Harness the Sun: Solar-Powered Gadgets for Making the Most of Summer
Sunshine! We love it so much, we could shout about it. It makes plants grow, it warms our bones, and it lights up our world. We miss it when it goes behind the clouds, and we celebrate it all summer long. On beach days and camping trips, it’s what makes being outside feel so pleasant. (If it gets too hot, don’t forget to hydrate and apply a whole lot of sunscreen.)
The source of those rays — our sun — is also pretty darn remarkable. Did you know that it’s a 4.5 billion-year-old yellow dwarf star, and that its core temperature is about 27 million°F? (Wow, right?) Did you also know that you can harness its energy to make the most of your off-grid adventures?
Here at KEEN, we love discovering new ways to enjoy the outdoors more sustainably, so gadgets that run on solar power are right up our alley. Check out our KEEN picks:
Lanterns and Lights
What they do: Go ahead and delete those extra AA batteries from your packing list (you know, the ones you always forget at home anyway) because these lights are powered by the sun. They use photovoltaic cells to convert light into electrical energy that’s then stored in batteries. You can leave these lights out at camp during the day or clip them onto your backpack while you’re hiking, and they’ll be charged up when the sun goes down. Set the mood at camp with solar string lights, or ditch your campfire for the soft glow of solar lanterns. Need a flashlight to read your book in the tent? There are solar-powered alternatives for those too.
What they do: Whether you're camping or bike touring, there’s nothing like a warm shower at the end of the day. You can get as dirty, grimy, and sunscreen-covered as you like, and a solar shower will give you the perfect alternative to jumping in that icy lake. The technology here is super simple. Solar showers are simply insulated water bags with a hose you can use for a shower. They absorb the sun’s energy to heat up the water. Just make sure you have a pair of shoes with you that can get wet, like our women’s Clearwater CNX sandals, our men’s Targhee III open-toe sandals or our classic Newport sandals. Showering outside means creating mud beneath your feet.
What they do: If you’re the commune-with-nature-in-silence type, you can scroll to the next section, but if you like paddling down the river to old-timey country songs or dancing under the stars to your favorite jammers, well, you totally can! Powered by photovoltaic cells, solar speakers make it easy to take your tunes out into the wild. Many speakers are resistant to rain, snow, and dust — just what you need when you’re out in the elements. The best part? Dead batteries don’t mean the end of the dance party anymore.
ABFOCE solar bluetooth speaker
What they do: Solar watches are just like other watches, except that they’re charged by light. They’re super low-maintenance (there’s no need to change the battery, after all). Plus, while normal watches get less accurate as their power dwindles, these watches stay accurate thanks to their constant charge from sunlight and artificial light. Need to set an alarm to get coffee going before the sun comes up? You’re set. Want to check the time without worrying about battery life? That’s what these watches were made for.
Fun fact: Did you know that the first practical solar cells were developed before digital wristwatches (1954 and 1972, respectively)?
Chargers and Power Stations
What they do: If you want to leave all your electronic devices in the car and fully disconnect from the world while you camp, we completely support you. But it can be nice to have your phone handy to utilize digital outdoor apps or to snap pictures of friends, family, and deer prancing through your campsite. When you don’t have access to electrical outlets, count on solar chargers and power stations to keep all your gadgets charged up. You can use backpacker-friendly portable chargers or comprehensive power stations that can charge a laptop. There are even solar trickle chargers that keep your car battery charged while it’s parked at the trailhead.
Cookers, Coolers, and Kettles
What they do: Yes, you can cook a meal using the power of the sun. You can also keep your beverages cool and boil water. How? On the more innovative side of the solar-powered spectrum are solar cookers, coolers, and kettles. Solar cookers and kettles utilize reflector panels to generate heat, while solar coolers store energy from the sun in batteries — they’re essentially small refrigerators.
What they do: Whether you’re headed out to camp, backpack, or hike, it’s essential to have a hydration plan. In the desert that might mean packing in your own clean water, but in places with abundant water sources, you can rely on water purifiers instead. Solar-powered water purifiers use filtration systems that are powered by the energy of the sun. No need to add chemicals to your water.