Earlier this year, at Macworld, Goal Zero was there and offering a variety of their products at a slight discount so I picked up the Sherpa 100, a solar panel, and power inverter.
Having come from another company that makes a waterproof all-in-on solar battery with 5400 MaH, I was really looking for a battery that had four things:
– More power storage,
– more USB plugs,
– same solar charging,
– same ruggedness.
The Goal Zero Sherpa 100 doesn’t score on all counts, but where it scores, it scores so ridiculously high compared to my other unit, that it was a no brainer.
The entire package is much heavier, and more complicated than my current popular unit. But my current unit cannot charge multiple usb devices at the same time, and that’s a problem, because these days, many things I take backpacking are USB powered.
Even if my other device could, it lacks the power storage to keep everything going and charged enough the next day to do it again.
First things first. I’m not an ultralight backpacker, my pack is between 30-40 lbs this year, and last year it was closer to 70 lbs with an external frame. Some of what takes weight is: cell phone, satellite emergency unit, light, waterproof ruggedized bluetooth speaker. So, right there, there are typically 2-4 items I want to be charging while at a camp site. This unit comes with 2 usb plugs, but I also have a vehicle power dual USB plug that I can use with the car power adaptor for the Sherpa 100, and suddenly I have 4 USB ports. Pretty useful.
And that’s kind of a big deal. When camping alone, the silence is really great most of the time at night, but sometimes, it can get a little creepy, and at those times, the waterproof bluetooth speaker I have is a bit of a godsend to lighten the mood and keep me relaxed. I don’t know if it attracts animals or keeps them away, but it’s relaxing.
So, I can have the bluetooth speaker plugged in, the smart phone charging, a USB light going, the sat device charging, and the next morning, I’ve got everything at 100% and ready to go for another day of hiking.
I can do that for three nights straight before it really needs to be charged. So really, I can just be topping it off every day with the solar charger attached to my backpack, and I’ve got continuous power as long as I need it.
the solar panels seem pretty efficient too, and there are enough tie-down points that it doesn’t move around a lot during the hike.
Incidentally, this unit does power a power hungry laptop fairly well. I tested with the current generation MBP 15″, and it gave me about 2.5 extra hours of power, a pretty impressive feat considering how power hungry a laptop is. and the Goal Zero USB LED lights can go for days, it seems off of this unit.
This past weekend, I headed out with two other friends to Kennedy Meadows in Stanislaus (emigrant wilderness), and I have to say, the product worked like a real champ. It powered all the electronics for two nights, and still had 20% power at the end of the trip. Frankly, for a weekend trip, unless you plan on bringing a tablet (a real power hog), you probably could get away without using the solar panels at all.
The negatives really are ruggedness weight and complexity.
While the unit seems rock solid and sturdy, the sheer weight indicates that a drop would result in quite a bit of force on the casing as it hits the ground. That makes me incredibly nervous.
What’s more, it isn’t water proof. This is a huge problem for me as I never know what the state of my backpack is going to be in. If I trip while crossing a stream, it’d be game over. If I have to cross a shallow river, or follow a river along a canyon and throw my pack in a raft, there’s every possibility that it could tip over. Or if I think my pack is properly protected, but it rains during the night, or maybe floods/pools a little in the vestibule area, or maybe my tent leaks….well, you get the idea. There are a lot of scenarios where your pack and its contents can get soaked pretty bad. And for that, a non-waterproof battery charger, especially one as expensive is this, makes me very nervous.
Finally, there’s the complexity aspect. between the solar panel, myriad of wires coming out of the solar panel, and multiple plugs to connect various types of items, the Goal Zero looks like a product with a lot of potential failure points.
I’ve seen videos of folks hiking or biking or climbing with the Goal Zero, sometimes for several weeks, and the lack of failure, well, it’s truly impressive. My hats off to them. I’m the epitome of Murphy’s Law, however, and the chances of breaking a unit like this on a longer trip also scares me.
Having said all that, the Goal Zero line of solar charged battery products is really top notch. I like the gear so much I purchased the Sherpa 50 and look forward to testing that battery under the same conditions as it is significantly lighter than the Sherpa 100. If it can keep my USB gear going for just two nights, it will be more than worth it, especially if it charges reasonably fast enough.