One of the best advances in technology over the past couple of years has been the improvements made in rechargeable batteries. Those little power sources have become smaller and lighter while also increasing their power output. As a result, we now have all kinds of great outdoor gear, such as headlamps, satellite phones and GPS devices, that feature powerful batteries to keep them powered for a long time between charges. Throw in a smartphone, mp3 player, tablet or digital camera and we now head out on our adventures with more electronic devices than ever.
Keeping those gadgets functioning can be a challenge in and of itself, but fortunately solar technology has advanced to a point that we can use power from the sun to charge our gear. There are a lot of products on the market now that can help us to do just that, although for my money the best of those options comes from Goal Zero. A few months back I positively reviewed their Guide 10 Plus Adventure Kit, finding it to be a fantastic lightweight solar panel/battery pack combo. But that system was mainly designed for small devices and sometimes you need something a bit more powerful to meet your needs.
Enter the GZ Sherpa 50 Kit. This is the kit designed for those heading out on a serious adventure but have a lot of electronic gear they want to use while in the field. It includes Goal Zero’s Nomad 13 solar panel, which is a larger and more efficient version of the one that comes with the Guide 10 Plus. The Nomad 13 weights in at just 1.6 pounds and features two very rugged panels to collect as much solar energy as possible. At its peak, it can put out up to 13 watts of power and it’s built in USB and 12V DC ports are capable of powering many devices directly from the Nomad 13 itself.
But the real secret weapon in this kit is the Sherpa 50 Portable Recharger. This is a large battery pack that can connect directly to the Nomad 13 solar planes to create a complete on the go charging system. The Sherpa 50 can store up to 50 Watt-Hours of power. It weighs a surprisingly light 1.1 pounds and features a handy digital screen that indicates how fully charged the battery is at any given time and it’s rugged construction gives you the sense that it can withstand punishment while on the trail.
Out of the box, the Sherpa 50 comes with a full-powered USB port, as well as 12V and laptop port. Each of those comes in very handy, although the 12V and laptop ports require adapters for your electronic gadgets to be useful. There is nothing wrong with that per se, but it does add yet more cables that you need to bring along with you on what ever trip you’re making. The USB port on the other hand puts out 1.5 Amps of power, which is enough to charge even a power hungry iPad. And considering how ubiquitous USB devices are these days, I personally would have preferred a second USB port over say the laptop port.
But what really turns the Sherpa 50 into a useful device is the AC inverter, which comes as standard in the top of the line Sherpa kit but is sold separately from the battery pack on its own. The inverter connects to the side of the Sherpa 50 and adds a standard wall outlet to the mix. That means you can plug just about anything that needs a charge directly into it and give it a quick juice up. That even includes a laptop, which is about the most powerful device you’ll be able to charge from the battery pack.
The Sherpa 50 can be charged directly from a wall outlet, which is a perfect way to top off the charge before you hit the road. It takes about three hours to fill it to capacity. But of course, the purpose of the Sherpa 50 Kit is to recharge your devices via the sun. When plugged into the Nomad 13, charging is a bit more uneven and it takes a bit longer. Goal Zero estimates the charge time to be 6-12 hours depending on cloud cover and exposure to the available sunlight. While testing the kit, I found that to be a fairly accurate assessment. In fact, I was very impressed with how quickly the Sherpa charged while in direct sunlight. But more than that, I was impressed with how little light was actually necessary to draw a charge of any kind. A small green light on the back of the Nomad 13 indicates when it is generating power and even on overcast days it is able to draw some juice from the sun, albeit at a much slower pace.
Goal Zero rates the Sherpa 50 as capable of providing 7 full charges of a smartphone, 3 chargers of an E-Reader such as a standard Kindle, 2 charges of a tablet like an iPad and one full recharge of a laptop. I found those numbers to actually be on the conservative side, but for the most part accurate. My Macbook Air for instance, was able to fully recharge from nearly empty and there was still nearly 20% charge left in the Sherpa’s battery pack. That means you can charge multiple devices at once without any kind of a problem and if the Nomad 13 is pulling in plenty of sunlight, the Sherpa 50 will even continue to hold a charge.
If you’re looking for an affordable charging system that can see you through the a variety of adventures, it is tough to beat the Goal Zero Sherpa 50 Kit. It is powerful, lightweight (full kit is 2.7 pounds) and provides plenty of options for any kind of gadgets you might need to charge. This is the kind of kit that you can take to Everest and have your own personal power station. And if you want to go a little lighter, you can leave either the solar panel or the battery pack at home and just use one or the other, depending on the situation. The top of the line kit, including the inverter add-on pack, will set you back $399. GZ also offers a kit without the inverter which runs $50 less, but frankly I feel like the added functionality that comes with the power outlet is well worth the extra expense. The level of versatility that it brings is hard to beat.
If you want to know just how much I like the Sherpa 50 Kit, this should say it all. I have to pack up my review unit and ship it back, but as soon as I ship it, I’ll be ordering one of my own. This is a nice piece of gear to have in your closet for when you really need it.
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