On our bicycle tour down the Pacific Northwest, we were constantly stopped by strangers asking about one thing. They would look and ask, “What is that behind your bike?” For those who knew what it was, they would ask, “What are you using your solar panel for?” We explained to them that this was the Goal Zero Guide 10 Plus Solar Kit. We told them we used the Goal Zero to charge battery packs, which in turn, charged our electronic devices that we had on our trip, including our Apple iPhones, Garmin GPS, GoPro Camera batteries and accessories, my Apple iPad Mini tablet, and individual AAA batteries for our headlamps and bike lights. They usually ended the conversation by asking us how much this cost and where they can buy one. We directed them to purchase the product on Internet via Amazon or in-store at REI. However, before we tell people to pick this up for their next bicycle tour, we want to let our readers know the details of our experience with the device. We looked around for the product’s review from a bicycle touring perspective, but did not find anything specific. Most reviews were usually from a hiking or survivalist’s point-of-view. Bicycle touring was under represented from reviewers, as well as through Goal Zero’s website.
My First Introduction to Goal Zero
The first time I was aware of this product was when I went on a bike tour to Ojai with a sales representative, Conrad, who had carried several different product offerings from Goal Zero. The most intriguing product that caught my attention was the Goal Zero Guide 10 Plus Solar Kit. This struck me to be an ideal solution for those who are on long bicycle tours and need to charge their cell phones and devices every day, addressing the needs of bicycle tourists who are always in search of power source at campsites or other establishments for their electronic addiction. This would be a good supplement or replacement of battery packs that some of us travel with.
The kit consists of 2 individual products bundled into one product, the Guide 10 Plus Recharger and a Nomad Solar 7 Panel. With the overall dimension of the Nomad Solar 7 Panel at 9 x 1.5 x 6.5 in (22.9 x 3.8 x 16.5 cm) folded, it was compact enough to store away in a small bicycle pannier. It was almost as small as my Apple iPad Mini tablet. While in operation, the dimension measures 9 x 1.5 x 17 in (22.9 x 3.8 x 43.2 cm) with the capabilities to absorb 7 Watts of power using the Monocrystalline silicon cell panel. Conrad had several kits and allowed me to carry one for the day. After having the panel opened and attached to my rear bicycle rack for a good 4 hours of riding, the Guide 10 Plus Recharger battery pack was fully charged, and I was able to boost up my iPhone 5 battery from 20% to 100% with just one charge.
I picked up my own kit a few weeks later in May 2014 and had the opportunity to use the charger for 2 different bicycle touring trips. The first one was a 5 day trip from Chino Hills to Joshua Tree and the second trip, which was mentioned earlier, was a trip down the Pacific Northwest from Vancouver to San Francisco. This was a good opportunity to test out the Goal Zero Guide 10 Plus Solar Kit in 2 different conditions: hot with plenty of sun (Joshua Tree) and cool weather with constant overcast (Pacific Northwest).
From what I understand, the Solar Kit I purchased is their latest generation as of the date of this review. The previous kit’s battery recharger was unable charge devices, such as tablet computers. The previous generation’s Nomad Solar 7 Panel did not have zipper pouches in the back of the panel. Instead, they used a pocket secured by velcro flaps to hold your battery pack or device while the panel was in use. I could have purchased an older version for significantly less than what I paid for the current model, but my intent was to use it to charge my iPad Mini on the go with the battery pack so having the latest and greatest was essential. Another notable upgrade in this generation’s solar panel was the flap that secures the device while folded uses magnets whereas the previous version used velcro. This is a welcoming change as the wear and tear would probably render the velcro useless in a few years.
What You Get With The Goal Zero Guide 10 Plus Solar Kit
In addition to the Guide 10 Plus Recharger and the Nomad Solar 7 Panel, you get a cigarette lighter adapter to connect with the 12V cable from the panel. It comes with a micro USB cable to charge devices like GPS units or cell phones. In addition to that, the kit includes a AAA battery adapter and 4 rechargeable AA batteries for the Guide 10 Plus Recharger. On the back of the Nomad Solar 7 Panel, inside the mesh pocket, there is a power port which features 4 connectors: one for USB devices, one fixed cable for 12V devices, another fixed cable used to charge the Guide 10 Plus Recharger battery pack or plug into another solar panel, and finally, an input port used to connect secondary solar panels, allowing you to daisy-chain the panels to take advantage of multiple panels for charging. I thought it was really convenient that they included all these cables and accessories whereas other companies these days will nickel and dime you for additional parts.
The Guide 10 Plus Recharger battery pack’s interface includes a compartment for 4 AA batteries or 4 AAA batteries, with an easy switch of an adapter that comes with the kit. It has 2 input ports: 1 for the solar panels and another for micro USB, so you can charge using a USB wall plug or a computer. There is one USB output plug to charge any of your standard USB devices. There is a switch that turns on the battery pack to be used during charging and a LED flashlight, indicating whether or not your battery pack needs to be charged or is charging. Goal Zero does a really good job in having all this information printed on the back of the battery pack.
What I Liked
One of the major things I really like about this solar kit is the fact that it can be upgraded and replaced without throwing everything away. What I mean by this is that you can always buy the Nomad 13 Solar Panel and still be able to charge the Guide 10 Plus Recharger pack. From the battery pack perspective, you can either purchase another one if your Guide 10 Plus goes bad or you can pick up another third party battery pack, which recharges via USB. You’re not forced to buy the entire Goal Zero Guide 10 Plus Solar Kit as you can easily replace defective pieces or upgrade as you need, and still be able to use other components that still work. This philosophy goes all the way down to the rechargeable batteries that they supply you with. Once those stop charging, you can pick up more Nickel Metal Hydrate (NiHM) rechargeable batteries to keep things going. I’m glad it was not developed into something that was tied to the overall device and discarded altogether when one part didn’t work (think all-in-one devices).
As I mentioned before for the Guide 10 Plus Recharger pack, the device is very well documented. Instead of having it printed on paper manuals, they print all necessary information on the devices themselves. The Nomad Solar 7 Panel has diagrams on how to achieve maximum charge potential by aiming the panel directly towards the sun. Very convenient if you’re wondering why you’re not getting the maximum charge potential from your panel. This is actually a moot point for bicycle tourists because once you attach it to your touring bicycle and get moving, the direction may change frequently depending on your travels. On the other hand, you may have days where you’re just riding in one direction, so positioning the solar panel accordingly can help maintain optimal charging capabilities.
On my bicycle tour to Joshua Tree, I was able to charge 2 devices at once (the Guide 10 Plus Recharger and my Chomoix Battery Pack). Because we were in optimal sunny conditions, I was able to charge both devices by the time we arrived to our destinations. On the other hand, when we traveled in the Pacific Northwest, the conditions were not as good, and therefore was having trouble maintaining full charge of our devices. On overcast days, we were lucky to be able to charge the Guide 10 Plus Recharger pack. The packs would run out of electricity at 70% from 20% while I charge my iPhone. We only had a handful of sunny days, so that helped with providing more power for our devices. We still had issues getting enough power to charge other things like my iPad Mini, which I was using for on-the-go blogging and image editing. We still depended on restaurants and coffee shops to power my iPad Mini from time-to-time. It should be noted that this downfall applies to any solar device and not specifically to Goal Zero. We met another traveler who was using another brand of solar panel as was getting similar results as us. That is why we will pay closer attention to weather conditions wherever we are bicycle touring in the future. If it’s anywhere like the Pacific Northwest, we’ll probably just carry our high capacity battery pack and charge that every few days.
Opportunities for Improvement
For what it does, the Goal Zero Guide 10 Plus Solar Kit gives you the best value for your money at $129.98 price point. I feel the device still has plenty of room for improvements. Let’s start with the power port behind the solar panel. 2 of the 4 ports are permanently wired in place, as I mentioned earlier. I think the 12V cable should have been made detachable as that is rarely used in our everyday usage. This change would save space, so that we can comfortably fit other accessories or an extra battery pack.
I also think there should be better intelligence in the power port when you plug in 2 devices to charge. In my experience, I noticed that the solar panel would recharge one device faster than the other one. Upon checking my 2 battery packs, I would find that only one of them was fully charged and the other one was barely replenished. It would be nice to equally disperse the power amongst the devices. I manually remedied this by unplugging the one that was fully charged so that all the power was dedicated to the one that needed it.
The most important improvement that the Guide 10 Plus Recharger can certainly benefit from is the ability to automatically turn off once a device has been fully recharged. I’ve had experiences where I would leave the Guide 10 Plus Recharger on to charge my iPhone overnight only to see that the phone already topped off at 100%, but the Guide 10 Plus Recharger still remained on, thus constantly powering the iPhone. The Chamoix battery pack does not have this problem as it automatically powers down once the device is completely charged. Something simple like that will help catapult the efficiency of the Guide 10 Plus Recharger.
In the product description, the Nomad Solar 7 Panel indicated that it is able to recharge a smartphone or the Apple iPhone that is directly plugged into the solar panel, while sitting out in the sun. In our experiences, this was only possible if the sun was not obstructed from the solar panel in anyway. We noticed in non-optimal situation, such as overcast conditions or if a person walking by in front of the panel, would trigger the iPhone to stop charging. We would then need to unplug and plug the phone back in to continue charging. The Goal Zero representative that I toured with, Conrad, had also indicated that this feature was not perfect and that I should connect the solar panel to the battery pack and then have the battery pack turned on to charge the phone. This way the solar panel can still trickle charge the battery pack while it is powering the phone.
If you’re looking for an affordable solar solution on a bicycle tour, I would highly recommend the Goal Zero Guide 10 Plus Solar Kit. I believe that this solar kit provides the best bang for the buck when it comes to having the capabilities to power your electronic devices on the road. Not only can you charge more than one device at a time, you’re able to expand its capabilities to charge devices faster by daisy-chaining solar panels or buying a larger panel. The fact that they give you a solid baseline to begin with is key to getting you to upgrade your kit or replace broken parts of the kit. There were some downfalls, like the failure to charge directly from the solar panel or the battery pack not turning off automatically after it is done charging your USB device, but these are not detrimental enough to deter you from purchasing one for yourself.
Goal Zero Guide 10 Plus Solar Kit
Pros: Best value money can buy, expandability, replaceability, portable, charges more than 1 device at once, can be daisy-chained to use multiple solar panels for improved charging capabilities
Cons: Does not charge iPhone directly from solar panel, Guide 10 battery pack drains even after a device is fully charged, like other solar panels – the weather conditions determine the quality of charge, power port on solar panel is not intelligent to distribute power evenly, rarely used 12V plug should be detachable to save valuable device storage space
This device can be purchased at Amazon or REI.com. We would like to note that we are not being paid to talk about Goal Zero’s product or any products listed in this post. All of our equipments were purchased with our own funds and reviewed independently without any influence from any manufacturers. We are using affiliate links on this post so if you are planning to purchase your own Goal Zero Guide 10 Plus Solar Kit, please consider using them. Thank you.
Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”