three unexpectedly positive reviews

I’m a bit of a cynic about marketing so it’s a welcome surprise when products live up to their billing.

grape solar 100w poly panels

Ever wonder if cheap panels work? This is the output of a Grape Solar 100w panel at around solar noon on MPPT:

Ordinarily I’d expect something like 83w out of a 100w under actual use conditions. Of course, “results will vary” but it’s a fun datapoint. Public service reminder that these are presently <$75 at home depot.

USB hand warmer

I’d read a few reviews but was skeptical that a battery-powered handwarmer would be able to compete, performance- or cost-wise with the liquid fuel ones.

This particular one was marketed as a 5200mAh model having up to 8 hours of heating on the lowest setting (LO/MED/HI). I literally laughed out loud when I read that. I figured maybe 2.5hrs on LO and much shorter times on MED and HI. But since it has a USB outlet for charging devices I figured it would at least be usable as a 5.2Ah bank even if heating was a bust.

Actual observations:

  • it gets so hot on on LO that it is uncomfortable against my skin when I wear it inside a jacket. The included cloth bag is there for a reason.
  • it blasts on LO for at least 8 hours. I let it run for 10.5 hours and by the end it was starting to lose a bit of oomph, and was down to a level where I probably would have programmed LO in the first place. i.e. comfortable to hold without the bag.

I’ve seen teardowns of these and the batteries do not seem to be meaningfully protected from the heating pads. Since heat degrades lithium (and most other battery chemistries) I think this will drastically shorten the life of the internal batteries. But the performance is good enough I’m ok even if it requires an annual replacement (currently $23).

{Updated to add: charging is limited to 1.0A, so charging from empty-to-full could take a solid 5 hours. I am ok with this; faster charging would further degrade the batts.}


I used 7-gallon aquatainers for emergency water storage when I lived in “sticks & bricks”. When I moved into the van I took one for undersink graywater catchment.

When I decided to a bit more freshwater capacity I picked up another one at Wally World. It’s worked great and will be my default recommendation for people who have enough room to store one.

I decided to write about it here because I finally peeled off the SPOUT INSIDE sticker from the main lid to see how it worked. The spout usually lives threaded into the inside of the cap but it can be unscrewed and screwed into the outside of the cap. I was skeptical once more, expecting crappy fitment and leaks that made use of the spigot impractical for normal spigotty duties.

I was wrong. I spun it in and the spigot didn’t leak a drop with 7gal pushing down on it. The ON/OFF valve was easy to use and allowed a hefty torrent of water through. I wouldn’t trust it to sit on its side unattended (stand it up when it won’t be used for a while) but I’m impressed on the functionality of that feature.

{edited to add pic}

Note: the containers are made to stack, but the one on top should be empty-ish to avoid injuring the lower one. They aren’t built to sustain the weight of a full container on top.

Further note: some Amazon commenters who don’t use the spigot have capped off the lid’s hole with 3/4” PVC threaded plugs.