Goal Zero Sherpa 100AC Power Bank Review

2nd May 2019

Goal Zero 100AC Power Bank

On my recent trips to Morocco and Nepal I took along a satellite phone, iPhone, Go Pro camera, Go Pro battery charger, Sony camera, 2 headtorches (powered by rechargeable batteries) and the iPad I am writing this review on.  Much as I have concerns on our societies increasing reliance on technology, I still end up carrying a stack of power hungry tech on every trip I take.

On some of our overseas trips I can count on finding mains power, but often this isn’t a reliable option and, in places like the tea houses of Nepal, you usually have to pay to get things charged up and the cost of this certainly mounts up if you are having to do it regularly.  On trips like our Stok Kangri expedition we are out for 10 days with no chance of finding mains power. The only choice for these situations is to take a portable power bank which can then be recharged by solar sources.

For several years my portable power brand of choice has been Goal Zero.  I find their products to be reliable, efficient and I love how they work effortlessly together.  For the last few years two of their Sherpa batteries, an AC inverter and a large 27 watt solar panel have been my regular saviour in wilderness settings.

On longer trips with a base camp the solar panel has been great but, on trips which have moved regularly from place to place, the power packs have often been enough to see me through.  The Sherpa packs have USB connectors or, with the 240 volt AC converter,  even mains items can be charged.

However, battery technology continues to move on and so I was intrigued by the new generation of Goal Zero batteries becoming available and their Sherpa 100AC unit really caught my eye.  Fortunately, Goal Zero were kind enough to send me one to test just in time for my recent overseas trips. Here is my in depth review....

The Goal Zero Brand

To understand a bit more about what makes Goal Zero special it is useful to understand the company. Goal Zero was founded in 2007 by Robert Workman. Robert had started a humanitarian enterprise  (the TIFIE Foundation) after visiting the DRC (Democratic Republic of the Congo) and witnessing the need to help people out of poverty. His vision was that, by teaching people how to run sustainable businesses, they could learn how to help themselves.  By 2008 the first portable solar power pack was being tested Goal Zero launched as a business in 2009.  Since then, the business has mushroomed but the mission of ‘putting reliable power into the hands of every human being’ remains the company focus.

Since then, Goal Zero has been at the forefront of helping in disaster zones.  Amongst many other milestones, they supplied systems to help Haiti earthquake victims and provide power in the aftermath of the Japanese Tsunami. Over $600,000 worth of equipment was provided after Hurricane Sandy and a further $300,000 after Typhoon Haiyan.  2013 saw the launch of the Share the Sun humanitarian program and over 7 million dollars of assistance was provided during the various natural disasters of 2017.

As always,  it is great to hear of companies that, alongside producing innovative products, also use their resources for the benefit of others.  There is a lot more information about the companies humanitarian work on their website here. So, on to the power pack review….           

Features

I am by no means very technology savvy and so I am going to start by saying that this review is written by someone who only knows the basics about capacities and wattage.  I certainly know what I need the equipment to do, but only have a basic understanding of the technical wizardry that makes these units tick.

The 100AC is about the size of a medium sized paperback (7.5 inches x 5.67 inches x 1inch) and weighs 907 grams.  So, although it is not particularly lightweight, I think it is actually a very portable size considering what it is able to do. The unit is robust in construction with a metal top and base along with plastic sides.  Rubber strips also run along the top and base which prevents it sliding around and protects the sleek metal top.  Along the side there is storage for 2 short charging cables (supplied).     

On the front of the unit there is an 8mm input port which allows you to charge the unit.  Next to this are 2 USB C ports and at the side of this is the information display.  Following this there are 2 standard USB ports and lastly there’s an AC charging port.

The unit ships with 3 short charging cables (2 of which can be stored in the side panels of the unit)  and a charging cable to allow the unit to be charged through one of the USB C ports (more about this later).

That’s it for basic features really, but there is a lot to explain beyond that.  Time to get down to the nuts and bolts......

In Use

As mentioned, the 100AC has accompanied me on recent trips to the Atlas Mountains of Morocco and to the Annapurna Sanctuary in Nepal.  It has also been in regular use for business meetings and in the Peak Mountaineering office.  So, although this is not a long term review, the unit has been well tested.

The best way to properly describe its features is probably to run through things as a user would come to them.  Firstly, that means charging the unit.  As mentioned, the 100AC can be charged by mains, solar or a car charger socket.  I have tried the solar and mains options.  With a compatible solar panel it was a simple job to plug the battery in and it charged really well in good sunlight.  I tried this option with a 27 watt panel and the unit happily charged from 15% to 100% in 7.5 hours of pretty steady sunlight.

I also charged the unit from a mains socket and this needs a bit of explanation. Goal Zero ship the unit with a USB A to USB C charging cable.  To use this the user needs to plug the USB A into a wall socket (you need a simple mains adapter for this but one isn’t supplied) and then, because the USB C sockets can act as both an input and output, you can plug your cable into the USB C socket for charging.  However, for this to work you do need to switch the socket to input via the control panel (this is very simple once you know what to do). This option is efficient and will charge the unit in 2.5 hours (60 W) but you will need a cable and charging plug that will offer that wattage output.  When using a USB A to USB C (2.4A) then the unit will take 9 hours to charge.

An alternative mains charging method is to use a Goal Zero charging cable which can plug into the 8mm socket.  Strangely, Goal Zero don’t provide one of these as standard and they have to be purchased as a separate accessory.  Luckily, I had one of these from my old Sherpa battery and could try this out.  This is a simple and efficient charging method and will charge the unit in 3 hours (45W).

Lastly, the option exists to charge the unit via a car cigarette lighter socket.  This can be done either with a cigarette socket mains inverter and the above mentioned charger or using the included USB A to USB C cable and a suitable car cigarette socket USB adapter.  This isn’t a quick option, but could be useful in some circumstances.

Anyway, once the unit is charged up it is time to use it.  In simple terms this is very easy.  All you need to do is press the power switch on the unit and plug your equipment into the relevant socket.  At the current time this is often likely to be the USB A sockets, but Goal Zero have recognised that the industry is shifting to the more efficient USB C format and so including 2 of these ports really helps to future proof the 100AC.

If you have a phone that can charge wirelessly you also have the option to use the top mounted Qi charging plate.  This is a fantastic facility and a real stroke of design genius as many phones (including iPhones) now have this charging option. You simply press the wireless button on the unit and you are ready to go - pop your phone on the top plate and it gets to work. You can have a variety of devices charging at the same time with no issues although you have to ensure the power demand doesn’t exceed capacity.

Beyond all that, there is the display.  This is another really superb feature.  When you switch the power bank on the display shows the existing battery life as a percentage and the available power available in time given the current draw.  There is then a switch that allows you to scroll through various info screen options.  First up is an overview screen for each port and whether any power is being drawn from it.  The next screens then scroll through the status of each port working from left to right. Each screen shows you the power going to and from any port and, in the case of the USB C ports,  whether power is coming into or out of that port. Finally, there is a status window that shows you the number of charge cycles your unit has received, the temperature and other similar information.

In use, all this information may seem like overkill, but it is actually brilliant. Having this level of detail is great and really helps to control the batteries use most efficiently.  It doesn’t take long to work your way around it all and it is a brilliant way to keep tabs on your devices demands.

Goal Zero give detailed information about the capacity of the 100AC and how many charges this will offer to various devices.  This includes 8 charges of a smartphone, 4 tablet charges and 2 laptop charges.  In practice, I find this hard to verify as I’ve usually been topping up various devices at different times and also rarely top them up from empty to full.  But, in the interests of checking the Goal Zero specs I did do a test with an older generation iPad where I repeatedly charged it from the 100AC and then discharged it and repeated the recharge.  I certainly found I could get the claimed 4 charges in that case (infact it was nearer to 5 charges).

For technically minded folk, the capacity of the 100AC is 94.7 Wh (25,600 mAh) and, significantly, this is designed to be just short of the maximum 100 Wh allowed as carry on by most airlines.  I have had had no problem getting it through various airports on recent trips but it does pay to check your airline.  Goal Zero have added the flight safe symbol on the back of the power bank which should help if you flash it at any inquisitive customs officials.

As mentioned earlier, the 100AC is robust, but the stylish casing will get scratched if you don’t treat it carefully and it certainly isn’t shockproof (from something like dropping it) or water or dust proof.  If you have it transported, as I regularly do, in a duffle on the side of a mule or on the back of a porter, you will certainly want to protect it somehow.

I’ve been using a nice logoed neoprene case that Goal Zero sell as an accessory or you could track down a great little hard case I found on eBay that is spot on.  They are designed for a Go Pro camera but fit the 100AC perfectly and you can find them here).  Similarly, Goal Zero have a range of lighting accessories available.  I’m going to do a separate review on these but their Light a Life and Light a Life mini lanterns are fantastic.  Just to say, I took a mini on my recent trips and this little gem, which is only about the size of a matchbox, is simply superb for night time reading in dimly lit tea house rooms.

Summary

This is a fantastic product and I love everything about it.  Goal Zero have set a gold standard for power banks and this will become your treasured companion on power hungry adventures.  You need to be aware that it retails for £300 and there might well be other accessories you want in addition, but for that you are definitely getting a highly specked, extremely efficient and beautifully engineered product.  I think the Sherpa 100AC is simply spot on and applaud the Goal Zero engineering wizards for their vision and creativity.  Full details are available on the Goal Zero website here and please check out the informative video below......

Reviewed and posted by Paul