Category Archives: Gear

Nexcon ES500 Solar Charger

Gadget Whore!

Yeah, I hear that a lot. But there is almost always a reason, almost. For the next couple of months I’ll be trying out and probably reviewing a few gadgets I’m accumulating for a 7-day hike. It’s funny but often my hiking gear has a place in my day-to-day. For example, this Nexcon solar powered charger / external battery.

I have  brick chargers I use when I’m on long flights or trapped in other locations without easy access to an outlet. But the concern with taking these on a hike is weight. My First gen Anker brick charger weighs in at over two pounds. The Nexcon – 4.5 ounces.

Nex-1 Nex-2

Charging Up Battery
There are two ways to charge the Nexcon; light and USB. The charger, after being depleted, took about 24 hours of sunlight to fully recharge, or something near full. Not all of the sunlight was direct and I was surprised at how sensitive the unit was to picking up indirect light. Also, even under a strong incandescent source, it will charge. Through the USB cable provided, it took about one hour to fully charge. You can tell its charging by the green indicator light.

If you quickly depress the only button on the front you will see the battery level. There are 1-4 blue indicator lights to tell you the battery level.  Unfortunately you can only guess the exact level since the lights indicate range; one light = (0-25%), two lights = (25-50%), etc. Quickly depress the button to make the indicator lights go out.

Nex-4 Nex-5

Using the Battery to Charge Electronics
On a full battery I could charge my iPhone, iPad and old-school iPod each (from 20% to 100%). The iPhone took 2 hours to charge, the iPad a little longer. When the unit is getting low on battery, it will shut itself off. This was one of the few units with 2 USB ports, in case you want to charge 2 devices simultaneously. The USB ports are hidden away under flaps that snugly fit into the side and keep the ports from dirt and moisture.

Its water resistant. Always a concern when hiking but considering I live in Houston and it ‘surprise’ rains here every afternoon in the summer, also a concern day-to-day. I clipped the unit to my day pack during a couple of rain showers and it still works. As you already know water-resistant does not mean waterproof, so if it falls into a river,  I  imagine its done.

Tandem to the ‘surprise’ rain, Houston is experiencing a major construction boom (don’t ask me why given the state of the oil industry). This has the effect of everything being covered in dust, including the Nexcon. No bother at all, everything functions normally and you can just wipe the whole thing down with a wet paper towel.

I’ve dropped it, backed it up against a tree, it even took a tumble down a flight of stairs. No damage at all.

Practically the unit has to be exposed to light almost all day to be useful so it can’t be tucked Nex-3away inside a backpack, it has to be on the outside. Luckily they designed the top to be a huge loop. All you need is a D clip for easy attachment to the outside of a pack.

I was surprised to find the unit has an LED torch. Its not very bright and I wouldnt want to use it often since it drains the power you’ve spent charging up all day. However, in an emergency its good to know its there. Activate by double-clicking the button on the front. Double click again to turn off.

This unit was $24 on Amazon when I ordered it a few months back. For what it buys me on a multi-day hike, its totally worth it. If REI carried it, I would get it from them. Alas, they do not.

I’ll likely get another unit for the hike considering I have a bunch of battery powered items to consider. iPad for offline maps and reading ebooks while tented up. iPod for music breaks. SunJack light stick since there won’t be lights anywhere. Headlamp for those caves I might find. And most importantly the charger for my camera.