Getting away from it all doesn't have to involve leaving everything behind, since you can take most of the technology you rely on daily with you. Smartphones, digital cameras, GPS devices, tablets and laptops can all bring a lot to a vacation, whether it be roughing it in a tent, striking out on a road trip or spending some quality time with family at the cottage. The trick is, keeping all of those gadgets powered up and ready to use. That's where Goal Zero's Sherpa 50 Solar Charging Kit comes into play.
At the heart of the Sherpa 50 Solar Charging Kit, available via Goal Zero's website, is the Sherpa 50 charging pack – a rugged battery capable of storing up to 50 watt hours of power which can be doled out to a large number of devices through its built in USB port, a laptop port, and a 12 volt port that can also be paired with an included 12 volt airplane/car charger adapter. The Sherpa 50's compatibility can also be expanded through the purchase of a a number of adapter cables and even a $50 screw-on AC inverter, which Goal Zero was good enough to send along to me for use in this review.
The methods by which you can charge the Sherpa 50 are just as diverse. The battery can be charged with its included AC adapter, take on juice from another larger Goal Zero battery (making it perfect for use in a base camp scenario). Perhaps most importantly, it can also be charged via the kit's Nomad 13 solar panel: a mid-sized, portable solar panel that, when deployed, is capable of recharging the Sherpa 50 within six to 12 hours (depending on how sunny it is outside) using nothing but the power of the sun. This off-the-grid independence makes the Sherpa 50 Solar Charging Kit a very tempting purchase for anyone looking to recharge their battery-powered gadgets away from home, or to power their phone, a radio or lamp during a blackout or other emergency where our power grid may be taken out of commission. It even has a built in LED light to provide a little bit of illumination, should you need it.
I was pleased to find that the Sherpa 50, when fully charged, was capable of recharging my iPhone 5 an average of four or five times. It could also completely charge up my iPad twice. After fully draining my 11-inch Macbook Air, I plugged it into the Sherpa 50 via the battery's AC inverter. By keeping an eye on my laptop's battery status light, I was able to gauge that the Sherpa 50 was able to fully charge the computer in two hours and 15 minutes. Checking the Sherpa 50's power level monitor, I found after fully charging my Macbook Air, the Sherpa 50 still held a 40 per cent charge. Not too shabby.
But here's the thing: The combined weight of the Sherpa 50 battery and Nomad 13 solar panel is just under three pounds. That might not matter to you if you plan on leaving it in the trunk of your car, your home's emergency kit or setting it up at the cottage, but it could be a deal breaker for anyone who plans on taking it with them backpacking or as a carry-on item on a long haul flight. There's also the fact that the Sherpa 50 Solar Charging Kit costs close to $360. Add to this the price of the AC inverter (which you'll likely want,) and any other accessory cables you feel might be useful, and you're looking at a very serious investment. Speaking of the AC inverter, it's also worth mentioning that while it was able to power my laptop and a desk lamp, it doesn't offer enough power to run small appliances like a blender or a toaster.
The Sherpa 50 Solar Charging Kit is versatile, but expensive choice for anyone interested in powering their gadgets or laptop off the grid. But its bulk and inability to power even the smallest of household appliances make it more of a niche purchase than a necessity for most people.