To keep our phones (AKA GPSes), cameras, GoPro and the rechargable batteries of our SPOT powered up while out in the back country for long periods of time we needed a solar panel and a power bank to do the job. Solar panels vary significantly when it comes to their efficiency, and after a good amount of research we chose to take the Goal Zero Nomad 7 and Guide 10 kit with us. While the solar panel has a great output, we were fairly disappointed in the Guide 10 power bank. However, due to the solar panel’s weight and its dimensions, we will most likely exchange it for the lighter and smaller Goal Zero Switch 8 kit for our next thru-hike adventure.
Nomad 7 Solar Panel
- Rated Power: 7W
- Open Circuit Voltage: 8-9V
- Cell Type: Monocystalline
- USB Port: 5V, up to 1A (5W max), regulated
- Solar Port (blue, 8mm): 15V, up to 0.3A (5W max), regulated
- Mini Solar Port (2.5mm): 6.5V, up to 1.1A (7W max)
- Weight: 363 g
- Dimensions (unfolded): 22.9 x 3.8 x 43.2 cm
- Dimensions (folded): 22.9 x 3.8 x 16.5 cm
The biggest advantage of the Goal Zero Nomad 7 solar panel are its high power for a portable solar bank: 7 watts with a 5 volts USB charging port. This makes it a very efficient solar panel, able to charge our phones in approximate 3 hours under good conditions (direct sunlight falling on a 45° angle on the panel), the GoPro battery in 2, and our Energizer rechargble AAA-batteries for the SPOT in approximately 5 hours. When a list of our electronics was up for charging at the same time this was very useful, especially since our phones would quickly charge enough to use them for navigational purposes again.
Because of the high wattage and relatively large size of the panels it will still charge when walking through open areas under cloudy conditions. On the 90 Mile Beach for example, the sand reflected so much light that even when the sky was completely clouded over the charging times almost remained unchanged. In ‘the land of the long white cloud’ this is a great feature for a solar panel.
The panel was regularly attached to the back of Eef’s pack and exposed to the terrain and the elements. It can take a good beating and it can resist some poor weather. We never kept it out in the pouring rain but it did regularly get wet and this was not an issue. There’s a few scratches on it caused by the thorny Matagouri tree, not affecting the panel’s functionality. The design is practical and well thought through. Thanks to the multiple loops on the side of the panel it can easily be clipped on to a backpack with the help of a few hooks. When not in use it nicely folds together.
As a final plus point, we very much appreciated the Goal Zero customer service. Our first Nomad 7 had a malfunction approximately 800km down the road close to Hamilton, and after contacting them about it they simply mailed us a new one which we picked up in Palmerston North a few weeks later. The company stands true to its one-year warranty on the product.
Our major issue with this solar panel is its weight. At the time of buying 363g did not seem like an awful lot considering the output, but carrying it for a few months on end changed our perspective on this. And even while its folds together nicely it is still big, and those who try to downsize packs will find it cumbersome. So compared to most light items we’ve been switching to and learned about on our hike, the Nomad 7 started appearing very heavy and bulky. Mainly for this reason we will exchange it for the smaller Nomad 3.5, even though this comes with a sacrifice in power. But a number of other through hikers were using this smaller panel and were very satisfied with it, so we’d like to give it a go.
The Nomads are not very good with iphones, which is explained on Goal Zero’s website with the reason that ‘iphones tend to be picky when it comes to their power source’. We had more troubles with this when using our first panel than with the replacement one, and it broke down while trying to charge Eef’s iphone making us wonder if this had anything to do with it. When charging an iphone the space you are walking through needs to be open, because as soon as you pass into the shade or a branch will block out the sun for a snap second the charging process will stop. Goal Zero recommends connecting the Guide 10 pack into the panel and then plugging the iphone into the Guide 10. This however did not work when we tried it, and the phone did not charge.
And finally, the solar panel seems to be self-abrasive when stowed away over longer periods of time. When folded together it seems that the panels will rub over one another and cause abrasion in the middle of both panels. This was a feature we encountered on all Goal Zero panels we’ve seen along the way. This has not affected our panel’s output so far, but we do not know if it might have any consequences on a longer term.
Guide 10 Battery Pack
- USB port (output): 5V, up to 1A (5W max), regulated
- USB-mini port (input): 5V, up to 0.8A (4W max), regulated
- Mini solar port (input): 6.5V, up to 1.1A
- Cell Type: NiMH
- Peak Capacity: 11Wh (4.8V, 2300mAh)
- Single Cell Equivalent Capacity: 9200mAh at 1.2V
- Lifecycles: 500 cycles
- Shelf-life: Keep plugged in, or charge every 3-6 months
- Fuses: none
- Chainable: No
- Weight (w/batteries): 181 g
- Dimensions: 6.4 x 10.2 x 1.9 cm
- Operating usage temp.: 32-104 F (0-40 C)
Unfortunately, we only have one. The Guide 10 pack can charge more than the Goal Zero AA batteries, it charges all rechargable batteries. It also comes with a convenient adaptor to power up AAA batteries. This ended up being our only usage of it, as we had rechargable Energizer AAA batteries in our SPOT. So this was very convenient, as we could always rely on battery power in our Personal Locator Beacon.
Before buying the Guide 10 we read many good reviews on it, with people claiming that they could charge their phone up to three times before the power bank ran low. However, no matter what we tried, and no matter how many times we read the manual, we could not get any of our devices to charge longer than about 20 minutes and up to 1/3 of their battery level. We plugged the Goal Zero batteries in the power for an entire night without any improvements. So we were fairly disappointed with the output of this power bank.
Besides of that, the four batteries are heavy. For 181g there are alternatives on the market with a much higher power potential.
And finally, the batteries themselves take a long time to charge up. In perfect conditions, it will take the solar panel 4-5 hours to get them fully powered up. Plugged in the net over a USB cable this time runs up to 6 or 8 hours. It takes a big part out of a sunny day just to get power in these batteries.
The Goal Zero Nomad 7 and Guide 10 kit is a fairly heavy and bulky kit that we would not put in our packs again. However, based on the efficiency and the durability of the Nomad 7 solar panel we would very much like to try the lighter and smaller alternative to this kit, which is the Nomad 3.5 and Switch 8 battery. For those who do not need to heed weight as their prime priority but still need a relatively small and easy to stow away solar cell, we can definitely recommend the Nomad 7. And for those looking for a reliable power bank we believe there are better alternatives available than the Guide 10 battery pack.