There’s an entire galaxy of portable Lithium-ion battery packs to pick from. They come in every shape, size, and capacity, and any one of them is sufficient for recharging your legion of smartphones, tablets, and other low-power digital devices. But it’s a rare delight to find a recharger powerful enough to juice up a laptop PC, too.
That added bit of versatility is what makes Goal Zero’s Sherpa 100 Power Pack attractive. About the size of a bento box, the Sherpa 100 packs in two USB 2.0 ports for phones and tablets, a 12V port, and yet one more port specifically designed for laptops. The pack also incorporates a blinding LED flashlight activated by its own switch even when the rest of the unit is turned off.
On the side of the silver and black case, there’s an outlet where you can attach an optional inverter module. The module itself costs $50 extra, but it turns to Sherpa into something that works just like a wall socket. With it attached, you can power any 110-volt or 220-volt electronics that use up to 100 watts. When the power went out in my neighborhood recently, I plugged in a living room table lamp to keep the light on.
OK, it does weigh two pounds. But it wears its weight well. The output measures at 26,400 mAh at 3.7 volts, which is more than double what most other compact power packs spit out. And when my 15.6-inch Dell laptop needed a charge and I found myself nowhere near a power source, carrying around two extra pounds seemed like a trivial sacrifice.
Included in the box is a supply of different laptop cable tips; just hook it up sans wall-charger. If you have a laptop that doesn’t work with one of the included tips (like a MacBook) you have to plug your charger into the inverter module. It’s for this reason that I’d consider that inverter module to be not just an optional $50 add-on, but a necessity. It really extends the versatility of the Sherpa.
Luckily, one of the tips in the box works with my Dell laptop, and after connecting it to the Sherpa, I was able to bring the PC back from the dead within minutes. It not only recharged the laptop battery but still had near 50 percent capacity remaining afterwards. So I had plenty of juice to also replenish an iPad and cellphone. And because the Sherpa is equipped with a fuse, no device gets overcharged. If there is any threat of that happening, the fuse blows out as a fail-safe, just like any circuit-breaker fuse in your home.
The methods by which the Sherpa itself gets recharged are also a testament to its versatility. There’s the AC connector, of course, so you can just plug it into the wall. But you can also boost it with a vehicle’s 12-volt outlet, or with Goal Zero’s various portable solar panels, which are sold separately. Solar is actually key to Goal Zero’s business—the company sells portable panels, generators and charging gadgets with photovoltaics built in.
In my recharging test using AC power, the Sherpa charged up fully in the three hours Goal Zero promised it would. Add another hour to that if you’re recharging from a car. Go solar and you’re looking at between seven and 30 hours. The variance there depends on the size of the solar panel and the amount of sun. The Nomad 20 Solar Panel I used in my test costs $200, but there are a couple of smaller solar panels that start at $125.
If you’ve been doing the math, you’ll see all of this ain’t cheap. The basic Sherpa 100 Power Pack lists for $350, but it you want to add the AC inverter (which really, you do) that’s another 50 bucks. We’re up to $400, and that’s without solar charging. Add that and you’re north of $500 even with the cheapest, least-efficient solar panels.
But to understand the real value of this piece of equipment, unpack not-so-subtle hint in the ruggedized chassis: the Sherpa is made for outdoor travel. It’s primed for the tech-loving trail-hugger and the digital wanderers—anyone with myriad electronic devices who’s often away from wall sockets for long periods. Nature photographers, journalists, backpackers. Or just the guy with the satellite hotspot who can’t bear missing out on World Cup coverage, even when he’s summiting Annapurna I.