Goal Zero Nomad 14 Plus Solar Panel Review
Goal Zero need little introduction as a manufacturer of high quality solar charging products and power banks. They are seen at expedition base camps around the world, they sponsor many high profile outdoor professionals and plough huge resources into humanitarian work. They have become synonymous with solar power.
I’ve been a user for many years. A foldable 28 watt solar panel purchased many years ago is still going strong as a charging unit for our expedition base camps and I use several of their power bank products (a review I completed recently about their Sherpa 100AC Power Bank is available here).
For many users a sweet spot in panel size is a model that can be used for charging at a fixed camp and yet can also be attached to a rucksack (or vehicle, mule, sea kayak, paddleboard or camel) when you are mobile. Such a panel needs to be big enough to provide the juice you need (it is easy to be drawn to choosing a mini sized panel and soon find it simply can’t power your devices) and yet compact enough to not stick out or become unwieldy when attached to something). I raised this sweet spot size question with Goal Zero and they suggesting testing one of their Nomad 14 Plus models. Here is my review....
The Nomad 14 Plus incorporates a pair of top quality monocrystalline panels that measure 30 x 20 x 1.3 cms when folded in half but that open up to a 30 x 40 x 0.3 cm size when folded out. At the folded size it can be tucked behind the back panel of your pack and yet, once opened out for use, it will sit happily over the top and back of a rucksack for on the go charging.
Then, your attached phone or power bank can be tucked inside for safe transport. Alternatively, there is a stretchy zip closure pocket on the back of one of the panels and small electronics or charging cables can be stored in there.
A USB connection port (5V, up to 2.4 amps) is incorporated into the panel back and there is also a solar power port that allows you at chain several Goal Zero panels. To facilitate attachment there are loops incorporated into the panel corners and in the middle of the folding section of the panel back.
It is obviously crucial that, whenever possible at least, any solar panel is orientated toward the sun and the Nomad 14 Plus is supplied with a detachable kickstand to allow the panel to be propped up at the optimum angle and getting this orientation correct is also aided by a built in LED indicator that shows charging strength.
The case is constructed from a flexible and weatherproof nylon material and within the panel Goal Zero have incorporated intelligent electronics and a dynamic restart feature to optimise output to best match the attached device.
The Nomad 14 Plus is designed for charging smaller portable electronics such as smartphones, headtorches, cameras or tablets. It can also charge power banks and Goal Zero give guidelines on charging times (in optimum conditions) for a range of their battery products. So, for example, they suggest 5 hours for one of their Flip 20’s through to 8-16 hours for a Sherpa 50. One of the Sherpa 100’s I reviewed recently could take anywhere between 15 and 30 hours.
The panel weighs 862 grams with the kickstand or 635 grams without and comes with a 12 month warranty.
I see so many people, when out on trails, who have a micro sized solar panel that realistically isn’t going to charge up a power hungry iPhone or large camera battery this side of Christmas. You can’t avoid, if you want something worth taking, that you need a panel size big enough to provide the juice. Then, simply enough, the bigger the panel the quicker the charge time (although, of course, panel efficiency is also a key consideration.
As mentioned above, the Nomad 14 Plus seems to really hit that sweet spot between portability and chargeability. It is small enough and light enough to store in your pack when the sun is hiding, but can quickly and simply be deployed when it shows its face.
It is also built for a tough life. The casing is durable and beautifully put together and, as is typical of Goal Zero, every feature is carefully thought through and so, while there is everything you need, there is also a simplicity about the features that makes it a doddle to use.
Calculating exact charge times for a solar panel in a real life context is pretty much impossible. You could say it will charge something at this rate in a particular sun intensity when the panel remains perfectly angled at the sun, but how realistically does that match someone using it in changeable conditions when they are changing direction as they traverse a footpath preventing optimum panel orientation or the sun is dipping in and out of the clouds.
At best, therefore, Goal Zero can only offer a guide. I found that an iPhone 8 in very consistent sun conditions could be charged in around 6 hours. This was on a very sunny Peak District day where I carefully kept the panel angled towards the sun. Having said that, this wasn’t an iPhone that was completely discharged either (it started charging from 11%).
I have a Flip 20 and found the Goal Zero guide charging times for that were quite realistic in strong Slovenian sunshine. I did try out a Sherpa 100AC and shifted the battery charge 24% in 5 hours of consistent sun, but in reality I don’t see this type of panel being the optimum choice for chunky battery packs like that - this is the optimum choice for keeping those smaller electronic items (or smaller battery packs) topped up. For those situations it excels.
When used from a static point the addition of the kickstand is genius. It quickly and easily allows you to get the charging angle sorted and is secure enough to use in fairly breezy conditions without the risk of it toppling over. In reality, if you’ve left it at home then you can achieve the same thing with a bit of spare clothing or some well positioned rocks, but it does its job very slickly.
Goal Zero describe the Nomad 14 Plus as weatherproof and so that is worth considering depending on what you plan to use it for. Of course, a solar panel isn’t going to be pulling in much power if you deploy it on a rainy day and yet this might be forced on you if you have left it set up at a campsite in sunny weather and then, while you were away, the weather changed.
Alternatively, you might be using it on a paddleboard, pack raft or kayak and so, even on the sunniest of days, it may get splashed. I took the panel out on a long paddleboard journey in Croatia this summer and it didn’t blink at getting a fair amount of water splashed over it, but you really couldn’t consider this panel to be fully waterproof. Even if the panel itself kept all the liquid out, there are still the connecting ports to consider. Definitely best to define this as water resistant only.
The clam shell style ensures the panels are well protected when folded together but it is worth considering that the panel may still get scratched over time as the panels will inevitably get pushed together sometimes. I understand that damage of this type is purely cosmetic and really won’t affect performance. Annoying when it happens though!
I think this is a real winner from Goal Zero as it hits the sweet spot of portability combined with enough charging capacity for the types of devices many people will be carrying in the back country. It is light enough to not think too much about packing it while you are reassured that it will get the job done. It is also built to perform, to take the knocks and to last. Another sure fire winner from the Goal Zero team. The Nomad 14 Plus retails for £150.
Posted by Paul