Best Solar Charger for Backpacking – My Picks and Buying Guide

Written by

Exploring the great outdoors can be dangerous; there’s no denying that.

That’s why more and more backpackers are starting to take their electronic devices with them on their journeys.

As you know, the biggest downside to such devices is that they run out of charge eventually. That’s what created a demand for portable power solutions, and it’s probably the reason you’re currently searching for the best solar charger for backpacking.

For those who decide to scrap the comfort of their homes in favor of unforgettable nights in the great outdoors, I researched and reviewed hundreds of portable solar chargers to bring you what I found to be the best of the best.

In this article, I’ll be sharing my list of the top candidates for the title of the best solar charger for backpacking. You’ll also find a comprehensive buying guide at the bottom of the page to help you pick the right charger for your backpacking adventures!

Which Solar Charger Did I End Up Choosing?

Personally, I ended up going with the BigBlue 28W Portable Solar Charger. It provides a great balance between the wattage, the charging speed, the size, and the durability, making it perfect for any backpacking trip, no matter its length.

Best Solar Charger for Backpacking – My Picks

#1 – BigBlue 28W Portable Solar Charger – Overall Best Solar Panel

Let me start by saying this: the overall performance of the BigBlue 28W folding solar charger is second to none.

I mean, sure, you can find products that are more durable, have greater capacity, or come with extra features out there, but when it comes to the overall performance and the quality-to-price ratio, there’s really no beating this portable charger.

The BigBlue solar charger is a bit on the larger side when unfolded, but it can easily be folded and stored away when not in use. When folded, the panel measures 11.1 × 6.3× 1.3 inches. Add that to the light 20.6-ounce weight, and you’ve got yourself a beast when it comes to portability.

Although this solar panel doesn’t come with a battery pack, it features smart charging technology that allows it to charge up to three different (small) electronic devices directly.

Other features that I appreciate in this model include the built-in ammeter and auto-restart function, as well as the included buckles that make it easy to attach this solar panel to your backpack.

All in all, this is a reasonably-priced solar charger that’s easy to move around, and that comes with everything you’d need in a device in this category.

If you’re looking for the overall best solar charger for backpacking, this is it!

Specs

  • Dimensions: 11.1 × 6.3× 1.3 inches folded
  • Weight: 21.5 Ounces
  • Voltage: Supports devices that have a 5V input voltage
  • Wattage: 28W
Pros
  • Efficient energy conversion
  • Works well in marginal conditions
  • Built-in ammeter and auto-restart function
  • Compact when folded
Cons
  • Bulky when unfolded
  • A bit heavy

#2 – Goal Zero Nomad 10 – Runner-Up

Although a bit more expensive than the rest of my recommendations, the Goal Zero Nomad 10 is the premium option that you should pick if money isn’t a problem.

The Nomad 10 solar battery charger is lightweight, weighing a grand total of 1.2 pounds. It’s also quite compact in size, as it measures 9.5×14.5x.75″ when unfolded and 9.5×7.2×1.2″ when folded. Those dimensions make this solar panel easy to attach to your backpack while you’re hiking.

Conveniently, the panel also comes with a kickstand that clicks into place at several angles, making it easy for you to position the solar cell towards the sun when you’re not moving around.

Just like the BigBlue 28W, this solar panel doesn’t come with a battery pack. Instead, it can be used to charge your electronics directly.

That said, the panel is compatible with the company’s power banks, such as the Goal Zero Venture 30 that has a whopping capacity of 7,800 mAh. The Nomad 10 should be able to charge that power bank model in up to nine hours.

Specs

  • Dimensions: 9.5×14.5x.75″ when unfolded and 9.5×7.2×1.2″ when folded
  • Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Voltage: 6-7 Volts
  • Wattage: 10W
Pros
  • Portable
  • Durable build
  • 180° kickstand
  • Efficient power conversion
Cons
  • Expensive
  • Only one USB port

#3 – ECEEN 13W Solar Panel – Budget Option

Seeing this one was a fluke, but the specs impressed me, so I put it on the wish list with a few more expensive solar chargers. How could anything this low-priced be worthwhile?

Well, turns out it could.

The ECEEN 13W boasts a simple and sleek design. But don’t let the simplicity of the design and the affordable price tag fool you into thinking that this foldable solar panel is low-performing.

Despite its small size, this solar panel will allow you to charge your electronic devices almost as fast as bigger models.

The build is also impressive, as this solar panel can withstand outdoor conditions perfectly.

Now, being a cheap model, this model does come with a few niggles.

For starters, it struggles to charge in partially cloudy conditions.

Furthermore, charging a couple of devices at the same time may end up counterproductive.

All in all, if you’re looking to get the best solar charger for backpacking without blowing a hole in your wallet, this model is a no-brainer!

Specs

  • Dimensions: 8.27 x 0.98 x 7.09 inches
  • Weight: 0.58 Pounds
  • Voltage: Supports devices that have a 5V input voltage
  • Wattage: 13W
Pros
  • Affordable price
  • Compact size
  • Lightweight
  • Fast charging
Cons
  • Not efficient in partially cloudy conditions
  • Struggles to charge two devices simultaneously

#4 – SunJack 25W Solar Panel – Fastest Charging Speeds

If you’re looking for the best solar charger for backpacking when it comes to charging speed, then look no further than the SunJack 25W panel.

Granted, this model doesn’t have the highest wattage out of the reviewed lot, but it does provide the fastest charging speeds. No matter which electronic device you throw at it, this solar panel will be able to get it up and running fast.

The speed isn’t the only feature that makes this solar panel stand out. The SunJack 25W is also super durable, which means that it will last for years on end in your backpack.

It also performs well in different weather conditions, including partially shaded or partially clouded conditions – something that many of its competitors fail to achieve.

Specs

  • Dimensions: 12.50 x 8.00 x 1.20 inches
  • Weight: 1.9 pounds
  • Voltage: Supports devices that have a 5V input voltage
  • Wattage: 28W
Pros
  • Durable build
  • Very fast charging speeds
  • Fast charging capabilities
  • Works in different weather conditions
Cons
  • A bit expensive
  • On the larger side of the spectrum

#5 GoerTek 25,000mAh Solar Charger – Best Solar Power Bank

The GoerTek 25,000mAh Solar Charger is a high-capacity battery pack that can easily charge a smartphone several times before running out of juice.

The most appealing feature about this solar charger, besides the massive battery capacity, is the fact that it’s compact and has three USB ports for you to charge your small electronic devices.

Now, although this is primarily a power bank, it packs a decent solar panel on the back – one that can fill the battery with power within a few days.

Yes, you read that right.

Unfortunately, if you plan to rely on the sun and the sun alone when charging the 25,000 mAh battery, you’ll probably have to leave it outside for a few days.

On the bright side (pun intended), the solar panel will continue filling up the battery pack with juice even when a few devices are plugged in.

So, if you’re planning to take this little beast on your next backpacking trip, I recommend charging it using a 5V/2A adapter before heading out.

Finally, this solar-powered charger doubles as a LED flashlight, which is just the cherry on top as that can come in handy when you’re exploring the outdoors.

Despite having all those great features, this outdoor solar charger is reasonably priced, making it a great option for those looking to get the best solar charger for backpacking without breaking the bank.

Specs

  • Dimensions: 7 x 3.8 x 1.1 inches
  • Weight: 1.18 pounds
  • Voltage: 5 Volts
  • Storage Capacity: 25,000 mAh
Pros
  • Affordable price
  • Compact size
  • Decent solar panel
  • Waterproof
Cons
  • A bit on the heavy side
  • Charging the battery using solar power takes days

Best Backpacking Solar Charger – Buying Guide

Picture showing a backpacker

Before getting the best solar charger for backpacking, you ought to understand how such a device works. Only then will you be able to pick the right technology for your needs.

The concept is pretty easy, really; you have your Power Source (such as a solar panel), which sends energy to be stored in a Portable Battery (which is the Power Storage), which can then be used to recharge your Electronic Devices (or Power Use).

Power Source => Power Storage => Power Use

Power Source

Picture showing solar panels

There are numerous sources of power that can be used to charge a battery pack, such as solar energy, AC power, 12V DC, hydrogen fuel cells, etc.

Out of the lot, solar power is the most used off-the-grid source of power, and the reason is pretty obvious. This is the best option for long backpacking trips, which is why I’m writing this guide on how to find the best solar charger for backpacking.

Solar chargers come in three variants:

  • Panels only, either rigid or semi-flexible
  • Panels with integrated storage batteries
  • Panels with independent (separate) storage batteries

Here’s what you need to consider when looking for a solar charger:

Surface Area

As you’d guess, the larger the solar panel, the more energy it can collect and store. Depending on its size, a solar panel can take anywhere from four to sixteen hours to charge a battery.

Larger panels are suitable for all kinds of weather conditions, including cloud cover or the low-intensity light of winter.

Obviously, a smaller panel would be easier to pack and move around, but you’ll end up waiting longer for it to charge your electronic devices.

So, when it comes to picking the right surface area and size of the solar panel, you’ll have to consider the logistical constraints and expected weather conditions of your backpacking trip.

Output Capacity

The output capacity is measured in watts. The bigger the value, the more energy is generated during a given period of time.

Semi-Flexible vs. Rigid Panels

As the name indicated, rigid panels are – hey, surprise! – rigid, which means that they cannot be folded or rolled up, unlike semi-flexible panels.

Not only are semi-flexible panels easier to move around, but they can also open up to provide a bigger surface area compared to their rigid counterparts.

Attachment Options

Finally, it’s essential to consider the attachment options when looking for the best solar charger for backpacking. After all, that’s what will allow you to attach the charger securely to your backpack.

Power Storage

Picture showing a battery

A power source (a solar panel, in our case) may not always have the right circuitry to regulate the flow of electricity into your electronic device, which can lead to damage.

That’s why you ought to use the solar panel to charge up a storage battery, which can then be used to charge your devices.

Of course, that doesn’t apply to all solar panels, which is why you ought to check the manufacturer’s recommendations before getting a separate battery pack.

That brings us to the million-dollar question; should your solar panel come with an integrated or an independent storage battery?

Well, the answer, as always, is it depends.

  • A solar panel with an integrated battery would work for those seeking an all-in-solution that works for both storing energy and using it later.
  • A solar panel with an independent battery would be better for those planning to leave the (often big) solar panel at base camp and take only the battery when they’re exploring the area.

Remember, if you decide to go with the first option, make sure to check the battery’s specifications, as that might just be the most important piece of the package. These specifications include:

Storage Capacity

I think this is self-explanatory.

The storage capacity indicates how much charge the battery can hold and provide before it needs recharging.

The capacity is usually measured in:

  • milliAmp hours (mAh) (example: 4000 mAh)
  • Amp-hours (Ah) (example: 4000 mAh = 4 Ah)
  • Watt-hours (wh) ((wh / Volts) x 1000 = mAh)

To recharge or top off an electronic device, you’ll need a battery pack with a storage capacity that exceeds that of the device’s battery.

So, when picking the best solar charger for backpacking, you need to find out the storage capacity of the battery in your electronic device. Doing so is super easy, as all you have to do is check the specifications on your device.

PS: transferring energy from one battery to another is never totally efficient. In other words, a battery pack with a storage capacity of 4000 mAh will not fully charge a 2000 mAh electronic battery twice.

Power Output

Your portable solar panel charger’s power output must be equal to your electronic device’s input battery voltage requirement.

If it’s lower, the battery pack may end up draining the device’s battery instead of the other way around.

Small devices that can be charged via a USB cable, such as MP3 players and smartphones, need a 5V output rating. Bigger devices, such as laptops, that require a DC power input may need a 12V-24V output rating.

So, before choosing a portable solar charger, check the input battery voltage requirement of the devices you intend to recharge during your backpacking adventures.

If you’re into technical stuff, here’s a great video that explains the concept of power from Khan Academy:

Battery Technology

There are three kinds of technologies used in portable battery packs, which are:

Lithium-ion

This is the same technology used in the batteries of smartphones and other personal electronics, which is why it’s the most common type of outdoor battery packs.

NiMH (Nickel Metal Hydride)

These are usually rechargeable AA or AAA batteries. This is a great option for devices that use replaceable batteries, such as headlamps, cameras, and GPS devices.

Why?

Because you can simply swap out the batteries instead of recharging such devices, which is easier and more convenient!

Lead-acid

Batteries that use lead-acid technology are the bigger, heavier side of the spectrum. On the bright side, they also offer greater power capacity and output.

Power Use

As mentioned above, you need to find your device’s voltage input rating before picking a solar charger.

Doing so is simple. You can either:

Check the technical specs in your owner’s manual

Or

Look for the voltage rating printed on the wall outlet charger that you got with the device.

Other Factors to Consider

The technical specifications and features aren’t the only thing to consider when looking for the best solar charger for backpacking.

Some of the practical considerations that you need to keep in mind include:

Size and Weight

All solar chargers take up space and add weight, unfortunately.

That’s why you need to determine your needs before choosing the best solar charger for backpacking.

Some of the questions that you need to ask yourself include:

  • Is the extra energy worth the weight that the solar charger is going to add?
  • Do I need unlimited power, no matter what? Or is one emergency charge enough for me?
  • Will I set a base camp wherever I go to keep my solar panel there?
  • Can my chosen solar charger be attached securely to my backpack?

Mode of Backpacking

As you know, for solar charging to be effective, the solar panel must be exposed to direct sunlight for hours.

  • If you’re backpacking in open country, you can use the solar charger by strapping it to the top of your pack and orienting the panel to face the sun.
  • On the other hand, if you’re hiking in a forest with a deep canopy, there’s no much point in attaching the solar panel to your backpack.

So, when your solar charger runs out of juice, remember to expose it to sunlight whenever you get the chance.

Trip Duration

Picture showing a hiking map

If you’re planning to go on a long, off-the-grid trip, you ought to take your solar charger with you. Just make sure to charge all of your devices and battery pack before heading out.

On the other hand, if it’s just a weekend trip, a single battery pack might be all you need. On the flip side, it will turn into dead weight as soon as it runs out of juice. Again, charge the battery pack before heading out. Never assume that it’s charged. As a backpacker, you must know that it’s better safe than sorry!

Best Solar Charger for Backpacking – FAQ

What’s the Difference Between Watt Hours and Amp Hours?

Both units are used to indicate the storage capacity of the battery.

(wh / Volts) x 1000 = mAh

References:

  • My own experience!
  • https://www.livescience.com/41995-how-do-solar-panels-work.html
  • https://www.backpacker.com/skills/natural-born-killers-top-backcountry-dangers

Leave a Comment