When you’re camping, backpacking, or taking long day hikes—or simply sitting around your firepit in the backyard—your closest outlet is likely farther away than your charging cable can stretch. Pack a solar charger though, and you’ve got electricity at your fingertips. These small, portable solar panels are small and lightweight enough to not add much heft to your pack and powerful enough to juice up your phone, headlamp, and other small tech. Some models include integrated batteries. Others charge multiple devices at once. All of them will keep you connected while off the grid so long as the sun is shining.
Read quick info below of our top picks, then keep scrolling for buying advice and full reviews of these models and other highly rated solar chargers.
Choosing Power and Portability
Shopping for a solar charger can quickly devolve into wading through specs, but the most important one to pay attention to is the combined output of the solar panels, measured in watts. This power metric is crucial in determining how quickly you’ll be able to charge devices and how many you can charge at the same time (provided there are multiple ports). The higher the wattage, the faster the charging times and the more capable the charger will be at powering devices simultaneously. Keep in mind that the advertised wattage is often higher than what’s possible in the field due to variable weather conditions.
A handful of chargers come with a built-in battery for more consistent performance, but many do not. The battery stores energy for charging after the sun goes down or on cloudy days. Essentially, your charger works as a power bank instead of a direct transfer of energy. These models are more expensive, but it can be a worthwhile investment to gain a bit more independence from the weather. There are also power banks outfitted with small solar arrays with outputs of five watts or less. Given the size of their batteries, the solar charging feature acts as a backup to the primary charging method: an outlet.
Higher wattage chargers come with weight and size penalties that make them cumbersome to carry on your back, bike, or boat. If portability is a chief concern, sacrificing some power is a worthwhile tradeoff for a lighter, more compact charger. No matter what size your model, you’ll find the best performance by setting it up in direct sunlight and occasionally moving it so it continues to soak up those rays. Given the variability of the weather, it’s a good idea to plug in your tech while it still has some battery life instead of letting it fully discharge first.
How We Evaluated
In the field, dead tech is a mild inconvenience at best and a survival liability at worst. To find the most reliable and efficient solar chargers, we researched 29 models. (We have tested one, the Goal Zero Nomad 50, but otherwise relied on the specs and details from the brands.) Thse included portable solar panels and solar-rechargeable power banks, though we primarily focused on the former given their greater efficiency at converting sunshine into electricity. We narrowed the list by comparing the weight, dimensions, construction, output, number of ports, cost, and additional features of each model. To winnow the contenders down further, we relied on reviews from customers and expert sources, including OutdoorGearLab, Wirecutter, and Good Housekeeping. Our consumer scores, based on more than 43,000 reviews, represent the percentage of customers who rated the product at least four out of five stars on Amazon, REI, Backcountry, and Moosejaw. After all that, six models make the cut. Read about them below.
BigBlue 3 USB Ports 28W Solar Charger
Consumer Score: 88% gave it 4 stars or more
Weight: 1 lb. 5.5 oz. | Solar panel output: 28 W | Output ports: Three USBs | Integrated battery: No | Folded dimensions: 6.3 x 11.1 in.
BigBlue’s 28-watt solar charger checks a lot of boxes. It’s powerful, packable, includes three USB ports—a rarity in the category—and boasts an affordable price tag. It’s no surprise, then, that the charger has earned top commendations from OutdoorGearLab, Wirecutter, and Good Housekeeping. It’s slightly smaller than a piece of printer paper when folded, so it can fit easily into a day pack. However, finding a sunny area that’s large enough for all four solar arrays to catch the light could prove to be more difficult, especially if you’re in a forest. It extends nearly one yard from end to end when unfurled. Still, the large size lends the charger enough power to juice up three devices at once. Just don’t expect the fastest performance when all three ports are occupied. Two standard 2.4-amp ports are joined by a slower one-amp port that’s better suited to a small headlamp than your phone or a power bank. Specs aside, reviewers report this is a reliable, well-made charger that doesn’t disappoint.
BioLite SolarPanel 5+
Consumer Score: 73% gave it 4 stars or more
Weight: 13.8 oz. | Solar panel output: 5 W | Output ports: One USB | Integrated battery: Yes | Dimensions: 10.1 x 8.2 x 0.9 in.
The lightweight SolarPanel is a backpacker’s best friend. The singular array features a 360-degree kickstand, so you can prop it up, hang it, or even clip it to your backpack and charge on the move. BioLite adds a sundial to help you position the SolarPanel in line with the sun for improved performance. There’s also a 2,220-mAh battery on board that can serve as a backup power source on partly cloudy days. If you’re getting ready for a trip, charge it via micro USB and check that it’s filling up with the four-light indicator. Even without a cover, the SolarPanel is plenty durable, and we’d expect no less for a product primarily designed for backcountry use. A thick plastic layer protects the panel, and the ports have silicone caps to block dirt and other detritus. The compact, durable build and integrated battery bump up the cost, which is noticeably steep for a solar charger with only a five-watt output. Want more power? BioLite makes a similar 10-watt model.
—BEST VALUE BACKPACKING—
Renogy E.Flex10 Plus
Consumer Score: 76% gave it 4 stars or more
Weight: 13 oz. | Solar panel output: 10 W | Output ports: One USB | Integrated battery: No | Folded dimensions: 9.5 x 5.9 x 0.26 in.
In the E.Flex10, Renogy delivers twice the power of BioLite’s SolarPanel at a fraction of the cost. The lightweight device boasts the smallest folded footprint among the traditional chargers here and opens like a book with a solar panel on each side. If you’re sold on this good deal, expect some tradeoffs in durability and performance. The USB port doesn’t have a cover, so take care to keep it clean and dirt-free. What’s more, the port restricts the energy current to a maximum 1.92 amps, which is less than the standard 2.4 amps. The E.Flex will take a while to recharge a smartphone as a result, but customers report good performance when using it to power a battery pack. Carabiners let you hang the charger from your pack or at camp. Renogy also includes a set of suction cups for window installation. But those are a bit extraneous given that your home or car will have more reliable power outlets to use instead.
—FOR CAR CAMPING—
Goal Zero Nomad 50
Consumer Score: 91% gave it 4 stars or more
Weight: 6 lb. 13.6 oz. | Solar panel output: 50 W | Output ports: One USB, one 8mm DC | Integrated battery: No | Folded dimensions: 17 x 11.25 x 2.5 in.
Goal Zero’s Nomad line includes six solar chargers, ranging from five to 200 watts. For multi-day car camping expeditions when we’re loading up on tech, we like the Nomad 50. Its four large solar arrays deliver up to 50 watts of power. Using the USB port, our phone and other small gadgets powered up quickly. We were glad for that considering there’s only one of these output ports. Meanwhile, the eight-millimeter DC port plugged into our 500-watt portable power station that, in turn, juiced our laptop, camera battery, and other tech that doesn’t use a USB Type-A port. Recharging this battery was a much more demanding task for the Nomad, but with patience and unobstructed sunshine, it’s possible. From a design standpoint, the Nomad isn’t made for hiking for backpacking trips. It’s nearly seven pounds and bulky, even when folded down. But for regular car camping, overlanding, or RVing, the Nomad is worth the significant investment. Depending on your power needs, you might consider taking advantage of the connectable design. You can chain up to three 50-watt Nomads together for faster charging.
Anker PowerPort Solar
Consumer Score: 86% gave it 4 stars or more
Weight: 14.7 oz. | Solar panel output: 21 W | Output ports: Two USBs | Integrated battery: No | Folded dimensions: 6.3 x 11.1 x 1.1 in.
From a weight-to-power standpoint, you can’t beat Anker’s PowerPort. The 21-watt charger tips the scales at under a pound. Trail cred translation: It won’t weigh down your pack or take eons to revive your battery life. With both USB ports occupied, OutdoorGearLab found the PowerPort delivered at least a little juice to each device. The same isn’t always true for other solar chargers with multiple ports. Anker’s design has inspired many similar products that are usually cheaper than the already reasonably priced PowerPort. Saving cash might make the most sense for you, but we couldn’t find a competitor that outmatched the PowerPort’s efficient build. To top it off, the OG features an 18-month warranty should any snafus occur.
—POWER BANK WITH A SOLAR CHARGER—
Goertek ES-982 Portable Solar Charger
Consumer Score: 86% gave it 4 stars or more
Weight: 1 lb. 2.9 oz. | Solar panel output: 2 W | Output ports: Three USBs | Integrated battery: Yes | Folded dimensions: 7 x 3.8 x 1.1 in.
Marketing campaigns often play up the small built-in solar panels on solar power banks, but the real standouts of these gadgets are their large lithium-ion batteries. Practically speaking, you should think of the category as a portable energy storage solution, not a real-time energy converter like the other options on our list. Still, a solar-equipped power bank is a good choice for anyone regularly adventuring in overcast climates or who doesn’t want to wait for a traditional solar charger to do its thing. If that sounds like you, choose the Goertek ES-982. When fully charged, the 25,000-mAh battery can restore power to your phone several times. Three USB ports allow for simultaneous charging, too. As for juicing up the ES-982, rely on at-home wall charging. The puny two-watt solar array is best saved for emergency use. But opposite that panel, you’ll find another cool feature: 36 LED lights that transform the power bank into a three-mode flashlight.
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