A trio of reviews from the Battle Ground camping trip, Part 1: Eton Raptor radio

One of the reasons that I wanted to go camping last week is to test out new equipment and setups that I’d be using in camping and touring excursions this year. And I mentioned last time that I’d expound on it in detail soon, so over the course of the next week or so I’m going to review the three new “things” I tried out on the recent Battle Ground Lake camping trip. First up, my Eton Raptor radio.

I started carrying a radio on camping/touring trips about four years ago, when I purchased an Eton Scorpion radio from REI. I’ve been using a radio on tours ever since, and am a proponent of using one. The big problem was the Scorpion frequently broke, and I went through a lot of them over the years. While I had at least one that didn’t work out of the box, what usually happened would be the crank, clip, or antenna–the moving parts–would eventually fail. I made use of REI’s liberal return/exchange policy, but eventually REI stopped carrying them, and my last Scorpion broke in January.

One of the many Eton Scorpion radios I had been through. This was taken on my Portland-Olympia-Astoria tour of 2012.

REI now only carries lesser Eton radios that would have a crank and weather band, but no solar panel and/or digital tuning. Or they have better Eton radios that are twice as large as the Scorpion. And while I could use my Kaito AM/FM/SW radio instead, it lacks weather band. While it’s fun to listen to Radio Havana Cuba on shortwave at night, here in North America having a weather band radio is much more useful for touring and outdoor adventures.

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My Kaito AM/FM/SW radio with friend.

There was another Eton radio that looked like to be the successor to the Scorpion, the Raptor. It’s relatively compact, has digital tuning and scads more features. The one thing it lacks is a crank. It can be charged via solar or house current/laptop using a USB connection (the one that’s used by many a cellphone.) But I liked having a crank, especially if I were to use it in an emergency situation here in Portland, like the much-threatened mega earthquake. If that quake decided to happen in the middle of a rainy winter, I’d be at a loss if I only could charge via solar. Still, I managed to break the crank on many a Scorpion, so maybe it’s not such a big deal?

I bought a used model off the eBay a couple weeks ago and put it to work. Via USB charging it takes about 4 hours to fully charge, so I charged it fully when I got it. And two weeks later it’s still running off that initial charge, plus solar charging. This is a good thing. February in Portland isn’t exactly a sunny time, yet even with the limited sunlight, I haven’t had to plug it in yet. Granted I don’t use it for more than a couple hours a day at best, but it seems like the solar panel does a good job of charging vs the one on the Scorpion. It is a bigger solar panel,* but it could be also a more efficient panel at the same time. The “charging” light came on even when it wasn’t getting direct sun or it was cloudy. Supposedly 18 hours of solar would fully charge the battery, but that would be hard to do at once unless you’re in Alaska in the summer.

The other feature that looks to work well is the “charger” function. One of the selling points of the Eton Scorpion was that you’d be able to make an emergency charge to a cellphone, and theoretically get enough juice for maybe a two minute phone call. I tried that function a few times but nothing worked. Not so with the Raptor. I plugged in both my Android phone and my iPod Touch and instantly got the “charging” icons on both devices. I haven’t done a thorough test and see how long it would take to fully charge a device (and how much juice would it suck from the Raptor battery), but it’s good to know that I could use it in a pinch.

The big bonus features to the Raptor are a compass, altimeter, barometer, and thermometer. Of those, the thermometer appears to be the most accurate, and the compass never seems to work. The altimeter is a bit wonky, sometimes giving me an accurate elevation, sometimes not. I haven’t compared the barometer to what the NWS says, but I should.

This brings me to the radio itself. It works well, and I get the weather band that I desire. I wouldn’t call the sound quality great, as it’s a small mono speaker, but it gets the job done. I can plug in a phone or iPod and use the radio as a speaker, which is a nice bonus.

I’ve been digging this radio. Sure, there are some shortcomings, and the clip already broke. But besides being able to get the current weather and emergency info, it’s nice to have a radio to listen to in camp, especially if I’m camping alone. There are many fond memories from our big tour across the continent in 2011, making breakfast while listening to NPR or CBC.

*The one drawback to the bigger panel is it takes up the backside of the radio. So if I have it charging on the bike, it would be hard to listen to the radio at the same time.

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