by Justin Gray
One product that I have used extensively over the past year and a half is a Wagan Tech 18 watt solar e panel. I absolutely love this solar panel and it has gone everywhere with me; hiking, camping, fishing, off-roading, bicycling, football and soccer games, boating on the river, days by the pool, walking around my neighborhood... you name it!
The first thing I noticed with the Solar e Panel (mine is the 18 watt version, #8207) is how lightweight it is. I’m used to the old style solar cells that are rigid and have a glass covering; making them hard and heavy. The Wagan Tech Solar e panel is my first experience with high efficiency, thin, lightweight, and flexible solar panels. Another design feature of the Solar e Panel that I found extremely important for adventurers like me is the rugged nylon shell that surrounds the solar panels. The shell is both abrasion and water resistant and has hanging loops around its perimeter allowing for easy attachment on nearly any surface (like a backpack, tree, chair, tent, trailer, camper, RV, etc.). I got this solar panel a few days before a deep woods camping trip into the Stanislaus National Forest of California where I not only camped, but fished and hiked too.
My trip led me to an unmaintained dirt road near the Tuolumne river. It was a secluded spot several miles off-road covered with a nice dense canopy of Conifers and Lodge Pole Pine trees. On this trip I brought my phone and a GPS with me (amongst a myriad of other electronic devices) because, truthfully speaking, I’m a techie guy who likes his electronic devices and is quite attached to them. As I settled in, I decided to take a walk to gather my wits and see what the forest had to offer. After marking my starting position (setting a pin on the GPS and recording the coordinates), I packed a daypack and set off on a small adventure.
I soon found myself a few miles down the trail, on the bank of the river, with a fishing pole in my hand. There is something so serene about being in the forest; taking a look around, you cannot help but to feel so small against the backdrop of such sprawling grandeur (my camping location is near Yosemite National Park, so you can imagine how beautiful it is). Before long, I felt the nagging call of my phone; it beckoned to be picked up and played with.
As much as I love camping and being in the solitude of the forest, I still find myself perpetually coming back to my phone to play games here and there (with no cell reception, I am relegated to offline games like Minecraft and Solitaire). Having a Samsung Galaxy S6 smartphone, I am constantly searching for a place to charge it; the Samsung battery barely lasts a day on standby and the GPS on the phone drains the battery at an exponential rate. Finding an outlet in the forest is impossible; this is why an efficient solar panel has become a necessity for me. As the phone incessantly notified me to be charged, I reached into my daypack and deployed the 18 watt solar panel that I just received.
After opening the panels and laying the device on the rock beside me, I plugged in my S6 with the supplied micro USB cable and looked at the screen of the phone: “Charging”. Perfect! I thought to myself that now would be a good time to read the manual and see what this panel is capable of: 2.1A USB power port, high efficiency Sun Power Solar Panels, included DC accessory socket (like the cigarette socket in your car), and up to 18 watts of power… the techie side of me was now beaming! As I concluded my scouring of the manual, I unzipped the neoprene pouch attached to the back of the panel and stowed the DC accessory plug and manual within its confines. Fish on!
Within a minute of stowing the manual and accessory, I had a bite on my fishing pole. After a long and arduous fight with this monster trout, I brought him to the shore. He was a massive 7” long … all joking aside, he was released safely back into the river (thanks to barbless hooks!). As the day wore on, clouds had set in and it became overcast… now was a good time to pack it up and head back to camp. As I went to the rock to retrieve my phone, I noticed that it was still charging. By this time it was completely overcast and nearing 5 pm; there was no visible sunlight shining down, yet this panel was still charging my phone! I was in awe of its ability to charge in reduced lighting. I picked up the panel, wiped off the water that had accumulated on it from the thrashing that the monster trout had delivered, and placed it inside my pack.
The next morning as I cooked breakfast, I broke into a sweat. It was 9 a.m. and felt like it was already 90 degrees outside. Fortunately, I had prepared for this (a common problem with camping in the summer) and purchased a 10” battery powered fan from Walmart in anticipation of hot weather. I already pre-loaded the fan with the required eight (8!) D-cell batteries that it needed to operate. I had hoped to hang the fan at the optimal angle (face level) from my Ez-Up canopy, but with the added weight of the batteries (in all now weighing around 6 pounds!), I was afraid to hang the fan. WAIT! What about the Solar e Panel 18w? It came with a female DC accessory socket! After looking at the fan’s DC input and finding the correct male DC plug (not included with the fan or Solar e Panel 18W), I removed the batteries and connected the set-up. As the panels unfolded and became exposed to sunlight, the fan blades started to turn. Once the panel was completely unfolded, the fan spit out a mighty impressive gust of wind… I felt like a genius.
To say that the Solar e Panel 18W is worth its weight in gold is an understatement! Having found a “secret use” for the panel opens up a wide range of possibilities for powering devices. Tested with my GoPro battery charger, a 10” fan, phones, Bluetooth headsets, FRS radios, and several rechargeable flashlights, this is undoubtedly a piece of kit that will be used on every adventure and is easily worth twice the entry price. With its lightweight, folding, powerful (high efficiency), and rugged design, this solar panel with stand up to years of abuse and thousands of miles on the trail. Compatible with Molle webbing, carabiners, and all sorts of tethers/devices, finding a place to secure the panel is always an easy feat. Would I recommend this panel to friend? Without hesitation I would!
The Sun is bright and so are you; harness its free power to charge your devices!