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Venturing into the wild is like driving an electric vehicle. There's always one worry lurking in the back of your mind: Do you have enough juice to power through the trip? Being stuck in the middle of nowhere without power can be an uncomfortable or even harrowing experience. Especially if you have to stumble out of your tent at night to go to the bathroom with a dead headlamp. Not only are AA batteries expensive, but they also drain fast, pollute the environment, and corrode when wet.
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Alternatively, solar lanterns and battery packs may not charge properly if the weather isn't ideal. Your best bet is to invest in a portable solar charger made of panels that can do the job quickly and effectively. But which panel is the best? It's helpful to understand how electricity works before you begin shopping.
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Many people use the analogy of piped water: Think of voltage as water pressure and amperage as the size of the pipe. Electricity generation depends on both voltage and amperage, so solar chargers are evaluated by multiplying voltage and amperage, which gives you the 'wattage' advertised on solar panels. In other words, if a charger collectively puts out 5 Volts via one 2.4 Amp USB, it generates 12 watts of power. We looked at panels that range between 15 and 28 watts and that offer enough power without added bulkiness.
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But even in bright sunlight, most panels don't reach advertised levels of volts and therefore watts. Plus, some devices always charge at lower amps. Some portable chargers can function in any weather, while others go into a tailspin when clouds hover overhead and then fail to reconnect afterward. Size and weight are also key factors to consider while you shop for a portable charger.
I analyzed the market to find you the best portable solar charger for your budget and needs.
SunJack 25 Watt Foldable Solar Panel Charger tech specs: Watts: 25W | Auto reset: Yes | Ports: 2 x USB-A | Amps: 3 amps each (3A max) | Weight: 1.9 pounds | Size: 12.5 x 8 x 1.25 inches (unfolded)
This portable solar charger ensures your devices stay juiced while you enjoy camping, hiking, and more. It features smart IC chip technology, which recognizes which device(s) you're charging and adapts currents to maximize charging speeds -- its speed is similar to a wall charger.
The compact, foldable design makes it convenient for travel. The solar charger weighs under two pounds, and with its ETFE construction, it's more than capable of handling your rugged adventures.
Best of all, it works with any device using USB for charging. It means iPads, iPhones, Samsung, and Google devices will all work with this charger. It comes with a 12-month, hassle-free warranty to offer you peace of mind and protection.
BigBlue 5V 28W Solar Charger tech specs: Watts: 28W | Auto reset: Yes | Ports: 3 x USB-A | Amps: 2.4 each (5V/4.8A max) | Weight: 20.5 oz | Size: 11.1 × 6.3 x 1.1 inches (folded)
It may be a sheer coincidence that the most dependable but oversized panel on this list (BigBlue) is also the nickname for one of the most dependable but gigantic technology companies in the world (IBM). Just as IBM burnished its reputation in personal computing, BigBlue has quickly become the de facto benchmark in the sub-30W solar panel universe.
This solar charger is heavy, considering it has 4 panels hooked up to 3 USB ports. It's not as fast as Anker's charger, but customer reviews rave about the device's impeccable reliability and ability to charge devices in all sorts of weather. For cloudy conditions, this solar charger is the absolute king. Plus, it features a stellar auto-restart function, which allows it to reboot after cloud interruption.
Hardy PET polymer panels and canvas material make it durable, while rubber gaskets protect USB ports from water. When you factor in the newly reduced $58 price tag, the excellent features of this device may outweigh its hefty design. It can also offer you a feeling of quiet confidence in the middle of nowhere, armed with the most reliable power source that money can buy.
Ryno Tuff 21W Tech specs: Watts: 21W | Auto reset: Yes | Ports: 2 x USB-A | Amps: 2.4 each (5V/3A max) | Weight: 16.6 ounces | Size: 5.9 x 11.8 x 0.79 inch (folded)
Ryno Tuff is the 'little powerhouse that can' on this list. It punches above its weight when it comes to charging speed. Testers say that Ryno Tuff's 3 panels deliver consistent output quickly in bright sunlight.
It can charge your phone up to 33% in just 30 minutes via the two USB ports. Plus, The Ryno Tuff can even charge two phones at once, which most panels can't successfully do.
The supercharger's only Achilles' heel? It begins to stutter when clouds roll overhead, unlike shade-tolerant chargers like BigBlue. But these are mere trifles when you consider its raw speed and rugged build.
Plus, this solar charger has an ultra-compact and light physique at 16.6 ounces, and an attractive price of $63. Who knows, after some tinkering in the lab over the next year, Ryno may be the panel to beat.
X-Dragon Monocrystalline Portable Solar Panel 20W tech specs: Watts: 20W | Auto reset: Yes | Ports: 2 x USB-A | Amps: 2.4 each (5V/2A max) | Weight: 21 ounces | Size: 592 x 306 x 3 millimeters (23.3 x 12.1 x 0.12 inches) (unfolded)
The X-Dragon is versatile, allowing you to charge a wide variety of devices quickly, thanks to its high-efficiency conversion rate. Its rate of 23.5% is significantly higher than the 15% standard conversion rate found with other solar chargers. It means it doesn't require much sunlight to keep your devices juiced when you're on outdoor adventures.
And it can adapt the power to deliver the fastest current under direct sunlight. It achieves this with its built-in smart chip, which has the ability to adjust the current-voltage based on the connected device to maximize charging capabilities.
The solar panel is built to withstand your rugged adventures. It features weather-resistant Oxford fabric. It keeps your devices safe with its surge and short circuit protection.
Choetech 19W tech specs: Watts: 21W | Auto reset: Yes | Ports: 2 x USB-A | Amps: 2.4 each (4.5V/2A max) | Weight: 17 ounces | Size: 10.2 x 6.30 x 0.67 inches (folded)
Choetech's 19W solar charger has been around for a decade, and it will be around for at least another. This ultra-compact charger is the smallest on our list, and it will effortlessly slide into your pack. Plus, it's almost as lightweight as the Ryno Tuff.
The small charger is a beast that can juice up devices almost as fast as the Ryno Tuff through its 2.5 Amp dual USB charging ports. The Choetech has a reputation for being a very stable charger, able to reach 9W. Plus, it adapts well to clouds that may come and go.
Built with embedded metal rings for enhanced attachment onto backpacks, Choetech is an irresistible pick at the current price of $35 at Walmart. It's a worthy rival to the Ryno Tuff on any given day.
The Anker 21W solar charger is my choice for the best portable charger. Despite its steep price, it's the only one that exhibits serious chops in every category. Plus, it has been unanimously anointed queen by testers and gear heads.
It can quickly charge two devices at once and consistently renews charging after cloud interruptions. It's a pretty durable piece of equipment. Best of all, it doesn't sacrifice on size -- it is one of the smallest and most lightweight options on the list.
Portable solar charger
Small and light
Large and heavy
Ryno Tuff 21W
Small and light
Small and somewhat light
Small and light
Finding the right solar charger depends on various factors. How many people are you going into the wild with, and for how long? What kind of devices do you need to charge? If you're looking to fire up your headlamp, lanterns, and phone, that's an important consideration. Will you be in a low-light zone or a sunny area? How much weight can you reasonably haul? From fast charging and shade-averse dynamos to heavy but ever-dependable panels, there's an excellent solar charger for everyone.
Choose this portable solar charger…
If you want…
The best overall option that recognizes your device and adjusts currents for maximum charging speed. It also has a weatherproof body and a 12-month warranty.
The most reliable solar charger that's impervious to clouds.
Ryno Tuff 21W
A fast, lightweight powerhouse that can charge your phone up to 33% in 30 minutes.
A versatile solar charger that adapts its current to maximize charging speeds.
A timeless, effective solar charger that adapts well to cloud coverage and features a compact size.
I scoured the landscape looking for solar chargers that met the following criteria: They had to be above 15W (anything less and charging becomes too anemic) and less than 30W (above which the panels get too large and unwieldy for a camping or backpacking trip).
They also had to excel in charging on sunny days as a minimum requirement. Chargers also had to be rugged, portable, and available at an affordable price point. They also had to be highly regarded by reputed gear testers and consumers alike.
I also considered pricing, offering models that ranged in price from $35 to almost $80. In turn, the solar chargers I chose deliver superior value.
The bigger the charger, the more solar panel surface area that can pump out power. However, the type of trip you undertake will automatically limit the size of the panel you can carry.
For camping and trekking, anything above 28W may be too big to schlep around. Anything less than 15W could get you in trouble -- smaller panels have more trouble charging, especially in dodgy weather.
Plus, many devices won't charge at all with a weak power source. If you'll mostly experience sunny weather on your outings, look for one that is powerful, lightweight, and compact. If you want a solar charger that is reliable in different weather conditions, look for an option with large panels.
I recommend you avoid a solar charger that includes a built-in battery pack. They have often integrated units, and if something goes wrong with the battery pack, your charger could be rendered useless.
A better idea is to purchase a separate external battery pack that you can charge during the day and then use to power your other devices at night. Look for a battery that has a solid weight-to-storage ratio.
And make sure that it has the ports your devices require before you buy it. Otherwise, you'll likely have to buy an adapter to use it.
There are a few but they may not satisfy some of the criteria required for this list. Below is a worthy alternative:
It pairs with power banks like the Yeti Portable Power Station, has a 50W capacity, and can link multiple panels together to expedite charging time.