Gear Guide 2012: Eton Raptor Solar Charger

An all-purpose survival tool or a bomber solar charger.
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An all-purpose survival tool or a bomber solar charger.

Is it an all-purpose survival tool or a bomber solar charger? Both, say our testers. The Eton Raptor stuffs a compass, altimeter, thermometer, barometer, stopwatch with alarm, multiband radio, LED flashlight, and bottle opener into a slim, 11-ounce, rubber-shielded exterior that ‘biners onto a pack or belt loop. Meanwhile, a monocrystalline solar cell face feeds a lithium-ion internal battery with both USB and mini-USB outputs (perfect for charging point-and-shoots and cellphones that aren’t full-size USB compatible).

In our testing, a full charge required 17 hours of direct sea-level sun, eight hours yielded an 80-percent iPhone charge, and three hours topped off an old-school flip phone. Altimeter and thermometer readings were acceptable (if not quite as precise as dedicated devices) and rendered in a clear monochrome digital readout. Tough test: Scrapes while scrambling against rock walls in the North Cascades couldn’t dent the Raptor’s exterior, and a night left out in a rainstorm couldn’t swamp it.

Caveat: It uses a Byzantine combo of nine buttons to access all of its features; spend a good hour with the confusing manual before you take it out into the wild. “It took forever to figure it out, but once I did, it could replace five other tools,” says one tester. “And I don’t have to worry about it ever running out of batteries.” $100; 11 oz.; etoncorp.com