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Published on July 22nd, 2011 | by David

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Summer Love: Serious Solar And A Dual-Power Stove

It used to be that camp­ing meant get­ting away from tech­nol­o­gy- bring­ing a pack, a sleep­ing pad, and maybe a book as far from civ­i­liza­tion as pos­si­ble. Back when you could run down your car bat­tery charg­ing your 10 pound brick of a lap­top, or climb a moun­tain just for the chance to get enough sig­nal to check your voice­mail, we had to en­ter­tain our­selves with sto­ries around the camp­fire and *gasp* talk­ing to each oth­er.

Thank­ful­ly, those dark days are over. Our elec­tron­ics eas­i­ly slip in­to pock­ets and packs, last for hours, and suck down band­width wher­ev­er we can get a clear patch of sky. Un­for­tu­nate­ly, over a mul­ti-day ex­pe­di­tion, es­pe­cial­ly when us­ing pow­er-in­ten­sive ac­tiv­i­ties like 3G and video, it’s easy to run down your phone, tablet, or lap­top. We’ve test­ed plen­ty of so­lu­tions be­fore- back­up bat­ter­ies, and even some se­ri­ous and hefty so­lar pan­els.

The So­laris 26 so­lar charg­er and Im­pel bat­tery pack are Brun­ton’s at­tempt to keep you con­nect­ed and pow­ered-up wher­ev­er you go. The So­laris con­sists of 8 ul­tra-ef­fi­cient cop­per in­di­um gal­li­um se­lenide cells, con­nect­ed in a flex­i­ble poly­mer sheet that eas­i­ly folds in­to a small, rect­an­gu­lar bag. Its com­pan­ion Im­pel bat­tery back fea­tures a rugged case trimmed with or­ange rub­ber, and while it doesn’t come with its own bag, at the size of a large pa­per­back book, it’s easy to stuff in­to a back­pack (and thus much more con­ve­nient than some com­peti­tors which are sol­id and hefty). Com­bined, they of­fer a pack­age that should get you through even the most se­ri­ous pow­er use- as long as you’re not try­ing to haul a mi­crowave around.

Of course, a so­lar pow­er suite is no good if it can’t per­form, so I stress-test­ed both de­vices with a host of elec­tron­ics, in dif­fer­ent weath­er con­di­tions. We pre­vi­ous­ly put the lit­tle broth­er mod­el, the Brun­ton Re­store, through some hard tests and weren’t quite sat­is­fied due to the lim­it­ed range of de­vices that could be charged.

Luck­i­ly, though, this time around we found that any­thing small­er than a lap­top is child’s play for this charg­er. Pump­ing out 26 watts at 12 volts, the So­laris 26 charges smart­phones, mu­sic play­ers, and cam­eras as fast as an A/C wall sock­et. Even an iPad on­ly needs 10 watts to charge at max­i­mum speed, and the pan­el has no prob­lem reach­ing that lev­el even in cloudy con­di­tions. On a sun­ny day, it was no prob­lem charg­ing 2 or 3 small­er elec­tron­ics si­mul­ta­ne­ous­ly. Of course, there isn’t pow­er stor­age pro­vid­ed as part of the pan­els them­selves, hence the need for a bat­tery pack for most peo­ple.

Lap­tops are a dif­fer­ent, more com­pli­cat­ed sto­ry. To start with, the So­laris pumps out DC pow­er, the same pow­er car­ried by cigarette charg­ers and USB ca­bles. Most lap­tops, how­ev­er, re­ly on an pow­er brick that draws AC, and would re­quire an in­ef­fi­cient, bulky pow­er in­vert­er to charge with the So­laris. In ad­di­tion, many lap­tops like to draw 50+ watts, and may not be able to run while charg­ing with this unit. For best re­sults, use a small, low-pow­er lap­top, and keep your re­ceipt in case of in­com­pat­i­bil­i­ty. Bear in mind that Ap­ple lap­tops are un­able to of­fi­cial­ly charge us­ing DC pow­er, though some third par­ties do make af­ter­mar­ket DC charg­ing ca­bles.

The Brun­ton Im­pel is a com­pact 145 watt-hour bat­tery pack of­fer­ing 13,000 mAh that us­es pret­ty so­phis­ti­cat­ed lithi­um-poly­mer bat­ter­ies to store a large amount of en­er­gy in a small space. A watt-hour pro­vides one watt of pow­er for one hour, so the bat­tery could pow­er a 5W cell­phone for near­ly 30 hours, or a 10W tablet for about 15. If you can find an adapter cord for your lap­top, you can prob­a­bly ex­pect one to two full bat­tery charges be­fore drain­ing the Im­pel. We test­ed both to­geth­er, and didn’t try mix­ing and match­ing be­tween oth­er so­lar pan­els or oth­er bat­tery packs, though you could cer­tain­ly do so. At two and a half pounds or so, it isn’t pre­cise­ly light- but it’s much lighter than we ex­pect­ed a bat­tery this pow­er­ful to be.

Over­all, both Brun­ton prod­ucts de­liv­ered on their claims. Al­though we don’t sug­gest us­ing this sys­tem in the rain- it is weath­er-re­sis­tant but not weath­er­proof. We got the pan­els and bat­tery pack a bit wet with no ob­vi­ous is­sues, and had to clean them of dust and dirt once or twice, but ev­ery­thing seemed fair­ly well sealed and pro­tect­ed and the con­nec­tion box is well placed un­der­neath the pan­els. Rugged, well put-to­geth­er, and pow­er­ful, they don’t suit an ul­tra­light back­pack­ing trip or a LAN par­ty in the woods. But for most out­door ad­ven­tur­ers, the So­laris and Im­pel will pro­vide all the pow­er you need even for a small group of peo­ple. Al­so, Brun­ton of­fers a va­ri­ety of mod­els to suit the many use cas­es. For in­stance, there are So­laris 62 and 12 mod­els, and two oth­er small­er and less-pow­er­ful bat­tery packs, the Sus­tain (6,000 mAh) and In­spire (3,200 mAh). You al­so have a choice be­tween or­ange and blue col­ors. The on­ly re­al down­sides are the price- at $600 or so, the So­laris is def­i­nite­ly a piece of gear to save up for, but we were able to find the Im­pel pow­er stor­age unit for around $240 on­line.

Along with this so­lar suite, I al­so got a chance to test Primus’ new camp­ing stove, the Pro­file Duo. Pump­ing a to­tal of over 21,000 BTUs di­vid­ed be­tween the burn­er and the main gril­lling sur­face out of a stan­dard 16.4-oz propane tank, it of­fers quite a bit of heat at a very rea­son­able price, and comes with a fold­ing wind­screen and piezo ig­ni­tion for con­ve­nience. We’re still us­ing our pret­ty trusty Atle BBQ, and this mod­el is pret­ty sim­i­lar in many ways.

Mak­ing things hot with a can of propane is not the most sub­tle art, and this stove han­dles it fine. Its wide cook­ing area and pow­er­ful burn­ers boil, fry, and sear like a gas BBQ or range, and the screen blocks chilly winds and keeps the flame alight. The $120 MSRP isn’t bad, ei­ther for a stove of this range- it’s around $20 more than the Atle and weighs a bit more (12 or so pounds) but feels more sol­id and of­fers the abil­i­ty to use bu­tane as well. The or­ange col­or is nice, the unit looks great, and it packs up and sets up quick­ly and clean­ly.

That said, this is not a pre­mi­um prod­uct. The hinges, case, and grate loosen and stick a bit, and the piezo ig­ni­tion isn’t the most re­li­able. Buy the Pro­file 2 as a git-er-done out­door stove for oc­ca­sion­al car camp­ing.

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About the Author

David has been writing professionally since 2008, as a translator and product editor for Japan Trend Shop. Along the way he has worked in IT for Six Apart (and its reincarnation as SAY Media), Naked Communications, and Tokyo 2.0, as well as volunteering his nerdiness for dance events and organizations such as the Fusion Exchange and the Portland Swing and Jazz Dance society. After graduating Lewis & Clark College in 2010, David entered the Teach for America program, and taught Algebra and Geometry at Aptos Middle School in San Francisco. When he's not educating young minds or buried in a computer screen, he spends his time dancing, and frequently teaches dance with fellow TrulyNet author Ruth Hoffman.



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