How do you keep your portable gear charged when you're off the grid? What happens when the power outlets no longer work? What if there are no power outlets? Does everything have to grind to a halt as we revert back to banging the rocks together?
I spent last week on a remore island off the coast of Wales, UK, where there was no power (and, for that matter, no running water and no proper sanitation). And while I made the trip in order to disconnect from the endless, unrelenting fire hose that is the Internet for a few days, I still wanted to be able to make use of my smartphone, tablet, and e-reader.
I wanted disconnection, but on my own terms. And with a few bits of kit, I managed to achieve that.
Not having access to functioning power outlets meant I had two options. I could generate electricity myself, or cart power with me.
To make sure that all my bases were covered, I chose both options. Generators were out of the question, so I had to get creative.
While I didn't have the space to take a generator with me on the trip, but what I could take with me were solar panels to collect power, and then use battery packs to store the power.
Note that while I'm talking here about a vacation that took me off the grid, most of this information is applicable to situations where you're forced off the grid (for example, by a storm or zombie apocalypse, although in this situation my primary power supply would be a generator), or have to work while away from the infrastructure you're used to.
I took with me on the trip three different solar panels. At the small end, I took a couple of Powermonkey Explorer packs which consist of a 5W/200mA (under ideal conditions) solar panel hooked up to a 2200mAh Li-Ion power packs. These devices come with a myriad of connectors (but they don't come with a Lightning connector for Apple's new iDevices, so I had to make sure to take my megabucks cable with me) are ideal for low-drain devices such as e-readers and rechargeable LED flashlights.
To cover the higher-end power demands I also took with me a Powermonkey Extreme pack. This is a 5W (again, depending on conditions) solar panel hooked up to a 9000 mAh Li-Ion power pack. This rugged power pack can output USB 5V 700MAh and 12V DC port 800mAh, making it perfect for a broad range of kit, even obscure devices such as Iridium handsets. This is a pro-grade, hardcore piece of kit that's waterproof, dustproof, and impact resistant.
While I was testing the kit at the PC Doc HQ the solar panels on the Powermonkey devices looked rather small, especially when you consider how lame the UK sun can be at the best of times, so in order to kick my photon harvesting up a notch I augmented the Powermonkey solar panels with a 7W (5V x 1400mA) Portapow solar panel. While being only 8-inch by 6.5-inch folded, this panel has the kick needed to charge high-capacity Li-Ion power packs such as those manufactured by New Trent.
OK, so I had my solar panels, and I had my power packs. Here's what I did with this gear.
Here are a few other random tips for traveling with electronics.