I first started using the FreeLoader when I did my Backpack along the Pilgrims Way back in April of this year. On that trip I was using the basic FreeLoader which consists of a central hub (battery unit) and two small solar panels that clip into the sides of the main unit. I found that the basic unit needed to have constant bright sunshine in order to deliver enough power to keep my mobile phone fully charged on a day by day basis. Now on that trip I only had two days of bright sunshine, the rest of the time the weather was dry but cloudy. The unit in these conditions was failing to top up my mobile phone to a point where I felt comfortable to use it without any concerns regarding power. Now I was not just using the phone as a PHONE. I was using the RADIO as my entertainment in the evenings, as I was also doing with the MP3 PLAYER. During the day I was using the CAMERA for both stills and video clips. I was also using the phone to access the INTERNET and check my emails etc. I wanted to be able to use the phone for all these things and not be concerned over power drain.
One other point that I was not happy about,was the fact that the unit in its basic form is not waterproof. The instructions tell you - do not allow it to get wet as this may permanently damage it's electronics - the supercharger seems to solve all these problems.
The Supercharger is a solar panel that is able to charge the Freeloader hub in half of the time of the standard mini panels supplied with the hub. It comes in a waterproof case (available in green or pink) which has clips and a velcro strap to enable you to attach it to your rucksack (see my photo on Dorset Round preview posting). With the supercharger on the outside of your pack you can place the hub inside your pack where it can be kept dry. I placed my hub inside a special freeloader case which is supplied as an accessory item and slipped the case into a side pocket on my rucksack. The hub and the supercharger are connected by a cable that is supplied. Whilst charging,the hub displays a red or green LED dependent on the level of charge.
Used like this on the Dorset Round the unit was generating enough power to top up my phone to 100% each day. It could have done this twice a day as I was not able to use all the power that was being generated. The unit is able to fully charge in about 4hrs on a sunny day and twice this time on a cloudy/dull day. This will produce more than enough power to keep my phone going no matter how many functions I use or how often I use it on a typical backpack. The basic hub unit is supplied with various adapters and cables to match a variety of modern phones etc.
I was very pleased with how this setup performed, enabling me to keep sending posts to my blog as well as using all the other fuctions I required. On a long trip such as the Southern Upland Way the FreeLoader and Supercharger combined would be a real boon.
Now to all those people out there that are shouting 'but your into ulralight what about the weight?' let me point out to you that these items are very light, about 200grms all in. The weight of this can be saved by not having to carry separate Phone- Radio-Camera-MP3player etc. and the spare batteries that would be required.
For those of you that are interested I am using a Sony Ericsson K770i mobile phone.
And the cost of the Freeloader etc ?
Well the basic FreeLoader costs £29.99. The Supercharger costs £19.99 and the Freeloader case costs £7.99. All of this can be purchased as a set for £49.99 saving you the cost of the FreeLoader case and this is the way that I would purchase the kit ,as you really do need to have all these items if you intend to use it for backpacking.
Overall I think that this is a really great bit of kit and although it may not save you money it can certainly save you a lot of hassle.
Further information can be obtained from http://www.solartechnology.co.uk/