Goal Zero Solar Kit? Read this first.

Everyone in the solar industry has at least heard of Goal Zero by now. They are the American portable solar power company that was born out of african humanitarian aid projects. Goal Zero builds some fantastic products… heck, I sell a lot of them myself (see here). And Goal Zero does a great job of marketing their equipment, which is why you can find it almost everywhere solar panels and innovative outdoor gear are sold. But, should they be on your equipment short-list?

Just as the old saying goes: “There is a tool for every job”, so it is with packable solar power systems. In this article, I will take a look at several popular Goal Zero power kits, suggest the best applications for them, and suggest excellent alternatives that may be better suited to your specific needs.
 
A few numbers to help you compare:
     Smart Phone battery full charge = 5-6 Watt-Hours
     GPS receiver battery full charge = 8+ Watt-Hours
     Tablet PC battery full charge = 20+ Watt-Hours
     Laptop battery full charge = 50+ Watt-Hours
Onward…
 
The Goal Zero Switch 8 : $139.99 (est)
This is the latest kit release from Goal Zero. It features their Nomad 3.5 folding panel, with the new Switch8 lithium USB battery pack. Following are the key specifications…
     Solar Panel Type : Monocrystalline
     Max power generation : 2.5 Watts (USB)
                or 3 Watts if using the Guide10 battery
     Power Storage : 7.92 Watt-Hours
Max output : 1,000mA @ 5V USB
Total Weight : 310g (11.2oz)
The verdict:
Like all Goal Zero products, this kit is very well built to take the abuse of wilderness use. The monocrystalline panel is best suited to direct sunlight, so it makes sense for regions that have a lot of sunshine (Africa, SW USA, Mexico, etc), and for summer use in North America.
But, an integrated Voltaic charger like the Fuse 4W provides better performance with the same solar technology for less money, plus you get a very nice gear case…Voltaic Fuse 9W : $
Solar Panel Type : Monocrystalline
     Max power generation : 9 Watts
Power Storage : 44 Watt-Hours
Max output : 2,000mA @ 5V USB


So, that being said, what USB solar charger would be my lead recommendation for difficult Canadian & other North American locations? If there is a good chance you will get partial shade, variable sun exposure, variable weather, or will be working at high latitudes, then the following will be the best options for you…

1. LightSaver : $139 (est)
Solar Panel Type : Thin film
Max power generation : 3 Watts
Power Storage : 12 Watt-Hours
Max output : 1,000mA @ 5V USB
Total Weight : 139g (4.9oz)
        – lighter weight, more sensitive in low-light & partial shade,
& more affordable


2. LightSaver Max : $419 (est)
        Solar Panel Type : Thin film
Max power generation : 10 Watts
Power Storage : 66 Watt-Hours
Max output : up to 5A @ 5V USB, USB-c (supports tablets)
Total Weight : 682g (24oz)
        – More power in any light condition, greater sensitivity,
& greater power storage.

This concludes my little report on Goal Zero and what alternative equipment combinations I would recommend for Canadian & North American locations. Again, the point of the exercise is to pack along equipment that will work under the widest range of conditions. Goal Zero equipment is good, but not the best option in challenging northern latitudes.

I understand that I presented quite a few numbers here. Sorry about that. I tried to keep them simple so that you can make meaningful comparisons between devices. If you have any questions regarding anything I have presented here, please do not hesitate to contact me.
Cheers!
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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