Electronic devices have become almost essential in our daily lives, especially when we are traveling or practicing certain sports. Today, portable solar chargers are very popular among travelers, hikers, campers and all kinds of adventurers. It’s great to know that you can recharge your devices so you won’t run out of batteries. These portable devices give you the ability to get electricity anywhere. You just need sunlight: clean and cheap energy!
In this article, I will explain how solar panels work, the different types of chargers and their main features. In addition, I have reviewed the 10 best models of the year so you can choose the one that best meets your needs.
While many options are available, two are most common: 1- Large panels which don’t include integrated batteries. They quickly charge your device straight from the sunlight. 2- Ultracompact chargers with an integrated power bank. These include an internal battery and small panels, but they take much longer to charge from the sunlight.
The 10 Best Solar Chargers for Backpacking:
ANKER 24 W
Power: 24 watts
Weight: 39 oz
Dimensions: 12 x 9.6 in
Integrated battery: No
Use: Travel, trekking, camping
Features: Fast charging speed and great efficiency thanks to its multilayer panel. It’s not small, but it’s easily foldable, making it easy to transport. You can charge three devices at the same time.
It can be attached to a backpack, a tent, a tree or wherever you like. It is water resistant and durable. Very light. Compatible with rechargeable devices featuring USB ports. It has a protective pocket where you can store your phone or other devices to protect them from the sun while they are being charged.
GOAL ZERO NOMAD 20
Power: 20 watts
Weight: 2.25 lbs
Dimensions: 7.4 x 11.5 x 1.2 in
Integrated battery: No
Use: Hiking, camping, backpacking
Features: Folding design with excellent performance, quick charging speed and good resistance. It features a smart chip for an intelligent and efficient charge. It includes a USB port to charge your favorite device in record time. Easy to attach to a backpack.
Built with monocrystalline panels, this model can be combined with a rechargeable Goal Zero power bank (sold separately) to store energy for a longer time. If you want to use it with the external power bank, I recommend that you connect your devices to the battery while the battery is charging.
Power: 3.5 watts / 24000 mAh
Weight: 1 lb
Dimensions: 6.1 x 3.3 x 1.8 in
Built-in battery: Yes
Use: As an external battery for camping, trekking and backpacking
Features: Built with three monocrystalline panels of ultra-reduced size and one integrated battery. The panels are foldable. You can charge two electronic devices at the same time. In addition to the solar charging option, it can be charged using a wall outlet. The device includes an LED flashlight that can be helpful when camping or hiking.
Keep in mind that it takes a long time to be charged only from the sunlight. This model is practical for short trips. You can charge it at home; then you’ll have a portable battery for a few phone recharges. If your only option is to charge by sunlight alone, this is not your model.
NECTECK 28 W
Power: 28 watts
Weight: 23 oz
Dimensions: 6.3 x 11.1 in
Integrated battery: No
Use: Trekking, camping, beach, outdoor, backpacking
Features: A charger with a large surface to capture maximum sunlight. When folded, it is the size of a magazine, and it’s relatively lightweight. It has a pocket, so your phone, camera or iPad will remain protected while charging. The protective fabric is durable and water resistant (but the connections are not).
It has two USB ports, allowing you to charge up to two devices at the same time. It’s equipped with two metal hooks that you can use to hang the device from your backpack or tent. It uses an intelligent charging system that detects the type of device and applies the appropriate charging power.
BIGBLUE 24 W
Power: 24 watts
Weight: 26.6 oz
Dimensions: 5.9 x 11.2 in
Integrated battery: No
Use: Lightweight travel, camping, hiking, fishing
Features: Very good design, perfect for attaching to a backpack. It has three USB outputs. Fast charging speed thanks to an intelligent system that detects the device and applies the fastest charge possible.
Made with high-quality panels and protected by a waterproof canvas. Keep it in a dry place when devices are being charged. It includes a zippered pocket in which to store your electronic devices. Also comes with a 24-month warranty and good customer service.
One of the best models on the list. It’s powerful and lightweight, and it’s cheaper than other models with similar features.
Power: 5 watts
Weight: 10.2 oz without power bank
Dimensions: 8 x 0.6 x 0.3 in
Built-in battery: It comes with power bank
Use: Backpacking, climbing, hiking
Features: Two panels and one external power bank of 12000 mAh. In good light conditions, the battery can be charged in 12 hours. Very compact and lightweight. The panels come with a protective case which can be attached to a backpack.
A good choice among solar chargers with an external battery. You can leave it in the sun during the day and charge your devices (a couple of charges maximum) during the night. It also charges on cloudy days (less effective, but it works). Unlike other compact models, it really charges with sunlight, not only by a wall socket.
Power: 5 watts, 25000 mAh
Weight: 1.18 lb
Dimensions: 6.1 x 3.3 x 1.37 in
Built-in battery: Yes
Use: Camping, fishing, travel, trekking
Characteristics: Built with four folding panels of reduced size (slightly bigger than a smartphone). Depending on the phone, it provides about 8 or 10 charges. It comes with a practical LED flashlight and is completely water resistant.
It’s a powerful power bank once charged. However, keep in mind that it can take up to 30 hours to get fully charged by sunlight. It’s designed mainly to be charged using a wall socket.
ECEEN 10 W
Power: 10 watts
Weight: 0.8 lb
Dimensions: 11.5 x 6 in
Integrated battery: No
Use: Outdoors, camping, hiking
Features: Lightweight model, perfect for short trips and outdoor adventures. It has an output of 10 watts, which is enough to charge your smartphone quickly, even on cloudy days. It includes four carabiners with which to hang it from a tree or your backpack.
It has one of the best prices on this list. If you are looking for a lightweight model for charging your phone from time to time without breaking your bank, this might be your best option.
POWERADD APOLLO 2
Power: 12000 mAh
Weight: 10.9 oz
Dimensions: 0.86 x 3.14 x 6.31 in
Built-in battery: Yes
Use: As a power bank for backpacking and trekking
Features: It is the size of a smartphone. It allows you to charge your smartphone from three to six times, depending on the model. It is compact, water resistant and durable. It includes two flashlights with three light modes.
It has a built-in cigarette lighter and comes with a carabiner so that you can attach it to your backpack. The price is affordable. It works well as a power bank, but it takes a long time to charge using only sunlight. You’ll need to plug it into a wall socket to get a good charge.
Power: 24000 mAh
Weight: 12.34 oz
Dimensions: 6.5 x 3.34 x 0.78 in
Built-in battery: Yes
Use: Camping, trekking, backpacking
Features: You can quickly charge up to three devices simultaneously thanks to the 2.4 A outputs. You can also charge a smartphone five to eight times, depending on the model. This is an affordable energy bank that works well for short hiking trips, backpacking and camping.
The weight and size are pretty good. Keep in mind that the solar charge is only for emergencies. You should charge it at home before you head to the outdoors.
How does a backpacking solar charger work?
These devices use sunlight to produce electric power. Most chargers are composed of one or several solar panels, which are formed by small silicon photovoltaic cells. When the protons in the sunlight hit the silicon layer, a reaction occurs, causing the loss of electrons. These protons become a power source for electronic devices. The energy that the charger produces is transmitted directly to the device that we want to charge through a USB port or another type of output.
Some models include a power bank, which allows you to keep power for a longer time, even if there is no direct action from the sun. It’s like a battery that stays charged. In addition, some models include a traditional outlet that can be plugged into the wall. This comes in handy when you have access to a plug because it results in a faster charge.
Before you can make a purchase that meets your needs, you’ll want to know what types of solar panels are available. Most types of panels include models with great efficiency. However, there are differences in terms of construction, size, thickness, weight, strength and durability.
Monocrystalline panels have been on the market for many years. This is one of the most traditional models, but that doesn’t mean monocrystalline panels are obsolete or don’t work well. Quite the opposite. This type of panel is probably the most efficient one. They also tend to be sturdy, rigid and heavy.
In general, they are durable. However, their rigidity makes them fragile in the event of a fall. Monocrystalline is undoubtedly one of the most popular options on the market thanks to its combination of efficiency, quality and durability. In addition, these panels have the best performance in cloudy weather.
Polycrystalline panels are more modern. The manufacturing process makes them cheaper. Generally, they are not as efficient as monocrystalline panels, but thanks to advances in technology, new models are being produced with greater quality. They are a bit heavy, but they offer great durability. Polycrystalline is a good option for those who want something a bit cheaper.
CIGS panels are among the most modern options on the market. The goal here is to create a thin, lightweight panel that offers great performance. This is the most flexible and lightweight type of the three, making it a great option for hikers and backpackers. On the other hand, CIGS panels aren’t as durable as monocrystalline panels. It is likely that the panel will detach or deteriorate faster than the other types. These panels can be a good option for those looking for something ultralight.
Advantages of solar panels
– Autonomy: The biggest advantage is that you can charge your mobile, camera or any other device anywhere in the world, without needing an outlet. All you need is sunlight.
– Clean energy: The panels use the sun’s energy to create power, making them one of the cleanest and most ecological forms of energy on the market. No fuel is needed, and they don’t require electricity either (at least those without a built-in battery). Therefore, solar panels don’t have any environmental impact.
– Free energy: Besides being ecologically friendly, solar panels also take care of your pocket. Once you have paid for the device, you won’t spend any more money producing your own energy.
– Climate: Solar chargers are completely dependent on solar energy. While they can work on cloudy days, their efficiency is considerably reduced. You might have problems if the weather is very cloudy where you are living or traveling. If you run out of power during the night, you will face the same problem.
– They are slow: Despite technological advances, charging a device using a solar charger is typically a slower process than charging it using a wall outlet. For example, a standard solar charger takes about two or three hours to charge a smartphone (and that’s when it has been left at maximum solar exposure).
– Size: Small chargers don’t produce much power. For a fast and efficient charge, you will need a large panel. Most models are foldable, but even so, they will take up some space in your backpack.
– Fragility: The silicon layer used in the panels is usually thin and breakable. In addition, many devices overheat if they are placed over a hot floor, thus reducing their lifespan.
Who should buy a portable charger?
This type of charger can be helpful for many people, especially those who travel a lot and need to charge their electronic devices. The most popular devices are smartphones, cameras and GPS devices. That’s why a portable solar charger is a perfect solution for travelers, backpackers and hikers.
Also, they are very useful for nature lovers who plan to spend a few days wild camping and who need their smartphones to take pictures. Also, some people use them when they go to the beach.
Most hikers love this type of charger because they can take multi-day routes without worrying about recharges. The batteries of most GPS devices don’t last longer than 15 or 20 hours, which may be insufficient if you’re planning a long trek. If you bring along a solar charger, you’ll be able to charge your GPS without problems. In addition, many chargers include several USB outlets, so you can charge two or three devices at the same time.
How to choose the right solar charger:
What devices do you need to charge?
The most popular devices are smartphones (pretty obvious, right?), GPS devices, outdoor watches, tablets, Kindles and portable speakers. Most chargers on the list are designed to charge these devices efficiently. In many cases, two or three devices can be charged at the same time. If you need to charge other types of devices, such as laptops, car batteries, etc., I recommend that you look for a high-performance charger.
Where will you charge it?
Many models can be attached to your backpack or bike, so you can charge them while you are on the move. It’s important that their size, shape and weight do not hinder your activity. If you will be using your charger while camping, you can opt for a large model. On the other hand, if you are an adventure lover, you will need a compact model that will withstand extreme conditions.
Do you need an external power bank?
Many models don’t include a power bank. This means the electronic devices are charged directly using the power that the solar panel produces. However, you can buy an external power bank, which can be very helpful when no sunlight is available. The bank stores the power, so you can charge your smartphone at night or on a cloudy day. The fastest way to charge your power bank is through a wall outlet.
What you need to know before buying a portable solar charger:
Easy to use
This is the key to choosing a good model. Because they are designed for travelers and adventurers, portable solar chargers are usually equipped with handles, carabiners, grabs, etc. The idea is that you can unfold your charger and hang it from your backpack in a matter of seconds. Some large models include a system that allows them to be placed on trees, tents or anywhere else you can improvise.
Sometimes, portable solar chargers include a case so that, once folded, they are easy to store and transport. They must be easy to clean. Storing them in good condition will extend their useful life.
It’s important to look for models that include an intelligent charging system. This system automatically adjusts the charge to the device’s power, safely and efficiently. In addition, it will automatically restart in the event of an interruption. Interruptions occur when you pass through a forest or when the sky is cloudy. Devices without this type of technology can freeze, requiring a manual reset for the charge to continue.
Think about how many connectors you need. If you plan to charge several devices at the same time, you’ll need a device with two or three USB outputs.
Size and weight
With so many models on the market, you will encounter all kind of sizes. You should buy a device that fits the sport you are going to practice. Large panels offer better performance, but they will take up a lot of space in your backpack. In addition, the device should be lightweight. The last thing we want is to add more weight to our backpacks.
So-called pocket chargers are very popular because they are easy to transport, they work relatively well and they are lightweight. However, keep in mind that these models take a long time to charge only by sunlight. You’d better charge them using a wall socket.
Most chargers include one or more USB ports, which are perfect for charging small devices. Keep in mind that you may need another type of input (or an adapter) to charge laptops and other large devices.
Besides adding an external power bank to your solar charger, you can choose a model with an integrated battery. This makes your charger more versatile; it stores power that you can use when no sunlight is available.
Electrical power is measured in watts. Each model offers a different output: 5 watts, 21 watts, 24 watts, 100 watts, whatever. As you can imagine, the more power the device offers, the more expensive it tends to be.
To give you an idea of what will work for you, a charger with an output of 5 watts will charge one smartphone (maybe an iPhone 6 or similar) or another basic device. Completely charging a device with a panel of 5 watts may take about six hours. If you want to charge two devices at the same time, the panel’s output should be at least 10 watts.
Unless you are looking for something ultracompact, I recommend that you choose a charger with an output of at least 20 watts. That way, you’ll be able to charge several devices at once in a shorter time.
If you need to charge your devices often, I recommend that you choose a fast-charging model. This is important when you are hiking, as you’ll want your GPS to charge quickly.
What is the best solar charger?
If you want a solar charger (without an integrated battery) that works well and charges your devices while you are in the outdoors, I recommend the BigBlue 28. If you are looking for an efficient power bank, I recommend either the Addtop or the Powertraveller Monkey. Keep in mind that these two power banks take a long time to be charged using the built-in solar panel.
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Hi, I’m Miguel; Adventure traveler, scuba diver and hiking lover. I have been traveling the world for the last 10 years and I hope my experiences, photos and hiking routes inspire you to travel the world too.