The Best Portable Solar Panel Review

What is the best solar charger for your phone, tablet and other small electronics when off the grid? To find out, we took eleven contenders and put them in head-to-head tests. We compared them on the following categories: output power, ease of use, weight, and versatility. In the end we found big differences in the panels we tested. Some worked well for all our needs and some barely charged anything. We also found there is not one best panel for all needs. Read on to find out which is the best solar charger for your application.

Read the full review below >

Review by: Chris McNamara ⋅ Founder and Editor-in-Chief, OutdoorGearLab September 19, 2013

Top Ranked Solar Chargers Displaying 1 - 5 of 12 << Previous | View All | Next >>
Our Ranking #1 #2 #3 #4 #5
Product Name
SolarMonkey Adventurer
SolarMonkey Adventurer
Read the Review
Video video review
Bushnell Bear Grylls SolarWrap Mini
Bushnell Bear Grylls SolarWrap Mini
Read the Review
Goal Zero Nomad 13
Goal Zero Nomad 13
Read the Review
Video video review
PowerTraveller SolarGorilla
PowerTraveller SolarGorilla
Read the Review
Instapark Mercury 10
Instapark Mercury 10
Read the Review
Video video review
Editors' Awards  Editors' Choice Award  Best Buy Award  Top Pick Award    Best Buy Award 
Street Price Varies $95 - $117
Compare at 2 sellers
Varies $35 - $60
Compare at 3 sellers
Varies $159 - $160
Compare at 2 sellers
Varies $165 - $229
Compare at 3 sellers
$83
Compare at 1 sellers
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100% recommend it (2/2)
Pros Light, simple, charges tablets, internal battery, good low light performance.Light, inexpensive, simple, internal battery.Very robust and versatile, well integrated with other Goal Zero products.Light, simple, charges tablets, internal battery, good low light performance.Light, inexpensive, simple, can charge two devices at once.
Cons Can't charge multiple devices.No cigarette lighter adapter, only charges USB devices.Heavy, expensive, only one USB port.Can't charge multiple devices.No cigarette lighter adapter: only charges USB devices.
Best Uses Backpacking, sailing, hiking, car camping.Backpacking, sailing, hiking, car camping.Backcountry travel where you need serious power, car camping, sailing.Backpacking, sailing, hiking, car camping.Backpacking, sailing, hiking, car camping.
Date Reviewed Mar 20, 2013Sep 19, 2013Apr 30, 2013Apr 30, 2013May 02, 2013
Weighted Scores SolarMonkey Adventurer Bushnell Bear Grylls SolarWrap Mini Goal Zero Nomad 13 PowerTraveller SolarGorilla Instapark Mercury 10
Output Power - 30%
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6
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Ease Of Use - 20%
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Weight - 30%
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Versatility - 20%
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Product Specs SolarMonkey Adventurer Bushnell Bear Grylls SolarWrap Mini Goal Zero Nomad 13 PowerTraveller SolarGorilla Instapark Mercury 10
Size folded (inches) 6.75 x 3.5 x 0.8 4.5 x 1.25 x 1.5 10.5 x 9 x 1.5 10.5 x 8 x 0.75 9 x 6.5 x 1
Panel Size (watts) 3 5 13 10 10
Max Output Power (watts) 3.5 4 13 10 10
Max Output Current (amps) 0.7 1.0 1.0 0.5 0.57
Internal Battery Yes yes Yes No No
OGL Weight (LB/KG) 0.6/0.260 .25/.11 2.0/0.9 2.0/0.9 1.2/0.54
Charge iPhone/smartphone yes yes yes Yes Yes
Charge tablet Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Charge laptop? No No Yes Yes No
Direct USB Plug? Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes - 2
Daisy Chain? No No Yes No No
12-Volt cigarette adapter No No Optional Yes No
Warranty 1 year 1 year 1 year 1 year 1 year

OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review



Click to enlarge
Clockwise from upper left: Joos Orange, SolarMonkey Adventurer, Goal Zero Nomad 13, and Goal Zero Nomad 7.
Credit: Chris McNamara
Output Power: Watts Up?
In our past reviews, there was a high correlation between the watt rating and the highest output power. A 10-watt panel was generally about two times more powerful than a 5-watt panel. This is because they all generally had output power similar to the highest power rating of the panel. Things have changed. In our last round of tests you really need to look at the output power more the total power rating of the panel.

This is a little confusing so here is an example:
The SolarMonkey Adventure and Joos Orange are only rated 3 watts and yet both were able to charge iPads and reliably charge iPhones. The Goal Zero Nomad 7 has a watt rating that is 2+ times higher (7 watts) and yet could not charge an iPad and ran into issues when charging our iPad mini and iPhones. Why? Even though the Nomad seven is a 7-watt panel, the max output power using the USB connection is only 2.5 watts. The max output power of the Solarmonkey is 3.5 watts and the max output power of the Joos is 5+ watts.

The bottom line: the watt rating of the panel is not the only thing to consider. You also need to look at the max output power. See our spec sheet for which types of devices you can charge with each panel.

The Goal Zero Nomad 13 had the highest output power of all the panels we tested. Right behind it was the PowerTraveller SolarGorilla. Both were the only panels that could charge a laptop. Behind those was the Instapark Mercury 10. This was one of the few panels with two USB outputs. If your main goal is to charge two phones and/or tablets, this was an incredible value. Also of note was the Joos Orange. This panel has a low watt rating but its output power was quite impressive. It charged smart phones as fast or faster than any other panel we tested.

Ease of Use
Ease of Use mainly rates how easy it is to connect the device you want to charge. Panels with one or two direct USB plugs scored the highest. Panels that require that you keep track of additional cables scored lower. In this round of testing, we were happy to see that more and more panels have direct USB plugs. This means that the panel can be easily shared with multiple different devices and smart phones. All you and your friends have to remember to bring is a charging cable. In contrast, some panels show up with so many adapters that it looks like a socket wrench set (and requires near OCD skills in keeping everything well-organized.).
Click to enlarge
InstaPark Mercury 10 solar panel with two USB ports and a generous pocket.
Credit: Chris McNamara
In addition, we like panels that have a built-in pouch in which to keep your device and USB cable. For example, the Instapark 10 comes with two USB ports and a generous pocket that holds your phone, extra battery (optional), and USB cable. It also comes with little strings at the corners that allow you to hang the panel from bushes or hooks.

A panel like the Joos Orange gets a mixed ease-of-use score. There is no direct USB connection, so you have to always remember the Joos cord and an adapter and possibly your USB charging cable. On the other hand, it was the only panel that is self-supporting and can be easily oriented perpendicular to the sun.

Weight
Weight gets high weighting in our scores. After all, the whole point of a portable solar panel is to be, well, portable. A panel that weighs less than a pound and is very compact is generally all we take for most outdoor situations: hiking, backpacking, biking and climbing. If the panel weighs more than a pound and a half, it really needs to do some heavy duty charging of multiple devices and/or a laptop.

Also, consider that weight will increase if you need to bring multiple charging cables and/or a case. The weights in our spec sheet only include the weight of the panel.

The clear winner here was the SolarMonkey Adventurer. It is not only light, it is also very compact. It fits in most jacket pockets and barely fit in our blue jeans pocket.
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The SolarMonkey Adventurer just barely fits in a jeans pock for charging while walking. It easily fits in most jacket pocks.
Credit: Chris McNamara

If you are boating, weight doesn't really matter. Take that into account when looking at the scores.

Versatility: How many devices can you charge?
Versatility matters greatly to some and not at all to others. If all you need to do is charge a cell phone, then don't pay as much attention to the versatility score. You mainly just want a lightweight device with a USB output that is simple and easy to use.

However, if you want to charge multiple devices and bigger devices like a laptop, then versatility is much more important. The Nomad 13 is the highest rated in this category because it can charge so many different devices. If you have other Goal Zero batteries and lights it can charge even more. It was also one of the few panels that can be daisy-chained with others. Right behind it was the SolarGorilla. This panel can charge just about anything, including a laptop. The downside to this panel is that it only charges one device at a time. The Joos Orange was the most versatile small panel. It can charge just about anything short of the laptop and was the only panel to be water resistant and has a hole that allows you to lock the panel up. The Joos is also the only panel with replaceable battery.

Home Solar Panels
The world headquarters (AKA my house) of our sister site, SuperTopo.com, just went solar. Check out this detailed guide on how to choose home solar panels. The article contains photos, video, and many external links to help you evaluate if going solar is right for you.

The Bottom Line
Click to enlarge
SolarMonkey Adventurer in the included case.
Credit: SolarMonkey

Editors' Choice
The SolarMonkey Adventurer wins our top honors because it is the best choice for charging a cell phone or tablet, which is what most people need. It is very light, compact and comes with an internal battery. While many panels require you to keep track of multiple adapters and tables, with the Solar Monkey you just bring your device and its charging cable and you're good to go. There is also the big bonus of being able to clip this on the outside of your pack or generally suck up power during the day (while you are working on your phone). Then plug in your phone at night and grab power from the battery.

Best Buy
Click to enlarge
When the InstaPark Mercury 10 is paired with an external battery, it's by far the best value in a panel and battery combo.
Credit: Chris McNamara

The Instapark Mercury 10 is by far the best deal in a portable solar panel that delivers 10 watts of power. No other small panel came close to matching its versatility, ease-of-use, and price. If your main need is to charge a cell phone or small electronic devices, get this panel. When combined with a $30 external battery, you can get a phone and tablet charging powerhouse for under $100. This was one of the few panels with two USB charging ports. It has one of the most generous external pockets for holding your phone, cables and an extra battery. The downside to this panel is you can't plug in a barrel adapter for charging anything that needs a 12-volt (cigarette lighter) connector.

The Bushnell Bear Grylls SolarWrap Mini is the best compact panel. It is the most light weight and compact panel we tested, and comes with an internal battery to charge your devices even when the sun is down.

Top Pick: Best Panel for More Serious Charging
Click to enlarge
Goal Zero Nomad 13 Panel
Credit: Goal Zero
The Goal Zero Nomad 13 is the best for charging a laptop, multiple devices, and incorporating with other batteries and accessories. If you have serious charging needs but still need a portable solution, this is the panel to get.

Special mention: the Joos Orange is the most weather resistant panel we tested. If you're using your panel mainly in marine settings or want to leave your panel out where it might rain, this is a great option. It may win an award in the future if we determine that the reliability problem it has with its charging cable has been resolved.

Chris McNamara
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