Solar Batteries 101 with Goal Zero

Written & published on Solar Batteries by Goal Zero on their Off The Grid blog

Solar Batteries 101
Photo Credit: Goal Zero

Not a Solar Scientist? That’s OK. We’re going back to the basics of keeping your batteries healthy and your solar panels hot!

SOLAR BATTERIES 101

GOAL ZERO utilizes the latest and greatest in battery technology to accompany you on all life’s adventures. From versatile and lightweight lithium ion, to the robust and powerful Lead Acid, we’ve compiled some helpful tips to keep GOAL ZERO batteries their best.

i. Batteries need exercise.
The best thing for any battery is to use it. Don’t leave a charged battery sitting around,unloved and unused for long periods of time.

ii. The “Battery Memory” myth.
Thanks to old Nickel-Cadmium (NiCd) batteries, there’s a myth running around that you should completely drain your batteries before plugging them in for a recharge, called “deep cycling”. Although true with NiCd batteries, the typical batteries you’ll find in most of your gear today, including the advanced lithium and lead-acid batteries used in your GOAL ZERO rechargers, require no such draining. In fact, you should avoid deep cycling your batteries- it does more harm than good in most cases.

Solar Batteries - Myth Busted
No draining required!

iii. The “Stadium Effect”.
The stadium effect occurs when recharging your batteries. You’ll notice your battery quickly filling up in the beginning, then slowing down noticeably when trying to charge up the last several percentages. think of how quickly a stadium fills up when the doors first open- there are hundreds of open seats so it’s easy to find the one you want. Eventually there are only a few open seats here and there and people have to maneuver around to find a spot and filling those seats takes longer. The same theory applies to recharging batteries. It’s easy for energy to flow in and take up empty space in the beginning, and as time goes on and there is less space available, it takes longer for the energy to fill in those holes.

iv. Read the Manual.
Yeah, it might be a long read, but the manual is the best place to find the dos and don’t for the battery in your specific device. Reading your manual will ensure you’re taking steps to keep your batteries happy and healthy.

SOLAR 101: GOAL ZERO makes it easy to recharge your gear from the sun- we didn’t invent solar power, we perfected it. Some things to keep in mind when recharging your gear with solar power:

i. Solar panels don’t store power from the sun, they collect it.
We teach you to collect-store-use, which is the best way to utilize solar power to recharge your gear. Collect the sun’s energy with a solar panel. Store the power in a recharger. Use the recharger to power your gear, day and night. If you’re really a diehard, you can plug your gear directly into the junction box located on the back of our Nomad Solar Panels to recharge from the sun.

ii. Solar works, even in overcast conditions.
Solar panels utilize the UV rays from the sun that can penetrate through clouds. Although the efficiency of the solar panels will decrease in cloudy conditions, you’ll still be collecting valuable power from the sun.

iii. Proper alignment works wonders.
Keeping your solar panel angled toward the sun can dramatically increase solar efficiency. Set it up and let Mother Nature do the rest.

Solar Battery Charging Alignment
Find the sweet spot.

In Focus: Camping / Road Trip Gear

If you’ve followed along with my recent travels, you know I took a trip out to West Texas for a quick four day weekend and after all the dust settled, I decided to make a few videos to showcase some of the products I used. Take a look!

A clean campsite is a wonderful thing and if you’re tired of dirt or sand gathering on your ground covering, the CGear Sand-Free Mat is perfect for you. I recently took the 8′ x 8′ version (we also have a 10′ x 10′) out into the real world so check the video for the verdict!

Adventuring can work up a thirst but with the NRS Dura Soft 6 Pack Cooler, you don’t ever have to be too far from cold beverages. I recently took the cooler on a road trip to test out its cooling powers and the results are in the video.

I used the NRS Dri-Stow dry bag to hold all my clothes and gear on my road trip and used the NRS Tuff Sack dry bag to hold essential “just-incase” items for the car. These are two tough bags that lived up to their initial promise so watch the video for my insight.

If you’re like me, you don’t want to be without your music or mobile devices (mostly…) when you’re out camping or on the water. I used the Goal Zero Nomad 7 Solar Panel / Rock Out Speaker Combo and I wanted to showcase this unique device and those awesome little speakers.

-Trent @ ACK

Product Testing in West Texas

I recently embarked on a trip out to the great wide open of West Texas and took some products we sell here at ACK along for the trip. Let me start right off the bat by saying everything I used served its purpose very well and I will give you a rundown of what I used, how I used it and what I may have run into along the way.

I really didn’t want to go the route of the cramped duffle bag for this trip so I decided to use a couple of different bags from NRS: the large Dri-Stow bag and the small Tuff Sack dry bag.

NRS Dri-Stow (large)
NRS Dri-Stow (large)

For four days worth of my clothes and other assorted items, I used the large Dri-Stow bag and still had plenty of room, even without tightly smooshing things down. The bag seals up very securely at the top and creates its own carry handle for added convenience. I always like it when one things serves multiple purposes and this bag certainly does. All the Dri-Stow bags are see through which is really great if you have a lot packed in them. You can pack it in such a way that everything is nicely visible. I packed my towels at the bottom of the bag which seemed like a mistake when I wanted to get them out for a shower after a long day of hiking but even though a lot of other gear was on top of them, I just slid my hand down the side of the bag and was able to pull my towels out without disturbing the rest of the contents. Had I packed it again I probably would’ve left the towels on top but it really wasn’t that big of a deal. If you have a bunch of wet gear you want to keep away from your dry stuff, throw it in this bag and you can rest assured it will keep the two separate and won’t leak all over your dry gear if you seal it up properly.

I used the Tuff Sack for the necessary stuff I like to take with me on a road trip like trash bags, plastic grocery bags, and zip-lock bags because you never know when you might need that stuff out on the road or out on the trails! While I didn’t have to use those items very much, I liked having it sealed away in the bag and could rest assured that once I had properly closed it, those items would stay in the bag away from the rest of my neatly packed car.

I listen to music while I work, drive, clean the house or during just about any other activity. Its always on and why should I have to be away from music while I’m out on the trails, the water or sitting by the pool? I shouldn’t and neither should you thanks to the Goal Zero Nomad 7 Solar Panel and Rock Out Speaker Combo. There’s been an influx of solar powered devices in the market recently and I have to admit that I was skeptical of this one. I wasn’t sure how well it would work or if it was just a gimmick to begin with. The Nomad 7 panels work wonderfully with the Rock Out speakers and will charge them in about four hours. I had them sitting in the back window of my car soaking up the sun on my drive out west and they were charged by the time I got there. The speakers have an internal battery so they won’t drain your devices’ and will stay charged for about 20 hours, according to the manufacturer. I used them over a couple of days and certainly not for 20 hours but I didn’t have to recharge them in between and that was nice. The solar panel has a spot for a USB plug, which charges the speakers and can also charge your mobile device in about one to two hours. I charged my device in my car so I didn’t use the solar panels for that but I’ve heard from others that it works well with a cell phone as well. There is also a port for a 12 volt adapter, one of which comes with the package, and that will charge any applicable device you have as well.

CGear Sand-Free Mat at Balmorhea State Park

Cleanliness is a big deal to me and after using the CGear Sand-Free Mat on this trip, I don’t think I would use another ground cover for a basecamp or just lounging around outdoors at a festival around town or at the Barton Creek Greenbelt for a day with friends. I took the CGear mat with me when I went to Balmorhea State Park to lay out by their pristine spring-fed pool. I had my gear and my towels laid out on the mat and the dual-layer weave technology kept sand and other small debris off the mat with ease. When something small gets on top, all you have to do is run your hand over the top layer and the debris falls through. It really is that easy. I was skeptical at first but the mat works really well. I was also worried about it getting hot in the sun but that just didn’t happen.

NRS Dura Soft 6 Pack Cooler with two larger Gatorades at Balmorhea State Park

The last product I was able to enjoy on my trip was the NRS Dura Soft 6 Pack Cooler. This little bag can hold a lot, keep it cold, is easy to pack and even easier to clean. I loaded a six pack and a frozen ice pack into the cooler before I hit the road. After driving for six plus hours, I was surprised to find that my six pack was still cool inside the Dura Soft cooler. I really couldn’t believe it. I didn’t have to put my drinks in the fridge and could just pop one open as soon as I got there. Truly awesome. Aside from the six pack, at a different point in my trip, I put two of the larger Gatorade bottles and one additional small water bottle in the cooler and it held those with room to spare! Also, the liner on the cooler is removable so when I was finished and ready to clean it out, all I had to do was remove the liner (it fastens in with velcro), clean it out in the sink and pop it back in the cooler. When there’s nothing in it, you can smoosh it down and pack it with the rest of your gear without taking up that precious cargo space. NRS really thought ahead when they were designing this bag.

-Trent @ ACK

 

Pigs in a Tent…Well Almost

Yeah, we know, more gear than we needed but we made it work! Photo by Carlos Mata

Back in January, I wrote a short article ranting about partaking in new adventure this year. Shame on me, two full months later and I had yet to do any of it, that is until just recently. I agreed to join a friend of mine on a 36 mile kayak camping trip on a stretch of the Texas Colorado River a few weeks ago that neither one of us had ever paddled. With unseasonably warm temperatures here and a busy new year both at work and home I figured why not?

While we were paddling a new stretch, I am no stranger to kayak camping. I’ve got a great gear setup that I have compiled over the years utilizing a Wilderness Syetems Commander 140. Everything I need is already set to go in a group of pre-defined dry bags and boxes. Problem was my current gear setup is meant for a one night trip so off I was to ACK.com to select some gear for “product testing” (a fine perk we enjoy as employees of ACK).

Staying Off the Grid (Sort of)

Goal Zero Nomad 7

We were planning to paddle 36 miles over the course of 3 days, this meant I needed to figure out a way to keep my phone charged in case of an emergency or to…ya know, post on our Facebook page. One of our buyer’s recommended the Goal Zero Nomad 7. It’s a small portable solar charger combined with a speaker system that connects right into my iPhone. I was impressed! It not only charged my phone in about an hour but the speakers weren’t all that bad either. The biggest challenge was remembering to set it up prior to launching every morning. It’s not waterproof nor is my iPhone so I was worried about having keep it dry while paddling. I was not impressed with how the different pieces stored. It would be great if they made it so that it was an all-in-one package that could be separated if needed because right now I have a solar panel and a speaker system that, while they work together, don’t store well together. It’s pretty much two separate products that connect via a wire. Would be nice if the speaker system could double up as device that holds your solar panels in place. Nevertheless, this product proved valuable and the music was a perk at the campsite!

Stohlquist Contact Gloves

Keeping Warm and Protecting My Face and Hands

While warm during the day, we woke up to a frozen tundra…well not really but it was a bit too cold for these Texas boys. I knew my hands and face would be the most vulnerable to not only the cold, but dry winds and bright sunny days.

I have some wimpy hands (yeah I admit it) so I wanted to keep them warm but more importantly wanted to avoid dealing with blisters on a 36-mile trip. I picked up a pair of Stohlquist Contact Fingerless Gloves. To sum it up, warm enough, dry quickly when wet, love the fingerless features (see picture) but most of all the contact between my hands and paddle felt great.

Buff Headwear

With dry sunny days and cold mornings in the forecast, I knew I would appreciate the use of a Buff Multifunctional Headwear. And, by using a Buff, I avoided chapped lips, wind and sun burned skin and at the same time was able to keep my ears warm during our early morning paddles when temperatures were in the mid-30s. I also used it to keep my neck and face warm while sleeping — truly multifunctional. Yeah, I may have looked a little odd but was well worth it when reaping its benefits.

Protecting My Life-Line

Another new item I took with me was the Aquapac Mini Whanganui Electronics Case 108. Designed for any device that’s about the size of an iPhone it was the perfect solution for keeping my phone safe and accessible. I submerged it a few times to test it’s reliability and sure enough, it was as dry as can be. We sell a variety of cases for iPhones but was interested in something that would still allow me the ability to use it without having to open it. The clear back of the case allows for this and was surprisingly responsive. My only gripe about this product is that trying to get the phone out of the case was difficult because the phone sticks to the clear plastic.

A Trip Worth Taking

Wild pigs spotted along the banks of the Colorado River. Photo by Carlos Mata.

So enough of the product reviews, you are probably wondering what the reference to “pigs” in the title is all about. Here in Texas we are no stranger to wild pigs. They are typically wary of humans and are long gone before you even see them, that is unless you are dumb enough to set up your camp write smack in the middle of their trail.

We woke up to what sounded like no less than 10 pigs racing through our campsite, literally inches from our tent. So close, I could hear every breath, snort and step. My only thought was that at one point or another, a giant mama pig protecting her young or foraging for food was going to come crashing into one of our tents. I held my breathe for what felt like forever and just like that, they were gone. Needless to say, I slept with one ear open the rest of the night.

Reality is, this trip could not have gone any better. We ran into some low water issues, in fact the water never got much deeper than 3 feet in most areas. Otherwise, mild daytime temperatures, accessible islands to camp on, useful gear, amazing food, good conversation and the awesome sights and sounds of the Colorado River made for one of the best river camping trips I have ever taken.

Interested in kayak camping? Check out this diagram I put together several months ago highlighting recommended gear and suggestions on how to pack it.

Scroll down to see the rest of the pictures!

Roland @ACK

 

In Focus: Unique Outdoor Products

ACK is a very fluid company (pun intended!) and we have new products coming in constantly. Part of my job as the company photographer is to keep the site updated with photos of our new products. I was born and raised in Texas and even though I love this place, I’ve suffered in the Texas heat enough and  I don’t even think about camping in the heat, but with cooler weather comes camping season. Now that lows are in the 60s, my mind often wanders to camping and we’ve recently added a few products that will make the trips easier for everyone.

The market is flooded with fire starters and its hard to cut through the crowds and know what to look for but InstaFire makes a solid fuel fire starter that works and it works well. I got the chance to try this stuff out because I had to photograph it in use. It was so simple. I photographed it on fire on concrete and as soon as I put a lighter to the fuel, it lit quickly and stayed lit. When I was finished taking photos, I stomped it out with my boot and it stayed out with no flare-ups. It lights and burns in the wind and is water resistant and it dries out wet wood quickly. It is made from a blend of recycled wood, paraffin wax, and inert materials, burning “green” which means it contains no harmful chemicals and can be used as a fire starter or as your solitary fuel source. We carry it in packs of three which would be good for a short trip and we also offer two and four gallon options so you can stock up.

Let’s face it: it is becoming increasingly difficult to cut the cords completely and escape from all electronic devices. While we’d like to just get away from it all and escape everyday life, that might not always be the most practical option, so where do electronics fit into the great outdoors? With Goal Zero’s line of  personal solar panel products you don’t have to leave the electronics at home when you venture out into the wilderness. The Guide 10 Plus Adventure Kit is what you need if your tablet, smartphone, or e-reader is making the trip with you. Away from the world’s plugs, the 7 watt solar panel and four rechargeable batteries can handle those smaller devices you just can’t live without. I love to use the maps function on my smart phone when I’m out hiking and if I’m going on an extended trek, I’m definitely bringing the kit with me so I don’t have to constantly worry about conserving  battery life on my phone. You can charge the batteries off the solar panel and then use the battery charger to re-juice your devices OR use the 4 AA batteries in a battery powered device OR plug your device into the panel directly. The pack charges in 3-4 hours so you could charge the batteries before you go on a hike or a paddle and come back to plenty of juice. The whole thing comes with a couple of handy adapters and the panel itself folds up to about the size of a novel so it won’t take up much of that crucial pack space. We also offer several options that could accommodate more or less depending on your specific needs.

-Trent @ ACK