I am going to give my opinion on gear usage in the two outdoor settings I mainly participated in during 2020, the van and river trips. I might add some side notes on other uses. Being first an environmentalist then becoming a long distance hiker, I have found that I end up being a minimalist in many ways. The need to look for multi functional equipment before making a purchase is almost second nature now.
Below I will split the gear by the primary function I bought it for, but will also review its alternative function.
Primary Van Use
Yeti Tundra 35 Hard Cooler
I received a Tundra 35 as a gift from my brother, it’s great and I love it! I would probably have went with the 75 or 110 if I had purchased it, but I did not and I am super stoked about having it! The features of the different size coolers are basically the same except for the capacity. The first time I used my Tundra 35, my pasta actually started to freeze. It does a great job keeping things cold. My only complaint is it didn’t come with a bottle opener. I added a beer bottle opener to it, it was easy to do I just tied it onto the handle. The non slip base is great when the van is moving and I slam on my brakes, but when I try to slide it under the bed platform, the non slip really works making it difficult to move. Hence, it now lives out from under the platform making it the perfect dedicated beer storage cooler keeping those frosty beverages within easy reach. The Tundra 35 can hold enough food and beer for a long weekend for just me. It doesn’t quite fit the needs of two people for the weekend. When my partner comes for a few days she brings her cooler which is about the same size. This allows enough room for beer and food! If I worked out how long to freeze my beer so it thawed at different rates and didn’t explode, the cooler would work great for two people for an extended weekend, because this would limit the need for ice. Let me know if you have a formula for this?
The integrated tie down points make it a breeze to attach to the raft with NRS straps. The reason I would have went with a bigger one if I purchased it myself is for mufti-day rafting and less need to stop to resupply in the van. I know, surprising the cooler holds the same amount of things for rafting trips as van trips.
Would definitely get again, probably would upgrade to a Tundra 110.
Goal Zero Nomad 13 Solar Panel
I have trouble getting this to charge my Iphone! I think I feel like it’s Apple proprietary bull shit. I have trouble getting multiple things to charge my stupid Iphone. I use it primarily to charge my Goal 0 Venture 30 battery through my van windshield when parked. I tried chaining multiple Goal 0 Nomad 13 Solar Panels to charge my Sherpa 50. I never got it to gain power, but it seemed to stall its draining. I don’t end up using it as much as I thought I would. I takes awhile to charge my batteries living in the rainy Mid Atlantic. If it would work with my phone I would definitely use it more, but as of now I charge my battery then use the battery on the phone. Since I drive the van a good bit I just cut out the solar and use the van battery to charge stuff.
On both the Grand Canyon and the Salmon River the charger seemed to get too hot and not charge. It only seemed to charge my battery packs in the mornings before it got sunny and super hot. Does anyone else have this problem?
Going to try it backpacking to see if it works out any better. I don’t have high hopes.
Would not purchase again for my needs.
Goal Zero Sherpa 50 Power Bank
This can power my computer for a short amount of time. It keeps my phone and Ipad charged for about 5-6 hours with moderately heavy use. It charges from the charger faster than overnight. I usually plug it in to charge the night before I leave. I have forgotten and plugged it in later when I woke up and was like shit I forgot… and it charged in at least 4 hours. It’s small enough to move around the van with you or carry around in your pack. It’s heavy for hiking weighing around 2.2 lbs.
I have had the built in light click on in my bag and drain the battery a few times, but I use and carry this thing around a lot. When it happens it’s a bummer but it doesn’t happen that much and the light is useful. I don’t use it as a primary light, but when I am looking for something and the battery is beside me I really appreciate it being there. It’s been useful way more times then its drained my battery.
Would definitely purchase again.
I purchased rechargeable lights for the van instead of running wires and purchasing a large battery. I did this thinking it would be more environmentally friendly. I am not sure if that is going to work out. It is in the sense that I can use the lights in multiple settings as opposed to having different dedicated lights for each activity.
MPOWERD Luci Pro Outdoor 2.0 Inflatable Solar Lantern + Charger
I chose this light because it was supposed to charge other devices from the solar solar and enclosed battery. This function only worked reliably for a few weeks. Now sometimes it charges sometimes it doesn’t. It’s fairly bright when inflated and hung overhead. It can also be set upsidedown/rightly and used as a lantern.
I love that I can charge it from the van USB port with the enclosed cord. This is needed if you don’t have access to the sun, i.e. don’t spend a lot of time above tree line.
The light would not charge my phone at all on a three week rafting trip. The plastic got really hot and the strip which you hang it from came loose. I was able to tape it and it has stayed since. I did keep it charged via solar and provided plenty of light in the tent. Was not enough by itself for the group outside of the tent.
Would probably purchase again on sale.
MPOWERD Luci Lux Inflatable Solar Lantern
This light is not as bright and only charges by solar. It’s not as useful as the MPOWERD Luci Pro Outdoor 2.0 Inflatable Solar Lantern + Charger. It works fine in conjunction with the other Luci’s to light the van. I primarily use this one before bed since the light is softer.
The plastic did crack in the cold, but it still holds air and functions as it should.
Haven’t used yet. I feel it will function fine. The light isn’t quite bright enough for me to justify taking it.
Would probably purchase again on sale.
MPOWERD Luci Solar String Lights + Charger
This light charges with solar and USB which makes it great for the van. Since its a string light, I can have it charging via USB and use it at the same time unlike the lantern types. Their charging cords are not long enough to have a useful placement while being charged. I bought two of these and they give off enough light to make reading in the van a breeze without straining my eyes.
One of my friends brought this light on a couple rafting trips and it was amazing. It lit the kitchen area and he kept it charged with the solar portion only. I was so impressed I bought two for the van.
I feel these lights would be extremely useful on a bikepacking trip!
Would probably purchase again. One of the two quit working after only a little usage. Will see if the other one lasts longer. I will not purchase again if only getting a few months usage out of it for environmental reasons.
Avocado Mattress Topper
This was purchased by my partner. I had an old worn out mattress, “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle”, and she found it uncomfortable. After she mentioned it I noticed it was uncomfortable also. She went on a mission to find an ecofriendly mattress topper. So, now we have a Avocado brand topper (and a mirror in the van, not sure how that got there) which is really comfortable it helped a lot! She chose a latex topper so it would be less likely to be rock solid in sub zero weather. Not only did it make for better rest at night in a range of temperatures, the company uses organic materials and ethically sourced labor throughout their supply chain.
I would’t be against packing it and taking it on the river, but it would take up so much space. Haven’t motivated to try it yet.
I wouldn’t buy it, but would definitely use it if she purchased one in the future.
Next post gear for the river
Yeti Panga 50, NRS Expedition Driduffel 35L, Goal Zero Venture 30, Hydro Flask Thermos