Saturday, June 28, 2014

Gear Review: Goal Zero Sherpa 50 & Nomad 13

The star of the AGAP show was without a doubt our goal zero devices, of which we had many. I had two sherpa 50 battery packs, one of which had an ac inverter attached to it. I also had a nomad 13 solar panel. These were purchased specifically with charging my cameras in mind. I had one sherpa to charge GoPro batteries via USB. I had another sherpa - the one with the AC inverter - to charge Nikon DSLR batteries, which I could only charge with a standard wall plug charger. I also used the Sherpa to charge my iPhone, which I needed to run the SPOT connect - which is a separate, and depressing review. 

When I first got the Sherpa in my hand I was amazed how small it was. In photos it looks pretty big, but it is actually only 6 x 4 x 1.5 inches. 

Beth had her own goal zero products, but they were smaller devices than what I was carrying. She had a Guide 10 power pack (primarily to charge her kindle and her phone (as a secondary point and shoot camera) She also had two Nomad 7 solar panels. 

When we got ashore, after setting up camp, we would both break out solar panels (if there was sun!) to charge batteries (sherpa and Guide 10) and then at night we would use the batteries to charge devices. 

I started the trip with both sherpas fully charged. I used them to charge the above devices - as well as an iPod nano - Using this system I found that my sherpas never dropped below 60% charged. I was supremely impressed with both how much the sherpa 50 could charge, and how effectively the large Nomad 13 panel charged both the sherpa batteries as well as devices directly. One particularly sunny day - with both Sherpas fully charged, I plugged a go pro with a fully drained battery into the nomad 13 directly. The first impressive thing was that the light on the GoPro - indicating it was charging - came on less than a second after unfolding the panels and placing it in the sun. The second impressive fact was that the fully drained battery charged in about the same amount of time as plugging it into a USB port. That shows me the efficiency of the panel. We did keep track of the position of the sun, and made sure our panels were directly facing the sun. A benefit of being in Alaska in June is that if it isn’t raining, you get a lot of sun, as it doesn’t set until close to 11pm and rises around 4:30am (and it never really gets dark, just sort of ‘dusky’) 

The only bad experience I had with my set up was that I was keeping the solar panel and sherpa in a clear map case, on my back deck. I tested this in North Carolina. With the panel deployed inside the bag and the sherpa connected to it, I could charge the battery while paddling. In NC it worked perfectly - though granted it isn’t ideal to operate the panel through the plastic map case, as it will decrease the amount of light hitting the panel. - When I tried it in Alaska the Sherpa over heated and turned itself off, as well as turning on a fan which I can only assume drained the battery. I didn’t try it again, as I never needed too. 

The only problem beth had with her system was the relative capacity of the guide ten battery. A fully charged guide ten only got her kindle between 15 and 20% charged - because of the relative sizes of the batteries in each device. 

Not actually a problem, but I found the directions to the sherpa too simple. Nothing said where the power switch - which has multiple settings - should be set to charge the device. I soon found out that simply plugging in the panel to the sherpa - without turning on the sherpa - will charge the device, I would have loved a video made by Goal Zero explaining usage and best practices. 

Not only do I highly recommend these devices, I will probably be buying another nomad 13 panel to pair with my second sherpa. 

Now here is your bonus:

I generally add to my gear set an iPod Nano. I use it to listen to audio books when I go to sleep. First, this thing is tiny. Measuring about 1.5 inches square, and a 1/4 inch thick. Besides being tiny, and weighing nothing, the battery lasts forever. A full charge gets me around 24 hours of playing time. This is the kind of little device that can have an amazing impact on your level of enjoyment. Though I do only use one earbud so I can hear if a bear is in camp. 

Now here is the down side of all this power. As I said we used the iPhone to run the Spot Connect, as well as a point and shoot camera. This meant we couldn’t help but turn on our phones, and then couldn’t beat the temptation to see if we had cell service. The last time I had been in Prince William Sound was in 2008 or 2009. At that time I am not aware that there was any cell service. Because we were turning on our phones to do various things, we would always look and see if we had cell service, and were constantly surprised as to how often we had not only cell service, but strong coverage. A number of times we were able to make phone calls. 

This sounds like a good thing. It does add a measure of safety, but it takes away the separation that we experience on a trip like this. And that separation is one of the reasons that I enjoy trips like this. There is something to be said for that level of deprivation. When you separate from the phone, you get more in tune with the world around you. On this trip I found myself not getting in tune with the tides. Which is something I tend to enjoy. So the moral of the story is, bring your iPod Nano with you for some music or a book, but leave the iPhone turned off. The time away will do you good. 

Monday, June 23, 2014

So much to say, so much to do....

Well... We are back.

The trip was ultimately very successful. I have a very short look at some of the video, and I am pretty happy. I have a lot of viewing and editing to do. I have spent the last two days dealing with gear. Gear that worked wonderfully, and gear that didn't. I have many gear reviews to write, and since I am an unsponsored slug  - almost completely, with one notable exception - My reviews will be truthful, and unbiased.

It was interesting doing a trip like this with two relative novices. I was able to ask gear questions of them, and with their limited experience it was very telling.

We saw a ridiculous amount of wildlife. Both on the drive - if you have never driven the Alaskan highway between Tok and Dawson Creek, make it happen, it is incredible. We saw So many bears, Bison, Ram, Moose, Caribou, and believe it or not, a Wolf - And on the paddle, Whales, seals, sea lions, Sea otters, a ridiculous number of bald eagles. I didn't manage to see an Orca (I guess I am going to have to paddle with GeckoPaddler!), which was really the only major marine mammal I haven't seen in Alaska, but we did mange to see the Rare PWS porpoise.

It was an incredible trip, and I have a lot of work to do. Many posts coming.

But, that is all for now.

I will be posting some pictures to both Instagram, and Facebook, so check us out there.

And if you are wondering what we found in terms of the state of the glaciers, we were amazed.

That is all I am going to say.