This Explorer2 folding solar charger from Brunton sucks up sun in a hurry, turns it into electricity, and then folds up to pack away when you need to get a move on again.
What’s not to like?
Well, just one little thing: no battery. You see this is not some integrated solar charger that stores up energy to release later. You have to either plug your devices in while you’ve got it exposed to the sun or you need to bring something else along that can store power for later—like this Callpod Fueltank I reviewed a few years ago.
Once I figured that out and started plugging my items in during the day, this thing cranked. It charged up a Samsung Windows phone, an iPod Touch, a Motorola Atrix phone, and my Innergie portable charger all in one sunny day. The next day a Kindle and a small MP3 player before the rain came in the afternoon. I didn’t time all of these individually, but in general this solar charger seemed to work as quickly as a wall outlet.
The output on this is Brunton charger is listed at “1000 mAh / 5V (5 Watts)” – which is the same as their Restore portable power pack. (The only one I’ve tried that I’ve found to be powerful enough to pack.) Since this folding panel thing weighs twice as much and doesn’t have a battery though, what you’re paying for here is sensitivity and area. With four large independent panels you get 8X the area exposed to the sun than you do with that compact Restore unit, so you don’t need as much sun or as much time. The green “charging” LED light would come on even when I walked close to a window.
Although this unit weighs nearly a pound, it folds up to about the size of a ladies’ clutch bag: 4.5 x 9 x 1 inch. It feels solid and field-worthy too, with heavy double-stitched fabric, Velcro, and four large eyelets for hanging.
This solar charger is about as simple as you can get to use: the only interface is a female USB outlet. No switch to turn on or off: just plug in what you need and go. A few years ago just having USB would not seem to be enough since you’d need a gaggle of adapters. Thankfully most new electronics come with some kind of USB cord with a 110 adapter on the end instead of just a 110 plug.
It’s a pity you can’t charge up your laptop with this charger, but you’ll have to go more heavy duty than this, spending a good bit more for an Explorer10 or 20. This will charge just about anything else though, so if you are going camping or just want to have a reliable power supply on hand in your travels to keep that smartphone going, this Brunton unit will work anywhere you’ve got a reasonable amount of sunlight.
If you want to save some of that energy for later, bring along a portable power charger you can juice up from here as well. If you buy the right USB charger, you could also charge up NiCad AA batteries with this for a camera or game device.
You can order the Brunton Explorer2 folding solar panel for less than $80 at Amazon.
Tim Leffel is founder of the Practical Travel Gear blog, as well as the Cheapest Destinations blog and the narrative webzine Perceptive Travel. He is the author of The World's Cheapest Destinations (now in its 4th edition), Make Your Travel Dollars Worth a Fortune, and A Better Life for Half the Price.
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