One piece of equipment I like having for my longer camping trips is a good solar charger. People call these products by a lot of different names (solar chargers, solar battery chargers, backpacking solar chargers, solar battery bank chargers, portable USB solar chargers – just to name a few) but their purpose is simple – to charge whatever small devices need some juice!
Since I almost never carry a camera with me anymore, I use my iPhone to take pictures and videos, that means if I want to capture a great shot or some family memories while out and about I need to have some way to charge my phone.
I’m also somebody that likes to camp and hike in out of the way places – without a camper – so electricity for me can be sparse. After all, my brother and I can’t make fun of RV camping and then start choosing campsites with electrical outlets. Besides, the best views are almost always away from the crowds, no matter how you like to travel!
My solar charger has provided me with an efficient and cost effective way of keeping my important devices charged, and the photos and videos coming. For me, they’ve been an absolute life saver and next time I’m fighting a raccoon while the stupid dog just lays there watching (it was undoing the locks to steal from our cooler – smart little jerk – long story), I’ll have pictures to prove this actually happened.
There are a couple of different types of good camping solar chargers, all with different and unique features, so this article should help you break down those differences – making it easy for you to pick the best solar battery chargers for your situation!
Different Types of Solar Chargers
What I normally see is two main types of solar chargers that people will use. You have your portable solar chargers that are actual solar panels and you have your small battery power bank chargers.
Your more traditional portable solar chargers will actually be solar panels that you can connect phones, battery backups, flash lights, and whatever else you need to charge from the device to the solar panels via a USB cord. Once plugged in, the solar panels use sunlight to start charging your device.
The small portable battery power bank solar chargers plug into your devices by a USB cord and your device will pull the juice straight from the battery itself to charge. Those normally have a small solar panel on them that will help recharge the battery that is being drained by your charging devices. I can’t stress this enough – these battery power banks are not going to quickly recharge from sunlight – so don’t rely on them to be charged strictly from the sun. Time is a big factor and you want to make sure you’re on the right side of that equation.
There are a few MAJOR differences between the two. Your traditional chargers that plug straight into the devices don’t store energy. So when the sun goes down, they aren’t going to be recharging any devices. The common complaint/worry about solar power is actually legit with this particular device.
However, they tend to do a really nice job of charging devices quickly when the sun is out, bringing power in and charging things up quickly and they work anywhere where sunlight is available.
The battery style charges can recharge devices at night since the charge comes straight from the battery. However, once the battery runs out of juice – you are not going to be recharging things.
These batteries normally take about 3 or 4 days to recharge by sunlight only. So they need to be fully charged before you rely on the sunlight to keep the battery charger topped off. Remember the Boy Scout motto on this one: “Be Prepared.”
The traditional solar panel chargers are best for long camping trips where you know you are going to have lots of sun. The battery bank chargers are great to have for emergency situations where electricity might be needed, (and nighttime charging) but don’t expect them to keep getting recharged by the sun once they are completely drained – they aren’t meant for that and if you try to use them that way, you’re going to be disappointed with all those pictures you miss on your trip.
Anker Portable Solar Charger
Anker produces some of the most popular and bestselling portable solar chargers. Their most popular option is the Anker 21W 2-Port USB Solar Charger – this is our #1 recommended traditional style solar charger.
This is a two port charger that has 3 total solar panels connected to it– so you can charge two electronic devices at one time. The charging speed is up to 2.4 amps per port, 3 amps total when both ports are in use. The more sunlight the better, but these panels are strong enough to get some charge even in shadier conditions.
This solar panels on this unit are very efficient – the manufacturer says they are 21.5% to 23.5% efficient – basically they do a better job of using the sun’s power to charge your devices than most other solar panels.
The design is very nice, where the three solar panels can be moved around and folded very easily. There are Velcro pockets where you will place you devices into to plug them into the USB ports. The canvas is a polyester material that is weather resistant and very durable.
It is also very compact in size – 11.1 x 6.3 inches when folded or 26.4 x 11.1 inches when opened up. This makes it very easy to store and travel with. It is also very lightweight – about 15 oz. The compact size and light weight do make it good for hiking.
Another nice feature is that it has stainless steel holes that allow you to attach it to a backpack. You can attach it to a backpack, leave the unit open, and use it to charge your devices while on the move.
This company also has a great customer service department, and an 18 month warranty for this charger! The price, durability, features, and charging efficiency make this our #1 recommendation, and the fact it comes with the best customer service around is just an awesome bonus. They’re doing things right!
Nekteck 20W Solar Charger
Nekteck also makes a very good traditional style USB Solar Charger. The Nekteck 20W Solar Charger is their highest rated and most popular version.
It is a little less powerful than the Anker USB Solar Charger being 20W instead of 21W, and the charging speed is up to 2.0 amps per port compared to 2.4 amps from the Anker charger. The efficiency rate of the solar panels is in that 20 to 24% ranges, so those are very comparable.
The design is very similar to the Anker solar charger. It is a little heavier, about 20 oz. compared to 15 oz. and it is a little larger in size. It still has two ports where you can plug your devices into.
Most online reviews for this product are very positive, we just have to remember it is all about the sun with these chargers. The brighter the sun, the better the charge. Don’t expect it to instantly charge a device, but bright sunlight will help charge your device fast, especially if you can set up with a clear view of the light.
This portable solar charger tends to be a little less expensive than the Anker, so you normally will save on some money, but lose out on a little bit of charging power. It’s a balancing act, and may depend on how often you go out for long periods of time where re-charging some other way just isn’t a viable option.
PowerGreen 21W Foldable Solar Charger
The line of PowerGreen 21W Portable Solar Chargers are also very good solar charger options. They are still designed with 3 solar panels that are foldable and portable – making them perfect for camping and hiking.
This line is almost identical to the Anker line – it has two USB ports with a potential 2.4 amp charge on each port, has eye holes that allow it to be hung on a backpack or other places, and is made from very durable materials. It is heavy, almost 1 and ½ pounds.
What is cool about this product line is all the different color schemes you can pick from. You have everything from blue and black color schemes to very bright green and yellow designs.
The customer reviews are off the charts positive for these portable solar chargers on shopping sites, so they seem to be very dependable. If you are looking for a solar charger that is fun and bright, that is when I would pick one of these items.
MARCH Dual USB Solar Battery Charger
This is one of the most popular and newest Solar Battery Pack Chargers. Again, these have a solar panel on them which will help to slowly recharge the unit, but it can take days for it to fully recharge in the sun. You will want to make sure it is fully charged before you start to charge items with it, and the sun will help keep it topped off with power.
It does have two USB ports you can use to charge your devices – a 2.1 amp port for IPADs and Tablets and a 1.0 amp charger to use on smartphones.
Your benefit with this charger is you don’t need the sun to charge your electronics. Cloudy weather, shady conditions, and nighttime conditions won’t affect you. The electronics pull straight from the battery back making the charging process as simple as possible.
The down side is just the recharging process for the battery charger. If you are going to be camping for a long time, you might not have the opportunity to plug it into an outlet to get it fully charged again – and once it is out of juice, it won’t be a lot of good for you.
As an added bonus, this unit does come with a built in flashlight and compass! Those are always good things to have on outdoor trips.
I love having one of the battery packs fully charged packed away in my camping gear. I normally rely on my traditional solar charger – but if anything happens or the sun doesn’t corporate, I have this energy source as my backup.
Your Other Popular Options
There are numerous other Battery Solar Chargers that you can pick from, but two of the most popular are from Matone and Absone.
They both make a Portable 10,000mAh solar battery charger that is great for camping and hiking trips, and are good for hundreds of uses.
Both have dual USB ports so multiple devices can be charged, but again, the solar panel is meant to give a little extra juice to the battery – not keep it fully charged all the time. You shouldn’t have any problem charging any device that can be connected via USB cord.
The cost is what makes these devices a great choice. Depending if you can find them on sale or not, they normally cost between $20 to $45 – making it a no brainer to have in your outdoor gear collection.
You may never use one of these, but just knowing you have them should provide that peace of mind we all want during camping trips.
There really isn’t much more to say about these solar chargers. The traditional solar chargers are fantastic for having at your camp site. Anywhere there is sun, you can keep your devices charged, and you can keep on posting on social media.
The battery solar chargers are great to have around in case of emergencies. If you ever need to recharge your devices, you know you can count on them regardless of conditions. We also did a really nice article on solar backpacks if you are looking for something that can charge your devices and store some camping gear!
If you are really interested in Solar Camping Gear – feel free to check out these articles on Solar lanterns and solar camp showers.
If you want to see a video of the Anker 21W Portable Solar Charger in action, check out the video below.