Sunset in the Coconino National Forest, looking northeast toward Sedona, AZ, 4/17/15

Monday, June 29, 2015

Product Reviews for Power,
Snowbirding Feb-May 2015

Although my Prius provides power very efficiently while in "park," it still uses some fuel to keep its own batteries charged.  And, when the engine runs to recharge its batteries, it creates noise which I want to avoid. So, I found additional, quieter means of getting power to recharge my electronics.

When driving, I use a 5-way USB splitter to recharge my devices and batteries.
It is plugged into one of the Prius' 12v ports.
Courthouse Butte, Red Rock Scenic Byway.  Sedona, AZ  4/22/15
In the past I've gone into coffee shops or fast food places to recharge my electronics while enjoying a meal or a cup of coffee.  Since I was mostly boondocking in the back country, I had little opportunity to recharge my devices at various food joints.  So, I decided to try some external lithium batteries along with a solar panel, while also conserving power as much as possible.

5 Port USB charger used to recharge my devices and batteries
from the Prius.  Click on image to view on

To conserve power, I used my smart phone as much as possible, instead of my 2-in-1 tablet/laptop.  I'm online a lot.  The smart phone uses much less power than the tablet/laptop.  After a while, I learned to do almost everything on my smart phone, except tasks that took lots of typing or photo editing.  All electronics were turned off when I wasn't using them.  Instead of using my smartphone for an alarm clock, I got a cheap LED watch that I hung by my bed.  I kept my phone off while I slept.  To reduce my need for lighting, I tried to go to bed and wake with the sun.  I replaced the Prius' dome light with a small LED to use when needed.

This cheap LED watch hung next to my bed, used in lieu of my phone to
conserve power.  The red time only shows when the watch face is pressed.
Click on image to view on  

For solar power, I used the Goal Zero's Nomad7 system.  I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly it charged my devices and external batteries.  It was much faster than 110 connections in town or 12v ports in the car.  My depleted 18.6Ah lithium battery would get about 85% full when hooked up to the panel on a sunny day.   I would typically set the panel on the roof of the Prius, reorienting toward the sun throughout the day (if I remembered).  When the sun was shinning, I could, go 3-4 days without needing to use my car for power.  

Goal Zero Nomad 7w Solar Panel System.  Click on image to view on

In addition to charging the batteries in my electronic devices, I also charged several external lithium batteries that I used to power my devices (10, 13 and 16.8 Ah).  The 10Ah external lithium battery not only had charging ports, but was a car battery jump starter which I used once.  I was very pleased that something so small and light could jump start my car.

Anker 13Ah External Battery.  Click on image to view on 

16.8Ah External Battery. Click on image to view on

10Ah external battery with jump starter. Click on image to view on

With these batteries fully charged, I could use my smartphone, laptop and hotspot all day and into the evening.  If we had more than one day of clouds, I needed to use my car or go into town to recharge my devices.

I recommend all of the above products.

However, before I am a snowbird again I will do some additional research and probably make a few changes.  I've heard that lithium batteries do not have a very long shelf life.  So, by next winter I may need to find replacements.  I also would like a large enough solar array to be able to fully recharge all of my devices and batteries in one sunny day.

One item I will not bring with me again is a conventional jump starter.  It seemed like a good idea because in addition to jumping a dead battery, it also had charging ports (USB and 12v), an air compressor, and work light.  At 11"x11"x9" and 18 pounds, however, it was difficult to secure for travel and, at the same time, remain accessible for use.  I'd rather just stick with the small lithium jump starter (pictured above) and get a small compressor to replace this item.  On the bright side, John was happy to get this surprise "gift" to assist the weak battery in his daily driver.

A conventional jump starter battery with charging ports, and air compressor.  
Click on image to view on  

More product reviews to come.


  1. Thank you Suanne. I'm really enjoying your reviews especially the downscaling aspect....getting the job done with minimal and lightweight equipment. Bethers

    1. Thanks Bethers. I actually enjoy the challenge of figuring out how to live a high-quality life with less.

  2. Hi Suanne, it's been lovely to come along with you on your snowbirding trip this last winter. Thank you for your postings, I especially enjoyed seeing the cactus flowers, I never knew how delicate looking they could be.

    Your gear reviews are helpful. I've had small external lithium batt packs for years now, as well as a big one on an electric bike. They do lose capacity over time, but are still as useable as ever, and they still weigh a fraction of what a lead based one does. I'm very happy with them and am not sure what the concern is?

    It's good to hear that your lithium car battery booster worked well for you. I bought one that was defective and had to return it. I'm still using my big, blocky AGM based booster.


    1. Good to hear from you again Ming. I'm glad you like the cactus flower pics. Thanks much for the real-life info on the lithium batteries. Good to know.

  3. Hi- enjoy your blog very much. I am confused about one of your comments regarding your accessory batteries jumpstarting your car. Pardon me if I am missing something but why would you ever need to jumpstart a hybrid vehicle like your Prius?

  4. You've asked a very good question for which I can only take an educated guess as to why one couldn't jump start the Prius' conventional 12v starter battery with the power train's high voltage batteries. Beside not having easy direct access to any of the batteries under the hatch, I'm thinking that the difference in voltage wouldn't allow typical jump starting procedures. Besides that, I think the power from the high voltage batteries was likely drained to a minimum level when the conventional 12v battery got drained, causing damage to the high-voltage batteries if any more power was used from them. Again, these are not explanations from Toyota, only my own suspicions.

  5. Hi Suanne,

    I recall reading somewhere else that you got a higher wattage solar charger. How is it working out?

    1. Yes. I got 2 14W folding panels from Renogy, for a total of 35W. They are working great for me. It keeps my smart phone, laptop/tablet, hotspot, and 2 back-up lithium batteries charged up when the sun is shining, plus throughout a day of rain if fully charged going into it.


Please make a comment. I'd love to hear from you ...