Power…. It’s an awesome thing. We take it for granted every day. Wake up with an alarm clock, turn on the light, and hit the TV or radio button. All needing some form of power. Our cell phones, tablets, laptops, or computers require the life blood of electricity to power them. Without it they are nothing more than a means to hold paper down and gather dust.
Modern mobile phones and similar devices are so complex they don’t last more than a few days without a transfusion of electrons. If we are near an outlet, we plug them in and in a few hours they are ready to go. Most can be charged within your vehicle via a cigarette lighter adapter. This means they accept DC power of 12 Volts. Within recent years 12 Volts has become a common voltage for many devices. This goes back to the days of personal computers where the power supplies take the 120V AC from our wall outlet and transform it to DC voltage of either 12V or 5V. Computer circuits were designed to operate comfortably on these voltages. The added bonus is that our vehicles also operate on the same voltage; 12Volts DC. I remember almost 10 years ago getting an adapter for my laptop to run it from the car. With the proper cable I was able to connect the Garmin GPS to it and get full sized route maps updated in real time! It was impressive at the time considering the Garmin had only a tiny black and white screen.
All this rambling leads to the fact that our lives are based on having some form of electricity available, in a handy and convenient carrying case to charge or run some device, whether on the road or in the woods. At this past years PWYP event at the Chestnut Mountain Proving Grounds I don’t think anybody was more than 10 feet away from a cell phone, camera, or laptop. We were in the middle of the woods in North Carolina and we could access the internet or make a call to anyone around the world! Pretty amazing….. However, we all needed a way to keep this connectivity alive.
Enter the company Goal Zero. They make a number of portable battery solutions to fit almost any environment. They make small battery and solar chargers that are compact and can charge a smart phone in a couple of hours. The solar panels keep the battery fully charged by harnessing the power of the sun. If you require more power, they make larger units that can run a number of LED lights and up to a 32″ flat screen TV. Basically you can supply a basecamp with enough power to operate a number of laptops, radios, lights, video cameras, and etc. Enough power to accomplish almost anything you would need.
The best part is that the battery packs use solar power to recharge. So if you have the ability to get the panels in direct sunlight, you won’t run out of power. The battery packs are extremely rugged in design. Built to withstand the outdoors! The solar panels fold up in a compact case of their own. This protects the delicate panels from getting damaged. The unit I have been testing has a cigarette lighter adapter that plugs into the battery. From this I could charge my smartphone. Taking it one step farther, I plugged a small inverter in and was able to power my laptop as if it was plugged into a wall outlet. It’s geeky in a cool way! The solar panel maintained the power to the battery without a problem. I was able to keep it in direct sunlight for most of the day. By nightfall the battery was almost fully charged even with use during the day. We all like to head into the woods and try to get away from society and off the grid. Well, I for one have my smartphone on me. Having a battery pack and solar charger with me keeps it charged up and ready.
I have another obsession: Amateur radio. We as a group take pride in the fact that we can communicate to anywhere in the world from almost any place in the world. It’s just a matter of throwing a wire in the trees, connecting it to a radio, and powering it up. The first two things are easy. The last part requires a bit of ingenuity. Once again, enter Goal Zero… I used the same power kit used at PWYP to power my radio. Most modern Ham Radios require 12Volts. What a concept!!
Every year in June there is an event called Field Day. This event is designed to test our deployment abilities. A bunch of groups all over the country, (this year we had almost 2400) find a nearby field and setup our antennas and radios ‘Off the Grid’. This means no commercial power. We use generators and batteries to run our equipment for 24 hours and try and contact as many other Ham operators as possible. We setup on a hill in the nearby town of Palatine, Illinois. There were about 30 of us running around hoisting up masts, setting up tents and canopies, running cabling, hooking up radios, and etc. There were 4 Honda generators, homemade solar panel arrays with large deep cycle batteries, and the Goal Zero Kit. I set up the panel on the sun side of my canopy and ran the wire to the battery located on a table inside. From there I connected my Icom 703 rig, small netbook, and WiFi hotspot to the unit. The compact battery pack lasted for a solid 2-3 hours even with this significant power draw. Very impressive considering everything fit into a small tote bucket! If I didn’t use the laptop or hotspot I could easily run the radio alone for over 4 hours.
If you are looking for a compact, rugged, and reliable 12 Volt power source check out Goal Zero. I’m sure you will find something there to fit your needs!
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