Solar chargers are a popular item in the packs of long-distance hikers, especially as they are first beginning a hike. As I've tried a few solar chargers in the past, I thought I would give the Apollo 6 Mobility Package - a solar charger with a Spectrum 10 USB powerpack - a try during our summer of exploration.
About the Apollo 6 - This charger has three solar panels and weighs just 6 ounces, so it's incredibly light if you're looking for a solar charger to add to your pack without sacrificing too much other gear. It uses CIGS solar cells that are flexible and durable, meaning there is no glass at all in the unit and it can withstand wet weather, a must-have feature for those of us hiking on the east coast! Included with the panel is a rubber stopper to place over the USB port so you can still transport it in wet weather without corroding the inside of the USB port. It also can still charge the battery pack without the need for direct sunlight. While direct sunlight is obviously best for a solar panel, partly cloudy or shadowed conditions will still allow the power pack to charge.
About the Spectrum 10 USB power pack - This incredibly lightweight device has two functions: a battery charger and a flashlight with three settings, including high beam, low beam, and emergency/dance party strobe light. It comes with it's own micro USB charging cable that can be plugged directly into the Apollo 6 solar panel or into a wall outlet with a USB port for fast charging. The output on this little device is 5 volts, enough to charge even an iPhone! When plugged in, the light on the back of the flashlight shows red and turns off when the device has a full charge - a handy feature to have to know you'll get the maximum charge.
Directly out of the pack, the Spectrum 10 USB Power pack charged a Samsung Galaxy S5 phone from 35% battery to 71% battery. Since it was fresh out of the mail, we didn't have any way to gauge how full the pack was, so we set out to charge the unit. We tested Apollo 6 Solar Panels in our yard. Seeing that we get direct sunlight most of the day on our back deck, we set the charger and the battery pack up outside for 3 hours. After plugging my iPhone 6 into the battery pack after 3 hours, it charged the battery from 22% to 56% before shutting off. The flashlight on the battery pack still worked, so I plugged my phone back into it, but no more charge could be drawn. We plugged it back in to the solar charger and left it outside until sundown, where we then brought it back in and hung it in a window so it could get direct sunlight from the morning sun in the morning. I plugged in my iPhone at 11:30 and by 12:10 it had gone from a 63% change to 100% charged. The cool thing about this is the battery pack disconnected from my iPhone at the point it hit 100% to avoid overcharging/running down the power pack. I thought this was a pretty great feature.
Since we had tested the battery pack, we decided to test the solar panel with our phones directly. NoKey's Samsung Galaxy S5 had no problems and could use either the micro USB cord that came with the panel or his Galaxy charging cable. While the direct plug in method was slower than using a wall charger, it did still charge his phone. When I plugged my iPhone 6 into the panel with the lightening cable (micro USB doesn't have a port on an iPhone), it started to charge but I immediately got a message saying it wasn't compatible with my device. After contacting Endless Sun Solar, they told me that even though I got the message if I left my phone plugged in it would still charge. This did indeed turn out to be the case. Again, it didn't charge fast, but it did pull a charge directly. The reason for the error message is that iPhones tend to be a little more finicky - the fluctuating voltages from solar (such as heavy cloud cover) make the iPhone think it is connected to a grid during dangerous power fluctuations, and so it shows this message and charges at a much slower rate, even though the solar charger may be putting out ample power to charge. Android phones generally do not have this problem, so this only apply to iPhone users.
Another scenario we used to charge phones was attempted on The Long Trail in Vermont during our thru hike. We exclusively used the USB device with a wall charger on this hike due to the sheer lack of direct sunlight we would be getting on a northeastern trail in late summer. Whenever we were in a place to charge our phones, which happened four times during the 273-mile hike, we would also charge the USB device. We would get a completely full charge on the USB and then pack it away to use as an emergency backup if we ended up with dead devices on trail. The only downside of this method was that sometimes we would pull out the bag with the charger to see the flashlight had turned on while in the backpack. Since we had no idea how long the flashlight had been on, usually we couldn't get a full charge for our phones. However, when using the USB power pack and knowing the flashlight hadn't turned on, we would get one completely full charge from 0-100% on a Samsung Galaxy S5 or on an iPhone 6.
If you are looking for a durable solar panel without the heavy weight or fragility of glass, Endless Sun Solar has a great option. If you purchase the Mobility Package, you also get the USB power pack, an item I highly recommend both for the weight and the ease of use. You can check out the package by clicking here.
Disclaimer: I received the Apollo 6 Mobility Package for free from Endless Sun Solar as coordinated by Outdoor PR in consideration for review publication.