National Preparedness Month: BioLite Power and Lighting
“EPA: Each September, National Preparedness Month encourages and reminds Americans to be prepared for disasters or emergencies in their homes, businesses, and communities.”
Dirt and Sol takes pride in always having the right tools to get yourself out of any situation. That could mean carrying tools to fix a breakdown, change a tire on the highway or having a way to melt snow if you get lost in the backcountry. The sometimes overlooked aspects of National Preparedness are light, power and a way to weave those two elements together seamlessly. What good is a light if the battery runs out or the fuel depletes to nothing? With ever changing technology, portable light and power have made huge strides in not only the accessibility of each but the physical delivery of each. Solar power is making huge advances and allowing the everyday consumer to have better, reliable energy at their fingertips. Gone are the days of a backpack sized solar panel to simply charge your phone.
BioLite is one of the only companies on the planet specializing in just that; reliable, portable power and lighting. So Dirt & Sol put some of BioLite‘s best products to the test for National Preparedness Month.
Test Premise: We loaded up the van with all of our gear, bikes and beer and headed out to the wilderness for some shredding. We wanted to take BioLite’s power and lighting sources and see how they fared in an emergency situation.
BioLite SolarPanel 5+
You start to see some smoke coming out from under the hood and you pull over. You don’t know the issue yet but toss out your solar units just in case.
Right out of the gate, we knew we needed power for phones, headlamps, tablets and all things chargeable. We knew we wanted something lightweight and small that could be stashed in our preparedness kit and not be too cumbersome to use or store. We decided to give the SolarPanel 5+ a go, due to all things mentioned, weight, size and packability. We also wanted to try the 5+ which has an on board battery that can store power for future use, vs the 5, which doesn’t have battery storage. When we first unboxed the SolarPanel 5+ we were a bit hesitant on its ability to actually provide a usable amount of power based off the size of the actual unit. We knew we weren’t looking for huge power, but we needed enough to charge simple devices in a reasonable amount of time. The BioLite SolarPanel 5+ was way more than we expected.
We set the panel up in varied terrain to test out its kickstand. We knew the inconsistent texture of granite would be a very tough texture for a panel to sit on and a great test of stability. With the Optimal Sun System – on board sun dial, it took some adjusting and readjusting to get the right angle of the panel to the sun, but the 360 degree kickstand made quick work of it. Once everything was lined up we sat back, let it charge, knowing full well it was in the perfect spot to charge the on board battery. So how did it actually charge?
100% fully charged panel
Charged iPhone 5s 52% in 58 minutes (on Airplane mode)
- 5 watts of useable power via USB output
- 360 degree stand featuring Optimal Sun System
- Integrated 2200mAh on-board battery
- Dimensions: 10.12” x 8.19” x 0.94”
- Weight: 13.76 oz
Arguably the star of the entire show. These little lights are perfect for setting up during an emergency. Again, small enough to stash in your emergency preparedness kit and very useful to light up your tool bag or workstation in case something goes awry. These little powerhouses aren’t the brightest lights on earth but are very reliable and provide a no nonsense solution to lighting. One side of the unit is a tiny solar panel that collects the rays and stores it for the future. On the flip side is the lighting element. This light in particular provides a built in White Mode, Red Mode and a fancy Party Mode. Party Mode rotates through a bunch of fun colors for when you throw in the towel and start to enjoy your favorite craft brew.
- 100 lumen dimmable white lantern
- Light with color thru RGB LEDs or cycle w/ Party Mode
- Solar charge in 7 hours or micro USB charge in 2 hours
- Up to 50 hours run time
- Ultra packable, the size of an ice cream sandwich
- Available in Teal, Grey, & 4-Pack
BioLite HeadLamp 330
Night has fallen and you are still working to get your van fixed to get back on the road. Your BioLite SunLight is illuminating your tool bag but you need something bright to peek into the engine bay.
The construction of this headlamp is unlike any others. Instead of having the batteries or charging unit in the front of the headlamp, behind the light, BioLite positioned their charging unit in the rear of the headband. That has been done before, but not in the same fashion as this one. To start, the front lighting unit is completely and seamlessly integrated into the headband. That leaves zero to be caught on hats, clothing or hair. It is an extremely sleek design with a very minimal aesthetic up front. The lighting unit rotates to 4 different angles, depending on your required direction of light. Working towards the back, there are 2 adjustable buckles to tighten the reflective headband symmetrically or asymmetrically, your choice. The wire connecting the lighting unit to the battery pack is a tightly curled flat cord that can be stretched to different size noggins. Then we finally get back to the charging unit. The charging unit is charged with a micro usb-c charging cord that is provided. When the unit is turned on, little lights on the charging unit show what percentage of power is left before a recharge is needed. This is very important to know when and how much power to conserve over the course of a bad situation.
Power + Lighting
BioLite SolarHome 620
Looks like you are staying the night. Time to set up camp and make yourself at home.
Sometimes it takes some creature comforts to make good from a bad situation. Although the SolarHome 620 is currently in 40,000+ homes in Kenya, it is perfect for Vanlife, cabins and any emergency situation. This little kit can provide power, FM music, has a MicroSD input, and has 3 provided lights with individual switches and one even has a motion sensor for safety. We ended up setting up the whole system on the van’s awning. It is very lightweight which makes it possible to put it just about anywhere.
Let’s break down each element:
- Charging Capability: I set up my ancient iPhone 5s on a completely depleted battery to a 100% charged system. It took a total of 2 hrs 13min to charge my battery to 100% and left the Control Box at 59% full.
- Speaker: The Speaker for whatever you put into the MicroSD input and the FM Stereo is fine if you have nothing else. It could provide a great pick me up in a bad situation but don’t get too excited, it isn’t a Bose sound bar. It is way louder than I anticipated but the quality is to be expected from such a small speaker. The speaker in the Control Box I received to demo was blown in my opinion so it was hard to really gauge the sound.
- Lighting: The provided lights with switches worked great and were surprisingly bright. The motion sense was a bit touchy, but did provide a consistent light source when approached. The light on the Control Box is a great addition to the unit, it was nice to light up the buttons on the unit when needed.
- Display: The display of the control unit is a bit analog in form but does everything you need. It provides the amount of time until the unit is fully charged, the amount or percentage of sun hitting the panel, the station the FM stereo is set to and the time and date. The demo Control Box I received had a small flaw in the display making it hard to read some text.
- Wiring: Super easy to plug and play and a ton of wire to use. With the capability to daisy-chain the lights together, placing them in a variety of areas is very manageable.
As a whole, the SolarHome 620 system would be extremely useful in any emergency situation. The amount of lights and features on the control box could make for a very comfortable wait while your buddies bail you out of your tough situation. In a perfect world I would have the SolarHome 620 permanently set up in a cabin in the middle of the backcountry… Now I just need land and a cabin!
- 6W solar panel connects to 20 Wh Control Box
- 3 overhead lights, one with motion sensor
- Wall-mounted switches control hanging lights
- Control Box plays radio/MP3 & provides charge out
- 18ft daisy-chainable cables for multi-room lighting