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Outdoor Retailer: Solar power in small packages

Several sources of solar power panels and solar powered devices were shown at the Outdoor Retailer winter trade show. Many of the newest solar chargers Alicia and I saw are intended for recharging small items like smartphones, iPods, digital cameras, flashlights, and rechargeable batteries. However, larger capacity models also are available from most companies, for those who need greater charging power.


Brunton has several new additions to their portable power line: the Freedom, Restore, and Explorer, all coming out in February. I'll note that my 26-watt Brunton foldable panel has served me well in Antarctica and Africa, along with weekend backpacks locally.

The 5.7-ounce Freedom will be Brunton's most compact offering. Brunton claims the 7.2-ounce Restore is the most efficient and compact integrated solar charger yet. Brunton's Scott Kaier showed us the Restore in the video below.


FTL Solar

FTL Solar had several foldable panels on display, plus a 285-watt 12-volt awning. Until now, FTL Solar, which claims to be the "world leader" in lightweight solar panels, mostly has sold to the military.

They do offer commercial products, such as parking structure roofs, rooftop building installations, and small and large solar tent structures for governments, businesses, and public and private institutions. They also make units for disaster relief and humanitarian needs.

FTL Solar's main portable units displayed were camo or civilian black with low-reflective power panels, at a cost of $11/watt ($10/watt for the black civilian units). The "sail" (on the tent top) is $22/watt, with a wind rating of 50 mph. FTL Solar panels are offered in PET recycled fabric.


Highgear SolarPod


Highgear is offering its very first solar charger, the SolarPod. At $50, it's the least expensive and smallest (4.3" x 3.7" x 0.5" and 2.4 ounces) of the solar chargers we saw.

A carabiner clip allows you to attach the SolarPod to your backpack to charge it while on the trail. It charges in 8 hours in full sun and is designed as an entry-level model for anyone who carries a cell phone or MP3 player, whether they carry their devices on the trail, to the beach, or while traveling, according to Highgear.





The newest small solar charger from SolarFocus is the SolarDuo. It takes 4.5 hours to fully charge two AA batteries in full sun. For comparison, SolarFocus's original SolarMio can fully charge in three hours. SolarFocus says the Duo is suitable for GPS receivers, phones, MP3 players, iPods, and other small devices. The company is also offering the introductory Marrs Mission 1 solar charger as an entry-level product.


All of these solar charger offerings are promising, and some models the thru-hiker, and traveler, may find useful. In the meantime, I will continue to use my Brunton.


Read user reviews and information for solar chargers.

Write your own solar charger review.


I currently own a Brunton Solaris 26 foldable charger that I have had a couple years. It will power my laptop, charge my camera and flashlight batteries and my cell phone all from direct sunlight.

I paid $350 for mine new a couple years ago, now it costs about $600. But it works great and unfolded is about 4 x 3 feet, folded its 8 inches x 11 inches. It weighs about 1 lb and has a carrying bag and the attachments for everything.

I currently have a Powerfilm Solar folding flexible AA/AAA charger. About two months after I bought it Powerfilm Solar started selling an AA/AAA & USB version of the same model. If I had konwn, I'd surely have waited and bought that one.

The one I have.

The one I wish I had.

Sweet charger! The AA/AAA charger I have ain't so bad either. It will charge 4 "name brand" AA batteries in less than one day of full sunlight. It's water resistant, squishable, squashable, has a bunch of grommets to make mounting to your pack or wherever easier, and folds down to about the size of a melted Kit-Kat bar. I like it!


This is the Brunton Solaris 26 that I have. It powers my laptop with normal sun conditions in the same amount of time that plugging it into a wall socket will do. And charge my camera and flashlight batteries as well. With the adapter plug it will charge a car battery and run a electric camp lamp.

Price: $620.20

Features Overall dimensions: 21.5"x37.5" Overall dimensions folded: 11"x8.5"x1" Weight: 28 oz Panel type: CIGS Max output: 26 watts

has anyone used a wind up generated power source? and if so is there a good one out there someone could suggest?

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