Solar power

P3 Solar—power an iPhone or an Expo

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Even the most back-to-basics overland trips rely heavily on electronic equipment these days. Last fall I bicycled the length of Israel—about as back-to-basics as you can get short of walking—yet I still carried an iPhone to log the route and an iPad for taking notes.

Most of the time I was far from wilderness, but I planned to spend time in the Negev Desert, and also just wanted to be as independent as possible from the usual juggling act with outlets in hotel rooms. So I borrowed a Dynamo solar power pack kit from P3 Solar.

The Dynamo kit comprised a folding 20-watt PV panel, a 16,800 mAh lithium-ion battery pack, connectors for various devices, a set of alligator clips to jump an auto battery, and both 12VDC and AC units to recharge the battery from other sources if needed. 

The P3 panel soaking up early morning Negev Desert sun.

The P3 panel soaking up early morning Negev Desert sun.

I originally intended to see if I could secure the open PV panel to the tops of my panniers behind me to get constant charge, but quickly realized that, since 90 percent of my route was trending southward, I’d be shading the panel most of the time. So I was mostly restricted to laying it out in the morning and evening to charge the power pack.

I needn’t have worried. The pack retained enough juice to keep the iPhone navigating and recording all day, and regained full charge easily with just a few hours of exposure. I rode all the way from the Lebanon border to the Red Sea praying I’d come across a motorist with a dead battery, so I could whip the P3 pack out of my handlebar pack and jump his car, but alas, Israelis apparently maintain their vehicles well despite being among the planet’s worst drivers.

The Dynamo kit nestled securely under my tent between the rear panniers.

The Dynamo kit nestled securely under my tent between the rear panniers.

With connectors pared down to only those I needed, the P3 kit with power pack added just 2.3 pounds to my load (I could have reduced that further if I'd left the case at home). Perfectly manageable on a bicycle, it would be virtually unnoticeable on a motorcycle. The kit is now called the Dynamo Plus and incorporates a 25-watt panel, so recharging devices will be even quicker. 

P3 Solar offers an array of products up to an impressive 200-watt rollable panel—available with a folding mount to secure and angle it properly—that will power a fully equipped overland vehicle campsite, fridge included. We used a pair of them along with two of P3’s Dynamo AC600 battery/sine-wave inverter pack to run the entire Overland Expo headquarters at the Biltmore last year, including lights, computers, and a printer. Check out the entire line here.