The 10 Best Solar Chargers
This wiki has been updated 30 times since it was first published in April of 2015. With one of these solar chargers, you'll never run out of power for your GPS, tablet, or smartphone, even in the middle of nowhere. They're perfect for keeping you safe and connected while hiking, camping or boating, but are also well suited for eco-friendly use in urban environments, given their portability and ease of attachment to a backpack or briefcase. When users buy our independently chosen editorial recommendations, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki.
April 15, 2019:
Portable electronics, and particularly their charging circuitry, are only get more advanced and more reliable, so there's a host of worthwhile options for keeping all of your various devices' batteries topped off when the only power source you have is the sun. The Big Blue offers an excellent balance of performance, size, and price, and can fulfill a wide range of functions aside from directly powering a laptop. The RAVPower, Voltaic, and X-Dragon perform similarly well, just with different power levels. If you are trying to keep a computer going, or you want to ensure that your high-end battery bank gets juiced up as quickly as possible, check out the MegaSolar. It's almost the only one with USB-C Power Delivery support, which can pump 60 watts of power into a range of supported devices at a truly impressive speed. That's enough to accommodate some of today's high-end ultraportables. For maximum power-to-weight ratio, take a look at SunTactics' products. They're all built quite similarly, with extremely small and lightweight bodies, and while they don't have a lot of frills, they're exceptionally portable. The Eceen is another very compact unit and is great for backpacking, though at only 13 watts, it's one of the least powerful on the list. And if you're going for sheer performance, the ACOPower is almost unbeatable. While it is not very small or compact, it offers a higher maximum output than pretty much everything else, and is great for car camping or emergency preparedness kits.
Power Is Power In The New World
That barroom reject represents an electron that gets knocked loose when sunlight makes its way into a solar cell.
If you stop and think about it, it really wouldn't take much for society to collapse. One failed nuclear reactor, a big Wall Street malfunction, etc. is all it would take. What are you going to do when the people who run the power grid stop showing up for work? Well, speaking of nuclear reactors, you'd really only have to worry for about six months; most nuclear waste would outlast its cooling systems if abandoned for that long, and then all our troubles would be over.
There will be survivors, but don't look to them for help. One glance at human behavior on any Black Friday should tell you that holding out for a Kumbaya moment in which humanity lifts itself up out of the darkness is about as smart as holding out for Apple to reintroduce the headphone jack. In the world to come, power–as in electricity–is power. Current will be currency, and these solar chargers could be the thing that keeps you alive in your darkest hour.
Or, you could just use them to charge your phone when you're camping. Either way, they're a brilliant investment. How they work, however, is another level of brilliance altogether.
Solar panels work with sunlight in its particle form. Inside a single solar cell is a pair of silicon semiconductors, one coated in boron and the other in phosphorus. There are other coatings used in the industry, but these are the most common. The boron and phosphorus create opposing charges in their respective silicon, and manufacturers leave a tiny gap between the two semiconductors.
In that little space, the opposite charges mingle and interlock like Velcro until a particle of sunlight shows up and disrupts the party. Imagine you’re happily at a bar with your significant other. You look around the bar and see that everybody there is paired up. Then a particle of sunlight walks in looking all cool (definitely wearing sunglasses) and he takes a gal from one of the guys in the bar. Then, the guy goes to the barkeep, knocks back a few too many, and leaves. Surely, he’s going to go punch something; he’s all charged up.
That barroom reject represents an electron that gets knocked loose when sunlight makes its way into a solar cell. Instead of letting it go out to any old place to discharge itself, your solar charger channels that energy into a power bank that has standard outlets as well as USB ports for charging or powering just about any device.
It’s convenient to imagine that little elves live within our walls, busily pumping their elf legs against the pedals of magical bicycles to create our electricity. It’s certainly a prettier picture than the hazy, grotesque images of coal-fired power plants that you’ll see if you look at any example not provided by the coal industry.
If you’re out in the wilderness, a charger that’s resistant to dust and water would be ideal, and one that’s guaranteed against it would be even better.
Unfortunately, our grid is still deeply dependent on fossil fuels, and whether or not you believe that human beings are responsible for–or at least exacerbating–climate change, the security risk of relying on only one or two methods of power generation ought to be enough to inspire you toward diversity.
Your options among solar panels are pretty diverse in and of themselves, as the technology is still relatively young. Fortunately, over the past decade or so, the prices of these items have gone way down, so the only variables you need to focus on are size, weight, charge time, port count, and durability.
The size and weight of your solar charger is paramount, especially if it’s sharing pack space on a long hike or camping trip. Anyone who’s done even a little backpacking knows how valuable every ounce and cubic inch is inside your bag, so minimizing your solar charger’s physical footprint will help maximize your investment.
Charge time and port count will depend on how much you power you need from a given day, and how much sedentary time you can expect while the sun’s up. Solar panels work best while baking under direct sunlight, so walking through the dappled light of a forest isn’t ideal. If you have a lot of stuff to power up, you might sacrifice some of that valuable bag space for a charger with more surface area, one that can charge up more quickly and plug in more devices.
Finally, there’s durability to consider, and I’d look right into the eyes of each charger’s warranty for this. If you’re out in the wilderness, a charger that’s resistant to dust and water would be ideal, and one that’s guaranteed against it would be even better.
An Electrifying Discovery
While Alexandre Edmund Becquerel observed sunlight-induced electrical current in selenium back in the mid-1800s, the efficiency of the conduction was of little consequence. Still, the idea behind it spurred on research until the first photovoltaic (PV) cells were created at Bell Labs in 1954.
Those early PV cells were immensely expensive, ringing up at about $1,785/watt in 1955. To put that in perspective, an average minimum wage in 1955 was $.75/hour, which would earn you approximately $1,560/year, not even enough for one watt of electricity.
Thanks to increased research and competition from manufacturers around the world, solar power is less expensive now than it ever was. Of course, as soon as the grid goes down and the bottom falls out, it’ll be insanely expensive again, so now’s the time to invest.