Solar chargers have come a long way in recent years, becoming more portable, lightweight, and undeniably handy. Perfect for camping, they’re also useful for emergency preparedness, or just taking advantage of the windows on the sunny side of your house. These sunlight-sipping devices can charge your phone’s battery, power a small radio, or keep an emergency flashlight illuminated when you need it most.
The best solar chargers are easy to pack away and provide ample power when needed. Some can even charge a few devices at a time. This guide will shed some light on how to choose the right option for your needs and budget.
- BEST OVERALL: GoerTek Solar Charger
- RUNNER-UP: BigBlue 3 USB Ports 28W Solar Charger
- BEST VALUE: F. DORLA Solar Charger
- BEST FOR CAMPING: X-DRAGON 40W Solar Panel Charger
If you’re new to the world of solar charging, know that there are several factors to consider, including size, style, the number of charging ports available, and the wattage and milliamp ratings.
Solar Banks vs. Solar Panels
There are two main types of solar chargers on the market: solar power banks and solar panels.
- Solar banks operate by absorbing sunlight and storing the energy in a built-in battery. When full, they can continue to charge devices regardless of the sky’s conditions or time of day. They also typically feature a small LED flashlight.
- Solar panels will only charge devices while they’re in the direct sunlight (although cloudy conditions can work as well). While this seems less convenient, solar panels are typically lighter to carry than solar banks.
Wattage ratings quantify a solar panel’s potential output in ideal conditions, namely, during bluebird skies in the middle of the day with no obstructions. The higher the wattage, the more efficiently the panel will use the available sunlight to power any plugged-in devices.
Diving further into this might require an electrical engineering degree, but you should understand that the higher the rating, the higher the panel’s efficiency.
Milliamp ratings, represented as “mAh,” describe a power bank’s capacity. For example, if your phone requires 100mAh to charge from zero to 100 percent, and your power bank has a battery capacity of 1000mAh, then theoretically, that power bank could charge your phone ten times. Those are simple round numbers to make the point easy to digest. Still, the idea is that the higher the mAh rating, the larger the battery’s capacity.
Size is a significant consideration when choosing a solar charger, and this is particularly true when selecting a panel charger. The larger the surface area of the solar panel, the more solar energy can be absorbed. A bigger size means faster battery charging, whether for the onboard battery in a power bank or the device plugged into the panels. Choose the panel size based on what’s most convenient for your intended use.
Multiple Charging Ports
The ability to charge a few devices at the same time can be a lifesaver. Charging both a phone and a flashlight simultaneously can mean the difference between getting home safely or disaster during an adventure gone sideways. Also, the sheer convenience of being able to charge a laptop and cellphone together means you can bring your office anywhere. Plug both devices into the charger, flip on your phone’s hotspot, and get to work.
Our Top Picks
The GoerTek is a versatile charger with some standout features. To start, its compact size is appealing for anyone who might need to keep a charger in a bag for work or a hiking trip. It features a 25000 mAh battery and can charge three devices at once. The bank can be charged at home with the included adapter. It features a 36-LED flashlight with three lighting modes (low, medium, and high). The GoerTek also includes a handy carabiner, so snapping it onto a backpack or belt loop is no problem.
Using solar power alone will keep the unit charged, but not to its maximum capacity. Sunlight will only yield about a 50 percent charge. The device needs to be charged by USB input from an electrical outlet to reach 100 percent capacity.
The BigBlue solar charger is an excellent option for quickly charging multiple devices on a sunny day. This charger includes four large panels that fold out to absorb a lot of sunlight. Highly efficient, these fold-out panels convert 21 to 23 percent of solar energy into battery life. That explains how it can charge up to three devices at a time. This unit is also protected against occasional rain, fog, dirt, and dust, thanks to rubber covers that protect the charging ports.
The F. DORLA power bank is durable and reliable—and available at a wallet-friendly price point. It has a built-in solar panel and a silicone-based shell, and the design makes it shock, dust, and water-resistant. The 20000mAh battery can be charged via solar power or by plugging into an outlet. The charger also features a built-in LED flashlight. The F.DORLA accommodates up to two USB devices at a time, and is small enough to be thrown into, or hooked onto, a backpack.
The X-DRAGON is great for those heading out into the wilderness for a few days. The three-panel model quickly unfolds to hang from a backpack via built-in loops. X-DRAGON states that its panels are 22 to 25 percent efficient, so charging two devices at a time shouldn’t be a problem. At 20 watts, this won’t be the fastest-charging set of panels on the list but with that said, the charger automatically adjusts the current and voltage to achieve maximum power at all times.