Travel Chargers for Techie Adventurers

Greener, leaner power chargers let you tote your gadgets with eco-chic ease.


On a hiking trip this summer in the Rocky Mountains, I came upon a particularly beautiful view in a remote valley—and immediately pulled out my digital camera to take a picture. I marked the spot with my GPS unit, information I would later add to the map of the trip I was making on my laptop, while my travel companion listened to music on an MP3 player. Then I pulled out my cell phone to tell a friend about where I had just been.

Sound familiar? As electronics shrink into ever smaller, thinner packages, they have become better traveling companions—one recent survey noted that more than 90 percent of Americans bring a cell phone on vacation, and a growing number of families don’t leave home without their handheld video games and portable DVD players, promising hours of entertainment. Many of us hope a vacation will wean us off these electronic addictions, but in practice there is nothing wrong with a packing list that could belong to a traveling peddler from Best Buy—until one of those indispensable gadgets runs out of juice, prompting a frantic search for the nearest outlet.

Someday it may be possible to capture the energy of movement itself (possibly as soon as next year!), but until then, you’ll need some kind of external power source to keep the party going. Chargers that capture energy from renewable resources, especially solar chargers, are growing in popularity and sophistication, but to date they are only feasible for smaller items, like cell phones and iPods, and won’t replace a backup battery for a laptop. For larger, power-gobbling appliances, access to the grid is still a necessity.

iGo Goes Everywhere You Go

If your goal is to cut down on the number of cords in your suitcase, iGo’s line of power adapters make a lot of sense. The newly redesigned iGo everywhere power adapter includes both wall and auto units that connect to a retractable cord. For every gadget you want to charge, however, you will need to purchase the corresponding “power tip.”

iGo everywhere, $39.99, power tips, $9.99 each

Jensen Inverter Power

If the thought of keeping track of a bunch of tiny, choke-ready pieces makes you shudder, consider the Jensen JP30 300 Watt Power Inverter, which converts your car or boat’s cigarette lighter into a familiar-looking power strip. I threw one of these workhorses into the glove box for a cross-country road trip this summer, and it provided a completely brainless, surge-protected power source for cell phones, laptops, digital cameras, a GPS, a lamp and even a blender.

Jensen Power Inverter, $39.99

Solio Solar

For a sleek, compact, and renewable power solution, Solio’s line of solar chargers fit the bill. Its classic design combines foldout solar panels with an internal lithium-ion battery. A full recharge takes about two days of cloudless skies, but in a pinch, one hour of sun time will translate to enough charge for a 15-minute call on a regular cell phone—enough in an emergency. You can also cheat by plugging the device into an electrical socket, but however you do it, once charged, the battery will hold onto that power for up to a year. The newly released (and currently backordered) Solio Magnesium incorporates a tougher shell with slightly more power for a much steeper price. Solio has a range of adapter tips to suit all kinds of electronics and also is compatible with iGo power tips.

$99.95 for classic deign, $169.95 for Solio Magnesium

Noon Solar

Most bags that boast solar technology have a strictly utilitarian design (read: ugly), but at Noon Solar, the goal is to combine fashion with function. The company’s two founders hold textile MFAs in addition to a shared social consciousness, and their attention to detail shows in every seam of their beautifully crafted bags, which are made from non-toxic, vegetable-dyed leather and organic fabrics. Each model incorporates a water- and weather-proof solar panel and internal lithium-ion battery that will collect a charge anytime the panel is exposed to UV rays (even on cloudy days). Once charged, the battery stores enough energy to power an iPod or cell phone. The Willow style (pictured here) is an ideal day bag, with two internal and one external pockets and plenty of space for all your carry-on items.

Willow bag, $330

Hymini’s Wind Advisory

If solar is not the renewable energy source of choice at your destination (I’m talking to you, Pacific Northwest!), Hymini’s chargers offer the option to tap into wind. You need to be going at least 9 miles per hour to register enough power to begin charging the internal lithium battery, so unless you’re a competitive runner or heading into a serious headwind, this device is better suited to bike and car trips (the Hymini works with increasing efficiency up to a maximum speed of 40 mph). The company does sell a handy bike mount ($8.99), and can be paired with a small solar panel or a hand crank. The basic wind charger comes in white, black and, yes, green.

Hymini Basic, $49.95

Fuel of the Future: Medis Power

We’ve been hearing for years now that cars of the future will be powered by energy-efficient, non-polluting fuel cells. While that goal continues to be, ahem, elusive, the technology has advanced enough that the first portable fuel cell is now available for consumers who want a greener way to power their smaller gadgets. Medis Technologies’ 24/7 Power Pack is an unassuming black box about the size of a deck of cards, but once a user breaks the seal to begin the chemical reaction inside, it will produce enough energy to power 30 hours of talk time on a smart phone or 60 hours of charge for an iPod. The real selling point of this technology is that, unlike solar devices that require hours of wait time, it starts working in about 15 seconds, in complete freedom from wall sockets.

The company is going for a green gold star by using nontoxic, recyclable materials, and they even include instructions for recycling the pack once its charge is depleted (repeat users must purchase replacement power packs, but can reuse the cable and adapter tips that come with the starter kit). The product has been approved by the Department of Transportation, so you shouldn’t need to worry about being hauled aside by Homeland Security for packing one of these things in your carry-on.

$29.95 for starter kit

Themes: Ecotourism

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