Hands-on Gear Review
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Pros: Light and compact for its power level, good value, lots of accessories.
Cons: Can't charge multiple devices without adapters, harder to incorporate into bigger system.
Best Uses: Backpacking, sailing, hiking, any time you need lots of power in a light package.
The Sunforce 12 Watt Solar Panel used to be our runaway favorite panel. It still excels in certain applications, but in general we prefer the Goal Zero panels.
If you just need to charge a cell phone, camera or other other small device, we recommend the Goal Zero Nomad 7 which is half the cost, allows you to charge two devices, and has better attention to detail.
The Editors' Choice winner, the Goal Zero Sherpa 120 Kit is better if you need serious power and the ability to charge AC devices. But the Sherpa 120 kit is not nearly as portable and costs $600.
Where the Sunforce 12 watt still excels is in the weight per watt category. It is by far the lightest and most compact 12 watt panel we tested. And if you combine it with a cigarette splitter, you can charge two devices quickly.
If you are an RV camper or doing some serious car camping, we would go with the Goal Zero Escape 150 Adventure Kit, which is half the price of the Sherpa 120 Kit.
How does this panel compare to others? Check out our complete Portable Solar Panel Review
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OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review
The name of this product is very confusing. We ordered the Sunforce 12 Watt panel but all over the panel it said "Motomaster Eliminator," which is apparently the same panel with a different name. There is also a Sunlinq 12 Watt panel that appears identical. The Brunton Solaris 12 also looks identical. Are these all made in the same factory and given different names?
This panel also comes in a 6.5 watt size. We found the 6.5 watt size charged devices slower, was not that much lighter, and generally not nearly as good a deal as the 12 watt. If you are looking at the 6.5 watt panel, you definitely should consider the Goal Zero Nomad 7.
This is the lightest panel per watt we tested. In a 12 watt size, it is about the same weight as the Goal Zero Nomad 7 watt panel.
Our panel came loaded with accessories: stuff sack, alligator clips, cigarette adapter, and various adapters to charge battery packs and other devices. There is also an adapter to link multiple panels. No other panel at this cost came with so many accessories. However, when we looked at buying this online a year later, it appears they separated these accessories from the panel and put them in the Sunforce 50056 Accessory Kit, which costs an extra $18. So you will have to do you homework and decide A) if your panel comes with these and B) if not, do you even need all these extra accessories? At least you have the option. Few other panels are compatible with so many accessories.
The one accessory this panel does not come with that we recommend is the cigarette splitter (that link goes to our favorite model). This allows you to charge two devices at once. Since the panel is so powerful (for its size) at 12 watts, we highly recommend this.
While at 12 watts this panel delivers a lot of power for its weight, it still does not deliver enough umpff to charge an iPad or most laptops.
While it is possible to link multiple panels and connect an inverter to charge AC devices, this in not nearly as simple, compact or effective as the Goal Zero Sherpa system. It can be done, but you need much more expertise about matching it with the right inverter. Even then, you will need a battery if you want to power your AC device at night or on a bad weather day. While you can make something like the Duracell Powerpack 600 work, it is not nearly as portable or practical as the Sherpa system. By comparison, if you were to buy the Nomad 13 panel (about the same price), you would have the option of plugging into a variety of different Goal Zero and compact inverters and batteries that are simple and effective.
— Chris McNamara
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Most recent review: April 11, 2012
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