Goal Zero Venture 30: A rugged and waterproof solar gadget recharger (Review)

For both urban and backcountry adventurers, this new solar charger from Goal Zero features a super-durable power pack, two high-speed charging ports, ten 'smart charging' profiles, and a built-in micro-USB cable.

Goal Zero has been leading the pack in portable solar chargers and power packs in recent years, with the company offering portable power options ranging from a small single-charge smartphone battery pack (the Flip 10 2600mAh model) to the monster-sized Yeti 1250 (100Ah, with onboard AC inverter). And with its latest entry to the portable solar market, the Venture 30, Goal Zero continues to set the bar high for gadget-sized offgrid power, because this model includes a host of useful features, whether you're in the city or on the trail.

The Venture 30 is rated at 7800mAh capacity (29Wh, 3.7V), uses the reliable LG 18650 Li-ion cells for energy storage, and weighs in at 8.8 ounces (250g). The device measures 4.5" x 3.25" x 1" (11.4 x 8.25 x 2.5 cm), and is encased in a rugged and waterproof (IPX6 rated) enclosure that doesn't require rubber plugs to seal out moisture (not submersible).

"Waterproof in Use: Dunk it, spray it, use it in the rain. Power that handles whatever Mother Nature can throw at you. No rubber plugs needed."

A 5-LED, 65 lumen flashlight with three different settings (high, low, and strobe) is built into the top of the unit, which also doubles as a charging and battery-level indicator, and the unit also has an onboard charging cable with a micro-USB tip for "tangle-free" charging.

For charging mobile devices, the unit's two high-speed (5V, 2.4A) USB ports can deliver a charge as fast as most wall chargers, and both ports can be used at the same time, allowing users to charge two gadgets at once, without sacrificing speed (some other portable power packs have a single 1A port and a single 2A port, so one device has to take a slower charge with those).

One future-proof feature of the Venture 30 is its microprocessor, which has the ability to emulate ten different device charging profiles, running independently on each USB port. What this means is that once a device is plugged in to the Venture 30, a simple push of a button activates this "smart charging" feature, which will automatically determine the fastest charging profile for the device, which is then also saved for the next use. If you've ever plugged in your mobile device to a third-party charger or power pack and noticed that it seemed to take way too long to charge it, even though it appears to be rated the same as your original charger, the Venture 30 addresses the issue with its smart charging ("Integrated Flood Charge") feature:

"How quickly your device charges comes down to communication between the charger and what you plug in. Every device has its own preference when it comes to charging, the challenge is identifying the language used by the manufacturer to decode that preference. Venture 30’s smart charging feature acts as a translator, identifying your device’s language, decoding and applying the fastest charging profile possible, without overcharging or overheating." - Goal Zero

I recently got the chance to spend some time hands-on with the Venture 30, as part of the Venture 30 Solar Recharging Kit, which includes both the power pack and the Nomad 7 folding solar panel (which I reviewed a few years ago as part of the Guide 10 Plus kit) for charging the unit. I found it to be, like most Goal Zero products, a carefully designed and well-built unit that would be right at home in a backpack, bicycle pannier, or travel bag, and the power pack itself can fit easily into a pocket or purse.

The Venture 30 is small and light enough to be packed just about anywhere, and has enough capacity to fully recharge a smartphone three to five times (depending on the model), a GoPro camera five times, and to give most tablets a single charge. The unit itself can be fully recharged via a 2A USB outlet in five hours, or can be charged via the Nomad 7 (7W) solar panel with a full day's exposure to sunlight (your mileage may vary by the length of day and local conditions, as the specs say 8-16 hours, but I got a full charge in about 8 hours in August here in sunny southwestern New Mexico).

Like all Goal Zero battery products, the Venture 30 has pass-through charging, which means that you can charge your gadget from the Venture at the same time as it is being charged from the solar panel, so you don't have to wait until the power pack is fully charged.

According to Goal Zero Senior Electrical Engineer Sterling Robison, the Venture 30 "has a lot of built in protection built in so you can’t kill it or the thing you connect to it by plugging things in wrong," and to ensure that power will be there when you need it, it "has some programming to keep the idle usage power down really low." The device also has a unique shipping and storage mode, which is handy if you are sending the unit in the mail or putting it away for the season, as it turns the unit completely off and preserves the charge until the next time it's plugged in to a USB or solar power source.

After putting the Venture 30 through its paces, there was only one small issue that came up, which is the pairing of the device with the Nomad 7 solar panel. In regions with suboptimal weather for solar charging, or in seasons with short day length, the Nomad 7 might take two full days or more to charge the Venture 30. While the Nomad 7 is a good portable solar panel in a relatively small size, making it a great choice for the minimalist adventurer, if you'd like to speed up the charge times on the Venture 30, and don't mind carrying a larger sized panel, the Nomad 20 (20W, $200USD) might be a better choice, taking just 5-6 hours to fully charge it.

The Venture 30 is available separately, for about $100 USD, or as a bundle with the Nomad 7, for about $170, and it comes with a 12 month warranty. The units are available at Goal Zero or through Amazon.com, or at select retail stores.

[Disclosure: I received a review unit from Goal Zero, but all opinions and/or errors in this post are mine alone.]

Tags: Gadgets | Solar Gadgets

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