The Goal Zero nomad 20 is a flat and highly portable solar charger designed for backpackers and campers who want to travel light but need something more than a basic 5W panel. Half-a-metre wide when unfolded and weighing less than a laptop, it has 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 strap it to a backpack or secure it firmly in place wherever it needs to be.
With energy prices soaring, more of us are looking for all the free electricity we can get. While even the best portable solar panels and chargers aren’t powerful enough for heavy-duty jobs such as heating a water tank or running large appliances, they can easily keep phones, tablets and laptops charged up, using nothing but sunshine.
Though battery technology keeps improving, our gadgets are becoming more power-hungry, meaning the battery life of the average phone lasts just a single day. That means it’s more essential than ever to carry a back-up solar charger or solar panel when camping, going off-grid, or travelling in the great outdoors with your favourite tech.
Advances in technology mean today’s solar panels are smaller, lighter and more efficient than ever. Chargers that were once too big to carry can now be folded down to fit inside a travel case or hang from the back of your pack while hiking. So long as you’ve got enough sunlight, the best solar chargers can indefinitely extend the life of your phone, your headphones, and even your laptop.
Some solar chargers can be plugged directly into a phone to charge it, but because most panels don’t actually store any energy it’s best to connect solar chargers to a separate battery pack and charge your devices from that. Many solar chargers come with battery packs for just this reason.
Solar chargers are most often seen when camping in remote spots, attending festivals and touring through the wilderness, but they’re also used to keep the batteries of cars, motorhomes and boats from going flat when they’re not being used. Anyone with a campsite outhouse or an off-grid shed not connected to mains power can use relatively cheap solar panels to keep a portable power station ticking over too, meaning there should always be free juice in the tank when you need it.
How we tested
We tested these solar panels and chargers during the summer months in the UK. Performance is reduced to about 20 per cent during the winter months, as, even on a perfectly clear day, the sun is lower in the sky and therefore weaker. Thanks a lot, science.
We tested a range of solar chargers for different use cases, from large, fold-out models capable of powering multiple devices at once, to portable power banks with convenient built-in solar panels. We trialled them under the changeable weather conditions of south England, as well as while camping and at a festival in Portugal (admittedly our tester had access to wall power, but for the purposes of review they went as long as they could without). These are the ones that really shone.
The best solar chargers for 2023 are:
- Best lightweight solar charger – Goal Zero nomad 20 solar panel: £139.46, Alpinetrek.co.uk
- Best for phones – BioLite solar panel with integrated power pack: £75, Gooutdoors.co.uk
- Best for campervans – Ecoflow 220W: £399, Hampshiregenerators.co.uk
- Best for camping – BigBlue 28W solar charger: £82.99, Amazon.co.uk
- Best for hiking – Forclaz trek 500 10W: £34.99, Decathlon.co.uk
- Best for multiple devices – BigBlue 3 USB ports 28W solar charger: £82.99, Amazon.co.uk
- Best fold-out power bank – Addtop solar charger power bank: £41.99, Amazon.co.uk
- Best for car batteries – Halfords solar maintainer, 10W: £29.49, Halfords.com