RideApart looks at portable solar power for your devices and your motorcycle.
Getting away on your motorcycle is one of life's greatest joys. Unfortunately, sometimes you need to stay connected with the rest of the world. Family responsibilities, GPS, writing deadlines, and emergencies are a fact of life. So how do you keep all of your gadgets powered?
Portable solar panels are becoming efficient, cost effective and portable, making them a perfect item to pack on your motorcycle. The ability to charge multiple devices and provide constant power when you aren't riding pays big dividends.
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The Powersync system tackles solar recharging using an amorphous film that rolls into a container. This makes it easy to pack and store; the mini is small enough to keep in your tank bag or backpack water bottle holster. The solar panel's construction means it works in less than ideal conditions with limited sun and can charge the battery pack very quickly. Then you can use the battery pack to charge your devices or as auxiliary power. Because the battery is integrated into the panel there are no additional wires to deal with. One other item of note is that the thin film panel will work when portions of it are damaged. Really nice if something happens while adventuring and you still need that charge. These batteries can be charged prior to leaving by plugging a USB into a wall outlet. The SolarWrap Mini retails for $79 (or lower when on sale).
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Goal Zero is another company pushing the envelope of portable solar power. Using a more traditional panel style they are still lightweight, portable, and very powerful. Once again they can be pre-charged by plugging them into a USB charger in the wall. These units are not integrated like the Powersync, but the more permanent panel construction does allow for possibly mounting to hard luggage or other surfaces to allow use while riding. Their smallest kit, Switch 8 and Nomad 7, retails for $94 and is perfect for small gadgets and motorcycling.
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The Mercury 10 is unique in this category as it can directly charge your device from the panel. It does not need to have a battery pack in between to stabilize the output. This makes it smaller, lighter, and cheaper for the package. It also allows you to buy any battery pack you want. With both the Bushnell and Goal Zero product lines, you need to move up in price to get that capability. Retailing for $62, this is certainly good value.
The Solarmonkey is housed inside a fitted case that allows for easy access to the USB port while in the case. It can charge a device and its own battery source at the same time. Cost is around $125. The case on the Solarmonkey is one of its primary features. The case is designed to protect it in harsh conditions with a thermal protected battery from -10 deg to 90 deg celcius.
Joos claims the Orange can be charged in the lowest light and even in light rain. That's an impressive claim. It can be charged from your computer's USB or wall charger and the company says that the battery is rated to hold that charge in standby for years. Another bold claim from the maker - Joos says that the Orange can be shot and submerged, and yet still charge. This may be some of the boldest claims for any device I have ever heard.
These are our choices for some very useable and functional solar chargers to pack on your motorcycle. What are some chargers you use or have experience with?