digital nomad

Digital Nomad Surfer Solar Powered Kit

Digital Nomad Surfer Solar Powered Kit

As a digital nomad surfer who travels the world in search of remote uncrowded waves, this solar-powered kit allows me to operate a successful online startup (co-founder SaSS web app) on or off the grid. I set out to keep the kit simple, light, and with minimal cognitive overhead - ditching my laptop and using a mobile device were key.

After many years of refining this kit, I've arrived at what I feel is a nice balance between functionality and efficiency. I need to access our business systems, write code*, sync/push/pull git repos, query remote databases, collaborate with our distributed team (yay Slack), and do it from some of the most remote places on the planet. These days empty waves are synonymous with "hard as heck to get to".

Thanks to cloud synchronization, I can pick up work right where I left off using just about any platform I stumble upon - when I'm around homebase, that's a 2011 13" Macbook Air (come on Apple, give me a reason to upgrade).

* I schedule major coding tasks, such as new features, for times when I have access to a more substantial piece of computing hardware.

A nice compact, yet efficient 5W solar panel recharges the various batteries and battery packs, which in turn recharge the bluetooth keyboard, headlamp, and mobile device. A short flexi (7in) and a long (60in) micro USB cable serve to interconnect any of the adapters, chargers, and devices as needed. I use two small battery packs, rather than one large for redundancy, and convenience - it's nice to take one out into the field, while the other charges.

An unlocked mobile device coupled with pre-paid cellular minutes + data keep me connected when away from wifi, and even through power outages, which are common. Something in the $20 for 100 minutes + 2GB data range works well when purchased in the exit area upon arrival at the destination airport.

The majority of this spry kit fits in a 6x9" zippered pouch, which all goes in a 18L daypack, with plenty of room to spare for other gear. Once settled at a remote destination, items such as the keyboard are separated out and kept in quarters.

Along with this technology stack, I always travel with a few other essential items close at hand.

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  • 18L Daypack - REI Flash 18. I like this size because it's easy to carry around, and I can stuff it into my carry on duffel when boarding the plane or not in use.

  • Stuffable Shopping Bag - Flip & Tumble 24-7 Bag. I use this for food resupply trips to town. The front-to-back orientation of the shoulder strap allows for easy shoulder carry, compared to side-to-side style construction. When not in use, it lines the backpanel sleeve in the daypack, so it's always with me. I cut off a bunch of stuff including the stuff sack, and it now weighs almost nothing, but works just as well.

  • Water Resistant Zippered Pouch - Eagle Creek Travel Gear Pack-It Sac Small. I store the technology stack (except solar panel and mobile device) in this and clip it to the hang loop in the daypack, this keeps it higher up and balances nicely. Poly inner with mesh outer is a great combination.

  • Various Ziploc Type Bags - Aloksak 5x4in Small. I use these to store some of the items that don't like water.

Technology Stack

  • Mobile Device - Motorola X Pure Edition 2014. Serviceable 5.2" screen, unlocked and rooted for full Android potential. I worked hard to source all the right apps so that I could maximize functionality, even when offline.

  • Wired In-Ear Headphones - SOL Republic Relays 3-Button In-Ear Headphones. The best fitting low-profile ear buds eva! Great for workouts too, due to their water-resistant design. I can comfortably sleep with these on in loud environments (coupled with my favorite brown noise track in White Noise App). Only bummer: the buttons aren't fully compatible with Android.

  • Bluetooth Keyboard - EC Technology Portable Foldable Bluetooth Keyboard. Close to a full standard keyboard layout, in a sleek package. Generous key spacing and sizing make for a pleasant typing experience.

  • Device Stand - Joby GripTight Micro Stand. A sturdy stand is important when using a mobile device like a smartphone for serious work. This tripod style stays put when tapping in portrait orientation (work mode, like when I'm coding or using the terminal) and keeps the device high enough off the surface so that the charging cable can remain attached. When not in use, it folds up flat and out of the way.

  • 5W Solar Panel - Suntactics sCharger-5. Hard panel (more efficient), highest power to weight ratio, with auto-retry. 1000mA (5V) is powerful enough for all my equipment.

  • 3200mAh Battery Pack - Anker 2nd Gen Astro Portable Charger. I carry two of these, so that one is always fully charged and for backup in case one fails. The capacity of one is about 15% more than a full charge an my mobile device.

  • Dual Port USB Wall Charger - Motorola Stock. Any one will do, just as long as it's got dual ports so you can charge two items at once, i.e., keyboard and a battery pack at the same time.

  • 4.8A/24W Dual Port Car Charger - Aukey Dual USB Car Charger Adapter. Vehicle version of the wall charger. Key feature is over 2A per port when both ports are in use so that there's enough power to each port for high speed charging.

  • Short Flexi Micro USB Cable - dCables Bendy Micro USB Charging/Data Cable 7". In some cases this short flexi cable is the perfect solution, such a when charging my mobile device via battery pack and talking on it at the same time. Bonus: cool looking and fun.

  • Long Micro USB Cable - Samsung Micro USB Charging/Data Cable 60". The longer length of this cable is great when charging while standing at a bus terminal, or on the plane, where I slide a battery pack in the seat pocket and lean back with my device. Four feet didn't cut it, five feet has proven to be the sweet spot for my uses.

  • USB C/3.0 Flash Drive - Kingston Digital Data Traveler Micro Duo USB 3C Flash Drive. In the picture, I've got a 16GB drive, but these change so fast, so I've linked the current C-style I'm considering. I use this drive to swap larger files - think Zip archive of stills and video from a surf session. When off the grid, and wifi is not available for cloud sharing, this has come in very handy.

  • SIM Card Tool and Prepaid SIM - As soon as I land in a new country, I purchase a prepaid SIM card - preferably in the arrivals terminal of the airport upon exit. Usually, these need to be cut and trimmed to size. I've had to use sandpaper, razor blades, and good ole' elbow grease to get some cards to fit - don't fret though, the chip part is nicely centered in the middle, so it's pretty hard to damage. Be sure to safely store your home-country SIM for later use. I have a tiny 2x2" 4mm ziploc baggy where I store my SIMs and tool.


  • Travel Wallet - Zpacks Wallet Zip Pouch. Made from bombproof cuben fiber fabric (racing sails use it), with a waterproof zipper. Cool camouflage fabric seals the deal. Fits my license, credit card, and some local currency. The zipper keeps shrapnel contained.

  • AA Headlamp Light - Zebralight H52w AA Headlamp Neutral White. Crazy bright, you would be amazed, and great stamina on low setting. The neutral white (4400K) bulb seems less bright compared to a cool white (6300K), but provides better contrast, so you see more details. I chose an AA battery model because that cell size is pretty universal and can be used in other devices.

  • Watch-Cell Micro-Light - LRI Photon Freedom LED Micro-Light. I clip this little guy inside my backpack in the storage pocket. Great for those times when the headlamp would be overkill. Provides a fallback light source if the headlamp fails.

  • Solar Capable AA Battery Charger - XTAR XP1 Hummingbird AA/AAA USB Charger. To operate completely off-grid, I also need to use the solar panel to recharge the AA batteries from the headlamp. This clever charger works via USB connection to the solar panel. Its ultralight weight and form factor trumps larger chargers for my needs.

  • Utility Knife - Opinel No 9 Carbon Steel Knife. The next size up from the most popular No 8, this classic knife is perfect for kitchen and survival duties (hope not!). Just remember to pack it in a check-in bag before entering airport security - we surfers always have a gargantuan check-in bag.

  • Hostel Combination Lock - Sesamee 16540 4 Dial Brass Combination Lock. Nice form factor, and largest shackle diameter possible while still fitting common hostel/hotel lockbox latches. Great quality with 4 dials (more secure). Travel with your own lock.

  • Mini Bailwire Carabiner - Naturehike Type D Flat Wire Hook Carabiner 4cm. I travel with three of these and use them to hang things when you want a strong and secure attachment, such as hanging things off a daypack. Strong enough for most tasks, durable, and time-tested design (the ultralight backpacking community has been using this design for years).

  • Pen - uni-ball Deluxe Fin Point Roller Ball Pen. Looks classy, works great. In addition, as a travel pen it has a nice clip, and is low-profile.

  • Spoon - Titanium Short Handle Spoon. Random, I know. However, you'd be amazed how many throw away plastic utensils one can go through when traveling. The thin-wall metal is durable, and extremely lightweight. Fresh coconuts are a favorite in tropical countries; after drinking the healthy water, instead of using the spoon your vendor pulls out of his pocket, spit-shines clean and hands to you, pull out this baby and be grateful.

  • Sunglasses - Ray-Ban RB2132 New Wayfarer Sunglasses Polarized 55mm. Polarized for squint-free surf checks. Good crossover capabilities for fancier gigs.

  • Travel Towel - YogaRat SportLite Towel 28x50" "Gym" Size. The official towel of the Los Angeles County Lifeguard Association, in the perfect travel size, and right price. I purchased six other travel towel brands and compared them before choosing this product. Many cost twice as much, were too narrow, or felt un-towel-like. The extra 4" in width of this towel make it more crossover worthy for surfers.