Kenya: Tech on the Road

In GEAR, Travel by David23 Comments

Processed with VSCOcam with a6 preset

There were two pieces of tech, cameras aside (and I’ll talk about them in a separate post), that made my work in Kenya last month possible: one was the Goal Zero Sherpa 100, the other was the DeLorme InReach, a satellite communicator.
Power has been an issue on past trips, and this time I picked up an option that will go with me on similar trips from now on. Already a fan of Goal Zero (I have two of their larger battery packs, which are heavier and more powerful than I needed for this trip) I picked up a Sherpa 100 kit with a 100w battery pack, folding solar panels, and cables that would allow me to charge this pack with solar (no shortage of hot, bright sun in northern Kenya), or from a wall (helpful before and after the trip, but not a chance of from-the-wall power on this trip), or from the 12v of the truck as we drove.

Taking advantage of an old Land Rover to get some charge time during a break.

The kit weighs about 5lbs, has 2 outs for USB, a 110v inverter, and, if you don’t use a Mac, an out for a laptop. Using solar it took about 8 hours to fully charge, and that charge would do iPhones, and several camera batteries, as well as most of a laptop charge. Bring 2 sets of solar panels, daisy chain them, and the charging time would go down, I assume, by a half. In a year I’m shooting an assignment in Lesotho and it’ll be equally remote. I’ll be bringing two of the Sherpa 100 battery packs and 2 of the panels. If you work remotely, and need to recharge batteries, take a look at the whole Goal Zero line. Excellent products and good support. Each time I’ve called they’ve been really responsive.

The second itch I wanted to scratch was communications with home. I carry an Iridium satellite phone, but it has two disadvantages – it’s expensive and it’s frustrating enough to make me want to pitch it into the nearest river once in a while. So when I saw my friend John Marriott using a DeLorme inReach Explorer at Cape Churchill this year, I was pretty sure I’d found my solution.

Processed with VSCOcam with a6 presetMy inReach Explorer was with me at all times, kept track of movements, elevation, and – importantly – kept me in touch with home so far away.

The inReach pairs with my iPhone (ipad or iphone, Android too, I believe) and allows me, through an app, to easily type out 160-character texts to mobile numbers, email addresses, and even Facebook and Twitter, and with that goes my GPS coordinates so friends can see where I am. I also gave my family a password-protected link and they could log on, to my DeLorme site, see where I was at any time, and send messages from their browser (or they can repy to the email or SMS on their phone, etc). I don’t need the iPhone, it works on it’s own, though it takes longer to type a message, choosing one letter at a time, and the battery seems to do quite well. Being well out of network range for most of the trip (and even when I was it was costly) the inReach allowed me to stay in touch with home, post to FB a couple times (text only) and return to a complete track of my journey on my page of the DeLorme site.

We had a couple days of a weird service outage, but other than that it worked really well and it’ll be in my bag, or my Jeep, on future adventures. You can buy the inReach Explorer at places like Canada’s MEC, or on Amazon, and activate it from home, choosing one of a few reasonable service plans, and those plans can be put on hold for something like $5/month if there are stretches of time you don’t plan to travel. Lastly, there’s an SOS button that calls in the calvary. You’ll be pleased to know that I had no reason to test it this time.

Comments

  1. Interesting to see your views on the Sherpa. I recently reviewed the Voltaic Systems’ 72W solution on my trip to northern Ethiopia and my final comments were less about the quality of the panel and battery (which was very good) but more about the ancillary bits. In my case the travel camera battery charger was so cheap that it failed early on and that would have been catastrophic had it nor been for someone else having a USB charger to hand.

    But when out-and-about a good solar kit is a very useful tool.

  2. thanks for sharing this equipment with us David. I’m particularly interested in the inReach piece. I plan on traveling alone next year and this will be great a great tool!

          1. I can see how all those color and pattern options would make it easy to keep track of what’s what.

    1. Author

      Just the regular briefcase I linked you to, Eskil. Nothing fancier than that.

  3. I have used a SPOT Satellite Messenger (now the Gen3 unit) for quite a few years on my travels abroad and in the backcountry of North America. The tracking is good, but it can only send one way canned messages. I’ll have to check out the DeLorme inReach Explorer since it has two way messaging capabilities and other items of interest. Thanks David.

    1. Author

      I think you’d like this much more than the SPOT. It was my frustration with the limits of the SPOT unit I own that lead me to want something like this DeLorme. Very happy with it.

  4. Hi David,

    Totally agree with your Goal Zero review, I have been using their gear for a couple of years, including two shoots in very remote Tanzania where I took the GZ 100 although then it was the older model and way bigger and heavier than the new one. GZ had some issues with the MK1 model & had a product recall and contacted me in Australia and DHL’d me a new 100 and invertor ASAP, really great customer service and they have always been a pleasure to deal with when I had questions etc. The new 100 is so portable now I keep it handy on most trips as I travel remotely in Western Australia on shoots and like Africa we have plenty of very sunny days!! I just added the Lighthouse lantern to my car kit as heard some good reviews on that too.

    Love the Filson too, I have the briefcase in otter green and use a Billingham Hadley insert and despite being two years old I still can’t seem to wear the thing in….

    Safe travels.

  5. Hmm, I’m curious exactly what the ‘cavalry’ consists of. Is it a force of large, shouty men with tanks and guns, a covert secret agent ferrying swiftly you from harm, or simply a gorgeous woman showing up with a bottle of great wine?

    Anyway, glad you didn’t need to use it, David! Unless it is the wine option, then you did it all wrong. 🙂

    1. Author

      Steven – Clearly I am not asking all the right questions. But I’m home now and have both a gorgeous woman and a bottle (there might be a couple) of wine, so all is well! 🙂

  6. “The kit weighs about 5lbs, has 2 outs for USB, a 110v inverter, and, if you don’t use a Mac, an out for a laptop. Using solar it took about 8 hours to fully charge” -This is pretty awesome.

  7. I have been looking into a similar system and have been tripped up by the camera battery charging. Did you plug your factory charger into the inverter, which is not very efficient, or did you use a dedicated battery charger, like the Pixo C-USB or some other product?

    Thanks for all the great posts!

  8. Pingback: Kenya: Tech on the Road – news.iNthacity

  9. Pingback: Kenija: Technika kelyje - Fotokrosas

  10. Thanks for giving us a peek into what you do. I am definitely envious of your travels… as well as your amazing work. Thanks for sharing.

Leave a Comment