By Terry Gardner, Special to Tribune Newspapers
8:44 PM EDT, April 23, 2013
Name: Goal Zero Switch 8 Solar Recharging Kit
What it is: an eco-friendly recharging kit that uses either solar power or electricity to charge its Switch 8 lithium ion portable battery, which has a tip for solar charging and another for USB charging. It weighs 11.2 ounces total. When fully charged, the Switch 8 can recharge an MP3 player three times, a smartphone twice or give a power boost to an e-reader (50 percent) or a tablet (25 percent). The kit includes a folding 5-by-10-inch solar panel, the battery and a USB cable to connect the battery to the solar panel. Mono-crystalline solar panels are known for reliability and can last 30 years. They provide the highest wattage per square foot and can collect solar energy in low light. Users angle the solar panel so it receives the most direct sunlight possible. Four blue LED lights will blink while charging or show you how much juice is left.
The good: I love tramping around with a backup power solution that works when I'm nowhere near an electrical outlet. This kit could have helped passengers power their portables when the Carnival Triumph lost its engine in February. Though my windshield's tempered glass limits the solar panel's charging ability, the Switch 8 still gets some juice from the sun when the panel rests on my dashboard on a road trip. I try to suspend it from a backpack whenever I'll be outside for more than an hour. The variety of loops is great for suspending the solar panel at whatever angle suits the sun. If trapped inside, I recharge using my computer's USB port. I primarily use it to recharge my iPhone, but it will boost my iPad when I'm not near an outlet.
The bad: There's no carabiner for clipping to a backpack.
Available from: rei.com, goalzero.com and backcountry.com, among others.
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