Cooking up a little extra power
Name: PowerPot V
What it is: A thermoelectric cooking pot that produces as much as 5 watts of power to charge smartphones, iPods, GPS devices, etc., when heating water. The kit comes with the power-producing pot and a smaller pan, plus an electrical cord that plugs into the unit. There also is an adapter with three sizes of plugs, and the main cord has a standard USB size plug. Kit's total weight: 18.2 ounces.
The good: This is a camping geek's dream. As a backpacker who appreciates the assistance of GPS, I would use this as a reliable power backup that can take the place of solar power when the weather won't cooperate. In a couple of trial runs on a kitchen stove (my Coleman gas stove would have been hotter), I charged an iPod by 10 to 15 percent while the pot simmered for 90 minutes, and I charged a BlackBerry by 50 percent while simmering for 70 minutes. In normal use, I would use this to charge backup batteries to use with whichever device needed more juice. In testing, I let the pot simmer rather than boil, because I didn't want to stand and watch it. While camping, I'd let it boil, because extreme temperatures mean a faster charge. The pot and pan are attractive anodized aluminum that seem to resist marking.
The bad: You need to heat water, not food, to produce power. That isn't a problem for me, because I use dehydrated foods and would mix the water and food in a separate container. Also, some critics say the pot is too large for backpacking. That might be true for someone carrying a single backpack, but I'm usually canoeing, which means portaging, so I carry a kitchen pack too. This would be no encumbrance at this size, which is 4.5 inches by 5.5 inches.
Available from: the powerpot.com, rei.com, and amazon.com, among others.