Power Bank Solar Charger Instructions, Tips, and Troubleshooting
If your power bank solar charger did not come with instructions, or you simply misplaced them, then you’ve come to the right place. Although they are designed to be relatively simple devices, new electronics with inputs, outputs, lights, noises, and more can be a bit overwhelming without the proper guidance.
What to Expect From This Guide
This guide is designed to provide instructions, tips, and troubleshooting for small, handheld solar charging devices.
At Shop Solar Kits, we completely understand the value of having a little extra power on the go and are passionate about electricity independence with free solar energy. For a look at the possibilities of larger solar chargers, please read our best solar battery bank guide.
Although there are hundreds of brands and thousands of models of power bank solar chargers on the market today, we’ve assembled this information to serve as a comprehensive resource for simple instructions and frequently asked questions.
Below, we will outline the features and specs of typical solar chargers, showcase practical uses, provide operating instructions, and offer plenty of purchasing tips and tricks for picking the right product.
Features and Specs of a Power Bank Solar Charger
Although solar energy generation and storage may seem complicated, portable power banks are actually very simple products. As they are meant to be laid out in the sun, they are also typically very durable, weather-resistant, and long-lasting. Of course, the actual product lifespan will always depend on both the quality of the product and the frequency of use.
Almost all power bank solar chargers come with the following:
- An onboard solar panel
- Built-in battery storage
- Input port for AC, DC, or USB charging
- One or more outputs (typically USB)
- And a hard, durable outer casing
How much battery does a solar charger have?
The majority of small solar chargers have a battery bank between 8,000 mAh and 14,000 mAh. For modern smartphones, this is roughly enough electricity to charge a cell phone 3 to 5 times, with varied amounts of battery capacity.
Depending on the manufacturer, the battery of a solar charger will be rated in either amp-hours or watt-hours. In most instances, products will be advertised with their approximate runtime for normal electrical uses.
Besides finding the battery capacity of a potential solar charger, it is also important to look for the product’s expected lifetime. This may be expressed as “life cycles” on a product spec sheet, which refers to how many times the bank can be charged and discharged effectively. Of course, checking online reviews is a great way to see whether or not a solar charger is likely to live out its expected lifespan.
Best Uses for Solar Power Bank Chargers
By using a solar charger, you are unlocking access to electricity anywhere you go, at no additional cost to you or the environment. With the free and abundant energy of the sun, it is possible to charge your phones and other devices anywhere the sun shines.
Most commonly, solar power bank chargers are used for:
- Travel of all kinds
- Camping trips and off-grid adventures
- Sports games, tailgates, and parties
- Emergency preparedness
- RVs, vans, campers, skoolies, and other mobile homes
If you really think about it, an extra few phone charges in your or backpack is always a handy thing to have around both for yourself and those around you. In larger solar-powered generators, it is even possible to charge many devices at one time. For instance, in our Ego battery review. we showcase a solar charging generator with 4 USB outlets and 3 AC (wall) plugs.
How to Use a Power Bank Solar Charger
Aptly named, a power bank solar charger is used to charge devices with solar power. Technically, however, the power bank charges its own battery capacity and then discharges the energy to your phone. With this, these devices should actually be called “solar chargers and dischargers.”
Although that name is not very catchy, it truly shows how easy it is to use a power bank solar charger. In this sense, the process of using a solar power bank can be broken down into two simple steps:
#1: Charge the battery
#2: And discharge the power
Yes, it really is that easy. Some call it magic, others call it science. And actually, the science behind a small solar power charger is very simple to understand.
How Stored Solar Power Works
In between steps one and two, you are free to keep your power stored away for as long as you’d like. However, it is important to know that a battery will start to slowly lose its charge as it approaches its rated shelf life.
For small chargers, we recommend recharging your bank every 2-3 months if you always want to have a bit of extra power on hand. Some premium devices have rated shelf lives of up to 1 year, which makes them some of the easiest to use devices for reliable access to small amounts of power.
Of course, you should always remember to “top off” your battery if you are able to before using your charger. Even a few weeks without use can cause an idle battery to slowly lose its charge, which would not be a pleasant surprise when attempting to use it in a real-life situation.
Charging Your Solar Power Bank
For most small solar power banks, there is more than one way to charge the internal battery. Charging time will vary depending on both the electricity source and the amount of electrical input. Below, we will outline some of the most common methods used to power up a small solar battery bank.
Charging a Power Bank with Solar Power
As the name obviously implies, power bank solar chargers can be charged with solar power. Today, many small and handheld products have the solar panel directly mounted onto the device for a small, all-in-one solar generator.
For instance, you may have heard of the Patriot Power Cell. which is a popular all-in-one solar phone charger. Although we would not personally recommend this product, there are many similar devices that incorporate a solar panel directly on top of the battery.
Alternatively, some power banks can be charged with independent solar panels hooked up to the battery reserve. Although this is not very practical for small solar chargers, if you are looking for a large solar battery bank, then high-efficiency PV solar panels are an absolute must.
For instance, if you are charging an ego battery with the help of a small solar generator, then you will need to purchase solar panels separately. Although this is not as convenient, small all-in-one solar chargers are generally very limited by small or inefficient solar panels.
Using Other Electricity to Charge Your Power Bank
Alternatively, most power bank solar devices can be recharged with other sources of electricity. Most commonly, this is accomplished with a USB or USB-C port and cord. Occasionally, it may also be possible to charge a solar power bank with AC (wall outlet) or DC (carport) electricity using the right-sized device and equipment.
If you are considering a small solar charger that cannot be recharged with alternative electricity, then we highly recommend you reconsider. Whenever you are packing for your next trip, it will be incredibly convenient to simply plug in your solar charger to the wall or a USB outlet to ensure you will be able to bring some extra electricity along for the ride.
Discharging Your Solar Battery (Using the Power)
Of course, once our solar power bank is fully charged, then you will be able to use the power to charge your devices. Most commonly, power bank solar chargers are designed specifically to charge your phone, camera, drone, or other USB-powered devices.
With higher capacity models, it may be possible to charge larger devices or even provide continuous electricity for appliances, electronics, and more.
How to Charge a Phone with a Power Bank
We will be the first to say that charging a phone with a solar power bank is not rocket science, and can typically be figured out in a matter of seconds. Once you are sure that your battery bank has been charged (usually indicated by a series of lights), then you can simply plug your phone directly into the device’s USB outlets.
If your phone does not have the same outlet type that your charger provides, then you will need to purchase an adapter. Although this is still an effective solution, we encourage you to take a bit of time to find a power bank that directly matches your electrical needs, if possible.
Simply insert the right cord, and wallah, your phone should begin to charge. If your device is not indicating a charge is present, then you must ensure everything is connected properly and that the bank still has battery life remaining to discharge.
Powering Other Devices with a Solar Charger
Secondly, solar chargers with enough battery onboard are also fully capable of charging many other small electronics besides personal cell phones. For tablets, computers, cameras, drones, handheld video games, and more, solar chargers can help provide you with the extra battery life you need for staying online.
Using a high-powered solar charger, devices with AC and DC ports (in addition to the USB plug-ins), make it possible to energize any household item with portable solar power. Although running time will be limited by the size of the battery, chargers with enough power can help run CPAP machines and other medical devices with silent, clean electricity.
Before you plug anything other than a phone into a solar charger, be sure to identify your devices charging capacity. If the wattage or amperage of your large electronic item exceeds the continuous capacity of your solar charger, it can lead to permanent system damage.
The performance of a power bank solar charger will depend on a number of factors to ultimately determine how effective it is for both charging and discharging. These variables can be divided into product and usage factors, some of which can be improved with the proper adjustments.
If your solar charger seems to be underperforming, it may be because of one of the following common issues:
- Panels are not in direct sunlight (required for efficient charging)
- The charger is or has been, in temperatures outside of the recommended operating range
- The solar panel is covered in dust or has been scratched
- The device has overheated while charging on a metal (or other heat-capturing) surface
- Or the charger has been used beyond recommended discharge power capacity
To test your solar charger, simply stick it out in the sun for a few hours and let it do its thing. Whenever it comes time to check the charge, be careful when picking up your power bank as it may be very hot to the touch after hours in the sun. Once safe to use, simply plug in your electronics and begin to power your life with solar energy.
Power Bank Solar Charger Purchasing Tips and Tricks
To close things out, we’d like to take a moment to outline three of the most important tips and tricks to keep in mind when shopping for a power bank solar charger. With a high-quality product, hopefully, you will never have to seek out additional instructions on how to properly operate your device.
Always Get A Little Extra Battery
First and foremost, a little extra power never hurts. Unless you’re planning an ultralight backpacking trip, you will barely notice a difference between a 7 oz or a 2 pound (32 oz) solar charger. In fact, a heavier unit may even be the sign of a higher quality item, with both internal and external premium components.
When you are using your device, you will be thankful to pack a little extra power for both ordinary and emergency use. Imagine yourself on your next vacation, charging your phone with solar energy. We are sure that your friends and family will find a way to ask whether or not they could use a bit of power as well.
Beware of Fake Solar Chargers
Second, be on the lookout for fake solar chargers when shopping around for the right bargain item. Because many solar chargers can also be powered with USB electricity, there have been many products created with fake solar panels by shady companies.
The best way to evade a fake solar charger is by properly checking the manufacturers’ product reviews. If you are unable to find any information whatsoever online about a solar charger manufacturer, then that is a red flag indicating a possible decoy panel.
If you have a gut feeling that your power bank solar charger includes a fake panel, closely inspect the unit to see if it’s the real deal. Look to ensure that the solar cells are aligned and the electrical components seem to be working properly. After hours of unsuccessful charging, it also may be possible that a part may have malfunctioned. This brings us to our last tip.
Pay Close Attention to Warranties, Terms, and Conditions
Last but not least, it is important to always pay close attention to power bank solar charger warranties, terms, and conditions before making a purchase. If you’re currently searching for instructions on how to find your product’s warranty, then unfortunately it may be too late.
In general, solar chargers are designed to be affordable which means some low-priced items may come in cheaper quality builds. Although you do not need a multi-year warranty to ensure your cell phone has a bit of extra battery, we strongly suggest staying away from solar chargers with no or minimal warranty information.
With the wide array of products on the market today, power bank solar charger instructions will always vary between models. However, we hope that this resource has provided answers to some of the most commonly sought-after information regarding these handy devices.
To continue your green energy decisions, we recommend that you seek out the exact end-of-life instructions for your specific solar charger to verify whether or not it can be recycled. Hopefully, however, you will not need to think about recycling your high-quality battery bank for a very long time.
If you’re looking to learn more about how to store larger loads of renewable energy, feel free to check out our solar bank instructions for generators and DIY systems. Using the same technology that powers small solar chargers, large power banks, or “power walls” can electrify an entire home with endless solar energy.
Top Solar Panels for Camping, Basecamping, and Outdoor Adventures
Electronics are a part of the adventurer’s quiver of tools more than ever before. Thanks to efficiency advances and cost decreases in solar cells, portable solar chargers are finally proving to be a viable means of providing electricity outdoors. A backcountry user might carry a smartphone, GoPros, headlamp, tablet, camera, headphones, and PLB or GPS devices. A family on an extended weekend trip will likely bring multiple smartphones, tablets, speakers, laptops, electric lanterns, and more. Rafters, climbers, bikepackers, and mountain bikers on a weekend mission might haul out even more high-powered lights and GoPros, radios, and other electronic equipment.
By harnessing the energy of the sun, anyone can charge their legion of devices rather than carrying physical batteries or draining the battery in their vehicle or camper. From portable solar chargers that can accommodate multiple devices during a family camping trip, to power banks that hold the biggest charge, to lightweight options for backcountry users that weigh under a pound, we reviewed top models to find the best portable solar chargers for most outdoor uses. Plus, we’ve got tips and tricks on how to get the most out of your portable solar panels, power banks and chargers.
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The Best Portable Solar Chargers
We had three clones to evaluate, all of which performed similarly well, so it was hard to determine which of those to award. However, one did surpass the others, as various sites have mentioned. We also considered different use cases in making our final judgments. As such, some of our winners are in unique categories.
Overall Winner: Big Blue 28W USB Solar Charger
Weight: 1 pound, 5 ounces
Solar Cell Output Capacity: 10 watts
Power Output to Device: USB, 5V up to 2A (28W max)
Integrated battery: No
Ports: 2, 2.4 Amp USB-A Ports
What we liked: simple, lightweight, provides more power than similar models, can charge multiple small devices, includes anmeter
What we didn’t like:
We concur with many review sites and consumer reviews that the 1 pound, 5 ounce Big Blue 28W USB Solar Charger was the best for most outdoor use. It’s a simple, lightweight, and powerful solar power charger that seems to provide a little more power than its competition. It will also provide enough power in direct sunlight to charge multiple small devices for one or two people.
The Big Blue unit we tested also included an ammeter, which displays the amount of electrical current the solar panel is generating, setting it apart from the competition. That allowed us to see that the device was working and how much energy it was producing.
COMPARE OF THE BIG BLUE SOLAR CHARGER
Other than that, we found that it was remarkably, if not eerily, similar to two other top-rated solar chargers we evaluated. All three (the Anker 21 Watt PowerPort Solar charger, the Nekteck 28 Watt solar charger, and the BigBlue 28W USB Solar Charger) use the same basic design with two USB-ports and a light to indicate that they’re getting a charge; the Big Blue’s light indicator is the ammeter.
The solar cells in these foldable units are encased in PET polymer and surrounded by polyester canvas. Each offers moderate IPX4 water resistance — although you don’t really want to use these devices in the rain anyhow. They’re so similar they even use the same solar cells — SunPower’s Maxeon solar cells — which are among the most efficient commercially available solar cells and can convert up to 25 percent of the sun’s energy.
Each of these solar chargers had metal grommets in the casing, which allows you to attach them to a rock, backpack, tent, or camp chair. Each has a pouch where you can store the devices being charged and cords for charging your devices. None had kickstands or means to orient them to the sun properly, so you’ll have to get a little more creative, like propping them up on a rock, attaching them to your tent, or attaching them to your backpack to orient them properly to get the most power out of them in camp.
The Big Blue did better than the competition in tests, producing just under 950 milliamp-hours (mAh) of energy in an hour. In relatively similar conditions, the Anker produced 733 mAh, and the Nekteck produced 834 mAh. Without a dedicated test facility and control environment, it is hard to offer a complete scientific evaluation of the differences between these three since clouds could have obscured the sun for part of the testing periods.
In our experience, the Big Blue (or other similar solar panels) will integrate best into your outdoor lifestyle with the help of an external battery, like the Anker. The solar panel charges the battery, and then the battery provides a steady charge to reliably and safely charge your phone. See our section below on batteries for more details.
The Big Blue offered the highest power output among these three, and its cost is essentially the same as the Nekteck, so The Big Blue edged out the Nekteck as the best solar charger. It’s easy to use, well-priced, and offers enough portable power to charge a backup battery. Best yet, it is rugged enough to last for years.
Interested in backpacking gear? See our Backpacking section for our most popular stories.
The Best Solar Charger for Basecamping: Goal Zero Nomad 50
Weight: 6 pounds
Solar Cell Output Capacity: 50 watts
Power Output to Device: USB: 5V up to 2.4A (12W max)/8mm: 14-22V, up to 3.5A (50W Max)
Integrated battery: Goal Zero Sherpa 100 AC sold separetely
Ports: 1 2.4 Amp USB-A Port, 1, 3.3 Amp Solar Port in 8mm, 1, 3.3 Amp Solar Port out 8mm
What we liked: can be linked with other solar panels for even greater charging, kickstands to properly orient to sun, can almost fully charge 2 laptops
What we didn’t like: size and weight make best suited for camping, not backpacking
The Goal Zero Nomad 50 is a larger solar charger that also wins our award for Best Solar Charger for Car Camping and Best Solar Charger for Basecamping and our Best Upgrade Solar Charger award. At 50 watts, it’s the biggest and heaviest solar charger we tried. But if we were doing a couple of weeks in a high mountain cirque with fellow adventurers and we wanted to cut battery weight while keeping our electronics charged, this is the charger we’d choose.
Likewise, if we’re powering all the devices a family needs on a week-long camping trip and they don’t want to drain a car or RV battery, we’d turn to the Goal Zero as our solar charger of choice. Similarly, it’s a good choice for road tripping or overlanding off-grid. It could also be used to work a remote aid station during an ultramarathon or adventure race.
COMPARE OF THE GOAL ZERO NOMAD 50
The Goal Zero is an obvious choice for camping and basecamping for other reasons as well. It’s the only solar charger we evaluated that can be linked to other solar panels and the only one that can be attached in a series to provide even greater charging power to a battery power bank.
With solar cells covered in a polymer and the whole unit encased in a durable polyester, the Nomad is like the larger sibling of the three clones (Big Blue, Anker, and Nektek).
Instead of two cells per foldable solar panel, each of its four panels has 12 cells. It has one USB connector that can provide up to 12 watts of charging power, but it also has a Goal Zero solar port connector that allows it to provide up to 50 watts of charging power or connect to other Goal Zero panels. Like the BioLite solar charger, the Nomad also has kickstands to help ensure it’s properly oriented to the sun.
All of those extra features and solar cells add weight and size. Unlike the clones, the Nomad 50 would take up a significant portion of a backpack. Folded up, it’s almost a foot wide and nearly 1 foot and a half tall. That’s roughly the size of an average male’s torso, and it weighs 6 pounds, 14 ounces. Even if it were attached to the front of Frankenstein’s backpack, it would likely drag on the ground like an oddly stiff cape.
But once unfurled and set up in camp, it can provide enough energy to power a laptop and charge a significantly larger battery than the smaller chargers can power. When combined with a Goal Zero’s Sherpa 100AC power bank, it can charge in 6 or fewer hours in good sun. That 94.7 watt/hour battery includes an inverter allowing it to charge AC devices, like those that plug into a wall outlet. It can almost fully charge two 13” MacBook Pros on a single charge, and since it can deliver at higher wattages and voltages, it can provide higher charging speeds.
Interested in camping gear? See our Camping section for our most popular stories.
The Best Solar Charger with Integrated Battery: BioLite SolarPanel 10
Weight: 1 pound, 3.4 ounces
Solar Cell Output Capacity: 10 W
Battery Storage Capacity (mAH): 3,200 milliamp hours
Power Output to Device: 10 W via USB charge out
Integrated battery: Yes, Battery Storage Capacity (mAH): 3,200 milliamp hours
Ports: 1 Micro USB in 1 2.4 Amp USB-A out
What we liked: includes integrated battery that works as power bank, can pre-charge included powerbank, easy to align with sun to get the most efficient charge, designed to reduce overheating (that impacts efficiency)
What we didn’t like: would be more useful if it were 21W and had storage 10,000 mAH
Though the BioLite SolarPanel 10 is the smallest solar charger we tested at just 10 watts, it’s the most fully featured and the only solar charger we tested that came with an integrated battery that works as a power bank. The 3,200 mAh battery is slightly larger than the iPhone 11’s 3100 mAh battery and could provide an iPhone with a full charge. You can also charge the integrated battery power bank via micro-USB. So users can pre-charge it for adventures so they can charge devices at camp even if the sun’s obscured or down when they get there. Indeed, starting every adventure with fully charged devices and auxiliary batteries is key to getting the most out of your electronic charging system in the backcountry.
COMPARE OF THE BIOLITE SOLARPANEL 10
The SolarPanel 10 also has a radically different design than every other portable panel we tested and most others available. All of its solar cells are encased in a ruggedized, dimpled plastic. BioLite says its solar panel design helps dissipate excess heat, which can cause a solar panel to produce less power than it otherwise would.
Like the other small solar chargers we evaluated, the corners feature holes allowing users to attach them to a backpack or tent. But its analog Optimal Sun System, consisting of an analog sundial, as well as its rotating kickstand, play an important part in making sure you get the most from the charger at any given time.
By aligning the shadow of the dot in the middle of the window, you ensure that the device sends as much solar power to connected devices and the battery as possible. The kickstand clicks into place throughout its rotation, making it easy to adjust the pitch of the portable solar panel to get the optimal placement at any given time.
While we found all these features very useful, we found that when first deploying the solar panel, it didn’t want to stay open until after it warmed in the sun a bit. Also, if its ability to absorb sunlight was larger — even in the 21 watt range — and its energy storage capacity was larger, even around 10,000 mAh, it could have been the Overall Winner.
Both the Anker portable charger and Nekteck portable charger fell a little short of the Big Blue, our overall winner (see review above). Either offer a great value, but we think the Big Blue has the most to offer for the money.
Anker 21 Watt PowerPort Solar Charger
Weight: 14.7 ounces
Solar Cell Output Capacity: 21W
Power Output to Device: 21W to device via USB
Integrated battery: No
Ports: 2, 2.4 Amp USB-A Ports
The now discontinued Anker 21 Watt PowerPort Solar Charger may no longer be available, but we think it’s worth putting on your radar for a few reasons. First, it’s a near-clone of the Big Blue (see review above), our overall winner, so it’s a good example of the similarities between solar panels on the market. Second, it is still widely available on sites such as ebay for folks interested in buying a used solar panel.
One difference is that it was slightly smaller and lighter (15 ounces) than the Big Blue. The Anker produced a little less power in a given time in similar conditions, as expected. Its charging pouch also had a hook-and-loop closure rather than a zippered closure like the other clones. It didn’t include an ammeter. Ultimately, even when the Anker was available, we found the Big Blue to be a better choice given the amount of power it generated.
Nekteck 28 Watt Solar Charger
Weight: 1.44 pounds
Solar Cell Output Capacity: 28W
Power Output to Device: 28W via USB
Integrated battery: No
Ports: 2, 2.4 Amp USB-A Ports
Without the branding, from the outside, the Nekteck 28 Watt solar charger is essentially indistinguishable from the Big Blue. our overall winner (see review above). The specs are similar. Opened up, and without the ammeter, they look essentially identical, too.
However, in the end, it didn’t perform quite as well as the Big Blue — even though it uses the same solar cells and design. In relatively similar conditions, the Anker produced 733 mAh, and the Nekteck produced 834 mAh. It also has a claimed weight of 1 pound, 7 ounces — two ounces heavier than the Big Blue.
Understanding solar chargers
There’s a lot to understand about solar power chargers, but at their heart, a small solar panel consists of several photovoltaic cells grouped together to absorb some of the sun’s energy and convert it into an electric charge that you can use to charge electronics.
Modern, commercially available solar cells can harness nearly 25 percent of the sun’s energy that hits them into electricity. You’ll find this in the most efficient foldable chargers. When these cells are combined together into small solar panels, the solar cells can provide enough energy to recharge the batteries in USB devices and they can weigh under a pound, making them a lightweight option for backcountry adventures across the world.
Why choose a solar generator over other choices?
A portable solar charger is a lightweight and more compact means of electricity generation compared with other means of mobile energy generation. This is advantageous when on the trail and in remote locations because carrying multiple batteries and other means of electricity generation quickly becomes cumbersome as you add more energy storage to your pack. After all, no one wants to carry a gas generator — and gas — on their backs into the woods to provide power for all of their electronic devices. And while we’ve seen some portable wind and micro-hydro turbine generators, like the WaterLily Turbine. they’re also cumbersome, if not heavy. Solar panels are among eco-friendly gear swaps to reduce your environmental impact. especially if your base camp would otherwise run on a gas generator.
Solar chargers, combined with a power bank or backup battery pack — particularly those that can accommodate through charging (i.e., charging itself while charging devices) — are the best, lightest way to charge your electronic equipment.
While most adventurers are looking primarily for a portable phone charger, solar chargers can power:
- cameras and camera batteries
- GPS hiking and backpacking watches
- GoPros and other vlogging or podcasting equipment
- two-way satellite messengers and Personal Locator Beacons (PLBs)
- GPS units
- bluetooth speakers
- wireless headphones
- mountain bike lights
- sonar devices
Anytime you’re out for multiple days or weeks in the backcountry, you’ll likely have electronics that need charging. Solar panels work for camping, boating, climbing, bikepacking, mountaineering, and other activities.
Most mobile solar charging units have at least one USB port, making it easy to charge most devices and batteries people take into the wild. Still, many smaller solar chargers will struggle to provide enough power to charge multiple devices simultaneously.
Yes, Watson, Watts matter (or why watts matter)
The most important thing about a solar panel charger is its wattage. The more watts, the more sunlight the solar panel can absorb and the more electricity it can generate. If you only need to power your own devices and don’t plan on using them continually while on the trail, you may only need to charge them once every few days or even once a week. In that case, a smaller unit like the BioLite SolarPanel 10 with an integrated battery pack is an excellent choice, but the 10 watt foldable solar panel only has one USB port and wouldn’t be powerful enough to charge a family’s devices on a five-day trip.
On the other hand, our Best for Camping winner, the 50 Watt Goal Zero Nomad 50 Solar Panel. along with the Sherpa 100 AC battery. could handle the needs of a family on a week-long trip or a group of mountaineers exploring a range out for an extended period. The Goal Zero system is significantly larger, heavier, and much more expensive. But this system with this power bank battery has an AC plug and is the only one we considered that charges devices such as large laptops.
We don’t normally advocate getting rid of gear before its end of life, but in this case, if you have a backup battery or power bank that isn’t chargeable via USB, consider recycling it and replacing it with one that is. Similarly, consider USB chargeable devices like headlamps.
While you can use rechargeable AA and AAA powered headlamps, using one device or cable to charge most of your equipment can simplify your carry. When Intel’s Chief Systems Technologist Ajay Bhatt led the development of USB standards in 1996 and companies started using it, he essentially began a process of universalizing charging and connectivity for all devices. Now, USB technology allows us to easily recharge cameras and GoPros as well as smaller electronics like wireless earbuds.
How we Researched and tested
When researching the best camping solar chargers, we explored websites in the outdoor media sphere, and the tech and science spheres as geeks and gear heads are the most likely to use portable solar chargers to power their electronics.
We chose the models we tested based on reviews and articles we read and analyzed from other reliable sources, including Lifewire, Gear Institute, Backpacker, Wirecutter, The Adventure Junkies, Popular Mechanics, Outdoor GearLab, and others (see Sources). We also looked at verified customer reviews to gather data from professional reviewers and actual users.
How We Tested
We tested these foldable solar panels on multiple days in the field, at campsites, and at home, sometimes even hanging them out of a south-facing window on sunny days of full Colorado summer sunshine. Despite multiple uses and attempts, none of the solar chargers we tested reached the manufacturer’s claimed fully-rated wattages for maximum power output during our tests.
We attached each solar panel to a USB digital tester and various battery packs and other electronic devices we use in the backcountry, including GPS units, Bluetooth headphones, bike lights, headlamps, and more. We attempted to charge our iPhones and iPads directly but found they wouldn’t accept the charge since the power varied too much with the sun and clouds — even on some bluebird days. We found it was better to use them to charge a backup battery or power bank with through charging capabilities and then use that battery to charge our devices while it was charging via the solar panel.
We attempted to test some of the chargers while hiking but found that even though companies place attachment points on the solar chargers to attach them to backpacks, they didn’t perform well in real-world testing that way. We’ll explain why in another section.
We found that the digital USB tester wasn’t as applicable to the Goal Zero and BioLite contenders. This is because we couldn’t connect the digital USB tester to the higher wattage power cord of the Goal Zero, and the BioLite’s solar charge controller and portable battery power bank can provide a more conditioned stream of power from the battery.
When looking for a good solar charger, there are many things to consider. First and foremost, you’ll want to determine what you’ll use it for as well as how many devices it will power. Secondly, consider how long you’ll be in the backcountry and how much energy storage and battery capacity you want to carry.
We looked at a wide range of solar chargers and, in some cases, energy storage units (aka batteries). We also came up with some different conclusions than other review sites based on our knowledge and our anticipation of how you’ll actually be able to use a solar charger in the field.
For instance, unlike many other reviews and ‘best of’ lists we evaluated, we firmly recommend using solar chargers with backup batteries. Many high-end electronics like smartphones and tablets require a steady, regulated, or conditioned stream of electricity to charge. It helps limit the amount of damage that a surge or dip in solar power can do to the sensitive electronics inside the device.
Efficiency and power output
Efficiency and power output are two separate, but related, things. Efficiency refers to the efficiency of the solar cells in a panel and also the panel itself. The solar cells in the panel have a higher efficiency than the overall panel as some of the energy they capture is lost in transmitting energy through the wires and electronics of the solar panel. The most efficient commercial solar cells are around 24 percent efficient. A solar panel or charger, however will likely be in the range of 18 to 21 percent efficient.
Power output is measured in terms of wattage or how many watts of energy a solar panel can output. The more efficient a solar panel is means it can output more watts and amps from a smaller area. For charging devices you’ll want a solar panel that’s capable of producing at least 5 watts, however many highly portable solar panels produce up to 28 watts of charging power in ideal conditions. Higher wattages do equal more charging power—however, since most of these solar panels still use USB-A style plugs, they can only produce 2.4 amps of current through those plugs.
Portability and size
The smallest outdoor solar panels we evaluated are 5 watts. These are about the size of a medium tablet, like the BioLite SolarPanel 5. and weigh less than a can of beer. They can produce enough power to slowly charge a smartphone or other device. At 8 inches by 9.75 inches, they’re easy to slip into a day pack.
The largest portable solar panel we tested was the 6 pound Goal Zero Nomad 50. which folds down to just over 17 inches long by 11 inches wide and is well over an inch thick at its thickest parts, making it hard to fit in most backpacks. When set up it folds out to 53 inches wide. It was also the most powerful solar panel we tested and is capable of charging a battery that can charge laptops.
Durability and weather resistance
While these panels will last for years and even decades with proper care, they’re not designed to be left out in the elements like a permanent installation. They are encased in abrasion-resistant fabrics and plastics and are foldable.
The solar cells are encased in impact-resistant plastic and the units usually have an IPX4 water-resistant rating, meaning they can handle water splashes but not much more than that. That shouldn’t be a surprise since the majority of portable solar panels have standard USB-A ports with no waterproof cover.
The majority of the solar panels tested don’t have batteries. The BioLite SolarPanel 5 and BioLite SolarPanel 10 have 3,200 mAh batteries. That’s enough to charge an iPhone 13 or 14 one time. You can also pre-charge these batteries before you leave and use them to charge a device while it’s in your pack or at night and recharge the battery with the sun.
Direct solar charging speed
If the solar panel is optimally placed in full sun it should be able to produce its maximum wattage rating. In these cases, a panel like the Anker 21 Watt PowerPort Solar Charger should be able to provide enough energy to charge 2 USB devices simultaneously at 2.4 amps, the same as many 12-Volt USB adapters used in cars.
Multiple device solar charging speed
In ideal, full-sun conditions a 20 or more watt solar charger with two (or more) USB ports should be able to charge multiple devices at up to 2.4 amps like most 12-Volt USB adapters used in cars. A more powerful panel should be able to charge more, but the device has to be able to handle higher charging amperages like those that use USB-C connections.
Additional features and accessories
The majority of portable solar panels for camping are pretty minimal in terms of features. Most consist primarily of the panel and USB ports. Additional features include a for cables, grommets or loops to attach the panels to a pack or tent, and on some, stands to help keep the panel upright and at the right angle. A few, like the BioLite panels, have integrated batteries and they also have a little sundial that helps users properly orient the panel so that optimum sun hits the solar cells.
When it comes to accessories, there are two main accessories you can use with the solar panels, cords and batteries.
We highly recommend using these with a backup battery rather than plugging a Smart device directly to them. Some Smart devices limit the speed at which the devices can charge when dealing with a variable power source, like a solar panel. Backup batteries, however, can better harvest the variable currents flowing from a solar panel.
Price and value for money
The price of basic solar panels isn’t very high, about 67 for our Best Overall pick, the Big Blue 28W USB Solar Charger. If you have an existing backup battery and know you’ll be camping out for days and need extra power for your electronics when camp is set up, it’s a decent investment. If you’re hoping it’ll power your devices while strapped to the outside of your pack and hiking, you’ll be displeased. Despite advertising photos, even in sunny Colorado where we tested all the devices, these panels weren’t great at delivering power consistent enough to charge devices while hiking with them on a pack.
Integrated Battery or Power Bank
Unlike many other reviews and ‘best of’ lists we evaluated, we firmly recommend using solar chargers with backup batteries. Many high-end electronics like smartphones and tablets require a steady, regulated, or conditioned stream of electricity to charge. It helps limit the amount of damage that a surge or dip in solar power can do to the sensitive electronics inside the device.
In addition, carrying a pre-charged backup battery or power bank and a way to easily charge all your devices when you’re in town or your vehicle can reduce the amount of charging you’ll need to do on the trail. Pre-charging or recharging a backup battery or power bank via the wall or your vehicle will almost always be faster than charging via a solar panel.
The other two models we evaluated cost more. The BioLite, which is only a 10 watt solar panel, retails for 150. However, it’s also the only solar charger we tested with an integrated battery (sometimes called a portable solar power bank). It also has a kickstand, and a unique but simple mechanism called the Optimal Sun System, which helps orient the charger to get the maximum amount of sunlight available. It’s also unique in that it’s encased entirely in plastic.
The Goal Zero Nomad 50 Solar Panel. our winner for Best Solar Charger for camping (see review above) had the highest wattage of any unit we tested at 50 watts and was the most expensive unit we tested at 250. It was also the largest and heaviest, but it is the only one that can provide a charge at a higher wattage and voltage.
With panels this small, when the skies are gray, don’t expect much power output. The 50 watt, Goal Zero Nomad 50 should still produce enough energy to trickle-charge a smartphone but smaller panels will slow down to producing very small amounts of power, suitable only for trickle charging a backup battery.
Best solar power banks to keep your devices powered outdoors
Whether you are going camping, climbing, hiking, cycling or fishing, a good power bank that keeps your devices juiced up is a good investment. Solar power banks are growing in popularity as more people go outdoors and need their devices powered.
Solar power banks are designed to be charged by mini solar panels attached to the power bank. However, this is only given as option for emergency scenarios because Solar charging is super slow. Most solar power banks support dual-charging mode; one via wall socker and another using the sun. Most vendors advice you to charge the power bank via wall power source which is a lot faster. Solar power banks range from as low as 20 to as much as 45 depending on features.
So lets dive in to some of the best solar power banks you can buy right now. Summarily;
- Cheapest solar power bank – BEARTWO 10000mAh Power bank – 19.98
- Best overall with wireless charging solar power bank – Blavor 10,000mAh Qi wireless Solar Charger Power – 29.99
- Foldable four-panel solar power bank – Tranmix 25000mAh solar phone charger – 39.99
- Best affordable fast-charging solar power bank – EGRD 30,000mAh wireless solar power bank – 35.99
- Best high-capacity solar powerbank – Feeke 32800 Qi wireless solar power bank – 47.98
BEARTWO 10000mAh Solar Power bank
This Beartwo 10,000mAh solar powerbank balances design, ease of use and pricing quite well. You can take it out for a hike, fishing, cycling or camping. While it can be charged via using the sun, the vendor advices that you charge it at home using electricity and only use the sun in emergency situations. That’s because it charges really slowly with the sun because of the size of the solar panels. Otherwise, this solar powerbank is rugged enough for outdoors, has dual output ports and is IP67 Waterproof. It’s just 19.98 on amazon.com.
SOARAISE 26800mAh Solar Power Bank
Looking for a high capacity solar power bank, then the soaraise 26800mAh power bank is a good option. This power bank is rugged enough for the outdoors and is designed with 1.9W panel on one side. It has two 10W USB-A outputs ports and one 15W USB-C bidirectional port for charging it as well as charging USB-C devices. It has 60 bright LED LEDs with SOS-strobe modes. It’s 36.99 on amazon.com.
Other worthwhile Solar powerbanks with the same capacity and price point but with additional 5W wireless charging is the Hiluckey 26800mAh wireless solar charger, Riapow 26800mAh solar power bank, aonidi 26800mAh solar power bank at the same price of 37.
YOESOID 20000mAh Solar Charger
This solar powerbank comes with a 1.5W solar panel on one side, two USB-A ports with maximum power output of 10W and a micro-USB port for charging. You also get two LED lights with SOS functionality which is ideal for emergency situations. It’s IP65 water and dust-proof. You can charge it with both wall power and the sun, but note that charging it with the sun takes a considerable amount of time. It’s 22.99 on amazon.
You can get a higher capacity powerbank for an additional 6. The GoerTek is 25000 mAh solar powerbank with 36 LEDs, 3 output ports for 28.89.
Blavor 10,000mAh Solar Wireless Power Bank
This solar powerbank also supports Qi wireless charging. It’s equipped with two output USB-A ports and one USB-C bidirectional charge, dual-flashlights for the night and a compass kit. It’s well built and rugged with rubber guards on the corners to make it shock-proof. It’s IPX5 water proof as well as dust-proof. This powerbank is Qi certified so you can wirelessly charge compatible devices too such as smartwatches, earbuds, smartphones. It’s highly rated and goes for 28.99 on amazon. Anker, a more premium brand for mobile charging will take you back an additional 10 with their Anker PowerCore Solar 10000mAh dual-port solar powerbank.
If you’re looking for a higher capacity version of this powerbank, then you can top up another 20. You’ll get 2 additional output ports, 20000mAh battery, upto 10W on wireless charging and QC 3.0 fast-charging all for 48.99.
IEsafy 26800mAh Solar Charger
This solar powerbank comes with 4 foldable solar panels giving upto four times faster recharging speed. It has two 10W USB-A output ports, is IP65 waterproof, has LED flashlights with SOS mode and comes with a portable compass kit. It takes about 6 hours to charge this powerbank from 1 to blinking 4th bar with the solar panels which isn’t fast but is good enough. This solar powerbank is 40.99 on amazon.
Another capable foldable four solar panel power bank is the 25000mAh Tranmix power bank at 39.99 or the more premium ADDTOP Solar Charger 25000mAh Portable Solar Power Bank at 45.99.
EGRD 30,000mAh wireless solar power bank
This power bank is a power horse. It has a high capacity 30000mAh battery, 1.5W solar panel, 4 USB-A output ports(15W on 3 USB-A ports and one QC 3.0), so you can charge upto 4 devices simultaneously, a bi-directional USB-C power delivery 18W port and one more additional Micro-USB charging port. It’s also Qi compatible, so you can wireless charge compatible devices. You can upto four lightning modes, its rugged with a hook to attach to your backpack and drop resistant and has waterproof support. At 30.59 on amazon, this monster solar power bank is reasonably priced.
Feeke 32800mAh Qi wireless solar power bank
This Feeke solar powerbank is a high capacity 32800mAh solar power bank with support for wireless charging. It has one micro-USB input port(10W), two USB-A output ports(15W) and one bi-directional USB-C port(15W). It’s also Qi-compatible, so you can wireless charge compatible devices. This powerbank looks and feels very rugged. It’s IP66 Rainproof, Dustproof and Shockproof. It also comes with a 200 lumens flashlight with SOS mode which will come in handy in dark and emergency situations. This Solar power bank goes for 47.98 on amazon.
Feature image: Unsplash.com
Buying guide for best solar chargers
We live in a world where we rely heavily on our phones and other electronic devices. We use them to communicate, to enjoy entertainment, to get directions from point A to point B. One way to make sure you never run out of juice, no matter how far you are from a power outlet, is to invest in a solar charger.
Below, you’ll find our full guide to solar chargers. Read on to discover the benefits of solar chargers, the different types available, and important tips to help you maximize your investment. When you’re ready to buy, scroll on up to the top of this screen to view our most esteemed recommendations.
Benefits of a solar charger
Why should you buy a solar charger? What are the benefits of owning one? We answer these questions below.
- Solar chargers are useful for faraway excursions in which you won’t have access to electricity. Campers, hikers, and other outdoor fans can benefit from a solar charger.
- Many modern solar chargers are extremely lightweight and portable. It’s easy to pack a solar charger and take it with you wherever you go.
- Solar power is a completely renewable energy source. If you’re looking for an eco-friendly way to power your electronics, this is it.
- If you like to spend a lot of time outdoors, you can charge your devices for free while doing something you enjoy.
Some solar chargers have loops, grommets, or straps that attach to a backpack so you can charge your devices while walking.
Types of solar chargers
You can find three main types of solar chargers on the market: monocrystalline, polycrystalline, and CIGS (which stands for copper, indium, gallium and selenide) solar chargers.
Monocrystalline solar chargers
- Monocrystalline solar chargers are rugged and durable. They tend to last longer than CIGS models.
- As long as it’s sunny out, monocrystalline solar chargers are the most effective variety.
- Newer foldable monocrystalline solar chargers are fairly light and portable.
- Monocrystalline solar chargers aren’t as lightweight or compact as CIGS chargers.
- In partially shaded conditions, monocrystalline solar chargers aren’t very effective.
Price: Basic low-power monocrystalline solar chargers start at less than 20. Powerful high-end models tend to cost 175 to 200.
Polycrystalline solar chargers
- Polycrystalline solar chargers tend to be the most inexpensive option.
- Most polycrystalline solar chargers are very durable and long-lasting.
- Polycrystalline solar chargers are similar to monocrystalline models, albeit slightly less efficient.
Price: We found basic micro polycrystalline solar panels for as little as 5 to 7, but they’re not extremely powerful. You can get a stronger 40-watt model for around 50, though some powerful high-end options cost over 100.
Cigs solar chargers
- CIGS solar chargers are the most lightweight option available.
- Since CIGS solar chargers are made from flexible fabric, they can be rolled up like a poster and put in a bag when not in use, making them very portable.
- CIGS solar chargers are significantly more effective than monocrystalline and polycrystalline models in overcast and partially shady conditions.
- Due to their thinness, CIGS solar chargers aren’t as durable or long-lasting as either crystalline type.
- CIGS aren’t as efficient as monocrystalline or polycrystalline solar chargers in sunny conditions.
Price: CIGS solar chargers can cost anywhere from 50 to 300, depending on their power and quality.
A good solar charger should have auto-restart technology.” If it stops charging because the sun disappears behind a Cloud, it will automatically start charging again once the sun returns.
Considerations for selecting a solar charger
The wattage of a solar charger dictates how powerful it is and how quickly it will charge your devices. Basic solar chargers may pack less than five watts of power, whereas the most powerful units can yield 100 watts.
While a four- or five-watt charger can tackle your average smartphone, it will take three to four hours to get it to a full charge. Ideally, you should opt for at least a seven-watt charger for a single phone to speed up the charging time. If you plan to charge multiple smartphones at the same time, or if you’re charging a power-hungry device like a tablet, consider a 15-watt charger. For a laptop, DSLR camera, or video-recording equipment, we recommend a solar charger with a minimum of a 30 watts.
The output power of a solar charger is measured in amps. Find out the best amperage for the devices you want to charge, and choose accordingly. If your charger has more than one port, the manufacturer may list the output power for all the ports combined or for each port individually. Be sure to double-check this spec to make sure you know what the manufacturer is referring to.
How important is the weight of your solar charger to you? If you’ll only be using it on camping trips where you can drive right up to your pitching site, weight may not be of huge importance. But if you’ll be taking it on multi-day hiking trips where you really want to keep the weight of your pack down, a lightweight solar charger would be the best option.
Most manufacturers give a rough idea of how long a solar charger needs to power an average device. Of course, the charge time will vary depending on a number of factors, including the battery size, the power requirements of the device you’re charging, and how sunny it is.
If you’ll be using your solar charger in an area that’s not overly sunny, opt for the most powerful model you can afford. The extra power will help you take advantage of any fleeting minutes of sunshine.
Estimated charge times are usually based on perfect full-sun conditions, so adjust your expectations if you’ll be using it somewhere further up north.
Q. Is a solar charger capable of charging multiple devices at once? A. Many solar chargers come with multiple USB ports so you can charge several devices at the same time. This is ideal if you’re going on a family trip and want just one charger for the whole party. However, be sure to consider the wattage of your chosen charger; a low-power charger will take a long time to charge more than one device.
Q. Can I recharge a device that uses a 12V cigarette port with a solar charger? A. While you can get adaptors to charge a range of different devices that don’t use a USB port, most solar chargers aren’t capable of tackling items that charge from a 12V cigarette port.
Q. Does the listed weight of a solar charger include all cables, batteries, and other accessories? A. The listed weight of a solar charger can sometimes be misleading. While you’d expect the listed weight to include all essential accessories, some manufacturers only list the weight of the panel itself. If weight is important to you, be sure to check what the listed weight includes.