One of my biggest frustrations on the trail is dead batteries. Just when I’m about to capture an Ansel Adams moment, my camera dies. Or my GPS batteries die, and I have to lug dead AAs for the rest of the trip so I can dispose of them properly when I’m back home.
I found a solution for at least some of our battery problems! A British company called PowerTraveller has developed a solar charger and backup power source, the Powermonkey eXplorer.
I strapped it to my daypack on a recent hiking trip, and gave it a try. I brought along my cellphone, a Blackberry, and an iPod (generally just the cellphone comes with me on the trail; the other items were brought along for the test!) Unfortunately my Canon PowerShot camera uses a proprietary rechargeable battery, so it wasn’t able to be used with the Powermonkey eXplorer.
How the Powermonkey eXplorer Works
The Powermonkey consists of 2 main parts: the solar charging device (the Solar Slave), and a battery pack (the Powermonkey eXplorer).
The battery pack can be charged one of 3 ways:
- Solar Charger For me, the Solar Charger is the only relevant source, because the sun is the only one that is available on the trail!
- Via a USB outlet. Such as a laptop computer, some newer cars, etc.
- Via an electrical outlet. It comes with 4 interchangeable heads that work in the US, Japan, China, the UK, Australia, and Europe.
I hiked with the Solar Charger strapped to the outside of my daypack, with the battery safely tucked inside (but connected to the Solar Slave). It took about 4 hours of hiking in direct sunlight to get 2 bars of power (out of 6) loaded up into the Powermonkey battery (the directions say it takes about 6 hours for 1/3 charge). I’d recommend that people start hiking with the battery full. A fully powered up Powermonkey was sufficient to fully charge a dead cellphone, a dead iPod, and 1/3 of the battery on a Blackberry!
Did the Powermonkey eXplorer Charge My Electronic Devices?
|Cellphone: I used the solar panel to recharge the Powermonkey battery. Then I used the Powermonkey battery to charge my completely dead cellphone. It used up 2 bars of power on the Powermonkey battery, which I then proceeded to use to charge up my iPod.|
|iPod: It took just about 4 hours and 2 bars of power to fully charge my dead iPod, which is longer than when I plug it in to an outlet at home, but only about an hour longer! What was really nice was that on the car ride home, I plugged the solar slave directly into the iPod, so it maintained its charge despite several hours of use! My iPod is quite old and the battery tends to die quickly, so the solar charger came in super handy!|
|Blackberry: By the time I got to charging my Blackberry, the Powermonkey battery only had 2 bars left (out of 6). It used up its 2 bars, which provided about 1/3 charge on my Blackberry. Not bad to be able to charge 3 devices on one full charge of the Powermonkey!|
- Easy to figure out. The Powermonkey is very easy to use and figure out. There is no 50 page instruction manual – it is straightforward to use.
- Clear LCD display.
- Nice grip.
- Tough design. Yes I dropped it! And it is tough, durable, and apparently water resistant (no I didn’t drop it in a stream!)
- Comes with 10 tips. This makes it easy to use with a wide variety of devices, and there are more available from the company if needed.
- Lightweight. The battery pack is 2.4 ounces, and the solar charger is 3.2 ounces. On a backpacking trip, it would be sufficient to just take along the solar charger piece, and charge your phone, GPS, or camera directly. The battery pack is only necessary if you want to store up power and charge devices later or a night.
Overall this is a really great device for hikers, backpackers, and travelers. The price tag is a bit steep at $105 on Amazon, but the peace of mind knowing I’ve got battery power is worth it.
Hi there – it was the Canon battery that was the problem, not the PowerMonkey. That was an old camera (it has long since been water damaged on a kayaking adventure!) and that particularly model could only be charged with a charger made by Canon. Happy trails!
With regards to the proprietary battery of you powershot camera, is there another type of battery that would be able to be charged? In other is it the battery itself, or the battery charger or connector ports that was the problem with the powermonkey not being able to charge your camera battery?
Thanks for sharing!
I have too find a super qualitate solar charger for adventure, hiking:
Great feedback. I’ll have to check that out. I appreciate the heads up, and sometimes companies do supply free product (usually they want it returned!) for a review, but it is always fun to play with the latest gear!
I can’t say I have tried the powermonkey, but it was one of the first i have come across. its output was one of the better of the solar chargers i have found, but then I found goalzero and their nomad 7 solar panel and battery pack/charger. http://www.goalzero.com/. check it out, you’ll definitely appreciate it and who knows, being who you are, they might even give you a free one if you offer to review it and put it up on your site?
Great question, Rockin! I haven’t used the Surge or Solio, but I’ve seen pretty mixed reviews on them. I found the Powermonkey to be reliable, so I’d recommend it if you find that you really need to take your iPhone along…To really save weight you may be better off with a Spot for emergencies and leave the iPhone behind. Just a thought!
Good luck on your thru-hike of the PCT.
This is a very complete and helpful review. I am looking for a new more powerful solar charger for my iphone for thru-hiking the PCT this summer. I had the Surge last year and 1 panel was not enough. What are your thoughts? I was looking at a Solio also, but of course trying to save weight!
Thanks for the speedy response,
good info for comparisons. by the way I was backpacking in the sierras by north lake and lake sabrina in Bishop this past weekend with the sierra club.
my Scosche weighs 2.8 oz which i appreciate it much. the solar panel surface seem to be less than half of yours which i presume it consequently means smaller internal battery capacity thus difficult to compare apples to apples in terms of charging times. at home i hung it outside to get the most amount of direct sunlight during the day for two days and it seems to be fully charged(4 green led’s). i haven’t checked to see how much i can use that charge. however, when i fully charged it by plugging in to the wall, it charged in a couple of hours (wasn’t keeping track) i was able to charge my iphone 4 2.5 times once from almost completely drained battery. in other words, i am happy with its weight and performance once it is fully charged having plugged in to the wall (or computer), now if it performs just as well by having been charged in 15 hours by the solar panels then i will be end my search for another device. one drawback i have though is that when hung from the back pack i would need to somehow secure it down so that it wont keep dangling and break and so that it wont flip around where the panels would turn toward the backpack and away from the sun.
write to me if you would like to know more about this unit.
thanks for the info and happy trails.
Great questions and comments.
Yes, the Powermonkey took 4 hours to get 1/3 charge vs. 6 hours like the directions say. However, I was hiking in high altitude…10k feet in the Eastern Sierras near Bishop Creek Pass (therefore it was very sunny). The directions probably say 6 hours just in case people end up in not so sunny areas…
Yep, I also tested it charging it from empty to full using solar cells only. It took a day and a half of lots of hiking for the sun to get it all charged up… so roughly 13-14 hours. I hiked/was taking breaks in the sun for about 8 hours the first day and on the 2nd day it was full about another 5 hours or so (the charging was almost linear progression). And yes, both days were bright and sunny with limited tree cover (the Eastern Sierras are quite rocky and aren’t like the Colorado Rockies that have trees all the way up into the super high elevations.)
I haven’t tried the Scosche charger. I’ll have to find one and give it a try. The price you paid sounds great!!
Thanks again for the questions and comments! Happy trails!
Dear Hiking Lady,
I share your frustration with the dead battery syndrom on the trails especially on long multi day backpacking trips.
I am a little confused about your experience with the Powermonkey eXplorer. on your day hike did you take up the Powermonkey eXplorer with empty battery to see how long it would take to charge the battery using the sun light OR you had the battery all charged up at home and took it on your hike to see how long it would take to charge your electronic devices with it?
earlier you mentioned that the instructions for the Powermonkey eXplorer indicated that it would take 6 hours to charge up 1/3 of the battery pack, yet your experience showed that it charged up 2 out of 6 lights (1/3) in 4 hours (which is better timing). were you able to see how long it would take to charge up the entire battery from flat empty using the solar cells only? according to what you experienced it would take 12 hours if the charging process is a linear progression. was this day a particularly bright sunny day?
have you ever tried the Scosche Solar Powered battery charger? if so i would like to hear your opinion on its performance.
I purchased the Scosche Solar Powered battery charger for only $24 for the same reason. the single page document inside indicated it would take 4-5 days to charge up the internal battery, however when i called the company one of the engineers said the particular model that i have will take only 15 hours to charge.