Our favourite portable chargers and power banks rated and reviewed, plus an in-depth buyer’s guide
by Matt Jones
In recent years, the rise of portable battery chargers or power banks has meant that heading into the great outdoors no longer means going off-grid. And being able to keep your devices charged even when you’re miles from the mains has some undeniable benefits. After all, a functioning phone can be a lifesaver in an emergency. We’ve tested ten of the best portable power banks and solar chargers for backpacking in a range of sizes and capacities. So whether you’re after a small, lightweight pal or a rugged, heavy-duty Hero, there should be something for you. This group test also includes three solar-powered chargers. These offer an alternative solution to the perennial power problem for adventurers planning to spend multiple days in the wilderness.
What Makes The Best Portable Power Pack?
Firstly, think about how much power you’re likely to need and how long you might be away from a power source. This will dictate what size power bank you need in terms of battery capacity, which is usually measured in milliamp hours (mAh).
To help you out, note that it typically takes 2,500 to 3,500mAh to charge a modern smartphone (though many factors can affect power consumption). Charging a GPS unit or digital camera is likely to consume a similar amount of power, while charging a head torch, smartwatch or GoPro will consume much less. High-powered devices like tablets and laptops are the biggest drain on battery capacity.
Put simply, the larger the rated capacity (in mAh), the more juice the power bank can store – though the trade-off is increased size and weight. So if you’re only carrying a smartphone on a day walk and just want a back-up power source, look for a.sized battery charger. On the other hand, if you’re planning to spend multiple days in the wilderness carrying a number of different devices (like a GPS, phone, GoPro and digital camera), then you’re going to need one of the bigger power banks around (probably 20,000mAh).
To power multiple devices effectively you’ll also need a power bank that supports simultaneous charging, i.e. one that has at least two or more outlet ports. Many of the latest models also offer features such as quick charging through high-speed USB or USB-C connectivity, as well as in-built technologies to prevent over-charging and optimise charging efficiency.
Durable Power Banks
Also consider your environment. In damp, humid conditions or on expeditions you might need a waterproof and rugged power bank, which can cope with moisture or even complete immersion as well as bumps and knocks. If so, look for a product with a certified IP (International Protection) rating, which is usually expressed as two letters or numerals, e.g. IPX6 or IP67. This standard classifies the degree of protection provided against intrusion, dust, accidental contact and water.
“It typically takes 2,500 to 3,500mAh to charge a modern smartphone”
As well as being impact and water-resistant, power banks specifically designed for the great outdoors often have LED lights, so they can be used as torches. This can be a useful additional feature, as can power banks with integrated charging cables – so you don’t have to remember to bring separate cables with you.
Other devices have integrated or add-on solar panels, which offer the ability to top up the power using energy from the sun. Solar panels are becoming more efficient all the time, meaning that this is now a viable option for those planning to spend days or even weeks off-grid. Most solar panels trickle-charge a power bank over a period of several hours, but others can also be plugged directly into your device.
Guide To Power Banks
GP Batteries Charge AnyWay
Price: £29.99 Weight: 224g Capacity: 10,400mAh Dimensions (L x W x D): 81 x 64 x 25 mm
One of the most innovative bits of outdoor kit we’ve seen recently, The Charge AnyWay from GP Batteries is a 2-in-1 battery charger and power bank. It comes with 4 x nifty RecyKo rechargeable AA batteries. These batteries can all be used separately from the power bank. That means that with the power bank and these batteries, you’ve got the versatility to charge your smartphone or battery-powered devices like a headtorch. It’s easy to use too, thanks to a dual color LED indicator that displays charging status. In-built safety protection offers security against overheating, overloading or short circuits.
Pros: Lightweight, versatile, easy to use and eco-friendly, since it uses rechargeable batteries rather than a lithium ion cell, and reduces your reliance on single-use AA batteries. Cons: Not the speediest. It takes about 6 hours to fully charge the supplied 4 x AA RecyKo AA batteries. It’s also not as quick as other portable chargers when used as a power bank due to the 1A USB output.
Biolite Charge 20
Price: £40 Weight: 166g Capacity: 5,200mAh Dimensions (L x W x D): 108 x 44 x 20mm
The smallest power bank on test, the Biolite Charge 20 weighs under 200g and slides easily into a It has a 5,200mAh capacity – enough for about two smartphone charges. It is easy to operate. There’s just a single button that lights up a four-LED indicator telling you how much juice is left. There’s one micro-USB input and one 2.1A USB output, offering fairly swift charging. The stainless steel housing is sleek and durable, while a flip-top lid helps to protect the ports from dirt and moisture. The Charge 20 has an IPX6 rating, offering resistance to rain and spills. It is supplied with its own charging cable.
Pros: Lightweight, compact and durable. Just slip it into a and head out into the hills for peace of mind, knowing you can keep your phone alive throughout the day. Cons: Single outlet port and limited battery capacity means this little guy reaches his limits when it comes to charging bigger devices.
Goalzero Venture 70
Price: £136.95 Weight: 485g Capacity: 17,700mAh Dimensions (L x W x D): 170 x 103 x 29mm
The Goal Zero Venture 70 is a seriously rugged, waterproof power bank with an IP67 rating. It has a fairly generous 17,700mAh capacity – enough to charge a smartphone five times (though the manufacturer quotes up to six charges). The two high-speed 2.4A USB outputs can charge two devices simultaneously.
The Venture 70 also has a Smart charge feature that can identify different devices. It then applies the fastest charging profile possible, without risk of overheating or overcharging. It also allows pass-through charging. That means you can safely charge devices from the power bank even when it’s plugged into the mains. We also liked the built-in 65-lumen LED torch, which has two brightness settings and three strobe modes, including SOS.
Pros: Packed with useful features and some sophisticated internal tech. The extremely rugged, waterproof housing with integrated cables makes the Venture 70 a very practical option for the great outdoors. Cons: It’s the heaviest power bank in this round-up, and also the most expensive. If you really want to get the best out of the product you’ll need to read the instruction manual. That explains how to initiate the Smart charge sequence whenever you plug in a device for the first time.
Price: £80 Weight: 392g Capacity: 20,100mAh Dimensions (L x W x D): 168 x 85 x 28mm
Zendure’s A6PB cutting-edge power bank is equipped with USB-C and 3.0A USB outlet ports for Rapid charging of two devices simultaneously. It has a generous 20,100mAh capacity, enough to fully charge an iPhone X 5½ times. We found that real-world performance matched the manufacturer’s claims. It also offers pass-through charging. Auto-detection means that devices start to charge as soon as they are plugged in. Adaptive charging automatically adjusts the output to charge your device at optimum speed. The A6PD also has in-built protection against short circuits, power surges, overheating and overcharging. It comes with a protective cloth pouch and USB cable.
Pros: With the quickest charge times of any power bank in this round-up, the A6PD is ideal for those with the latest devices who need their juice fast. Cons: Although housed in an extremely rugged composite case, this power bank does not carry an IP rating and is not waterproof.
GP Batteries M-Series MP15MA
Price: £34.99 Weight: 347g Capacity: 15,000mAh Dimensions (L x W x D): 140 x 75 x 24mm
With USB-C and twin 2.4A USB outputs, the GP Batteries M-series power bank supports the latest devices and offers speedy charging. You can charge up to three devices simultaneously. The 15,000mAh capacity gives a real-world performance of about four to five smartphone charges (though the manufacturer quotes six). It’s very simple and easy to use – a single button with four LED indicator lights and device auto-detection means you can just plug in and go. It is supplied with a 2-in-1 micro-USB and USB-C cable.
Pros: Striking a good balance between capacity, weight and size, this is a versatile all-rounder at a competitive price. For us, it’s the best value option in this test. The triple outlet ports are very useful, while USB-C input/output supports the latest devices and permits Rapid mains charging. Cons: Though the case features anti-slip rubber coated edges that may help to absorb minor impacts, the power bank does not carry an IP rating. Nor is it supplied with a protective pouch.
Outdoor Tech Kodiak Plus 2.0
Price: £59.99 Weight: 290g Capacity: 10,000mAh Dimensions (L x W x D): 123 x 88 x 28mm
Thanks to its IPX7 rating, this power bank by Outdoor Tech can be submerged in 3ft of water for up to 30 minutes. That makes it well-suited to the most demanding conditions. It also has a built-in 100-lumen torch with three light settings – another useful feature for the great outdoors. The design is compact and relatively lightweight, while the 10,000mAh capacity gives you real-world performance of a little over three full smartphone charges. However, although there are two USB outlet ports, only one of these supports high-speed charging. The Kodiak Plus 2.0 does not have charge-through capability either.
Pros: Very rugged construction and simple operation. We also like the bright LED flashlight for use around camp. Cons: While the 2.4A USB output is speedy, the slower 1.0A port is sluggish compared to the multiple high-speed charging options of other power banks here.
Anker Powercore 20100
Price: £34.99 Weight: 353g Capacity: 20,100mAh Dimensions (L x W x D): 173 x 67 x 26mm
This slim-line power bank has two 2.4A USB outputs for high-speed charging, augmented by Anker’s PowerIQ Smart charge and voltage boost technology. This identifies your device and adjusts voltage output accordingly, while also compensating for cable resistance. It’s all intended to deliver the fastest possible charging speed, even when charging two devices simultaneously.
Real world performance was very good. The large 20,100mAh capacity gives five to seven smartphone charges, depending on the model. The Powercore 20100 also has built-in protection from power surges and short circuits. It comes with a micro USB cable and a travel pouch.
Pros: Slim design, simple to use and good performance. High battery capacity and competitively priced too. Cons: We wish it had a USB-C port. The only other real drawback is that the plastic case is not IP-rated against impact or moisture, meaning it’s not as tough as some other power banks we tested. Basically, don’t drop it or let it get wet!
Ravpower Xtreme RP-PB41
Price: £36.99 Weight: 459g Capacity: 26,800mAh Dimensions (L x W x D): 178 x 85 x 27mm
This Ravpower Xtreme power bank boasts triple 2.4A USB ports so you can charge three devices simultaneously at high speed. An impressive array of built-in technology protects against overheating, overcharging, short circuits and power surges. It also automatically adjusts charge output and voltage for optimum charging speeds. It’s incredibly simple to use, with a single button that displays a four-LED power indicator to let you know how much juice you have left. Not that you’re likely to run out, given the whopping 26,800mAh battery capacity. That gives you nine full charges for the iPhone X, which is impressive. It is supplied with a micro-USB cable and a travel pouch.
Pros: Huge battery capacity, multiple outlets, high-speed charging, easy to use and very well-priced. Cons: Inevitably, this power bank is fairly heavy. We also wish it had a USB-C port – though the latest 26800mAh Ravpower model (the PB058) has added this feature. Our only other negative is that this power bank isn’t IP-rated, so it isn’t as tough as some.
WakaWaka Power With Solar Panel And Link
Price: Power £49.99, Solar panel and link £79.99 Weight: Power 165g, Solar panel and link 751g Capacity: Power 3,000mAh, Solar panel and link max 10W output Dimensions (L x W x D): Power 125 x 83 x 21mm, Solar panel (folded) 170 x 170 x 28mm
A compact and lightweight power bank with an integrated solar panel that can fully recharge its 3,000mAh internal battery in 12-18 hours of sunlight. The WakaWaka Power has a single 2.1A USB output and a micro-USB input (so you can charge it from the mains too). In addition, the Power has a 70-lumen LED torch with four brightness settings and SOS mode. The 3,000mAh capacity gives you about 200 hours of light or one full smartphone charge, and charging speed is fairly swift. The power bank has a swivelling base that enables you to place it at almost any angle. This is ideal for positioning it as a camp lantern or adjusting the solar panel to ensure it is in direct sunlight.
To boost the capability, you can also add a separate folding solar panel with a max 10W output. It connects to the Power via a link box. This also has a second USB port so you can charge another device simultaneously. Setup is simpler than it sounds, and the Power’s LED indicators tell you how much juice it has left as well as how effectively it is charging from the sun.
Pros: It has a useful LED light and enough juice to give your smartphone a full charge. When coupled with the separate solar panel and link, its capabilities are drastically increased for off-grid trips. The 10W panel has a bigger output than any other solar charger we tested. Cons: The Power is obviously limited by its small 3,000mAh capacity, though WakaWaka also sell 5,000 and 10,000mAh power banks that are compatible with the solar panel and link. However, the key drawbacks of the system are cost and weight. Though it has a big 10W output, the solar panel is heavy, while the total cost of the Power, solar panel and link is nearly £130. And like all solar-powered systems, you’re obviously reliant on several hours of sunshine to get optimum results. The panel itself delivers solid performance though.
Freeloader Sixer Plus Supercharger Solar Panel
Price: Sixer £69.99, Supercharger £49.99 (or buy together as the Off Grid Adventurer bundle for £110) Weight: Sixer 250g, Supercharger 311g Capacity: Sixer 6,000mAh, Supercharger max 5W output Dimensions (L x W x D): Sixer 134 x 83 x 30mm, Supercharger 275 x 180 x 15mm
Another compact and relatively lightweight power bank with an integrated solar panel that can fully recharge its 6,000mAh internal battery in 28 hours of sunlight. However, with the Supercharger solar panel attached, charge time is reduced to around 8 hours, or 6 hours if all the solar panels are in direct sunlight. The Freeloader Sixer has a 2.1A USB output as well as integrated micro-USB and lightning cables, enabling up to three devices to be charged simultaneously.
Pros: Easy to use thanks to the LCD screen’s clear icons that indicate remaining battery life and charging source. We liked the integrated charging cables too. The 5W Supercharger solar panel is impressively thin and light. It also comes with Velcro straps to attach it to a rucksack. The solar cells are efficient enough to charge even in overcast conditions. That makes the system a good option for off-grid adventurers – provided you’ll see some sun. Cons: The integrated support stand used to position the Sixer is flimsy and snapped on test. Though marketed as impact- and water-resistant, it does not carry an IP-rating. It does have a rubberised cover to help protect against damage, but this needs to be removed to use the integrated charging cables.
Powertraveller Extreme Solar – Best In Test
Price: £115 Weight: Extreme 280g, Solar panel 284g Capacity: Extreme 12,000mAh, Solar panel max 5W output Dimensions (L x W x D): Extreme 140 x 78 x 28mm, Solar panel (folded) 275 x 180 x 15mm
This combination battery and solar charger kit consists of two components. There’s a 12,000mAh capacity power bank and a separate folding solar panel of clamshell design that delivers a max output of 5W. The power bank has a 2.0A USB output as well as a USB-C port and, uniquely among the power banks in this test, a 12V DC outlet. This makes the Powertraveller a versatile option for charging multiple devices quickly, from SLR cameras and GPS devices to the latest smartphones. It’s housed in a tough, rugged, waterproof case with an IP65 rating, meaning it is dust-proof and waterproof (though not immersible). The power bank also supports pass-through charging and is supplied with an array of cables to fit various devices.
The solar panel is compact and lightweight. It unfolds to 210 degrees and will charge in low light conditions. A flashing LED light shows green for optimum charging, red for lower-quality conditions. Handily it also comes with a Velcro strap that enables you to attach the panel to a rucksack.
Pros: Very versatile thanks to multiple outlets, including USB-C and a 12V DC output. Decent battery capacity gives up to five full smartphone charges. This is also the toughest solar charger on test, making it our preferred option for multi-day wilderness trips. Cons: Few drawbacks other than the standard proviso that applies to all solar-powered products – you’re obviously reliant on several hours of decent sunshine to get good performance. However, even when used as a standard power bank the Powertraveller performs extremely well.
Best Solar Camping Lanterns
The Luci was the original collapsible solar lantern, and in our opinion, it’s still the best. The MPOWERD Luci Pro Outdoor 2.0 was our top all-around pick. This light has it all: great features, excellent ambiance and light quality, a quick-charging and efficient solar panel, and surprisingly decent mobile charging capabilities. At 150 lumens, the Luci Pro was the brightest lantern that we tested. However, we found ourselves using its lower settings more often, especially in the tent. Its warm white LEDs put out a comfortable, diffused light with great ambiance. We were also impressed with how quickly its solar panel charged. It would charge itself up enough to run for a few minutes just from ambient light and indirect sunlight indoors. We also loved that its handle can unsnap, allowing for easier hanging. While the mobile charging capabilities can’t really compare to a dedicated solar charger or portable battery pack, it still impressed us. When fully charged, the Luci Pro gave a 34% boost to a phone in 1 hour and 32 min before being completely drained. That may not sound super impressive, but it’s twice what the other mobile charging lantern (the Suaoki) could handle. Even when completely drained, the Luci Pro could charge a phone from sunlight alone. Its mobile charging could be a little finicky, and there were a couple of times, charging under the sun, where we couldn’t get it to register on our phone. We suspect that it was because it wasn’t drawing enough power from the weak early-winter sun at the time. If you want to have the capability to occasionally top up your electronics throughout a trip, the Luci Pro’s charger does the trick. The cons? It’s heaviest lantern we tested. It’s also the priciest as of this writing. But considering that you get a solar lantern and a solar charger in one, it’s not a bad deal. Overall, we were impressed with this light, stoked on its mobile charging, and would recommend it to anyone looking for an awesome, durable, high-quality solar lantern.
Runner-up: MPOWERD Luci Outdoor 2.0
What the MPOWERD Luci Outdoor 2.0 lacked in features, it more than made up for in quality, performance, and simplicity. Some might see the lack of any USB port as a negative, but we actually liked the simplicity of this light. A true solar lantern, it runs 100% off of the sun, and it does it well. Its 75 lumens were more than bright enough for cooking or setting up camp, while its low setting was perfect for reading or hanging out in the tent. Fully charged, the Luci Outdoor 2.0 lasted just over 6 hours on high in our tests, and has a claimed runtime of up to 24 hours on low. Its three-light battery indicator tells you roughly how much charge it has. Plus its solar panel charged extremely efficiently. In our testing, we placed each light under sunlight and artificial lights for the same amount of time, then measured how long they stayed on in high power. In both tests, the Luci Outdoor 2.0 lasted the longest out of all the solar camping lanterns while still putting out usable, bright light. Like the Luci Pro Outdoor, our top pick, it has an adjustable strap to make it easier to hang up without a hook or carabiner, a feature which we loved. The only cons we can come up with are that it’s a little on the heavy side, at 4.4 oz. And the snaps on its adjustable strap can be difficult to open and close. Its light was also a slightly harsher, cooler white color than the Luci Pro. We didn’t mind the cool white LED light, but preferred the warmer tones of the Luci Pro and the Goal Zero Crush Light (reviewed below). Those complaints are minor, though. For the price, the MPOWERD Luci Outdoor 2.0 is a bargain. No frills — just a durable, high-quality, solar-powered camp lantern. We can definitely get behind that.
Best Lightweight Solar Lantern: Goal Zero Crush Light
Weighing only 3.2 oz, the Goal Zero Crush Light was not only the lightest solar lantern that we tested, but also one of our overall favorites. This lantern had a lot of positives. For us, the biggest selling point, other than its light weight and compactness, was the light quality. Its warm, yellow-orange color blended right in with the campfire and never felt jarring or out of place around the campsite like the bright white LED lights often did. This was the light we most often found ourselves reaching for to cook dinner or hang out in the tent, purely because of the warm, cozy light. The candle-light mode, which flickers and dims the light randomly to mimic a candle, was a nifty idea. It’s pretty unconvincing, though. After playing around with the setting for a couple of minutes, we found that we had zero reason to actually use it. Still, it does nothing to diminish the rest of the light’s awesome properties, so we’re indifferent to it. Although the Goal Zero Crush Light had overall shorter runtimes than most of the other lights in our tests, it actually kept a good bit of power in reserve after it shut off. Once the other lights shut off, they were completely done, drained, and unable to turn back on until they were recharged. Once the Goal Zero shut off on high power, we could turn it back on and usually get another hour or more out of it on low power. Especially since the Crush Light doesn’t have a battery indicator to tell you when it’s getting low, it’s nice to know that it won’t just abruptly shut off and leave you completely in the dark. Its solar panel worked remarkably well, considering that it was the smallest panel of all the lanterns in our test. The Crush Light charged up fairly quickly in direct sunlight. There really were only a few negatives with this light. First, it could be difficult to actually crush, requiring some coaxing for all of the folds to snap into place. Second, it lacked any kind of battery indicator, leaving you guessing as to its state of charge. It does have a light next to the USB port that turns red when it is charging (either through USB or sunlight) and green when it is fully charged. Finally, it was the only lantern without some sort of bottom or cover. If you happened to have it hanging in your tent directly above you, the LEDs could be a little binding when you looked up. We’d recommend this light just for the ambiance alone, as it had such a cozy, natural quality to the light. Combined with the fact that it was the lightest and most compact light we tested, and that it performed very well in out tests, we think this is a top choice not only for backpackers, but for anyone looking for a simple solar lantern to bring a little light to your nights in the backcountry.
Reviews of the 3 Other Solar Camping Lanterns We Tested
LuminAID PackLite Nova USB
The LuminAID PackLite Nova USB had a lot of good qualities, but enough negative ones that it didn’t make it into our top picks. Like the two MPOWERD Luci lanterns, it has a battery charge indicator and an adjustable strap to make for easier hanging. It also lasted impressively long in our runtime test, getting beat out only by the BioLite SunLight (reviewed below). It feels well-built and durable, and the snaps on the adjustable strap were much easier to use than the Luci’s straps. Its solar panel didn’t impress us though. It regularly took over an hour in direct sunlight to get enough power to even turn on. To be fair, once it did build up enough power, it stayed on for a respectable amount of time. We could excuse its slow charge time, considering that it outlasted many of the other solar lanterns when it came to runtime. Unfortunately, this lantern puts out a harsh white fluorescent light reminiscent of the flickery office lights we prefer to escape when we go backpacking. It was by far the least pleasant illumination for our tent and campsites. If you don’t mind the harsh white of its LEDs, the LuminAID PackLite is a solid, well-constructed camping lantern. Our three award winners, though, give you a little more bang for your buck, and are overall much more enjoyable to light up your campsite with.
The BioLite SunLight was the only non-collapsible solar lantern that we tested, and it had some of our favorite features. The color and ambiance of the light was awesome. We loved the dimmable white light, and the ability to choose from a variety of different lights. Its “party mode”, where it slowly cycles through different colors of light, was a fun feature when we were hanging around camp after a good dinner. It’s extremely compact, lightweight, and lasted an incredible 13 hours and 10 minutes in our runtime test. As a rechargeable USB camping lantern, we absolutely loved it. Unfortunately, its solar panel was one of the weakest in our test, and since this is a review of solar camping lanterns, that weighs pretty heavily. It took three hours under full sunlight for the BioLite to even have enough power to turn on in reserve mode, a low-power mode that limits its functionality to just a dim white light. For reference, both Luci lights and the Goal Zero light turned on within a minute, and usually within seconds, of being in sunlight. Even after more than five hours in full sunlight, it did not have enough power to get out of reserve mode. However, when we plugged it into a USB charger for a couple of seconds and then disconnected it, it immediately turned on in full power mode and worked for over an hour. We find it hard to imagine that the solar panel, in five hours of full sun, couldn’t generate the amount of power produced by a couple of seconds on a wall charger. We’re not sure if we got a lemon with some weird glitch that requires a boost of USB power to get out of reserve mode, or if the solar panel is just extremely inefficient. Whatever the reason, we were disappointed. If you plan to primarily keep the light charged via USB and use the solar panel to give it a boost every now and then, this is still a good option, and an all-around fun light to have. We liked it, and would recommend it with the caveat that, based on our tests and experience, it is super inefficient at charging with sunlight alone.
Suaoki LED Camping Lantern
We wanted to add a budget pick into our test. The Suaoki LED Camping Lantern, with mostly good online reviews, seemed like a good bet. Unfortunately, this was by far the poorest quality and worst performing lantern that we tested. The cheap materials started to show wear almost immediately, with the plastic crinkling and starting to tear after the light was expanded just a few times. The solar panel seemed to work sporadically. During our test, it charged the lantern up enough for around half an hour of runtime in 90 minutes of sunlight. In another instance, though, the Suaoki sat in full sunlight for over three hours without building up enough power to turn on. Although its overall runtimes look pretty good based on the numbers alone, it lost brightness very quickly. Most of its runtime was light that would barely be usable for close-up tasks like reading, let alone cooking or setting up camp. This lantern features mobile charging capabilities, but it only gave our phone an 11% boost before it was completely drained. It also was unable to charge the phone from solar power alone. We did like that when it was collapsed, the light was channeled into a focused flashlight beam, which was a neat feature. This lantern — and countless duplicates — litter Amazon and are available for cheap. Even at the Suaoki’s low price, we think anyone interested in solar lanterns would be better off spending a few extra dollars for the Goal Zero Crush Light or the MPOWERD Luci Outdoor 2.0. With its flimsy build and poor performance, and with so many better options out there in the same price range, we just don’t see any reason to recommend this light to anyone.
How to Choose the Best Solar Camping Lantern for Your Needs
Types of Solar Lantern
Compressible: Some inflate like a balloon, some squish like an accordion, but compressible lanterns are the most common type. They can collapse down to less than half an inch thick.
Fixed: There are various types of “fixed,” i.e. non-compressible, lanterns. They range from traditional lanterns to small blocks like the BioLite SunLight.
String lights: Relatively new on the scene, solar-powered string lights are like a string of Christmas lights. They let you spread the illumination out around your campsite.
USB rechargeable: When they first came on the scene, solar lanterns were 100% solar-powered. The trend has moved toward lanterns that can be charged up either through solar panels or a USB port. Many solar lanterns that you will find are USB-rechargeable in addition to solar-powered. These lanterns can be compressible, fixed, or string lights.
Solar Charging Time
Most lights charge within a couple of hours on a wall charger. Under the sun, though, it’s a different story. If you plan on using your solar lantern primarily off the grid, then you need to know how long it will take to replenish those photons.
Most manufacturers will state how long the light takes to reach full charge in sunlight. However, that doesn’t tell the whole story.
We have found that some lights may take a long time to reach their full capacity, but within less than an hour can pick up enough charge to run on low through an evening. Other lights take hours to even charge up enough to turn on.
The lights we tested ranged from warm and soft to cold and harsh. All other characteristics aside, this was one of the biggest factors in how much we actually liked using these lights.
We recommend taking into consideration the quality of light that you prefer (warm or cold, diffused or sharp) and making sure the light you get suits your preferences.
Lumens are a measure of how much light a lantern produces at its light source. The lights we tested ranged from 60 to 150 lumens.
We found that 60 lumens was more than adequate for cooking, hanging out, and doing various tasks around camp. The extra brightness is nice to have, but certainly not necessary.
Mobile Charging Capabilities
Some solar lanterns also have the ability to function as a solar charger for your mobile devices. While this is a neat feature to have, it’s important to realize that their charging capacity is very limited.
They’re great for occasionally topping up your mobile devices, but not sufficient for regular heavy use.
Solar Camping Lantern Alternatives
Not interested in any of the above options? No problem — here are some alternatives:
How We Tested
We gave each light a full charge and then used a timelapse camera to measure how long they lasted on their highest setting.
Solar Panel Testing
We wanted to know how efficiently the solar panels charged the lanterns. We made sure that each light was fully drained, placed them under direct sunlight for 90 minutes, then measured how long they lasted on their highest setting.
We also performed the same test under the controlled environment of artificial light (full spectrum fluorescent plant lights).
- Of its 95-minute runtime after charging under sunlight, the Goal Zero Crush Light lasted 5 minutes on high and 90 minutes on reserve low lighting
- The Suaoki LED Camping Lantern emitted an extremely dim light when charged under sunlight and artificial light. Most of its runtime was light that would barely be usable for close-up tasks like reading, let alone cooking or setting up camp.
- We left the LuminAID PackLite Nova USB under artificial light for an additional 8 hrs. It lasted around 45 min.
- We also left the BioLite SunLight under artificial light for an additional 8 hrs. It still did not turn on.
- All of our testing was performed in late autumn and early winter. We suspect that under much stronger summer sunlight the lanterns would have longer runtimes relative to their time in sunlight.
Mobile Charging Test
Two of the lights had two-way USB ports, allowing for mobile charging capabilities. We wanted to know how well they could charge a phone from their internal reserves alone.
We made sure both lanterns were fully charged, and measured how much of a boost they gave a phone before the lantern was fully discharged.
Mobile charging results from full charge:
- MPOWERD Luci Pro Outdoor 2.0: 34% boost in 1 hour 32 min
- Suaoki LED Camping Lantern: 11% boost in 47 min
We also wanted to know how well these two lanterns could charge a device off of sunlight alone. After the lanterns were fully drained, we brought them out to a sunny spot.
Mobile charging results from sunlight:
- MPOWERD Luci Pro Outdoor 2.0: Almost immediately began charging our phone, although at a slower rate and occasionally losing charging capacity
- Suaoki LED Camping Lantern: Did not charge our phone at all
We used these solar lanterns to light up our nights for over 3 months on various camping and backpacking trips throughout the Southwest, and occasionally around home for some extra light.
We put each one through multiple charge and discharge cycles, on both USB and solar power, over the course of our testing.
Best Solar Power Banks of 2023 IN-DEPTH REVIEWS For Travelers
If you’ve been considering a solar power bank for quite a while, it’s definitely time to pull the trigger. Power banks are awesome. A huge advantage is that they’re environmentally-friendly and can maintain their charge without any electricity. Sunlight is all you need to charge your gear on the go.
Having a solar power bank means being able to charge all your electronics anywhere, any time. Say good-bye to dead mobile phones during travel or extended periods away from an outlet. No more dying tablets, phones, or other small devices. Talk about peace of mind!
So, let’s crack on with this worldy of a solar power bank review!
The convenience, portability, and efficiency can’t be beaten. But there are also a lot of choices out there and not all solar power banks are created equal, so I’ve made this handy guide to give you my top picks of the best solar power banks for different needs.
Following my top solar power bank recommendations is an informative breakdown of important considerations everyone should read before buying a solar bank of their own.
Well then, let’s talk solar power banks…
- Quick Answer: These are the Best Solar Power Banks of 2022
- #1 – Best Solar Power Bank Overall
- Solgaard Solarbank
- #2 – Highest Capacity Solar Power Bank
- GoerTek Solar Charger Solar Power Bank
- #3 – Most Durable Solar Power Bank
- Revel Gear Day Tripper Solar Pack
- #4 – Best Lightweight Solar Power Bank for Hiking
- Beswill Solar Charger
- #5 – Best Solar Bank Solar Panel Bundle
- Goal Zero Venture 30 Power Bank Nomad 7 Plus Solar Panel Kit
- #6 – Best All in One Solar Charger
- MPOWERD Luci Explore Solar Light Speaker
- How to Choose the Best Solar Power Bank
- How We Tested The Best Solar Power Banks
- FAQ about the Best Solar Power Banks
Quick Answer: These are the Best Solar Power Banks of 2022
#4 Beswill Solar Charger – Best Lightweight Solar Power Bank for Hiking
Revel Gear Day Tripper Solar Pack
Goal Zero Venture 30 Power Bank Nomad 7 Plus Solar Panel Kit
MPOWERD Luci Explore Solar Light Speaker
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Solgaard Solarbank is our top pick for the best solar power bank overall
- 10,000 mAh battery
- Battery stores up to 4-5 phone charges
- Charges in the sunlight automatically
- 4 hours of sunlight = 1 full phone charge
- Size: 6.2 x 3.5 x 0.75 inches
When it comes to a lightweight, Smart way to stay charged on-the-go, you can’t go wrong with the Solargaard power bank – making it my top pick for the best solar power bank overall.
It holds up to five charges, so you can be sure you won’t end up with any dead devices, no matter where you are. Its solar panels let you charge it up with some sunlight or with a USB-C chord – whichever option is most convenient. There’s a good reason it’s considered the top solar power bank on the market.
It’s even more convenient if you pair it with a Solgaard backpack:
This pack is perfect for everyday use, for travel or for on-the-move city life. Simply charge your electronics from the backpack and you’re good to go.
Our team rated this as their best solar power bank for backpacking for a number of reasons, they loved how easy to use it was alongside it’s small and lightweight profile. They felt it fit all the points needed for a powerbank that isn’t going to be going out in the wilds without adding any unnecessary heavy or expensive extras. Instead the manufacturers have concentrated on creating a product that works as it should, retains charge and offers a good amount of power.
GoerTek Solar Charger Solar Power Bank
Meet the highest capacity solar power bank: GoerTek Solar Charger Solar Power Bank
- 25,000mAh battery
- Battery capacity to charge a phone 5-7 phone times
- 36 built-in LED lights
- Two charging methods
- IPX6 water-resistant
- 3 USB outputs (1Amp for USB1 and 2 Amps for USB 2 and 3)
- Size: 7 x 3.8 x 1.1 inches
With a built-in 2500 mAh battery, this solar power bank is about as high capacity as they come. If you have an iPhone XS, you can power it up seven times with this thing – more than five times for a Galaxy S9 Plus.
It’s also perfect if you have multiple electronics you want to charge at the same time – or other people you’ll be sharing it with – because it has 3 USB output ports. The power bank charges up quickly via solar energy or with a 5V/2A adapter, which must be bought separately. But it’s nice to have options if you don’t have easy access to one or the other.
If you’re an avid camper or off-the-beaten-track travel enthusiast, you’ll love that it also serves as a large, super-bright LED flashlight. It’s durable and water-resistant too, which are nice features to have for frequent outdoor use.
Our team loved this Goertek solar charger, especially the massive capacity it holds. They felt it was a contender for the best survival solar power bank because of that, plus the additional features like weather resistance and the flashlight. They also felt the protection added around the sides worked perfectly without adding too much bulk.
- Great for long camping trips or other outdoor travel
- Can be charged at 2Amps for a faster charge
Revel Gear Day Tripper Solar Pack
Revel Gear Day Tripper Solar Pack is one of the most durable solar power bank
- 8,000mAh battery
- Battery capacity handles 2-3 smartphone charges
- 20 built-in LED lights
- Charge via micro USB (6 hrs) or the built-in solar panel (36 hrs)
- Size: 5.5 x 3 x 0.75 inches
If you tend to expose your gear through some pretty rough conditions – whether for travel, work, camping, or other outdoor ventures – you’ll appreciate that this solar power bank is designed to be waterproof, shock-proof, and dustproof, with safely sealed connection ports. The Revel Gear Day Tripper is the most durable you’ll find.
Other features that make this power bank super for travel are its dual charging capabilities via 2 USB output ports and its 20-LED grid that lights up a large area with 1,000 lumens. And if you find yourself in an emergency situation, it’s good to know you have a powerful strobe to signal for help.
You’ll get a quicker charge time of 6 hours by using the included micro USB, but you also have a built-in solar panel to help when needed.
Our team rated this as their best solar-powered power bank when it came to durability and felt the rubber material was awesome for keeping it safe without making it massive. In particular the way the rubber protects and weatherproofs the connecton ports is a real bonus.
- Superior for rough-terrain adventures
- Serves as a power bank and as a bright LED floodlight
Beswill Solar Charger
Beswill Solar Charger is the best lightweight solar power bank for hiking
- 8,000mAh battery
- Battery capacity can charge an iPhone 6s 5 to 8 times
- 21 built-in LED lights for illumination
- Charge via micro USB (10 hrs) or and top off with a built-in solar panel
- Size: 5.6 x 3 x 0.8 inches
There are two conditions that (mostly) all hiking spots have in common – daylight and lack of power outlets, which makes this inexpensive, lightweight, solar power bank an excellent choice for hiking – from one-day to multi-day trips.
If you have more than one electronic device you want to keep charged – like a smartphone and an e-reader – or you have friends who would like to share your power source, this little power bank has 3 USB ports to keep multiple devices alive and kicking. Its 21 super-bright LED lights will also come in handy when you need a strong light source out in the wilderness after the sun goes down.
While this little power bank will get you through several days because its charge can be topped off by solar energy, please take heed of their recommendation to fully charge the portable charger before you hit the great outdoors by plugging in the micro USB cable. The solar panel is large enough to keep you going, but still quite small and not meant to be the sole source of power.
For those wanting a lighterweight hiking powerbank our team felt this was a great option. They loved how portable it was and how little weight it added to an already heavy camping pack. They felt it offered some protection from drops but would have liked there to be some rubber around the edges. The light on this powerbank was also something they were super impressed with for the size.
- Lightweight and portable
- Includes hook hanger for easy portability on a backpack
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Goal Zero Venture 30 Power Bank Nomad 7 Plus Solar Panel Kit
Our top pick for the best solar bank solar panel bundle: Goal Zero Venture 30 Power Bank
- 7,800mAh battery
- Power output to charge: USB: 5V 2.4A (12W), solar USB: 5V 1.4A (7W)
- Output capacity: battery – 29 watt hrs, solar cell – 7 watts
- Size: 8.75 x 6.5 x 0.75 inches
- IP6 rating
To keep your devices charged with an awesome power bank and keep your power bank charged with an awesome solar panel – the Goal Zero bundle is your answer. The 7,800mAH battery is high-capacity enough to charge two devices and is designed to do so quickly.
If you need to charge larger devices like laptops, the power bank can handle it easily. When you’re out in the middle of nowhere, rest assured that the solar panel will keep smaller electronics running smoothly with no fear of seeing those battery icons hit the red.
For peace of mind on longer trips, the Goal Zero is the best power bank kit you can get. Just lightweight enough to make it easy to pack but powerful enough to work quickly and efficiently. It’s a winner!
Our team usually need high power for their gear having laptops and large cameras, so this was a great option for them. They loved how lightweight and portable the extendable solar panels where and how easily they packed away, often slotting in their laptop compartment. They were also super impressed by the power offered from this bad boy.
- Charges devices quickly
- Has a Solar Intensity Indicator that alerts you to solar conditions
MPOWERD Luci Explore Solar Light Speaker
For another best all in one solar charger, checkout the MPOWERD Luci Explore Solar Light
- 3,000mAh battery
- Bulbs: 12 white LEDs, 6 RGB LEDs
- Run time: 5 hrs (high 220 lumens), 24 hrs (low 20 lumens), 4.5 hrs (speaker)
- Size: 4.7 x 2.1 inches
- IPX4 rating
Okay, for us outdoorsy types, this thing is super cool! Just connect to your smartphone via Bluetooth, and you have yourself an outstanding speaker and portable area light that you can customize to any color/mood you want – plus a mobile charger. It’s perfect for camping and travel.
Speaking of travel, it’s lightweight and easy to carry with you anywhere you go. For a quick charge of about five hours, plug in the USB, and from there, keep it charged on the go via solar power. It travels super well but also makes a cool bedroom lamp when you’re stationed at home.
The Luci Explore app has so many excellent features – like a wake-up light that transitions from red to white and an alarm clock with a bunch of sounds to choose from. You can also play music over the Bluetooth connection with no need for Wi-Fi. It’s quite the nifty travel companion.
Our team love rocking out on the campsite, so this charger went down well with the gang. They loved the multi use design and loved that it could be used for more than just charging their gear. They felt it worked well at home and even in hotel rooms when on the move.
- Works with your smartphone via BlueTooth
- Fully customizable to your preferences
Goal Zero Boulder 50 Solar Panel
First off, please note that this is not a power bank, but an ideal camping solar charger/power source for group base camp or car camping.
When you’re off the grid, this durable Goal Zero solar panel will provide all the power you need for your group’s mobile phones, laptops, tablets, and any other electronically-powered camping devices. The integrated kickstand makes it easy to prop it up anywhere you are and angle it just right to capture maximum sun rays.
Are you camping in a vehicle? No problem. All you need to do is buy the mounting brackets and you’ve got yourself a super rooftop-mounted solar panel. It’s designed rigid enough to be used for permanent installation too, so you’ll be sure to get plenty of good use out of it. It’s a win-win.
The team just loved how much power they could get from this and how well it powered their vans and bigger electronic items. They felt it was the perfect way to head off into the sticks and still stay comfortable and connected. Ok, so it’s on the large side and it’s not something you’d be throwing in a backpack!
MPOWERD Luci Base Inflatable Solar Lantern Power Bank
The best part about MPOWERD products is that they’re so versatile and travel-friendly while being really cool and sleek. This trusty little lantern packs flat with a lightweight, collapsible design and beautifully lights up any space with 360 lumens.
You have four modes to choose from – low, medium, high, and flashing – to create any mood or signal for help if needed. Charge it up fully via USB and keep it powered up with solar energy. Get the most out of it by using its two-way charging USB port to charge your mobile devices too.
The Lucy lantern has a bottom strap and fixed top strap that makes hanging it up easy – from your backpack, from your tent, or a nearby branch. The convenient battery indicator helps keep you informed about any recharging needs.
It’s a fantastic solar product; you’ll love it.
Our team partiularly loved this power bank for camping trips, they loved the idea of putting it central in their tent so everyone had enough light to chat and play cards whilst charging their gear. It was a real hit!
MPOWERD Luci Solar String Lights Charger
Who doesn’t like the mood set by a string of hanging lights? Now you can create the mood anywhere you go – from your backyard to the campground. Easily hang 20 bright LEDs with specially designed clips that make them super simple to attach anywhere.
These are the best solar lights for group camping because, aside from being a cool lighting setup, it includes USB ports to charge mobile devices. The unit can last a whole 20 hours on one charge and recharges with solar power or via USB for a quicker charge.
Oh, and no need to worry about messy, tangled chords. The Luci Solar String Lights can be neatly transported because the base also serves as a compartment to keep the string in place and tidy. Like all MPOWERD products, these Luci solar string lights will not disappoint.
Like it’s other product, our team really loved this for camping trips where they can bring along only one item rather than several. In particular, we had a couple of members of the group who did a bit of car camping through the Aussie outback and the string lights really made the car feel nicer for sleeping in.
Now, you could spend a fat chunk of on the WRONG present for someone. Wrong size hiking boots, wrong fit backpack, wrong shape sleeping bag… As any adventurer will tell you, gear is a personal choice.
So give the adventurer in your life the gift of convenience: buy them an REI Co-op gift card! REI is The Broke Backpacker’s retailer of choice for ALL things outdoors, and an REI gift card is the perfect present you can buy from them. And then you won’t have to keep the receipt.
How to Choose the Best Solar Power Bank
Shopping around for a solar power bank is a Smart move; they’re efficient, environmentally-friendly, and convenient for anyone with an on-the-move lifestyle. When it comes to solar products, there are a lot out there. So if you want to do your own research on finding the best solar power bank for you, there are some criteria you should keep in mind.
Solar Power Banks vs Solar Chargers
For starters, it’s important to know the difference between a solar power bank and a solar charger. To put it simply, a solar charger uses a solar panel to charge devices; there is no backup battery. This is perfect for extended camping or backpacking trips because they’re lighter, and larger panels keep your personal electronics charged up while the sun is out.
A solar power bank, however, is like a bank – it stores power away for use when you need it. It’s essentially a portable battery with a solar panel built-in. Because they have smaller solar panels, they’re meant to be fully charged via an electrical outlet, then kept alive via solar energy. Consider sunlight as your emergency backup source to top off the power that’s already there.
If you want to be completely sun-dependent, a solar charger will work faster and more efficiently. For a quick-charge with a plug-in option and the convenience of having the battery stay alive with solar power, a solar power bank will do the job.
You also want to pay attention to how much power the power bank can hold. Battery storage capacity is typically measured in mAH (milliamp-hours). The higher the battery capacity number, the more energy it can store in one go. Most power banks hold around 10,000 to 25,000mAh.
As for how many times that capacity can charge up your device depends on the battery size of your own device(s). For instance, a tablet’s battery is larger than a smartphone battery. So, your optimal battery capacity will depend on how many devices you want to keep powered up, how big the battery of each is, and how many times you want to recharge at one time.
Weight and Size
As a traveler and outdoor enthusiast, you know that every ounce you have to carry around with you matters. Every inch of your travel bag, backpack – or whichever your preferred travel carrier is – also matters. That’s why you need to pay attention to the weight and size of your solar power source.
In order for solar chargers to perform completely on solar power efficiently, the solar panels need to be quite large. This translates into more weight and bulk. So you must ask yourself how convenient it will be to hike and travel with a solar charger?
If you know you can rely on the sun just for topping-up purposes, then a solar power bank may be more suitable as a lightweight travel option.
Water-Resistant vs Waterproof
Spoiler alert: most solar power banks are not 100% waterproof. That said, they can handle spills and a bit of water abuse for short periods.
If you want actual verification for how water-resistant and dustproof a power bank is, you need to find its IP rating.
For an IP67 rating, the first number (6) refers to how dustproof it is and the second number (7) indicates its waterproofness. 6 is the highest the first number can go, and the 7 means that the solar power bank can be submerged in 3 feet (1 meter) of water for up to 30 minutes.
If there is an X and only one number – like an IPX4 rating – that means the product hasn’t been tested for dust-proofing and that it has a waterproof rating of 4. A 4 rating denotes that the power bank can withstand rain showers or splashing water.
I would not leave a solar bank out all night in a vicious rain storm, but for a few minutes of rain – it should be fine. I have spilled water on mine a few times and it has also gotten rained on – and the thing is still going strong. Point being: take the same precautions you would normally with any electronic and your solar bank will live a long and functional life.
Be sure to also check for its charging capabilities. How many USB ports does the power bank hold? If you have a mobile phone and a tablet you’d like to keep powered up, then 2 USB ports would be preferable. Or, if you have a group of people, having more is even better.
Most solar power banks have two power options – wall charging and solar charging. Because power banks have smaller solar panels, your best bet for a quick-charge is to plug it in and use the sun rays to keep things kicking.
How We Tested The Best Solar Power Banks
There is no perfect or exact science when it comes to testing out travel and outdoor gear. But when it comes to writing a solar power banks review, we think we’ve got the necessary experience to be able to give you all the deets and tell a bum product from a world-beater!
Whenever we test a piece of gear, one of our team takes it out for a spin and puts it through a series of tests. When it comes to the top solar power banks, our first port of call is how well they fulfil their primary purpose. We also then looked at build quality, durability, usability and weight.
Finally, we also take into account how much each item was – expensive gear that performed poorly were judged harshly, whereas cheaper alternatives were given a little more leeway.
FAQ about the Best Solar Power Banks
Still have some questions about the best solar charger for backpacking for 2021 and beyond? No problem! We’ve listed and answered the most commonly asked questions below. Here’s what people usually want to know:
Which solar power bank is best?
We love the Solgaard Solarbank, simply because it has the highest value. It’s light, durable, charges fast and stores up to 5 full phone charges.
What is the best solar power bank for real adventures?
Real adventures require durable material. That’s where the Revel Gear Day Tripper Solar Pack comes out to play. This solar bank is perfect for rough outdoor trips.
What solar power bank hold the biggest battery capacity?
The GoerTek Solar Charger Solar Power Bank has the highest capacity with its 25,000mAh battery. It can fully charge your phone up to 7 times (depending on the model).
What is the difference between a solar power bank and solar chargers?
To put it simply, a solar charger uses a solar panel to charge devices; there is no backup battery. A solar power bank, however, is like a bank – it stores power away for use when you need it. It’s essentially a portable battery with a solar panel built-in.
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Final Thoughts on our solar bank review
Harnessing the power of the sun to keep your vital personal devices charged up is not only practical but can be lifesaving! Even if you don’t camp out in the wilderness for days at a time, we can all think of times that we wish we had a power source at hand to save a dying smartphone battery.
The Solgaard Solarbank is our top overall pick because it covers all the essential on-the-go basics: it’s lightweight, sleek, and compact while still packing in plenty of battery power. It’s especially handy when seamlessly paired with the Solgaard backpack. For travel or just for everyday use, it’s simply the best.
Interested in something a bit more rugged that can handle multiple devices at once? The Beswill Solar Charger is a Smart choice. For camping and other outdoor adventures, you’ll appreciate bright LED flashlight capabilities and that it has three USB output ports. Plus, it’s inexpensive.
Well, I hope you found our best solar power bank reviews helpful. No matter which one you decide to go with, you’ll be happy that you’ve added this useful device to your nomadic lifestyle arsenal.
Also, let us know just how much better we did that those other solar bank reviews out there!
And for transparency’s sake, please know that some of the links in our content are affiliate links. That means that if you book your accommodation, buy your gear, or sort your insurance through our link, we earn a small commission (at no extra cost to you). That said, we only link to the gear we trust and never recommend services we don’t believe are up to scratch. Again, thank you!
Solar panel optimization- backpacking watts?
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Solar panel optimization- backpacking watts?
Solar panel optimization experiments using a solar focusing mast and lightweight reflectors with backpacking solar panels.
Whether skiing or walking, the full-on activities of the day will usually not leave much quality time of sunshine to charge a battery with a backpacking solar panel. This means that it will be advantageous to optimise and increase solar panel charging when the opportunity arises.
Better solar panel aiming
In a post on running a blower stove on a solar panel, I have already described a simple solar aiming device. It uses the absence of a shadow from a simple mast to set the panel surface square to the sunbeams.
“This ‘sundial’ showed me how bad my eyeball aiming was and also how quickly the shadow length can grow over a relatively short time. My tinkering with various sun reflectors also revealed that the shadow could be masked by the extra light falling from different directions, so there is another device on the drawing board that will be immune from this problem and it is there in plain sight in the photo below.”
Solar panel optimization using reflectors
Steve, the inveterate innovator behind the Ultralighthiker has made a Tyvek solar reflector trough that can enhance the charging performance. It was intended to be able to be used on a backpack while walking. I was less ambitious and thought that with the way I walk and ski that this arrangement would not be good for me. While putting my panel up on top of my pack would still be useful, I thought that a reflector that could be used in a static position during breaks in my activities would be a more practical option.
Diffuse reflection. I accept that Tyvek is highly reflective as Steve indicates, but, if I understand correctly the reflected sunlight from Tyvek is diffuse (going in all directions https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diffuse_reflection).
Consequently, I thought that more directional reflectors might be more effective if they could be made as light, simple components. They could possibly be backpacked safely as flat components that are hinged and laid flat against the stiff solar panel. Then they could be rapidly and accurately deployed for optimum solar collection when required without too much fiddling about. These important practicalities can wait, as I wished to first find how much a reflector could improve solar panel output and what type of reflector materials might get the most extra watts in a busy backpacking context?
My speculation about specular reflection. I thought that I might try a shiny metal reflector (not foldable like Tyvek) that has much less diffuse reflection in favour of specular reflection (single angle reflection). “The rule of thumb is; if you see it easily then it is diffuse reflection. Does it all come back from school days? The incoming incident light angle to the reflector is the same as the reflection angle from it.”
Testing specular sunlight reflection for solar panel optimization in a backpacking context
My winter sun, as for Steves, was low in the sky and the feeble rays are arriving at 30 degrees. So I set my panel at 60 degrees to afford the best direct light interception. This also meant that I could put a horizontal reflector along the bottom of the panel and it would have a 30-degree incident angle to the sunbeams and the same reflected angle up onto the panel.
A trivia note: “Just recently I found out that the photon of sunlight that just arrived on my panel today had its birth from hydrogen fusing to helium in the core of the sun about 1,000,000 years ago. It has taken that time bouncing around, inside the sun, slowly working its way outwards so that it can finish its ~8minute journey to my solar panel. To put that escape time in context, it is about half of the duration of human existence on earth. Probably not a good fit with intelligent designers!”
With the above arrangement of the solar panel and reflector, I estimated that a mirror that was as wide as the panel body would be the most efficient as most of the specularly reflected light would target the panel. Having a wider reflector would simply cause the extra reflection to overshoot the panel.
“I even calculated that ideally, one such reflector would theoretically increase the charging power by about 50%. This is because the geometry of the 30-degree set of the reflector means that the reflector intercepts an area of solar radiation that is half the area that the panel intercepts. Read on to see if my estimation was crazy!
A control test. I started with the panel set on a dirty pale plastic table and I immediately could see that the magic 50% gain was not going to materialise. I thought that perhaps the table surface was acting as a diffuse reflector.
Consequently, I put a rectangle of black silage plastic in front of the panel to reduce the diffuse reflection. However, the shiny nature of the black plastic may make it less than perfect for this purpose. Maybe matt-black paint would be better? Possibly it should be much bigger to more effectively reduce diffuse reflection?
With an inline power meter in the cable, I connected the output of the panel to a USB power bank. After pointing the panel at the sun (no shadow from the mast), I reset the timer and mAh meter to zero and let the power meter do its thing for 11 minutes. I recorded the average output voltage as 4.84V. As 12 minutes clicked over, I disconnected the power bank and recorded the accumulated 67 mAh of current passed through the meter.
The instantaneous amperage measured by the inline device was quite variable so I used a combination of the integrated mAh and run-time as a surrogate. The average current was calculated as 0.335A by dividing the mAh by the test duration in hours.
An aluminium foil reflector test. The next test was similar to the above one, but I substituted the black plastic with a reflector made from aluminium cooking foil (shiny side up for maximum specular reflection). I re-tuned the sun angle and ran the test for 8 minutes. The average potential was 4.85V and an accumulated 65mAh of current passed through the meter. The average current was calculated as 0.4875A by dividing the mAh by the test duration in hours.
A pointing mast for the solar panel is a great start for practical solar panel optimization especially when the sun is invisible behind clouds. It also helps with objective comparative testing of various reflectors. However, the use of powerful specular reflectors can ‘eat’ the shadow, so I have a tricky alternative on the way to turn this technique and the problem on its head.
Making reflector/s the same size as the panel would make them very practical and able to be carried safely and efficiently with the panel in or on a backpack.
The use of a single aluminium foil specular reflector apparently increased the power of the solar panel by ~46%. This increase approximates the 50% gain that I calculated if the reflector was 100% efficient. I did this in ignorance of the high proportion of diffuse reflection that comes from such foil. I based this estimation on the fact that the effective sunlight interception surface area of the reflector, measured perpendicular to the sun’s rays, was approximately half the area of the solar panel.
I am still somewhat sceptical about my result where I measured a 46% improvement. It seems that the reflector is just working too well. This gets worse if we consider the splits between specular and diffuse reflectivities described below. Possibly, the diffuse reflection from the aluminium foil is more effectively targeting the solar panel than I am imagining. However, it is hard to imagine how a large portion of spherically distributed radiation from the reflector could intercept the solar panel. Most of it will just be bouncing back out into the universe.
Reflectivity book values. Polished stainless steel as reflectors is reported as having about 60% reflectivity. Lucky for us, simple aluminium cooking foil is much better with 86% total reflectivity (spectral diffuse) on both the dull and the shiny sides. Another reference (as used in the calculation below) defines bright aluminium as having reflectivities of 88.1% specular and 11.9% diffuse.
A better explanation of the 46% gain. Using the higher specular reflectance value of bright aluminium it results in a theoretical gain of 44%. This makes my experimentally determined value of 46% look quite sensible, given the potential for error in these first tests that entails a lot of learning.
“I would appreciate any constructive Комментарии и мнения владельцев about mistakes that I may have made.”
“I will do more comparative tests to see if they stand up to the time-honoured test of replication. This may take time as there is not much Cloud-free sunlight and skiing is a current priority. to come…as time permits…….”
If my results stand the test of replication, it appears that two very light, aluminium reflectors might make effective and practical reflectors for backpacking. When combined with solar focusing, they could nearly double or triple the backpacking solar panel power under marginal sunlight conditions.
Staying within reasonable limits. I should make it clear, that the idea of this solar panel optimization is not to make the panel have a greater output than it was designed for and ‘blow its grommet’. Rather, it is to improve power output under adverse conditions and make the most of brief sunshine opportunities out on the trail (more time for skiing and fishing etc). Two reflectors might be better than two panels. “And no, inverting the panel and using a big parabolic reflector is not a backpacking option for me!”
reflections and speculations on diffuse and specular solar reflections
Spectral plus diffuse reflection. I find that is interesting to think about the nature of diffuse reflection. Pretend that we have our vision through a little hole in the panel. All the things that we see will be source of diffuse radiation for the solar panel. This is very different to the concentrated specular reflections that can only come from a small area of a foil reflector. They both may simultaneously contribute to solar panel optimization while backpacking. Both coexist in most reflectors and diffuse reflectors abound in many backpacking kits.
The more I know what I know, the more I know what I don’t know. I find any investigation usually comes up with some useful answers that may be simple or small. However, more often than not, the list of new questions raised is far greater than those answered. This is a case in point, so here is my short list of ideas for further investigation (brain dump):
- Replicate the aluminium foil reflector test with casual diffuse reflection eliminated.
- Test a grossly oversized diffuse reflector formed from a Tyvek ground sheet or thinner polymer.
- Test a hybrid reflector composed of a small specular metal reflector that is surrounded by an oversized soft diffuse reflector.
- Test my silver-coated breathing polyester fabric as a reflector.
- Penultimately, what about two giant diffuse reflectors? Could one part of the silver wall of a tent and the other be Steves Tyvek, in the form of my regular Tyvek ground sheet pegged out below? Would this satisfy the rules of the ultralight crowd (nitpickers) if nothing extra was carried?
Backpacking charging storage capacity
The requirement for backpacking electrical energy charging is very dependent on the storage capacity of the power bank/s. As an example, for many years, I primarily use USB power for blower stove cooking and lighting, but topping up power for other USB power devices would also be a nice to have feature.
Small power banks. When using my traditional small power banks (shown in the photo below) cooking time from each unit was about 2-3 hours at full power, but they have no charge level indicator and have erratic charging properties. As a consequence, I would invariably carry at least three of these little power banks (even for a beach fishing picnic) and they collectively weigh about 186g. Using them is a bit like Russian roulette, waiting for the fan to suddenly stop and hoping there is enough left for the remainder of the journey.
Large power banks. Now I have a Nitecore NB 10000 power bank which provides 27h of cooking time and it only weighs 150g and includes charge level indication. I have evaluated this device in another post and for shorter remote overnight backpacking trips it can provide infinite worry-free cooking and power to spare for other purposes.
Large power bank and solar charging. For extended trips in remote areas, a combination of a large power bank and a solar charger seems to me to be a wonderful combination as the charging from an optimised solar panel can easily be stored at times when the sun is kind to us for when it is not. The certainty of the spare electrical energy reserves will give peace of mind and encourage its judicious use for less important things than cooking. For example, charging phones and GPSs, particularly if some of the charge can be replenished from the sun.
For me, part of the joy of remote area activities is the lack of dependence on ‘the grid’. Providing my own limitless resources from the sun is very satisfying. Even at home, there is a feeling of resilience and comfort that comes from having these sun-provided resources available when the grid fails through excess demand, fire and floods. You can still have a hot meal from road kill and the garden and nice hot drinks and even a hot shower while the grid is restored.
Lastly, maybe I am a bit perverse, but I find considerable pleasure in running my blower stove directly on solar power using solar-made dead sticks for fuel. For example, running a tiny blower stove directly from a solar panel on a beach while fishing (even when I have a charged battery available). I am sure some readers will understand what I mean.
Oh, and this techno reflectivity babble about solar panel optimization seemed like good stuff for an ode before we finish.
A search for a weightless backpacking reflectaar, If you will excuse my bleeding Aussie vernacular, Finding specular surfaces that are minimally diffuse, Using techniques not commercial and likely obtuse, Will one be a success or both be failures specular?
The Best Solar Chargers for Backpacking and Camping in 2023
Even if you use your camping and backpacking trips as a chance to disconnect from email, news, and social media updates, chances are good you still use an electronic device to track your mileage, navigate your route, or set waypoints along the way. Every time you add a useful tracking or communication app to your smartphone or watch, it becomes even more important to keep your device charged on the go.
If you are away from home for multiple days at a time — or even for a single day with heavy usage — you will need a portable charger or backup battery of some kind. For off-grid or backcountry hiking and backpacking, a solar charger is one of the best accessories you can purchase because it allows you to use nothing more than the power of the sun to recharge your phone, watch, tablet, GPS, and more. Solar chargers are also a great addition to an emergency preparedness bag or 72-hour kit, allowing you to stay in contact even during a power outage.
Summary of the best solar chargers in 2023
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What to look for in the best solar chargers for backpacking and camping
Before shopping for a solar charger, ask yourself the following questions:
- What device(s) are you expecting to charge?
- How long are you willing to wait on the charge?
- Do you (or will you) have a backup battery of any kind, or will you be exclusively charging your device directly?
- Is a solar charger something you anticipate using each time you hike and camp, or will it be an emergency backup only?
The answers to these questions and the information below will help you determine which is the best solar charger for your situation.
Watts vs amps
Most solar chargers are rated in either watts (potential power) or amps (how much electricity is transmitted at once), although some models will give you both the watt and amp measurements. For either watts or amps, higher numbers equate to better charging capacity and speed. The most efficient solar chargers are those above 10 watts and/or 2 amps per port, like the Anker PowerPort Solar Lite and Nekteck’s 21W. You will generally pay more for more power, but the reduced charging time is often worth the extra cost.
Surface area and storage size
Depending on how often you plan to use your solar charger, size may be an issue you need to consider when comparing models. Solar chargers without built-in batteries tend to be smaller and lighter than those that hold a charge, but they do reduce the need for any additional battery packs in your bag. Instapark’s Mercury 10M is lightweight enough to bring along on even the longest backpacking trips at less than 0.9lb total.
The most efficient way to use a solar charger is to charge a backup battery all day during your hike. External batteries handle the surges and lapses in power that naturally come from the way solar panels work throughout the day better than most cell phones or tablets. Some solar chargers are panels alone, designed to attach to whichever extra battery or charger you prefer. These panels are lighter and tend to be more durable. Top tip: When using a solar charger to charge an external battery, attach your solar panel over your backpack to maximize its exposure to the sun, allowing you to use your phone or gps while the external battery charges all day. When you arrive at camp each evening, simply disconnect the external battery and use it to charge your device(s).
All-in-one solar chargers contain a battery pack in addition to the solar panels. The advantage of a charger with a battery pack is that you only have one thing to carry. In addition, many chargers with built-in batteries include the option to precharge the battery at home, giving you a head start on charging on the go. If you are looking for an all-in-one charger that you can keep on hand for emergencies, the Solio Bolt holds its charge for up to a year.
The best solar chargers without battery packs
BigBlue 28W Solar Charger
Built with four 7-watt solar panels and two 5-volt USB ports, the BigBlue 28W Solar Charger has the highest charging capacity on this list. The charger also features an integrated ammeter. This device measures incoming power from UV rays and displays the electrical current in Amps, so you know when there’s enough sunlight to recharge your devices.
For use on the go and at the campsite, this solar charger has four sturdy eyelets and four carabiners. It also features a phone-sized zippered that keeps your mobile clean and safe. When folded, the BigBlue 28W is fairly streamlined. However, it’s still rather bulky and heavy (nearly 600g) for the average backpacker.
Goal Zero Nomad 7
Although many phones, tablets, and watches can be charged with a single USB cable, some devices require a 12-volt socket instead. The Goal Zero Nomad 7 is perfect for just that situation, allowing you to charge via a 12V socket and/or USB port. At only 7 watts, the Nomad 7 does not produce enough power to charge some of the highest-power devices directly, so you may need to charge a backup battery while you hike instead.
The highest-wattage solar charger on our list, Nekteck’s 21W, can provide up to 10 watts per port of charging power in ideal conditions. No other charger on our list comes close to that charging capacity. The charger is made up of four sections: three solar panels and one charging for storing your phone or battery while it charges. Although there are grommets and carabiners included, you can simply prop the charger up by folding the panels slightly if you need to use it without hooking it to anything. There is no external battery or powerbank, and it can only charge USB-enabled devices.
EcoFlow 110W Solar Panel https://snp.link/569900f2
Built-in battery? Watts: Weight: Cost:
EcoFlow 110W Solar Panel
Weighing 8.8 lbs / 4kgs, the EcoFlow 110W Solar Panel is strictly for car camping trips, van life or off grid adventures where you’re setting up a base camp. The 62 x 20 inch folding panel is by far the largest option on our list yet the folding design still makes it portable, as does the handy carry case.
To make use of the whopping 110W power potential you’ll need a portable power station; it’s compatible with most generators. And if you’re hoping to use it in dire conditions then you’re in luck. The EcoFlow has an IP rating of 68 making it pretty much impenetrable to water and dust. Hardy!
It’s pricey and you’ll need a bunch of other expensive gear to turn the power of the sun into useable energy. But if remote power generation is what you need then the EcoFlow will deliver.
- Weatherproof and durable
- Very portable for its size
- Excellent power potential
The best solar chargers with built-in batteries
BioLite SolarPanel 5
One unique feature of the BioLite SolarPanel 5 is the ability to precharge the solar panel before your trip through its micro USB port, thanks to an integrated rechargeable battery built into the solar panel. The built-in battery makes charging possible in sporadic sun without forcing the device to disconnect and reconnect each time you move into the sun. The built-in battery does add some weight and overall size to the panel, but it can be a fantastic solution if you want the benefit of a separate battery pack without having the keep track of more than one item.
PowerTraveler Solar Adventurer
PowerTraveler’s Solar Adventurer is a solar panel and external battery in one and is still not much bigger than the average smartphone. With the included battery, you can even use this solar charger at night with what charge it’s built up during the day. The solar panel may only generate 3 watts of power, but it makes up for it with its convenient size and sleek design.
- Small and sleek
- Internal battery included
- Can be charged at home with an adapter
Goal Zero Guide 12 Nomad 5 Kit
The Goal Zero Guide 12 Nomad 5 Kit is ideal if you need to charge devices that use AA / AAA batteries, like headlamps and bike lights, as well as devices with built-in batteries, like phones and GPS units.
Connect the 5W solar panel to the power pack and the energy from the sun will charge up the batteries in the pack as well store up to 12 Wh, 10,000 mAh of energy to recharge USB compatible devices. This can also be charged via USB from elsewhere.
A portable solar panel gives you the most flexibility on the trail. You can use your phone for a gps and camera without worrying about bringing extra batteries or an additional power source. Whether you want an all-in-one or a simple collapsible panel for storing in the car, you are sure to find the best portable solar panel for your next backpacking or camping trip on our list.
About the author
Kimberly Mays is a writer and editor living in Western North Carolina, where she spends weekends in the garden and hiking with her husband and children.
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