Posts Tagged eco-friendly
As solar panel prices have come down, we’re finally seeing cheap and practical items that really deliver what they promise. This Luci light from the MPowerd company is a true game-changer, for your off-grid travels or emergency pack—or for something that will change lives in the developing world.
If you want to get me excited when it comes to travel gear, send me something involving green power, a reasonable price, or ease of packing. This Luci solar lantern knocks it out of the park on all three counts.
This Luci lantern is just $15 right now. When it gets into stores it will be $20 for two: one going to you, one going to a village with no electricity somewhere in Tanzania, Kenya, and beyond. So you can do good twice—saving energy and giving free light to someone who either paid money they didn’t have for portable fuel or went without.
All well and good, but does it work?
That’s the best part. It works really well. The specs on this solar lantern are impressive. You charge it up for 4 to 8 hours depending on how sunny it is and then it will run for 6 to 12 hours off that charge depending on the setting. It has a low, high, and flashing mode. The real standout thing though is that it barely loses any power if you don’t use it. The marketing pitch says you can light it up for up to two years after you charge it, that it only loses 2% per month.
I couldn’t test that last part, but I will say that I got this thing six weeks ago, have used it multiple times, and am still on the first charge. Every other solar device or battery pack I’ve used would probably be drained by now. This is despite the fact that the battery is tiny. They can thank the advances in LED technology for that—the bulbs use hardly any power.
You use this Luci solar lantern by blowing it up like you would a beach ball or raft. When it’s fully inflated after a few puffs, it has metallic reflection plates on the top and the bottom. These diffuse the light and make it spread across the room or tent. It’s surprisingly bright on the high mode—good enough to read by while cozy in your sleeping back or cheap guesthouse room with one dim bulb.
There’s a little plastic strip handle on the top so you can hang it from a hook. There’s just one button to deal with. It turns the unit on and you cycle through low, high, and flashing with it. Press once more and it’s off.
Then when it’s time to go, you take a few seconds to let the air out, throw the 5-inch-diameter disc into your pack, and head out. It packs flat and can be stowed anywhere there’s not a sharp object. It only weighs 4.5 ounces.
Ten years ago it probably would have cost 5 or 10 times as much to make a simple little lantern like this, so let’s give thanks to Solendra R&D money and China’s race to dominate the solar market at all costs. If nothing else, we’ve gotten a very cool lantern out of it for a very good price.
You can buy the Luci solar lantern direct from MPowerd or get it at Amazon. These guys won a prize at the Consumer Electronics Show and then exhibited at the Outdoor Retailer show, both in January, so you should start seeing the lantern in stores later this year.
See more green travel gear reviews.
If you’re going off the grid for a while or just want to have a reliable power source when outlets are scarce, this Goal Zero solar charging kit really delivers.
I’ve reviewed a lot of different solar chargers over the years, from the good to the almost useless. This is the best kit I’ve tried for people who want outlet-strength charging for their gadgets that won’t require two days in the sun. You get a ray-catching fold-out solar panel, a 4-AA battery pack (batteries included), and various cords for different scenarios.
When I tried this out for the first time, I was amazed how fast it worked. Accustomed to small panels that take 6-8 hours to charge up in full sunlight, this Goal Zero Nomad 7 panel charged up my smartphone from 20% to full in 2.5 hours. It took less than four to charge up the battery pack of dead batteries, whether using theirs or four of my own rechargeables.
That Guide 10 battery pack is one of the key benefits of this Guide 10 Plus kit. You can charge up the ones that came with it and use those to power up other devices later when you need to, like in the middle of the night or early morning on the move. Or you can use those batteries or others in your super-zoom camera, lantern powered with AA batteries, travel flashlight, etc. Bring enough spares with you and you’ve got days of ready power at the ready—just put the AAs into this Goal Zero pack and you’ve got an instant charger.
The battery pack even has its own built-in LED flashlight to help you find what you need in the dark. It also charges up AAA batteries.
Without it you can charge directly from the solar panel. I did this with two smartphones, and iPod Touch, and a Windows Asus Vivo tablet. I would plug them into the USB port in the morning and be fully charged up before I was done with lunch. There’s a netted pouch in the back of the panel that holds these items (keeping them shaded from the sun) and all the accessory cords.
One cord is USB to micro USB, another is a car adapter that will charge up the battery pack. Yes, you can charge the batteries with good ole electric power and use this as a regular travel charger as well, for trans-Pacific flights on the way perhaps.
With continual improvements in the design over the years, all of this together weighs less than 1.5 pounds and since the panel fold up, it all takes up very little space in your backpack. Heck you can even strap the the panel to your pack as you’re hiking and charge up the batteries on the move.
The Goal Zero Guide 10 Solar Adventure Kit lists for $120, which is a fair price for a solar panel set-up with this output plus the battery pack and cords. Get it direct from Goal Zero, at many retail stores, or online at Summit Hut, Backcountry, or Amazon.
(See Ramsey’s take from two years ago on an earlier version of the Guide 10 Adventure Kit.)
My bud and fellow reviewer Jill Robinson and I spent three days on the floor of the Outdoor Retailer Winter Market last week, doing a bit of tag team and a bit of divide and conquer to see what’s on the way in travel gear. There were more than 1,000 companies exhibiting, so despite the hectic appointment schedule, we still only saw a fraction of what was out there in detail.
You’ll read about the gear we liked enough to check out personally later in the year, but much of what’s on display now is what’s going to be on shelves 6 months or more from now. So think of this as a sneak peek into the future, though assume some of these non-winter items will be out by June. Like any hack journalists, we’re looking for trends we can boil down into easy digestible blurbs, so here’s what stood out.
We liked the Kelty external frame luggage system that goes from rolling suitcase to backpack to rolling huge suitcase to duffel bag. Long story short, the expanding frame with wheels fits your carry-on, then you can leave the frame in your room and just carry a backpack. Then if you buy lots of stuff you need to take home, the frame expands up and the bag goes up and out. Buy a larger duffel from them and it’ll fit in the same frame.
Everyone was drooling over Eagle Creek’s new Morphus luggage system coming July 1, which is equally adept at transforming itself from suitcase to backpack to more, but it’s also really two bags in one. Half of it zips off and is a full-fledged backpack that can be worn several ways. You can also carry the whole thing backpack style with straps on the front (no wheels in your back). It’s going to be pricey, but it’s the best “one bag” solution for people with limited storage space that I’ve ever seen.
Less Weight, More Warmth
As I mentioned in the Columbia Powerfly jacket review yesterday, a few companies have gotten very good at creating warmth without a lot of bulk. Their Omni-heat system has been rolled out to almost all Columbia Sportswear winter products for the coming year, even shoes. At the same time, there’s usually a venting layer under the arms and when the product is waterproof, a wicking membrane.
Many other companies are combining a waterproof technical shell with some kind of down or Polartec liner to create form-fitting jackets that can still take you down past zero degrees comfortably. With so much heavy competition in the jacket world, features that used to be high-end are now standard.
Shoes Now Refuse to Be Heavy
I picked up and held at least 50 pairs of shoes last week (I’ve really got to learn to book fewer footwear appointments) and the only ones that really felt heavy were damn serious work boots from Baffin meant for the kind of people who work in Antarctica for six months. Thanks to the wonders of chemistry and materials design, all footwear is getting lighter, even rain boots. That’s a good thing for travelers watching the luggage weight limit.
Made in the USA! (Or Canada)
There has been a trickle of companies moving some manufacturing back to North America and some stayed here all along (Darn Tough Vermont, Liberty Bottleworks, Tom Bihn). But now some companies that had been tiptoeing are increasing production here: Woolrich, Keen, and Ibex for starters. Watch for more companies to create jobs in North America, either completely, on one product line, or through some hybrid approach like Coldpruf base layers does: mill the fabric in North Carolina, cut and sew in Mexico, warehouse and ship from North Carolina. (Hey, it’s hard to do it all here for an item that retails for $30.)
Goodbye Throwaway Batteries
There are still plenty of companies making things that require throw-away batteries, but this year seemed to mark the tipping point where rechargeable was taking the lead. Besides the long-time leaders like Eton, Solio, and Goal Zero, there were new products from Brunton, Uco, Princeton Tec, SteriPen, and many others that recharge by USB, sometimes in conjunction with solar chargers.
I also found two cool solar-powered inflatable lanterns from the companies LuminAid and Luci that I hope to review when they’re widely available. They pack down to nothing when not in use, then you charge, inflate, and voila: 6 to 9 hours of light. Naturally, these have huge implications for the developing world and in areas too remote for wired electricity.
Do we still make outdoor gear here in the USA? Well, not often it seems, but Liberty Bottle Works is doing their part to prove it can be done. From recycled materials even.
I’ll admit my first use of a made in America Liberty Bottle Works bottle was not to drink water, but beer. At the Outdoor Retailer trade show they were filling up their stainless steel bottles with good beer and giving the money to charity. I liked the whole idea and after I washed it out, I liked the water bottle too.
Most Liberty Bottle Works models have a lid that is removed, but it’s a quick half-twist move to get it off, so it locks in place without lining up threads and screwing it on. (An optional lid has a folding spout.) The commission artists to design them too, so except for the solid Straight Up collection, they’re never boring to look at.
When they sent me one from their new kids’ line though, the look on my daughter’s face was even brighter than mine when I got handed 20 ounces of craft beer. I don’t know if we have Harry Potter to thank for this, but there’s a big owl craze going on now with the kids and my daughter was thrilled to add this to her t-shirt, her earrings, her book cover…you get the idea.
I’m up for anything that makes her remember her water bottle and want to drink from it, especially when we’re traveling in a hot place, so I’m happy she’s happy. It’s a nice size (this one’s 12 ounces, but you can get 16), it’s lined stainless steel, and is BPA-free. You can get it direct from Liberty or through Amazon for $15.
Other ones in this line include No Evil (monkeys), Tunes (skull with headphones), and a drawing from a contest-winning 6-year-old. See the whole kids series here.
As LED bulbs have gotten better, rechargeable batteries have gotten cheaper, and USB ports have become as common as smartphones, why do we still put up with flashlights requiring batteries? At this point it seems like a sin against nature. A lazy sin.
Don’t even give me the doomsday scenario—you can use a solar charger too if the lights really go out for good.
This cool little Jolt light from eGear has been something I couldn’t wait to get my hands on from the first time I saw it. It hits all our buttons here: it’s practical, lightweight, tiny, ec0-friendly, and it overdelivers.
It’s about the size of my thumb, so I’m worried more about losing it than I am having room for it in my bag. The little battery packed in there is quite efficient though. After charging it up, I let it burn non-stop to see how long it would run. It went for 6.5 hours before it dimmed. (It still hadn’t gone out completely.) I think that’ll do for more than a few trips to the latrine.
When it’s time for a recharge, you simple pop off the cap in the back and plug it into any USB port. With so many people have a USB wall adapter now for their phone, tablet, or e-reader, you’ve probably got something already that’ll allow you to plug it into a wall outlet. Or you can buy the combo Jolt/Volt package that comes with a car adapter. That would make this a great little glove compartment emergency light, especially since it fills back up with juice so quickly.
As far as specs go, it’s got a 25-lumen LED bulb. That’s no match for the Fenix 180-lumen one I tried before that uses on AA battery, but it’s also far smaller and lighter, with nothing to replace ever. The output is 5 volts and it weighs a mere 0.6 ounces, or 17 grams. It’s water-resistant too. It’s supposed to recharge in two hours, but after I ran it down it only took a half hour for the indicator to go from red to green.
See more cool lighting products, gadgets, and survival gear at the eGear website.