I go into the mountains to get away from the daily humdrum of work, decisions, and technology. What could be more relaxing than camping under the stars miles from civilisation? When I first starting wild camping, I remember a mild panic when I switched on my phone and had no signal. Nowadays I relish that moment ….. apart from the times when I’d quite like to share my adventure on twitter or maybe check a train time for my journey home. On those occasions the “no signal” panic is replaced with a “flat battery” anxiety so I’ve finally decided to buy myself a solar charger in the hope that I can make use of natural light to keep my phone topped up.
I’ve done a bit of reseach and sought other outdoor folks’ opinions. Most people reckon solar chargers are a waste of time in the UK for most of the year. We just don’t have enough bright sun to justify the weight and faff of the solar charger. I’d be better getting a decent capacity external battery pack and recharging it whenever I can find a wall socket.
However, a solar charger has become an itch I need to scratch. If I set my expectations low but manage to get a small amount of charge when I’m basking in the late afternoon sun as I walk and camp my way across Scotland, I’ll be very pleased. I’ve been telling myself that a few extra percent of battery is better than none (but I really hope that I’ll get more than that).
Please note that I bought this product with my own money and have no connection with the vendor.
The solar panel I decided to get is the Mobile Solar Chargers 6W Compact USB 5V/1A folding solar panel charger. I bought this one, rather than the equivalent non-folding version, as it appeared more convenient to pack away. I would have liked to be able to attach the solar panel to my rucksack – which will not be easy with the one I have bought – but it will be easier to protect in my rucksack on the more frequent occasions when I am not using it.
I have copied this decription and specification from the manufacturer’s website:
An efficient and particularly compact 4-panel lightweight solar charger with a drawstring carry bag. This solar phone charger is ideal for travel as a backup or to charge power banks.
The 1A/5v DC output will charge an iPhone 5 in a few hours of bright sunlight. The USB solar controller will automatically protect against over or undercharge and can be used for any 5v USB charged device, including Bluetooth and Mp3 players.
Folded up, the panel looks like this:
Unfolded it looks like this:
…… although I’m not sure whether the brightness of the light is any indicator of how likely it is that there’ll be enough power to charge a device. I reckon just looking at how bright the sunshine is would give a a better clue.
There is one USB socket which is used to connect the solar charger to your device. No cable was supplied.
Buying a solar charger in Northern England in mid-March might not be the smartest move. The sky is grey with only occasional sunny intervals. Apparently I should be able to use a solar panel on an overcast day but my initial testing would be better carried out on a sunny day. However, I thought I’d see what happened in these less than ideal conditions. Initial results were not good!
This is what the sky looked like:
My phone was at 94% charged but, about 30 seconds after I plugged it into the solar charger, it dropped to 93%. This may have just been coincidence and not related to the charger. As soon as I connected the phone to the solar charger the phone beeped and showed that it was charging. I left the phone and solar panel in the brightest part of the garden for 30 minutes and tried to act nonchalent. A watched phone never charges.
During the 30 minutes, the phone charge dropped to 92%. Hm? I am not sure how quickly my phone would normally drop 1% of charge but this was not the result I wanted. The phone was not actively doing anything (and I had told it to kill off any inactive apps) but the trickle from the solar charger was not enough to prevent a drop in battery charge, let alone top it up.
So, slightly disheartened, I packed up and came back inside. It is now raining but there is the promise of sunny intervals tomorrow. I shall continue my not-very-scientific experiments when the sun is shining.
21 hours later…..
As soon as I woke up in the morning I looked out of the window. The sky was mainly cloudy but there was a large patch of pale blue and the light seemed brighter than yesterday. However, by the time I’d made my coffee the full cloud cover was back. I tried a 15 minute solar charging session but I felt I was wasting my time so I gave up.
An hour or so later I could see that the sun was trying to break through the cloud. The sky now looked like this …..
My phone was at 75% charged at the start of the experiment. After approximately 15 minutes it had gone up to 76%. I did a little jig! I went in for another cup of coffee but couldn’t bear the anticipation so finished my drink while watching my phone. After another 15 minutes it went up to 77%. Hurrah!
2% in 30 minutes on a cloudy day. Do I regard that as good? Yes, for now, I do. I now know that the solar charger does charge my phone in conditions which are far from ideal. The next stage of the testing will be to see if charging is faster on a sunny day; to charge my phone when it is switched off; to see if it works indoors through a window; and to repeat the tests with my power bank. I also, of course, want to use the solar charger whilst out in the wilds. I will blog my experiences when I’ve used the solar charger in real life situations.