By nature, campers like to travel without a trace, tread lightly and minimize our impact on this planet we love to explore. Being imperfect souls, we also like when things work easily, with minimal fuss. Nothing combines these ideals like today’s next-generation solar power gear that allows campers to cut the cord, ditch the batteries and harness the universe’s never-ending power source. Now that sun-powered technology has become more affordable, it’s never been easier to minimize our impact on the environment or ease pre-camp planning — no battery shopping required!
No longer dorky, clunky, expensive and heavy stuff for the technophiles, the latest crop of solar camping gadgets can charge your portable electronics, provide a hot shower, illuminate your campsite for hours, light a fire, charge your car’s battery, power an isolated cabin, purify water and even turn your water bottle into a sustainable lantern.
Energizer — Solar Spotlight
Stop spending serious money on C or D cell batteries before every outing and switch to the dual-source Energizer Solar Spotlight that recharges its lithium batteries with a built-in solar panel or a car adapter. Five hours of full sun provides enough juice for 3.5 hours of light, while 2 hours of car charging will provide 2 hours of runtime. It’s a durable design that’s also water resistant for use in all conditions. The Solar Spotlight’s four LEDs generate 24 lumens. MSRP: $41.99.
Voltaic — Fuse Solar Charger
Turn any backpack into a portable solar charger with Voltaic’s Fuse Solar Charger that puts out 4 watts of solar power. With handy plastic buckles, the Fuse can easily attach to most backpacks — or even your bike — to generate power and charge your mobile devices on the go. Generally, one hour in the sun can provide up to 3 hours of talk time, while exposure to 7 hours of direct sunlight will fully charge the USB battery that stores power for use any time, even when the sun isn’t shining. MSRP: $129.
Voltaic Systems, 877-304-6861,
Coleman — Folding Solar Battery Charger
Coleman’s convenient, lightweight Folding Solar Battery Charger can recharge up to 5 AAA batteries or your USB-charged devices anywhere and any time, and the hard case conveniently folds in half for easy storage. Marketed under the Coleman name by Sunforce, the Folding Solar Battery Charger has amorphous solar panels that can charge in any daylight conditions — even cloudy days. MSRP: $29.99.
Sunforce Products, 888-478-6435,
Sunforce — 1.8 Watt Solar Battery Maintainer
The 1.8 Watt Solar Battery Maintainer is affordable, easy to store and keeps your vehicle’s battery fresh and ready to go when it’s left alone for long periods of time — like while parked during a multi-week excursion. It plugs into your vehicle’s 12-volt power point or directly to the battery with the included battery clamps, and is easily affixed to the inside of the windshield with suction cups. Working in all weather conditions, it can also be used with cars, trucks, boats, ATVs and any other vehicle with a 12-volt battery. MSRP: $29.99.
Sunforce Products, 888-478-6435,
SteriPEN — Adventurer Opti Water Purifier with Solar Charging Case
Enjoy the refreshment of clean, cool water far from the nearest water fountain with the Adventurer Opti with Solar Charging Case from SteriPEN. Using clear water, just push a button to purify up to 16 fluid ounces at a time in as little as 48 seconds, or a liter in 90 seconds, using the magic of UV light. A green LED indicates when the water is safe to drink. Although it’s available in battery-powered form, this solar kit fully recharges in 2 to 5 days, depending on solar conditions, or in 4-to-6 hours with the included plug-in adapter. MSRP: $149.95.
Goal Zero — Extreme 350 Adventure Kit
Planning to stay a while? Goal Zero’s Extreme 350 Adventure Kit’s power pack, solar panel and universal inverter provide juice to power multiple devices, and is intended for base camps, cabins and other longer-term locations. It provides 350-watt hours via 12-volt, DC, USB and AC outlets, and recharges with an included wall adapter plug when solar charging isn’t an option. An LCD monitors power levels, and rubberized coating makes it rugged and easy to transport. Users can chain up to four solar panels and four power packs together for maximum power, charging and longevity. MSRP: $769.95.
Goal Zero, 888-794-6250,
Seattle Sports — PVC-Free Solar Shower
Don’t allow your camping trip to turn your body into a biology experiment. Stay clean away from civilization with the PVC-Free Solar Shower from Seattle Sports. Built with eco-friendly materials, the Solar Shower is a simple bag that you fill with water, leave in the sun to absorb heat, hang up and shower below. It’s available in 2.5-, 4- and 5-gallon sizes to suit your needs, but remember that each gallon of water weighs more than 8 pounds. MSRP: $22.50 (2.5 gal.), $22.95 (4 gal.), $25.50 (5 gal.).
Seattle Sports, 800-632-6163,
Brunton — Restore
As a power storage unit and a solar generator, Brunton’s Restore is a handy device for adventurers who are looking for an affordable, portable way to keep personal electronics charged while venturing away from power outlets. It can be charged through its USB port, a car outlet or by flipping it open and exposing its two solar panels to the sun’s rays. It stores enough power to completely charge most handheld electronics. The water resistant case is rubberized to protect against impacts, and is available in orange, blue or black. MSRP: $125.
Brunton Outdoor, 800-443-4871,
Max Burton — Power Center 100/PowerMate Solar Collector
While each is sold separately, the Power Center 100 inverter and PowerMate Solar Collector can work in tandem to provide off-the-grid power for 90-plus days. Together they make an ideal backup or charger for tools and electronics that also includes USB, DC and AC power outlets. The Power Center can be charged by a hand crank, 12-volt outlet, 120-volt wall socket or with the 8-watt PowerMate Solar Collector. MSRP: $219.50 (Power Center), $122 (PowerMate).
Aervoe Industries, 800-227-0196,
Sundance Solar — Solar Spark Lighter
A simple, affordable lighter and survival tool, the Solar Spark Lighter is a stainless steel parabolic mirror that focuses the sun’s energy to a precise point that burns at hundreds of degrees. Whether it’s stored in a survival kit or used to start campfires without matches or fluids, the Solar Spark Lighter can turn tinder into a smoldering fire in less than a minute for convenient, Earth-friendly fire starting wherever the sun is shining. MSRP: $17.95
Sundance Solar, 603-225-2020,
SolLight — LightCap 300
Never lose your water bottle again — or find yourself without a flashlight — with SolLight’s LightCap 300. The kit includes a BPA-free water bottle with a lid that collects solar power to illuminate four super-bright white LEDs, plus a red LED you can use as a nightlight. The LightCap’s mini solar panel uses FastSolar technology for highly efficient charging. With normal use, its power-storing battery should last two to three years, but it can be replaced when depleted. MSRP: $29.95.
Get Solar Smart
1. Every hour the sun radiates more energy onto the Earth than the entire world population uses in one year.
2. Solar energy is measured in kilowatt-hours (kWh), where 1 kilowatt = 1,000 watts — enough to burn a 100 watt light bulb for 10 hours.
3. The power of the sun’s light is about 1 kilowatt-hour for every square meter of the Earth’s surface exposed to the sun.
4. The sun has about 5 billion years of solar fuel left.
5. One photovoltaic solar power system offsets about 6 tons of CO2 emissions over a 20-year span.
6. Americans make up only 5 percent of the world’s population, but consume 26 percent of the world’s energy.
7. In the 1830s, British astronomer, John Herschel, cooked food in a solar thermal collector box during an African expedition; one of the first known examples of using solar energy.
8. Head to California to check out the world’s biggest solar thermal power plants — all nine of them.
9. Solar energy alone could provide all of the energy Americans consume.