best portable solar panels for camping

Best Portable Solar Panels for Camping – 2018

Picture this, you are in a crisis situation with nothing surrounding you except the wilderness. Your batteries are dead and no power outlets around in sight. What do you do? Besides trying to survive, you will need batteries to power your lights, GPS and communication devices. Relying on solar energy might just be your ticket.  We have gathered here the best portable solar panels for camping we have scoured which can help your phones and walkies juiced up when you need them the most.

 

best portable solar panels for camping

So let’s have a look at some of these solar chargers for camping and hiking that are ideal for your usage. The chargers here are picked for their ruggedness, compactness, light weight, easy to use and fast charging capabilities with varying price points.

When you’re out enjoying the great outdoors, enjoy another perk: free limitless power. Simply spread out the solar panels or attach to your pack to start recharging your gadgets.

best portable solar panels for campingbest portable solar panels for camping

 

How it works?

Well, these USB solar panels would typically consists of a solar panel, a charge controller and sometimes a battery to store the power. Electricity generated by the solar panel is sent to the charge controller which regulates the voltage and amperage. The stable power is channelled to the built-in batteries, if available, for charging. Some of the chargers do not come with batteries so the power is instead sent to the USB output ports to power your devices.

how a solar charger works

The entire setup is packaged in a convenient hard or foldable case. Let’s examine the parts in a little more detail.

Solar Cell

A solar cell is a device that converts sunlight into electricity. Combining many of them together into bigger units are known as solar panels.

a solar cell

Just like cells in a battery, the cells in a solar panel generate electricity, but instead of making power from chemicals, they do so from sunlight. Sometimes also known as photovoltaic cells.

Charge Controller

Most solar panels under bright sunlight can put out anything from 16 to 20V which can damage the batteries on our devices by overcharging.

A charge controller or regulator is an electronic device that maintains the voltage and current coming from the solar panels at a constant value.

Most mobile devices require a 5V output to get fully charged. Car batteries on the other hand would require about 14-14.5V to charge up.

Batteries

2 of the chargers in this article are integrated charges which means they have a built-in battery to store the power generated by the solar cells.

The advantage is that the stored power can be used when the sun is down. They are also conveniently packaged in a 2-in-1 handy package.

However, you may also hook up the standalone chargers to an external battery bank to store the power for use later.

 

 

What do you look for?

To qualify as one of the best portable solar panels for camping, there are a few important factors that you need to know when you are shopping around to decide what’s best for you. Things like solar panel power, output power and form factors. Let’s examine them in detail.

Solar Panel Power Output – Watts and Amperes

The power rating of a solar panel is the maximum power output it can put out under ideal bright sunlight conditions. It is expressed in Watts (W).

Watts

The wattage of a panel is directly related to its size. So a larger solar panel will generate a higher wattage, assumming a constant efficiency.

Amperes

Since all the chargers here are meant for mobile devices, they generate a voltage (V) of 5V. So to obtain the output current, simply divide the wattage with the voltage.

For example a 16W output puts out 3.2 Amperes (A) (16W divide by 5V). This is the maximum current it can produce at full power.

Higher current is needed to charge higher capacity batteries and devices. iPads need around 2.1A of current to charge but iPhones only need 1A to do so.

Efficiency

Most modern day solar panels have an efficiency of roughly 20% or slightly more. In the 50s, a typical panel could only achieve a maximum of 6%. And as late as 2012, the best panels could convert 15% of the solar energy. As you can see we have more than triple the efficiency since and still have a long way to go on our way to gain grid parity.

Weight and Compactness

Since we are talking about the outdoors, they have to be very portable. So weight and size is very important. Some of the chargers can be folded into a small form factor but yet open up for maximum sunlight capture. Some on the other hand have very rugged cases that are dust and shockproof. All chargers have some degree of waterproof protection against rain.

 

 

Best Portable Solar Panels for Camping Comparison Chart

  Solar Panel PowerBattery CapacityWeightPrice
Anker 21W PowerPort
21W-0.9 lbs$$$
Check Amazon
RAVPower Bank
1W15000 mAh0.8 lbs$
Check Amazon
AUKEY 28W28W-2.1 lbs$$$
Check Amazon
Goal Zero Nomad 7 Plus V27W-0.8 lbs$$$
Check Amazon
Poweradd Apollo 21W (approx)12000 mAh0.6 lbs$
Check Amazon

 

 

Products

Anker 21W PowerPort Solar Charger

Anker 21W PowerPort Solar Charger

This portable solar charger is a #1 Best Seller in Amazon. Let’s see why.

The 21W solar cell produces maximum of 2.4A per port or 3A overall under direct sunlight. It has PowerIQ technology that can discover and replicate your device’s original charging protocol to provide its fastest possible charging speed, providing a smooth and steady charge. Its short circuit and surge protection technology keep your devices safe.

Our test unit did very well under cloudy conditions as well. Efficiency of the solar cells is around 21.5 to 23.5%.

– 14.7 oz
– 11.1×6.3 folded
– 11.1×26.4 unfolder

Casing and Durability

The entire package can be folded into a size of 11.1″ x 6.3″ and weighs 14.7oz. It unfolds to a maximum size of 11.1″ x 26.4″.
The industrial-strength PET plastic faced solar panels are sewn into high-wear polyester canvas. This makes it able to withstand the ruggedness of your outdoor adventures.

It has rugged stainless steel eyeholes on each corner make attaching it to a backpack or tent a simple task. Hook it to backpack while hiking or your tent when you make camp.

While the polyester canvas provides some water protection, it would be recommended to minimize moisture exposure to protect electrical components.

Anker 21W PowerPort Solar ChargerAnker 21W PowerPort Solar Charger

What’s in the Box

– Anker PowerPort Solar (21W 2-Port USB Solar Charger)
– 3ft Micro USB cable
– Welcome guide
– 18-month warranty

 

RAVPower 15000 mAh Solar Charger Power Bank

RAVPower 15000 mAh Solar Charger Power Bank

Next on our list of best portable solar panels for camping is this integrated solar charger with battery. A #1 Best Seller in Amazon.

Battery

The onboard Li-Polymer 15000mAh battery is capable of delivering to 2 iSmart USB ports, a 5V/2.1A and another 5V/1A. This setup allows charging of 2 devices at the same time. That equates to charging:
– an iPhone 7 4.2 times or
– an iPhone 7+ 3 times or
– a Galaxy S8 2.8 times
4 blue LEDs show current charge level.

Solar Charging

The solar cell outputs only 1W at 250mA. That’s very little power compared to the other larger solar chargers. Do not rely too much on the solar cell to charge the battery. In our tests, it is adequate to maintain battery self-discharge under normal light. Under bright sunlight, it will charge the battery but at a very slow rate. The red LED indicator turns on indicating it’s recharging via solar panel.

Normal Power Charging

You can charge the battery from the standard USB power. At DC 5V/2A, it will take about 8 hours to get a full battery charge.

RAVPower 15000 mAh Solar Charger Power BankRAVPower 15000 mAh Solar Charger Power Bank

Casing

The casing of the RAVPower has good dust and shock protection, giving a very rugged and solid feel. It has a tough TPU plastic outer casing that has ribs on its side for a solid grip. It has a waterproof rating of IPX4. The top of the case has a formed loop so that you can attach a lanyard. The back side has a bright LED light which comes in very handy.
It measures a compact size of 6.7″ x 3.5″ x 0.8″ and weighs only 13.4oz. Hang on the side of your backpack when hiking to ensure it receives maximum exposure to sunlight.

Not recommended to charge through glass. Do not leave in car in summer because the heat affects the battery life.

What’s in the Box

– 1 x RAVPower Solar Powered Charger
– 2 x USB to Micro USB cables (Lightning cable is not included)
– 1 x User Guide

 

 

AUKEY 28W Solar Charger

AUKEY 28W Solar Charger

The Aukey’s 28W monocrystalline solar cells can output a maximum of 4.8A on 2 USB ports total, that’s 2.4A each under direct sunlight.

This is the highest and most powerful solar charger we have here among the rest. Efficiency runs at a maximum of 23.5%.
It can automatically detect & adapt to your USB powered devices to provide the fastest charging speed.

On our tests, it was able to charge an iPhone from about 40% to 80% under a bright late afternoon sun. Pretty impressive I would have to say the least.

AUKEY 28W Solar ChargerAUKEY 28W Solar Charger

Casing and Durability

Overall the package size of 36.2″ x 12.2″ x 0.6″ weighs 2.1lb. It is rugged enough to withstand most weather and environment conditions in the wild.
The USB solar panels are PET laminated with high-wear PVC fabric. Although not to be used in raining days due to lack of sun, the solar panel is waterproof. This does not include the USB output ports.

What’s in the Box

– AUKEY PB-P5 28W Solar Charger
– User Manual
– 24-Month Warranty Card

 

 

Nomad 7 Plus V2 Solar Panel

nomad 7 plus

The first thing that catches your eye with the Nomad 7 Plus is the beautifully designed casing. You can’t help but notice the fluorescent yellow band running round the unit. It has been reengineered to be lighter and smarter.

It has 2 large highly efficient monocrytalline solar panels that convert sunlight. That equates to an output of 7W at a maximum of 1.4A.

Charging

And with 2 output ports, you can charge 2 devices at the same time. There is a USB port of 5V 1.4A and an mini solar port (2.5mm) at a voltage of 8-9V 0.8A. It comes with a solar intensity indicator which displays strength of solar conditions. So you can receive immediate feedback on your panel placement to improve the charging experience.

nomad 7 plusnomad 7 plus

Size and Form

The Nomad features a kickstand to provide optimum angle placement and provides a shade for charging devices. It is waterproof and rugged.

It can be folder into a size of 6.5″ x 8.8″ x 0.75″ and weighs 0.8lbs with the kickstand. With 6 eye holes at the corners of the unit, you can hook it up to your backpack and enjoy charging while hiking, to always catch as much sunlight as possible.

What’s in the Box:

– 1 x Nomad 7 Solar Panel
– 1 x Removable Kickstand / Zippered Pouch.

 

 

Poweradd Apollo 2 Solar Charger 12000mAh Power Bank

Poweradd Apollo 2 Solar Charger 12000mAh Power Bank

Battery

The onboard 12000mAh battery delivers its fastest charging speed up to 2.4A per port and the maximum output of the 2 USB ports is 3.4A. You can charge:
– an iPhone 6s 4.5 times or
– a Galaxy S5 3 times or
– an iPad Mini 1.5 times

Charging

The new Apollo 2 has an upgraded solar charger which has been greatly improved the solar charging efficiency which delivers the charging speed up to 5V/330mAh theoretically. The built-in protection ensures your devices against over-heating, over-charging and over-voltage.
Having stated that, still the charging is slow compared to the other higher wattage ones. It is still best to rely on solar charging only as an emergency.

Casing

The Apollo 2 is almost the same size as an iPhone 6 Plus, not bulky in your hands. It measure 5.9″ x 3″ x 0.6″ and weighs only 9.6oz, the lightest of all the chargers featured here.
It is dustproof and shockproof and has a IPX7 waterproof rating.

Poweradd Apollo 2 Solar Charger 12000mAh Power BankPoweradd Apollo 2 Solar Charger 12000mAh Power Bank

Lights

The built-in dual LED lights features 3 light modes, just short press the mode button to switch the type. When in SOS function, the light flashes the code SOS in morsecode. Very useful in emergencies.

What’s in the Box:

– Poweradd Solar Charger x 1
– Micro USB Cable x 1
– Climbing Hook x 1
– Feedback Card x 1
– User Manual x 1

 

 

FAQ

Why use solar power?

Dead phones and tablets are no fun, and it’s even worse when you don’t have access to a power outlet in the outdoors. Fortunately, the sun is always on (at least during the day). So why not harness the power of solar energy to keep your devices running even when you’re trekking through the middle of nowhere?

Do I need a charge controller?

The USB solar chargers here all have incorporated a charge controller. So you don’t need an external one. Without the built-in controller, the open circuit voltage produced by the solar panels can reach roughly 20V under bright sunlight which can destroy your devices.

Do they charge all USB devices? Should I be concerned about the voltage?

Any USB device can be charged because the output is controlled to 5V which is safe for all devices. The difference among all the chargers is the amount of output current in amperes(A). The higher the wattage, the higher the current. A higher current output charges your devices faster.

Do they provide any rain resistance?

These USB solar chargers for outdoors are meant for camping and hiking, therefore they have some level of rain resistance. Some more and some lesser. Check their respective waterproof protection levels to ensure you do not get them damaged by water.

Can I string a few of them to increase the wattage and current?

Theoretical it is possible to string multiple solar panels in series or parallel to increase the voltage or amperage. For our case here, the chargers are sealed units that output fixed 5V, so stringing them together is not recommended.

You can however, charge multiple battery banks at the same time with several usb solar chargers, each solar charger charging its own battery bank.

 

Conclusion

Now that you know the benefits of using a solar charger and understand our picks, it is over to you to choose the right one for yourself.

Take your time and head over to the Amazon site through the links provided above to read the comments and reviews thoroughly.

You never know when an emergency situation arises and you will be glad you got yourself one.

Have fun picking and may you find your best portable solar panels for camping.

 

 

 

 

2 Comments

  • Thomas C says:

    Excellent article, I was just looking for a solar charger for my next hiking outdoor trek through Yosemite. My current one bailed out on me which I bought serveral years ago, it just won’t charge anything. The Anker one looks interesting and fits my requirements, although is a bit on the large side. Anyway, thanks for the writeup, really helped in my decision making process.

  • Sue says:

    Thanks a lot for the amazing write up. I have shared it on my facebook page.

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