The BioLite SolarPanel10+ on review here may be all about the 10W solar panel at its core, but it’s special because it also masquerades as a portable battery ripe for recharging a smartphone. With a rugged design, a travel-friendly size and a built-in battery, the BioLite SolarPanel10+ is perfect for hiking trips, camping weekends and any kind of foray into the off-grid world where you need to recharge personal devices.
BioLite is known for making cleverly designed products for cooking, lighting, and providing power when you're going off-grid. Its devices appear in our best power bank and best camping stove guides already, so is the SolarPanel10+ good enough to rank amongst today's best solar chargers, too? I've been testing one out to see. Read on for my full BioLite SolarPanel10+ review.
BioLite SolarPanel10+ review: price and release date
Although it’s been on sale for a few years the BioLite SolarPanel10+ was upgraded during 2021, taking its 3,000mAh battery to 3,200mAh. It sells on the Biolite website for UK£129.99 / US$139.95, which is around AUS$189.
BioLite SolarPanel10+ review: design
BioLite SolarPanel10+ review: specs
Size: 259x208x23 mm/10.2x8.2x0.9 inches
Weight: 550g/19.4 oz
Connections: micro USB, USB-A
Battery: 3,200 mAh
Here’s a device clearly designed to be outdoors. It’s pleasingly rugged and its 10W solar panel is supported by a really simple snap-out metal kickstand. The solar panel is a fold-out affair, so you get double the real estate you expect at first glance. That solar panel is covered in a protective layer and the entire device folds virtually flat, measuring 259x208x23 mm/10.2x8.2x0.9 inches and weighing 550g/19.4 oz. That makes it easy to travel with, while the kickstand’s flush fit when packed-down means it can be strapped to a backpack while hiking, or easily positioned on uneven ground.
However, what really makes the BioLite SolarPanel10+ different to most of its rivals is its built-in 3,200mAh lithium-ion battery. Its cells are arranged in a ridge along the back of the top of the BioLite SolarPanel10+, so it doesn’t much affect the product’s sleek packed design.
BioLite SolarPanel10+ review: features and what’s new
The BioLite SolarPanel10+’s key feature has to be that newly-increased capacity built-in battery, which comes with both a 5V/2.4-amp USB-A slot (for attaching any charging cable you want to a smartphone or tablet) and a micro USB slot (for charging the battery itself from the wall, which is a good idea before setting out on a trip). Both charging slots are hidden behind pop-out silicon rubber flaps, which round-off an excellent outdoor-centric design.
The battery’s presence means that when you fold-out and set-up the solar panel, and then attach a smartphone, it’s not actually charging your smartphone directly, but its battery. That means no interruption in charging when, for instance, the Sun goes behind a cloud.
On the battery are four LEDs that show how full it is, or otherwise; 25%, 50%, 75% or 100%. Those lights blink as it charges so you can easily see how charged-up it is and whether it’s currently charging.
BioLite SolarPanel10+ review: performance
The BioLite SolarPanel10+ works reasonably quickly and is easy to use, but the battery is fairly small. My advice is to top it up to full at home using the micro USB slot (which is rather outdated – it would be good to see USB-C being used by now) so you start with a full battery. After all, 3,200mAh is a top-up for a smartphone; it won’t refuel it completely.
Even when set-up in blazing sunshine it’s necessary to aim the BioLite SolarPanel10+ at the Sun. That may sound obvious, but the Earth moves at 18,000mph so it does need moving every 30 minutes or so. There’s a helpful sundial-style aiming device in the top corner so you can get maximum solar power.
Do that and the BioLite SolarPanel10+ refills its battery from its solar panel relatively quickly.
However, since it’s got a battery the best way to use it is to put it out in the sunshine with your smartphone cabled-up to it, but placed behind it in its shade (things can get pretty hot!). It will then recharge your smartphone using its battery then continue to charge it with sunshine. If you can it’s best to then just leave the BioLite SolarPanel10+ back at camp to recharge it completely while you go out for the day (though you will lose about 30% of its performance once its sundial goes out of alignment).
In my test – a sunny spring day with plenty of clouds – it took six hours to put 80% charge into a 10,000mAh portable battery before dark clouds rolled in, which was impressive. Although I did re-align the solar panel to maximise performance, I only did so occasionally.
BioLite SolarPanel10+ review: alternatives to consider
A very similar portable solar panel to the BioLite SolarPanel10+ is the Goal Zero Nomad 10, which produces the same power though it lacks a built-in battery. Not so the Powertraveller Kestrel 40, a slightly more powerful 12W solar panel with a huge built-in 10,000mAh battery.
BioLite SolarPanel10+ review: verdict
While most solar panels will drip-feed a smartphone only when it’s sunny, the BioLite SolarPanel10+ goes one better by including a built-in 3,200mAh battery. It’s a revelation. It means you can charge it up whenever it’s sunny, and then refuel a smartphone in the darkness.
My only slight concern is that the built-in battery is a little small, though physically it’s about the limit to keep the BioLite SolarPanel10+ sleek enough for travel. If you’re after a simple, reliable and versatile solar panel for going off-grid with a smartphone then the BioLite SolarPanel10+ comes fully recommended.