More people than ever before are carrying some form of electronic device into the backcountry. Along with that increase comes the corresponding demand for power to keep those devices charged. With so many product options on the market, and so little clear, helpful product info (and how to use it!), we decided to offer a little assistance to ensure that you don't inadvertently ruin your device!
Using solar panels in the backcountry can be one of the most convenient methods of keeping your devices charged because it offers freedom from a plug. However, many people are unaware of the risks. I often see people who buy a solar panel, then proceed to plug their device directly into that panel for charging. This seems to make sense, but there are some technical problems here than can cause your device's internal components to become damaged and reduce the life of your batteries. Most of these panels are lauded as having "voltage regulators," and they do - however, these regulators only address one half of the potential threat; power spikes.
The other side of this potentially damaging equation is the inverse of power spikes - power dips. These happen any time something happens that causes the energy output of the panel to drop below the charging threshold of your device. This can happen when a cloud floats in front of the sun, or when you hike under a shadow, for example. What happens during these dips is that your device "thinks" that it's been unplugged from the charging source, and so it begins using power in it's normal unplugged way. However, as soon as the shadow leaves, or the panel begins putting out an amount of power that is above the charging threshold for the device, then the device "thinks" that it's been plugged back in, and it makes the necessary changes to run the hardware and software accordingly.
This rapid "back and forth" between charging and not charging has a high potential of doing damage to your device because devices are not designed to power cycle like this. They are designed to be charged until at "full" capacity without being unplugged or otherwise interrupted.
SOLUTION: Solar charging has it's obvious advantages of being able to harvest power while in the backcountry or away from a plug. So how to safely use a panel? Use it in conjunction with a power bank. Instead of plugging your device into the solar panel, plug a power bank into the panel. Once the bank is charged, you're free to charge your devices from the bank! This method is free of spikes and dips, and also allows you to charge your devices overnight while they're less likely to be used. Additionally, this means you can carry smaller and fewer batteries which will lighten your load!
Additionally, if your device has removable batteries, like my GoPro (pictured below), then you can charge them directly from solar. The problem is when you plug the device itself into the panel..
Here are two pics of solar panels plugged into power banks as suggested:
This next picture shows a foldable solar array charging a Flybox SQ1, which has its own integrated panel and power bank. When the SQ1 is plugged into the foldable panel, then there are 3 panels all charging the internal 5,600mAh power bank. This kind of arrangement will work with almost all foldable solar panels and power banks on the market.
Please contact @FlyboxGadgets on Facebook, and Twitter (@Flybox_Gadgets on Instagram) if you have any questions, or if you'd just like to chat. Have a great day! Happy trails! :)
Featured Image photo credit: Gettyimages.com