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 portable solar chargers
We reviewed 25 products and spent over 100 hours scientifically field testing the top 15 portable solar panels to find the best ones for modern survival. After considering price, durability, performance, size, and weight, we recommend the Ryno Tuff 21W Portable Solar Charger.
- March 10, 2022 : The Goal Zero Nomad 7 Plus, Goal Zero Nomad 14 Plus, Renogy Portable E.Flex 10W, iClever USB Solar Charger, and X-DRAGON 14W have been discontinued
- Collapse Most Recent Updates
Being prepared for emergencies means being able to generate electricity without the grid. There are bigger solar panels for your home and basecamp, but many preppers want to charge their portable batteries and USB-powered devices (e.g. phones) while on foot. These portable solar panels, which are typically marketed for backpacking, hiking, or camping, are a core part of many people’s go-bags and car kits.
Portable solar chargers pair well with a rechargeable battery pack (either a single Li-Ion pack or a charger for AA-style batteries), and some of them even come with a built-in battery pack.
Despite how simple these USB solar chargers appear — you put them in the sun and plug your gear into them, right? — there’s a lot more to picking the right charger and learning how to use it effectively than you might imagine.
Check out the beginner’s guide to off-grid power for the basics in simple terms and what kind of gear you need for your goals.
- Bigger panels always perform better. Get the biggest you can within your space, weight, and budget limits.
- Time of day doesn’t matter nearly as much as placing the panels perpendicular to the sun.
- Despite what you might read in guides, it appears to be very rare for panels to not go back up to full power after a Cloud passes overhead. This may have been an issue for older panels, but it seems to have been fixed in the current generation.
- Heat decreases panel performance, so keep your panels off of hot surfaces like stone or metal. Some of the panels that heated up quite a bit had Rapid voltage and current oscillations, and these wild swings lowered the total overall energy output over the course of a test run.
- Avoid charging your phone/headlamp/whatever directly from a solar panel in the hot sun. Rather, charge a battery pack first, then use that pack to charge your phone.
Read below the fold for deep details on our testing methods and data, tips on getting the most from your panel, and more.
Best for most people:
Ryno Tuff 21W USB Solar Charger
This fairly-priced and high-power charger is not exactly compact at 1 pound and 1 square meter of panel surface area, but it’s thin and light enough to be fine in a typical pack.
The best portable solar panel for most people is the Ryno Tuff 21W. After hours of testing with a load tester and a multimeter, this charger ranked at or near the top of our review in the key areas of power output, watts per ounce, and efficiency. As we measured weather, sunlight levels, and panel heat in a variety of conditions, the Ryno Tuff was able to maintain an impressive 10W on a single USB port. In fact, we even got it all the way up to 12W for a bit on one test run. The price is also right — often coming in 5-10 cheaper than the competition — to the point that not only is it the overall winner but it’s the best budget option as well.
As of June 2022, customer service seems to be non-existent for Ryno Tuff. It is a quality panel and is still being sold by reputable sellers, but do not expect any sort of warranty or customer service.
We strongly recommend pairing a solar charger with a separate external USB battery bank so that you don’t have to ruin your gadgets built-in batteries by baking them in the sun during a charge cycle. Many of the products in this guide sell versions with and without a battery built into the solar charger. Although we prefer keeping the charger and battery separate, it’s not wrong if you pick the built-in battery version.
CHOETECH 19W USB Solar Charger
A very close second place, this panel is slightly more compact than the Ryno Tuff competitor at 0.9 square meters of total PV area. Slightly larger but 40% heavier than the Renogy.
The CHOETECH 19W is a great alternative — if you can find the CHOETECH for about the same price as the Ryno Tuff, confidently grab whichever one you’d like. The CHOETECH weighs the same as the Ryno Tuff yet folds into a slightly more compact design that saves precious space in smaller bags. The build quality is solid, just like the Ryno, but we did like the CHOETECHs embedded metal rings more than the cloth loops on the Ryno. This panel produced slightly less peak power than the Ryno in most of our testing, but the overall performance is close enough in most conditions.
Great for low light:
BigBlue 3 28W Solar Charger
This big 1.3 square meter panel can squeeze power out of the worst weather conditions, but clocks in at 1.33 pounds.
On the other hand, grab the BigBlue 28W Solar Charger if you want more power and are willing to deal with a larger panel. Total panel area directly affects power output — especially when dealing with constant low-light conditions — so preppers in locations like the Pacific Northwest may need to bite the bullet and carry a bigger charger if they really care about power preparedness. The BigBlue features three USB ports and did very well in our tests. The extra size makes it one of the heaviest chargers in our review, but on cloudy days it produced twice the output (8W vs 4.5W) of the Ryno and Choetech.
Although the BigBlue has a smaller height and width than the Ryno Tuff, the extra panel makes it heavier and thicker when folded up. The Renogy is much smaller and lighter than both.
- Difference between advertising and reality
- Angle to the sun matters
- Panel size directly impacts power
- How long will it take to charge my phone?
- How to figure out your device charge times
- Why USB charging is weird
- How we picked the competition
- How we tested
- Why other hiking solar charger reviews are flawed
- Nerdy notes on how to read the full test results
- Review data for each panel
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Advertised numbers don’t reflect reality
Our testing shows that real-world performance almost never reaches what the companies claim. At best, you should use those numbers to understand relative differences between products. If you have specific numbers you need to hit, such as watts or amps, assume there’s at least a 25-50% drop off from the marketing data.
Most USB chargers have names like RAVPower 16W, with the 16W label referring to the amount of power in watts. But manufacturer-provided power ratings are generated under highly artificial test conditions in order to promote the highest number possible.
It’s better to use those advertised wattage numbers as a rough indication of general panel size and relative power performance — e.g. a panel labeled 20W is probably a bit stronger and bigger than one labeled as 10W, even though neither panel will hit their advertised numbers.
Similarly, we found the amps coming out of a USB port almost never reached the rated maximum. For example, one panel that advertised 2.4 amps of USB output actually never got above 1.8.
Power output greatly depends on angle to the sun
Our testing found that how the panel is angled relative to the sun matters a lot more than simply the time of day. A panel at a bad angle at high Noon will perform worse than the same panel pointed directly at the sun at 6 PM. Even a few degrees off of 90/perpendicular makes a noticeable difference.
Some of these chargers hit maximum output even as late as 7 PM — just through proper positioning.
You know all those marketing pictures where the panel is strapped to the back of a hiker’s pack, using the attached loops that are helpfully built into the panels for that express purpose?
This will only work if the sun is directly behind you or you can get some portion of the panel on top of the bag. Vertical almost never works, especially if you keep changing the orientation of the panel to the sun.
You don’t have to baby the panel every few minutes, just be Smart about your positioning. Worst case: lay the panel flat through the mid-day hours.
To see how important the sun angle is in real wattage numbers, here’s a graph of an orientation test with the BigBlue 3 28W panel on a sunny, early September day at about noon.
We rotated the panel through a series of positions while making an audio recording of calling out the positions and timestamps so that we could mark them on the graph above. You’ll see that the sunlight level is constant at about 750W/m2, but the panel’s power output swings wildly with each position.
As we moved the panel from flat to 45 degrees from the sun, for example, the power output jumped from just under 12W to 14W. Turning the panel to 45 degrees facing away from the sun dropped the power output all the way down to two watts.
Total panel size is the biggest power factor
Regardless of the brand, technology, or price, total panel surface area is the number one factor behind solar charger performance. You can’t beat this by throwing money at it, either — for max power and best output under a wide range of conditions, it’s generally better to go big and cheap than small and expensive.
The scatter plot below compares each charger’s total panel area (in square meters) against the average power output during the best-performing test run. For the scientifically inclined, there’s a strong correlation with a p value of 0.8.
Chargers with smaller overall panel area were also more sensitive to a wider range of sunlight conditions. It took more sunlight to max them out, and they dropped off quickly under less-than-ideal light.
Although bigger is clearly better, the idea is to be portable, which is why we chose not to include panels we felt were too big for a common go-bag. Just get the biggest you can within your space, weight, and budget constraints.
How long will it take to charge my phone?
The main question — in most cases the only question — that everyone wants an answer to when shopping for portable USB solar chargers is: how long will this take to charge my phone if I put it in direct sunlight?
Like it or not, the answer is “it depends.” There are so many different factors that go into that question that any blanket answers are lying for the sake of ease.
Consider answering “which car can drive furthest on a gallon of gas?” To test that, you’d need everything else to be the same — the same tires, same route, same weather conditions, same type of oil and gas, same weight in the vehicle, and so on.
Similarly, different solar chargers behave differently depending on weather conditions, angle to the sun, temperature, the type of device they’re plugged into, etc. And different chargeable devices have different battery chemistries, capacities, charging algorithms, etc.
Later in this review, we explain how we handled those differences to be as scientific as possible and why most other portable solar charger reviews you see online are inherently flawed because they aren’t measuring apples to apples.
How to figure out your device charge times
Two numbers matter when charging any kind of battery: watt-hours (Wh) and volts (V).
Each battery holds a certain number of watt-hours of energy. So for an empty 9Wh battery, you need to supply it with 9 watts for an hour or 4.5 watts for 2 hours (and so on) to bring it up to full charge. The more watts your charger puts out, the faster your gear will charge.
This chart shows the amount of sun a test panel received over an hour (yellow) which was consistent on a sunny day, how much power the panel put out from that sunlight at any given moment (red/watts), and how much cumulative energy was sent to the USB device (blue/watt-hours).
Think of the blue line as the total charge sent into a battery, which is why it builds over time.
So as you look through the test run charts for the different panels in this review, keep your eye on how that Wh line grows over time under different sunlight conditions to get a feel for how the panels would perform on different battery sizes.
For example, the Nekteck charger in the graph above created 9.3Wh of charge over an hour. Since an iPhone XS battery is 9.8Wh, it would’ve charged to about 95% (from zero) in an hour. Again, though, these are ballpark numbers, because the iPhone would vary its voltage needs and current draw from the panel as its internal battery progresses through its charge cycle.
Why USB charging is weird
The kinds of lithium-ion batteries you’ll usually be charging via USB spend most of their usable battery life at 3.7V, but you’ll need to charge them at a minimum of 4.2V to get them up to 100 percent full. Depending on the specifics of the battery there may be a little wiggle room, but 4.2V is what you should aim for.
USB charging devices — whether they’re battery packs or solar panels — have USB ports with nominal 5V outputs. That 5V rating is a USB standard when charging a battery, but what differs from one USB flavor to another (-A.B, mini, etc.) are the amps the port can put out. For example, many older USB flavors can charge a battery at 1.5A, but some newer fast-charge flavors run at 2.1A.
The USB ports on the solar chargers we tested rated at different amperages, so in our spreadsheet we list the maximum amperage of the highest amperage port on each charger.
These amperage and power differences among ports solely affect how quickly a given device will charge when plugged into them. They do not pose a safety hazard for the following reasons:
You definitely cannot fry your phone by plugging it into a port that gives too much USB power. A 5V 2A = 10W USB port does not “push” 10W of power into whatever you plug into it. Rather, your device can pull up 10W — or whatever the rated maximum of the port is — at a time. So there is no danger of frying your phone if you plug it into a USB charging port that’s capable of putting out way more power than it can use. The phone will draw as much power from the port as it can, and the port won’t try to give the phone any extra power.
You probably cannot fry a USB charger port by plugging the wrong phone into it. Your tablet could try to pull 20W out of a 10W USB port, but if that USB port has overcharge protection then it will be fine. Most of the panels we tested don’t advertise overcharge protection, but this is so standard we’d be shocked if it’s not universal on these products.
How we selected the contenders
We created a spreadsheet of 26 panels after researching other reviews and scouring through preparedness, outdoor, and electronics forums for common recommendations. From there we chose the models that seemed like the best candidates, narrowing the field down to 15 for in-person testing.
Although size is always an issue, we focused on panels with advertised power over 10 watts, except for the Goal Zero Nomad 7, which we included due to its popularity among preppers. Most of the panels were provided by the manufacturer, but that never breaks our Prepared Promise.
How we tested
Besides normal qualities like price and durability, our goal was to isolate the panels and test their efficiency under different weather conditions, honing in on what kind of power output you can get depending on sunlight and changing environmental conditions.
Properly testing portable chargers takes a lot of time and specialized equipment. We’ve yet to find another review online that does this properly (details in next section).
We bought an irradiance meter to measure the energy of the sun hitting the panel, a multimeter to measure the output from the panel’s USB port, and a USB load tester that acts like a battery (but with Smart controls so we could change current draw).
We laid each panel out flat in the sun on an elevated Coolaroo pet bed over a light-colored stone deck so that air could circulate underneath. We placed our testing apparatus in a small box underneath the bed/panel for shade, with the irradiance meter’s sunlight sensor in the same place for every test.
That measuring gear logged lots of data over each testing session (typically a sample every 10 seconds), which we collected with a custom computer script to analyze the data and turn it into charts.
Our testing site was in central Texas, two miles from an airport. We recorded the METAR weather and sky condition data from that airport for the main run of tests.
Because ambient temp affects panel performance, we also tried to get a sense of how well panels handled the heat while baking in the sun by using the thermal FLIR camera built into a CAT S61 smartphone.
Additional nerd notes
- All measurements were taken from the first USB port, or from the quick-charging port if the panel had one.
- The USB load tester was set to draw two amps of current. If the panel’s output dropped too low, it would lose power, but every time it switched back on it immediately began drawing current again at the same two-amp level.
- The USB multimeter was powered by a separate USB power input, so if and when the panel dropped out due to Cloud cover it would keep recording.
- The duration of most of the tests was at least one hour, though we often let panels run for far longer to get a picture of how they performed under a wide range of conditions.
- The panels were brought out from an air conditioned house and plugged immediately into the testing apparatus, so all of the tests reflect a rise in panel temperatures over the course of the session.
- We only tested one USB port, even if the charger had multiple, because with panels of this relatively small size you really want to charge one thing at a time.
- You’ll see from our test data that by pushing up the amperage we were able to max out even the largest panels with just one port filled, so we’re confident that our ranking of the panels still holds even if we loaded more than one port.
- In general, most of the panels seemed to do best when you’re trying to pull less than the stated maximum current from them, and slightly worse when you’re at the maximum amperage or above it.
- As a result, rather than tune the current draw for each panel, we chose to use a constant 2A. Tuning the draw for each felt like that was more about testing the advertising claims, which was less important than real-world use.
- We chose 2A because the advertised USB output amperages ranged from 1.4A to 3A, with many at or close to 2.4A, so we erred on the low side. 2A also felt like the right threshold to reflect modern smartphones, tablets, etc.
- Because some of the panels, especially the smaller ones, really performed poorly under the 2A load, and the larger ones that could do more amperage were limited by it, we did some shorter test runs at different amperages ranging from 1A to 3A, depending on the panel.
- We used in the results from these shorter runs when they seemed appropriate, and weren’t dogmatic about only using the number from the 2A load. The idea is to get a realistic picture of what each panel can do, while also coming up with a meaningful way to rank them fairly.
Why other hiking solar charger reviews are flawed
As we researched this space, we were shocked at how unscientific and misleading other top-tier reviews are — so although we like to avoid talking about competitors, we decided to share our thinking in hopes of raising the tide in this market.
Most other sites went the quicker and cheaper route by taking the panel outside on a sunny day, plugging a partially charged Li-Ion battery into the panel for a set period of time, then judging the results solely by how many % points the battery increased (e.g. 10% to 15% charged). Panel A that increased a battery by 8% “won” over Panel B that went up 6%.
The problem here is that Li-Ion has a charging curve, so depending on what charge level you start at, it will take either more or less power to add percentage points to the charge meter. So unless they’re using the same battery at the same level of partial charge every time, the tests aren’t quite fair.
sophisticated sites will fully drain a battery pack, then plug it in and charge it, measuring the cumulative charge with a power meter. A few took it a step further, “confirming” the results by draining the bank back to empty and measuring the cumulative output.
That’s an improvement, but it’s still partially testing the battery and not just the panel in isolation. The battery’s temperature and the rate at which it’s charged and discharged both impact how much charge it holds. Which means temperatures and other factors will skew the results.
Some sites will do spot tests of the maximum panel output, reporting that the panel peaked at X volts and Y amps. That’s just as flawed as claiming a car can do 50 miles per gallon because the reviewer measured the gas efficiency while rolling downhill while idling. As you can see from our results, some of the panels go through periods where their output fluctuates wildly. Taking a partial snapshot doesn’t paint the whole picture. A proper test will measure performance and variables over time.
Finally, perhaps the most serious problem with the most popular solar panel tests is that there is not a single solar irradiance measurement in them — in fact, there’s often not even a weather report!
Solar irradiance (watts per meter squared) is the energy hitting the solar panel. The temperature of the panel affects its efficiency at converting that irradiance into electricity. So when they fail to take careful measurements of both the sun’s energy and the panel temp, it’s impossible to compare apples to apples. Vague talk of “sunny” or “passing clouds” isn’t nearly precise enough.
How to read the full test results
Sunlight (“irradiance”) is shown as a number like 600 w/m^2. In simple terms, that’s how much energy hits a surface that’s one square meter (about 10 square feet). We broke 1,000 w/m^2 on a 108F bright Texas day, otherwise a normal sunny day with the sun directly overhead was in the 750-900 range, partly cloudy or with the sun at an angle would be 500-750, and real Cloud cover would get down to about 120. On the charts, we divided these numbers by 100 to get them in the 0-10 range.
Power (watts) = volts x amps. In general, the panels held a steady voltage while the amperage varied a bit. You can get the base numbers for voltage and amperage from the spreadsheet for each test run.
Energy (watt-hours) is a running total of the power put into a battery over time. If the devices you care about have batteries measured in mAh (milliamp-hours), the beginners guide explains how to convert so you’re apples to apples.
Efficiency: The real panel efficiencies we measured were in the 0.2% to 1.5% range, so we multiplied by 10 to fit them into the charts alongside power. Much more on this in a following section, though.
Focus on the power output, not the voltage
If you dig into the test data, you’ll see that few of the panels ever got up to the 4.2V needed to fully charge the average Li-Ion battery, much less stayed there over the course of a run. This is not as big a deal as it may seem.
Just FOCUS on the power column. Since power = volts x amps, you can get 5W of power from 2.5V x 2A, or from 5V x 1A. For one test we may have dialed in a 2A load that’s only showing 2.5V, but if we dial it back to 1A on another run then we can always get closer to 5V.
Here’s what’s going on: Most modern USB devices, whether it’s a battery bank or an e-reader, have a controller chip that will intelligently charge the internal battery when you plug them in to one of these panels. So the chip will alter the charging port’s current draw to suit the battery’s voltage needs for whatever part of the charging cycle it’s at — if it’s early in a charge cycle, it may need a lower voltage and/or current than at the end of the cycle.
We ran a number of shorter tests on the panels that didn’t make it above 4.2V in the main test runs, in order to directly confirm that if we dial down the current draw to about 1 amp, the voltage gets well north of 4.2. So even the panels that have voltage readings in the 2.5V range will get up to 4.2V and fully charge a battery if you lower the current draw, as long as the device that battery is in has a charge controller that can manage the process by varying the current.
Understanding solar charger efficiency
Solar panel efficiency is expressed as a percentage of watts out divided by watts in. So we measured the watts/m^2 given off by the sun during each test run, multiplied that by the total area of each charger’s panels in square meters, and divided the measured wattage output by the results.
We never got real efficiency numbers over about 14% for even the best of these chargers under the most ideal conditions. This is below the 20% to 25% efficiency numbers advertised.
It could be that the panel technology is that efficient under some ideal lab conditions, but by the time they package it into a charger and hang some USB ports off it, that efficiency is lower.
Aeiusny 20W Solar Charger
Bottom line: The 70 Aeiusny 20W Solar Charger is a large, heavy unit that we expected big things from based on the size, but we were disappointed by the performance. We couldn’t get the panel’s power output to stabilize, and because the power output was all over the map, it didn’t put out much total charge on any given test run no matter how ideal the sunlight conditions were.
We liked the integrated rings and the build quality is decent. But given the problems we encountered, we can’t recommend the Aeiusny. We’ll hang on to it and revisit if the manufacturer fixes or clarifies the issues.
Test notes: This is one of the panels we suspect may be hampered in our tests by some sort of “Smart” device auto-detection circuitry. The charger touts the following feature on its Amazon listing page:
“Smart IC TECHNOLOGY: The Aeiusny Solar Panel has Smart IC Technology that detects the device using USB PIN signals and provides optimal charging power and optimal charging speed for both Android and iOS devices simultaneously, automatically adjusting to the demands of the device.”
You can see from the charts that the charger’s power output is very spikey, with the first test run seeing the current swing from about 2A down to 0.5A to 0A to 1.5A, as if it’s hunting around from among the standard USB current levels to find the correct one.
We’re not entirely sure what happened on the second test, but it’s most likely that the panel wasn’t plugged into the testing apparatus all the way, so the trace amount of power in the chart is actually coming from the USB power input and not from the panel input.
As for the third test, the irradiance meter was accidentally not recording, but the sky was perfectly clear with no clouds, so there wouldn’t be any Cloud cover reflected in it, anyway.
On the fourth test run, which was done with the load tester set to draw 3A of current, you can see that the panel spent most of its time close to zero, with the current spiking upwards periodically to between 1A and 2A. It’s as if the tester’s attempt to draw a higher load really threw it for a loop.
Or, it could be possible that heat is the main reason for the wild power swings, since in the first and third test runs the panel stays stable for about 15 minutes before starting to go all over the place.
There’s a chance the panel technology is a culprit. We noticed this same all-over-the-place power output pattern from other products with a similar look to the panel cells (e.g. the Foxelli charger), which often indicates a shared supplier or factory.
BigBlue 3 28W
Bottom line: The 70 BigBlue 3 28W is a large, high-quality panel, with extremely clean power output that correlates tightly with sun input. You can see how clean the power and efficiency plots are for most of the tests and how rock solid the power output stays during full sunlight conditions.
The build quality for this panel is good but not exceptional, as it’s the standard polyester cover with embedded metal rings. It seems to have stayed cool enough, even in the summer Texas sun, to stay stable and efficient. We didn’t see any bubbling or other damage from heat.
The main downsides to this panel are size and weight. We included it because we saw many other people considered it just under the limit for a backpack-portable charger. In exchange for its higher weight, this panel does extremely well in lower sunlight conditions. The BigBlue did far better in moderate sunlight than any other panel in this roundup, getting up to 8W in conditions where the other panels would’ve struggled to produce 4.5W.
Test notes: For most of the runs, we had the load tester set to draw 2A of current, which the charger stayed close to at a steady 4.9V.
For the “bigblue-3” run, we had the tester try to draw 3A. The charger put out well above 2A for most of that run, and even got all the way up to 2.5A — above its rated 2.4A maximum — for a little while.
Like the power line graphs, the power and efficiency scatter plots are exceptionally clean, and reveal that this is one of the panels where efficiency drops a bit as the sunlight level maxes it out and the power output plateaus.
Bottom line: The 55 CHOETECH 19W is exceptionally lightweight and compact for the amount of juice it produces, coming in under a pound. We have no complaints about the overall build quality, and we appreciate that there’s not a lick of extraneous material to weigh it down. Excellent performance at a great price in a compact package.
The output from the CHOETECH charger was very stable under all sorts of conditions, holding steady during periods of ideal sunlight and correlating tightly with dips and rises from passing clouds. We were able to get a sustained 4.5V at 2A for a steady flow of 9W of power to one of this two USB outputs when the weather cooperated.
This panel has one integrated metal ring in the top, and then loops along the side. These woven loops are the price of not wasting space on the cover, though. If it has integrated rings, it would weigh more because they would have to expand the amount of extra case material all the way around to accommodate them.
The one slight downside to this panel is the efficiency — you need to get north of 600 W/m2 (a moderately sunny day with a good panel angle) in order to see the full power output. It just doesn’t do as well at lower sunlight levels than some of the other, heavier panels do. This definitely related to its smaller size.
Test notes: The Choetech gave us really clean panel output for two of the runs, when we were trying to draw 2A from it. When we tried to draw 3A in the last run, there was a little bit of instability at a few points. Our guess is that this instability was related to heat buildup from the very high levels of sunlight and the increased power draw.
If you look at the chart for the test run choetech-3, you can see that the panel is fine until about 30 minutes into the test, when it starts wigging out. Then after a spell of Cloud cover and low wattage from 00:48 to 1:05, it regains its stability for about 10 minutes before losing it again towards the end. This is about what we’d expect if the very high amount of incident sunlight (north of 900 W/m2) and power draw were causing excessive heat buildup. Unfortunately, we didn’t snap a picture with the FLIR on this run, so we can’t say for sure how hot the panel got at peak.
Foxelli Dual USB Solar Charger 10W
Bottom line: The 45 Foxelli Dual USB 10W is one of the more compact and lightweight units we tested — and also one of the least stable. It bombed pretty hard on the 2A runs, which we can’t hold against it because Foxelli only claims 1.85A max. But we found instability even down to 1A. It did, however, manage a respectable 4.8W average on a cloudless version of that run.
To compare it directly to a similarly-sized competitor, the Choetech, it weighs slightly more and produces about half the power. Not good.
The difference in weight and performance probably comes from the different make of the panels. The Foxelli has a type of panel that in our tests seems to be associated with lower stability under heat, and sure enough you can see that in some of the test runs.
Test notes: In the first run, it started out steady and then went crazy at about the 40 minute mark, with the power fluctuating wildly. On a subsequent run with more sustained sunlight it did better. But on the third run it just went nuts. That third run was the hottest (96F, vs. 80F and 90F on the other two), and the FLIR measured the panel at 110F near the end of the test.
Goal Zero Nomad 14 Plus – (Discontinued)
Bottom line: Goal Zero is a major player in the off-grid energy space, and we own and use many of their products. But the 150 Goal Zero Nomad 14 Plus just did not deliver. It’s expensive and heavy, and the output won’t stay stable enough to be usable at anything over about 1.5A of current. The 4.8V at 1.49A (~7W) that it would actually stabilize at is just not even close to good enough, even if it were as inexpensive as one of the other panels.
But at over 3X the price and almost twice the weight of our top pick, there’s just no case for this panel that we can see.
We worked with Goal Zero’s support, thinking we may have received a bad unit, but the results were the same after they sent us replacement junction boxes. We then shared our results with one of their engineers, who suggested we retest at a 1.5A draw — that did produce more stable results, they just weren’t very good results.
Goal Zero Nomad 7 Plus – (Discontinued)
Bottom line: Everything we said above about the Nomad 14 Plus applies to the 80 Goal Zero Nomad 7 Plus, but even more so. For the price and weight, just about every other charger in this guide absolutely wrecks the Nomad 7.
One of The Prepared’s testers even had this same model from a few years ago in their personal preps, and as a result of this review, they’re throwing it out.
We tested at a little over 0.5A current, which is the most we could get out of the Nomad 7 in the full Texas sun and still keep it stable. So this was a 2.6W panel under ideal conditions, placing it dead last in raw power output. Even when you account for the smaller size than the rest of the panels in this review, that’s just not good enough.
iClever USB Solar Charger – (Discontinued)
Bottom line: We liked the build and compact design of the 60 iClever USB Solar Charger. It comes with an integrated 8000mAh battery that cannot be removed, which we generally dislike and makes the testing harder. When we eyeballed the panels up close, they look like the same panels in other products that performed well in our testing.
In a future iteration of this review, we may include more chargers with built-in batteries and develop a different testing protocol. The iClever’s battery performed fine in these tests, however, with a very solid 4.8V at 2A.
Nekteck 21W Solar Charger
Bottom line: The 40 Nekteck 21W was one of the standout chargers, and it’s very close in design, size, and performance to the Choetech. These two panels are closely comparable, but while the Choetech’s performance is better, the Nekteck’s design is slightly more versatile and durable — it has a flap with three embedded rings on one end, a two embedded rings on the USB port end.
For the weight, price, and performance, it’s clearly at the top of the heap. For just 40 this charger is a fantastic value.
Test notes: The Nekteck’s power output was extremely clean and stable over all the runs, and it matched the sunlight level closely. For the third run, the irradiance meter wasn’t recording, but the sky was clear until around 3pm, when the power output started to drop steadily with a few dips.
RAVPower Solar Charger 16W Solar Panel
Bottom line: Avoid the 50 RAVPower 16W Solar Charger. We never could get this compact charger to stay stable at 2A, and it underperformed even the Foxelli charger by most metrics.
The RAVPower claims a 5V and 2.4A output, but we never saw output even close to that in our testing. The panel was able to keep the voltage at one of its two USB ports between 4V and 5V pretty consistently, even going over 5V by a decent margin on a few occasions. But the amperage was all over the map, swinging between a little under 2A and zero.
This charger just couldn’t keep enough current coming consistently to break 4Wh under a 2A load. However, if we dial the load back to 1A, we start to get more stability and the charger gets up to 5W consistently.
Looking at the brief periods in the test runs where it did well plus the less-formal spot checking we performed, where we watched the meters for a few minutes but didn’t record, we could see maybe getting this panel up to 7W sustained under absolutely ideal sunlight and load conditions. But even then, it’s not going crack the top 5 in its weight and price class.
Test notes: The second test run of this charger is the only one we saw in this whole review where the unit is clearly having problems getting back up to its power output after a Cloud passes. You can see that it’s unstable for about 10 minutes after it’s plugged in, and then that instability returns every time the sunlight level dips due to Cloud cover. As for the first run, there was a lot of instability, which really hurt the charger’s average power and total Wh output over the course of the run.
Renogy Portable E.Flex Monocrystalline 10W – (Discontinued)
Bottom line: We loved the 30 Renogy E.Flex 10W charger and some of our testers bought a few for their families. The build quality feels insanely sturdy, with the possible exception of the hinges (if squished flat by a heavy weight) and the little plastic box on the back for the USB port, which protrudes in a way that might make it prone to snap off in a pack. But otherwise it feels like a tank, which is amazing considering that it’s only half a pound.
The Renogy scored really high efficiency numbers for its compact size category, and its close to a 5W panel on a good day. It’s sensitive to load, though, so it wasn’t until we dialed the load back to 1A that it reached peaked efficiency.
It stands out for staying stable and continuing to charge even at fairly low sunlight levels. Even under Cloud cover, this unit can still put out a clean trickle charge, which is not something we saw with the other smaller panels (or even in some of the larger panels).
Ryno Tuff Solar Charger Dual USB 21W
Bottom line: The 57 Ryno Tuff Dual USB 21W unit came out on top in power output, watts per ounce, and price. It was a great performer in every area, and though it wasn’t quite as stable on all the test runs as its closest competitors, overall it out-delivered everyone else.
Test notes: The first two test runs showed this charger doing really well, and it’s clear that it would have scored an average of over 9W of output if the weather had cooperated.
There was a period of instability in the middle third of the second test. This may be related to heat buildup, but it’s hard to say. The third test run was done with a 3A load, and you can see that it’s significantly less stable than the other two that were done at 2A. This instability under a higher load is something we’ve seen in a few of the panels, and as in the other cases, we think the cause is probably heat-related.
Solar Camp 5V 7.6W
Bottom line: We couldn’t get much power out of the 100 Solar Camp 7.6W on any of the runs where we set our 2A load to perfectly match what Solar Camp claims its port delivers. The charger would not stay stable over the course of any of the 2A runs, and the current just swung all over place.
We finally started seeing some real results when we lowered the draw to 1A. We did a very short run where we were able to get as much as 4.9W out of the panel at irradiance levels of 800W/m2 and higher. If this charger could sustain that kind of output for a longer 1A test run, then that might put this in the running with the Renogy in terms of watts per ounce. But even on a one-hour 1A run where we simulated a clear day by removing the Cloud cover from the dataset, the power still swung around a bit and we ended up with 2.7W average.
Ultimately, even though the Solar Camp is lighter and is capable of 4.9W output for short stretches under ideal conditions, we still don’t think it’s really in the same class as the Renogy for two reasons:
- The Renogy’s build quality is off the charts, especially compared to the thin, flexible Solar Camp.
- The Renogy is dramatically cheaper, especially if you get it on sale.
The Solar Camp’s performance may come down to the fact that it is is using a panel design that’s different than anything else in this roundup. You can see from the photo that the panels have a different look to them, and they’re on a thin, flexible backing.
Solar Camp advertises this package as lightweight and waterproof, and while we didn’t test the latter claim this time around, it’s probably valid. This is a very compact charger for the number of panels and total panel area you get. We loved the design and the build. Unfortunately, the performance just isn’t there in our testing.
Test notes: In the first test run, there was one roughly 15-minute stretch where this panel sustained about 2A. But the rest of the time on all the runs the current alternated between zero and 500mA, while the voltage stayed between about 4V and 5V. We have no idea why or how this happened, but have followed up with them to see if we can’t improve on this in a future review.
We did a subsequent test at 1A and got much better results, but it’s still not enough to get this charger into our main recommendations.
Bottom line: The 80 SunJack 15W is an expensive and moderately heavy panel. The build quality is similar to the Renology charger that we liked: hard plastic and built like a tank. But in terms of power output, it just didn’t blow us away like we had hoped when first pulled it out of the box.
We tested at a variety of attempted current draws, from 1.5A up to 2.8A, and we really couldn’t get this charger to put out more than 9W. We wish we had been able to test on some days with long stretches of over 950W/m2 of irradiance because we suspect we may have seen north of 10W with the right load. But that didn’t happen, and regardless, this didn’t do any better than much lighter and less expensive chargers.
The model we tested does come bundled with a removable 10K mAh rechargeable battery bank that seems decent. Since testing, SunJack has released a model that doesn’t come with a battery and is 20 cheaper, allowing you to pair with a bank of your own choosing.
X-DRAGON 14W SunPower – (Discontinued)
Bottom line: The 40 X-DRAGON 14W is a really great, compact, two-panel charger. It’s lightweight with solid build quality and impressive performance for the size. You’re not going to get a ton of power out of this charger, but under good conditions you can sustain well over 5W, which is quite good for a sub-1-pound panel. This panel was very stable, and it tracked changes in sunlight with near-perfect precision.
But ultimately, as much as we liked this panel, we’d rather either add an ounce and a half and get one of the more powerful chargers like the Ryno Tuff or Choetech, or go all the way down to the Renogy to really save weight. Based on our current numbers, this panel just falls into a weird size/performance spot that makes it hard to recommend, despite our love for it.
X-Dragon also offers a three-panel 20W charger— if it performs like this smaller version, then it’s probably a beast. We’re going to try to get our hands on one for the next round of testing.
Test notes: It’s pretty clear from the middle 30 minutes of the second test run that this panel could probably hold a 7W output in the right conditions, but even then that wouldn’t be good enough to crack the top 4 or so by weight and power.
Solar Cell Phone Charger – How it Works, Best Solar Phone Charger
Solar Cell Phone Charger converts Solar energy to Electricity to charge cell phone batteries. This post will discuss about Solar Cell Phone Charger, how it works, best Solar phone chargers, size of Solar Panel needed for charging phone efficiently.
What is Solar Cell Phone Charger
As the name summarizes, it is a charger that functions using Solar power. These chargers make use of Solar Panels or Photo-Voltaic cells that converts Solar energy to electricity.
Fig. 1 – Introduction to Solar Cell Phone Charger
It is an innovative invention that can be used for the replacement of electric chargers. It is portable, uses sustainable energy resources, environment-friendly and economical. Solar Batteries or mobile chargers have an USB Power Socket with up to 2.1 A of output current. You can plug in your device’s USB cable to start charging your phone using solar energy.
Fig. 2 – Foldable Wallet Solar Mobile Charger
What Size Solar Panel do I Need to Charge a Phone
Solar Cell Phone Chargers are available in different types, sizes, and shapes. Usually, the size of the panel determines the capacity of the charger. What size Solar Panel you need to buy is directly proportional to the device which you plug in to charge. Pick up the Solar Panel which will be compatible with your device.
How Long it Takes to Charge a Phone with Solar Phone Charger
When given a situation where there is bright sunlight and a decent capacity charger having 5-watt Solar Panel, it would take around 4-5 hours to charge a cell phone fully.
How does Solar Cell Phone Charger work
Fig. 3 – Block Diagram of Solar Cell Phone Charger
Solar Panel is the parallel arrangement of solar cells. Solar Cells are the photovoltaic cells that absorb solar radiation. When the light rays hit upon the panel, the free electrons start moving and initiate the current production process. To read more about how the Solar Cell works, click on the link which will provide you complete information on Solar Cell.
It manages the power going into the battery from the solar array.
It stores the energy received from Solar Panel.
The voltage from the solar panel is not stable and varies drastically according to the intensity of the sun rays and the degree of incidence over the solar panel. Hence to regulate the voltage, Voltage Regulator circuit is used.
It helps in regulating the voltage and current coming from the Solar Panels going to the battery. This circuit is used in between the Solar Panel output and the battery input. Voltage Regulator makes sure that the voltage never exceeds the safe value required by the battery for charging.
Universal Charging Port
Universal Charging Port is connected to the Voltage Regulation circuit to plug-in the device (Cell Phone) to be charged. USB cable is used to transfer the charge from the Cell Phone Charger to Mobile Phone.
Is there a Solar-Powered Cell Phone
The answer may surprise many, yes there are Solar Powered Cell Phones. Samsung is the first brand that launched Solar-Powered Cell Phone into the market in the year 2009. Later many other brands like Xiaomi and Micromax also launched Solar Cell Phones.
Fig. 4 – Solar Powered Cell Phone
In Solar Powered Cell Phones, the solar panel is embedded on the back of the phone. When this is kept facing the sunlight, it absorbs and converts Solar energy to electrical energy. Since the surface area of the back of the phone is less, it limits the quantity of solar panel insertion. This directly results in the charging capacity.
Best Solar Phone Charger
In recent days, Solar Cell Phone Chargers are making sound in the market due to their adaptability and user-friendly nature. But sometimes it may get overwhelmed to choose the best and suitable charger among the numerous. So here we have listed some of the best solar cell phone chargers in the market to make your purchase easy.
- Efficiency of your device
- Adaptability of charger
- Power output of the charger
Apart from all these, easy-to-use indicators like level of battery, durability, affordability are some of the other factors to keep in the picture while purchasing a Solar Charger.
- BigBlue 28W Solar Charger
- BioLite Solar Panel 5
- Feeke KR-T01 Solar power bank
BigBlue 28W USV Solar Phone Charger
This is one of the most loved and highly rated Solar Phone Chargers. The device folds open to 4 layers, weighs around 550 grams. So it fits into any backpack and is apt to carry along when traveling. It provides three USB ports for charging. The only con this charger possesses is, it does not have any battery backup, which in turn doesn’t support the direct charging category.
BioLite Solar Panel 5
This solar panel is well designed to place it on any terrain or you can even hang it on the tree to get maximum sunlight. This is compatible with many phones, tablets, and also cameras. This provides the battery backup facility wherein you can charge and use it at any time. It is a lightweight device weighing less than 250 grams which makes it travel-friendly. The only con we can find in this is; it has only one USB output port.
Fig. 5 – Image of BioLite Solar Panel
Feeke KR-T01 Solar Power Bank
This is one of the bestselling, top-rated Solar Power Banks on the internet. This has got the additional provision of wireless charging (only for QI phones). This supports both Micro input and Type-C plugins. It is sturdy, lightweight, easy to carry, waterproof, dustproof. To sum up, it is one of the efficient Solar Cell Phone Chargers.
Though we have mentioned only three chargers, there are plenty of options available in the market to choose from. You can choose your preferred charger according to your requirement.
Do Solar Phone Chargers really Work
The popularity of Solar Cell Phone Chargers is less compared to solar water heaters and light. So it is likely to hear questions like ‘do solar phone chargers really work’?
Yes, the Solar Cell Phone Charger works efficiently as any other charger. In fact, Some countries have implemented public Solar Cell phone charging booths. So clearly, solar Phone chargers are a streamlined device that performs its purpose very well.
Fig. 6 – Solar Powered Charging Booth
Disadvantages of Solar Phone Charger
Also Read: 3G Vs LTE (4G). Evolution of Mobile networks 5G Phone Cellular Network Technology. Working Architecture, Characteristics Cell Phone Sniffer Tracking System. How to Find Lost Phone Block IMEI Cricket Wireless. How Do I Find Cricket Account Number, myCricket App
- Advantages of Solar Charger
- Best Solar Cell Phone Charger
- BigBlue 28W Solar Charger
- BioLite Solar Panel
- Block Diagram of Solar Charger
- Charge Controller
- Disadvantages of Solar Charger
- Feeke KR-T01 Solar power bank
- how Solar Cell Phone Charger work
- Photo-Voltaic cells
- Solar Batteries
- Solar Cell Phone Charger
- Solar cells
- Solar Charger
- Solar mobile charger
- Solar Panel size
- solar panels
- Solar Phone Charger
- Solar Powered Charging Booth
- Solar-Powered Cell Phone
- Universal Charging Port
- Voltage Regulator
- Wallet Solar Mobile Charger
The 7 Best Solar Phone Chargers of 2023
We’re big fans of solar chargers with multiple features like working as a power bank while doubling as a flashlight.
Grace Gavilanes is a freelance writer-editor who has covered a wide range of topics. Her writing has been published in InStyle, Food Wine, Glamour, and Mic, among other outlets.
Nick Blackmer is a librarian, fact checker, and researcher with more than 25 years’ experience in consumer-oriented content.
In This Article
Picture this: You’re driving to your campsite or hiking on an unfamiliar trail, when suddenly your phone dies — right when you needed to double-check your maps. It’s an unfortunate circumstance that happens far too often. While wall chargers and outlets are hard to come by when you’re on the road or in the middle of nowhere, solar phone chargers come in handy for moments like this.
We’ve found our favorite after extensive research and can’t recommend the Blavor Solar Power Bank enough. But don’t let its best overall rating steer you from checking out the others. They’re all winners in their own right: From a solar phone charger that doubles as a high-powered lantern to a lightweight option that’ll rival your wall charger’s speed, these offerings are bound to make an appearance on your next few trips.
Blavor Solar Power Bank
Everything you could possibly need in a portable solar charger can be found in this lightweight power bank. It boasts three ports and wireless charging for your phone or Airpods. A built-in LED flashlight is great to have as an extra light source when you’re off the grid, as is the buffer-boosted exterior that helps protect it from falls. Since it’s dustproof and IPX5 waterproof (meaning it can withstand low-pressure water streams), you can feel confident bringing it along for beach trips. To easily expose it to sunlight when you’re out and about, it comes with a carabiner clip that has a compass on it. A USB output, wireless charging pad, and a USB C output/input are included. You get your pick between five color options, and if you want even more functionality, Blavor’s four-at-once charger is also available.
Price at time of publish: 50
The Details: 3 ports | 10 ounces | 10,000 mAh | 5.9 x 3.1 x 0.8 inches | Built-in battery | Waterproof
Hiluckey Outdoor Portable Power Bank
- As is typical with solar chargers, for the most effective charge, consider first charging it via USB.
While this solar charger was built for outdoor use, it can also be charged via USB cable if you’re near an outlet. It charges phones up to 10 times and tablets up to four times, separately. On average, the portable solar charger can be used nine times per charge, making it a staple for extended trips. It’s available on Amazon at a steal compared to chargers on the market with similar battery lives.
Price at time of publish: 57
The Details: 2 ports | 1.34 pounds | 25,000 mAh | 6.18 x 3.54 x 1.38 inches | Built-in battery
Goal Zero Nomad 50 Solar Panel
- To avoid ruining your phone’s battery, don’t plug this panel into your device directly; instead, pair it with a power bank like the Yeti 200x Power Station first.
This heavy-duty solar panel (that’s lighter than it looks) is big enough to capture sunlight to charge any device with help from an external power bank. From phones to laptops and even mini fridges, it can collect the amount of solar power needed to maintain your devices for long periods of time away from the hustle and bustle. However, since this panel does have a charge controller, you should only transfer power from it to a heavy-duty power bank that can then be used to power up your devices.
Price at time of publish: 250
The Details: 3 ports | 6.85 pounds | 50 watts | 53 x 17 x 1.5 inches (unfolded); 17 x 11.25 x 2.5 inches (folded) | Built-in battery | Water-resistant
Go Sun SolarPanel 10
- Because of its convenient size, it may be more difficult to collect and transfer solar energy to power your device.
Claiming to “charge about [as] fast as a typical wall outlet charger” when the sun is fully out, this solar panel can easily fit inside a tote bag thanks to its near-flat design or can freely hang on a backpack. It can also charge any device in as little as three hours due to its 10-watt power output, according to the brand. A bonus for those with overloaded suitcases? It weighs less than a pound. This charger is water-resistant but won’t stand up to being fully submerged.
Price at time of publish: 99
The Details: 1 port | 0.65 pounds | 10 watts | 10.5 x 7 inches (unfolded); 5.25 x 7 inches (folded) | Water-resistant
Best for Multiple Devices
BigBlue 28W Solar Charger
With three USB-A ports, this four-panel solar charger is able to power up your favorite devices, such as your phone and Bluetooth speaker. This charger comes equipped with Smart chips to ensure your device is always protected and charged safely without experiencing over-voltage. It’s extremely thin for slipping into a backpack or tote, and when you need to hang it up to soak in the sun, holes with heavy-duty metal lining come in handy.
Price at time of publish: 80
The Details: 3 ports | 1.34 pounds | 28 watts | 33.1 x 11.1 x.2 inches (unfolded) or 11.1 x 6.3 x 1.3 inches (folded) | Waterproof
Best Charging Speed
Ryno Tuff Portable Solar Charger for Camping
The Ryno Tuff Portable Solar Charger can fully charge a phone or tablet in approximately two hours. Another standout feature of this solar charger is its ability to stop charging when it senses your device is overheating or has reached its full capacity. Two carabiner clips are included with the foldable charger for hanging and hauling needs. In addition to providing your phone with top-notch energy, the team at Ryno Tuff is also committed to giving back to the earth — with every purchase of this solar charger, the company will plant a tree through the National Forest Foundation.
Price at time of publish: 63
The Details: 2 ports | 1.04 pounds | 21 watts | 18.1 x 11.8 x 0.12 inches (unfolded); 5.9 x 11.8 x 0.79 inches (folded) | Waterproof
LuminAID PackLite Max 2-in-1 Power Lantern
With five brightness settings to light up your chosen environment, this backpacker-favorite lantern features adjustable straps so you can easily hang it from trees or inside a tent. It’s also collapsible (a must for those on the go), shatterproof (made from heavy-duty TPU, an elastic plastic that’s PVC-free), and waterproof (it can survive being submerged in water for up to 30 minutes).
Price at time of publish: 50
The Details: 1 port | 0.53 pounds | 2,000 mAh | 6 x 6 x 6 inches (unfolded); 6 x 6 x 1 inches (folded) | Built-in battery | Waterproof
Tips for Buying a Solar Phone Charger
Consider device compatibility
When it comes to finding the perfect-for-you solar phone charger, it’s important to consider the types of ports (USB being the most common) your charger houses, as well as when you’ll be using it. A key rule of thumb: The bigger the solar panels, the faster your phone will charge, since the larger solar panels will capture more sunlight, thus providing more energy to your device. If you’re looking for something more compact, just know the charge time of those chosen power packs — which can typically reach 10-plus hours for solar phone chargers — will be on the lengthier side.
Know the difference between direct and battery-bank solar chargers
A built-in battery (i.e. a battery-bank solar charger) is important if you’re looking to charge your phone overnight or during a cloudy day, for example. The built-in battery will store any unused energy from the sun for future use (no sunlight needed as this is happening), while a portable direct charger without a built-in battery is best for on-the-go usage. For example, when you attach your solar panel charger to your backpack and connect the USB cord to your phone during an especially sunny hike, your phone will charge as you carry on with your adventure.
Think about portability
One of the biggest points in purchasing and using a solar phone charger is to bring it with you while caping, hiking, or enjoying other outdoor activities. You’ll want to make sure your charger isn’t so bulky or heavy that it become difficult to take with you while still providing all the capabilities you’re looking for.
As the name suggests, solar phone chargers are powered by the sun. Here’s how: Photons carry energy from the sun, creating an electric field that produces energy that’s transferred to the charger itself, which is then delivered to the device. So, do solar phone chargers actually work? It really comes down to your expectations. Charging speed and durability are reflective of how you’re using your portable solar-powered charger. A few tips to consider: Make sure the solar panel is completely exposed to the sun, without any obstruction, and be patient — depending on which solar pack you choose, it’s important to remember that garnering a full charge will take more time than it would with a classic wall charger.
Power output is measured in either mAh (milliamps per hour) and watts. Both units speak to the energy charge. The higher the number (for both), the more energy can be stored—meaning a longer battery life.
You can take your solar phone charger on the plane if and only if your charger doesn’t contain a built-in, lithium-ion battery (the most common type of battery used in chargers). Lithium-ion batteries are susceptible to “[creating] sparks or [generating] a dangerous evolution of heat,” which is why the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and TSA do not allow portable chargers containing this battery in checked luggage; you can bring it on the plane with you, but only if it’s packed in your carry-on. Have a battery-less solar phone charger? You’re cleared to check it in as long as it’s able to fit into your suitcase.
Why Trust Travel Leisure
Grace Gavilanes is a writer-editor who has covered a wide range of topics — from celebrity news and beauty to food, wellness, and travel — for close to a decade. Her writing has been published in InStyle, Food Wine, Glamour, and Mic, among other outlets. To curate this list of the best solar phone chargers, she drew from her own experience as a lifestyle writer and researched dozens of products.
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