Portable Solar for the Backcountry

Solio Solar Charger

In this day and age, it is pretty normal to take some level of electronics into the backcountry with you. From cameras to gps units and mobile phones, there are a multitude of gadgets to help fill your pack. Said gadgets require batteries and or charging. On a multi-day trip keeping your gadgets charged can pose a problem.

A few years ago, while on an expedition in the remote reaches of central Asia, I needed a way to charge the battery on an ipod that I intended to use as a storage device for digital images. Short of carrying a load of double-A batteries and an external battery-pack for my ipod, there were few options available. I came across a portable solor charger at  the annual Outdoor Retailer show that looked promising. A company called Solio and had a single product, a compact portable solor device that could charge a phone or ipod size unit. To make a long story short, I got one and it worked great.

The unit was not large enough to charge my camera batteries, so I had to use a portable, roll-up panel made by Brunton to do that, but the Solio charger unit was perfect for keeping my ipod powered up as a portable, digital storage unit.

Solio Hybrid 1000 in action

Solio now has a couple of products in addition to the original Solio unit that I used on that trip. This season, I upgraded to one of their new units, the Hybrid 1000 . It still works on the same principal. Essentially, it is a solar chargable lithium-ion battery that can pass its charge to a seperate device or it can be plugged into a variety of devices and act as a power source.  The new unit weighs in at five ounces, is about 3/8 of an inch thick, six inches long and about 2 inches wide.

The unit takes eight to ten hours to fully charge and then will charge a hadheld device in the normal charging time. Eight to ten hours sounds like a long time, but functionally it works great. I simply clip it to my pack while out skiing or climbing for the day and then can charge in the evening when I return. You can also run a device directly off of it. Specs show that it will run about ten hours of play time on an MP3 device of fully charge a phone. I found it charged my ipod just enough to allow me upload about a Gig of data before the ipod ran out of power – almost a full charge.

The new Hybrid 1000 comes with a variety of tips to allow the unit to interface with different devices.