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9 best solar chargers and portable panels for backpacking, hiking and camping with confidence

Charge your phone wherever there’s sunshine with these portable power solutions

Steve Hogarty
Monday 05 July 2021 11:31
<p>We tested a variety of devices, from large, fold-out models to power banks with built-in panels</p>

We tested a variety of devices, from large, fold-out models to power banks with built-in panels

Most of us feel a sense of rising panic the farther we get from a power socket. And now that we – as a fair and intelligent society – have decided that smartphone batteries should last exactly one day at most, it’s more essential than ever to pack a bit of extra juice when camping or travelling in the great outdoors.

Solar chargers can indefinitely extend the life of your devices, so long as there’s sunlight to convert into free energy. Today’s solar panels are smaller, lighter and more efficient than ever, and can charge everything from your headphones and laptop to car batteries.

Improvements in smartphone tech also enable effective charging of these devices at lower or varying voltages, meaning many solar panels can be safely plugged straight into a phone to charge as you walk. When you arrive at your campsite, you’ll be drained but your battery will be nicely topped up.

The best way to use a solar charger is to connect it to a battery pack, which is better suited to receive a slow charge over a very long period of time. Most solar chargers can’t actually store the energy they produce, so buying a separate battery or power pack is essential.

How we tested

We tested a variety of solar chargers, from large, fold-out models capable of powering multiple devices at once, to portable power banks with built-in solar panels. We tested under the weather conditions we’ve had in the south of England these past few weeks – sunny one moment and raining the next – and on a selection of mobile devices and tablets.

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The best solar chargers for 2021 are:

  • Best overall – Anker powersolar three port: £59.99,
  • Best for backpacking – SunJack 25W solar charger: £60,
  • Best charger with a power bank – PowerTraveller tactical extreme solar kit: £129,
  • Best lightweight solar charger – Goal Zero nomad 5 solar panel: £54,
  • Best power bank with solar panel – Anker powercore solar 10000: £49.99,
  • Best for phones – BioLite solar panel with integrated power pack: £79.99,
  • Best for hiking – Forclaz trek 500 10W: £39.99,
  • Best for car batteries – Halfords 2.4W solar power battery maintainer: £25,
  • Best for camping – BigBlue 28W solar charger: £69.99,

Anker powersolar three port

Best: Overall

  • Power: 24W
  • Weight: 1.2kg
  • Size folded: 245mm x 307mm x 50mm
  • Size unfolded: 985mm x 307mm x 4mm
  • Connections: 3 x USB-A

A beast of a solar charger with an enormous 24W output in optimal skies, the three-panel Anker powersolar three port can replenish three devices at the same time through its three USB-A ports.

Powerful enough to charge tablets and other high-drain mobile devices, this solar charger has an adjustable kickstand so you can get right up in the sun’s business, and uses monocrystalline panels for high-efficiency solar conversion. Solar detection controls the power output as you walk between shade and sunlight to prevent dropouts and seamlessly resume charging when the panel is connected directly to your phone.

SunJack 25W solar charger

Best: For backpacking

  • Power: 25W
  • Weight: 860g
  • Size folded: 318mm x 203mm x 30mm
  • Size unfolded: 318mm x 622mm x 25mm
  • Connections: 2 x USB-A

Outputting a juicy 25W in bright, direct sunlight, the SunJack folds down to the size of an iPad when not in use for easy packing. A pair of carabiners are included for attaching to a pack. In ideal conditions, this solar charger refills high-capacity battery packs in a matter of hours and can directly charge phones and tablets as quickly as you’re able to at home.

But where it really shines is in less optimal weather. The three-panel design has a large enough surface area to continue producing consistent power even in cloudy conditions. This prevents output from dropping to the point where your phone gives up trying to draw power, meaning you can charge directly from the panel if your external battery pack isn’t within reach. The rugged and waterproof ETFE-coated design is a cut above most other panels too, delivering top efficiency and improved drop protection.

Optionally, SunJack bundles its solar panel with one or two of its own SunJack power banks.

PowerTraveller tactical extreme solar kit

Best: Charger with a powerbank

  • Power: 5W
  • Weight: 289g
  • Size folded: 200mm x 114mm x 16mm
  • Size unfolded: 400mm x 114mm x 16mm
  • Connections: 1 x USB-A

Positioning itself as the solar panel of choice for military operations, humanitarian missions and wildlife conservation, the PowerTraveller tactical extreme certainly looks the part. You won’t find any high-visibility colours here – the “coyote brown” finish helps you blend into your surroundings.

The waterproof pouch houses a clamshell-design 5W solar charger with a single USB port and LED power indicator to help you position the panel efficiently. The bundled 12,000mAh power pack uses a bi-directional USB-C port, meaning it delivers and receives charge through the same port and cable. This allows for daisy-chaining: that is, charging the power bank from the solar panel while charging a device from the power bank.

Goal Zero nomad 5 solar panel

Best: Lightweight solar charger

  • Power: 5W
  • Weight: 360g
  • Size: 240mm x 28mm x 178mm
  • Connections: 1 x USB-A

The Goal Zero nomad 5 is a flat and highly portable solar charger designed for backpackers and campers who want to travel light. Smaller than an A4 sheet of paper, it’s thin and weighs 360g with an adjustable kickstand for aiming it directly towards the sun when placed on the ground. The rugged plastic frame has an attachment point on each corner, so you can easily strap it to your backpack to charge an external battery as you walk.

We liked that the USB output is on a lightly flexible arm, which helps prevent tugging on the cable as you walk. There’s nothing worse than trekking five miles before noticing your charging cable has pinged off and the sun’s gone down.

Anker powercore solar 10000

Best: Power bank with solar panel

  • Power: Less than 5W
  • Weight: 270g
  • Size: 164mm x 78mm x 20mm
  • Connections: 2 x USB-A, 1 x Micro-USB

This 10,000mAh battery pack from Anker has a solar panel built into it for topping up the pack’s remaining charge on sunny days. As the panel itself is the size of a postcard and this is a high-capacity battery pack, fully recharging it using solar energy alone takes days, but the battery pack can be charged from a regular wall socket as normal when you need portable power in a hurry.

Clever features such as a built-in torch and IP64 water and dust resistance make the Anker powercore solar 10000 an excellent solar battery pack, if a rather slow solar charger compared to others in this list.

BioLite solar panel with integrated power pack

Best: For phones

  • Power: 5W
  • Weight: 390g
  • Size: ‎286mm x 39mm x 229mm
  • Connections: 1 x USB-A

This ultra-thin 5W solar panel is an all-in-one solution and, unlike other solar chargers in our list, has an integrated 2,200mAh battery pack embedded on the back. That’s about enough to charge your phone once, which is all you need in an emergency.

It has a simple wire-loop kickstand that can be threaded through a backpack strap, hooked from a tree branch or used to prop the panel up on the ground. Eyelets on the bottom corners prevent it from sliding out of the sunlight as you walk. We liked the incredibly simple sundial on the corner of the device, which allows you to accurately aim the panel directly into the sunlight for maximum efficiency.

Forclaz trek 500 10W

Best: For hiking

  • Power: 10W
  • Weight: 285g
  • Size folded: 290mm x 180mm x 18mm
  • Size unfolded: 350mm x 290mm x 13mm
  • Connections: 1 x USB-A

Decathlon’s Trek 500 is a 10W solar charger with a single USB port, ideal for keeping battery packs topped up while on the move or camping. A respectable power output places this versatile panel somewhere in the middle of the range, delivering more energy than a small trickle charger but less than a larger and more expensive solar panel.

The dual-panel design packs away neatly into a fabric pouch and can be firmly strapped to a backpack with the help of included carabiners and eight anchor points. A reliable charging solution that straddles the gap between low-and-slow panels and more serious hardware, the trek 500 suits frontcountry campers and long-distance walkers.

Halfords 2.4W solar power battery maintainer

Best: For car batteries

  • Power: 2.4W
  • Weight: 1.2kg
  • Size: 349mm x 213mm x 13mm
  • Connections: 12v DC power plug and battery clips

If your car battery has a tendency to run dry when left idle for too long, you need a solar-powered car battery maintainer. Even in the photon-averse British weather, a solar panel affixed to the inside of your windscreen can trickle enough charge into the battery to keep it refreshed and ready to go.

This 2.4W solar charger from Halfords has suction cups for attaching to a car interior, but it’s waterproof and durable enough to be positioned outside for better efficiency. It clamps directly to the battery or can deliver charge via your cigarette lighter if the car’s electrics allow it. A bigger 6W panel is also available for charging larger batteries, such as those found on boats, barges and trucks.

BigBlue 28W solar charger

Best: For camping

  • Power: 28W
  • Weight: 609g
  • Size folded: 285mm x 160mm x 28mm
  • Size unfolded: 285mm x 840mm x 5mm
  • Connections: 2 x USB-A

The hefty 28W output of this BigBlue solar charger enables it to deliver a consistent charge even in cloudy conditions, making it ideally suited for replenishing battery packs, smartphones and tablets while camping and hiking. This four-panel charger includes a digital ammeter for monitoring amperage and the ability to detect the voltage and resistance of the battery it’s connected to, preventing overcharging or damage to electronics.

It folds down to less than the size of a sheet of paper, but can be easily attached to the top loop of a backpack when unfurled to charge up to two devices while you walk.

Solar chargers FAQ’s

What should I look for when buying a solar charger?

Before buying a solar charger, it’s important to factor in what kind of trips you will be using it for. Typically, there are three things worth considering – output capacity, surface area and the flexibility of the panels.

  • Output capacity: Solar panels are rated in watts. The higher the number, the more electricity is generated during a given time period.
  • Surface area: The larger the solar panel, the more sunlight it can collect and, in turn, the faster it gets converted to battery stored power. For this reason, a large surface area is a good option for times when the weather conditions are less than favourable, including cloud cover or low-intensity light in winter.
  • Semi-flexible or rigid panels: Flexible solar panels are great for those with limited bag space as they can be simply rolled or folded up for easy transport. They are also a great choice as they can be folded out to a greater surface area than a rigid model.

How long do solar chargers last?

While performance varies from model to model, most models can last upward of three years, with some of the more premium designs claiming to last an impressive 25 years.

Verdict: Solar chargers

The Anker powersolar three port has everything you might need in a solar charger: high wattage, an abundance of USB ports, a business-like folding design and the leading monocrystalline panel type. Coupled with its high-capacity companion power bank — the Anker powercore solar 10000 — it’s the ideal way to collect and carry around a lot of free electricity.

However, if you’re feeling like Bear Grylls, we recommend the PowerTraveller tactical extreme solar kit for its daisy-chaining power bank and the SunJack 25W solar charger for its performance in cloudy weather.

Voucher codes

For the latest discounts on solar chargers, power banks and other outdoor tech offers, try the links below:

Interested in a better phone to travel with? We’ve rounded up the best mobile deals

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