Tools & Products Reviews

Generators (Gas - Propane - HHO)

I have long been a fan of Honda and Yamaha products and when it comes to their portable generators, my fondness doesn't diminish. I have owned a Honda 3000 (sold in a packaged deal with a cabin) and now own the Yamaha 3000. Keep in mind that those generators less than 3000 watts, generally, will only have the "pull-start" capability while those 3k and above will, most likely, have both electronic-start (key) and pull-start (as a backup) but there are exception. If weight and portability are concerns, anything above 2k watts may require 2-people to move. The Yamaha comes with wheels but the Honda requires an optional wheel kit if you want better portability. On the rare occasions when I had problems with these products, it was my fault for not maintaining them properly (oil level, filter cleaning, etc.). To determine what appliances you can use, or use at the same time, use this calculation "amps x volts = watts". Like all products, "you get what you pay for". I've tried cheaper generators with similar features only to waste my money . . . a word to the wise. Both run on gasoline but can be modified to run on Propane with kits from US Carburetion. It's best to call these folks to ask your questions or discuss your needs. Their web site is a bit confusing but they make up for it in customer service. I have no preference between these 2 generator models and got the Yamaha because I didn't have to install a wheel kit. I've been told it seems quieter than the Honda.

Honda Generator Link
Yamaha Generator Link

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If you are adventurous and mechanically inclined, do some research on HHO generators for home and automobile use. Supposedly, hydrogen gas can be made from water to produce heat for many uses including combustion engines, home heat and tourches.

Goal Zero Extreme (Solar Generator) Base Camp Kit

I have owned the kit (no longer available from Goal Zero) for about a year now and use it when camping and for emergency backup at home. So far it has done everything I've wanted it to do.

The kit comes with four 30 watt solar panels, two 33 Amp hr batteries, one 400 watt inverter (which has a 6.0mm female 12V plug and another female 12V cigarette lighter plug, a USB port, and a standard AC outlet). There are also four 3 watt LED Lite-a-Life lights.

The entire system is plug-N-play. The inverter attaches to one of the batteries. You then connect the two batteries together with the supplied cord. The lights are really good quality. You connect the first one to the 6.0mm plug on the inverter. The rest you can daisy chain to the first and spread throughout the camp site and each light has its own hook. The four solar panels connect together and then are connected to the inverter. I have, in the past, used sticks to prop the panels towards the sun and this has seemed to work well. I did just buy a tripod but have not had a chance to use it yet.

While camping I have run between one and four of the 3 watt lights, a CPAP (without the heating unit), a 50 qt ARB frig/freezer (described on another posting - draws less than an amp per hr), a two speed fan that Riverrider told us all about, and recharged my phone all with no problem. Even when it was cloudy the two 350 Power Packs recharged completely. The bad news. I am not an electrician but I don't believe the 400 watt inverter would be large enough to run a full size refrigerator/freezer which would be the primary reason for emergency backup power.

The system is too heavy and bulky to haul on foot. When one of the batteries fail (and eventually they will) you cannot open it and replace the battery inside. You must purchase an entirely new unit. Goal Zero customer service is difficult to deal with. They are not forthcoming with information. Such techniques as "water boarding" and the old plastic bag around the head routine came to mind during my first conversation. I was first told I could replace the battery in the 350 Power Pack only to learn later this wasn't true. Their products are also priced too high.

Now the good news. After I purchased the this Base Camp (of course), Goal Zero came out with the Yeti 1250 (below). Still too heavy. Still overpriced but the inverter is rated at 1200 watts continuous which should be enough to handle emergency situations. More good news, if you shop you can easily find lower prices on their products and usually free shipping. Now that I already have the four solar panels from the Extreme Base Camp Kit I am looking for a deal on just the Yeti. After about thirty minutes on the telephone with their Customer Service people I was told you could open the Yeti (1250) and replace the battery inside with another AGM battery.

New Models of Goal Zero Solar (Yeti) Generators:
Goal Zero Yeti 1250 Goal Zero Yeti 450Goal Zero Yeti 450 Goal Zero Yeti 150

Goal Zero

(August 2, 2015)
This is my first time reviewing a manufacturer. I do it because of the multitude of Goal Zero (GZ) products I own. They have developed a wide variety of solar products that can be applied to nearly any situation from camping to a full-home solar power solution. The products I own are targeted for camping and brief power outages. Overall, GZ products are innovative and very well made. My disappointments are that most of their cable connections are proprietary (so you have to buy their cables for their products) and, with one exception (the Yeti 1250) the rechargeable batteries, built into their products, cannot be replaced so, once those batteries die, you have a throw-away item. The good news is that the batteries will last for years (generally and based on many factors). If you are looking for solar solutions, include GZ in your search.

Portable Solar Panels

I have owned all of these Solar Panel models for several months. For me, they are high quality, durable and easily transportable.

The Goal Zero 12201 Nomad 27M Solar Panel (Top Photo/Video) is the most transportable, folding up to about 11” x 15” and about 2“ thick. Open, it’s about 22” x 30” with and extending pouch to hold stuff and interconnecting poles to make it more rigid when fully open. It is a canvas/nylon material with 8 mini solar panels that are interconnected to produce 27 watts of DC power. Its very design makes it perfect for backpacking. I would, probably, not leave it out in the rain, though GZ claims it is weather proof, but, after all, solar panels are made to gather power from the “sun”. This model has the capability of daisy-chaining together (plug in to one another) to increase solar wattage output and each has a USB port to charge a cell phone, laptop, and small USB devices. The GZ Nomad 27 has been discontinued and replaced by the Nomad 20.

The Goal Zero 22003 Escape 30 Solar Panel (Center Photo/Video) is rigid and folds nicely into a briefcase-sized package that is also easily transportable and packable in a vehicle. Up to 4 panels can be connected using a Goal Zero "combiner cable" (sold separately). You can connect more panels together by using more combiner cables. Each panel includes built-in stands (on the outer shell) that fold out and steady the panel to point in the direction of the sun. I have kept this model exposed to the outside elements since I’ve had them with some rust developing on the screws that hold it together. The use of a rust conversion product and then exterior latex caulk, to cover the screws, has fixed this condition and they seem to function well.

I have 5 of the 22003 in actual use outside and 3 of the 12201 in actual use on the inside of my residence. All feed a bank of deep cycle batteries in my storage shed. One day, I will make a video blog entry on my solar setup. I chose portable panels over permanent for several reasons but, mostly, on account of the type of my residence; I live in an apartment. If I would have to evacuate my premises, both of these models could be easily removed from their current positions, folded and placed in my vehicle for transport to another residence or emergency site.

The Goal Zero Nomad 7M Solar Panel with Guide 10 Battery Pack (Bottom Photo/Video) was my first solar panel, given to me by a friend to pique my Solar interest. You can buy just the Nomad 7 panel without the Guide 10 Battery Pack but you are limiting your possibilities to basic cell phone charging using only the sun. With the Battery Pack you can charge an iPad. This includes the AAA batteries and a 12v adapter if you only have a car charger for your cell phone. There are multiple USB port-types and an LED "flashlight" which is useful in no-light situatiions. The YouTube video is helpful for more details. With only 7 watts of output, for charging small USB devices, this is a good recharging solution especially during camping away from other power sources. A 13.5 watts version is also available.

If you are not familiar with the use of solar panels, understand that the wattage output, claimed by manufacturers, is under optimal sun conditions (clear skies, no clouds, direct sunlight). My personal setup is far from optimal, nevertheless, both of these models are working well for me to keep my battery bank charged.

Portable Refrigerator/Freezer

I have owned the 50 quart ARB refrigerator/freezer for over a year now and use primarily for camping. Don't confuse this with one of those boxes that cools stuff thirty degrees cooler than the ambient temperature. This is a real refrigerator/freezer. No more hauling ice. You can make ice if you want. You won't worry if you will have enough ice. No more soggy food because it fell down into the bottom of the chest were the ice melted. The ARB refrigerator/freezer 50 quart model weighs only 53 pounds and can operate on 12/24 VDC or 120 VAC. It comes with two power cords, one for AC and one for DC. It has a built in battery protection circuit so you won't run your vehicle battery too low.

Some of the other features I like:
All of the features make it great for camping and during power outages. No, you won't be able to put the entire contents of your home refrigerator in the 50 quart size (ARB does have a 82 qt size) but you will be able to put some food items inside and any medications that require refrigeration.

At approximately $800.00 (depending on capacity) they are not cheap but when compared to other brands, such as Engel and National Luna which offer some of the same features and operate in a similar fashion, they are a reasonable alternative.

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Water Bricks & Spigot

Click Here for another informative YouTube video about Water Bricks

I have owned ten of the tan-colored water bricks for over a year. Each brick comes with its own carrying handle and holds 3.5 gallons. This allows me to store 35 gallons of water in case of emergency. They are designed to be stackable (similar to Legos) so they don't take up a lot of floor space. I also purchased one spigot which screws on the container in place of the lid. The openings are wide so you can store dry foodstuffs as well. When camping I take four of the bricks and strap them down in the back of my jeep. They seem to be very durable and so far no complaints.

Mini Milk Crate

I've found this product to be a good Ammo organizer. Internal dimensions are about the same as a stack of 11 DVD cases in the spine-up position. the internal width is the same as the DVD stack, about 1/4" longer, and about 3/8" deeper. External dimensions are about 1/2" larger than the internal dimensions. They are like mini milk crates so they stack well on top of one another with a lip at the bottom edges that secure well inside the top of another. While you would not want to use them to store ammo in the open, your larger enclosed "vault" will benefit from being able to view the contents of each crate through the many openings which also provide a good way to lift and carry them with just the right amount of ammo weight. I'm sure there are other practical uses for them :-) - Well constructed. Check other Customer Reviews on