Solar Charger vs More Camera Batteries

The question almost always comes up… do I really need a solar charger for my upcoming wilderness trek, or should I just buy a bunch of camera batteries?
Knowing that you will be away from power for days, weeks, or even months, what is the best way to keep your camera charged?

The decision comes down to the following:
A. How long the trip is
B. How many other devices you need to keep charged (GPS, headlamps, phones, radios, etc), C. How well you are able to budget power.
Remember… If you only pack camera batteries, then once you are out, you are out!
Let’s look at your options for cameras first, and then we will consider your other gear…
1. Extra Camera Batteries
Most people who take their cameras on their adventures find that they get anywhere from 1-3 days per battery. Anyone sensible will be taking a spare, so with two or even three batteries, you will be able to power through 3-9 days (if nothing goes wrong!). So, for weekend trips, take a couple of batteries with you, and you will be fine.
dSLR camera are a lot more power hungry than the smaller point & shoots, and most serious photographers I talk to seem to want to budget 1 day per battery.A quick look at the current price of dSLR batteries will quickly make you look for alternatives for longer time frames. At anywhere from $80-$120 per battery, the 2 or 3 batteries you probably already have in your camera bag will suffice if you are looking at a trip of 7 days or less. But, you will need to control your shutterbug urges and stick to a power budget!
Because when your batteries are drained… you are done with the camera.

2. Solar Storage Battery = 3-4 dSLR batteries

Going for longer than 1 week?
Consider the advantages of using a solar storage battery to pack the extra power you will need. Cheaper than a complete solar kit, and cheaper than buying more camera batteries.
A solar storage battery is the equivalent of 3-4 camera batteries, but when you consider that the price tag is not much more than a single new Canon LP-E6 battery, the economics are obvious. Combined with your 2-3 back-up batteries, you now have the ability to go up to 2 weeks, or even 3 weeks for the smaller point-and-shoot cameras.
The advantages of using a solar storage battery…
1. Economy – saving money over buying more camera batteries.
2. Expandability – being able to add a solar panel later if you ever want to.
3. Versatility – works with any camera brand/model. There’s nothing worse than having a bag full of model x batteries @ $70each, only to decide to buy a new camera a year later.

What does a solar storage battery look like?
Here’s a current top seller… Voltaic V72
It’s about the size of an eReader (Kobo)
How would you get the power from the storage battery into your camera?
Use the solar storage battery to drive a universal battery charger via USB or 12V DC car charger for your particular camera model. The AC charger that came with your camera is not designed for this job.
examples: Ansmann Vario or Powerline Vario (USB) or DC LP-E6 charger.

3. Complete Solar Power Kit

This is for serious trekkers… this is the power system that generates power continuously. You will never run out of power as long as the sun comes up each day. The power varies with the strength of sunlight (latitude and weather), but we take all that into account when we recommend equipment for you.
So, if your trip is longer than 1-2 weeks, and/or you would rather not take chances with getting your power budget correct, using a complete solar kit is your best option.solar panel -> storage battery -> battery charger -> camera battery

How does it work?
Plug the solar storage battery into the solar panel to start collecting charge.
Whenever you need to top-off a camera battery, simply fit it into the camera charger and plug the charger into the universal battery. Just like you plug it into the wall at home (except we use DC instead of AC power when we’re packing it on our backs).
There are many ways to design the solar kit. From fully integrated packs, to custom plug-n-play sets of equipment. Be sure to get information about several options that fit your mode of transport, weight restrictions, and power needs.
What about other electronics?
It is a fairly simple matter to add all sorts of other devices to the mix, and have everything charged from the same power system. We budget for power consumption in things like GPS receivers, headlamp batteries, phones, and even laptops. A good solar storage battery like the V60 is able to provide the voltages needed to support all this gear, and many times you still only need one charger cradle to support them all.
Discover Your Options…
Want to know what I would recommend for you to have a completely independent power system that works everywhere?
… Just let me know where you are going, for how long, what time of year, and what camera(s) & other gear you want to pack, and I will let you know what equipment will serve you best.
Out here, things have to be a little tougher, a little smarter, and a little more responsible.
Welcome to the Modern Outpost.

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