Buyer’s Guide: Solar Chargers
Choose the right solar charger for your needs and budget, using our top tips and recommendations ahead.
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 25000mAh Solar Power Bank Portable Panel Charger
- RUNNER-UP: BigBlue 28W Solar Charger
- BEST VALUE: F.Dorla 20000mAh Portable Waterproof Solar Power Bank
- BEST FOR CAMPING: X-DRAGON 20W Folding Solar Panel Charger
- HONORABLE MENTION: Hiluckey Outdoor Portable Power Bank
Key Shopping Considerations
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
1. BEST OVERALL: GoerTek 25000mAh Solar Power Bank Portable Panel Charger
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. It needs to be charged by USB input from an outlet to reach 100 percent capacity.
2. RUNNER-UP: BigBlue 28W Solar Charger
The BigBlue 28W Solar Charger is an excellent option for quickly charging multiple devices on a sunny day. This charger includes four large panels (approximately 11×6 inches) that fold out to absorb a lot of sunlight. BigBlue claims these highly-efficient panels will convert 21 to 23 percent of solar energy into battery life, which 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 over the charging ports.
As with most folding solar panels, durability can become an issue. The fact that wires need to fold between the panels makes them susceptible to breaking. As such, users should take care when folding and storing the BigBlue to ensure its longevity.
The F.Dorla 20000mAh Portable Outdoor Waterproof Solar 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. This design makes it shock, dust, and water-resistant. The 20000mAh battery can be charged via solar power or by plugging into an outlet. It 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 in or hooked onto a backpack.
F.Dorla suggests this unit be charged by outlet before heading out on a camping trip. The reason being the relatively compact size and lack of folding panels make this a slower-charging unit if relying on sunlight only.
4. BEST FOR CAMPING: X-DRAGON 20W SunPower Solar Panel Waterproof Foldable Camping Battery Charger
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 using its many included loops, charging your devices as you go. X-DRAGON states that its panels are 22 to 25 percent efficient, so charging two devices at a time shouldn’t be a problem. Finally, it automatically adjusts the current and voltage to achieve maximum power at all times.
At 20 watts, this won’t be the fastest-charging set of panels on the list. Also, this is a basic unit, so there are no protections against overheating or overcharging—definitely something to consider before purchasing.
5. HONORABLE MENTION: Hiluckey Outdoor Portable Power Bank
This portable solar charger by Hiluckey is an excellent blend of the panel and bank styles. This charger has a higher-capacity (25000mAh) onboard battery, but also features four folding solar panels. Hiluckey states that this solar panel/bank combination charges itself in the sunlight four- to six-times faster than other power banks on the market. The built-in LED flashlight is also a nice feature. Factor in that it holds a charge for up to nine days and charges two devices at once, and it’s easy to recognize this charger’s convenience. It can also operate through a USB adapter.
The Hiluckey can be hung from a backpack for hiking trips, but it doesn’t come with a way to attach it to a bag. There is a loop intended for this use, but it doesn’t include a clip to attach it to anything. Keep that in mind if you’re purchasing it for backpacking use.