Today we are taking a first look at the 120-watt folding solar panel from Off Grid Trek.
Many of you have asked for a more economical alternative to the extremely lightweight amorphous panels from PowerFilm Solar. There certainly are other flexible options like the CIGS panels which have their own issues, but none with the redundancy or watt per ounce/gram ratio of the PF amorphous panels. When we remove the lighter weight and redundant requirement preferred for man-portable field communications, we do have some options. One of the options is from Off Grid Trek.
Off Grid Trek has a few interesting products for preparedness or field radio operations. In addition to testing this 120-watt folding panel, Off Grid Trek also offers a faraday gear bag which after testing, was an incredible find. I’ll cover that faraday gear bag in a separate post.
In May 2021, I began field-testing the Off Grid Trek 120 watt mono-crystalline solar panel. This is a rigid, folding (not flexible) panel which is physically smaller than its 120-watt cousin from PowerFilm. The OGT120 comes in at 7.9lb/3.9kg versus its 120-watt PF cousins 6.3lb/2.9kg. It is a more economical option if your off-grid power requirements revolve around over-landing, RV or car camping, perhaps even as a “just in case” solar option, where budget and small storage size are more appreciated, and weight is not a concern.
Tests, Ports and Observations
The OGT120 features an integrated breakout box with both regulated and unregulated DC outputs, a USB-C PD output, two traditional USB outputs, and a watt meter. Although the breakout box has rubber port covers, it IS SUSCEPTIBLE to water and dust ingress, if the port covers are inadvertently left open (Don’t ask). Still, the solar panel itself seems waterproof. Keep this in mind during poor WX deployment and you’ll be fine.
As a side note. Having the breakout box as an optional detached component could alleviate the ingress problem. Moreover, having the breakout box closer to the electronics and operator could be a more pragmatic approach than long runs of USB cables between the OGT120 and devices being powered. For the user who may very well be inside a shelter, a single cable between the panel and devices or storage may be ideal. This is something for Off Grid Trek to consider in future revisions of the OGT120.
- 50amp Anderson connector
- 1x 18 volt regulated port.
- Single USB-C Power Delivery port
- 1x USB 1 port
- 1x USB 2.1 port
The backing material is a type of rubberized canvas. The SunPower cells are sewn into the canvas, making the entire system foldable. There is no doubt the rubberizing will help prevent the material from dry rot as we have seen on Goal Zero Nomad panels. This treatment will also prevent fringes from forming on the edges of the material, which is a nice touch. The cost of the rugged coating is weight. If the value is more important than weight then once again, you’ll be fine.
First test Dell Latitude
The first time out the 120 watt panel was used to charge and keep charged a Dell Latitude laptop. The Dell Latitude uses USB-C for charging. This made the 120 watt Off Grid Trek panel the perfect combination since it too has a USB-C PD output. A USB-C to USB-C cable was plugged between the OGT120 output and Dell Latitude input. This without the need for a charge controller, or intermediate battery storage between the panel and laptop. During our hours of operation, the panel made light work of first charging the Dell Latitude, then keeping it charged while running FT8 constantly.
Second Test Microsoft Surface Go 2
A similar test was done using my Microsoft Surface Go 2 tablet. The Microsoft Surface Go2 requires at least a 45-watt USB-C Power Delivery port to charge via its Surface Connect cable port. As with the Dell Latitude, the OGT120 made easy work of charging and keeping charged the Surface Go 2. No external adapters or converters required. A 3-meter USB-C to Surface Connect cable was connected between the OGT120 USB-C output and Surface. Easy as cake!
For the next test, I took the OGT120 along on the fat bike. The goal was to power my Lightsaver Max (acting as a power bank) with the OGT120, through the Lightsaver Max USB-C connector. Then using the DC outputs of the Lightsaver Max, to power my Icom IC-705 and Microsoft Surface Go 2 to send out some winlink emails, while operating portable and solar-powered. Since the fat bike was carrying the weight, the extra panel weight wasn’t an issue. Its collapsed size was more important in this test scenario.
The OGT120 once again made easy work of charging and keeping topped up, the PowerFilm Lightsaver Max. e OGT120 USB-C output was connected to the Lightsaver Max USB-C input, avoiding any potential overvoltage state, since the USB-C PD connection is adaptive and regulated.
As with the first two tests, the OGT120 made light work of charging the Lightsaver Max and powering the portable station. The USB-C PD output is handy in this application. Users have various levels of expertise, so familiar cable types from the Mobile phone world reduces the possibility of user errors, from unnecessary cable complexity.
Looking at the solar and battery storage options from Off Grid Trek, there are no small capacity DC output battery storage options. The amateur radio world relies on DC power supplies, rather than the inverter based AC generators in many OGT packages. A DC battery storage solution with 30 or 45 amp Anderson Powerpole outputs, would add value to the OGT solar and storage packages.
At this latitude, and during the testing time (1000-1500 Local time), a steady and reliable 4.1 amps is delivered to the charge controller on average. Peak current can reach 6 amps or more during blue skies, sunny, at the top of the day. No red flag with these numbers, as weather, cloud cover, and latitude play a role in the panel output power. To keep everyone honest, these measurements were taken with an ínline voltage/current/watt meter. The numbers are not unlike other panels of similar wattage we’ve tested over the years. I would say performance is as or a little better than expected. The next tests will measure low light performance, and average over the course of a day. Just keep in mind results will vary based on weather, location, …
Suggestions for off grid trek
Ham Radio operators looking to get into off-grid power and solar in the field, are often looking for a starting point. I believe viewers and readers of OH8STN ham radio, are all about minimal deployment and efficient usage of power. Therefore a 60-watt version of the OGT120 could be an excellent entry-level panel. It may also be a great way of introducing off-grid solar to these operators. A 60-watt panel would also be a more portable, yet still a very capable alternative to the OGT120. Especially if the goal is powering a small ham radio station off-grid, with a DC LiFePO4 based storage battery. Definitely something to consider.
Please if possible, a 60-watt version with 30 or 45 amp Anderson powerpole connectors.
Off Grid Trek is offering a discount to viewers and followers of the channel and blog. Just use my callsign (OH8STN) as the discount code in the offgridtrek shop. No commission paid and no rewards given for mentioning Off Grid Trek or helping send viewers and readers to their shop. This is all about answering a demand for a lower-cost alternative, to the Premium PowerFilm product., where weight is less of a concern.
For the premium operator where portability is critical, PowerFilm is still the best option out there. It is still and will remain my most recommended portable solar power brand. To be fair though, It is an apples and oranges comparison between Off Grid Trek and PowerFilm. At the moment, these two can co-exist in the OH8STN community, because they offer different advantages, for very different users. As always, I would not recommend either, if they weren’t a good fit. One premium product, one a more budget-oriented product.