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To the old school purist, bringing electronics along on an outdoor adventure might be seen as a travesty.
Today we have electronic devices like GPS units and Personal Locator Beacons that are actually designed for use in the great outdoors.
Realistically, there are a lot of electronics that are worth using while you are outdoors, or traveling anywhere away from home.
But how can your keep your battery charged when there is no power source available?
That’s why Fly Fishing Atlas brings you our review of the best portable solar charger.
Voltaic Systems Arc 20W
Voltaic Systems not only wanted to make a solar charging unit that would provide energy to a huge number of devices, but also one that came in a stylish package.
The Arc 20W is a high-powered solar charger that will not only charge the battery on a your laptop, smartphone, or GoPro camera, but also looks great too.
The Arc 20W comes with a battery pack (which the company calls the “Power Bank”) which then connects directly to your device, allowing you to charge it quickly.
Voltaic Systems claims that you can charge the battery pack in six hours, provided you leave the solar panel out in direct sunlight.
The Arc 20W is surprisingly travel-friendly. Fully extended, the solar panel pack measures 33.9 by 10 inches with minimal depth.
But folded away, it is just 7.5 by 10 by 0.8 inches, meaning that it’ll easily fit into a backpack and possibly a laptop case.
The Arc is relatively lightweight too at just 3.5 pounds, including the battery pack, meaning that it is worth taking on hiking and camping trips to provide energy for your portable devices.
The Arc 20W does, unfortunately, have an issue with the LED charging lights which Voltaic Systems says that it is currently trying to resolve.
It’s often unclear whether the blinking lights on the LED mean that the unit is charging or not.
Most users just ignore the LED display and find it easier to check the battery indicator on the device if you want an accurate output.
So who is the Arc for? Unlike the S14 by Suntactics, the Arc is not all-weather survival gear. It’s for people who want to be able to charge their devices while out of the home on sunny days, such as at the beach or the park.
It is suitable for camping, so long as you have good weather. The battery attachment makes this device impractical for use in the rain.
Anker 21W Dual USB Solar Charger
When Anker was designing its dual USB solar charger, the firm realized that the current solar panel charging products weren’t giving people what they wanted: speed.
Solar chargers would often take hours to deliver power to electronic devices, and sometimes longer, causing frustration.
People want their solar chargers to give them full battery quickly while they are out of the home or during a power cut. In an emergency, you need energy fast.
Anker’s solar charger uses PowerIQ technology.
It’s a unique, in-house design that enables the charger to deliver charge to devices more quickly than standard panels on the market.
That’s not to say that it’s super fast: this isn’t a Tesla supercharger.
But it is noticeably quicker than many equivalent products on the market.
Anker also wanted to solve a second problem: that of portability. Solar panel chargers weighing more than a pound dominate the market, but they’re often too heavy to be practical for people going on long excursions.
Hikers, for instance, want the convenience of a solar charger, but don’t want to have to put up with the weight penalty.
Because Anker eschews battery packs and uses a PET polymer to house the solar panels, the firm managed to get the weight of the unit down to an impressive 13 ounces – well under a pound.
Given the size of the panel, and the fact that it can output 21W under ideal conditions, that’s pretty good.
You can charge two small USB devices with the panel, or a single larger device, such as a laptop.
Anker doesn’t market its dual USB solar charger as rain resistant. But through our testing, we’ve found that the unit does work after water exposure.
This product, therefore, is for people who want something that is light and portable and should resist water.
Suntactics S5 Solar Charger
Suntactics markets the S5 as a premium product, made in the US from high-quality materials.
The marketing message is clear: this is the type of product you can rely on during a natural disaster or power outage.
The construction of the solar panel is smart. Suntactics designed the unit with all electronic components and circuits on the inside under protective casing.
Suntactics lists the S5 as water resistant and tests the product down to 40 feet, so the S5 solar panel should have no issues working outdoors in the rain during a storm.
What about charging capacity? How does the S5 fare on that front? Suntactics says that the panel offers 1200mA at 5 volts, meaning that it’s capable of charging most standard smartphones or tablets.
For that reason, is it a good portable solar panel for camping, providing plenty of juice for couples and buddies staying under canvas.
Compatability is good too. The S5 uses USB ports to which you can fit practically any kind of charger for a portable electronic device.
The solar panel will charge all Apple and Samsung phones, and will even double up as a charger for your rechargeable AA or AAA power packs – useful for when you want to charge the batteries for your flashlight in an emergency.
Although Suntactics claims that the solar panel will output greater than 5 watts, it’s unlikely you’ll average this kind of performance in the real world.
Cloud cover, position, and your current latitude all mean that it is doubtful you’ll consistently see the maximum theoretical performance. With that said, it still provides surprisingly high output given its relative compactness.
SunJack Portable Solar Charger
The SunJack portable solar phone charger is another product designed in the USA. But does it deliver?
One of the most exciting aspects of the SunJack is the choice of materials.
During the design phase of their portable solar charger, SunJack decided that it was going to do away with the usual PET material that covers the majority of solar panels on the market.
The company opted for ETFE instead, a plastic that can withstand both higher temperatures and a wider variety of corrosive chemicals. ETFE comes with an additional benefit too: higher ultra-violet permeability, 95 percent compared to PET’s 80 percent.
SunJack says that this simple change makes their charger substantially more efficient than others on the market, allowing it to collect more solar energy from a smaller surface area.
The SunJack, therefore, is a camper or hiker’s dream.
It’s small, lightweight and provides sufficient charge to power a phone or small computer, making it one of the best portable solar panels for campers.
SunJack also targets the survivalist market too. As long as there’s sunshine, the company says, you can use its product to power your telephone and call for help after snowstorms, natural disasters, floods or terrorist incident.
Are there any downsides to the product?
The main issue is the length of time that it takes for the product to deliver energy to your devices.
Charging a regular mobile device, such as an iPhone, can take up to 8 hours. If charging during the night, that wouldn’t be a problem, but the lack of battery pack makes it a hassle.
You would prefer to leave the solar panel out during the daytime charging a battery pack, as with the Voltaic Systems solar phone charger, and then use the battery pack at night to charge the phone, repeating the cycle for as many nights as you need it.
Unfortunately, with the SunJack, you have to connect your devices to the unit directly, while the sun shines.
The Sunjack portable charger, therefore, is for people who want a small, compact unit and are prepared to wait for their device to charge during the daytime. It’s not ideal for the impatient.
RAVPower 24W Solar Panel Charger
RAVPower wanted to give people a large solar charger with plenty of connections at a lightweight.
And to be fair, that’s precisely what the company achieves with its 24W solar panel charger.
The panel is the largest in RAVPower’s range and comes in at 21 ounces.
That’s not particularly light, but nor is it overly heavy either, especially if you are sharing hiking loads with other people.
RAVPower includes a special hook with their panel, allowing you to wear it over the back of your rucksack while hiking, collecting solar energy as you travel during the day, instead of having to wait until you stop.
Like many of the other solar panels we’ve discussed so far, the RAVPower is a direct-to-device charging unit.
However, you can buy a battery pack and get all of the benefits of charging during the day and then discharging into your devices at night.
Purchasing a separate pack adds to both the weight and cost, but provides you with greater flexibility while allowing you to collect solar energy as you travel more efficiently.
RAVPower built their flagship 24W panel with quality in mind. The quality of construction is high, making it useful for both emergency use and repeated outdoor adventures.
The people who stand to benefit most are those who frequently go on hiking expeditions or those who want something powerful enough to keep their mobile devices charged during a prolonged power cut.
Do solar phone chargers really work?
Yes, solar phone chargers do work. However, they are not as effective as a power wall socket charger at delivering a sustained charge to your portable device.
A solar charger is a mini solar panel that harnesses the energy of the sun to power your mobile phone.
It will take between six and ten hours to charge your phone from a solar panel. However, they will only charge when exposed to direct sunlight.
That means that the chargeability of your phone id dependent on the vagaries of the weather.
Large solar panels such as those on the roof of a house, are able to store the sun’s energy to compensate for periods when the sun is not shining.
However, you do not get this capability with a mini solar charger, such as that used to charge a phone.
How do portable solar chargers work?
Portable solar chargers work by converting heat from the sun into energy that your battery is able to store.
It uses what is known as a photovoltaic solar panel. This is the same technology that is used for solar heating of houses but on a hugely reduced scale.
Portable solar battery chargers are capable of putting out between 500 and 1,500 mA.
Portable solar chargers do not have regulators so they will continue to provide solar energy with no regard for the actual needs of the device.
This may lead to problems associated with the overcharging of a device.
Can you charge a laptop with solar power?
Yes, you can charge your laptop with solar power. There has been quite an advance in mini solar charging technology over the last few years which has made this possible.
However, it is not recommended to connect your laptop to solar while it is in the process of receiving energy from the sun.
Rather, you should allow the charger to fully power up and then take it inside to transfer that energy to your computer.
This is a less efficient way to charge our computer and will result in quite a bit of loss of charge during the transfer process.
A solar charger is too inconsistent a power source to allow you to directly charge your laptop.
Can I charge a battery directly from a solar panel?
Yes, you can use a solar panel to directly charge a battery, but you will need a couple of extra things.
In addition to the solar panel and the battery, you will need a charge controller. This device will automatically stop the charging process when the battery is fully charged.
This prevents overcharging, which may damage the battery.
You will also need an inverter, which makes the energy that comes through the solar panel able to be used in your devices.
It will take between 5-8 hours in order to fully charge a battery from a solar panel, depending on the size fo the battery.
Portable Solar Charger Considerations
We like our outdoor electronics as much as anyone. Whether you need to charge your digital camera, smartphone, or a full sized laptop, we have you covered.
Which portable solar charger will work the best for your needs will depend on how you want to use it.
There are a number of worthwhile factors to consider before you purchase a portable solar panel.
Check out those details below, or jump right to our comparison chart for the quick answers.
Top Solar Charger Benefits
Top benefits of solar chargers:
Any portable solar charger needs to produce enough power for your particular equipment or it won’t be of much use to you.
Waiting around before you can use your devices can be frustrating. And if you are relying on GPS for navigation it might present you with a very dangerous situation. Being able to charge your electronics quickly is a real advantage.
Portable solar chargers produce power when the sun is shining bright.
So what do you do if you need power, but the sun refuses to play along?
This is why power storage, often called power banks, are an excellent addition to your solar panels.
When the sun is high, you can charge you power bank for later use.
These units weight more than those without power storage, so they might not be desirable as a power device while backpacking.
Nevertheless, they are very effective for providing regulated power in remote areas.
If you are mainly moving your portable solar charger around in your vehicle then weight won’t be much of an issue.
But if you are biking or backpacking then you really don’t want to go to the point of over-kill.
Keeping your load at a minimum will save you vital energy, so it’s important to find a good balance between performance and weight.
This is another consideration that won’t be vital if you primarily drive to remote locations.
But if you need your portable solar panel to fit in your pack, then the size will be absolutely vital.
Some chargers have a folding design that minimizes their size, but still provides a large surface area when unfolded.
It’s the best of both worlds in the sense that you get better charging capability in a smaller package.
There are a ton of different power requirements depending on your electronic device.
USB connections are super common but finding regulated power with the correct voltage and amperage can be really important in order to avoid damaging your electronics.
Beyond USB ports, higher voltage laptop ports are another highly desirable option.
If size and weight aren’t particularly concerning for your application, then getting a portable solar charger with a lot of connection options is going to provide a lot of added value.