learned recently, the options for charging our gadgets with solar energy have come a long way. Solar cells are becoming smaller and more efficient, which has made it possible for us to power our cameras, iPods, mobile phones, tablets and other tech toys while in the backcountry. As those cells have continued to evolve, some new gear items have even started to incorporate them directly into the device themselves.
Such is the case with two new lighting options from Energizer, both of which would make excellent companions for your next adventure. Here are two very different, yet very useful, options that will come in handy around base camp and beyond.
Energizer Solar Flashlight (MSRP: $24.99)
Surprisingly small and compact, the Solar Flashlight is capable of cranking out a steady 13 lumens of light to a focused range of 33 meters (108 feet). That may not seem very bright, but in practice it is plenty of illumination for most activities around the home or around camp. That light comes courtesy of three long-life LED lamps which are powered by built-in rechargeable batteries. Those batteries in turn get their juice via the integrated amorphous silicon solar panel or a hand crank that is capable of generating power as well. The entire package is housed in a rugged body that even includes a carabiner that is strong enough to ensure you'll never lose the flashlight. Ever.
Energizer labels this flashlight as a "hybrid power" device because it uses both the solar cell and the crank to light the lamps. But there is a huge difference in how those two methods generate energy with one being far more efficient than the other. The small, but efficient, solar cell requires just five hours of bright sunlight to completely charge the internal batteries. Thats enough to provide five hours of run time before requiring a recharge once again. In comparison, the hand crank is more useful in emergencies, as a minute of turning the crank is good for just four minutes of light. In short, it works in a pinch, but you won't want to have to do it too often.
Put to the test in the real world, I came away quite impressed with how well the tiny solar panel performed. Five hours of direct sunlight seemed to be plenty to recharge the internal batteries, and I found that I was actually able to eek out a little more than the two hours of light that Energizer promises. But the panel is capable of collecting power even in less than ideal conditions, and while it takes a bit longer to complete the process, it was good to know that even on an overcast day, it was still working away to charge the batteries.
For pure convenience sake, I generally prefer carrying a headlamp on my backcountry escapes, although I find that the Solar Flashlight made for a great option for use around camp. It is bright, compact and sturdy. The fact that it could easily be charged each day while dangling from my backpack was a nice plus as well. I also appreciate the value that his light delivers as well. For $24.95 you get a versatile light that never needs batteries or lamps replaced, and with a little diligence is always ready for use.
Energizer Solar LED Lantern ($41.99)
The new Solar LED Lantern is quite a different lighting solution from the Solar Flashlight and yet the two share quite a bit in common. Both are hybrid power devices, although in the case of the lantern, the hand crank has been replaced with ability to power the light through the use of three D cell batteries as well. They also both use similar silicon solar panels to generate power for the LED lights, but while the flashlight has just three LED's, the lantern has a panel of eight very bright lamps that provide plenty of illumination around the campsite.
The larger solar panel of the lantern collects energy even in low light conditions, which once again ensure that it is always silently working away at charging the built-in batteries. Five hours of bright, direct sunlight does the trick, managing to provide 2.5 hours of light, at a fantastic 66 lumens, in a 10 meter (33 foot) radius. By contrast, when run off the D cell batteries, the lantern has a burn time of 165 hours, which is quite impressive actually. By mixing the use of solar power and the batteries, the lantern should provide plenty of light for quite a few camping trips to come.
The Solar LED Lantern actually resembles a prop from a science fiction film to degree. It's white and orange body looks futuristic enough to come from a Star Trek set and the bright LED's do nothing to break the illusion. Durable and relatively lightweight, it's adjustable solar panel can be folded out from the body to ensure that it is always gathering the maximum amount of sunlight, while the light panel itself flips upward providing the ability to direct the light anywhere in a full 360º area. There is even a low-light mode that provides a nice ambient lighting when the full LED's are overkill for a small tent or room.
While the flashlight is compact enough to take on any adventure, the lantern is much larger and bulkier. For backpackers and adventure travelers who like to travel light, it is definitely overkill for their needs and likely too large for their packs anyway. But campers and mountaineers who are looking for a nice lighting solution around the campsite, the Solar LED Lantern is an excellent choice. It's solar panel is efficient enough to ensure that the lamp will stay well lit and charged for use when needed, but the batteries are a great back-up just in case. I was equally impressed with how much light it put off as I was with how quickly the solar panel recharged the batteries.
Energizer has built a real winner here and I think the lantern will prove popular with more than just the typical outdoor crowd. While it is great for use around a campsite of course, it is equally useful in the backyard, the local park or even the garage. Much like the flashlight, it is also a great value. The $41.95 price point gives you lamps that will never need replacing and built-in rechargeable batteries that will last a lifetime. Sure, you'll occasionally need to replace the D cells, but between their long life and the use of the solar panel, you have a lighting system that will last you for years to come.