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Best portable solar chargers. Wirecutter solar phone charger

Best portable solar chargers. Wirecutter solar phone charger

    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.

    best, portable, solar, chargers, wirecutter

    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.

    best, portable, solar, chargers, wirecutter

    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.

    CHOETECH 19W

    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.

    SunJack 15W

    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.

    The 10 Best Outdoor Solar Lights of 2023, Tested and Reviewed

    Our list includes everything from decorative string lights to motion-activated security lights.

    Melanie Fincher is the associate commerce editor for Real Simple and has over three years of experience writing product reviews and lifestyle content. She was the former SEO writer for Allrecipes, covering product reviews, cooking tutorials, and food news.

    In This Article

    Outdoor solar lights can transform your backyard into an inviting oasis, light the path to your front door after dark, and even help deter intruders. No matter which type you choose, these versatile lights take in sunlight during the day to illuminate your yard at night.

    For expert advice on choosing outdoor solar lights, we spoke with Cate Singleton, director of design at Tilly, an online landscape design company. Before deciding which outdoor solar lights to buy, the most important factor to consider is how much sunlight you get in that area, according to Singleton.

    “Sun exposure and making sure there is enough sun in your yard to charge your lights would be top of the list,” says Singleton. “I recommend doing a true assessment of the morning and afternoon sun conditions within your space.”

    With this advice in mind, we tested 27 outdoor solar lights and evaluated them on setup, features, design, brightness, durability, and value. We even set up a GoPro camera to find out exactly how long the lights stayed on in the middle of the night. Based on all these factors, we determined the very best outdoor solar lights for every type of yard and lighting need.

    Best Overall Outdoor Solar Lights

    Urpower Outdoor Solar Lights

    If you’re looking to illuminate a specific area—whether it be your house, driveway, landscaping, or pool—the Urpower Outdoor Solar Spotlights are an excellent choice. In our testing, the automatic dusk-to-dawn lights remained on for 7 hours and 46 minutes on a full charge. They put out an impressive 200 lumens of light on the highest mode (there’s also a low setting). The lights themselves can be adjusted up to 90 degrees to direct the light where it’s most needed, while the solar panel can be angled up to 150 degrees, so you can face it where it will receive the most sunlight during the day.

    These spotlights also stood out in our evaluations for their durability. With a weather-resistance rating of IP65, these solar lights sustained no damage after we poured water over them, dropped golf balls on them, and placed them in the freezer for one hour.

    Additionally, the Urpower lights come with two different installation options—you can insert them into the ground using the provided stakes or mount them to the wall using the included hardware. The lights are available in three different color options: cool white, warm white, and multicolor. They don’t come with any pattern options, such as blinking or strobe modes, and they aren’t particularly sophisticated in terms of design. However, for basic solar spotlights, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better value than the Urpower Outdoor Solar Spotlights.

    Price at time of publish: 30 for 2-pack

    Lumens: 200 | Operating Time: 8–10 hours | Charging Time: 4–5 hours | Weather-Resistance Rating: IP65

    Best Budget Outdoor Solar Light

    Better Homes Gardens Ellis Transitional Pathway Light

    If you’re looking for a budget-friendly solar light, we recommend the Better Homes Gardens Ellis Transitional Pathway Light. (Better Homes Gardens is owned by Real Simple’s parent company, Dotdash Meredith.) In our testing, this pathway light stayed on for 8 hours and 14 minutes, which is slightly longer than the 8 hours the manufacturer lists. We found this light very easy to assemble—it came in two pieces and simply required pulling the tab from the battery on top. And because it has a long stake and a fully exposed globe, this light is capable of providing plenty of coverage. Even though the lightbulb is narrow, it gives off a pretty sunburst pattern with a warm white glow on the ground.

    Based on its size, we thought this outdoor solar light would be much brighter—though it’s still bright enough to light up a pathway so you could see where you’re walking. (We were able to read a book in the dark just fine in our evaluations.) It held up well in our durability tests, too, and even though the manufacturer lists this light’s weather-resistance rating as IPX4 (basically a little splash-proof), it still worked after we stuck it in the freezer for an hour.

    Price at time of publish: 13

    Lumens: 20 | Operating Time: 8 hours | Charging Time: Not listed | Weather-Resistance Rating: IPX4

    Best Outdoor Solar String Lights

    Brightech Ambiance Pro Solar Non-Hanging String Lights

    Unlike the string lights synonymous with Christmas decorations and college dorm rooms, Brightech’s outdoor string lights feature large, Edison-style bulbs that give off a warm, moody glow. In our testing, the dusk-to-dawn solar lights stayed on for 7 hours and 52 minutes on a full charge. In our testing, we appreciated that there are two easy installation options for the solar panel: a stake for inserting it into the ground and a clip that allows you to secure it to a railing—we think the latter is a great option for an apartment balcony or porch.

    The bulbs are spaced out 20 inches apart, and the lights are available in two different cable lengths, 27 and 48 feet. (We found that you can’t connect multiple cables together, though.) In our durability testing, the shatterproof plastic bulbs and the solar panel weren’t damaged at all after being hit with golf balls and running water (although the solar panel did get knocked off kilter a bit), nor were they affected by being placed in the freezer.

    Keep in mind that these soft white lights are meant to enhance the overall appearance and feel of your outdoor space, not necessarily to increase visibility around your home. But if your primary goal is to create an inviting outdoor space, the Brightech Ambience Pro Solar String Lights will do just that.

    Price at time of publish: 48 for 27-ft. strand

    Lumens: 100 | Operating Time: 5–6 hours | Charging Time: 6 hours | Weather-Resistance Rating: IP44 for panel, IP55 for lights

    Best Outdoor Solar Fairy Lights

    Brightown LED Solar Powered Fairy Lights

    Strung on a flexible, shapeable copper wire, these whimsical, fairy lights from Brightown can be wrapped around just about anything, including shrubs, trees, railings, and more. Keep in mind that they’re designed to produce low, ambient light that’s more for decoration than visibility. In our testing, these automatic dusk-to-dawn lights did not provide enough brightness to read a book—but when fully charged, they stayed on for 7 hours and 56 minutes.

    The solar panel can be installed via a stake in the ground, and the angle can be adjusted up to 120 degrees to receive the most sunlight possible. The lights received high marks in all our durability tests, and boast an impressive IP65 weather-resistance rating.

    One of the most unique features is the numerous modes, including sequential, waves, slow glow, slow fade, twinkle, and steady on, so you can switch things up from time to time or play around with them to determine which you like best. The Brightown LED Solar Powered Fairy Lights come in a set of two and are available in multiple sizes (ranging in length from 33 to 198 feet) and colors (like warm white, bright green, and multicolor).

    Price at time of publish: From 23 for 2-pack

    Lumens: Not listed | Operating Time: 8–10 hours | Charging Time: Not listed | Weather-Resistance Rating: IP65

    Best Outdoor Solar Path Lights

    Hampton Bay Jefferson Solar Landscape Path Lights

    These Hampton Bay solar path lights will illuminate walkways, driveways, flower beds, and more, all while adding a sophisticated look to your outdoor space. We particularly like the unique, crackled-glass design, which gives the lights a sparkling effect—though it does not detract from the brightness.

    This pick, which is designed to turn on at dusk and stay on until dawn, remained lit for 8 hours and 2 minutes in our testing on a full charge. They’re easy to assemble with just three simple parts, including a plastic stake that secures them into the ground. In terms of durability, these lights were able to withstand all the elements we threw at them. They only come with one brightness setting, which we found to only produce enough light to read from while directly under the lamp. However, for their intended purpose of providing low light where you need it (aka near the ground), the Hampton Bay Jefferson Solar Path Lights are an excellent choice. And since the price per light breaks down to just over 11, this set is also a great value.

    Price at time of publish: 114 for 10-pack

    Lumens: 10 | Operating Time: 8 hours | Charging Time: Not listed | Weather-Resistance Rating: IPX4

    Best Outdoor Solar Spotlights

    Vont LED Outdoor Solar Lights

    In our testing, these automatic, solar-powered spotlights stayed on for an impressive 8 hours and 16 minutes with a full charge—and according to the manufacturer, they can last up to 12 hours depending on which of the two brightness modes you choose. In our testing, we found that they give off a bright light in the dark, and it was just as powerful after our water and durability tests.

    We found these solar lights easy to assemble and insert into the ground using the included stakes, although they can also be mounted to the wall. The light itself can tilt up to 120 degrees, so you can FOCUS it exactly where you want, whether it be on a house, driveway, or landscape feature. Plus, you can choose between cool and warm light, depending on your preference.

    Price at time of publish: 40 for 2-pack

    Lumens: 100 | Operating Time: 12 hours | Charging Time: Not listed | Weather-Resistance Rating: IPX7

    Best Outdoor Solar Post Light

    Kemeco Solar Post Light

    If you happen to have a post or column in your yard, mounting this traditional lantern to the top will add an elegant touch to your space and a bright light to your lawn. We found that it was easy to read by the light of this Kemeco lantern, which is no surprise given it puts out an impressive 125-145 lumens. Plus, the dusk-to-dawn light remained lit for 8 hours and 6 minutes in our testing.

    The lantern has frosted glass and a cast aluminum frame that comes in both black and white, which gives off a cottagecore look and feel. Keep in mind that this pick requires a screwdriver to assemble, and it’s especially important that you attach it securely to the post—we noticed that it’s a bit top-heavy, and the glass shattered when we dropped a golf ball on it from six feet above. This solar post light is on the pricier end of those we tested, however, it doubles as a piece of decor that will elevate the look of any outdoor space.

    Price at time of publish: 100

    Lumens: 125-145 | Operating Time: 6–8 hours | Charging Time: 8 hours | Weather-Resistance Rating: Not listed

    Best Outdoor Solar Wall Lanterns

    Home Zone Security Solar Wall Lantern 2-Pack

    These wall-mounted hanging lanterns provide soft, warm lighting that’s perfect for illuminating entrances, porches, fences, and more, without being overly bright or harsh. In our testing, we found the light to be too dim for reading, but it was just right for illuminating an entry point.

    Though these are marketed as dusk-to-dawn lights, the manufacturer doesn’t specify exactly how long they should stay on—and we found they had the shortest operating time out of all those on our list, at just 4 hours and 15 minutes. But if you’re just looking to light the way for comings and goings at night, this is likely more than enough time.

    The Home Zone Solar Powered Wall Lantern Lights also survived our water, golf ball, and freezer testing—a testament to their impressive IP67 weather-resistance rating. Overall, this would make a great choice for anyone who wants a wall-mounted light for illuminating a small area.

    Price at time of publish: 45 for 2-pack

    Lumens: 10 | Operating Time: ~4 hours | Charging Time: 8 hours | Weather-Resistance Rating: IP67

    Best Outdoor Solar Lights With Motion Sensor

    AloftSun Solar Motion Sensor Outdoor Lights

    These spotlights are the only outdoor solar lights on our list with motion-sensing technology—meaning they have a built-in sensor that can detect movement within a 33-foot range and 120-degree angle—and in our testing, we found that it worked as expected. According to the manufacturer, the light will be triggered by people, animals, and cars, but not by wind, rain, or frost. Given the IP68 weather-resistance rating, the AloftSun Motion Sensor Solar Spotlights unsurprisingly survived all our durability testing.

    The most unique feature of these spotlights is that there are three different modes—however, it’s worth noting that it was difficult to figure out how to change the settings at first. In the dim light sensor mode, the lighting stays dimmed when there’s no motion and switches to high when motion is detected. The constant-on mode keeps the light on medium, whether or not there is motion nearby. On the high light sensor mode, the light says off without motion and switches to high with motion. Even on the dimmest setting, the light was bright enough to read by—and it stayed lit for an entire 8 hours when fully charged.

    The lights come in packs of two and four, and they can be mounted to the wall or inserted into the ground. At the time of our testing, this pick was only available in a cool light option, which was our main critique (it could be a little harsh for some people’s tastes). Since then, the brand has expanded its offerings so that these motion-sensor spotlights now come in a warm light option.

    Price at time of publish: 33 for 2

    Lumens: 800 | Operating Time: 12 hours | Charging Time: 6–8 hours | Weather-Resistance Rating: IP68

    Best Smart Outdoor Solar Light

    Ring Solar Floodlight

    The Ring Solar Floodlight is a mounted outdoor light that can be controlled from an app on your smartphone. That might make it seem like it’s hard to set up, but in our testing, it took us less than 10 minutes to install this Smart light and get it ready to use. It arrived fully assembled and with a half-charged battery, and the instructions were extremely easy to follow. Unlike many other options on our list, the solar panel for the Ring floodlight isn’t directly attached to the lights. Instead, it’s a separate unit with a long cord—but we like that this makes it easier to place the panel in direct sunlight.

    From the app, you can turn on/off the lights, change the brightness, set schedules and alerts, and adjust the motion sensitivity. It has multiple brightness settings and gives off an impressive 1200 lumens. Keep in mind that you’ll need a Ring Bridge for this Smart light to work, though you can purchase a starter pack that comes with it for slightly more money.

    Price at time of publish: 140 for starter pack

    Lumens: 1200 | Operating Time: Not listed | Charging Time: Not listed | Weather-Resistance Rating: IP66

    Final Verdict

    Our top pick is the Urpower Outdoor Solar Spotlights because they can be installed in two different ways and have two brightness modes, the highest of which is an impressive 200 lumens. We also appreciate that both the solar panel and the light itself are adjustable, so you can direct the light where it’s most needed and make sure the panel gets the most sunlight possible.

    For a more budget-friendly option that’s sold individually, we recommend the Better Homes Gardens Ellis Transitional Pathway Light. This affordable pathway light proved to be durable and long-lasting in our tests, even though it wasn’t as bright as we thought it would be.

    Our Testing Process

    We tested 27 outdoor solar lights in our Lab, evaluating each based on its setup, features, design, brightness, durability, and value. First, we unboxed each product and assembled it according to the manufacturer’s instructions. We then charged each light in direct sunlight for the amount of time specified in the instructions.

    Once the light was fully charged, we moved it to a completely dark room and observed whether it turned on independently (for dusk-to-dawn lights only). We evaluated how bright each light was by attempting to read a book by the glow of its light.

    For lights with multiple settings, we cycled through the various patterns and colors and took note of how easy it was to change the mode. For lights with a motion sensor (such as the AloftSun Motion Sensor Solar Spotlights), we set each model to the motion-detection mode, exited the room, waited two minutes, and then returned to the room at a distance of at least two feet from the light, noting how well the sensor registered movement.

    Next, we used a watering can to sprinkle each light with water to simulate rain. We then took the light back to the dark room to see if its functionality was affected by the water. To further assess the durability of each product, we dropped a golf ball on the light from 6 feet above and again on each solar panel (when applicable) from 4 feet above and recorded whether any damage occurred. (The Kemeco Outdoor Post Light was the only one on our list that was damaged by the golf ball.) We also placed each light in the freezer for an hour and then repeated the above tests to simulate cold-weather conditions.

    Finally, we took our testing outdoors. We set up each light side-by-side in our outdoor testing area, within view of a GoPro camera. We evaluated the ease of installation for each light and then set it to its automatic dusk-to-dawn mode or its manual on/off mode, depending on the type. We left the lights on overnight and reviewed the GoPro footage to record the light output, noting the times each model turned on and off. Our best spotlight pick, the Vont Solar Spotlights, stayed on the longest: 8 hours and 16 minutes, to be exact. Once our evaluations were complete, we received the retail price of each item and scored its overall value relative to its performance in the above tests.

    How to Shop for Outdoor Solar Lights Like a Pro

    Type

    Solar lights typically fall into one of three categories: dusk-to-dawn, motion-activated, and timer-controlled lights. Dusk-to-dawn solar lights are the most common—they use sensors to detect sunlight and automatically illuminate when the sun goes down and remain on until sunrise, making them a great choice for decorative lighting. However, dusk-to-dawn options can have trouble storing enough solar energy during the day to stay lit all night, particularly if you live in an area with limited sunlight.

    Motion-activated solar lights turn on when they register movement, which helps conserve energy. These are best suited for people who want solar lights for security purposes or guidance, such as spotlights. Finally, timer-controlled lights allow you to specify exactly how long you want your lights left on, giving you maximum control.

    Installation and Design

    It’s important to consider exactly where you want to direct light, according to Singleton, who adds: Do you need to illuminate pathways? Are you looking to create a focal point in the yard? Are there steps that need lighting for safety? Do you have a back gate that needs lighting for easy access? Below are common varieties of outdoor lighting, each with a different intended use.

    • Path Lights: To illuminate pathways such as sidewalks or driveways, opt for path lights. They are inserted as stakes into the ground and typically have a solar panel directly on top.
    • Spotlights: A spotlight creates a narrow beam of light that you can direct into a specific area. This makes them a great option for security or guidance purposes since you can highlight a specific area without lighting your entire yard. Spotlights may be mounted on the wall or inserted into the ground as stakes.
    • Post Lights: Post lights serve a similar purpose as path lights, but rather than being inserted into the ground, they’re fixed to a post in your yard.
    • Wall-Mounted Lights: Wall-mounted solar lights can come in several different forms, like lanterns, spotlights, flood lights, etc. Regardless, mounting lights to a wall or fence can help illuminate the perimeter of your space for added guidance.
    • String Lights: String lights are popular for theirdesign, as they can add a warm and inviting ambiance to any space. They feature a long cable with connecting bulbs—which may be full-size Edison bulbs (like the Brightech Ambience Pro Solar String Lights, our best string lights pick) or dainty, fairy-style lights (like the Brightown LED Solar Powered Fairy Lights). These are best used on a patio or porch for decorative purposes because they don’t give off a lot of light.

    Brightness

    The brightness of lights is measured in lumens, and the higher the number, the brighter the light. For ambient lighting, five–100 lumens is best, while lights meant for security (such as spotlights and floodlights) typically go even higher. Some solar lights come with multiple brightness settings designed for different purposes.

    Weather Resistance

    Simply put, an IP rating is a measure of how waterproof or weather-resistant an item is. This is especially important for outdoor solar lights, as they’re going to be exposed to various weather conditions and elements.

    IP stands for Ingress Protection and relates to the amount of protection the fixture will have against solids and liquids, says Singleton. A good rating for an outdoor solar light would be IP65. The first number refers to the ability to repel dust and debris, six being the highest. The second number refers to how airtight the fixture is. Level five will [protect] against angled spray, while level eight can be completely submerged in deep water.

    When you see an IP rating with an X in it, this means the product does not offer protection for that category. For example, IPX4 means the device is protected from water splashes in all directions, but not from dust and debris.

    Special Features

    There are a few special features you may want to consider, depending on your needs and budget. Some outdoor solar lights are Wi-Fi-enabled, so you can control them from your phone. Others feature the ability to change color or patterns (i.e. blinking or strobe lights), which can be fun during the holidays and when hosting parties.

    Solar Lights to Consider

    Linkind Outdoor Solar Motion Sensor Landscape Spotlights: This is a less expensive motion-sensing option with a simple streamlined design and several different modes to choose from. However, it fell short of the competition because it only lasted 4 hours and 9 minutes in our testing, although this may be enough for some people.

    Frontgate Pro Series VI Solar Path Lights: If you’re willing to spend a little more, these path lights have an attractive design and produce 60 lumens of light. Unfortunately, they only lasted 3 hours and 20 minutes on a full charge.

    Questions You Might Ask

    How do solar lights work?

    Singleton says that solar lights charge during the day with the sun and then light up at night when they have energy. But on a more complex level, she explains that solar lights are made up of five basic components: solar cells, the photoresistor, the battery, the controller board, and the LED light.

    The solar cells are connected directly to the battery, says Singleton. The solar cell is essentially charging the battery during the daytime. After sundown, the solar cell stops producing power and the photoresistor turns on the LED light. The controller board is the ‘brain’ of the solar light and takes in power from both the solar cell and the battery, along with input from the photoresistor to indicate when to turn on the LED.

    Solar lights stay on until the batteries run out or the photoresistor detects the absence of light (in the case of dusk-to-dawn lights).

    Do solar lights require direct sunlight?

    Solar lights can still work in indirect sunlight and on cloudy days, but they may not stay on as long. For best results, place your solar light in a location that gets several hours of direct sunlight each day.

    A good rule of thumb is eight direct hours of sunlight will produce approximately 15 hours of illumination, but it will vary depending on the exact light you have, says Singleton.

    Where is the best place to install solar lights?

    When installing solar lights, you’ll need to consider both where you need light during the night and where you receive direct sunlight during the day. In general, the best places to install solar lights would be along pathways and for highlighting focal features—whether that be a structural plant in the landscape, a water feature, or a sculptural element, says Singleton.

    Take Our Word for It

    This article was written by Melanie Fincher, associate commerce editor for Real Simple with three years of experience writing product reviews and lifestyle content. To come up with this list, we tested 27 outdoor solar lights in our Lab and evaluated them on setup, features, design, brightness, durability, and value. For expert tips on how to shop for outdoor solar lights, Melanie spoke with Cate Singleton, director of design at Tilly, an online landscape design company. Melanie uses the Brightech Ambience Pro Solar String Lights to illuminate her porch every evening and loves the ambiance they provide.

    What Is Real Simple Selects?

    Next to each product on this list, you may have noticed a Real Simple Selects seal of approval. Any product appearing alongside that seal has been vetted by our team—put through tests and graded on its performance to earn a spot on our list. Although we buy most of the products we test, sometimes we do get samples from companies if purchasing a product ourselves isn’t an option. All products go through the same rigorous process, whether they are purchased or sent by the company.

    Love our recommendations? Check out more products that have earned the Real Simple Selects, from humidifiers to cordless vacuums.

    The 9 Best Personal Blenders of 2023, Tested and Reviewed

    Donna Currie is a food writer and blogger specializing in recipes and kitchen gadgets. She covers kitchen tools and gadgets for The Spruce Eats and is the author of Make Ahead Bread.

    If you’re a person who drinks smoothies every morning or takes protein shakes to the gym, a personal blender could be ideal. Less powerful and less expensive than full-size blenders, personal blenders are designed to whip up single servings that can be taken on the go. Most models blend in the same container you drink from, with swappable travel lids that make it easy to take a smoothie or shake with you wherever you’re headed.

    To help find the best one for your needs, we tested them side-by-side in our Lab, creating lots of smoothies (blueberries and kale with ice; peanut butter and dates with protein powder) as well as salsa, with onion, jalapeño, cherry tomatoes, garlic powder, lime juice, sea salt, and ground back pepper. When rating, testers considered each product’s design, how easy it was to use and clean, convenience, performance, and overall value. The following is a selection of products that outperformed the rest—the very best personal blenders on the market.

    Best Overall

    NutriBullet Pro 900 High-Speed Blender

    With its 900-watt motor, the NutriBullet Pro 900 is ideal for someone with a small kitchen who makes a lot of soups, sauces, and smoothies. It did a great job with pretty much every ingredient we threw at it, making short work of kale, blueberries, dates, frozen banana, and ice. The results were consistently textured and easy to drink both through a straw and from the side of the cup. No unpleasant chunks of ingredients wound up in the final product.

    This blender comes with two BPA-free 32-ounce blender cups, which are larger than most personal blender cups, but still work just fine with smaller batches, like an individual smoothie or serving of dip. You also get two cup rings, two handled lip rings, two flip-top to-go lids, and a recipe book. The blender couldn’t be easier to use; you lock a cup into the base, push, and twist. The motor is not meant to run for more than 60 seconds at once, but that was more than enough time to complete each of our tests. It has lots of power for crushing and pureeing, but the Nutribullet Pro 900 only has one speed setting and no real pulse mode, which means it’s not great at chopping—our salsa test ended up with more of a smooth puree than a chunky dip.

    When it comes to cleaning, the cups, lids, and rings are all dishwasher-safe. The blade assembly is hand wash only, but it comes off the base for fairly simple rinsing and wiping. Our tester didn’t have too much trouble, but did find it a bit of a pain to carefully squeeze a sponge into the nooks and crannies beneath the blade itself. This is one of the more expensive personal blender options, but it’s powerful and durably built, well worth the extra money if you’re going to use it heavily. (The Pro 900 comes in many different colors, and some are available at a significant discount, to boot.)

    Price at time of publish: 110

    Power: 900 watts | Cups Included: 2 | Maximum Cup Capacity: 32 ounces | Weight: 4.7 pounds | Dimensions: 12 x 7.7 x 16 inches

    best, portable, solar, chargers, wirecutter

    Best Budget

    Ninja Fit Personal Blender

    This mini blender had no trouble powering through greens, ice, and frozen fruit in our tests, but its teensy 16-ounce cups meant that it took two batches to make a full blueberry-kale smoothie. The Ninja Fit couldn’t be easier to use: You screw the blades onto the cup and then simply flip it over, place on the base, and push down to blend for as long or short as you want. It had no trouble with smoothies, but with just one (high) speed setting, it’s not good for making chunky salsa or other chopping tasks.

    The Ninja Fit comes with two 16-ounce cups, each with its own screw-on spout lid. (Our tester noted that the lids make a good seal but need to be screwed down very tightly to avoid leaks.) All the parts are dishwasher-safe—including the blade, which is a nice bonus that most personal blenders don’t offer. It might not be cordless, but the low price, small size, and screw-on blade make this blender a good option to throw in your gym bag for a post-workout smoothie anywhere you can access an electrical outlet.

    Price at time of publish: 62

    Power: 700 watts | Cups Included: 2 | Maximum Cup Capacity: 16 ounces | Weight: 4.6 pounds | Dimensions: 4 x 4 x 13 inches

    Best Portable

    BlendJet 2 Portable Blender

    • Measurement markings on blender cup
    • Large battery capacity
    • Fun color and design choices

    Designed with portability in mind, the BlendJet 2 can go anywhere you do. After testing the original BlendJet One, we were excited to get our hands on the next-generation model, which offers more power, longer battery life, and a larger capacity—though at 16 ounces, it’s still fairly small. The cup, blades, and base are a single unit that can easily be tossed in a gym bag, large purse, backpack, or even luggage. It charges via a UBS-C cable that can plug into the wall, a laptop, a car outlet, or a solar charger, and our tester found that a full charge is enough for the 15 smoothies the maker claims, plus more. That’s a huge improvement over the previous version, though the cable itself is only about a foot long, making charging kind of inconvenient.

    The BlendJet 2 features just a single button to control all of its functions: Tap it once for a 20-second blend session or twice to switch to pulse mode, which blends only when you hold down the button. (There’s also a lock mode so you can’t accidentally turn the blender on while it’s packed away.) In the Lab, it did a decent job with most smoothie ingredients, especially after our tester discovered that turning the unit upside-down while running helped get a smoother blend. But it still couldn’t quite break down fibrous kale into a smooth drink. That said, if you’re using it for less-intense jobs, like blending banana and ice or whipping protein powder into juice, the 200-watt motor is good enough.

    The fact that this is truly an all-in-one unit—you drink out of the blending cup with the blades and base still attached—also makes it easy to clean. The brand’s recommended method is to simply put some dish soap and water inside and run the blades, which worked great in our tests. The BlendJet 2 also comes in a wide variety of designs, from a range of solid colors to Lisa Frank-branded rainbow leopard spots and Disney prints featuring characters from Toy Story and Frozen. (Different retailers have different sets of designs, so you might need to search around if you want something in particular.)

    Price at time of publish: 50

    Power: 200 watts | Cups Included: 1 | Maximum Cup Capacity: 16 ounces | Weight: 1.3 pounds | Dimensions: 3 x 9 inches

    The blending mode is much faster than it used to be. The BlendJet One took about one minute to blend, but the BlendJet 2 blends for about 20 seconds and then turns itself off automatically. — Sharon Lehman, Product Tester

    The Best Home EV Chargers Ranked Worst To Best

    The use of home charging equipment is a staple of EV ownership. Today, drivers are able to install low-cost charging equipment at home in pursuit of lower fuel costs throughout the lifetime of their vehicle ownership. Rather than relying on public charging infrastructure (and the pricing model that comes along with it), EV owners can add a charger to their exterior wall or inside the garage for a cost-effective and convenient refueling routine.

    However, with EV adoption continuing to surge across the country, there are more charger makers cropping up than ever before. As EVs pour out into the streets, consumers increasingly need to get their hands on this accessory in order to take advantage of all that an EV has to offer. Some chargers provide just the basic charging capacity and can be used for overnight refueling, but others come with a wide range of enhancements and features that make for intelligent charging and an even more efficient top-up to the range of your car. These are the best and worst chargers available for home EV charging.

    Blink HQ 150

    The Blink HQ 150 is a compact charging option that utilizes a 25-foot cable and a minimized overall footprint. The charger is a Level 2 option that costs 299. It’s one of the cheapest EV chargers available, but for the reduced price tag, buyers will get a slower charge flowing into their vehicle. This trade-off may not matter much to some, but the added speed that alternative charging tools offer can be incredibly important in a bind. Blink Charging notes that the Blink HQ 150 is compatible with the entire catalog of EV models driving the roads today, making it a low-cost option for any EV owner, regardless of the brand. The 240-volt charger is a standard design that’s installed in basically the same way as any other device, but once active, users can expect a peak output of 32 amps. As a result, buyers will get a simple and trusty charger, but one that’s sluggish in its output — especially when compared to other options.

    The Blink unit also makes use of a NEMA Type 3R enclosure that’s rated for both indoor and outdoor use. However, the rating is the weakest among those that can be effectively placed outdoors. This means that you’ll likely want to mount this in a protected area if you’re using it outside a garage, something that may not be possible for all EV owners. There’s a lot to like about this charger with a minimal profile and low price tag, but when stacked up against the competition’s best, the Blink HQ 150 falls a bit short of the leaders.

    Enphase (formerly ClipperCreek) HCS-40 EV Charger

    The Enphase HCS-40 is a 32 amp, Level 2 charger that can be mounted on the wall or via a pedestal on the exterior or interior of your home. Enphase’s charger was formerly known as ClipperCreek, a supremely trusted name in the world of EV charging. The Enphase chargers are expensive, providing one of the most potent drawbacks of the systems. The 32A charger starts at 732 while the highest-rated option, a 64 amp unit, will cost you 1,176 (the HCS-80 model).

    The charger is simple in design, with a four-light front panel that shows charging and electrical status. The unit also comes with a 25-foot cable that’s more than long enough to tackle the demands of your charging schedule and parking circumstances. Enphase notes that the charger is certified for compatibility with all EV models available in North America and that the unit comes equipped with a five-year warranty (one of the longest coverage packages on the market). Still, this charger is a no-frills experience and costs significantly more than its competitors’ products. For a reliable charge, there are other, lower-cost options out there that will get the job done just the same.

    ChargePoint Home Flex

    The ChargePoint Home Flex is a decent option for those seeking a Level 2 charger for home use. The unit is rated for an output of 50 amps and purportedly offers a charging speed of 37 miles of range per hour. However, in testing done by The New York Times’ Wirecutter, the Home Flex didn’t live up to these lofty expectations and only put out 16 amps if using the charger without connecting through the company’s app. The unit also lacks substantial waterproofing, so placing the Home Flex outside is a no-go. This means that it’s not a very flexible option for homeowners or renters who don’t have a garage to park their vehicle in for charging. The Home Flex charger also starts at a price of 649, making it notably pricier than many other options on the market (and much steeper than the best units available to the EV owner).

    ChargePoint’s option isn’t necessarily a bad charger. It comes with a 23-foot cable, and a three-year warranty, placing it in the same conversation as many other Level 2 chargers that an EV owner could opt for. Yet, the drawbacks ingrained in the Home Flex keep it from being more competitive with the best chargers available.

    United Chargers Grizzl-E Classic and Tesla Wall Connector

    The best chargers on the market are the Tesla Wall Connector and United Chargers’ Grizzl-E Classic, depending, of course, on what kind of EV you drive. Tesla owners will likely want to stick with a Tesla-branded charger because these vehicles make use of a proprietary plug design that brings the need for an adapter into play. As of early 2022, Tesla EVs still made up more than half of the U.S. market for electrified automobiles, but this is changing.

    For owners of other EV brands, the United Chargers Grizzl-E Classic is probably the best option out there for at-home charging. The device retails at 349, placing it below but roughly similar in comparison to the Tesla unit. The Grizzl-E Classic is a Level 2 charger that’s compatible with all plug-in models available in the North American market. It doles out 40 amps and offers a charge rate of roughly 29 miles of range per hour. The unit is easy to install alongside a 240V outlet and is IP67 water-resistant rated.

    The Tesla charger is cost-effective and offers a maximum current rating of 48 amps, a massive output in comparison to virtually all others on the market. Tesla owners can buy the Tesla Wall Connector for 425 directly from the manufacturer, gaining a 24-foot charging cable (just like the Grizzl-E charger) that’s long enough to reach either vehicle in a standard two-car garage. The charger offers a speed of 44 miles of range per hour, a four-year residential use warranty, and add-ins for scheduled charging and other settings.

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