgets into one of the built-in USB ports, and turn the Restore on. After that, it’s all automatic, as your iPod, cell phone, or digital camera will begin charging, only stopping once its battery is full. When its done, the Restore will automatically shut itself off, conserving its power for later.

While testing the Restore, I charged multiple devices, including an iPod Nano, iPhone, and a rechargeable headlamp. The process was simple and straight forward, and all of the devices charged without a hitch. It took about two hours to charge the iPod, and I was able to get nearly three full charges out of the Restore without refreshing its internal charge as well. Both the iPhone and headlamp took longer to power up, and consequently couldn’t be recharged as often. Also, in case you’re wondering, the Restore will charge an iPad as well, although it is a very slow process and it is debatable whether or not it is an efficient way to use the precious power.

It is clear that Brunton put a lot of thought into the design of the Restore as well. The device has a flip-top lid that when closed, serves to protect both solar panels from harm, but when opened, provides maximum exposure to the sun. Handles on either end of the device allow it to be fastened to the outside of a backpack, so it can recharge all day long, while four LED-lights display the level of charge currently available on the Restore’s battery. Over all, it is a simple, well built, device that makes on the go charging a breeze.

Other than the slow charging time via the solar panels, the only other knock I have on the Restore isn’t with the device itself, but the included instruction manual. It is scant on the details to say the least, and it was only through trial and error that I figured out that the included charging cable needed to be unplugged from both ports on the device before you can begin charging your gadgets. While the Restore is a simple device to use, a bit more direction for the first time user would be welcome. That said, once you have used it once or twice, the simplicity of it shines through, and you won’t need to look at the manual again anyway.

As someone who travels light and regularly visits remote places, the best recommendation I can give to any piece of gear is that it will accompany me on future adventures. The Brunton Restore meets that criteria without a doubt, and I envision it earning a permanent place in my pack. (MSRP: $120)