The Best Solar Powered Charger (For Phones & Other Gear)
For under $100, you can now buy a small portable solar charger system designed for small electronics like phones, smartwatches, and tablets.
Like it or not, our modern life requires a lot of devices: phones, tablets, cameras, smartwatches, laptops, GPS’s. Smart phones are ubiquitous across the globe and increasingly out in the wild–while backpacking, camping, or just lounging in the woods there’s an equal number of uses, which range from the frivolous to serious backcountry GPS apps or emergency signals.
This is great if you’re only out for a day or two. But more than that and your battery-powered devices can leave you hanging, running into safety issues if you don’t have any other emergency signal. Luckily, a new niche market has popped up around our need to be constantly charged, even in the wilderness.
These portable solar charger kits (featured below) contain small solar panels that produce about 10-20 watts–a fraction of the average solar panel on your neighbor’s roof, which puts out about 260 watts–but certainly enough to keep your smartphone going when you’re three days into the backcountry.
Smartphones and the like typically draw 5 volts while charging and these portable solar panels matched to that.
These solar panels are rugged and built for the outdoors or for a disaster preparedness kit. They are packable, foldable, and covered in tough fabric to keep them safe. They’re built for ease of use as well, just clip them onto your backpack as you hike, or throw it over a sunny rock, plug your phone in, and watch that lightning bolt magically appear!
To help you choose which solar charger to buy, we’ve done the heavy lifting by comparing popular, well-reviewed solar chargers from five different companies. We limited our products to those only available on Amazon, as it is the largest online marketplace in the world. We look at energy output, size and weight, reviews and any extra doo-dads that make life just a little bit better.
Anker 21W Universal PowerPort Solar Charger
Output: 21 watts
Size: 11” x 6.3” x 1.1” (when closed)
Weight: 14 oz
Warranty: 18 month warranty
The 2 built-in USB ports is a necessity these days, and the included 3 ft USB cable is a nice addition. Instead of loops sewn into corners like most portable solar panels, Anker uses grommets at each corner, giving a sleeker appearance and providing one less point of weakness where something could break.
Anker’s 18 month warranty also stands out from the crowd, a full 6 months longer than any other solar chargers reviewed here – which is an important consideration considering the tossing, swinging, crushing, and dropping the charge is likely to see during travel.
Goal Zero Nomad 7 Solar Panel
Output: 7 watts
Size: 11” x 7” x 3” (when closed)
Weight: 13 ounces
Warranty: 12 months
The Goal Zero panel has a mesh storage pocket integrated to the outside of the panel that can house phones or other small objects. In the pocket, there are three outlet plug options: a USB port, a 12 volt DC outlet, and an outlet for the Goal Zero Guide 10 battery recharger.
The Goal Zero is rugged and can handle pretty much any situation you throw at it – but this build quality comes at a price, about 30% higher cost than portable panels of comparable size and output.
At 3”, the Goal Zero panel is twice as thick as similar offerings from other companies, notably the SunJack panel, which also produces 7 watts.
The coolest part of this newest model of the Goal Zero panel is that it can be chained together with other panels, so if you want to upsize your solar system later on, you’re not limited by your existing panel!
SunJack Portable Solar Charger Panel
Output: 7 watts
Size: 6.5” x 9.25” x 1.5” (when closed)
Weight: 1.2 pounds
Warranty: 1 year
SunJack’s solar charger can be used to charge smartphones or one of SunJack’s many accessories like a AA/AAA battery recharging kit, LED light, or back-up battery. Unlike other chargers, SunJack’s only allows a USB connector, not a micro-USB. Fabric loops around the panels make it easy to hang the device.
At 1.2 pounds, the 7 watt solar charger is heavier than even some 20 watt competing products and I would be hard-pressed to find a situation where another solar charger wouldn’t be better. While SunJack’s solar charger will certainly keep your phone and small electronic items going, the heavy weight and middle-range price will likely sway would-be purchases to other models.
X-DRAGON 20W Solar Panel Charger
Output: 20 watts
Size: 13.2” x 7.8” x 1.5”
Weight: 1.6 pounds
Warranty: 1 year
With this power comes weight though, and this is the X-Dragon’s biggest drawback. The solar chargers weighs a whopping 1.6 pounds – a full 50% more than Anker’s comparable 21 watt charger.
Don’t just throw it out yet though. The X-Dragon has excellent online reviews that are fairly equal to the Anker charger, so if you’re just camping from the car or going for a day hike where weight matters less, the X-Dragon would be a fantastic option for your needs.
ALLPOWERS 18W Portable Solar Charger
Cost: $39.99 (on sale on Amazon)
Output: 18 watts
Size: 9.1” x 6.3” x 0.5” (when closed)
Weight: 17.2 oz
Warranty: 1 year
Because of its 18 watt output, users can charge two devices at once, and the manufacturers claim that it puts out the 2 amps tablets require to charge – though online reviewers noted that 2 amps of output is seriously affected by weather and cloud coverage and some reported not being able to charge tablets at all because of this.
You typically get what you pay for, but Allpowers’ portable solar panel kit seems a cut above when considering it’s extremely low price point.
The Results: Anker 21W Solar Charger
While all of the above will do what you want – keep your devices powered – the Anker 21W Solar Charger is our go-to charger for general use. It’s powerful, lightweight, has great reviews, and is very reasonably priced.
You can buy the Anker 21W Solar Charger Here.
Of course, potential buyers need to assess their own needs before making a decision. Maybe funds are short and you simply need the cheapest option. Maybe you backpack frequently so weight is the most important issue. But if you’re looking for a general-use solar charger to keep your phone going, we truly believe anyone would be hard-pressed to find a better deal.