Freeloader Pro 2010 solar panel

The Freeloader Pro is a pair of solar panels (which open out like wings) plus a battery unit in a stylish brushed aluminium casing. You get 10 adapters to allow the device to plug into Garmin and Satmap GPS receivers, mobile phones and a Blackberry. The supplied Cam Caddy allows almost any type of digital camera batteries to be recharged. There is also an AA and AAA battery charger available (£15 extra). So this unit can charge the sort of batteries most of us would use in the hills. The internal battery can also be charged directly from a PC. It’s small, neat and easy to use and appears to provide all a hill-walker or camper might need in terms of battery power.  But the Freeloader Pro’s internal battery does require 8 hours of sun to charge it fully, and the manufacturer states it could require 2 days in cloudy weather. So it is not as useful as it first appears. Also, unless camping in one spot you will need to attach the solar panel to a rucksack when walking and there is no obvious way to do this without DIY modifications in the form of a stick-on Velcro patch or a bungee cord. Annoyingly if the internal battery is empty you cannot simultaneously charge the battery and deliver power. 

Vital stats
Charging time 8 hours to 2 days to charge internal battery
Power output 30 hours’ talk time on mobile phones or 2-3 hours of use of a GPS receiver. Freeloader internal battery can be discharged in 1.5 hours to a Cam Caddy for 3.2V - 7.9V camera batteries or to AA/AAA battery charger
Packed size 15x6x2cm
Weight 246g (including Cam Caddy)
Stores in the UK 700+
Stockist details – tel. (0116) 234 4644; www.solartechnology.co.uk

The Freeloader Pro tackles plenty of power needs, but it requires a day of sun to charge its internal battery so it is less practical than it appears.

Review by Graham Thompson
First published in Trail magazine June 2010