Published on July 22nd, 2011 | by David0
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.