Solar power banks are a staple for many campers and adventurers. But how exactly do they work, and are they efficient at all? Here, we take a look at the best solar power banks.
2nd Best Choice
Renogy 15000 mAh Power Bank
3rd Best Choice
SunJack 15W Portable Solar Charger + Powerbank
When I go camping for a few days, I usually take a power bank to charge my smartphone. This is fine, but I’m often struck by an inevitable anxiety:
“What if my power bank runs out of juice?”
This anxiety eventually caused me to search for a solar power bank — a device that can be charged via the sun with little built-in solar panels.
While these solar power banks can take days to charge fully from sunlight, I now have the peace of mind to use my iPhone X in nature without losing juice entirely. Phew.
But what are the best solar power banks, and how do you use them? I aim to find out.
One of the things I like best about this power bank is it comes with 2 USB ports, so you can charge multiple devices at the same time.
The manufacturer estimates that 4 hours of direct sunlight on the solar panels leads to 25% charge, making the Solgaard Solarbank the best solar power bank on this list.
It can also charge even during overcast days, which is impressive.
This solar power bank has the ability to charge via a USB-C cable too, so if you happen to be near the grid, you can charge this battery pack in a couple of hours through regular electricity.
It’s always nice to have options.
Finally, the 4 LED indicators let you know how charged up the battery pack is, so you know when it’s time to get charging pronto.
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When it comes to solar charging phones, tablets, and other handheld devices, the Renogy 15000 mAh Power Bank is really useful.
The large 15000 mAh battery capacity will charge your average modern smartphone around 5-10 full times, but it’s also great for tablets and other devices.
A friend of mine took their Nintendo Switch on their 5-day camping trip to keep them entertained at night, and they said it powered their Switch just fine.
The only downside to me is the 10W slow charging — I really hoped to get a fast charger or charging capability with this solar power bank.
This one is a little different because it’s a bundle of a solar charger and power bank battery pack. You can use the solar charger power to charge your phone directly from the sun, or you can put the juice in the battery pack to save it for a later date.
For the solar panels, there are layers of both ETFE and PET which can stand a lot of stress and chemical aggression from the elements outdoors, so they’re perfect if you’re camping in less-than-ideal conditions.
The power bank this comes with has a capacity of 10,000 mAh, which is average for this kind of product.
However, the solar charge comes with two USB ports and wall outlet charging speeds, so it won’t keep you waiting around for hours to get your phone back.
This portable solar power bank has a large 25,000 mAh battery and 3 USB ports, allowing you to charge your phone and a further two devices simultaneously. This is very convenient if you’re camping with friends or you just have a ton of gadgets to charge.
According to Blavor, who are weirdly specific with their solar charger phone charging claims, this thing can charge an iPhone XS 7.4 times, a Galaxy S9 Plus 5.7 times, and an iPad Pro 1.6 times.
The solar power bank also comes with a built-in 36 LED flashlight, so it’s pretty good for tent lighting and emergency blackouts at home.
However, the actual solar charging on this one is terrible. I have a friend who lives in Florida, also known as the “sunshine state,” and they left it outside in the sun for a week to barely get over 25% charge. Oh dear.
Rain-resistant with an anti-slip design, the Nekteck portable solar power bank comes with a 10,000 mAh battery capacity which is… okay at best.
LED indicators let you know when it’s time to charge the battery, and this thing comes with two USB ports and one micro USB port, so you can charge two devices (like phones) at the same time and one smaller device simultaneously.
There’s also a highly stable Li-Polymer battery and 1,000 charge cycles in the battery’s lifetime, so it could be your longtime companion.
However, the solar charging takes literally forever to charge the battery until it's fully charged (days if not weeks of sunlight) and the battery capacity is meh.
Personally, I just use this as a backup and charge it from a wall outlet. You do you.
The Licorne 30,000 mAh has a decent sized battery capacity, dual USB ports to charge two devices at once, and a powerful built-in flashlight that’s brilliant for fumbling around in your tent at night.
However, it’s all downhill from there.
Where do I start with this thing?
Well first of all, the manufacturer explicitly states that you shouldn’t use solar charging as your primary power source (what’s the point in it then?) and I can see why — it took me 5 days to get barely more than 40% of it charged up.
If that wasn’t annoying enough, this solar power bank is bulky, heavy, and overheats easily too. If you’re camping in a relatively hot climate, you might run into problems like I did.
Do you want the best solar power bank you can find? Make sure you don’t buy this thing at all costs.
Okay, first things first, how much juice do you actually need?
The battery capacity is measured in mAh. The higher the mAh, the more charges you’ll get out of it.
Most of the best solar power banks have battery capacities between 10,000 mAh and 25,000 mAh, though you can get ones as high as 50,000 mAh.
A standard smartphone these days has a battery of around 2,000 mAh depending on the brand. This means that a 10,000 mAh powerbank could charge this phone fully 3 or 4 times, allowing for the inevitable loss of energy.
If you’ve got a new iPhone with a huge battery or you want to charge your tablet a few times, you need to look for high-capacity batteries that are 25,000 mAh or higher.
Remember, the solar panel kits on these power banks aren’t amazing (usually) so you need to measure out your charges carefully.
If you’re only going to charge your smartphone, find out the size of the battery. Chances are that it’s around 1,500 to 2,000 mAh. Divide your power bank’s capacity by this number:
For example, 25,000 mAh power bank ÷ 1,500 mAh phone battery = 16.66 charges
However, batteries are not perfect and we need to account for lost energy, so assume that only 65% of the potential power will make it through.
65% of 16.66 charges = 10.8 charges
We expect to charge our 2000 mAH battery smartphone 5 times using a 10000mAH power bank as 2000 x 5 =10000. However, in reality, your phone will get charged about 3 times!! A quick rule of thumb is to assume that the real world capacity of your powerbank is 2/3 of the theoretical capacity mentioned on the box.
PowerBankGuide, Portable Power Experts
Even the best solar power banks take a long time to charge fully from solar power alone.
In fact, the amount of direct sunlight needed to charge from solar energy could be 100 hours or more. In other words, a few weeks.
However, you don’t need to charge the power bank fully all the time — a day of sunlight will often be enough to charge your devices at least once or twice on a good day.
If you’re looking to rely on grid energy as little as possible, look for power banks with multiple fold-out solar panels that maximize the energy they can get from the sun.
How big and heavy can you afford your power bank to be?
If you’re packing light for your camping trip and there’s plenty of room in your rucksack, then you might want to go for one of the bigger units with multiple solar panels and a large battery capacity.
On the other hand, if you’re already lugging a ton of stuff around and space is limited, you might want to try a smaller, less efficient option.
I personally like to go on long nature walks when I camp, so I like to have my power bank with me in case my phone’s battery starts to drain. For this reason, I prefer a small charger that can fit in my pocket without dragging me down.
If you need to charge multiple devices at once, make sure you’re able to do this. Depending on your charging needs, you might need one USB port, two USB ports, or more.
For example, if I go camping with a friend, we will both want to charge our phones overnight, so two USB slots is a minimum.
If you’ve got to charge more than one or two devices, such as two phones and a Nintendo Switch, then you need to look for power banks with even more connections and USB slots.
Most solar charger and power bank devices come with dual USB slots these days, but it does vary, so make sure you always check.
Also bear in mind that some products will have USB ports with different output speeds, so one might be good for fast charging while the other takes twice as long to charge the same amount.
I’m clumsy. Like, really clumsy. I always make sure my electronic devices have military-grade armor to protect them from the several drops they will inevitably encounter at my hands.
Solar power banks are no different.
A strong, durable exterior is essential for any solar power bank. Not only are you taking this thing on camping trips full of mud and debris, but it also needs to be resistant to falls, getting thrown into backpacks, and just generally being tossed around haphazardly.
Camping and adventuring are naturally a bit rough sometimes, and if you’re a klutz like myself, all the more reason to find a durable power bank.
It’s super boring, but you might need to learn some stuff about waterproofing and all the different codes and phrases used to signify how weatherproof your solar power bank is.
Unless you plan to keep an eye on your power bank all the time when it’s charging in the sun, you need to make sure that it can withstand some rain, bad weather, and extreme temperatures.
You’ll often see ratings like “IP67” and “IP68” to refer to waterproofing.
IP67 means the unit can be dropped into a body of water up to a meter deep for half an hour, while IP68 guarantees protection in water up to 1.5m deep for the same period of time. Both are resistant to dust.
Alastair Stevenson, TrustedReviews Editor
The best solar power banks and charger units are able to be battered around by the elements without flinching.
Additional features you might want to think about include built-in LED flashlights, Qi charging capabilities, fast charging, indicator lights, and non-slip casing.
Built-in LED flashlights are low-power and can be a lifesaver in emergency situations, whether you’re at home during a blackout or in the middle of a forest at night.
Qi and fast charging help if you’ve got a modern phone, while indicator lights help you to know how full (or empty!) your power bank’s battery is.
Finally, non-slip casing is a great additional feature if you’re clumsy or you want to dangle your solar power bank in an unusual position to charge (on the side of a rock etc.)
Okay, so solar power banks and solar chargers — what’s the difference?
A solar power bank is a portable battery pack with a solar panel integrated into the unit. The solar panel is usually small, at 5W or less.
Sometimes there will be one solar panel or sometimes multiple solar panels will fold out, but they will ALWAYS be attached to the power bank.
Solar power banks are designed to hold charge so you can charge your smartphone, tablet, and other small devices when it suits you.
However, they take days to get fully charged from solar energy alone, so most people charge them up at home and then “top them up” with solar energy throughout the day. They’re best for shorter trips.
A portable solar charger is basically a solar panel that hooks up directly to your phone, tablet, or other small device, charging it immediately through the energy of the sun’s rays hitting the solar panel.
There is no way to “store” the charge in a battery — it must flow to your device straight away.
The solar panel with a portable solar charger is normally large and efficient, usually somewhere between 5-25W. This is essential because a portable solar charger cannot be charged from a wall outlet.
Lightweight yet powerful, a solar charger is best used for longer camping trips or an off-the-grid cabin.
You have to take note though that most people frequently interchange the two terms, and that's also okay, since the purpose of these two devices is basically the same.
If you’re on a short-term camping trip, then a portable solar power bank could be the perfect way to charge two devices or more at the same tent when you’re sleeping or just having some downtime.
This is especially true if you’re not going to have access to the grid where you’re camping.
If you’re going with a solar power bank rather than a portable solar charger, I would recommend fully charging the power bank at home with a wall outlet first and then using the built-in solar panel to help keep the battery topped up on your trip.
For longer camping trips, look for high-capacity batteries (20,000 mAh or more) and the best solar power banks with multiple fold-out solar panels.
Also consider the climate you’re visiting and how waterproof/durable you may need the unit to be.
If you’re preparing for a natural disaster, loss of power, or full-blown zombie apocalypse, then a solar power bank could be a good investment for you.
If you charge up the bank via grid power (before the end of the world) and then keep it in sunlight throughout the day, you should get several days of juice to charge your devices.
Plus, if you get enough sunlight, you can help to keep it topped up. If you’re planning to be without electricity for several days or weeks, I would recommend getting a portable solar charger as well.
In the event of an emergency or natural disaster, you might not have access to wall power for charging your devices or your power bank. In this case, a solar power bank gives you a way to keep your phone charged, so you can stay in touch with relatives or for contacting emergency services.
Radu, PowerBankExpert Writer
If you live off-the-grid, you may benefit from one of the best solar power banks with a high battery capacity and multiple fold-out solar panel sections.
While it’s not as effective as having a full-on solar panel kit for your home, a solar power bank could be a great little device for keeping your small devices charged up.
Ideally, you could pair a high-performing power bank with a high-quality solar charger or solar panel kit.
That way, you can have power at your home and then take a portable battery with you when travelling in nature, keeping the device’s solar panel in the sunlight to help keep the charge up.
While it’s recommended that you charge most solar power banks via a wall outlet before taking them out, the best solar power banks come with multiple solar panels that are better at charging from the sun’s rays alone.
Not all solar power banks are born equal.
If you’re looking to reduce your carbon footprint as much as possible but your phone still needs to be fully changed, I recommend you find a high-quality device with a high battery capacity (25,000 mAh or more is great) and multiple panels.
This way, you can keep one or two devices charged up without relying on the grid, which often uses fossil fuels for its power.
You may have to use wall outlets occasionally, but you’ll definitely reduce your dependency on fossil fuels… and that’s the goal!
You know what I’m really good at? Forgetting chargers. I do it all the time, and it’s really bloody annoying. I need my phone for my job, GPS, and a bunch of other stuff.
Like most people in the 21st century… no phone is not an option.
Now, I don’t believe in “forcing myself to remember my phone charger,” because that just won’t work for me. I believe in building backup systems and contingencies.
As a result, I keep a small power bank in my car and a small power bank in my office. This way, I always have backup power when my charger is nowhere to be seen.
When I don’t need these battery packs because I’ve remembered my charging cables, I can just leave them in direct sunlight on my dashboard or office window sill. Whenever I need them, they’re always charged up and ready to go. Convenient.
In most cases, a solar power bank can charge smaller electronic devices no bigger than a tablet. They usually have one or two USBs for their outputs, so you’re usually looking at charging smaller devices that use USB charging. This includes:
Some newer electronic devices will use USB-C, USB 3.0, or micro-USB charging systems. Modern smartphones might also use wireless Qi charging systems.
If you’ve got devices that need a unique charger connection, be sure to check this ahead of time.
The vast majority of phones these days charge via USB, so as long as you have the correct charger cable, you should be able to fully charge basically any modern smartphone with your power bank’s solar phone charging capabilities.
If your phone has wireless Qi charging, be sure to look for a power bank that supports this feature — you’ll probably end up paying quite a bit for a device that can support this.
Phones compatible with a solar power bank include:
You can fully charge any of these phones with a solar power bank and the right charger cable. The essential part is taking the correct charger cable OR buying a compatible power bank if your phone uses Qi charging.
A word of advice, however — you might not want to fully charge the phone up to 100%.
Make sure to only charge your phone from power bank to up to 85%. Because according to Lapguard your phone starts to discharge when it has full charging which means you will be wasting the power of your solar charger by charging your phone to 100%
Phone-Tree, Smartphone Specialists
Solar power banks last for various times according to their battery capacity. With a 10,000 mAh device, you’ll get 5 charges from an average smartphone. If the battery is 25,000 mAh, you could get 12 charges from an average smartphone.
Yes, solar chargers really do work. A solar charger uses solar panels to send solar power to your phone or devices directly, bypassing the need for a battery power bank.
You can charge your solar bank either via a wall outlet charger (in most cases) or with direct sunlight on the device’s built-in solar panel. However, solar charging can be very slow, so most users charge their solar bank with a wall outlet and then use solar charging as a “top up.”
A power bank should take 1-2 hours to charge via a wall outlet or fast USB port. If you’ve got a solar power bank that you want to charge from solar energy, you could be looking at 100+ hours of direct sunlight in order to charge the power bank fully.
You can speed up your solar charger by placing it in direct sunlight (i.e. not through a window), by pointing the solar panel toward the sun carefully, and by changing its position throughout the day to reach optimum sunlight.
All things considered, it’s clear to me that the Solgaard Solarbank is the best solar power bank on this list.
4 hours of sunlight can charge your smartphone, there are dual USB slots for charging your devices, and it’s very lightweight and portable when camping.
It even has 5 LED indicator lights to let you know when it needs charging.
The Solgaard's pure portability, durability, and convenience make it my #1 pick for sure.
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