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Tag: Goal Zero

5 Camping Tips from a City Boy

Thinking of going camping for the first time? On the fence? Here’s the good news: You don’t have to entirely ‘get away from it all’ if you don’t want to. Here’s how to keep your mobile tech alive and well…

I was a city boy growing up. I was raised on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. My only real exposure to nature was camp outside of the city. And that wasn’t camping.

My wife loves camping.
She introduced me to its allure. I gave it a shot and found it wasn’t so bad.
(Although we endured a terrible thunderstorm over our first night.)

We did a bit of camping, but it wasn’t a ‘thing’ for us. But then our son came along…

Two years ago, we tried family camping with our then five-year-old boy. Specifically, at the annual Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival in Oak Hill, New York.

I think the sweet spot for any family camping location is to go somewhere that already has built-in activities to do as a family. So, the idea of a music festival that includes a family tent for kids was perfect.

Our kid really digged it. The concept of pitching your own little ‘house.’ It was magical for him.

Now, family camping is absolutely a ‘thing’ for us.
Grey Fox has become an annual event…
(We just returned from our third Grey Fox camping adventure.)

So I think it’s fair to say that today ‘we’ love camping.

But…

My iPhone Goes Camping Too
I haven’t totally played fair. I’ve also spent the last couple of years figuring out technology tricks on how to stay ‘connected’ while on our camping excursions.
(I’m sure purists might fault me for this intention.)

My reality is I simply can’t leave my iPhone behind. My life doesn’t easily let me disappear for a few days. If my 84-year-old father needs to reach me, I’ve got to be able to answer the call.

Fortunately, the giant field we camp on at Grey Fox gets one to two bars of AT&T cell coverage.
(Other service providers are noticeably absent.)
So, my iPhone didn’t fall off the grid.

The bigger challenge was keeping my iPhone powered up.
(Plus, my wife’s iPhone)

Looking to the Sun with Goal Zero
As long as the sun shines, it’s a great idea to bring a portable battery station that recharges with a solar panel to nurse multiple smartphones over the course of days. A while back, I did my research and decided to go with some nifty gear made by Goal Zero.

Goal Zero Sherpa 50 Power Pack
Capacity: 50Wh, 5,200mAH
$178.48 on Amazon

I paired it with the Goal Zero Nomad 20 Solar Panel, which has a 20W solar capacity.
$159 on Amazon

And I added in the Light-A-Life 350 LED
$32.00 on Amazon
to illuminate the inside of our REI Kingdom 400 tent.

Goal Zero Upgrade
We were camping with another family this year, and I found it especially convenient that the other dad was also at home with his tech.

My friend brought the newer and more powerful models that Goal Zero offers:

The Goal Zero Yeti 150 Portable Power Station, which provides 150Wh and 14Ah of battery power
$199 on Amazon

He paired it with the Goal Zero Nomad 28 Plus Solar Panel, which has a 28W solar capacity.

Important note: Solar-powered battery solutions are not cheap!

You’ll notice that the Sherpa 50 and Yeti 150 are essentially the same price, but the Yeti 150 gives you a much bigger bang for the buck. The only downside to the Yeti 150 compared to the Sherpa is the Yeti is much bigger. But if you’re car camping, that shouldn’t really be a consideration.

We tethered the two Nomad solar panels together and successfully created our very own solar ‘FrankenPower’ Grid.

It worked great and easily kept four iPhones going over four days with plenty of power to spare.

 

 

 

 

 

A Cheaper Choice
Over the course of multiple camping excursions, Goal Zero gear becomes less expensive per use. But if you want a cheaper way to power your gear on your first camping adventure, just bring a few basic (inexpensive) power sticks.
(You just need to bring enough since you won’t have a solar recharging capability.)

Last year, I picked up this beefy RAVPower battery pack as a backup option-
RAVPower 26800 Battery Pack (26800mAh)
$49.99 on Amazon
(It has three USB ports and is rated to recharge an iPhone 7 nine times!)

So, you can probably get away with spending less than fifty bucks to power your smartphones on a family camping trip. It all depends on your needs and your desire to generate additional power in the field.

Glamping
You might be thinking about now… “Maybe Barrett doesn’t really love camping if all he talks about is how to maintain his ‘normal’ life with all of his companion tech.”

And you might be right.

But I’ve decided that for me it’s not about loving the camping experience.
It’s about proving to myself that I actually can camp. And enjoying the fact that I can step out of my comfort zone and rough it for a few days.

To successfully ‘survive’ in the ‘wild’ and provide your family dry shelter… that’s a useful skill.
(Just don’t take all the credit when your more-qualified spouse is also there pitching the tent.)

And to MacGyver your mobile tech to stay connected with the world…That can make you feel a tad clever, although I guess that’s not in the spirt of true camping.

Perhaps this all falls under the category of ‘glamping.’
(Guilty as charged!)

Tips to Take with You
The truth is I’ve not really taken my family that far away from civilization.
(Our car was located a whopping fifteen feet away from our pitched tent.)

So, I’m not pretending to be some kind of Grizzly Adams.

The point of my story is you can teach a city boy some new tricks.

And for all of you out there who think they may hate camping, remember there can be a lot more to the experience than just spending a few days in a tent.

To review, here are my 5 family car-camping tips that will brighten your days in the ‘wild.’

  • As long as there’s a bar of cell phone coverage out there, you don’t have to disconnect from the world if you don’t want to.
  • Just bring battery and/or solar powered backup to keep your smartphones going.
  • Camp with someone who knows more about camping than you do.
  • Camp near a festival or event that can fill your day with baked-in activities for the family.
  • Don’t stress. Remember, you’re really only fifteen feet away from the rest of your world.
    (As long as your car’s battery doesn’t die)

Jump in… the water’s warm!

Seven Lessons I Learned While Camping

Bringing new tech to keep your old tech alive on a camping trip is a great idea, if not ironic. But actual results may vary. This is my story…

Bringing new tech to keep your old tech alive on a camping trip is a great idea, if not ironic. But actual results may vary. This is my story…

I just got back from five days of car camping with my wife, six-year-old son and another family at the Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival in Oak Hill, New York.

The good news is I was able to keep all of my gear alive without the convenience of wall power outlets.
(At a fundamental level, all of my preparations that I discussed last week were sufficient.)

Breakfast for your tech while camping

 

 

 

 

 

 

But the bad news is I often felt like an 800-pound gorilla stumbling about a giant wheat field. I’d definitely pack my tech needs a little differently next time…

Tech Lesson #1
Forget Those Tiny Power Sticks with Big Power Buttons…

Sure, they’re almost as small as sticks of gum. So why not bring them, right?
But their giant power buttons can too easily be turned on during transport.
(Then, when you want to use one, it’s already dead.)

It’s a real a design flaw for this application.
So leave ‘em home!
(Or bring ones that are more difficult to power on)

Tech Lesson #2
Bring Two Extra Flashlights and Expect to Lose Them Along the Way

Look… nobody’s perfect. And when you’re juggling a family ‘in the wild,’ things aren’t always going to be where you left them.
(Or where you think you left them)

That said, you don’t want to be without a flashlight at the wrong time. So that’s why you’ll want access to some back up…

And those lost flashlights… ?
Don’t be too hard on yourself. They’ll likely turn up when you get home and unpack….

Tech Lesson #3
Bring a Solar Panel to Charge Your Hungry Gear

My new Goal Zero Nomad 20 solar panel performed admirably… in the bright sun.
(It was definitely worth bringing.)

Goal Zero Nomad 20 in the field

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As soon as I got up on the first morning, I set up the Nomad 20 to greet the early light. Over the next 2-3 hours, I had my iPhone 6 Plus plugged in as I made my coffee with my little Coleman propane stove and had some breakfast with the group.

During that time, I was able to juice my iPhone up from 50% to about 85%. And that’s while I was using it. Not bad…

But it played out that way only on the first day, when the sun was blazing.
(Don’t forget your sun block. And definitely bring an extra sheet to hang off your pop-up canopy to block multiple hours of intense sun exposure.)

But on the other days, when there were clouds in the sky, the energy feed was more inconsistent and sometimes slowed to a trickle.

Even with the occasional cloud passing by, the Nomad 20’s performance was noticeably stunted. The charging icon still displayed on my iPhone, but the charging percentage in the top right of the screen wouldn’t budge.
(Pretty frustrating)

Tech Lesson #4
Have Some Battery Back Up!

When I realized Sol wasn’t always going to be perfectly in place for me every morning, I had to turn to my new RAVPower Power Bank.

This rechargeable 26,800mAh battery happily handled the cloudy days and not only fed my iPhone, but my wife’s too!

It was simply awesome.

Tech Lesson #5
Not Every Device Charges with a Simple USB Plug

When it became clearer to the larger group I was running my own little power café, I began receiving requests to recharge other hungry tech gear that I hadn’t planned for.

Some of this tech came with power cables without standard USB connectors. So they couldn’t plug directly into the USB inputs of my Nomad 20 or RAVPower battery.

That’s where my Goal Zero Sherpa 50 rechargeable power pack with AC inverter came in handy…

Yes, the Sherpa 50 had some performance limitations…

  • It didn’t respond as quickly to the Solar Nomad 20 as my iPhone did
  • And it didn’t have the storage capacity of the RAVPower

But with its inverter, the Sherpa 50 essentially became a three-pronged power outlet.

That’s pretty cool and a lifesaver for your tech sporting weird power jacks.
(You just need to make sure to bring their power blocks… which granted, is counter intuitive when you’re packing to go camping.)

Tech Lesson #6
Don’t Rely on Your Cell Phones to Communicate

Remember, you’re in the middle of nowhere in the Catskills. If there’s no cell service, you’d better have a couple of walkie talkies to keep you and your family connected if you split up to attend different activities at a music festival.

As it turned out, the AT&T cell service that blanketed Grey Fox offered one and occasionally two bars for my wife and me… so we stayed connected via texts.

But I was told that Verizon Wireless users were down for the count.
With zero bars, you’re really going to need those walkie talkies…

Tech Lesson #7
Keep Your Tech Gear Organized in One Place

I really stumbled here. I had my tech spread across three bags.
(A small duffle and portions of two knapsacks… bad organization)

What a big mistake. Whenever I was looking for something, it was inevitably in another bag.
(None of my bags were structured properly to handle all of my tech.)

The dad on the other team brought this really cool ‘utility bag’ where his tech was properly organized and easily accessible. I was quite jealous at the efficiency of his approach.

Plus, the right gear bag allows you to organize and store everything in one place back at home… so you don’t have to spend time gathering your camping tech the next time you’re getting ready to go.
(Guilty as charged)

So upon my return, I did a little online research and came upon this multi-pocketed Phitz Stage Duffle. It appeared perfectly structured to store all of my camping tech, both at home and in our camping tent.

Technically, this bag is for musicians to store their audio gear on the road… and it falls into the ‘gig bag’ or ‘stage bag’ category. And that makes it a little pricey… $59.99 on Amazon.
(Which is twice what you’d spend on a more basic tool bag.)

But if you’ve been adding up my camping purchases, my recent outing has not been exactly a cheap one.

So why not go with the right bag to protect the investment…?

Click.

Bonus Tech Lesson
Survive!

I freely admit I’m not an experienced camper…
(Hardly)

But I’m sure I’m not alone when I say a big draw is the opportunity to set up your little portable ‘kingdom’ that functions in the ‘wilderness.’

There’s a certain satisfaction that comes from that self-sufficiency.
…Being able to brew your own pot of coffee the way the old cowboys did.
(Granted, there were no Coleman propane stoves in the 1800’s.)

And though I didn’t build a campfire, I succeeded at keeping the “lights on.”

Yes, I traveled heavy, and I would hardly describe my tech management approach as elegant.

But it got the job done, and my tech survived. And at the most primal of levels, isn’t that what camping is all about?

“Beep.”
(That’s my tech grunting.)

Sunset at Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival 2016

How to Recharge Your Tech During Weekend Camping

If you’re the kind of camper who doesn’t enjoy being totally disconnected from your digital world, then you have to bring some gear to help keep your tech in the game…

If you’re the kind of camper who doesn’t enjoy being totally disconnected from your digital world, then you have to bring some gear to help keep your tech in the game…

How ironic… I’m going camping with my family where the whole point is to spend some quality time with Mother Nature where there’s no electricity. But I have remained determined to bring enough portable power with me to sustain my tech happiness for a few days… as if I’ve never left.
(Do those two equations not entirely sync up?)

And even though technically we’re ‘car’ camping, I’m not allowing myself the obvious failsafe option of simply running my Toyota RAV4’s engine for a bit and plugging in my hungry tech to feed like little piglets.

That would be so not cool, right?
In mastering my little kingdom in the wilderness, I need to be able to handle it on my own… using my available tech smarts.
(And who knows if that’s going to be enough!)

Power Up!
You may recall, I have something of an ongoing quest for power…

Last year, I went to REI and purchased the Goal Zero Sherpa 50 rechargeable power pack to support my tech while camping.

The Sherpa 50 is not cheap… currently $199.95 on Amazon, and it only offers 5,200mAh of power. But my Sherpa has a lot of flexibility being able to power my Goal Zero Light-A-Life 350 portable lamp and charge USB devices simultaneously. Plus, it can power a PC laptop. And with an AC inverter attachment, you can charge up other gear that uses standard wall plugs.

Goal Zero Sherpa 50_

 

 

 

 

 

 

The allure is it’s a jack-of-all-trades… but again, with only 5,200mAh of power, it can only take you so far….

So this year, I decided I’m going to need some back up…

Assembling the Troops
I summoned my existing ragtag army of portable power…

-Three little power sticks ranging from 2,200-2,600mAh

-And a 7,800mAh PNY power block (T7800)

Power Sticks

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hmmm…

‘I think we’re going to need a bigger boat!’

RAVPower to the Rescue
Next, I jumped online to purchase a little more juice…

I came across this 26,800mAh RAVPower Power Bank for $49.99 on Amazon.
A whopping 26,800mAh?
Yep.

It’s slightly bigger than my iPhone 6 Plus and about four times thicker.

RAVPower

 

 

 

 

 

 

It weighs just under a pound. So it’s not light.

But 26,800mAh?
Heck, yeah!

Click.

So I was done, right?

Not quite…

The Power of the Sun
And then I added in the solar equation.
I figured… why not harness the power of the sun, right?

First off, there are lots of portable solar panels out there ranging from fifty bucks to many hundreds of dollars.

Confronting the mind-numbing amount of choices, I decided to stay in the same ‘Goal Zero’ ecosystem and pair up gear I would be sure would work well together.

So I went with the Goal Zero Nomad 20.
$199.93 on Amazon.
(The sun may be free to use, but solar charging is clearly still not cheap.)

Goal Zero Nomad 20

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Nomad 20 weights 2.5 lbs and delivers up to 20 watts of power.

And that translates to 6-12 hours of continuous use to fully charge up my Sherpa 50.
(So my solar charging plan is going to be a slow one… as an all-day project.)

But that’s still faster than Goal Zero’s Nomad 13 model, which only provides up to 13 watts of power.
(You’ll need 8-16 hours to power up the Sherpa 50.)

Sure, the Nomad 13 is a little smaller (1.6 lbs) and a little lighter on your wallet at $159.99.
But I figured for the extra forty bucks, it’s definitely worth it to have the faster charging capacity.

Click.

One other shopping note for you REI diehards out there… For some reason, REI doesn’t sell the Nomad 20… only the Nomad 13.

Going Off the Grid
So now I had my magnificent seven…

  • 3 little power sticks
  • 1 PNY power block
  • 1 RAVPower Power Bank
  • 1 Sherpa 50
  • 1 Nomad 20

And then I juiced up the first six.
(The Nomad 20 solar panel doesn’t store power.)

And I was ready for my upcoming adventure!

Do you think I have enough?
(Can anyone ever have enough power…?)

Of course, how much battery power you need in the wild is entirely based on how much energy you’re going to use…

For me…truthfully, I’m not really sure.

I know there’s a mathematical solution to the question based on the specific draw of the power-sucking gear you bring with you. Plus…

  • How much will you actually use them?
  • And how many times will they need to recharge?

That’s simple arithmetic, right?
But honestly, I don’t yet know the exact power draw of the Lester family over five days and four nights of camping.

So I topped off of my portable power, clutched my solar panel close, packed up the car, loaded in the family… and headed out into the wilderness.

Here’s hoping the sun shines bright, and it doesn’t rain.

Wish me luck…

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