With recent advances in materials and technologies, portable solar battery chargers can make camping/hiking a lot safer, freeing users from struggling for outlets, and be a lifesaver should your car battery die. In this complete and definitive guide, we’re going to learn about how this technology works, the different kinds of panels commonly in use, important aspects to look for, and of course, review the TOP 12 Best Solar Chargers on the market for a few different uses.

Table of Content:

So, how exactly do solar panels work? The act of converting light into electricity can seem like sorcery on the surface, but the principle behind it is actually relatively simple. When light particles (called photons) impact the layers of silicon, they excite the different strata of silicon in place, which causes electrons to be lost. These electrons become a steady source of current which can be used for any number of purposes.

Solar panels intended for charging batteries generally contain a transformer, which helps provide a steady voltage, and can convert DC current to AC – something that can be very important, depending on the battery in question.

Hooking solar chargers up is very straightforward. Chargers meant for cell phones or tablets usually provide USB ports that connect directly. Others, intended for additional devices such as laptops or other mid-range battery-powered devices, will have standard outlets to plug into. With a standard charger plug, mobiles and tablets can charge off of these designs readily as well. For charging car or RV batteries, you will want a model of charger intended for that specific use, due to the voltage necessary. These will offer standard positive and negative clamps just like those found on jumper cables.

While hooking these chargers up is remarkably simple, getting the most energy in the shortest amount of time can be tricky. Obviously, you will want to place the panels where they can get the maximum exposure to sunlight for the greatest length of time. This in and of itself isn’t so hard, but protecting your devices from the intensity of the sun’s heat can be a problem, since the cables leading to them generally aren’t that remarkably long.

During the charge time, you will want to frequently check the progress, as over-charging a lot of batteries can be harmful to them. This is a bigger problem with solar chargers, as in some cases, the excess power they continue to produce can “swim” back up, heating them further, which will cause them to deteriorate a lot more quickly.

Attentiveness is important with this kind of charging.

Solar power has its strengths and weaknesses. Sadly, there’s no such thing as a perfect power source with no drawbacks – such a thing is for now still science fiction. In some cases, the benefits of this power source do, however, outweigh their drawbacks.

  • Green – Solar power has no environmental impact whatsoever, drawing its energy entirely from the sun itself. No fuel has to be burned, and therefore, no waste is produced.
  • Free – Aside from the device itself, solar power is entirely free. Every joule of energy you get from solar power costs literally nothing but time and patience.
  • Power in Isolated Places – With portable solar panels, you can have electricity anywhere there is currently sunlight. This, as said before, makes it a fantastic technology to fall back on in emergencies while camping or hiking, and can also be invaluable to getting your vehicle started should the battery die on you.
  • Fragility – Solar panels can be fragile, the silicon layers quite thin. The glass plating developing cracks can also hinder the amount of light they absorb.
  • Dependence on Weather – Solar panels obviously require sunlight to provide their power. While they’ve gotten remarkably better at producing power from diminished sunlight, bad enough weather can suddenly render them inoperable. This is obviously also a problem at night, should you suddenly find yourself without a power bank or a charged battery.
  • Still Slower – Solar power still tends to be slower than wall current, especially when it comes to portable panels. The greater the surface area (and denser the crystals), the more power per time period it can provide.

It may come as a surprise to some that there are several types of solar panels, each with their individual advantages and disadvantages. Understanding these will aid you well in choosing the right chargers for your devices and intended environments.

Monocrystalline Solar Panels (Mono-SI)

These are the oldest solar panel technology, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Monocrystalline panels tend to have the highest-grade silicon cells with the highest efficiency due to being the most developed technology. Mono-SI are optimised for commercial use and have high life-time value. They tend to be somewhat more expensive, and are the more breakable of the technologies due to their rigidity and weight.

Polycrystalline Solar Panels (p-SI)

These are a newer technology, utilizing varied grades of silicon, these tend to be somewhat more affordable due to their manufacturing process. For a long time, they were regarded as considerably inferior to Mono-SI panels. Recent advancements in this particular type of panel have made them mostly as efficient as Mono-SI in some cases, nearly as much so. They tend to be a little more durable, but are also heavy. Unfortunately, they are sensitive to high temperatures and have shorter life spans.

Thin Film Amorphous Silicon Solar Panels (A-SI)

This is a very new technology utilizing a non-cellular silicon structure mixed with cadmium and other compounds. It’s relatively low cost and easy to produce. It’s not a mature technology, with predictions expecting significant improvements in the coming years. Its advantages, as it improves, are more energy per amount of surface area, flexibility, and possibly durability.

Concentrated PV Cell (CVP)

This technology utilizes optical concentration to collect light with less dense cell structure. The CVP tends to run hot, and requires solar tracking (consistent following of the sun) in order to provide much energy. This technology is generally relegated to large collectors.

CIGS – CIGS

This is another approach to thin-film solar panels. Unlike amorphous (A-SI), CIGS actually has a layer of thin, tiny PV cells. It is currently a very new technology not widely used commercially. It’s facing challenges in the right concentration and surface area, and isn’t likely to be encountered in most products at the moment.

Important Features: How to Choose the Best Solar Charger?

When shopping for a solar charger, there are a lot of important features to consider. Not all of these features are always important, so it’s critical to bear in mind what devices you will expect to charge, and in what environments.

  • Portability / Size / Weight

Obviously, in simplified terms, bigger panels will provide more power at a higher speed. However, if you’re planning being on the move (hiking, camping, charging your devices throughout the day on the go), portability and weight are important. Lighter panels that provide sufficient charge tend to be costlier and less durable.

  • Wattage / Power

This requires you to know the power needs of your devices. Usually, 5 Watts is enough for charging regular cell phones but if you have a tablet or a powerful smartphone 10 watts would be better. Some models are 5 watts, while others can be up to 100 watts. All mobile devices and tablets operate on the same basic wattage, meaning that chargers with USB ports, or chargers intended specifically for small device charging, will work pretty universally. However, voltage for laptops and other more demanding devices can vary. You will want to examine the wattage and voltage information on your batteries. Mismatched voltage and wattage can result in batteries exploding!

  • Price

Of course, your budget will have a lot of bearing on your options. Faster chargers which are durable yet lightweight will be considerably more expensive. Shopping on a budget with this technology means you’ll almost certainly have to sacrifice speed, portability, or durability.

  • Charge Interruption Recovery

Some chargers have a reservoir similar to a power bank, which can provide a steady power supply even if the light source is temporarily disrupted. This is similar to battery backups which keep desktop PCs powered up for a time after electricity goes out. If you’re going to be using these chargers in an area with unpredictable weather, this can save a lot of grief.

  • Charging Speed

This one is important especially with chargers for vehicle batteries. If you find yourself stranded in the middle of nowhere, you’ll want to be on your way very quickly, given how dangerous such isolation in the wilderness can be. Speed can also be important when hiking, because if you need to call for help, chances are time is of the essence.

  • Connections and their Amperage

The higher-end chargers tend to have multiple connections, different types of connections, and varied amperages. This allows a number of devices to be charged, sometimes in parallel, which can make the whole process a lot faster.

  • Multiple Device Charging Speed

If you’re planning on charging multiple devices simultaneously, the speed of doing so is a different specification. You’ll want to be aware of this statistic when shopping for chargers.

  • Durability

If you’re going camping or hiking, you’ll want the most durable charger you can find – not just hardened against drops, but against high and low temperatures, humidity, and other climatological issues.

  • AC / DC Outlets

Some devices and batteries are designed to run off of DC (direct current) while others are designed for AC (alternative current). Knowing your devices’ requirements ahead of time is very important, not unlike wattage concerns. Some chargers offer both, which means you can get the most out of multiple devices sharing a charger.

  • USB Connections

If you plan to charge mobile devices, USB ports are a good thing to look for. While you can use a wall plug charger on some of these units, the USB ports guarantee the universal wattage and current needed by tablets and smartphones.

  • Controlling System

There are two types of charge control scheme in solar. PWM (Pulse Width Modulation) is the older, more established standard. It’s affordable and can handle up to 60 amps of power, and uses passive cooling. MPPT (Maximum Power Point Tracking), a newer technology, can scale higher, can be more efficient, but is costlier and can require fans or other active cooling systems due to the higher energy intensities involved. Overall, PWM controllers are not as efficient as MPPT, with the latter gaining you up to 30% more power.

Some solar chargers can come with additional smart features:

  • Portable solar panels with usb-c port. For example, Type C Solar Charger from BigBlue offers triple ports power, namely two USB Ports and one type C Port that offer total current at 5V/3.4A. Another example is OUTXE Rugged Solar Charger that offers dual input type C and micro USB
  • Solar panels with flashlight. Most often than not solar chargers come with a nice bonus of having a flashlight which makes it easier to navigate through badly lit conditions. One of these devices is RAVPower Solar Charger
  • Solar panels with water resistance / waterproof. If you’re one of those “hiking types”, then you would want your solar charger to be waterproof or at least water resistant. ZeroLemon SolarJuice is one of the good options here
  • Backpacks with solar panels. Have you ever dreamed of a backpack with pre-installed solar charger? Then Voltaic Systems OffGrid Solar Backpack Charger will be definitely to your liking
  • Caps with solar panels. Probably you have not expected this one, but yeah, there are caps with solar panels. Look at this 5 Panel snapback flat brim baseball cap from SOLSOL, which is compatible with both iOs and Android devices, and works well with Bluetooth.
  • Phone cases with solar panels. If you’re looking for an ultra thin and super sleek phone case with an integrated 2,700 mAh battery, then look no further, EnerPlex Surfr Ultra Slim is your safest bet.

My experience with solar chargers only goes back a few years. I’m not an outdoorsy person by any stretch, nor am I much of a traveler. Therefore, I didn’t experience the evolution of this technology from its less-than-practical days, unlike some.

My adoption of this technology came from the fact I actually have to go out and about a good bit more often than I used to. As I grow older, I have more appointments to attend, errands to run and so on. Having gotten used to the non-stop distraction of our multimedia world, I of course cultivated a newfound appreciation for my smartphone during those times in waiting rooms, checkout lines and the like.

It wasn’t long before I realized that outlets in many places come at a premium. It was when a security guard at a doctor’s office complex actually scolded me for using their outlets, that I realized I needed a better solution.

Fortunately, I live in a tropical climate, which means that when the sun shines, even through tinted windows, it shines intensely. Even the less efficient solar chargers can provide quite a bit of steady power, meaning that there are very few places I might find myself where I can’t get the light I need.

Unfortunately, I live in a tropical climate, which means that said sunshine is not reliable by any stretch. When living in a climate prone to rather sudden and severe thunderstorms or other cloudy weather, depending solely on solar power can be an issue. When I experienced my first hurricane season with a solar charger, I very quickly learned how important it is to have a charger that has a power reservoir, and how handy an additional power bank can be. Panels that can work with diminished sunlight are also quite nice to have.

I’ve never attempted to charge my car with solar panels, though there’s no reason to believe this wouldn’t work just fine, provided there’s enough sunlight. However, I would personally be wary of relying on these in climates like my own. With my luck, my battery would die in the everglades during a rainstorm.

Top 12 Best Solar Chargers in 2019

Best Solar Chargers for Iphone / Cell Phone / Usb Devices

iBose 10.0mAh Power Bank Portable Smartphone & iPhone Solar Charger – Complete Power Kit for Smartphone Users

iBose Solar Charger: photo

This solar charger is intended to be an inclusive power kit for the heavy device user on the go. Primarily designed for campers or hikers, this one is actually better suited for general solar charging of mobile devices in general, due to its compact nature.

This is the more expensive of these mobile chargers, but this is due to the extensive features it offers, including a power bank/reservoir which is removable for when the panels aren’t needed.

Features

  • Wattage: Not Listed; 10mAh
  • Charging Ports: 2 USB, 1 Micro USB.
  • Device Compatibility: Any mobile device or tablet.
  • Waterproof: Very.
  • Portability: Five segments fold up for easy storage. Power bank folds into charger, or is detachable for use as just a bank.
  • Additional Features: Built-in LED flash light with automated SOS functionality; detachable power bank.

Performance

This is solar charger is almost identical in design and materials to the one I’ve used for a couple years. These charge nearly as quickly as a low-end wall charger, which is pretty quick for modern devices. It can be a bit slower when charging several devices at once, but not insufferable so.

The LED flash light, which shouldn’t use that much power, does seem to drain this faster than one would expect, but again, not so much so as to be that big of an issue. The power bank being a “built-in” feature is a huge advantage to this type of charger, and it’s actually kind of baffling this isn’t more common with these.

The material feels a tad cheap on these, but it’s actually pretty durable though the panels are a fragile when hot.

Pros Cons
  • Very portable.
  • High-power, multiple charging ports.
  • Includes high-quality power bank/reservoir, which is detachable.
  • Mobile phone form factor means it fits pockets, courier bags, backpacks or purses neatly when folded up.
  • LED flashlight is bright, and includes SOS signal.
  • A little slow when charging multiple devices.
  • Wattage is not listed.
  • LED flashlight depletes the bank a little faster than it should.
  • No USB-C, which means an additional dongle is needed for some modern phones and tablets.
  • Panels are a tad fragile when too hot.

Conclusion 

This style of mobile charger is very inclusive, requiring nothing more aside from additional cables to connect phones and tablets to it. The power bank is long-lasting, and the phone form factor is comfortable.

It’s not cheap, but it’s not prohibitively expensive, meaning the on-the-go heavy device user may find this quite a handy kit.

iBose: Check the current price

RAVPower 10 mAh Outdoor Battery Pack Solar Charger – Very Portable Solar Charger with Bank

RAVPower 10 mAh Solar Charger: photo

This is a more compact approach to the solar phone charger. Unlike the iBose, this one is a single unit with a standard, rugged design. Its compactness means some sacrifice in performance, which will be addressed below.

Features

  • Wattage: Not Listed; 10mAh
  • Charging Ports: 2 USB, 1 Micro USB.
  • Device Compatibility: Any mobile device or tablet.
  • Waterproof: Very.
  • Portability: Small, smartphone-form-factor shape fits anywhere a phone will.
  • Additional Features: Built-in LED flash light with automated SOS functionality; built-in power pack; outlet compatible for bank charging.

Performance

This device can provide up to 11 hours of runtime at the lowest possible power consumption, around six with average use. This is about on par with a standard cell phone battery, in other words, pretty solid.

It’s not as fast to charge, due to the smaller surface area. Surprisingly, it’s not as slow as it could be, thanks to the dense mono-SI panel design. It’s a rugged charger, very hard to actually damage.

The LED flashlight isn’t as bright as some, but it’s very power-conservative, and is bright enough to get the job done.

Pros Cons
  • Very compact.
  • Charges up to 3 devices.
  • Built-in power bank with long life.
  • Rugged design holds up to a lot of abuse.
  • Very efficient for such small surface area.
  • Outlet-chargeable.
  • Flashlight isn’t as bright as similar devices.
  • Can be a bit slow charging three devices.
  • Smaller surface area means it’s overall slower.

Conclusion 

This is a compact design. If you don’t mind it being a little slower, and needing fairly strong sunlight, this is a reliable charger. Its outlet compatibility does mean that maintaining power by supplementing with solar exposure is a sound strategy, if you plan ahead.

RAVPower 10 mAh Outdoor Battery Pack: Check the current price

JETSUN 16.75mAh Solar Charger with Power Bank – Higher-Amperage Compact Solar Charger

JETSUN 16.75mAh Solar Charger with Power Bank: photo

This compact solar charger by Jetsun looks like something out of a turn of the century science fiction epic with its sleek, black and green design. Designed to be rugged, this one was built with hikers or other on-the-go people in mind.

Features

  • Wattage: Not Listed; 16.75mAh
  • Charging Ports: 2 USB.
  • Device Compatibility: Any mobile device or tablet.
  • Waterproof: Very.
  • Portability: Small, smartphone-form-factor shape fits anywhere a phone will.
  • Additional Features: 2 built-in LED flash lights with automated SOS functionality; built-in power pack; outlet compatible for bank charging. Hook mount to hang from back packs, belts or bags.

Performance

Similar to the RAVPower unit, this is device makes some sacrifices in speed due to surface area, though this one honestly seems to be one of the faster compact chargers out there. This one is more “sporty”, very much designed to withstand outdoor use.

It can, as usual, be a little slow if charging two devices simultaneously, and the dual flashlights drain it somewhat quickly.

Pros Cons
  • Very rugged design.
  • Fast, for a compact charger.
  • Outlet compatible.
  • Mounts easily on belts, bags and backpacks.
  • Compact phone form factor.
  • Collects dirt and “gunk” due to its etched design.
  • Dual flashlights are a power hog.
  • Kind of heavy.
  • Design aesthetics may be a bit polarizing.

Conclusion 

If you’re going to spend a lot of time outdoors, or in rougher climates like industrial environments or workshops, this may be an ideal bank/charger. However, if you’re not outdoorsy or in rough environments, you may be better suited by the RAVPower or the next entry in this list.

JETSUN: Check the current price

Nekteck 10mAh Rugged Dual USB Portable Charger with Power Bank – Most Durable Solar Charger

Nekteck Portable Charger with Power Bank: photo

This is one more or less demonstrates a compromise between all of the strengths and weaknesses of the other phone chargers on this list. It sacrifices a bit of speed for surface area, it’s rugged, which makes it heavy, but it’s also more focused on general users than prioritizing hikers or campers. It’s also the most affordable.

Features

  • Wattage: Not Listed; 10mAh
  • Charging Ports: 2 USB.
  • Device Compatibility: Any mobile device or tablet.
  • Waterproof: Very.
  • Portability: Small, smartphone-form-factor shape fits anywhere a phone will.
  • Additional Features: Rugged design; shock-proof water-proof and rain resistant.

Performance

As said, this one sacrifices some speed due to the reduced surface area, but the very dense cells do account for a lot of that. This one is designed to hold up to drops without shattering, and to withstand nasty weather and temperatures.

It does all of these quite well, though it lacks a flashlight or outlet compatibility, meaning some power-sustaining tricks we’ll talk about later won’t work on this device.

Pros Cons
  • Compact and very durable.
  • Straightforward, no-nonsense solar-powered battery backup.
  • Very affordable.
  • A little slow.
  • Narrow band of light seems to work on it – moderately cloudy days greatly diminish its speed and efficiency.
  • “Screen” is susceptible to scuffing.

Conclusion 

This is probably a good choice for those who just need a budget solar-powered battery backup that doesn’t get a lot of serious demand placed upon it. If you want to do some strategy to maintain power with a starting point off outlets, this one will not work.

Nekteck: Check the current price

Best Solar Chargers for Laptops

Suaoki 18/12V Solar Charger – Ideal for heavy power needs such as laptops!

Suaoki 18/12V Solar Charger: photo

This charger is a beast, compared to other portable device chargers out there. Providing a DC output, this device can actually charge traditional laptops, and could, in theory, even power a low-demand PC on a really sunny day.

Features

  • Wattage: 100w; 18/12V
  • Charging Ports: 1 USB; 10 Laptop Plugs.
  • Device Compatibility: Any mobile device or tablet; any electrical device or battery capable of 18V/5A DC.
  • Waterproof: No, but rain resistant.
  • Portability: Panels fold like a portfolio bag (clamshell). Transformer/connectors have a handle. Not very portable.
  • Additional modulator and power capacity can charge/power a laptop or other moderate-demand devices that work off a wall socket.

Performance

This device has very dense cells with a lot of gain, and an additional module that can modulate the voltage while providing hookups for wall socket electronics. In theory, it could power a low-end PC on a sunny day, though this is going entirely by statistics. This hasn’t been tried.

It will power a standard laptop, which none of the other models we’ve looked at could even attempt to do. It’s not very portable due mostly to the size of the panels, and the heavy transformer/modulator unit. You’re not going to use this in a brightly sunlit coffee shop, without getting some looks. But it’d be great for field work or camping.

Pros Cons
  • Can power modest wall-socket electronics like laptops.
  • High voltage and wattage.
  • Lots of hookups.
  • Prevents current return.
  • Not very portable.
  •  Modulator/hookup box is heavy.

Conclusion 

This isn’t very portable, so if you need to charge your laptop on the go, this is not going to be that helpful. If you plan on using your laptop out of reach of outlets, or while camping or doing some sort of field work, however, you might find this to be a very convenient option. It’s not cheap, though!

Suaoki Solar Panel Charger: Check the current price

Suaoki USB 3.0 282 Solar Charger – Ideal Solar Charger for Hybrid Tablet-Laptops

Suaoki USB 3.0 282 Solar Charger: photo

This foldable charger is similar to a lot of hiking/camping chargers, with a foldable, rugged design. It provides a high wattage compared to a lot of these, which means that a select range of hybrid tablet-laptops, which have a higher power demand, can be charged from these.

Features

  • Wattage: 28w
  • Charging Ports: 3 USB 3.0.
  • Device Compatibility: Any mobile device or tablet; Tablet/Laptop hybrid devices.
  • Waterproof: Very.
  • Portability: 5-segmented design folds into small, portable shape.
  • Additional Features: Swivel mount for angling and propping; carabiners for easy fastening; sun pointer on stand makes it easy to track the sun.

Performance

This device provides a little bit more power than a lot of similar designs, which makes it one of the few that can charge the more powerful laptop-tablet hybrids such as Samsung laptop tablets, Microsoft Surface and other such new designs.

This device cannot and will not charge standard laptops, which are impossible to hook up to it in a reasonable way, and which require more power than it can provide.

Pros Cons
  • Rugged, portable design. 
  • Three ports rapidly charge multiple devices. 
  • Convenient mounting stand makes it easy to track the sun.
  • Powerful enough for tablet laptops.
  • No power bank.
  • Somewhat fragile panels don’t like being on hot surfaces.
  • Will crush if you lean into it.

Conclusion 

The ability to charge modern hybrid tablet/laptop computers makes this and another model we’ll discuss in a moment stand out among competing models. These require a bit more juice than a lot of chargers can provide. If you’re using one of these on the go, you’ll need a device with this kind of wattage, and USB 3.0 to really charge practically. But, don’t expect to charge your traditional laptop off of this. It’s not happening.

Suaoki Portable Solar Charger: Check the current price

Best Solar Chargers for Car Battery and Rv (Trailers)

TCXW 30W Flexible Polycrystalline Solar Panel – Mountable RV/Car/Boat/Cabin/Tent Solar Power Source

TCXW 30W Solar Panel: photo

This solar charger is a flexible polycrystalline panel which can mount unobtrusively on the tops of RVs or cars, on exterior lighting, boars, cabins, outbuildings or really anywhere. This is one of the more general-purpose solar panels on our list.

Its hookups are standard positive/negative alligator clips.

Features

  • Wattage: 30w; 18/12V
  • Charging Ports: Alligator clips.
  • Device Compatibility: Generic.
  • Waterproof: Yes.
  • Portability: Mounts aerodynamically on vehicles.
  • Additional Features: Blocking diode prevents reverse discharge in the dark.

Performance

This isn’t really going to help you in a pinch, if you find yourself needing to charge your battery on-demand during an emergency. However, mounting one or more of these on your vehicle can provide a passive, consistent charge to your battery.

Pros Cons
  • Mounts nicely.
  • 30W power is more than enough for most needs.
  • Standard connections fit just about anything with a little thought.
  • No bank/reservoir for power.
  • May be hard to mount in series. 
  • Cables are kind of short. 
  • Doesn’t blend in well.

TCXW: Check the current price

Allpowers 18V 5W Portable Solar Car Battery Charger

Allpowers Portable Solar Car Battery Charger: photo

This compact, portable battery charger was designed with rapid battery charging in mind. It comes complete with suction cups, alligator clip connectors, and a car battery adapter. Unlike some chargers, this one is designed to deliver rapid charge, to get a car started in an emergency.

Features

  • Wattage: 5W; 18V
  • Charging Ports: Alligator clips, cigarette lighter.
  • Device Compatibility: Car/RV Battery.
  • Waterproof: Yes.
  • Portability: Compact and easily stowed.
  • Additional Features: Suction cups for easy mounting to windshield.

Performance

A lot of solar chargers are too slow to charge a dead car or RV battery in a reasonable amount of time. However, the p-SI design of this charger is designed with that as its primary focus, and by all reports, it does mostly succeed.
It also works well as something to passively mount to the windshield or dashboard while the vehicle is parked, to provide additional juice as a peace of mind.

Pros Cons
  • Easy to connect via cigarette lighter adapter.
  • Easy mounting options.
  • Concentrated cells will charge a battery pretty quick, on a moderately sunny day.
  • Compact and affordable.
  • No power reservoir/bank,
  • Cables are short.
  • Slightly fragile.

Conclusion 

It’s never a good idea to depend solely on these sorts of devices for an emergency, but this one does work on a sunny day, to get a dead battery alive enough to turn the engine over, which is more than can be said for a lot of similar charging panels out there.

If you live in an area that tends to get a decent amount of sun, this may be a good addition to your emergency preparedness kit.

If you want an alternative source of power for your exterior illumination, or an additional way to keep your battery charged, this might come in handy. It could prevent problems brought on by the likes of leaving your lights on, or allow you to shut your vehicle off and still listen to the radio or use the climate control. Of course, you’re only going to get this kind of power on a particularly sunny day.

Allpowers: Check the current price

Sunway 12V Solar Car Battery Trickle Charger/Maintainer – Good Solar Charger for Emergencies

Sunway Solar Car Battery: photo

Similar to the previous entry, this one actually is intended for relatively speedy battery charging. A bit more rigid, with yet denser cells, this one may actually be a bit faster, despite using trickle practices for providing power.

It includes mounting suction cups, alligator clips and a cigarette lighter adapter.

Features

  • Wattage: Not Listed; 12V
  • Charging Ports: Alligator clips, cigarette lighter.
  • Device Compatibility: Car/RV/Motorcycle/ATV Battery.
  • Waterproof: Yes.
  • Portability: Compact and easily stowed.
  • Additional Features: Suction cups for easy mounting to windshield.

Performance

You’re not going to fully charge your battery in a short order of time with a 12V trickle charger, but you will get enough juice to turn an engine over, relatively quickly. This makes it a good emergency tool if you’re in an area where depending on the sun isn’t folly.

Pros Cons
  • Mounts easily.
  • Rugged design stands up to heat.
  • Cables are a decent length.
  • Will get your battery charged enough to start your vehicle.
  • Works as a supplemental way to sustain power.
  • No power bank/reservoir.
  • Will mount awkwardly to curved windshields.
  • Does nothing that additionally special for the extra price.

Conclusion 

Like we said, if you’re in an area where you can safely depend on there usually being a decent amount of sun (slightly overcast will still work), this might be viable as an emergency “jump start” for your vehicle.

It’s worth noting that most of these are designed with “supplemental power” in mind, rather than emergency use, but any kind of battery charger for vehicles is going to be employed more as an emergency measure.

Sunway: Check the current price

Best Solar Chargers for Camping/hiking

RAVPower 24W Solar Panel with 3 USB Ports – Rugged Mid-Range Solar Charger for Hikers and Campers

RAVPower 24W Solar Panel with 3 USB Ports: photo

This solar charger is a mid-price unit intended to provide additional power for more devices. It does make some trade-offs to be this affordable while charging more devices with a higher wattage, which are addressed below.

Features

  • Wattage: 24W.
  • Charging Ports: 3 USB.
  • Device Compatibility: Any mobile device or tablet.
  • Waterproof: Generally, yes.
  • Portability: Four segments fold up for easy storage.
  • Additional Features: Protective pocket for charging devices, four riveted hoops for mounting/fastening/strapping, smart charging detects and provides optimal power for a given device.

Performance

This device provides a lot of power, with intelligent power management that can deliver the ideal energy for a given device. It can charge your phone as well as two power backs simultaneously, while still being pretty quick at 2.4A per port.

The trade off, for affordability, is that it’s the least rugged of the three camping chargers we’re looking at. The material is mostly water proof, but is likely to show wear faster, and the panels could break with any serious mishandling.

This one is also a lot more susceptible to heat, with the manufacturer warning against placing it on hot sand, asphalt or rocks.

Pros Cons
  • Affordable.
  • Smart power delivering large amounts of energy, safely and quickly.
  • Charges three devices.
  • Protects devices being charged.
  • Portable, folding into four segments.
  • Fragile, susceptible to heat.
  • Materials are less rugged.
  • Device is large due to cells being less than dense.
  • Material absorbs a lot of heat, which could cook some cheaper phone batteries or LCDs.

Conclusion 

This one is a prime example of how compromises are made in this kind of technology to provide decent power to a maximum number of devices without the price being too high. It’s a more fragile charger with simply lower build quality all around. However, if you’re willing to take care of it, and be mindful of its susceptibility to heat, it does perform quite well overall.

Like the other two similar units, be mindful of it if you attach it to your backpack, as it may snag, and leaning into it will decimate it.

RAVPower 24W Solar Panel: Check the current price

Anker PowerPort Solar 2-Port 21W Dual USB Charger - High-End Solar Charger for Hikers and Campers

Anker PowerPort Solar Dual USB Charger: photo

This lightweight solar charger is an excellent solution for campers and hikers. Foldable and canvas-lined, it can be easily attached to backpacks, the sides of tents or even pinned in the windows of campers or RVs to capture lots of light.

It’s durable, rugged and designed to stand up to harsh environments, while providing power for your mobile devices. When camping or hiking, keeping your phone charged at all times can be a matter of life or death. You never know when you may become lost, stranded or injured, and need to call out for help.

Features

  • Wattage: 21W.
  • Charging Ports: 2 USB.
  • Device Compatibility: Any mobile device or tablet.
  • Waterproof: Generally, yes.
  • Portability: Four segments fold up for easy storage.
  • Additional Features: Protective pocket for charging devices, four riveted holes for mounting/strapping.

Performance

This charger utilizes multi-player dense components to provide both a more rugged design as well as faster, more efficient charging speeds. The protective pocket for fragile devices means that, while on the move, your devices can be charged literally by the sun on your back with no real risk to them.

This charger is smaller than some competing models of the same form factor, but that doesn’t mean it’s small. It will drape over a large backpack and obscure the entire thing. This can make it cumbersome, and you could run the risk of it snagging on branches in places with denser flora.

On the other hand, this abundant surface area lends to a faster, more efficient charge time.

Pros Cons
  • Folds away for easy storage.
  • Provides protection for devices being charged.
  • Lightweight, and can mount to back packs or tents without being cumbersome.
  • Basically waterproof.
  • Decently fast charge times. 
  • Provides steady enough current to use as a real-time power source in sunnier weather.
  • Only two charging ports.
  • Is large when unfolded, providing something to snag in more forested areas.
  • Relatively expensive.
  • No power reservoir.
  • Only good for USB-rechargeable devices.

Conclusion 

This type of design is ideal for hikers or campers who like to keep their phones on while on the move, as steady sunlight can provide a steady supply of power for these devices. However, you’ll need a power bank or three, and be sure to use the second port to be charging these before nightfall, as this charger cannot store any power of its own.

If you mount this on your backpack, be mindful of it and the device that may be in its pocket, should you lean back while taking a break!

Anker: Check the current price

Renogy 10 Watt Solar Panel Dual USB Solar Charger – Budget Solar Charger for Hikers and Campers

Renogy Solar Panel, 10W PLUS: photo

This solar USB charger features a similar rugged design that’s also largely waterproof. Being a lower-density charger, it’s rated for lower power. Designed with hikers and campers in mind, it can also be attached to backpacks, tents or camper windows thanks to fastenings attached to it.

Features

  • Wattage: 10W.
  • Charging Ports: USB.
  • Device Compatibility: Any mobile device or tablet.
  • Waterproof: Generally, yes.
  • Portability: Three segments fold up for easy storage.
  • Additional Features: Protective pocket for charging devices, four nylon hoops for mounting/fastening/strapping.

Performance

This device is lower-power due to being a budget solution with less dense cells. As a result, its speed, which is rated as relatively high, only applies when charging a single device. It can be relatively slow when charging two devices simultaneously with this unit.

That said, the second port should be reserved only for power banks, in all reality. You will need one, as this has no built-in power reservoir.

The nylon hoops are less rugged, and may fray, stretch or break if over-stressed.

Pros Cons
  • Very portable, folding up.
  • Protective pocket for charging devices.
  • Mostly waterproof.
  • Very affordable.
  • Very light-weight.
  • Stands up to heat rather well.
  • Nylon fastening hoops aren’t as rugged as riveted ones offered by other models.
  • Slow when charging multiple devices.
  • Low wattage scope.
  • No power reservoir/bank.
  • Is large.

Conclusion 

Workload limitations and cheap mounting hoops aside, this charger has more or less the same strengths and weaknesses as the Anker. It’s a little less durable, it’s not as powerful, and the material, while water-resistant is less tough.

It can, like the Anker, provide something that can be snagged in forested areas should you mount it to your backpack, and if you lean back on it, you absolutely will destroy it without even putting your full weight into it.

Renogy: Check the current price

Tips & Life Hacks

● Fire Anywhere: On a camping trip, keep a rechargeable 9V battery, a USB charger for it, and a USB solar charger. A fully-charged 9V battery, with steel wool over its terminals, can produce fire in short order. Be careful.

● Supplemental Power: With a solar charger that has a power bank and outlet charging capabilities, you can keep a steady supply of power without the long charge times. Simply charge it from the outlet before leaving home, and periodically exposing it to sunlight or very strong artificial light throughout the day.

● Emergency Night Charging: If you have a kerosene lantern or very bright LED lantern, these can produce enough useful light in the spectrum most solar panels will use. While it will take a lot more patience due to being weaker than real solar light, you could get power to your car battery, or enough juice to your phone for an emergency call, should you need to when there’s little or no sunlight.

Comparative Chart of Solar Chargers

Product   Features

Anker

Wattage: 21W.
Charging Ports: 2 USB.
Device Compatibility: Any mobile device or tablet.
Waterproof: Generally, yes.
Portability: Four segments fold up for easy storage.
Additional Features: Protective pocket for charging devices, four riveted holes for mounting/strapping.

Renogy

Wattage: 10W.
Charging Ports: 2 USB.
Device Compatibility: Any mobile device or tablet.
Waterproof: Generally, yes.
Portability: Three segments fold up for easy storage.
Additional Features: Protective pocket for charging devices, four nylon hoops for mounting/fastening/strapping.

RAVPower 24W Solar Panel

Wattage: 24W.
Charging Ports: 3 USB.
Device Compatibility: Any mobile device or tablet.
Waterproof: Generally, yes.
Portability: Four segments fold up for easy storage.
Additional Features: Protective pocket for charging devices, four riveted hoops for mounting/fastening/strapping, smart charging detects and provides optimal power for a given device.

iBose

iBose Solar Charger min: photo

Wattage: Not Listed; 10,000 mAh
Charging Ports: 2 USB, 1 Micro USB.
Device Compatibility: Any mobile device or tablet.
Waterproof: Very.
Portability: Five segments fold up for easy storage. Power bank folds into charger, or is detachable for use as just a bank.
Additional Features: Built-in LED flash light with automated SOS functionality; detachable power bank.

RAVPower 10 mAh Outdoor Battery Pack

Wattage: Not Listed; 10mAh
Charging Ports: 2 USB, 1 Micro USB.
Device Compatibility: Any mobile device or tablet.
Waterproof: Very.
Portability: Small, smartphone-form-factor shape fits anywhere a phone will.
Additional Features: Built-in LED flash light with automated SOS functionality; built-in power pack; outlet compatible for bank charging.

JETSUN

Wattage: Not Listed; 16.75mAh
Charging Ports: 2 USB.
Device Compatibility: Any mobile device or tablet.
Waterproof: Very.
Portability: Small, smartphone-form-factor shape fits anywhere a phone will.
Additional Features: 2 built-in LED flash lights with automated SOS functionality; built-in power pack; outlet compatible for bank charging. Hook mount to hang from backpacks, belts or bags.

Nekteck

Wattage: Not Listed; 10mAh
Charging Ports: 2 USB.
Device Compatibility: Any mobile device or tablet.
Waterproof: Very.
Portability: Small, smartphone-form-factor shape fits anywhere a phone will.
Additional Features: Rugged design; shock-proof water-proof and rain resistant.

Suaoki Portable Solar Charger

Wattage: 28w
Charging Ports: 3 USB 3.0.
Device Compatibility: Any mobile device or tablet; Tablet/Laptop hybrid devices.
Waterproof: Very.
Portability: 5-segmented design folds into small, portable shape.
Additional Features: Swivel mount for angling and propping; carabiners for easy fastening; sun pointer on stand makes it easy to track the sun.

Suaoki Solar Panel Charger

Wattage: 100w; 18/12V
Charging Ports: 1 USB; 10 Laptop Plugs.
Device Compatibility: Any mobile device or tablet; any electrical device or battery capable of 18V/5A DC.
Waterproof: No, but rain resistant.
Portability: Panels fold like a portfolio bag (clamshell). Transformer/connectors have a handle. Not very portable.
Additional modulator and power capacity can charge/power a laptop or other moderate-demand devices that work off a wall socket.

TCXW

Wattage: 30w; 18/12V
Charging Ports: Alligator clips.
Device Compatibility: Generic.
Waterproof: Yes.
Portability: Mounts aerodynamically on vehicles.
Additional Features: Blocking diode prevents reverse discharge in the dark.

Allpowers

Wattage: 5W; 18V
Charging Ports: Alligator clips, cigarette lighter.
Device Compatibility: Car/RV Battery.
Waterproof: Yes.
Portability: Compact and easily stowed.
Additional Features: Suction cups for easy mounting to windshield.

Sunway

Wattage: Not Listed; 12V
Charging Ports: Alligator clips, cigarette lighter.
Device Compatibility: Car/RV/Motorcycle/ATV Battery.
Waterproof: Yes.
Portability: Compact and easily stowed.
Additional Features: Suction cups for easy mounting to windshield.

FAQ

Solar charger or power bank?

Some solar chargers include a power bank, but if they do not, in the case of the USB chargers, you should definitely obtain one. It’s not a bad idea for vehicles either, though such devices aren’t as commonplace.

Solar charger vs battery pack?

This is actually the same question – you actually want both if possible.

Can a solar charger work indoors?

Yes, though artificial light is a much thinner part of the spectrum, meaning it will take longer to charge devices, and the high-wattage chargers probably can’t get enough power this way.

Can a solar charger damage/drain/overcharge a battery?

In some cases, yes. Most modern smart devices prevent overcharge/battery damage, but laptop batteries and some cheaper car batteries you will want to be careful with. If a charger doesn’t possess a blocking diode (most do), they can discharge at night.

Can I take a solar charger on a plane?

Yes, though you won’t get much useful light on one. The FAA won’t prevent it though.

What is a trickle solar charger?

Trickle solar chargers simply allow the natural flow of electrons from the panel, through what would normally be a one-way circuit. This is also known as “passive charging”, and is in fact the type of solar charge most likely to reverse and discharge batteries at night if you’re not careful.

Conclusion 

Solar power has long been viewed as a green, renewable energy source, and this view isn’t wrong. However, due to the amount of surface needed to produce immense levels of power, portable solar charging will, for the time being, always be a slower, limited option for keeping your devices or vehicles properly charged.

While they’ve gotten better at charging even on somewhat overcast days, the dependability of solar energy is and always will be at the whim of mother nature as well. This is good technology to have, but always have a way of storing the power you don’t use right away. Literally, save power for a rainy day.