There are a lot of solar and crank radios out there now, which is a beautiful thing, but this little Activetrax cube from L.L. Bean goes beyond the rest in several ways. It's a speaker for any MP3 player, iPod, or phone. It's an AM/FM radio and a NOAA weather band radio with an extending antenna. It's about 2/3 the size of a Rubik's cube (3"L x 3½"H x 2¼"D), easily fitting into the palm of my hand or the corner of my backpack.
All well and good, but this is an off-the-grid electronic item that I've used for 12 hours without it coming near an electrical outlet. (There is an included A/C adapter for lazy people who want to charge it up before leaving home.) There's a small crank on the side that provides an hour of play time with only three minutes of cranking. Then there's a solar panel on the top that does even better. In my tests, an afternoon in the sun provided the full seven hours of play time.
The Activetrax comes with a carrying case that essentially doubles the size in order to accommodate the adapter, so if packing space is tight it's better to leave it at home. Otherwise, it's heavy-duty and comes with a carbiner to attach it to your bag or tent.
Alas, there's always a trade-off, and in this case it's the sound quality. It's okay, especially for the radio, but nothing like the sound you'll get from most powered MP3 speakers, like the Altec Lansing Orbit speaker I use a lot when I travel. Plus you need the included mono adapter to hear both channels from an MP3 player and the tiny and sensitive radio dial is hard to tune. For me though, it's worth it to have something I can use anywhere, without electrical adapters or batteries. It also gives me a lot of pleasure to use something so practical pulling nothing but green energy.
Most people know L.L. Bean for its quality outdoor clothing at a good price. They do carry some unique gear items too though. The new catalog has a cap with built-in tiny LED lights in the brim and several crank flashlights. Got to llbean.com/gear to see the line-up.
Subscribe to this travel gear blog!