The development of solar photovoltaic panels has made them accessible to everyone today, and even more so to hikers and other outdoor enthusiasts, generally concerned about the environment and used to remoted and rarely powered areas.
That’s a good news because in parallel, hikers' energy needs have increased: GPS, mobile phone, camera...
What were our needs?
When we were preparing for our thru-hike of Europe, we obviously spent a lot of time looking at the best way of charging our electronic equipment. 10,000 km on foot for nearly 2 years and across 4 seasons, so many constraints to take into account to reconcile our life of full time hiker with our digital nomads activity.
Weight was obviously one of our major concerns. We use ultralight hiking gear, which allows us to carry everything we need for this adventure. Hikers, campers and video production team at a time, imagine the look (and especially the weight) of our backpacks!
In this context, we needed a certain "energy self-sufficiency". Understand: to be able to film, to take pictures, to communicate and to navigate in an autonomous way and for several days.
What did we choose?
Unconvinced by the various solar chargers that we had already tested or by those we found reviews on the internet, we planned to operate only with external batteries.
In extremis, a few weeks before the start, we discovered PowerFilm Solar’s LightSaver Max.
With many years of experience in the professional and military field, PowerFilm Solar now provides custom-made products tailored for ultralight hiking and manufactured locally in the United States.
The conditions of our test
The LightSaver Max has been with us for the past 9 months, we have been through temperatures ranging from -10°C to 35°C (14°F to 95°F), from Portugal to Italy, we have experienced rain, thunderstorms, snow, scorching days as well as fog. We hiked by the sea, in the plain and in the mountains.
So we tested the LightSaver Max in "real" conditions. If we could have done these tests during a sunny day in our garden, the results would certainly have been different.
LightSaver Max description
It has a built-in 18,000 mAh battery
The energy input is by: solar power + USB-C + 12V
The energy is delivered by: 2 USB ports (2.5A, 5V)
Its weight is 680 g
Its dimensions rolled are 34.3 x 6.3 x 3.8 cm
Its dimensions unwound are 87.6 x 34.3 cm
The advertised charging time is of a whole sunny day with solar power, about 4 hours with 12V and about 7 hours with USB (2A)
A 660 Lumens flashlight is built-in
A charge indicator light indicates the charge level of the battery
Its photovoltaic cells are independent: the panel works even when one or more cells are damaged (not tested)
Splashproof: splash-proof, but beware of seawater
The results of our test
We have never charged it in 12V and it is difficult for us to tell you precisely how much time it takes to recharge with solar power. Most of the time, we load it by hanging it on our backpack while we hike, so it is rarely flat, well perpendicular to the rays of the sun. In the same day, we can walk in the sun and then in a forest and in the shade of a cloud or a mountain... In those conditions, we never started a day with the LightSaver Max empty and finished this same day by having it charged 100%.
The LightSaver Max worked in restitution of energy in all the climatic conditions that we crossed. We can charge two devices at the same time thanks to the two USB ports.
What we charge with: our phones, our GPS, the camera batteries, our audio recorder, our headlamps, our watches.
What we can not charge with: our laptops while we use them, they discharge faster than they charge, the drone batteries that need their proprietary charger.
The compactness of the panel is a real advantage for us. It is flexible, rollable, easy to store inside or outside the backpack, space-saving and easy to install on the bag with 4 small carabiners.
After 6 months of intensive use, we broke the On/Off button by replacing the plastic cover. We fixed the button with a piece of tape and it still works.
To conclude, the LightSaver Max is a kind of revolution in its category. It's solid and compact, the built-in battery makes it extremely convenient, as it can charge our devices anytime, not just during the day or when the weather is nice.
It is an all-in-one-charger, allowing us to face many situations. It is relatively light compared to its performance but still represents a significant weight in a hiker's bag. If you only have one phone and a headlamp to load, for example, you can probably find a more suitable model (check out the LightSaver that might be good option). If, on the contrary, you carry more electronics, this is probably what you need! Evaluate your energy needs to find the right device for your situation.
Our partnership with PowerFilm Solar
PowerFilm Solar is one of our partners for this thru-hike of Europe. The LightSaver Max was given to us free of charge. We did not receive any money to write this review, it reflects our objective experience with the LightSaver Max.
Check out our video "Powering a 10,000-km thru-hike with solar panels"
What is your experience with solar panels? Should you have any question, please feel free to ask!
Marie & Nil