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Reviews > Lighting > Lanterns > Solight Design SolarHelix > Test Report by Duane Lawrence
Solight Design Solar Helix
Product Test by Duane Lawrence
Location: Sparwood, British Columbia Canada
Age: 43 years
Height: 5’9” (1.75 m)
Weight: 160 lbs (73 kg)
I have been an avid outdoor enthusiast for over 25 years. I enjoy a variety of outdoor activities including mountaineering, day hikes, multiday backpacking trips, ocean kayaking, backcountry skiing, snowshoeing, mountain biking and rock climbing. I have climbed throughout British Columbia, the United States and when opportunity presents itself in Europe and India. I carry a wide variety of gear depending on the type and length of trip. I am a search and rescue team member in the Southern Canadian Rockies and am part of the swift water, rope rescue and avalanche technical teams and ground search team.
The Solight Design Solar Helix is a solar lantern, charged by a photovoltaic solar panel that provides up to 12 hours of light on an 8 hour charge or up to 8 hours on a five hour charge. The light uses 10 LED's and a lithium-ion polymer battery. A fully charged battery can last up to three months and after two-years will still retain about 50% of the charge as indicated on the website. The lighting level is reported as 90 lumens or 5 – 10 foot candles, enough for reading or doing small tasks with an overall lifespan of at least 25,000 hours for the LED's.
product has been designed for extreme outdoor environments although the website
is not specific on what extreme means. It
is recommended to be kept between 32 – 82 F (0 – 28 C) and is designed to
float. The Solar Helix pops open with no need to inflate, just pull the handle
upwards to form a cube shape. The materials
used in the design include recyclable TPU, an eco-friendly thermoplastic. There is a discrepancy between the web site
and the packaging though. The package
actually states that the Helix is made of PET not the TPU. PET, polyethylene terephthalate, is a clear
plastic resin polymer that is 100% recyclable and is recognized as 100%
was pleased when I received the Solar Helix.
It is a nice compact lantern and looks to be well constructed. It is made of an opaque plastic body with a
clear layer on top that covers the solar panel and LED lights. The manufacture has incorporated a plastic
handle on the top that can be used to open the lantern and hang it form
something. Although I am unable to
determine what it is made of, the bottom seems to have a hard plastic, although
flexible, square that adds to the rigidity of the lantern and likely protects
the LED’s when stored. All the seams are
heat welded which would make the Helix very water resistant although it has an
air hole in the side in order to let the Helix inflate and deflate when opening
and closing the lantern.
Over the past couple of months I have had the opportunity to use the Solar Helix on a number of overnight backpacking and car camping trips in both Glacier National Park in Montana and in the Southern Rockies of British Columbia and Alberta. Overall I was able to use the Helix on eleven occasions and was very happy with its performance. My first opportunity to use the Helix was in Lake O’Hara, a base camp type trip for five days. Although this was in mid-July the light came in very handy lighting up a picnic table inside a dark shelter enough so that I was able to cook and play cards. Although there was light filtering in, the Helix was able to add a significant amount of light to the area that I really noticed the difference. I found this a better sign of light output than when it was fully dark out as my eyes are not fully adjusted to 'night vision' mode where almost any additional light is noticed.
During a couple of backpacking trips, later in August and September, it got dark out early enough that I was really able to see how effective the lantern was. I am very pleased to report that for use both inside a tent and in a cook area the Helix performed very well. Inside the tent the Helix lit up the whole of the tent on both the high and low settings enough to read by. The most frustrating part was trying to find a way to hang or place the lantern anywhere but in the middle of the tent as that was the only place I could find a hook. Not really a fault of the Helix more of the tent. I actually added a carabiner to the lantern as there was no way to hook the lantern anything just using the plastic handle. The carabiner made it simple and easy to hang the lantern from pretty much anything including the rook of my tent or a convenient tree branch. Without it though it would have been very difficult to place the lantern anywhere but on the ground.
An important feature that I really appreciated was the diffusion plastic. This made it easier to look at without getting blinded by the harshness of looking directly into a LED. The diffusion reduced that intensity of the LED’s without significantly reducing the overall light output. Outside in the camp I found the Helix provided around a 5 to 10 foot (1.5 – 3 m) diameter of really good light, reducing as I moved away from the lantern. Personally I found that this was more than an adequate amount of light for anything I needed to do including cooking, finding stuff laying around the camp and as mentioned previously even playing a game of cards.
Charging the lantern was very simple. So far I have just tossed in on the dash of my car while driving to the trail head, clipped it to my pack and just hung it in a tree in the sun. The addition of a carabiner, I felt was essential as it made it much easier to attach it either to a tree or my pack for charging. I did find that the Helix kept on wanting to open up a bit, not laying perfectly flat so I also brought an elastic band to keep it flat. This just made it easier to hang on my pack without having to worry about it opening up and not getting direct sunlight. For longevity, I have yet to run the batteries down to a point where I have actually noticed a depreciation of light output. I even left the lantern in my basement for three weeks then hid it inside my pack so it would not charge up on the drive or hike into camp and it still had ample power to provide upwards of 4 hours of light that first night.
So far I
really like the Solar Helix and anticipate continuing to enjoy using it over
the remainder of the test period. Stay tuned for a
final review in a couple more months.
The final couple of months testing the Solar Helix included a few nights in Greece car camping with lots and lots of sun light at a very nice 25 C (77 F), a couple of nights at 4 C (39 F) with a little bit of sleet, rain and sun all mixed in together at around 1795 m (5889 ft), and a couple of nights out in -2 C (28 F) temperatures at 2250 m (7382 ft) with very mixed weather including a couple of centimeters (about an inch) of snow. Overall I put on about 45 km (28 mi) of hiking with the Solar Helix although it is so light that the distance really didn't make any difference.
During these trips I tried to see how long the light would last without charging it. In order to do this, as I only used it for about 4 hours each night, I hid the lantern in my pack trying not to expose it to any sunlight. I also stored it in my basement between trips so it wouldn't charge up. What I found was fairly impressive. I was unable to discern any significant reduction in battery life by not being charged before each use. I actually had it in the dark for three weeks between two of my trips and it had lots of juice left to easily light up the tent for reading. By the second night though I did turn it to high output and it still was emitting a good level of light to cook and read by. I did not time the actual amount of hours the light was on but I am very comfortable estimating the total time at about 14 hours before I notice a drop in light output and wanted to charge it up. On my last trip, up into the Elbow Lakes region of the Canadian Rockies, I used it to light up the campfire area by hanging it on a tree branch about 2 m (6.5 ft) in the air and was very impressed with the light distribution. I would say that in the first 1.5 m (5 ft) the light level was good enough to cook and even read by, the next 2 m (6.5 ft) was well lit, enough so that I could see everything around the camp, find food stuffs and root through bags and such with ease. Once past 3.5 m (11.5 ft) the area was lit but only enough not to trip over things.
Overall I was very impressed with the Solar Helix. It is simple to use with only one button, charges with ease, is compact and has a nice light diffusing casing. The light output is very good, with a range of up to about 3.5 m (11.5 ft) of usable light and I never had to worry about going blind when looking directly at lantern or its an LEDs. For battery life, at least in the first 5 months of usage, it is excellent with over 14 hours of usage between charges even after sitting in the dark for three weeks. And, lastly the lantern shows no sign of wear. A good thing to note is that I took absolutely no extra care when packing it or when it was hanging off of my pack. On many occasions my pack ended up on top of the lantern which was squished between a rock or tree and my pack with no evidence of damage or additional wear.
The Solar Helix is a very light, compact lantern that has excellent light output and battery life. I am looking forward to continuing to use this lantern and see no reason that I wont be enjoying it for several years.
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Reviews > Lighting > Lanterns > Solight Design SolarHelix > Test Report by Duane Lawrence