Voltaic Fuse 6W
Voltaic Fuse 6W

Hikers and backpackers are bringing more and more electronic devices into the backcountry.  As a result, I have seen a plethora of portable energy products hit the market.  These range from solar panels, batteries, cook stoves that generate electricity, and even hydrogen fuel cells.  I was recently given the opportunity to test Voltaic System’s Fuse 6W solar panel system.

Specs
You can view the full list of specs here.  This setup includes a 6 watt solar panel that outputs at 6 Volts.  This is used to charge a 4,000 mAh battery.  The whole package weights in at 1.3lbs (600grams).  The bag portion is large enough to accommodate the battery, smart phone/tablet, and extra cables.

Design and Build
The overall design and build quality is good.  The panel/bag is designed to attached to a backpack using two buckle straps on the back.  This was sufficient to attach to a backpack but has a few disadvantages.  Depending on what straps you attach it to on your pack, it may come loose if you disconnect or readjust those straps.  Additionally, placing this on the front of a pack made it difficult to access front compartments.  There isn’t a clear solution to these issues, rather this is the simple fact of adding an accessory to the front of a pack.

If you are an ultralight backpacker and do-it-yourselfer you may want to consider buying just the panel, sans bag, and battery.  The Voltaic website has numerous blogs showing how folks have made lighter weight solutions on their own.  This would also give you the opportunity to construct an attachment system that best suits your pack.  This would reduce the overall weight to 0.8lbs (367grams), plus your homemade attachment system.

Performance
The manufacturer claims this panel should charge the included battery in under 9 hours with direct sunlight.  My tests were in the worst possible conditions, early January cloudy days.   I was surprised with how little light the panels needed to start charging the battery.  The day I received the panel it was about 2 hours before sunset and a fully clouded sky, never-the-less this little panel started outputting enough power to charge the battery.  My testing included either bitterly cold, sub-zero, sunny days or warm but completely cloudy days.  Under these conditions the best the panel was able to muster was somewhere between 33-66% charge per day.  I have no doubt that on a sunny summer day this panel would charge the included battery.

Before reviewing this system I had purchased the included battery as a separate item.  I wanted to have a portable backup power supply for my iPhone, something that would give at least one full charge.  The battery pack is a little smaller than a deck of cards and weighs in at 0.27lbs (126grams).  In my testing I have been able to fully charge both an iPhone 4S and 5S anywhere from 1.25 to 1.5 times.  This more than meets my needs, as even under heavy usage I rarely need more than 50% more charge per day.  Therefore, if I start with a full battery at the beginning of the day, this battery essentially allows me two full days of moderate to heavy usage.

Final Thoughts
Depending on how long you plan on being in the backcountry, you may want to consider opting out of the solar panel and just buy a battery pack or two.  You could carry roughly five V15 batteries for the same weight as the battery and panel combo.  That’s five-days worth of power out of the solar panel.  If your trips are five days or shorter, you may be better off carrying a bunch of batteries and knowing you have the power, rather than worrying about the performance of the solar panel.  Two V39 batteries would give you as much power as five V15’s, and reduce your overall weight to 1.2lbs (560grams).   Overall, this is well built solar power system that will keep any USB powered electronic device running longer than it would otherwise.

Visit Voltaic Systems for more products and information.