Powermonkey Extreme Solar Panel and Battery Recharger

attached to the front of a backpack

attached to the front of a backpack

I’ve been testing the Powermonkey Extreme Solar Powered Charger since early spring for keeping my Android cell phone charged on backpacking trips where I use it for a off-trail navigation and to read ebooks at night. While the Powermonkey Extreme is a very durable and well though out product, I’ve found it to be excessively heavy and somewhat over-engineered for that purpose and have since replaced it with a lighter weight and lower powered external battery for those occasions when having a charged phone is important to me. I don’t need all the bells and whistles required for extreme backpacking adventures, but you might.

The Solar Panel

The Powermonkey Extreme has two main components, a ruggedized solar panel and a 9000 mAh lithium polymer  battery that can be charged using the solar panel, a wall outlet, or using a USB cable.

Truth be told, I have found very little use for the solar panel because I live and hike mostly in New England which is now the most forested part of the United States. Between tree shade, cloudy weather, and the fact that I am always moving, there’s simply not enough reliable direct sunlight for me to recharge the battery using the solar panel. I could see the solar panel being more useful if I did basecamp-style hiking or during a natural disaster where it could sit in the sunlight all day on the outside of a tent, but the solar panel barely increases the amount of energy stored by the battery when I attach it to my backpack and hike with it.

That and the incessant thwack, thwack, thwack sound of the solar panel slapping against my backpack is really annoying and ruins the hiking experience for me. No the solar panel is not for me, given the style, duration, and locale of most of my hiking. That’s 7.2 ounces of weight I can do without.

Recharging an Android Phone so I can keep a GPS Track of my Route

Recharging an Android Phone so I can keep a GPS Track of my Route

The Battery Recharger

The Powermonkey Extreme Battery is a different story. At 9000 mAh it’s pretty powerful and and only weighs in at 8.8 ounces, sans recharging cords. It also can partially recharge an iPad or iPad mini, in addition to phones and other small USB-enabled devices

Powertraveller (makers of Powermonkey rechargers) claims that the Extreme can recharge a iPhone/smartphone up to 4 times, a Garmin GPS 6 times, and a iPad (depending on the model) up to twice, but I haven’t experienced those results. I get between 2 and 3 complete charges of an Android Samsung Fascinate phone or a 50% top-off on my circa 2012 iPad. Still that’s more than I usually need to keep my Android phone charged on a 7-day trip.

Powermonkey Extreme charging an Android Phone in camp

Powermonkey Extreme charging an Android Phone in camp

Value for Money

But is it worth paying $200 for a solar panel and a 900o mAh battery that can only recharge an Android phone 2-3 times? What are the pros and cons?

Pros

  • The battery is close to the same weight as a comparable unit from Ankers (10000 mAh) or RAVPower (10400 mAH).
  • The battery has an LED that displays the percentage of power remaining. This is very useful and rare amongst external batteries.
  • The battery is waterproof as long as you keep the doors closed.
  • The battery comes with a wide assortment of international wall outlet adapters and proprietary device adapters.
  • The battery pack is a lithium battery, so it is better able to withstand cold weather without power loss.
  • If you are someplace remote that doesn’t have reliable wall power available, a solar panel/battery combo may be the only means you have to recharge a USB-enabled device or iPad.
  • The solar panel is weather resistant.
  • The solar panel can recharge the battery in 18-24 hours with optimum sunlight (manufacturer’s claim)
  • There’s no convenient way to recharge an iPhone in the backcountry without an external USB-battery because you can’t replace the battery.
  • One battery pack will recharge multiple USB devices (so you  can leave behind many different wall chargers) and save some weight.
  • The Powermonkey Extreme is an all-in-one solution for people who need all these capabilities.

Cons

  • Most people are never more than 5 days from a wall outlet and don’t need a solar panel to recharge the Extreme battery.
  • You can buy a lot of spare phone batteries for $200. Spare Android batteries cost under $10 each.
  • The Extreme battery doesn’t provide as many phone or iPad recharges as the manufacturer claims.
  • It’s not worth paying extra for a waterproof battery because you can keep one dry.
  • A solar panel is ineffective because there is no reliable or strong sunlight where you hike.
  • You can’t wait 18-24 hours for the solar panel to recharge the battery.
  • The minimal solar panel/battery combination weighs close to 1 pound. That’s a lot to carry for something that’s a luxury item you don’t absolutely need.
  • The Powermonkey require a mishmash of patch cords between the battery, solar panel, and your USB or proprietary device.

Speaking for myself, The Powermonkey Extreme is a lot more than I need in a recharging solution for New England hiking and backpacking when I’m at most a few days from a power outlet. But I could see using it as an all-in-one solution like this if I was traveling completely off the grid in a backcountry location that did not have easy access to wall outlets.

I guess that’s why they call it the Powermonkey Extreme.

Manufacturer Specs

Milliamps Hour (mAh): 9000
Battery Type: Lithium Polymer
Voltage: USB 5V and 12V DC

Safety Features:
Short-circuit protection
Overload protection
Reverse discharge current protection
Low voltage protection

Parameters:
Input: 5V 0.5A-3A
Output: USB port: 5V 700MAh and 12V DC port 800mAh, solar panel output 3 watts
Battery Chemical: Lithium Polymer
Energy: 33.3 WH
Static power waste <50 µA
Total weight: 456g

Disclosure: Powertraveller provided Philip Werner (Section Hiker.com) with a Powermonkey Extreme Solar Charger and Charger for evaluation and review.

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11 Responses to Powermonkey Extreme Solar Panel and Battery Recharger

  1. Marco September 9, 2013 at 5:47 am #

    I have had the same experience with the same type of chargher from Steripen. I got the full Journey Kit when it was first introduced several years ago. While it used rechargeable NiCad batteries, the panel would not charge them to any significant degree. After a full day of hiking in the ADK’s, I got one cycle out of the pen before the batteries were dead, again. One cycle or one liter of water is NOT enough for breakfast, daily water needs and supper. I simply went with Lithium Batteries (non-rechargable) and carried an extra set. It was far lighter for the two weeks I was out. (I didn’t really need the spares for the entire trip, but it required the replacements after one cycle on the next outing…about 70 one liter cycles.)

    Solar chargers do not work well in the ADK’s, either. Besides the forest/terrain, the latitude means it never receives enough direct sunlight for good energy production. I didn’t know that the NE was the most forested part of the US.

    • Philip Werner September 12, 2013 at 1:57 pm #

      I read it in an article somewhere trumpteting the marvelous comeback of the region that had once been largely clearcut. I’ll send you the article link if I can find it.

      • Marco September 12, 2013 at 3:25 pm #

        Thanks, Philip! Always interested in that stuff…

  2. Stu September 11, 2013 at 1:30 pm #

    I think solar panels are a technology that could be a default piece of kit for backpackers in the future, when the technology gets a little better (lighter, for one!) and people start carrying more gadgets with them in the outdoors. I looked at the possibility of carrying a solar panel but came to a lot of the same conclusions that you did: too heavy, too dependent on good weather and no trees, and too expensive, for me at least.

    • CollinO September 11, 2013 at 9:07 pm #

      Although solar panels might be default equipment, I disagree that people will carry more gadgets. Already our cell phones can server many purposes and help combine. GPS, maps, camera, video camera, audio recorder, phone, compass, etc. Samsung’s plans are to make wrist-sized smart phones. Even smaller.

      At least I hope people will carry fewer gadgets. I’m inundated with gadgets at home. It’s almost a shame that I can carry on a text conversation with my sweetie while I’m on the trail. I’ve seen day hikers up on the mountain altimeter/thermometer/anemometer but not enough water. That’s too much technology.

  3. Carter September 13, 2013 at 2:20 pm #

    For forested walking a larger battery and no solar panel may make more sense. I’ve had good luck with Voltaics batteries. It’s 10,600 mAh at 10oz and $99 is working great after 2 years. The smaller battery (now 4000mAh) for an iPad mini was all I needed for a recent walk across Spain. Recharging every couple of days in Albuerges with a small iPhone charger. On a month long bike trip in the Southwest I was energy independent for the whole month with an iPad 1 with 8 watts solar and voltaics battery. They have been responsive to my email charging questions. If interested….
    http://www.voltaicsystems.com I’m just a happy customer.

  4. 50dayslightweight September 13, 2013 at 10:08 pm #

    We bought a solar monkey adventurer for hiking the Australian Alpine Walking Track (AAWT 600+ km) last year and it was one of the better investments we made. For us it was about getting current weather reports from our phones and organising last minute details for our wedding (we got married on the way). It was an untested product here at the time so there wasn’t much tried and tested information available from the stores. Charging our Nokia C5-00 was a reasonably seamless experience. The only fault I can pay it was difficulty in charging my Sony Ericsson, losing some of it’s charge in the cold (below 10 degrees C), and sometimes the connections while charging would pop out if knocked. There were human errors on our part like being impatient about charging and not leaving it out long enough in the sun or on our packs. Tree cover wasn’t much of an issue but cloud cover was at times. I’m wondering if the inland and coastal Australian environments might be a good match for this product in terms of treeless areas?

  5. JaccoW September 25, 2013 at 5:39 pm #

    If you are ever looking for a cheaper and lighter alternative, take a look at the new Nokia DC-19 USB-Charger. http://www.nokia.com/global/products/accessory/dc-19/
    It’s a 3200 mAh battery weighing just 78 g. You could pack a few of them since they are quite affordable and probably shave some weight by leaving the cable at home. You could pack 5 of them and still be lighter than your current setup.

  6. Corey Pattison January 6, 2014 at 6:44 am #

    Why would someone in New England review a solar product? And a tactical solar product at that?

    • Philip Werner January 6, 2014 at 8:04 am #

      Because I need a rechargeable power source like this long trips and the manufacturers claim that it will work in New England. That’s why I test gear before I rely on it.

  7. Richard February 14, 2014 at 9:57 am #

    You might also want to take a look at the very lightweight Bushnell series of chargers. Arguably less robust than the Powertravellers, but much more compact and light. We only have the Solarwrap Mini here in the UK for now, but the full range is widely available in the US.

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