Today’s ‘out of office’ message posted when people head outside doesn’t mean they want to disconnect from friends and family entirely. Hiking, biking, paddling, climbing and camping just provide another opportunity to record and share sensational images and experiences from amazing wild locations – which is where the best solar chargers come in.
Smartphones, tablets, GPS units, and fitness trackers only last so long away from a power source. Fortunately, lightweight, portable solar panels and power banks allow you to bring power with you on your adventures, whether it's alongside your best tent on a camping trip or a secret weapon in your hiking backpack.
Efficient solar panels turn bright sunlight into recharged electronics. When you need more recharging capacity after dark, add a power bank to store the energy absorbed by those solar panels until you need it.
The best solar chargers are specialized, technical pieces of equipment. The market is growing with new companies entering every year boasting faster, cheaper, more efficient models. So, add a solar charger to your kit and keep powering on.
The best solar chargers for lightweight adventures
PowerTraveller Falcon 7
Ultralight, foldable, off grid power source
RRP: $70 (US)/ £75 (UK) | Weight: 230g / 8.1oz | Dimensions (folded): 157mm x 179mm x 11mm / 6.2 x 7 x 0.4in | Dimensions (unfolded): 498mm x 179mm x 3mm / 19.6 x 7 x 0.1in | Peak power generation: 7 watts | Integrated battery: No | USB port: 1
Considerably lighter and more stashable than the Powertraveller Falcon 21, the Powertraveller Falcon 7 is an easy to carry and practical tool for charging smartphones, digital cameras and other 5V electronic devices. No more missed photos of once-in-a-lifetime encounters with mountain goats and no more missed check-in calls with concerned family members.
Using high efficiency monocrystalline cells that can produce 25-35 percent more power than comparable cells, the Falcon 7 soaks up the sun’s solar energy. Unfolded and clipped to your backpack, the ultralight panel will be ready to recharge your electronics when you get to your destination. A LED indicator keeps you informed of charging status. With durable fabrics and a waterproof rating of IPX4 (splash proof), the Falcon 7 can stand up to a long weekend of trekking.
Goal Zero Nomad 10 Solar Panel
Two panels of power make this one of the best solar chargers to keep you going in the wilds
RRP: $100 (US)/ £100 (UK) | Weight: 794g /1.12lb | Dimensions (folded): 24.1 x 18.4 x 3.2cm / 9.5 x 7.2 x 1.25in | Dimensions (unfolded): 24.1 x 36.8 x 1.9cm / 9.5 x 14.5 x 0.75in ** Peak power generation:** 10 watts | Integrated battery: No | USB port: 1
Solar power is a clean, efficient and environmentally sustainable way to keep personal electronics operating. But a long day in the woods can completely drain batteries. Sending a friend a selfie standing in front of an epic waterfall doesn’t happen without power.
Substantially lighter than the Nomad 14 model, Goal Zero’s Nomad 10 is still capable of keeping you powered up when you’re walking on the wild side. The folding solar panel system features 5-watt monocrystalline cells to efficiently turn sunlight into usable power. The Goal Zero Nomad 5 ($60/£60, 390g/12.7oz, 24 x 17.8 x 2.0 cm/9.5 x 7 x 0.8in) is even smaller and lighter, but of course it only has half the power output. Built-in kickstands let you position the panels in the best location to soak up the sun. Add a power bank, (Goal Zero’s Flip 12 is a nice choice) to store power to use when the sun goes down.
Both the 5 and the 10 feature corner openings so you can clip the panels to your backpack to charge while you are hiking. The simple, clean, durable construction is as rugged as you want it to be. If you need power when you are miles into the woods, a Nomad lives up to its name.
Powertraveller Falcon 21
Lightweight, splashproof and dustproof, this is one of the best solar chargers to consider for outback treks
RRP: $175 (US)/ £135 (UK) | Weight: 470g/1lb 0.58oz | Dimensions: 66.5 x 28 x 0.33cm / 26.2 x 11 x 0.13in (folded: 15.7 x 28 x 1.1cm / 6.18 x 11 x 0.43in) | Peak power generation: 21 watts | Integrated battery: No | USB port: 1
In bright, sunny conditions there’s the opportunity to recharge two devices simultaneously from the Powertraveller Falcon 21, one via the 5V USB port and the other via a 20V DC connector, designed for laptops (up to 40W).
The charger’s light weight for a 21W panel makes it an attractive choice for backpacking where every gram counts, and it’s easy to hook on to a rucksack or tent thanks to metal eyelets and carabiners (included in the box). The three solar panels fold up to a neat size, too, when not in use, and their IPX4 rating means they’ll withstand water splashes and dust.
The best solar chargers with inbuilt battery packs
Voltaic Systems Converter Solar Backpack
Portable power you don’t even notice you’re carrying
RRP: $129 (US)/ £140 (UK) | Weight: 1kg / 2.4lb | Dimensions (of panel): 45.7 x 30.5 x 15cm / 18 x 12 x 6in | Peak power generation: 5 watts | Integrated battery: Yes | USB port: 2
Brilliantly, the Voltaic Systems Converter Solar Backpack can serve two very important purposes simultaneously: it carries your gear and keeps your devices charged. The solar panels on the backpack move energy to a small, efficient battery pack tucked securely in its own internal backpack pocket.
The 20L volume pack is large enough for a lightweight rain shell, a change of clothes, food and water bottles. A padded inner sleeve securely holds a laptop or tablet. The solar panel is waterproof and backpack fabric is water resistant. When fully charged, the battery pack can restore your smartphone or tablet to full power so you can extend your day and keep playing in the woods
Powertraveller Solar Adventurer
This clamshell solar panel includes a battery to store power generated by the sun
RRP: $130 (US)/ £74 (UK) | Weight: 265g/9.35oz | Dimensions: 17 x 9.6 x 2.3cm (folded) / 6.69 x 3.78 x 0.9in | Peak power generation: 3 watts | Integrated battery: Yes | USB port: 1
With a full charge, the internal batteries on this solar charger can recharge a smartphone or GPS one to two times, a GoPro two to three times, and a smartwatch as many as 15 times.
As it harnesses the power of the sun through the day, a four-colour LED indicates the level of charge in the 3500mAh battery. MPPT (Maximum Power Point Tracker) technology helps the solar panels to keep generating electricity in lower light conditions, and when darkness falls the charger folds into a neat, compact package, which will keep supplying energy from its battery to your devices. Plus, you can pre-charge the battery from the mains before you set off.
Biolite Solar Panel 5+
With an in-built battery this panel can store the power it generates during the day to power up your devices at night
RRP: $60 (US) / £80 (UK) | Weight: 390g / 13.76oz | Dimensions: 25.7 x 20.8 x 2.4cm / 10.12 x 8.12 x 0.94in | Peak power generation: 5 watts | Integrated battery: Yes – 2200mAh | USB port: 1
There’s a neat little analogue sundial in this solar panel to help you align the monocrystalline panel directly at the sun’s rays. Biolite reckons that a misaligned panel could cost you 30% of the available watts. The handy pull-out kickstand lets you position or hang the panel almost anywhere in camp, while there are corner holes to attach the panel to your rucksack during the day.
The in-built battery is particularly useful, storing electricity generated during the day as you walk, and then powering your devices after sunset. The device is a similar length to an iPad, but wider and thicker, which is worth considering when you assess how you will pack your rucksack. It doesn’t come with a case, but it is built of tough, scratch-resistant materials. There’s also the option to pre-charge the in-built battery from the mains before your trip.
The best solar chargers that fold down
Goal Zero Nomad 14 Plus
This folding panel maximises the solar area while minimising pack space
RRP: $150 (US)/ £170 (UK) | Weight: 862g/30.4g (with kickstand) | Dimensions: 31 x 40 x 0.2cm / 12.2 x 15.75 x 0.08in (folded: 31 x 20 x 1.3cm / 12.2 x 7.87 x 0.5in) | Peak power generation: 12 watts | Integrated battery: No | USB port: 1
Point the Goal Zero towards the sun, and a series of LEDs provides a guide to the strength of solar conditions – it’s a good way to ensure you keep the panel facing the sun for maximum power generation, a theoretical 14 watts, hence the product’s name. Plugging your device into the panel leads to an all-day trickle charge, or use the Nomad to power up a battery pack for subsequent use.
The case is notably robust, which will be welcome for any backpacking trip and clumsy camper, which helps to explain why Goal Zero is the brand you’re most likely to find in the best outdoor gear suppliers.
This bargain-priced charger offers an easy entry point to solar power, and has a useful two USB ports
RRP: $60 (US)/ £44 (UK) | Weight: 585g/1lb 4.6oz | Dimensions: 29.6 x 15 x 3cm / 11.65 x 5.9 x 1.18in | Peak power generation: 21 watts | Integrated battery: No | USB port: 2
Three solar panels harness the energy of the sun in this competitively-priced charger that folds neatly for stowage when not in use. There are two 2.4A (max) USB ports, although trying to recharge a pair of devices simultaneously from any portable solar panel is a tough ask. RAVPower has, however, installed smart frequency technology that is says can detect all connected devices' input and use this to distribute power output accordingly.
As an aside, the manufacturer also warns against positioning the solar panels on any high heat conducting surfaces, such as sand or rock, in direct sunlight, as this can cause the panel to overheat, which significantly reduces its power generating efficiency.
With two USB ports and the potential for 28W power generation, this four-panel charger ups the ante in every aspect of solar chargers
RRP: $80 (US)/ £70 (UK) | Weight: 594g/1lb 5oz | Dimensions: 84 x 28.2 x 1.1 cm / 33 x 11 x 0.4 (folded: 28.2 x 16 x 3.4cm / 11 x 6.3 x 1.34in) | Peak power generation: 28 watts | Integrated battery: No | USB port: 3
It’s only when you see the BigBlue 28W Solar Charger unfolded that the impressive surface area of solar panels really becomes apparent. Supplied with four karabiners it hooks to the top of a large backpacking rucksack and then unfurls all the way to the foot of the pack.
The four panels are capable of 28W input and even generate electricity in slightly overcast conditions. There’s also an auto-restart function so that if the BigBlue stops working due to cloud cover, it will automatically resume charging devices when the sun comes out again (some solar chargers need to have devices unplugged and re-plugged to start working again). All this performance comes with a size penalty, but it’s a small price to pay for efficient charging.
Choosing the best solar charger for you
When choosing the best solar charger, there are a number of things you should consider. You may be looking to add a solar charger to your camping checklist. In this case, you may want to go for a heavier version with an inbuilt battery pack. After all, you're not going to be lugging it around the hills.
However, if you're thinking of adding a solar charger to your hiking essentials, you'll want something a bit lighter. There are even models that fold away and stash neatly in your daypack. Keeping your hiking technology going in the wild has never been as easy.
1. Power generation
As a rule of thumb, the higher the power figure (watts) the quicker a solar charger will recharge your devices; so a 28W charger is better than a 21W charger, which in turn is better than a 14W charger. The pay-off, however, is the correlation between the size of the solar panels and their ability to generate electricity – the more panels the higher the generation, but also the greater the size, weight and price of charger. As a guide, look for at least 7W to charge a phone.
2. USB ports
A pair of ports lets you recharge two devices simultaneously – it’s unlikely to be fast, but over the course of a day it could give a boost to your phone and GoPro or keep you in the good books of your trekking partner. In fact, even some headlamp models can be charged using a USB these days, so having that little bit of extra power could be a lifesaver if you're out after dark.
3. Storage battery
Most solar chargers don’t come with an in-built battery to store power, but those that do offer certain advantages. Firstly, there’s the opportunity to pre-charge the in-built battery from the mains before you head off-grid, so the first evening’s recharge is easy. Secondly, any unused power generated during the day can be stored and used to power up devices once the sun has set. Batteries are, however, heavy and add cost to a solar charger.
4. Long charge times
Advertised figures for power generation tend to be based on a panel facing directly into the sun on a cloudless day. Solar chargers hooked to a backpack or tent are unlikely to maintain this perfect position for long, and as soon as the sky clouds over the power generation falls. Overheating can also compromise power, so be careful where you put the charger (not on rock, sand or cement that will heat up).
In addition, the time it takes a solar panel to recharge devices such as a phone is significantly slower than the mains – battery percentages will only rise slowly. And plugging in two devices at the same time will only slow down the recharge time; worth bearing in mind when you plan a backpacking adventure.
5. Size and weight
You don’t want to be carrying a solar farm on your back, so weight matters, as does the folded pack size when you’re trying to squeeze all the gear you need for an off-grid trek into your rucksack.
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