I recently went Geocaching again for the first time this year. Now that junior is growing up he seems to be quite enjoying it. On our last trip out he wanted to keep going but alas the batteries weren't up to it. Of course I have a geocaching checklist which lists spare batteries but on this occasion it was all a bit rushed as I was struggling to get the caches onto the old Nuvi 250 satnav that we let junior carry around (for future reference - do a soft reset then rename the gpx file to current.gpx and drop it into the right folder on the nuvi then reboot). The checklist itself didn't even get checked which is a mistake I won't repeat (as was giving the other half complete control over what went into the picnic).
Anyway this got me to thinking about what we will do about power on our forthcoming camping trips. The difference between camping & glamping in my oppinion is an electric hook-up. If you're going to take an electric fridge, tv, games console etc. etc. then why not just stay at home? Still there's holidays and then there's holocausts and I associate a lack of personal tech with the latter. So what are the implications of a no hook-up policy?
Well there's a certain amount of tech required to make a holiday run smoothly as ervyone knows. A new DVD for the kid(s) to watch while the tent is going up is almost essential. Not a problem as the in-car dvd can be run from the car battery or from AA batteries. Unfortunately my metal detector requires 8 of these and the dvd player requires 6. Then there's the GPS(es) if we decide to go geocaching while away. They require 2 apart from juniors old nuvi which can only be charged from USB or mains. The in-car satnav to get us there is the same. I now realise that a cigarette lighter power splitter would be another useful addition for us. Something like this maybe (cue blatant commision earner - although I don't expect much when the item in question is sub £3) TRIXES Black Micro 2 Port USB Car Charger Adapter for iPod iPhone iPad Mobile SatNav
Now that's all very well if we're prepared to leave things in the car whilst charging but what if we park up somewhere, wander off and then can't find our way back due to flat batteries. The more astute may realise at this point that I'm leading up to a solar charger. I've already done my research and decided to nip out to Maplins (really?) and picked it up. Yes while researching I discovered the freeloader pro has a 2650mA battery and some terrible reviews while charging 4 times more than the 'Flyer' which I just got for sub £15. The Flyer has a 2600mA battery so the difference seems very slight. I don't think I'll be able to plug in the supercharger panel which speeds up charging for the freeloader but I'm not sure. The Flyer seems to transfer it's charge via mini-usb and has a simple switch for in/out/torch. It might just be possible to use/adapt the supercharger.
The flyer is a stylish apparently well manufactured little unit. It has a red led to indicate it is being charged by the solar cell, another led to indicate the charge is coming via USB and four blue led's which give an indicator as to how much power is currently stored. Pressing the battery button lights this up for about 2 seconds. The instructions are even in pretty good English. The only concerns are that the instructions suggest you keep it away from water (which is nice but not always possible in Britain), and the length of the attachment cable is a bit short (approx 5 inches).
So out came the Oregon 550 batteries and I linked up the Flyer to juice it. After a few moments while the Garmin realises it's not being accessed as a USB drive and it's back into its map mode. 45 minutes later it's still going but at this point I picked the whole thing up and the adapter from the flyer to mini-usb practically fell apart. From a maintenance point of view this is good but not the time or place. I would advise wrapping some black tape around these as the fault seems to lie in their cheapness as the little plastic tabs holding them together just fell off.
Almost one hour later and the Oregon is still going well and then it hits me. We are all going to end up looking like Stormtroopers someday aren't we? The applications for this sort of thing are endless. We could have heated clothing, communcations and processing all powered by an energy store strapped to our backs (our backs obviously to provide some protection from rebel blasters as those in the know will tell you). Anyway back to here and now. So far the flyer has powered this Oregon 550 for 1 hour and it still reports it has somewhere between 75%-99% of its charge remaining. I'm suitably impressed and smug at the prospect of a little bit more free energy.
Sadly there was no sign of the solar battery charger I got from Maplins some time ago. I would have liked another of those as they were about £10-15 and charged up either 4xAAA, 4xAA, 4xC or 4xD batteries. Still I'm sure I'll be able to find them elsewhere online.
Oregon 550: Removed batteries and after 3 hours usage, Flyer indicated it still had 50% charge left (I am impressed at this point)