The BioLite Prep Kit: The SolarHome 620 and Apartment Kit
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By Doc Montana 13 min read
Why doesn’t everything that can run on solar power actually run on solar power? Solar is a universal energy source given that all the plants, oceans, and winds have rolled along just fine on solar energy for millennia with nothing more than a steady stream of photons from the nearest star. And that particular star still has a couple of billion years of fuel in its tank.
But two words tend to kill our personal preparedness solar enthusiasm: charge controller. The solar panel is like a plant leaf that converts light into electrical current, in this case a flow of electrons through a conductor. A battery is a storage tank for the electrons where all those tiny negative charges are organized into chemical bonds for later use. And a light bulb converts the flow of electrons back into photons that bounce off of stuff and reflect into our eyes allowing us to avoid stubbed toes, dinged shins, bonked foreheads, and calling it a day with plenty of awake left.
Make sure to check our guide on the best survival solar panels on the market.
I was going to but…
With dedicated solar lighting systems where the solar panel, battery, and light output are integrated, all the electrical engineering is done and baked into the design at point of manufacture. But what if there is variability in the storage and output options? Then there are some calculations to deal with, and that’s usually where eyes glaze over and the dream of off-grid solar hits a speed bump or even a full-on roadblock.
Enter turn-key solar solutions like the BioLite SolarHome 620. With a six watt solar panel, three independent lights, and a combination battery/controller/wall light/dual USB charger/FM radio/music player. The solar panel plugs into the controller, and the two lights plug into the controller with the third light daisy chained together with one or more of the others.
In recognition of September as National Preparedness Month, BioLite dug through its rich and wildly diverse product inventory and compiled several options together for those who want instant solutions for power outages, are off grid curiousness, and just general preparedness because you should. Reviewed here is The BioLite Prep Kit: Apartment Edition, an emergency solar-solution and lighting bundle for 2-4 people. Included in the package are two headlamps, two solar-powered Sunlight area lights, two diffusion stuff sacks, a LifeStraw water filter, and the entire BioLite SolarHome 620 microgrid solar lighting solution.
The pair of HeadLamp 330 headlights are a balanced 2 ounce headlight solution where the ultralight light frontend is supported by a backend battery. With a less than one centimeter thick frontside, the tilting light has both spot and flood capabilities and a night vision-saving red light option. With an advertised 40 hours of runtime, on a week-long trip in a remote high mountain region of Montana’s high country (the highest possible actually), I couldn’t push this more than two hours a day before falling asleep. That leaves 26 more hours beyond the 14 hours I used for camp chores and reading, or a little over one third of the low output (book reading level) total runtime. The only two issues I noticed included that when lying down, the battery pack located on the headband at the back of my head needed some adjustment for comfort. And since the tilt lever of the headlamp also houses the on/off/adjustment button, attention was needed to ensure that only a tilt or light adjustment happened, not both. And gloves make it a little more difficult to separate the functions.
To add lighting options to the headlamps, two amazing Light Diffusing Stuffsacks are included in the BioLite package. By providing a way to turn a compact direct lighting solution into a wider area one, just a few grams of storage double as an area light converter. While the Stuffsacks do have an engineered way to attach the headlamp properly so as to float inside the bag for maximum diffusion, I found over time that when exhausted or late at night and couldn’t care less, I just cinched the Stuffsack over the business end of the headlamp and hung it by the headlamp strap. Either way, it’s a winner, and a new member of the essentials kit. Think of it as a way for two people to prepare the tentspace and fall asleep reading with one light source.
Two basic independent area lighting solutions are also part of this kit with a pair of SunLight LED solar recharging lights. These are rough squares about three inches on a side and an inch thick. At only 3.5 ounces, the 100 lumen output is plenty of picnic table area-sized lighting. One face of the SunLight LED is for lighting, and the other face is full of integrated solar panel for charging. If you can plug in the SunLight to the grid through its miniUSB powerport, a full charge will happen in two hours or less. With just the sun to give you juice, it might take seven hours; still within a day. And if your needs expand beyond basic survival, then the party-color output choice will raise the mood.
The LifeStraw water filter needs no introduction. Providing gallons of safe water, the LifeStraw is a fine addition to a turnkey off-grid survival solution. One would hate to have plenty of bright light but no clean water to drink. And remember, you can scoop up water in a container and then use the straw rather than lay face down in the mud with your head inches from the mosquito-infested swamp.
BioLite SolarHome 620 System
Introducing the BioLite SolarHome 620: the ultimate power station for all your off-grid needs! With its high-efficiency solar panel and powerful lithium battery, you’ll never be left in the dark again. Charge your phone, power your lights, and even listen to tunes with the built-in FM radio. And with its compact and portable design, you can take the SolarHome 620 with you wherever your adventures take you. Currently used in over 100,000 homes across western Kenya, the BioLite SolarHome 620 is here to bring the luxuries of solar-powered light and electricity to your van, shed, off-grid cabin and beyond.
Control Box – 7.9 x 6.1 x 2.9 in (200 x 154 x 68 mm)
Hanging Lights (each) – 5.9 x 5.5 x 3.2 in (150 x 140 x 82 mm)
Solar Panel – 11.4 x 7.5 x 0.6 in (290 x 190 x 16 mm)
450 Lumens Across 4 Lights – 3 daisy-chaining lights offer multi-area lighting and integrated control box illumination serves as wall light. Each light comes with its own light switch for total control.
Motion Sensor Capability – 3rd hanging light comes with a seeing eye design that can activate from nearby motion for added security or a boost of light for a temporary pathway.
Inputs – Solar Panel Port x1 (PV Module)
Battery – 3600 mAh @ 6.5V (23 Wh), LiFEPO4
Unit will not operate in temperatures below.4F° (-20C°) or above 140°F (60C°).
Outputs – USB Charge Out x2 (USB Devices) | DIN Port x1 | Light Port x2 | Light Junctions x3 (Light Extensions)
Interactive Control Box – The wall mounted Control Box gives you full control of your setup: Backlit LED Screen / Listen to the Radio / Monitor Sun Intake / Serves as a 4th Light
All hanging lights are chainable.
Solar Panel Cable Length – 21 ft (6.5m)
In The Box – Control Box | 2 Hanging Lights | 1 Security Light | 1 Solar Panel | USB Adapter | Wall Screws
SolarHome 620 – SolarHome’s name comes from the 6-watt solar panel and 20 watt hour battery inside the control box that keeps the whole system running. An Integrated LED display provides real-time feedback on your sun strength and power available. SolarHome 620 is currently in over 40,000 homes across Western Kenya in use every day.
The vast majority of returns fall into one of four categories, each of which must be treated in a slightly different manner:
- Unwanted or otherwise unsuitable goods
- Damaged or defective goods
- Broken goods under warranty
- Incorrect goods dispatched
Unwanted or unsuitable goods:
You are free to return unwanted goods in new unused condition for 30 days after delivery. You will be entitled to your choice of an exchange or a full refund to the original payment card. The customer must meet the cost of returns postage for unwanted goods. We cannot accept responsibility for goods in returns transit, and so we recommend that you use registered post or an otherwise insured method.
Damaged or defective goods:
You are free to return defective goods in new unused condition for 30 days after delivery. You will be entitled to your choice of an exchange or a full refund to the original payment card. Trek Overland will meet the cost of returns postage for defective goods. We can arrange for a courier pickup of the goods or we can refund your postage expenses (within reasonable limits) upon return delivery. Please note that the warranty given by both Trek Overland and the manufacturers of our products will only cover parts. Labour charges and other costs are not covered.
Broken goods under warranty:
You are free to return broken goods under a warranty claim for the full warranty period after delivery. Your goods may be repaired or replaced, or you may be offered a refund depending on the decision of the manufacturer. We will send the goods to the manufacturer for assessment but the final decision lies with the manufacturer and you may have to wait for their tests to be completed. The customer must meet the cost of returns postage for warranty claims. We cannot accept responsibility for goods in returns transit, and so we recommend that you use registered post or an otherwise insured method. Please note that the warranty given by both Trek Overland and the manufacturers of our products will only cover parts. Labour charges and other costs are not covered.
Incorrect goods dispatched:
Occasionally the wrong item is sent to a customer. You are free to return these goods in new unused condition for 30 days after delivery. You will be entitled to your choice of an exchange for the correct item or a full refund. If you have been mischarged, we will correct the discrepancy. Trek Overland will meet the cost of returns postage for defective goods. We can arrange for a courier pickup of the goods or we can refund your postage expenses (within reasonable limits) upon return delivery.
Exchanges will only be made where the same item is available in stock at the same price as the original. Items bought at special offer cannot be subsequently exchanged for identical items on sale at higher prices. If an item is not available a full refund may be the only option.
All goods must be returned in new unused condition unless a warranty claim is being made. We reserve the right to refuse returned goods if necessary. Reasons may include:
Where a full refund is the suitable course of action we have a statutory obligation to refund payment to the card used to pay originally within 30 days of the return of the goods. However we do not believe it is right to hold your money for longer than necessary and so a refund will be provided as soon as possible.
IMPORTANT: Refunds are processed by credit debit card companies less quickly than sales. A refund may take up to 10 days to appear on your statement after it has been authorised.
If you are returning goods for an exchange we would normally have to wait for the goods to arrive with us and inspect them before we can send out the replacement. However we recognise that sometimes and exchange must be made quickly and so we can send out a replacement immediately. We must take payment for the replacement but as soon as the return arrives we will give you a refund on that cost.
- Goods have been used
- Goods are soiled
- Goods have an odour i.e. smoke
- Goods are damaged as a result of misuse or ill-treatment
We want you to be completely satisfied with your purchase. If for any reason, you are not satisfied, you may request a refund. Our refund policy is designed to make the process as easy as possible for you.
Refunds can be initiated immediately upon a succesful request, but due to payment providers, it may take a few days for the money to arrive back into your bank account, please be patient and if you have any issues please don’t hesitate to contact us. We will do our best to process your refund as quickly as possible.
If you wish to initiate a refund, please contact our customer support team at firstname.lastname@example.org or 01751 430693 with your order details and reason for the refund. Our team will respond promptly to assist you with the process.
Please note that the following conditions apply to our refund policy:
- Refunds can only be issued for products that are in their original condition and packaging.
- Refunds will be issued to the original payment method used for the purchase.
- Depending on your bank, it may take a number of days for the refund to be processed and appear in your account.
- If you wish to cancel your order before it has been shipped, we will issue a full refund.
- If you wish to cancel your order after it has been shipped, please return the product(s) in their original condition and packaging for a full refund upon receipt of the returned item.
If you have any questions or concerns about our refund policy, please do not hesitate to contact our customer support team. We are always here to help you.
Goal Zero Nomad 200
We also used the Goal Zero Nomad 200 during our Baja run. Because it’s 200W, you don’t need two 100W arrays. That’s more convenient as long as you can handle its larger footprint in your vehicle.
This durable panel includes stake-down loops on the foldout legs, a carrying case and a built-in USB-A connector. You can also link it to other panels with a power port combiner. Goal Zero also makes 100W and 50W Nomad foldable panels. Pair with Yeti 500X or Yeti 1500X portable power stations.
Specs: 22 pounds, folded dimensions 28.2-in. by 22.3-in. by two inches.
Lion 50W Foldable Solar Panel
The size and weight of Lion’s 50W panel make it top of its class. At just three pounds, it’s half the weight of competitors’ 50W models, so you can easily take it backpacking. It features USB-A and USB-C ports plus a 10-foot barrel-to-barrel cord.
Pair with the Lion Energy 150W Trek or Safari LT 450W portable power station. Lion Energy also makes a super-affordable 20W panel.
Specs: Three pounds, folded dimensions 11.25-in. by 11.25-in. by 1.63-in.
Nicesolar 100W Foldable Solar Panel
For the best price on a decent 100W foldable solar panel, check out this Nicesolar. As compact as the other 100Ws, it features USB-A and USB-C ports for directly charging personal electronics. It also comes with a carrying case and an array of connectors to make it compatible with pretty much any portable power station.
It’s got a few quirks the name brands don’t have, but overall it’s a great value. It also claims to be waterproof, but the connector can actually get wet. Son’t leave it in the rain without adequately protecting that. Nicesolar also makes a 200W model.
Specs: 7.3 pounds, folded dimensions 20.7-in. by 14-in. by 1.6-in.
Renogy E.FLEX 80 Portable Solar Panel
Renogy is best known for its off-grid home and RV solar solutions. We installed one of their systems in our van camper, which we’ve greatly enjoyed.
But Renogy also makes some terrific portable solar panels, including the E.Flex 80 and E.Flex 120. They’re durable, consistently perform well on input tests (around 70%) and can be left in the rain without worry. They also come with comfortable carrying handles, a waterproof storage case, a five-in-one adaptor and eight feet of cable.
Pair with Renogy’s Phoenix 500 portable power station.
Specs: 7.3 pounds, folded dimensions 24.8-in. by 17.1-in. by one inch.
A freelance writer and indie film producer, Karuna Eberl covers the outdoors and nature side of DIY, exploring wildlife, green living, travel and gardening for Family Handyman. She also writes FH’s Eleven Percent column, about dynamic women in the construction workforce. Some of her other credits include the March cover of Readers Digest, National Parks, National Geographic Channel and Atlas Obscura. Karuna and her husband are also on the final stretch of renovating an abandoned house in a near-ghost town in rural Colorado. When they’re not working, you can find them hiking and traveling the backroads, camping in their self-converted van.