April 12, 2011
April 12, 2011
As much as we all want to leave civilization behind, the need for electricity is perpetual and often aggravating. In 2005, I invested in a few small sheets of Powerfilm flexible photovoltaic sheets. Using a cheap battery pack and diode from Radio Shack, I built two simple solar chargers capable of keeping our lights, FRS radios and other electronics working. The whole set up weighed .8 ounces and produced 7-8 volts, enough to charge four AA batteries over the course of the day as we walked through sun and shade.
Unfortunately, the first version of the panels lasted through our field testing, but not through an actual trek. Twenty miles from town, and fifty from the nearest electronics store, the wear and tear of the road ripped the positive wire from my panel, leaving us with only one charger. After the second day of trekking through train tunnels with dim headlamps, I’d had enough and decided to make a field repair.
That evening, after finishing heating water for dinner, I took an old nail I had found along the side of the railroad tracks we were hiking and placed it on the burner of our stove. While the nail was heated to red hot, I laid out the panel on the ground and held the wire in place with a few small stones. I put the maulie clips I used for my map packet onto the panel as an impromptu heat sink to keep from burning it up with the heat from soldering
It took a minute or two for the nail to get red hot. Once it did, I pulled it from the stove with my multi-tool and pressed the wire against the panel in a series of light taps to keep heat low. The solder melted just enough to complete the circuit. I used a small piece of duct tape to add a bit more stability to the junction, and hoped for the best.
The next evening, I pulled the batteries from the charger and was quite pleased to have a bright headlamp to complete my evening’s journals.
Since then, I learned another trick. Creating two jumpers, using alligator clips on both ends of short lengths of wire allows you to clip the panels directly to cell phone batteries, which can be problematic to charge on the road.
Living nomadically does not only rely on your hiking and outdoors skills, it is a perpetual test of your resourcefulness and creativity, and you will frequently find odd applications for many seemingly unrelated life skills.