Although I didn’t keep a tally during my 2013 hike of the John Muir Trail, it seemed to me that the vast majority of the hikers I encountered were carrying some sort of electronics. I don’t consider myself a heavy user, but I had five(!) items: SPOT personal locator beacon, GPS, cellphone, e-reader, and camera. My recharge strategy was to bring the chargers for my cell phone, camera, & e-reader, and spare batteries for the SPOT and GPS. The batteries and chargers weighed nearly two pounds.
Even then, my cellphone (last charged at Muir Trail Ranch) was dead when I wanted to use it at the top of Forester Pass and Mount Whitney, and my e-reader died before I reached Guitar Lake, which was really unfortunate, since I arrived there at 1 p.m. and had to spend the entire afternoon in my tent as it rained and hailed. (The Mountain House fettecinne alfredo was good, though. That’s a meal I’ll never forget!)
A much better approach would have been to bring a solar charger. One of the newest on the market is the Bushnell PowerSync SolarWrap 400 Portable Charger. Although I haven’t yet got my hands on one, yet, it certainly looks interesting.
Bottom line up front: it weighs just 10 ounces. Not bad for something that can deploy nearly thirty inches (by about six inches) of solar cells and can store the collected electricity within the integrated lithium-ion battery.
A full recharge takes less than four hours, on sunny days. If you were able to rig this up on the top and rear of your backpack, you could recharge one device during a lunch break and another during dinner. I might use this is to charge my GPS & camera every other day at lunch, and my cell phone and e-reader every other day at night. (I think I would stick with batteries for my PLB. I only change them once during the hike, anyway, and carry an extra set of batteries for additional peace of mind.)
What reviews I have been able to find have been very positive, particularly in regards to durability. Many also make the point that the charger seems to work pretty well on cloudy days. If you are in the Sierra Nevada during July, August, or September, you are likely to run into a few of those.
If you have read Planning Your Thru-Hike of the John Muir Trail you know about the “gear triangle.” Gear can be cheap, comfortable (or, in this case, effective), or light—pick any two! In this case, the PowerSync is light and effective. It’s not cheap at $213.49 (Amazon).
Many eschew electronics altogether; I have it from reliable sources that John Muir managed to see quite a bit of the Sierra Nevada without carrying an iPhone. Nevertheless, for folks like me, a few (or sometimes more than a few) gadgets really add to the fun of the hike. I might be convinced to leave my cellphone and GPS at home, but I wouldn’t think of thru-hiking the JMT, solo, without a PLB. I can’t imagine being without a camera. And if I left my e-reader, I’d have to carry a heavier book!
I will definitely be trying one out, and if it proves to be the device Bushnell claims it is, and I can somehow get it to ride, open, on my backpack, it will be there when I depart Happy Isles.
Good hiking, Ray