One month in the Dessert with Goal Zero powered by Solar Loader.
- Expedition: 4 week travel by foot & camels
- Purpose :fine art photography & articles for magazines
- Equipment : Hasselblad H4D camera system, GoalZero Sherpa 50 Adventure Kit
2 Hyperdrives to backup data without laptop
Adventure of Viktor Bentley in the dessert!
Viktor Bentley is a belgian beauty, portrait & fine art photographer. For more than 10 years he worked as a visual effects supervisor for motion pictures & commercials. Today his focus is full time on photography.
About the expedition
Around Christmas 2010 he left Belgium for a 4 week desert journey with Dutch adventurer and author Arita Baaijens to make a documentary about this New Years Expedition. The circumstances were very primitive. They travelled by foot and camels carried the luggage & equipment.
After a day of researching the web and visiting a couple of survival stores I found the perfect solution online. During the day I charge the solar battery strapped to the camel without loosing time, in the evening I charge my other batteries (camera, gps, storage drives, satellite phone) straight from the solar battery.
Since we were hiking in the desert, there would be enough direct sunlight. On an average day it was no problem to fully charge the Sherpa 50. One day we were changing direction a lot, so the panels weren't always facing the sun. This can be an important consideration : if you're travelling through woods, you would probably prefer a bigger panel like the Nomad 27M. In case you have cloudy days, shattered sunlight through leaves of a forrest, or if you need more than one charging cycle a day, I would prefer to double the solar loading capacity with Nomad 27M.
One of the most convenient features of the battery is the USB connector. It eliminates the need for additional adapters, that are often heavy and clunky. If you can charge all your batteries this way, you even eliminate the need for a 220V/110V invertor as well. The only reason I needed the invertor was for the batteries of my Hasselblad camera. A second USB connector would be very welcome. This way you would be able to load several batteries simultaneously.
The connecting cable between the battery and the invertor is hard to reach and unplugging is sometimes difficult. This definitely becomes a problem in the desert where your gear inevitably becomes sandy & dusty. I attached a strap to the cable, worked perfect.
The inverter itself works just fine. The grip of the plug itself could be tighter though, now it's pretty loose.
The solar panel is really designed for heavy use, the only improvement I would suggest is to stitch the holes in the fabric before it's riveted. When you strap your panel to a camel for a month, the fabric starts to loosen at the rivets.
The 3 watt Estrella is a very usefull. But 3 watt of led light is a lot of light. It's fine if you need this much light. If you need a cosy candle-like evening atmosphere you can easily put another lamp in the socket. It would be even more practical if it had dimmer or an option to use only a part of the leds. The standard LED lamp is also a very white, a warmer color temperature would be cosier.
Goal Zero Solar power
My goal is always to find the most ideal combination of technical workflow and equipment possible for the job.
The main challenge for this expedition was the need for power. During the preparation of the journey I considered several options. The first option was to buy a separate solar panel and build custom made convertors for every type of battery. After a week of testing this option, it was clear that it might be a little cheaper, but definitely very impractical. During the daily hikes you never have time to switch batteries & cables.
An average day on the expedition has 2 rhythms. The daypace is rather fast, you don't have time for connecting convertors, switching batteries and so on. The only goal is collecting solar power and making my shots. The second pace starts right after you offload the camels and the night camp is set up. After sunset the biggest part of the job is done, and there is time enough to focus on charging batteries, making backups, and finally storing all the gear in watertight Peli-cases for the night, we were sleeping under the stars.
As a photographer, the beginning and the end of every day is a very busy moment. Light is at its best and a lot of action is going on in the basecamp. At the same time I need to prep my gear for the day and attach my solar panel to my camel. For this fast action I was looking for a hassle free plug-n-load system that needs no time to set up, no tampering with connectors, cables or batteries.