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During National Preparedness Month, we like to share products that are as useful in your emergency kit as they are in your camping gear. We also think this might help you convince the household CFO to sign off on certain purchases that might not otherwise get approved. The Solar Charger from Wenger is one such item.
Wenger probably doesn’t need much introduction. Synonymous with versatile pocket knives, the Swiss Army folks have branched out into footwear, and more importantly, camping gear. In addition to a line of tents, backpacks, and sleeping bags, they also offer innovative products like this 2.25 Watt charger with a 2200 mAh battery. The smallest of three models – they are also offer 4.5 Watt and 6.75 Watt units, both with 5000 mAh batteries, it requires about four hours to collect enough sunlight to charge your smartphone, and takes about six hours to charge the internal battery completely. With a 10″ x 6.7″ footprint, it’s ideal for attaching to your backpack with the included straps, or even a pannier if you’ve got the sun behind you. I found that it just fit the top of my Detours Sodo handlebar bag, but that would require giving up the use of the map pocket, and shadows could be an issue. In the photo below and to the right, it’s hanging from a Geigerrig Rig 1200 hydration pack, to give you a sense of its size.
The charger came with a selection of nylon webbing straps and lightweight bungee cords, so it can be attached to just about anything. There’s a USB cable plus adapters to fit popular devices, including mini and micro USB, a Nokia specific plug, and even one for the Apple iPod and iPhone. That’s a nice touch, especially since we sometimes forget to bring the correct cable. Comprehensive instructions are available in English, German, French, Italian, and Spanish, and they were packed with the straps in a zip-loc style plastic bag. All this is stored in a soft drawstring bag.
Setup was easy enough – unzip the water-resistant zipper, and make sure the battery unit is connected to the charger, then zip it back up. Position the panel directly facing the sun for the most efficient charging, and you’re set. When it’s time to charge a device, just unzip, remove the battery, and connect your device. Wenger warns that you should only charge from the battery, not directly from the solar panel. Of course, you can charge your device from the battery while it’s connected to the panel, which is almost the same. And although other chargers do let you charge directly from the panel, they don’t usually have a removable battery. We prefer Wenger’s design, as you can purchase a spare battery and swap them out, so you always have one charged, and one on the charger. This is especially convenient when you just want to take the battery with you as a backup for your device. The battery itself is smaller than most phones, and pretty light. I can see it being used for a lot more than just camping or even emergencies. If you’re on a road trip, or at a trade show, or any place where you don’t have access to a charger, but rely heavily on your phone or similar device, the battery is worth its weight in gold.
We didn’t have an emergency or a camping trip to really test out the Wenger Solar Charger, but we did drain the battery recharging a camera, then charged it up again by leaving it in the sun for a full day. That provided plenty of juice to top off a phone, with a bit to spare according to the blue LED “fuel gauge” lights. At 348 grams (12.27 ounces), it strikes a fair balance between weight and utility. An optional LED light that attaches to the reverse side appears to be a nice feature, although we weren’t supplied with one for testing. The case is somewhat flexible, with no hard or sharp edges, and the panels seem to have a reasonable amount of protection. Construction quality was great, with the only noticeable flaw being some very minor misalignment of one of the strips of solar panels. It doesn’t hamper effectiveness, but if you look close enough, you can see it. Otherwise, this appears to be a well-designed product that we’re looking forward to putting into circulation with the rest of our long-term testing gear. We’ll report back if our opinion changes over time.
Find the full range of Wenger Swiss Army gear, including the solar chargers, at wengerna.com.