We’ve been testing out the Goal Zero Nomad 7 portable solar charger panel for a few months. If you’re thinking about buying a solar charger to power your devices while at camp or on the trail, see what we thought about the Nomad after spending some time with it.
We’ve all been on the road, out on a hike, or camping and one or more of our devices runs out of batteries. We always give these items a full charge before heading out, but keeping them charged while away from a power outlet can prove to be difficult. So what are the options available? You either suffer with a drained device or carry lots of extra batteries (many devices have fixed, recharge only batteries though). Additionally, you can plug something into your car (through a USB plug or cigarette lighter), but these require your vehicle to be running in order to charge the device.. and depending on your vehicle, the charging might be really slow.
A great option available nowadays are portable solar panels! The price on these has come down quite significantly over the past few years, making them very affordable and accessible for the average consumer.
After doing a little research and figuring out what it was we needed from a solar panel, we decided on purchasing the Goal Zero Nomad 7.
We purchased our unit for $80 on Amazon about 6 months ago (price still seems to be steady at this) and after testing it a half dozen times (car camping and hiking) we’ve been happy with our purchase.
The user manual for the device said the panel should charge up a phone or other USB device in 1 to 3 hours. We typically saw charge times on the lower end of that scale, even on days that were fairly cloudy. On a really sunny camp morning, we managed to get the battery of a Nexus 5 phone up to about 60-70% from the single digits while we had our morning coffee, made breakfast and got ready to head out hiking. I will admit that it would be great if there was more than one USB on the panel so that we could charge two devices at the same time.
Car camping of course meant that space and weight were never an issue, but we bought this panel knowing that we would want to take it with us hiking to keep our phones and GPS units charged and at the ready. At 13.5oz (.8 lb) it didn’t add much in the way of weight overall, and since we fixed it to the outside of our packs, we didn’t have to worry about it taking up interior space. Most panels available range from around .6 lb up to 2 lbs.
We just plugged a phone cable into the USB slot in the charger, attached the phone to the cable, tucked the phone into the handy mesh pocket (that keeps all your charging cables or battery packs), and folded open the panel. Simple, light, self contained, and it actually works pretty well. When you’re not using the Nomad, it folds up nicely to around the size of a small tablet and is very easy to stash in a bag.
This is also one of the few panels out there with a lot of built-in nylon loops for hanging the panel. Most other panels just have a grommet in the corner which you then need to tie string to or bring a carabiner if you plan to hang the panel. The Nomad 7 has many little loops that will go over a hook or small tree limb. However, securely fastening to my pack did require a small carabiner as I wanted to position it so that it would not move while hiking.
If you’re an outdoorsy type who is pretty tech savvy (like us), we know keeping your devices charged is a constant struggle, and having a portable solar panel seems like a great solution to that problem. Although solar isn’t always an option, when it was, in our experience, we think the Nomad 7 performed admirably.
Have you used this portable solar panel? What did you think about the performance? Tell us in the comments below.
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