Even if you use your camping and backpacking trips as a chance to disconnect from email, news, and social media updates, chances are good you still use an electronic device to track your mileage, navigate your route, or set waypoints along the way. Every time you add a useful tracking or communication app to your smartphone or watch, it becomes even more important to keep your device charged on the go.
- What to look for in the best solar chargers for backpacking and camping
- The best solar chargers without battery packs
- The best solar chargers with built-in batteries
If you are away from home for multiple days at a time — or even for a single day with heavy usage — you will need a portable charger or backup battery of some kind. For off-grid or backcountry hiking and backpacking, a solar charger is one of the best accessories you can purchase because it allows you to use nothing more than the power of the sun to recharge your phone, watch, tablet, GPS, and more. Solar chargers are also a great addition to an emergency preparedness bag or 72-hour kit, allowing you to stay in contact even during a power outage.
Summary of the best solar chargers in 2021
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|Anker PowerPort Solar Lite||No||15||12.5oz / 354g||$$|
|BigBlue 28W Solar Charger||No||28||21oz / 595g||$$|
|Renogy E.Flex 5W||No||5||5.6oz / 159g||$|
|Goal Zero Nomad 7||No||7||16.2oz / 460g||$$$|
|Nekteck 21W||No||20||18oz / 510g||$$|
|BioLite SolarPanel 5+||Yes||5||13.7oz / 388g||$$$|
|Powertraveller Solar Adventurer Slimline||Yes||3||9.5oz / 269g||$$$|
|Solio Bolt||Yes||5||4.8oz / 136g||$|
What to look for in the best solar chargers for backpacking and camping
Before shopping for a solar charger, ask yourself the following questions:
- What device(s) are you expecting to charge?
- How long are you willing to wait on the charge?
- Do you (or will you) have a backup battery of any kind, or will you be exclusively charging your device directly?
- Is a solar charger something you anticipate using each time you hike and camp, or will it be an emergency backup only?
The answers to these questions and the information below will help you determine which is the best solar charger for your situation.
Watts vs amps
Most solar chargers are rated in either watts (potential power) or amps (how much electricity is transmitted at once), although some models will give you both the watt and amp measurements. For either watts or amps, higher numbers equate to better charging capacity and speed. The most efficient solar chargers are those above 10 watts and/or 2 amps per port, like the Anker PowerPort Solar Lite and Nekteck’s 21W. You will generally pay more for more power, but the reduced charging time is often worth the extra cost.
Surface area and storage size
Depending on how often you plan to use your solar charger, size may be an issue you need to consider when comparing models. Solar chargers without built-in batteries tend to be smaller and lighter than those that hold a charge, but they do reduce the need for any additional battery packs in your bag. Instapark’s Mercury 10M is lightweight enough to bring along on even the longest backpacking trips at less than 0.9lb total.
The most efficient way to use a solar charger is to charge a backup battery all day during your hike.
External batteries handle the surges and lapses in power that naturally come from the way solar panels work throughout the day better than most cell phones or tablets. Some solar chargers are panels alone, designed to attach to whichever extra battery or charger you prefer. These panels are lighter and tend to be more durable.
Top tip: When using a solar charger to charge an external battery, attach your solar panel over your backpack to maximize its exposure to the sun, allowing you to use your phone or gps while the external battery charges all day. When you arrive at camp each evening, simply disconnect the external battery and use it to charge your device(s).
All-in-one solar chargers contain a battery pack in addition to the solar panels. The advantage of a charger with a battery pack is that you only have one thing to carry. In addition, many chargers with built-in batteries include the option to precharge the battery at home, giving you a head start on charging on the go. If you are looking for an all-in-one charger that you can keep on hand for emergencies, the Solio Bolt holds its charge for up to a year.
The best solar chargers without battery packs
At a whopping 15 watts of power, the Anker PowerPort Solar Lite is one of the most powerful solar chargers on our list. The high wattage is especially vital if you plan to charge more than one device at the same time or need a charger that will work directly with even the most power-hungry tablet or phone. Elastic loops attached on the ends of the polyester canvas cover make positioning the panels easy, even while you hike.
- Can charge two devices at once
- 15 watts
- Less expensive than some lower-wattage chargers
- Not compatible with a small number of older devices
- No built-in battery
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Built with four 7-watt solar panels and two 5-volt USB ports, the BigBlue 28W Solar Charger has the highest charging capacity on this list. The charger also features an integrated ammeter. This device measures incoming power from UV rays and displays the electrical current in Amps, so you know when there’s enough sunlight to recharge your devices.
For use on the go and at the campsite, this solar charger has four sturdy eyelets and four carabiners. It also features a phone-sized zippered pocket that keeps your mobile clean and safe. When folded, the BigBlue 28W is fairly streamlined. However, it’s still rather bulky and heavy (nearly 600g) for the average backpacker.
- Efficient charging
- Performs well on cloudy days
- A bit bulky
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One of the least expensive options on our list is the small but effective Renogy E. Flex 5W. Both suction cups and carabiners comes standard with the solar panels for every possible hanging configuration—a very useful feature in heavily forested areas where sun is limited. If you are limited on pack space, you will appreciate the way the whole panel collapses down into four smaller panels. That smaller size does come at a cost, however; you will only get 5 watts of power out of this charger, so it will take longer to charge your devices than some others on our list.
- Easy to adjust positioning
- Only 5 watts/0.96 amps
- Requires full sun to charge high-power items
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Although many phones, tablets, and watches can be charged with a single USB cable, some devices require a 12-volt socket instead. The Goal Zero Nomad 7 is perfect for just that situation, allowing you to charge via a 12V socket and/or USB port. At only 7 watts, the Nomad 7 does not produce enough power to charge some of the highest-power devices directly, so you may need to charge a backup battery while you hike instead.
- Capable of both USB and 12V charging
- Very compact
- Only 7 watts/0.58 amps
The highest-wattage solar charger on our list, Nekteck’s 21W, can provide up to 10 watts per port of charging power in ideal conditions. No other charger on our list comes close to that charging capacity. The charger is made up of four sections: three solar panels and one charging pocket for storing your phone or battery while it charges. Although there are grommets and carabiners included, you can simply prop the charger up by folding the panels slightly if you need to use it without hooking it to anything. There is no external battery or powerbank, and it can only charge USB-enabled devices.
- 20 watts (over two devices)
- Shape can be configured in multiple ways
- Over 1.5 pounds even without a battery
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The best solar chargers with built-in batteries
One unique feature of the BioLite SolarPanel 5+ is the ability to precharge the solar panel before your trip through its micro USB port, thanks to an integrated rechargeable battery built into the solar panel. The built-in battery makes charging possible in sporadic sun without forcing the device to disconnect and reconnect each time you move into the sun. The built-in battery does add some weight and overall size to the panel, but it can be a fantastic solution if you want the benefit of a separate battery pack without having the keep track of more than one item.
- Built-in battery streamlines charging
- Power indicator light
- 5 watts
- Only 1 USB port
PowerTraveler’s Solar Adventurer is a solar panel and external battery in one and is still not much bigger than the average smartphone. With the included battery, you can even use this solar charger at night with what charge it’s built up during the day. The solar panel may only generate 3 watts of power, but it makes up for it with its convenient size and sleek design.
- Small and sleek
- Internal battery included
- Can be charged at home with an adapter
- Only 3 watts
- Slow charging
The built-in battery on the Solio Bolt (which is big enough to charge at least two smartphones to full capacity on a single charge) will hold its charge for up to a year—an incredible feature for occasional use or survival prep. If something happens to the battery, you also have the option to replace the battery without replacing the entire solar panel unit. Instead of elastic loops or carabiners, the two solar panels are designed to be propped up with nothing more than a regular pencil or pen. Some hikers prefer a solar charger that can be readily attached to a backpack or tree, while others will love how easy and quick it is to set this one up.
- Holds a charge for up to a year
- Props up with just a pencil!
- No hanging straps or carabiners
- Works best for stationary charging only
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A portable solar panel gives you the most flexibility on the trail. You can use your phone for a gps and camera without worrying about bringing extra batteries or an additional power source. Whether you want an all-in-one or a simple collapsible panel for storing in the car, you are sure to find the best portable solar panel for your next backpacking or camping trip on our list.