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Published Mar. 20, 2021

One of the most innovative creations of the 19th century, solar technology gives you the literal ability to harness the sun’s energy. Sure, when Edward Weston patented them in 1888, they were neither compact nor lightweight. But, fast forward to the present day and this technology is portable and tons more efficient. While it might be a bit of a leap to retrofit your entire electrical grid to solar, it doesn’t mean you can’t benefit from the technology. One of the most popular uses, in fact, is giving outdoor enthusiasts access to clean, efficient energy wherever they go. You can tuck a solar charger in your backpack and hit the trails; then, whether you need to boil water or recharge your phone, it’s right there. All you need is access to the sun and the help of one of the best solar chargers for backpacking, and you can make the great outdoors much safer and more convenient. This piece details the top models, along with some tips on finding the ideal solar-charging travel companion. Let’s get down to it. 

The Best Solar Chargers for Backpacking

Planning your next backpacking expedition and want to be able to use your devices? The Feelle Solar Charger Power Bank makes it easy to recharge your devices on the go. It folds down to the size of a cell phone and opens up to three moderately-sized solar panels. These connect to a 24,000 mAh power bank that is able to charge multiple devices. With a micro USB and a full-sized port, you can plug in anything you need and recharge it quickly. To help out in the great outdoors, this model comes with a built-in flashlight that works energy-efficiently. As a result, you can use it in an emergency without running out of power to use on your phone. Powerful and user-friendly, this solar charger makes a fantastic addition to your backpacking gear.

One thing to keep in mind is that, like a cell phone, the solar panels are prone to scratches and can be cracked. Avoid issues with functionality to keep the solar panel working well over the long term.

Key Features
  • Battery capacity of 24,000 mAh
  • Includes USB and micro USB
  • Output of 4.5 watts
  • Comes with a built-in power bank
Specifications
  • Brand Feelle
  • Model HI-S024
  • Weight 1.26 pounds
PROS

Entirely waterproof design

Folds down to compact size

Built-in LED flashlight

CONS

Screen can get scratched or cracked

USB ports can wear down with time

Folding components can snap

Using clean, renewable energy doesn’t have to break the bank. The LuminAid Solar Inflatable Lantern represents this truth extremely well. It was originally invented to assist areas recovering from natural disasters since it is both affordable and gives access to electricity without relying on a grid. Featuring a clever design, it consists of a white inflatable lantern with a solar panel at the top. This can work as light or charge devices, depending on the need. When on, it supplies 75 lumens of light (enough to illuminate around 125 square feet). Folded down, it is less than 25 square inches in size, letting you easily slip it in with your hiking gear. The lantern incorporates a 1,000 mAh battery, letting you power devices in an emergency. Cost-effective and durable, this solar lantern is a worthy value pick.

One thing to keep in mind is that this model is best-suited towards survival readiness as opposed to continual use. It’s good to have on hand for emergencies, but more demanding treks may require a tougher option.

Key Features
  • Inflatable lantern with single panel
  • Includes an LED flashlight
  • Recharges via solar or USB
  • Lightweight and waterproof
Specifications
  • Brand LuminAid
  • Model B07 KGP Q74
  • Weight 5 ounces
PROS

Folds down compactly

Entirely shatterproof

Resistant to dust and debris

CONS

Only features a single solar panel

Takes up to two hours to recharge

LED light isn’t very powerful

Those who are seeking out something dependable and are willing to spend a little extra to get it can benefit a lot from the BigBlue Portable Solar Charger. It is lightweight yet highly durable, reportedly recharging at over 23 percent faster than comparative models. This is largely due to the 5-volt, 2.4-amp system that channels energy from the five solar panels. When you need it, simply unfold the unit and leave it in direct sunlight. Plug your devices into one of the three USB ports (designed to be compatible with all types of devices) and let them charge. Once the process is complete, simply refold the panels and tuck it away. Thanks to the textile exterior, it won’t scratch or damage easily. Built to last, this premium solar charger is ideal for either everyday use or an emergency kit.

It’s worth a mention that, while this model is powerful, it takes up a bit more space than some other solar chargers. Be sure that you have the room to spare in your backpack before making your selection.

Key Features
  • Works between 21.5 and 23.5 percent efficiency
  • Five volt and 2.4 amp maximum
  • Safeguards against overcharge and heat damage
  • Resistant to water and debris
Specifications
  • Brand BigBlue
  • Model B401
  • Weight 1.34 pounds
PROS

Includes three USB ports

Lightweight and portable

Durable polymer surface

CONS

Instructions can be confusing

Power output may fluctuate

Moderately high price point

Looking for something with a high conversion rate that also tucks neatly into your backpack? Check out the NekTeck Portable Solar Charger for its sleek design and overall effectiveness. It folds out into three prominent panels, each of them using monocrystalline technology to take the sun and turn it into usable power. With a 3-amp capacity and multiple ports, you can quickly return power to all your devices at the same time. Lightweight enough to take wherever you go, this solar charger has openings to connect it to your backpack. Simply attach it via cords and the charger can gather sunlight while you walk. It’s entirely waterproof and reasonably resistant to dust, meaning you can take it on your more intense hikes. Rugged enough for serious backpackers, this charger deserves an honorable mention.

It would be remiss not to mention that you must take care not to drop (or step on) this charger. If cracked or heavily scratched, the solar panels won’t be able to perform properly.

Key Features
  • Output of 21 watts
  • Entirely waterproof design
  • Includes three solar panels
  • Features two USB ports
Specifications
  • Brand Nekteck
  • Model SM-B3122
  • Weight 1.12 pounds
PROS

High conversion rate of up to 24 percent

Folds down to compact size

Protective cover prevents damage

CONS

Vulnerable to heavy impact damage

Monocrystalline panels can scratch

Requires routine upkeep to perform

If you live in an area prone to storms, the Anker Dual USB Solar Charger is worth taking a look at. When you’re battling cloud cover, you need to take advantage of all the sunlight you can get. The high-efficiency system converts solar energy into usable power at a rate of between 21.5 and 23.5 percent. It features a 2.1-amp system that feeds from the 15-watt panels, letting you charge your devices in a jiffy. Featuring two USB ports, you can either plug in one device and speed up the process or recharge two devices and wait a bit longer. In terms of storage, this charger features a rugged exterior that facilitates water resistance. It folds down into a compact, flat piece which you can store with ease once you get back on the trails.

Bear in mind that this unit does not come with a solar bank. You need to plug in and charge your devices while the panels are exposed to sunlight, so make sure you aren’t contending with too much cloud coverage.

Key Features
  • Impressive 15-watt output
  • Conversion efficiency of 21.5 to 23.5 percent
  • Polymer exterior covering
  • Lightweight and foldable
Specifications
  • Brand Anker
  • Model A2422011
  • Weight 12.3 ounces
PROS

Includes three large solar panels

Comes with a USB cable

Features two USB ports

CONS

Attachments for backpack can break

Water-resistant, not waterproof

Susceptible to impact damage

The Foxelli Triple USB Portable Solar Charger is designed to make quick work out of powering your devices during a hike. When you need it, simply fold out the three panels that incorporate openings for you to attach it to the backpack with the included carabiners. It features three USB outlets, letting you charge all your devices at the same time. It can supply as much as 3.5 amps, expediting the recharge process. You can connect any type of device to the 5-volt power system and return your phone to full power. While it doesn’t have a power bank, the weatherproof design and high-efficiency rating let you make the most out of the sunshine you get. Whether for emergency use or standard camping and backpacking applications, this charger makes a great addition to your setup.

Keep in mind that despite the utility, this system is heavier than a lot of other models. It’s not by much, but when you factor in all the things you need to take along on a backpacking trip, it’s worth keeping in mind.

Key Features
  • 21-watt solar panel system
  • Includes three large panels
  • Charges three devices simultaneously
  • 3.5-amp system for quick charging
Specifications
  • Brand Foxelli
  • Model B07 DNM VB3
  • Weight 1.45 pounds
PROS

Compatible with all types of devices

Converts at a 24 percent efficiency rate

Resistant to damage from water

CONS

Heavier than some other models

Exterior vulnerable to scratches

Canvas exterior gets worn with time

If you prefer to tackle trails in more challenging settings, the Ryno-Tuff Portable Solar Charger is a good option. Sure, you might not be climbing K2, but if the weather gets rough, you need backpacking equipment that can keep up with the demand. It has a charging efficiency of up to 25 percent and incorporates two separate USB ports. Compatible with any type of mobile device, the 21-watt system efficiently powers your smartphone so you can stay safe on the trails. The folding charger is highly durable and entirely waterproof, largely due to the PVC canvas material that covers the back. It buffers the force of impact and helps the solar charger last for longer. It is powerful, efficient, and able to last over the long term.

Bear in mind that the polymer exterior is the barrier that keeps the water out, and if it is scratched, moisture can make its way into the system and compromise the charger’s function. Store it carefully and perform routine maintenance to prevent this issue.

Key Features
  • Includes regular and micro USB
  • 5-volt, 21-watt system
  • Two separate USB ports
  • Entirely waterproof design
Specifications
  • Brand Ryno Tuff
  • Model 4336233886
  • Weight 1.06 pounds
PROS

Up to 25 percent conversion rate

Folds down to small size

2.4 amps for each USB port

CONS

Polymer exterior can break

Over time, canvas can fray

Vulnerable to overheating issues

Best Solar Chargers for Backpacking Buying Guide

Backpacking in the modern age makes traveling with some type of power source more than a convenience — it’s a necessity. You can’t exactly haul around a generator, and your phone won’t run on triple-A batteries. That’s where a solar charger comes into play. Imagine getting lost in the wilderness and seeing that dreaded flashing battery signal, informing you that mere moments remain. Taking along a solar charger is a lot easier than facing that struggle. 

Of course, not all solar chargers are made alike. It all comes down to picking an option that works for you. Balancing weight and bulk with charging ability is key. You want something that will fit in your backpack without taking up too much room. Plus, it needs to be durable enough to resist the harsh conditions of the great outdoors. As long as the charger meets these needs (and is compatible with your devices), then you can reap all the benefits it has to offer. 

Solar backpack charger used for charging a smartphone
Solar chargers are compact and foldable, tucking into your backpack.

The Advantages of Owning a Solar Charger for Backpacking

There’s no shortage of advantages to owning a solar charger for your hiking excursions. For one, they are designed for travel. Lightweight and portable, these devices are built to fit into tight quarters with most models folding down. Expanding to display the solar panels, many even have openings to attach to your backpack, letting you charge your devices while you walk. 

A lot of solar chargers even feature a power bank, giving you the ability to gather power when the sun is out and use it later. Those that don’t offer this feature usually have high conversion efficiency, making the most of the sunlight while it’s in use. Often, there are multiple USB ports so that you can charge your flashlight and your phone. 

Ultimately, taking a solar charger along is about more than checking your Instagram while you’re on a hike. It’s a survival tool that can help you get out of an emergency more quickly and more safely. That’s where the true advantages lie. 

  • Many models incorporate a built-in flashlight to add safety features. 
  • Solar chargers are compact and foldable, tucking into your backpack. 
  • Waterproof models are able to resist damage from the environment. 
  • Protective covers are there to prevent scratches and cracks. 
  • Even a few minutes of direct sunlight can return power to a dead phone. 
  • Solar chargers are reusable and built to last over the long term. 
  • Eco-friendly by nature, this survival gear creates clean energy. 

Popular Types of Solar Chargers for Backpacking

Though the main purpose of any solar charger is to convert energy from the sun into usable power, there’s more than one kind from which to choose. Getting the most out of your solar charger system is a matter of identifying the right type for your needs. The technology is all loosely the same, and the difference lies in how it uses the power it generates. 

Panels

The most common type of solar charger for backpacking consists of between two and five panels, connected to optimize the amount of energy harnessed. Typically, these are covered by a clear polymer to prevent water damage. Backed with a textile (usually canvas), you can fold them down without risking scratches. 

Generally, these range in efficiency from as low as 21 percent to as high as 25 percent. Depending on the model, it will incorporate up to four USB ports. Often, there is one large and one micro USB component so that you can charge any device. This type of solar charger tends to be the most lightweight and compact, though it requires direct exposure and can only provide power when it’s exposed to the sun. 

Panels with Power Bank

Though less popular, solar chargers that come with a built-in power bank have some extra benefits. They look similar to regular folding panels, though tend to be heavier and somewhat bulkier. This is due to the power bank itself. Basically a battery, it takes on power while the charger is exposed to sunlight and stores it for later. As a result, you can use the sun’s energy even in cloud cover or at night. 

Because of the extra electrical components, there need to be more safeguards against overheating, overcharging, and water damage. This adds to the size and weight, but only nominally. Often, because of the fact that these solar chargers can hold onto power, they will feature fewer solar panels. The conversion efficiency is the same as with the standard panel models. 

Features to Look for in Solar Charger for Backpacking

When tracking down the best solar chargers for backpacking, there are a few features to keep at the forefront of your mind. There’s a big difference between a solar lantern and a sun-powered charger for your car. Getting the most use out of the technology relies on finding the right fit, so check out these essential features to be sure you’re getting your money’s worth. 

Output

Measured in watts, the output refers to the amount of power the device can supply. After the solar energy is taken in through the crystal structures on the panel, it is converted into raw electrical energy. Look at the conversion efficiency of the solar panels to see what you are getting. Aim for higher wattage and better efficiency (upwards of 22 percent, if possible). Whether you’re getting a hoverboard charger or something smaller for your hiking trip, being able to draw more power more quickly is important. 

Panel Type

The type of panels used dictate the durability of the device itself. If you are going camping with your motorcycle, you need something that can withstand damage. Though it may sound like rigid panels are tougher, they are also more vulnerable to cracking due to impact. It might not be a concern if you are keeping the charger as an accessory in your RV, but backpacking leaves the charger somewhat more exposed. Aim for semi-flexible panels, the more forgiving type which is less inclined to break under pressure. 

Attachment Ports

The charger won’t be good for anything if you can’t plug in your devices. Some technology requires a micro USB port in order to recharge. While the vast majority of solar chargers have regular USB components, the smaller counterparts are less common. Keep an eye out for models with multiple charging ports, especially since this is the part most prone to wear and tear. This way, if one gets damaged, you can keep using the charger. 

Safeguards

Because this technology deals with electricity, there ought to be some measures to prevent issues like overcharging and overheating. Unlike AC or DC systems, these chargers won’t stop automatically. Be sure that it opens well enough to promote airflow when in use, as it can help with overheating. Check for a durable cover to prevent damage from abrasion; and, as long as you use the charger carefully, it will last over the long term. 

A hiker girl taking a rest while charging her smartphone with solar backpack charger
Even a few minutes of direct sunlight can return power to a dead phone.

Best Solar Chargers for Backpacking FAQs

Solar chargers for backpacking are still relatively new technology. Though the concept originated in the 1800s, it only really grew in popularity with the ecological revolution of recent times. As such, it only makes sense to have some questions relating to how it all works. To assist, we’ve addressed the most common inquiries below as a way to facilitate your fact-finding journey.

Q: Do solar phone chargers really work?

Yes, solar phone chargers really work. Though it’s less efficient than plugging them into a wall outlet, you can use a solar charger to reboot your phone when you are without access to power.

Q: What is the best solar charger for camping?

The best solar charger for camping is durable, efficient, and compact. Ideally, it has a power bank for you to use it when the sun goes down. Consider the Feelle Solar Charger Power Bank.

Q: How do you charge your phone while backpacking?

You can take a break and expose the panels to sunlight, plugging in your phone to charge. Alternatively, you can open the panels, attach the charger to your backpack, and walk with your back to the sun.

Q: What should I look for when buying a solar charger?

Look for a sturdy design and tough structure. Check for high wattage output, multiple attachment ports, and substantial conversion efficiency. All of these aspects enhance the function.

Our Top Pick

After careful consideration, we’ve named the Feelle Solar Charger Power Bank as our top pick. Not only is it compact, ringing in at just a bit bigger than a cell phone, but the folding design also keeps the panels protected between uses. It offers a high-wattage output and holds any unused energy in the power bank for use when the sun isn’t shining. It’s affordable, effective, and makes a great companion for any backpacker. 

Final Thoughts

Now that you know the nuances of solar chargers for backpacking, you can get ready for your next trek. Perhaps you’ll bring the Feelle Solar Charger Power Bank or opt for the cost-effectiveness of the LuminAid Solar Inflatable Lantern. There’s an option for every outdoor enthusiast. Happy backpacking!

Sources:

  1. Solar Charger – Wikipedia

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