If you are like me, the thought of roughing it for a weekend camping in the back-country of the Sierra Mountains while leaving your favorite electronics at home is simply wrong. Sure, I can pack a iPod, iPad, Smart Phone and laptop for blogging, but without power how long will any of those last in the wilderness? Two to four hours? That barely covers the time it takes for my husband to set up the tent.
Fortunately for those of you avid outdoors enthusiasts and even those of us who never stray outside the concrete jungle, there are a variety of solar chargers and lightweight portable batteries available that offer a solution to this otherwise vexing problem.
As an unashamed “gear mule”, I probably carry more electronic equipment which requires portable batteries than the typical traveler, although for many of the same reasons Spud Hilton of the SF Chronicle reports. Most travelers these days are indulging in some degree of photography or videography, connecting with home or the home office, staying current on e-mail or Facebook, and offering recaps of the day’s travels for friends and relatives.
Pretty much since the dawn of the portable computer and the portable music player, the portable phone and the portable solar-powered underwater beard trimmer travelers increasingly are loading themselves down with technology to use on the road, for communicating, chronicling, working and entertaining.
The problem is that, while some gadgets have replaced low or no-tech items film cameras, paper guidebooks, fold-out maps, foreign-language phrase books most of the technology is allowing travelers to do things they couldn’t before. And combined with the extra portable backup batteries it’s adding to the bulk of their bags. Here’s the absolute bare-minimum list of equipment that I wouldn’t leave home without and a solar or backup battery power solution to keep it charged.
Smart phone: When I first got the iPhone 3Gs (starting at $99 plus two-year contract), I thought it would be another toy. Since then, having access to the Internet, maps, plane and train schedules and language translation all without Wi-Fi – has rescued us in a dozen destinations on three continents. When our driver in Berlin couldn’t make his GPS work, we made the flight on time only after calling up the route on my phone and directing him to the airport. ((Author) Brunton makes a solar charger Restore with two lithium batteries that work well for keeping my Smart phone charged for about $80.)
Point-and-shoot camera: I carry the Panasonic Lumix LX-3 (fulfillment will cost around $400), one of the only point-and-shoots with a built-in wide-angle lens (24mm equivalent) for giving pictures the depth of pro shots. Also shoots video in 720 HD in wide-screen format (16:9). Downside is that the zoom only goes up to 60mm (unless you buy the adapter and converter). The range on the newer Lumix LX-5 is 24-90mm. Camera battery charger: ((Author) The Brunton Restore will keep the battery charged so you don’t have to worry. With the Restore portable solar charger, you don’t have to worry about carrying a extra camera battery.)
USB power adapter: Almost anything that can be charged from a 5-volt USB outlet can use the same charger, just with different wires. ((Author) The portable solar charger Brunton Restore works for all 5 volt USB gear.)
Cable wraps or large rubber bands: With as many as 12 cords on a trip, keeping them tidy is a chore. I recently started using the Bobino Cable Buddy, $3.99 at Container Store, a low-tech figure-eight-shaped piece of plastic that keeps cords under control. There are sizes for small, medium and large wires.
Music player ear buds: Much more portable than headphones, although don’t be that guy who cranks up the volume on the plane, forcing your neighbor to listen to a tinny version of your music leaking from your buds. Backup charger battery: I’ve been saved many times by being able to make a few more calls (or watch the rest of that episode of “No Reservations” on a long flight) because of a backup battery. ((Author) When there’s no wall plug, the Brunton Sync portable battery at about $288. Pricier than most, but it can recharge a laptop twice.)
Laptop: When editing photos and videos and posting to a blog are priorities, the laptop comes along. I use a basic Apple MacBook ($999 minimum at the Apple Store), mostly because it handles photos and video better than a PC. Also, watching movies on the plane is just better on a laptop screen.
iPad – Although ads for the iPad often depict someone relaxing with the tablet, legs propped up, it is an ideal companion for people on the go as well. True, you can surf the Web and watch movies on a phone or laptop, but the iPad’s 9.7-inch display makes for easier viewing. It looks better than most laptop screens. Because the iPad turns on instantly and lasts up to 10 hours unplugged, using it is less of a hassle than booting up your PC and hoping that you can finish the movie before the battery runs out. The 10 hour run time is however, very optimistic and depends on how much typing or blogging you do during that time.
The fact that the Transportation Security Administration doesn’t need travelers to remove iPads from bags during airport security checks is the icing on the cake. Cons: With a starting price of $499, the iPad is one pricey toy. ((Author) The Brunton Sustain or Impel are both backup portable batteries that will charge an i Pad)
MP3 player: For music without using up the smart phone’s battery. I use an iPod Nano ($149 at the Apple Store), which has a touch screen and can hold music and photos, and comes with a radio tuner and memo recorder. ((Author) Brunton Restore portable solar charger with self contain batteries works well keeping MP3 and iPod charged.)
Pro DSLR camera: An African photo safari? A tour of the temples of Bhutan? A hike past Patagonia’s peaks? Take the big guns. If you’re already a shutterbug, the kinds of shots you can get with a really good DSLR camera will make the extra 10-20 pounds well worth it. I carry an older Canon EOS D1 Mark II, although with the right lenses, many of the newer Canon Rebel bodies ($500-$900) will give you most of the same abilities. ((Author) Brunton Sync portable battery charger will work for this camera)
Rechargeable batteries and charger: If you have items that use AA batteries, consider rechargeable, not just for the eco angle but because you might be somewhere that doesn’t sell disposables. I use Duracell Pre Charged Rechargeable NiMH Batteries ($12 for a four-pack at most supermarkets) and the compatible charger (about $10 at electronics stores).
((Author) Brunton makes a complete line of portable battery and solar chargers. Tested, engineered in toughest environments, Brunton’s portable batteries and solar chargers are raved about in every major newspaper in the country)