This rugged portable solar charging system offers plenty of power for keeping your gadgets charged when off the grid, and when paired with the LightStick, can add power & light to an emergency kit.
There's a fair amount of skepticism about many crowdfunded hardware projects, and with good reason. Some of them do prove essentially to be vaporware after all is said and done, more full of wishful thinking from those who truly believe their own marketingspeak. On the other hand, quite a few successful crowdfunded hardware products and companies do come through and deliver what they promised, and one case in point is this portable solar charger from SunJack, which reached its Kickstarter goal in May of 2014, and has even been extended with an additional light and power accessory, the LightStick.
I covered the initial crowdfunding campaign for SunJack last year (saying it "could be an effective and affordable solution to offgrid personal power"), and kept my eye on the company for a short time after it hit its goal. But it wasn't until I got my hands on one of the units earlier this winter that I came to see that this little solar charger is indeed as well-designed as it claims to be. And along with the 14W solar charger, SunJack also sent one of their latest products, a lighting and power bank that can be used alone or as accessory to its solar chargers, which also impressed me with its features.
Review: SunJack 14W solar charger with 8000mAh battery pack
The SunJack doesn't deviate much from what seems to be a common design approach to building portable solar chargers, which is to sew lightweight high-performance solar cells into a rugged nylon folding case, which is then designed to be quickly unfolded and hung up facing the sun to charge. A mesh pouch on the rear hosts the charging port and holds cables, the devices to be charged, and the battery pack, and a series of grommets along the edges of the panel allow for it to be attached just about anywhere for charging or transport.
The unit, which measures 6.75 inches by 9.25 inches by 1.75 inches (17.15cm by 23.50cm by 4.5cm) when folded, opens up to 30.75 inches long (78.11cm) to present the four solar panels to the sun, and with the included 8000mAh battery pack, weighs in at just about 2 pounds (907g), so it's compact and light enough to fit into (or onto) a backpack or in an emergency preparedness kit.
According to the specs on the SunJack website, the 14W panel will fully charge the battery pack in about five hours of full sun, or can directly charge mobile devices (about 90 minutes for the average smartphone) from either of its 5V 2A USB ports. These times were right in line with what I experienced while using the unit, and although I usually prefer to charge the battery pack first and then charge my devices from that, I also tried charging my smartphone directly from the panels as well, and was pleasantly surprised to see how quickly it could recharge my phone in full sun.
The 8000mAh battery pack is a slim device, easily removable from the charger for slipping into a pocket or bag for convenient backup power while on the go, and includes an LED light and two USB charging ports (2A & 1A), and can also be charged via the grid with a micro-USB connection. Depending on the size of the device being charged, the lithium-polymer battery pack can deliver up to 8 full charges to mobile devices, and is rated at 1000 charge cycles.
At the price of just $150 for both the SunJack 14W solar charger and the 8000mAh battery, this unit offers lots of bang for your buck, as similarly-rated solar chargers (such as the Goal Zero 13W) can cost just as much, but are a bigger physical size and don't include a battery pack.
The SunJack unit feels like a solid choice for anyone who wants a great affordable entry-level solar charger that doesn't compromise on quality or features, and for those who want either a step up or step down in capacity, SunJack also makes a 20W unit (with dual 8000mAh batteries) that lists for $250, and a 7W unit with a 4000mAh battery for $100.
Review: SunJack Waterproof LightStick
While I do like the solar charger from SunJack, I was actually pretty impressed by the other product they sent me as well, the LightStick, because it packs both a handy lighting device and a backup battery into a single durable unit that would be just as at home in the home or garage as in the camping gear.
Measuring 10.25 inches (26cm) long and 1.25 inches (3.175cm) in diameter, and weighing just under half a pound (.47 lb, or 213g), the LightStick is a fully waterproof unit (rated to 6 feet deep) that offers four lighting settings and a glow-in-the-dark switch. Inside the device, powering the lights, is a 5200mAh battery, which can also be used to charge mobile devices via a 2A USB port under the lid (capable of about 3 smartphone charges), and can be recharged in about 4 or 5 hours.
The LEDs deliver 350 lumens on the high setting, the device's charge can last for as long as 46 hours of continuous lighting (on the low setting), and the LightStick also features a flashing "strobe" setting for emergencies. The device doesn't function like a flashlight, with its focused beam of light, but instead illuminates a large area around it, similar to a lantern or an automotive droplight or shop light, and is surprisingly bright.
The only weak spot I could see in the LightStick (and it's indeed a small issue) was that because it has spots on the ends for attaching a tether or cord, it's easiest to hang it from one end for hands-free usage, and while I could attach a tether on each end and hang it overhead horizontally from both tethers, it's less than optimal for some lighting needs. Having said that, this utility light would make a great addition to an emergency preparedness kit, camping gear, or the glove box of a vehicle. The SunJack LightStick sells for $45, and can be charged with either the company's solar charger or via an outlet with a micro-USB cord.
[Disclosure: SunJack sent me review units of these devices, but all opinions within are mine alone.]