Pop one of the best solar chargers into your pack and you'll always have something to juice up your outdoor gadgets when you're out and about. We've all been there: a new summit, an exciting day out – and no photo to show for it, cos your battery died during the day. At home and around town it's easy to just plug in and grab a battery-top-up, but out in the wilds it's a different matter, and while picking up one of the best power banks is certainly a good solution, they're only good for one charge, and toting around multiple packs isn't much fun when you're carrying the weight.
The solution is a solar charger, which even in the dank UK climate can make an astonishing difference, and in places that are actually sunny can keep your tech fully juiced up indefinitely. And it's an eco-friendly and wallet-friendly option, too. Whether you're wanting to stay fully connected via your smartphone on your trip, or just want to be sure you're never out of light in the evening, without the guidance of a hiking GPS to keep you on track, or left without a contact option in an emergency, a solar charger will have you back. This guide rounds up the best solar chargers around. We'll start with some buying advice before moving onto our top picks.
Best solar charger 2022: what to look out for
The key question with solar chargers is how portable you want them to be. The Jackery 500 combination below might be enough to power a small house, but it weighs like one too. At the other end of the scale, small 7-10 watt panels will help top up a smartphone, but will only keep pace with demand in ideal, sunny conditions.
Linked to portability is the capacity you need – or in other words, what devices you plan to run. Phones, GPS units, action cameras and the odd tablet can get away with relatively small power packs and panels, while laptops and larger appliances will need serious amounts of power to operate. It's worth doing the maths by checking the device mains adapters and working out how many watts an hour (Wh) they use before choosing a solar charger, otherwise disappointment will often follow.
A final thing to consider is ruggedness. While most outdoor solar chargers are fairly robust, some are more waterproof than others, for example. If you're planning very wet or dusty adventures then look for the relevant IPX rating to ensure you're not left powerless in the middle of nowhere.
We've chosen a wide range of the best solar chargers here, from large and powerful to small and lightweight, to suit all situations, from the campervan holiday to the extended trek. Read on for the very best solar chargers on the market today.
The best solar chargers 2022
The Jackery Solar Generator 500 package is a substantial chunk of hardware, but what it lacks in portability, it makes up for in potency. With a 100W solar panel to capture the sun's rays, and a massive 24Ah Li_ion battery, the combination will run pretty much anything from TVs to projectors to small blenders, and obviously phones, laptops and action cameras. The presence of a standard UK plug socket makes this pretty clear, but there's also a bank of USBs and car-style DC charger ports too, ensuring even the most specialised gadgets can be juiced up with ease. While the power pack is impressive, the solar panel also has direct outputs, so you can charge USB devices direct from the panel as a shortcut. At 6kg this isn't one for carrying into the wilderness, but as a complete off-grid powerstation that actually works, it's got a lot going for it.
The Decathlon Quechua Camping Solar Panel 50 W delivers a lot of bang for buck, with a decent 50W array linked to a small control box. This is a critical component, stopping phones going into safety mode by stabilising the output current. A pair of USB A ports will charge most smaller devices in double-quick time, given enough sunlight, and ingeniously the Quechua team have made the panel output cable nice and long (3.5m), so it can be sited outside a tent in the sunniest spot, and allow you to charge up inside. For under £130, that's quite a rounded package, albeit missing a battery pack.
If all you need from a solar charger is something to keep your smartphone charged up while you're off on an adventure, the Powertraveller Solar Adventurer I should do the job. It's not exactly over-powered; its solar panel is rated at 3W and it feeds a built-in 3,500 mAh lithium-ion battery. That's not a lot, about enough to deliver about 50% charge to the average smartphone, and the Solar Adventurer takes its sweet time about it, too.
That said, it's a compact and lightweight solar charger with a neat clamshell look, and it comes complete with its own carabiner so that you can simply hang it off your backpack. It's a lot more portable than more fully-featured solar chargers, so why pay more for a heavier option if all you want is to stop your phone from running out of juice?
The trouble with some solar systems is that there's a lot of faff. Plugging things together, connecting battery packs, checking output ratings... it's all a bit much after a long day. The massive benefit of the Biolite SolarPanel 10+ Foldable 10W Panel is that it's all in one. Just unfold the two panels, whip out the kickstand, and you're off. There's a helpful sundial to get the optimum angle for maximum charging, and a USB power out to connect a phone, tablet or other battery pack if needs be. Weighing in at just over a half a kilo, this is an excellent portable system for dedicated off-grid travellers, although not powerful enough to handle larger devices, as our tester noted in our Biolite SolarPanel 10+ review.
What the Goal Zero Nomad 20 shines when it comes to functional design and versatility. When not in use, it folds flat, and packs down to 1kg/2.28 lbs, which makes it really easy to travel with. The kickstand makes it easy to position when the skies are clear, although a built-in compass might have been useful to help with orientation. In our Goal Zero Nomad 20 solar charger review, it took our tester a full 12 hours in mixed (but mostly sunny) conditions to fill a 20,000mAh, and about three hours of strong sunshine to refuel an iPhone 13 Pro's 3,095 mAh battery. The main downside here is that there's no battery, which means this solar charger will only charge things up when it's sunny. As a workaround, we'd recommend attaching a portable battery to the Nomad's USB slot and then charging your gadgets from there.
If the Biolite sounds too heavy for your trekking needs, then the PowerTraveller Sport should see you right. Dropping down to just over 400 grams, this combo still gives you a 7 watt solar array, and a substantial 6700mAh power pack that'll recharge a phone up to three times, depending on temperature and usage, etc. The foldable panel is IPX4 rated which means it can withstand splashes of water for 5 minutes, and can be attached to rucksacks, tents and pretty much anywhere else too. The power pack is IP67 rated (1 metre of water for up to 30 minutes), and also has a 150 lumen torch with built-in SOS mode, which is potentially jolly handy in emergencies. Overall, it's light, powerful enough for small devices, and rugged – an excellent performer.
The marriage of the robust Venture 75 power pack with the popular Nomad 10 solar panel was a good idea by someone at Goalzero. The Venture is a properly ruggedised power pack (IP67 rated) that pumps out a decent 71.04Wh (11.1V, 6400mAh) – enough for most smaller devices – and also now features a 60W USB-C Power in/out port for flexibility and speed. It's also got a 50 lumen emergency flashlight built in, which could well come in handy. The well-proven Nomad panel is lightweight but powerful and relatively durable, and is also easy to site wherever needed thanks to the corner tie-in loops.