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.
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. We analyzed the market to find you the best portable solar charger for your budget and needs.
- Fast charger
- Not hobbled by shade
- 18-month warranty
- Relatively expensive
- Frequently sold out
Tech specs: Watts: 21W | Auto reset: Yes | Ports: 2 x USB-A | Amps: 2.4 each (3A max) | Weight: 14.7 oz | Size: 11.1 × 6.3 x 1.1 inches (folded)
There are several reasons why Anker is the best all-around solar charger on our list and why it's frequently sold out despite its hefty price tag of $74. The lightweight, high-quality product is one of the fastest chargers, firing up a phone to 30% in just half an hour according to some tests. But what also impresses users is its ability to effectively charge two devices at once (which most panels fail to do despite advertised claims).
Another winning feature of this solar charger is its ability to recover from cloud interruptions, which most solar chargers struggle with. The Anker PowerPort is also tough, with industrial-strength PET polymer solar cells and weather-resistant polyester canvas. But for the charging power, it's also surprisingly svelte. The 3 panels fold into a magazine-sized rectangle and weigh an impossibly light 14.7 ounces -- the lightest in this lineup.
The PowerPort can easily slip into the back of your pack, or you can use elastic loops to hang it in the sun. That way, it can juice up the battery pack or a device nestled inside.
Plus, it features a 30-day return policy and 18-month warranty, building upon Anker's reputation for dependable, performance products. This pricey but sought-after device is the best portable solar charger on the market.
- Modest price
- Impervious to clouds
- Optional Digital Ammeter
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, knowing you are armed with the most reliable power source that money can buy.
- Fast charging ability
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' of 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, he 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.
- Durable, efficient panels
- Dependable charger
- Attractive design
- Not as shade-friendly as BigBlue
Tech specs: Watts: 21W | Auto reset: Yes | Ports: 2 x USB-A | Amps: 2.4 each (5V/2A max) | Weight: 18 ounces | Size: 5.9 x 11.8 x 0.79 inch (folded)
Nekteck has managed to run neck-and-neck with some tough competition on this list. The brand has a reputation for sturdy panels that are highly efficient for providing raw power. It may not be as light as the Anker, nor as dependable as BigBlue in cloudy conditions, or even as lightning-fast a charger as the Ryno-Tuff. Yet, it does all of these things almost as well as all the title holders in their individual categories, and therefore deserves a place here.
The device features two USBs and water-resistant solar panels that have been lauded for efficiency as well as a zippered pouch that can house wires and devices safely. The Nekteck is an excellent choice if you're looking for a solid device at a lower price. The $40 bargain is hard to pass up.
- Powerful charger
- Compact in size
- Not as versatile as some of the others
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 (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 $30 at Walmart (versus $79 on its own website). It's a worthy rival to the Ryno-Tuff or the Nekteck on any given day.
The Anker 21W solar charger is our 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 lightweight options on the list.
Portable Solar Charger
Anker PowerPort 21W
Small and light
Large and heavy
Small and light
Small and somewhat light
Small and light
Finding the right solar charger depends on various factors. How many people are 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…
Anker PowerPort 21W
The best overall option
The most reliable solar charger
A fast, light-weight powerhouse
A competitive, affordable solar charger
A timeless, effective solar charger
We 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 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.
The bigger the charger, the more solar panel surface area that can pump out power. However, the type of trip you undertake will l 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.
There are a few but they may not satisfy some of the criteria required for this list. Still, it's good to always be on the lookout for new products that have made dazzling entries or that have improved substantially on older models.