If You Love the Outdoors, You Should Be Using a Solar Charger

Take it from a nuclear scientist…

I suspect that most of you did what I did for years. You charge up all your batteries on a wall outlet...maybe even an external battery pack, and then you hope and pray that all that energy will make it through your camping trip. Let’s face it: few of us travel, camp, or doing anything at all without bringing along a phone or a camera. As a photographer, I almost never leave my apartment without bringing a camera along, so I can relate. So we’ve established that we use and sometimes need this technology with us when we go into the outdoors…but how are you going to power it? With any luck, if you use it sparingly, or have an extra powerpack, you might make it through the weekend. But what about a week? A couple weeks? What about charging those large battery packs? More importantly, what is your electricity consumption doing to the environment you so dearly love and want to explore? Good questions!

I’ve worked at the Department of Energy for a little over a year now as a Nuclear Scientist, and I’ve had the opportunity to work on many different types of energy projects including: solar, wind, and nuclear. I’ve always been a huge proponent of nuclear power, but since none of us can build our own portable reactors, solar is a great alternative fuel. Not only is it safe, but it’s also extremely easy to utilize and convert into electricity. Anyone can go and purchase a cheap solar panel battery pack and take it outside and begin using it to charge their batteries. So why use this instead of a wall outlet? The main reason is coal. Coal is our nation’s leading fuel for creating electricity (about 42% of all electricity is produced by coal) and even if you don’t believe in climate change and greenhouse gases causing global warming, just take a look at the sludge produced by coal plants, fly ash, smog, haze, acid rain, the list goes on. It’s not pretty. Solar Power on the other hand has ZERO emissions, and most of the solar fields in the USA are placed in areas that have little to no effect on the ecosystems in that area and even the newer PV cells used to convert sunlight to electricity are recyclable! The most common complaints about solar are the charge times and limited sunlight, but if you plan ahead, often these issues disappear. When I am planning for a camping trip, I’ll take my solar panels and place them on my car dashboard while I’m at work and after a couple days my 10,000mAH battery is fully charged (that’s enough power to charge an iPhone 6, almost six times over). I started doing this so frequently, that it’s rare I even use an outlet to charge my devices anymore, even when I'm not camping!

I do realize that our main source of electricity consumption isn’t charging our phones or cameras, but even small lifestyle changes in the way we think about and use electricity make a big difference in the long run. Small milestones, like charging our phones and cameras purely on solar, show that we care about the future of the planet and energy as a whole. I encourage you to dive deeper into understanding how energy works and the (sometimes) dirty details involved. The more you know, the more you can make informed decisions and possibly do some good for your generation, and the ones to come.

Published: December 20, 2016

Please respect the places you find on The Outbound Collective.

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph. Learn More

Matt Van SwolExplorer


Matt Van Swol is a self-taught landscape photographer, writer, and nuclear scientist for the US Department of Energy. After personally struggling with depression for many years, he is passionate about showing others t...