How To Work Off-Grid Anywhere from Outside wsiler

It used to be that working while traveling tethered you to internet cafes, coffee shops, or hotel rooms. No longer. Thanks to the latest advances in satellite internet and portable power systems, you can now take seamless connectivity anywhere you can bring along a truck, boat, or other vehicle. Here’s how you can work from a stunning campsite more productively than you can in a soul-sucking corporate office. (Take it from the guy writing this on a beach in Baja.)

It Starts With Starlink…

We don’t like Musk any more than you do, but man, Starlink is a total game changer for remote internet access, pretty much anywhere in the world.

We’ve previously reported that Starlink works seamlessly while traveling (provided you can find an unobstructed view of the sky), and dove into the ethics of establishing a near-universal connection to the outside world.

What’s new now is that this third-generation hardware is now available to ship immediately to any address in the United States, and is even available in physical Best Buy and Home Depot locations. Older setups shipped only to geographic areas with lower demands, on uncertain lead times. This latest generation also packs into a much more portable format, but more on that soon.

As I write this, just south of the 28th parallel, under overcast skies, I’m seeing about 56 megabytes per-second download speed, and 11 MBPS upload, with single digit seconds of latency. That’s about half the speed I’m used to seeing at my family’s cabin in northern Montana, where I permanently installed my old second generation dish, but still enough for buffer-free video calls, and high-resolution image uploads.

The Starlink hardware costs $600, and the “Roam” plan I’m on (which covers all of North America) is $145 per month. Global plans start at $200 per month. You can turn either plan on and off on demand, if you don’t need to use it regularly.

…Which You Have To Store In Something

I upgraded to Starlink’s new generation for a single reason—packed size. Where the previous setup fit conveniently into a 17-gallon snap-lid plastic tote (and took up as much space in my truck as a medium-size cooler), this third generation ditches the pole stand and movement servo for a flat dish that’s only 1.5-inches thick. You simply deploy the little kick stand, lay it on the ground, then manually move it around to orient it towards visible satellites, using live instructions in the Starlink app as your guide.

Noting that thickness and the 23.4-inch height and 15-inch width are similar to those of the portable monitors sound technicians use on the road, I thought that a travel bag designed for one of those might work for this new Starlink. And I was pleasantly surprised when this $50 bag showed up in an Amazon box with both ample padding, and just the right amount of room for the dish in the main pocket, and the power supply and WiFi router, along with all the necessary cables (there are three) in the little zip pouch on the front. The end result is something I can easily store in or out of the truck, carry conveniently, and which provides all the protection from abrasion or impacts you could ever want.

But Know This: Powering Starlink Can Be A Challenge

Plug an AC inverter into any vehicle’s cigarette lighter, and you’ll get enough power to run Starlink. But you can’t just idle a vehicle for days or weeks at a time while camping. So the off-grid power solution you’ll need for those engine-off scenarios is a solar generator.

Composed of solar panels, relevant cables and connections, and a battery-in-a-box, solar generators are revolutionizing vehicle-based camping with all sorts of uses including heated mattress pads and blankets, induction stovetops, 12-volt fridge-freezers, LED lighting, gadget charging, and of course, powering Starlink.

The batteries-in-boxes are really convenient not only because they store power generated by the sun or your vehicle’s alternator, for use when neither is available, but also because they include all the necessary equipment to process and transmit that power without the need for other accessories. Even budget units typically include solar controllers, battery management, inverters, thermal controls, and an abundance of different types of outlets. The variables are then quality, capacity, and size/weight.

Seeking to maximize the capacity I could bring along in the smallest possible package, while minimizing risks for both failure and fire, I turned to Yoshino, a new Japanese brand which is bringing solid-state technology to the battery-in-a-box space for the first time. Instead of the liquid electrolyte solutions in existing products, solid-state battery technology provides higher energy density which decreases both external size and total weight while reducing the risk of an explosion or fire. It also adds heaps of longevity. Where most lithium ion battery packs promise 500 or so complete charge-discharge cycles before capacity falls to 80 percent, Yoshino claims its solid-state technology can delivery 2,500. At 21.4 inches long, 9.4 inches wide, 10.4 inches deep, and 55 pounds in weight, the $3,200 B4000 I’m using is also around half the size and weight of lithium ion batteries with a similar 2,611 Watt-hour capacity.

The reason I needed such a capacious battery is simple: Starlink is thirsty, especially this new third generation setup. Where the previous model drew about 75 watts during most usage, this third generation draws 100 watts.

Calculating power draw is simple math. 2,611 divided by 100 equals a little more than 26 hours of power. Figure that into the two week camping trip I’m currently on, and that giant capacity doesn’t sound like so much. Especially not when I add in my other power needs, including the 10 to 75 watts drawn by the massive 95-liter freezer I haul to bring along dog chicken, the five watts the lights in my camper need, and the 30 watts the 50 watt-hour battery in my MacBook Air takes to charge.

Solar Panels, The Sun, And You

I need the ability to replace the power Starlink and all my other gizmos suck up in a given day. 100 plus 75, plus 5, plus 30 equals 210 watts of power usage every hour. That doesn’t include charging my phone, Garmin dog tracking collars, Bluetooth speaker, wireless headphones, or other needs, but it also doesn’t factor in that I’m usually not doing all the above at once.

The rule of thumb for solar panels is to assume 75 percent efficiency, and five hours a day of direct sunlight, if you’re using them in sunny climates. Starting with that 210 watts of total power usage, I figured I wouldn’t keep Starlink powered on for more than a few hours a day, so I could probably get away with two 100 watt solar panels. Using that rule of thumb, those panels should be good for 750 Watt-hours of power a day.

Of course, that’s when the sun is shining. And the sun did not shine for the first few days of this trip, as we battled our way through not one, but two atmospheric river storms that caused flash flooding, hurricane-force winds (that was a fun night, but my GoFastCamper held up without damage), and days upon days of dreary rain.

Solar input, as reported by the battery’s control screen, was registering as low as six to eight watts at midday, even while peak output totaled 150 or more. I thought I’d gotten ahead of that by installing a 12-volt outlet connected to my truck’s alternator into the bed, but that was only producing 40 watts of power. I started falling behind, and fast. With nowhere to charge the battery back to full on an AC outlet, I ended up draining the battery completely a few days into the trip, then struggled to build back a useful level of charge. When I get home, I’m going to explore ways to take my solar capacity to 300 or 400 watts (still not enough to power Starlink continuously), rewire Starlink’s power supply to 12 volts so I don’t need to power the battery’s inverter, and also figure what the bottle neck is between my truck’s alternator and this bed outlet.

Can You Really Work In Camp?

Provided you size the components in your solar generator correctly, powering Starlink shouldn’t be a problem. And the company’s coverage is almost entirely global now, with more areas available, higher speeds, and smaller hardware on the way. So the question isn’t can you. It’s will you?

Between trails to explore, dogs who need attention, a beautiful wife, meals to prepare, and fires to start, I still find a few hours a day to sit and stare at my laptop. Down here on warm beaches, that’s usually in the middle of the day, while it’s too hot to do much else. I try and communicate available hours and schedules with my colleagues (who have been especially patient on this trip), and set reasonable expectations, both for myself, and with deadlines. Honestly, away from the distractions of package deliveries, grocery runs, in-person meetings, drinks and dinners with friends, and just general life at home, I think working from camp actually involves fewer distractions.

Speaking of camp, if you’re the type of person who camps in campgrounds, around other people, please try and remember that not everyone else traveled all the way there to be a part of your Zoom meeting. Or, just copy my adventure vehicle build, and free yourself from the shackles of smelly toilets and noisy human children forever.

But one last piece of advice: be prepared to trouble shoot, and come armed with the tools necessary to work on your stuff. On this trip alone, I’ve repaired a power cable frayed in wind, dismantled a cable connector to remove a single grain of sand, and used my compressed air tank to blow dust out of an iPhone’s USB-C port. And I’m ordering some new cables and connectors to have them shipped to friends, who are about to fly down and visit. There’s really no reason you couldn’t be working from the beach right next to me, except that you’ll also have to put in the same years of work it took me to find such a great spot.

The post How To Work Off-Grid Anywhere appeared first on Outside Online.

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