Published on July 9th, 2009 | by Greg0
Truly Outdoors: Keychain Solar Panel and a Portable, Multi-use Cooking System
We’ve been spending a lot of time outdoors over the last few days and weeks, testing out interesting bags and trying to unpack and repack tents. We haven’t been leaving behind our gadgets though, and away from outlets we’ve been needing to rely on solar power, from Sunforce. We’ve also been traveling without our pots and pans, and have been using a specially designed set from Cascade Designs/MSR called the Flex 3 System.
We’re tried quite a few solar chargers- some have worked pretty well, others haven’t. Sunforce makes a wide variety of solar panels, including some very high-end ones, but we’ve been trying out a product so low on the chain that it doesn’t even appear to be listed on their website- the Solar Keychain Charger. Small, light, and including not only a built-in 1100 mAh battery but tips for many major cellphones and even a USB connector, the device seems like a bargain at only about $30. Sadly, it just doesn’t really work well- it feels, cheap, it doesn’t trickle charge devices, and only really works if the included battery if full and the devices are turned off. Charging the battery takes quite a while as well, and needs super bright sun. It also can’t handle iPhones or iPods, but isn’t really meant to- unfortunately, devices that it could handle seem to be few and far between these days, at least around our offices. We suggest looking for something a little bigger and bulkier, but more capable.
On the other hand, it’s hard to think of a more capable set of cookware than the MSR Flex 3 System… except maybe the Flex 4. We’ve tried some other cooking tools, but they serve more as complements to this one. The set includes a two pots, a 2.3L nonstick one and a larger 3.3L hard-anodized pot that also serves as the main container that everything else fits neatly into. Also, there is a strainer lid, 3 “deep dish” plates and 3 insulated mugs, as well as a pot handle.
Best of all, it fits together snugly without worrying about breaking anything, and with no trouble getting it it apart or back together. And it’s only about two and a half pounds in total. The non-stick coating worked well in our attempts, and everything cleaned up pretty easily. The plates and mugs are differently colored for ease of keeping track, but the mug lids aren’t particularly good. And the strainer isn’t exactly easy to use, but beats trying to do it by hand. You can also add an extra mug or plate thanks to the modular nature of the system. The external handle is nice, but the connector means that there are exposed edges (not sharp ones) that can catch on things if you are storing it in a bag. All in all, this is a great set of cookware, a pleasure to use, durable and easy to clean- as long as the $130 pricetag doesn’t throw you off.