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.