Times sure have changed. Merely a generation ago, people only made phone calls from a landline, and there was no email — just the good old postman.

When outdoor enthusiasts headed into the bush, they carried a map and compass. In case of emergency, they had matches and maybe a flare.

Nowadays, many sportsmen won’t leave the truck without a GPS, iPhone and video camera. These technological tools have their benefits, but only so long as they have power.

Relying solely on a GPS with limited battery life is a dangerous proposition. And losing power during a great game of Angry Birds is just annoying. Enter the ever-increasing popularity of portable solar panels.

As solar technologies continue to improve, both products and prices are shrinking. Manufacturers today are producing affordable, portable solar power units so small and lightweight you’ll forget you’re carrying one with you. That is, until your iPod dies and you have to harvest some of the sun’s rays to power the next round of Mumford and Sons.

Portable solar panels are a relatively new technology to outdoorsmen. It’s not like you can ask your old man which model he used to carry back in the day. The problem with taking electronics in the field is they run out of electricity. Portable solar panels are the answer.

For back-country campers, hunters, hikers, fishermen and more, portable solar panels provide an opportunity to recharge electrical devices that would otherwise be dead weight.

Solar panels aren’t just for the back country. Having a way to charge simple necessities, like a cellphone, during an emergency situation without power is an intelligent precaution. Deciding which portable solar panel is right for you depends on your intended use.

If you intend to use your solar panel in back-country hiking situations, then size and weight are important factors. Don’t doubt for a second that ounces don’t matter. For emergency charging at home or in a situation like car camping, you might choose to reap the rewards of a larger unit.

Accidents happen. While you don’t intend to leave your solar panel out during a monsoon or drop it on some rocks, you might. You need a tough unit to hold up over time. Solid construction is worth a few extra ounces of weight.

The reason you buy a solar panel charger is to juice up your devices when you need them, so you want a unit capable of charging fast. There are two types of chargers. Direct charge takes solar and pushes power into your device. A reserve battery unit stores power that is used to charge devices, giving you the option of charging in the dark. Some units have both capabilities.

There are many different models on the market today, and most of them, if you don’t beat them with a hammer, drop them off a cliff or send them to the bottom of a lake, will do what they are built to do rather well.

I struggle with the idea of technology becoming increasingly intertwined with time spent outdoors, but I’m afraid it is only going to get worse. So if you are going to carry devices, you might as well have a good solar charger.

One of these would make a good Christmas present for the outdoors enthusiast in your life.

See you down the trail.