This review has been a while in the making. More than a year ago, I picked up a Goal Zero Sherpa 50 and a Nomad 13 solar panel to go with it. At the time I was preparing to spend a long time in Nepal and needed a power source that was reliable. After pouring over specifications I settled on the aforementioned combo because of its light weight and a power output that was compatible with the devices I needed to keep charged. My phone and Petzl headlamp are USB, and with the attached inverter I also picked up, I could charge up the batteries in my Nikon D810.
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The pros are:
The cons are:
The entire setup worked pretty much flawlessly. Because the panel offers a direct charge USB connection, it was possible for me to connect my phone or my headlamp directly to the panel and have it charge while I was hiking in the sun. I would simply hang the panel off the back of my pack and as long as the panel was reasonably oriented, things worked out well. Doing it this way meant that the Sherpa 50 remained powered up until I needed it at night, for camera batteries.
Fast forward a year, and I have recently returned from a commercial shoot in southwestern Norway. The same equipment came with me on this trip. And why not? If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it.
On this trip, the panel was really put through the wringer. While hiking and climbing in Lysefjord, the panel was snowed on, rained on, dragged against sharp granite rock formations, laid against rocky ground, and generally beat on pretty bad. Looking at it now, the panel has scratches and deep gouges all over the face. And it still works like a champ. Throughout the trip, the panel provided mostly reliable power to devices directly connected to it, and generally kept up with keeping the Sherpa 50 charged up for duties later in the day.
I have learned a lot though, mostly about device compatibility and small gotchas that have become apparent over time. First off, the Sherpa 50 ships with a variety of laptop tips that let you charge a laptop directly without needing to bring the charger. The available sizes have not been updated in a while, however, and a size for my HP Spectre is still not available. Because of this, charging my particular laptop is not possible unless I bring both the side inverter and the laptop charger. For this reason, I generally do not bring my laptop when I know I will be off the grid for a long period of time.
Secondly – and this is more of an issue with my phone than anything else – if the solar level is fluctuating my Samsung LG G5 will bump around and toggle from being charged to occasionally acting as a power source to attached devices. It’s an annoying thing my phone does, but it is something I needed to keep an eye on.
Thirdly – and again, this is a complaint about camera battery chargers, not the Goal Zero – I wish Nikon (or camera companies in general) made USB powered chargers for their DLSRs. Being able to charge right off of a USB connection instead of having to bring the inverter to plug in for 110V AC would be pretty great.
Finally, I think I am at the limit of what I feel comfortable using the Sherpa 50 for. If I needed more power, I’d consider an upgrade to a larger system. It is an inevitable game of more power versus more weight to carry, and maybe the best outcome there is to simplify and enjoy being off grid and less dependent on technology while away.
A pretty great tool and a very well thought out system, all told. I would recommend Goal Zero tech to anyone. If an updated set of laptop tips are in the works, it would be perfect for me.