Solar powered gizmos

The sun takes charge of these five gadgets

Sunshine abounds in the Silver State, 300 days a year, they say, though sometimes it feels like even that is an underestimate. We’ve got our share of gear-heads and thrill seekers—people who want the latest and greatest devices for their boat or backpacking trip. Fortunately, nature and technology are learning to team up. Here are some sun-soaked ideas for your next trip, birthday or hi-tech upgrade.

1) Mobile chargers for handheld electronics. These deck-of-cards-sized gadgets have two or three little solar panels that charge your cell phone, digital camera or MP3 player. Just connect your device, and point it toward the sun. You’ll be liberated from electric outlet dependency during your camping trip, and you’ll get a full charge in 6-8 hours, which can be a drawback if you want to use your equipment all day long. The Solio Classic Solar Charger is available locally for $99.99 at REI. The Solar Style full kit is available for $39.99 with additional charge for more connectors at

2) Solar panels for your motor home, boat or Burning Man art car. You can customize a solar set-up for your favorite rig by estimating the power your unit uses and shopping locally. West Marine on Mill Street in Reno has polycrystalline solar panels that deliver 80 and 123 watts of DC power for continuous-flow battery charging.

“They sell really well,” says inventory manager Rob Tedder. “I think we sell so many because our sunshine output in Washoe County is excellent. People are looking for ways to cut costs and help the environment.”

Design a system that runs all of your onboard electronics without emitting additional pollution or greenhouse gases. These kits come complete with mounting hardware, wiring harness, and voltage tester. $799-$999, depending on size. Available at full.asp?page=0384&LinkBackProdId=280571

3) Solar powered EyeMax radio from Freeplay. This super cool AM/FM radio plays for 25 hours on a full charge and gives you complete freedom from wall sockets or batteries. It comes with a built-in LED flashlight and headphone option. Added bonus: You can hand-crank it when it’s cloudy or dark outside. $49 at

4) Brunton Solaris 26 flexible solar panels. These foldable arrays are super portable, lightweight and provide a maximum output of 26 watts. They work in all types of weather and low light, making them a good choice for camping and boating situations. Charge your cell phone, digital camera, PDA or MP3 player in less than three hours. The panels fold up to fit in your glove compartment or day pack. $425 at

5) Solar powered calculator. Just pull one of these out of the drawer, wave it around a lamp, and it’s good to go. The 36X-SLR from Texas Instruments has all the functions and features a student or anyone will ever need, and you’ll virtually never have to worry about the battery running out. $19.99 at; $20.99 at Staples.

A word of caution: Be sure to get what you need. Double-check the energy output, and make sure the connectors and method of installation suits your system. Especially with solar panels, ask the experts, or use an online calculator to determine your usage. And remember, it’s sunny in the winter, too.