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Getting Help in the Backcountry: Satellite Communication (Part 1)

PureOutside - Tue, 09/27/2016 - 07:00

With all the technology out there these days, it’s almost impossible to go somewhere you don’t have some sort of connection to the outside world.

That connection is nice when you need help. If you’re by yourself or out of cell range and something happens you can get help.

But what’s the best way to do that? Should you get a personal locator beacon? A satellite messenger? Would a GPS help?

This post is the start of a series where we’ll go through each of the emergency communication devices around today and look at their differences, some pros and cons. Each has different features and different prices. You’ll want to know about each before spending hundreds of dollars to buy one.

This would have made a massive article so it’s split up into 4 you can read whenever you want. The other articles are listed at the bottom.

First off we need to sort out some terminology. You’ll see a ton of acronyms readying about this stuff. It can get confusing. Here are the main ones we’ll be using here.


GPS: Global Positioning System
Global Positioning System means the system of satellites that we use with the maps on our phones, in our cars and units when we go hike. The GPS unit sends a signal up to the satellites which they use to figure out our position on the planet. Most people just say GPS when talking about the small devices we use for it.

SM: Satellite Messenger
These are the Spots and InReach’s that can send some type of message over satellite.

PLB: Personal Locator Beacon. No messaging. Only used for emergencies.

Sat phone: A phone that uses satellites to text and call.

Those are the big ones. I’ll be putting together a glossary with all this stuff and more soon.

Now we know what we’re talking about when see all those letters. Now what do those things actually do?

The Similarities

Each device has separate features but they do have something in common. They use satellites. They send signals up into space and use that for navigation or messaging or both. Because satellites cover nearly the entire planet, they’re useful to us. We need a way to communicate when we don’t have cell signal.

That’s about it for the similarities. The differences are the important things to us.

So what are those differences?

The Differences

These costs will be in Canadian dollars.

GPSSPOTInReachPLBSat PhoneMain usesNavigation1-way messaging2-way messaging1 way beaconVoice and textCost$100-$1000$150 + $150/year$360 + $240-$900/year$250-$1000$500 + $600-$2400/yearCoverageGlobalMost of the globeGlobalGlobalDepends on networkNetworkGPS/GlonassGlobalStarIridiumGlobalGlobalStar/Iridium

Each of these deserves an article to dig into the details. Here’s the order we’ll look at these. They’ll get linked after they’re published.

  1. Intro (this article)
  2. GPS: Can they get you rescued? (coming soon)
  3. Spot vs InReach (coming soon)
  4. PLBs and Sat Phones (coming soon)

We’ll get started with looking at GPS in the next article.


The post Getting Help in the Backcountry: Satellite Communication (Part 1) appeared first on The PureOutside Blog.

Categories: Hiking

Review: Paleo Meals To Go

PureOutside - Tue, 09/13/2016 - 09:30

I tell friends and family that I eat mostly dehydrated meals on multi-day hikes and they look at me like I’m from another planet.

“You actually eat that stuff?”

Yup. And it’s not that bad. Modern dehydrated food is pretty good compared to what most people are thinking of.

But there are a few problems

The problems with most dehydrated food

Most bag meals available right now are not gluten-free, are full of preservatives and sure aren’t paleo. If your diet falls into any of those categories or you just want something you can take hiking that isn’t packed full of chemicals, you’re out of luck.

There are a few options that are gluten-free but they still tend to have a long list of ingredients I can’t pronounce.

Trying to eat Paleo or at least just whole foods most of the time is a pain. Going for a multi-day hike is either an experiment with food to see how long they last in a backpack or sacrificing my guts and eating some the standard preservative-filled bag meal.

Now you can eat paleo on the go

Paleo isn’t the easiest thing to do on the go. It relies on fresh whole foods being available. A lot of those need to be refrigerated. I haven’t seen a portable fridge along any hiking trails yet so we’re stuck eating less fresh that we’d like.

Paleo Meals To Go is changing that. Ty Soukup founded the new company to make paleo meals easy to take with you and not sacrifice your diet or your guts.

I’m pretty stoked these are available now. Every road or backpacking trip so far has been a reason to put Paleo on pause while we figure out food on the go. Now we’ve got an easy option to pull out when there’s nothing else. They also make good breakfasts as well.

Few ingredients

One look at the back of the bags and you can see that it’s just freeze-dried whole food.

Mountain Beef Stew is just cooked beef (beef, salt), carrots, onions, mushrooms, celery, spices (spices, granulated garlic), sea salt.

Summit Savour Chicken is cooked chicken, broccoli, spinach, spice blend (spices, granulated onion, granulated garlic), onions, mushrooms, green bell peppers, sea salt.

Palisade Pineapple Mango is coconut, flaxseed meal, almond flour, walnuts, pecans, bananas, coconut sugar, pineapple, mango, ground vanilla beans, sea salt.

That’s it. There’s nothing other than those things in those bags. Just real food.

Easy to make

Some bag meals are a fine science of how much water to add. They tell you exactly how much to add but sometimes it’s too much and you end up with soup. Sometimes it’s too little and you get to eat hard rice pellets.

Paleo Meals give you a range to add between 1 1/4 and 1 3/4 cups of water. I split it and added 1 1/2. Everything I’ve tried so far has been perfect. No soup. No pellets.

Paleo Meals Tips

A few things to remember when eating Paleo Meals To Go.

Remove the oxygen absorber. They tell you in the instructions to remove this but I always forget. All bag meals have this. It would be nice if they could velcro it near the opening so it’s easy to find.

They don’t last as long as other preservative-filled, foil packed bag food. All the packages I got had about a year and a half until their best before dates. I haven’t looked at all other bag meals and their dates but some I had recently were 5 years out. I’ll certainly trade real food for shorter best before dates for backpacking. For emergency kits you might want something that lasts longer.

There are only cup measurements on the back so make sure you know how much that is with your gear. I only had ounces and millilitres on my pot and nalgene bottle. It would have been easy if I had known there was 8 ounces to a cup but I never use cups! Metric in Canada eh.

Exciting things to come

Sounds like Paleo Meals To Go have some exciting things to come for healthy dehydrated foods. I’ll be sharing as soon as I know more.

See more tasty food at Paleo Meals To Go.

Pics of more of the packs I got. A few already eaten!





Disclosure of Material Connection: I received the meals for free from Paleo Meals To Go as coordinated by Deep Creek PR, an Outdoor Industry Public Relations Company, in consideration for review publication.

The post Review: Paleo Meals To Go appeared first on The PureOutside Blog.

Categories: Hiking

SunJack 14W Solar Panel and 8000mAh Battery

PureOutside - Sun, 07/17/2016 - 21:54

What happens when the batteries in your gadgets die right in the middle of an adventure?

You’ll probably just toss it in your backpack and be carrying around dead weight. You might be annoyed that you can’t Instagram your adventure to make your friends jealous. You might be freaking out because your GPS or phone just died and that was the only way you know how to get home (please also carry a compass). None of these are the situations we want to be in.

With all the devices we have these days, we’ll need to charge one of them where there’s no power. Batteries are great but you have to charge them at home and carry them around.

So what’s the best way to do it?

Another option is to carry a small solar panel. You can charge your phone or GPS right from the panel when you’re hiking or stopped to have lunch. You can also charge up a battery pack and then use the power whenever you need it. iPad sized solar panels are becoming a very popular way to charge up your stuff without having to carry to much.

The panels are also great for emergency kits so you’ll have power if you’re stuck somewhere or other emergencies.

I got a chance to review the SunJack 14W Solar Panel and 8000mAh battery. This solar panel and USB battery come in a kit together but you also get them separately.

Who’s SunJack?

SunJack is a cool little company making quality solar products for any use. They started when their Kickstarter campaign took off in 2014 and they’ve been making cool solar stuff since. They’ve got lights, solar panels and batteries so far but with gadgets with batteries and alternative energies taking off I’m sure they’ll be making more cool stuff soon.

Read more about SunJack on their about page.

The SunJack 14W Solar Panel

Solar panels can range from smaller than your phone to as big as you want. The bigger the panel, the faster it will send power to your devices. Obviously you don’t want to carry around a massive panel on a trip so you’ll have to match how much you want to carry with how long you care to wait for a charge.

The SunJack 14w panel has 4 separate panels sewn together. They velcro together into a small kit about the size of an iPad and an inch thick. Unfold the panels and hang it or prop it in the sun to charge. The more directly you can face it to the sun, the faster it will charge.

The first panel has a zippered pouch on the back where the battery is tucked into an elastic strap. The pouch has 2 zippers on it which is nice. You can move the zippers to wherever you want if you have chords hanging out of it. The pouch is big enough to hold small things you are charging while the panel is hung up in the sun. I try not to leave my phone out in the sun to charge so it doesn’t get too hot but being hidden in the pocket on the back keeps it in the shade.

There are 5 loops around the outside and 2 carabiners so you can hang the panel anywhere and get it to face the sun. You can also stand or prop it up to get better light.

The 8000 mAh Battery

You can plug your device straight into the panel or you can charge a battery and then use that to charge later. The SunJack panel will charge 2 devices at once. This splits the charge going to both. You can keep the battery pack plugged in and charge your phone at the same time. I tend to charge 1 thing at a time so it charges faster. The 14W panel charges a phone in around 90 minutes. It will charge the battery in about 5 hours depending on the conditions. Less light means a slower charge. The battery will charge a phone about 4 times or a tablet once.

You can plug in any battery pack you want so if you have 3 or 4 on a trip, or you want to charge a friends you can. The battery also has can be charge from a wall outlet if you want to stock up at home or in town and then recharge with the panel.

Tapping the button on the battery lights up 5 lights, each of which show 20% of the battery. All lights showing? Battery’s full. 1 light showing, battery’s at 20%.

The battery also has a little LED light built right it. It’s not bright enough to be hiking with but if you just need to find your headlamp or do something quick in the tent, it’s all you need. Holding down the battery button turns on the light.

Qualcomm Quick Charge

An interesting feature with the 8000 mAh battery built by Qualcomm is their Quick Charge feature. Use the link to find out if your phone is compatible. iPhones are not compatible, just Androids with a Snapdragon processor inside. If you plug in a compatible phone it will charge 4x faster than a regular charger. You need to use the Quick Charge port on the battery and the Quick Charge compatible cable.


The bigger than panel the battery when it comes to solar. Their efficiency makes a difference too. The SunJacks have a good power to weight ratio compared to some of the other adventure solar panels on the market these days like GoalZero.

The SunJack panel charges the 8000mAh battery in about 5 hours, depending on the conditions. Bright direct sunlight is your best charger. Shade or overcast isn’t so good. At some point it stops all together. I’m not sure how to measure this point but it was less light than I thought would do anything. The battery charges in less light than a phone will. Then you just charge your phone from the battery.

Plugged straight in a phone will charge in about 90 minutes. That all depends on how big your phone battery is and what it’s doing at the time. A phone in airplane mode is going to charge faster than one with music and map apps running. I like to charge the battery and then the phone if I can so I don’t waste any light when the phone is done charging.

The solar panel seems to pick up light in pretty low conditions. Bright shade and overcast will still charge the battery. It will charge through windows like on the dash of your car but it can’t be too far from the window.

This guy was charging his through a window in a blizzard.

The battery has two ports, one is 2 amp and the other is 1 amp. This is the measurement of how fast the electricity flows from the port. If you’re phone is recent then you can take advantage of the 2A fast charge port and charge faster. Newer phones will charge faster on these ports. 

Size and weight

The whole kit with panel, battery, 2 small carabiners, and 1 USB cord all comes to less than 800 grams (1.75 pounds). Unfold the panels and it’s about 79cm long and 23cm wide (31” long and 9” wide). You won’t be taking this on an ultralight trip but if you are willing to carry a bit and need the power then it’s a compact option.

Compared to GoalZero Nomad 13 and Venture 30

The SunJacks’ are a great deal compared to other panels out there. Just as an example here are the prices for the Nomad 13 and Venture 30, a comparable option from GoalZero.

I’m using US dollars here because they made it easy to compare everything. I couldn’t find everything in Canadian prices. I did see some SunJack stuff on but the prices are crazy. I’m not sure why they’re so high. Us Canadians might have to wait until the prices come down a bit for them to be a good deal.

SunJack 14w panel and 8000mAh battery $120 USD

Nomad 13 and Venture 30 (7800 mAh) $160 USD

GoalZero prices have come down recently but a similar setup is still $40 more with a less powerful panel and smaller battery.

What else can you get?

SunJack also has a few other products and I’m sure more are in the works. These prices are from SunJack’s website.


The SunJack 14w solar panel and 8000 mAh battery pack are a great solar setup for small gadgets and charging things when you need power on a trip or in an emergency. The compact panel and fast charging make it a great option. My only gripe is they need better product names so I can stop typing 8000 mAh battery so much!

I’ll be reviewing more solar and portable power solutions in the near future but it’s going to hard to beat the size and speed of this setup.

More Photos

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received the 14W Solar Panel + 8000mAh Battery for free from SunJack in consideration for a gear review.

The post SunJack 14W Solar Panel and 8000mAh Battery appeared first on The PureOutside Blog.

Categories: Hiking