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Q:

Which is the best solar charger for backpacking?

Which is the best solar charger for backpacking? For years, I have taken along my Canon Elph film camera on my adventures, mostly because I don't have to worry about battery life while on extended trips. Well, now I have the digital Canon SD20, so I need a way to charge its proprietary batteries with the sun. Rob Cambridge, Massachusetts

Canon NB-3L charger     Photo: courtesy, Green Batteries

Canon NB-3L charger

A:I looked at your question and thought, No way there's a solar charger available for the Canon NB-3L, the battery used in the five-megapixel SD20 ($300 street price—that's a steal!). It is, as you note, a proprietary battery, and most solar chargers are designed for common sizes such as AA.

But I, the all-knowing gear sage, was wrong! In fact, several solar chargers exist that will work with the NB-3L. One rather impressive-looking device comes from Sundance Solar (www.sundancesolar.com). For $110, you get something that wouldn't look out of place on the space station—a large solar array that also has a plug-in for AC current so you can use it around the house as well. But, it's kind of bulky—not sure I'd want to hassle with it while backpacking.

Alternatively, you might want to look at a charger from Green Batteries (www.greenbatteries.com). For only $25, you get a device about the size of a large computer mouse, which you can use to juice up your battery (in the car, if needs be) before hitting the trailhead. The top flips open, the battery gets plugged in, and within two hours—or so it is claimed—you have a fully charged battery. How well does it work? I have no idea—I'm a little skeptical of the charge time, but it would certainly keep your battery alive during a trip. Not ideal for on-the-go packability, but still an option. Of course, one way to deal with that problem is pack along a few spare, charged batteries. The Canon-brand battery is $45; no-name copies can be had for $20.

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