How often have your been warned to print out copies of all of your survival and prepping manuals because when the grid is down, the batteries on your electronic gizmos will run down, making them useless?
Personally, I have shunned from printing out my survival and prepping reference material. Why? Well first of all, if bugging out, I would rather carry food, water and first aid supplies on my back than a pile of paper. And second? There are ways to charge the gizmos without power, the most practical being an emergency radio such as the Kaito that has a solar panel and a hand crank. To me, it just makes sense to put a priority a device that serves such an important communications function (the radio, that is).
Kaito Emergency Radio with a Crank Charger – Can Also Charge Cell Phones and e-Book Readers
Beyond the crank up radio/power source, however, there are portable battery charges, generators, and of course, full size solar panels such as the Harbor Freight system I recently set up in my back yard.
But by far, the absolute coolest and most efficient thing I have discovered to date is the SunVolt Portable Solar Power Station coupled with an auxiliary battery pack. This set up just works.
WHAT THE HECK IS A SUNVOLT POWER STATION?
The SunVolt is a portable solar panel that comes packaged in a ballistic nylon case with two D-loops for attaching a shoulder strap and non-slip pads on the bottom to help keep it stable when the panel is open. It is designed to charge any device that uses 20 watts of power or less (sorry, no laptops).
Setting up the SunVolt is incredibly easy. All you do is unzip the main section, open it up and position the solar panel on to one of the indentations on the case. This allows you to adjust the panel so that it gets the best angle facing the sun, which can change depending upon the time of day. There is a main cord that is attached to the SunVolt panel and this in turn passes through the large zippered pouch where you connect it to your various devices.
This is easier to do than to describe but you can get some idea of how it works from the photos below.
After attaching your device to the panel, you can tuck it in to the zippered pocket during the charging process to protect it from overheating in the sun.
CHARGING PORTS, USB TIPS AND ALL THAT STUFF
The SunVolt can charge one or two devices at a time. The main connecter coming out of the case will, with the proper tip, charge a single device. Included, however, is a splitter that will allow you to plug in two devices at once. I tested charging both a cell phone and an external battery pack at the same time and they both charged up fine.
So what about tips? This is the confusing part. My unit is the “iPhone 4” version which is curious since I do not have an iPhone. That said, it came with a tip designed for all Apple 30 pin devices as well as a universal USB port that I could use to plug in my own charging cables (for example the cable that came with my Nikon camera.)
The reason I say confusing is that when shopping for a SunVolt, you need to pick the model that comes with with right tip for your device. The descriptions of the various models are not always clear in that regard. For example, the iPhone4 version, to my way of thinking, should be called the iPhone/iPad version.
That said, I was able to charge my iPad2, my Sony e-Book reader and my cell phone using the standard tips that came with my system. If for some reason your device needs a different tip, there is an interactive chart on the Gomadic website that will help you determine which tip will work with your device or you can or you can use the universal USB port which works too.
There is pretty much a charging tip for everything – they mix and match.
Knowing which tip to use is important because you may have two tips that look the same but one may work and the other may not. This happened during my testing when my Sony reader refused to charge. I finally went to the FAQ on the Gomadic website and learned that different tips are wired differently and that I was using the wrong tip.
When you use the cross reference table on the Gomadic website, a “number” will come up. Each tip is clearly marked with a number right on the connector. Once I plugged in the #97 tip, my Sony charged up from 1 bar to full charge in about an hour and a half.
Extra tips are available for purchase for about $6.00 each.
AND THEN THERE IS THE EXTERNAL BATTERY PACK – WOW!
A really cool accessory for the SunVolt is the external battery pack. This is an external lithium battery pack that you can charge up with your solar panel then throw in your pocket or backpack to power your devices on the road or on the trail or wherever you may need some extra power. The wow-factor comes from having the ability to charge this external pack using the USB port on a laptop giving you added flexibility.
How well did it work? In my test, the fully charged external battery charged my iPad from zero (dead) to 20% before it’s juice ran out. On the other hand, it fully charged my Sony reader and still had plenty of charging juice to spare. The battery pack is abut the size of a deck of cards and weighs about 6 ounces so it is highly portable.
THE FINAL WORD
In the interest of full disclosure, I did not pay for my SunVolt. Gomadic sent it to me for review with the understanding that the opinion I would share with my readers would be an honest representation of my experience with their product.
As I mentioned above, if there is one weakness to their product, it is that ordering a SunVolt can be confusing. To me it would be much easier to sell the basic setup with a universal USB plug then sell the tips separately. Heck, I am not sure that you even need the tips if you still have your original device charging cable.
On the positive side, the SunVolt just works. That, coupled with a lifetime warranty makes it a winner in my book. For more information, visit the Gomadic website or give them a call. You can purchase the SunVolt directly or if you prefer, on Amazon.
Enjoy your next adventure through common sense and thoughtful preparation!
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Bargain Bin: Here are some links to the SunVolt I used for testing purposes as well as some useful other grid-down items.
Gomadic SunVolt High Output Portable Solar Power Station: This is the unit I have. Using this, I was able to both charge and to power my iPad, e-Book reader and cell phone. About $100.
Gomadic Lithium Polymer Rechargeable Battery Pack: This lightweight battery pack can be charged using the SunVolt solar panel or your laptop. It is about $50 and worth it if you can afford it.
Kaito Voyager KA500 5-way Powered Emergency AM/FM/SW Weather Alert Radio: This is the emergency radio that I own. It has a mini-solar panel that can be used to charge its internal battery plus it has a hand crank that will charge it – and your cell phone – as well. This type of radio – whether this one or one similar – should be a priority when it comes to your survival gear. About $50.
Coleman Candle Lantern: When the lights go out, there is nothing like a Coleman. They last forever because spare parts are always available. A candle lantern will not give out the bright light of say, a propane or kerosene lantern. On the other hand, candles are likely to be available when other fuels are not.
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