So last week's trip down the River Wye - always a favourite - gave me a good opportunity to test some of the latest ways of recharging my favourite gadgets. Of course taking less kit would help, but most of us - myself included - struggle to be without a smart phone these days. Throw in a GoPro as well and you need some way to recharge these devices on the water. This was only a four day / three night trip but with a longer stint beckoning in Nepal next month the Wye was to prove a good testing ground.
The Nomad 7 solar panel and Guide 10 battery pack
This is a robust piece of kit that I had used before, albeit with limited success. The foldable double panel comes in a neat case, complete with hanging loops and a storage compartment for those pesky cables. The inbuilt charge controller gives you options of both USB and 12V charging. But be warned, unless you have direct sun on the panel you are unlikely to trigger enough power to charge a device steadily. Far better to employ the Guide 10 battery pack. With 4AA rechargeable inside (it can also take AAA) this is a much better recipient of intermittent trickle charging. Then after a few hours in the sun, in theory, you have abut 9000mAH of stored energy. That is enough to power up an iPhone 6 four times over but in practice you would be lucky to do it twice. The theoretical values take no account of energy losses as the batteries warm-up and of course they are unlikely to be in perfect condition. But that aside you still need sunshine. Even a sunny day on the river doesn't really cut it. I strapped the panel to the cockpit of my kayak but by the end of the day the batteries were barely half charged. The problem here is that when on the move you simply cannot face the sun all the time. Strapping it to the back of a rucsac would be even more ineffective as the panel would inevitably spend much of the time in the shade. In short I find the recharge speed simply too slow. The only time I would find it useful might be in a basecamp scenario. Here you could position it to best effect and let it recharge the batteries each day to recharge a device each evening. However, you can mains charge the battery pack via USB before leaving home and then trickle charge from the solar panel. It's a bulky extra to carry around though for very limited benefit.
This battery pack is a recent acquisition and I was reluctant to use it at first. I think we are all drawn to the attraction of charging by the Sun and this device offers nothing new. It's almost boringly simple in design. You can charge 2 devices from USB outlets having initially charged it before leaving home. I nearly got caught out leaving this too late as it takes a good 18 hours to charge, especially the first time. Once full though it's capacity is impressive and I continued to use it once home and found it recharged my iPhone four times over. This should be comfortably enough for a week long trip if you're careful with use of your appliances. It's not the lightest thing in the world and it weighs in at about 400g. On a boat though where weight is no issue I found this pack to be superbly convenient. There are lots of versions online by the way and if you want bigger capacity these are available. I plan to use it again sailing in the summer and it should be an easy addition to the kit bag.
BIO LITE CAMP STOVE
Having used no end of stove designs over the years its refreshing to try something new in this area. A lot of thought has gone into this design and its surprisingly robust and well manufactured. Its relatively bulky but if you can deal with that you're onto a winner.
At first I wasn't impressed but then I realised (on reading the manual) that I hadn't given the battery the pre-charge that is advised before leaving home. This meant a delay of about half an hour before it fully sprang to life but then we were away. So how does it work?
Heat energy from the flames powers a thermoelectric converter - the main purpose of which is to power a small fan in the base of the burner. This draws in more oxygen and the fire in the stove burns hotter and more cleanly. A small Li ion battery stores some charge for quick startup when next used. As a by product of this available electricity a USB outlet allows you to recharge your devices. However, I soon found that the flames need to be quite stoked up to get sufficient power to do this. I experimented with a few twigs and the modest flames soon got a pan of water to boil but with insufficient heat generated for the USB. A bit of practice and we were there though. The trick is to get some decent sized twigs - about the thickness of your finger are perfect. Or if you have a camp saw get some decent chunks. Once these are alight you should be able to keep the stove ticking over nicely and recharge for a decent stint. Above all this stove was great fun, if a little fiddly to use. But for an item you have to have anyway for it to have a second use was great. Again this is perfect for a canoe trip. Especially if you find a good source of dry wood (always tricky in the UK) you can bag it up and take it to the next campsite. And there you have it - a wood powered iPhone!