Hands-on Gear Review
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Pros: Light, inexpensive, simple, internal battery, novel design
Cons: Only charges USB devices, one USB port, durability issues
Best Uses: Backpacking, sailing, hiking, car camping, mountaineering, climbing
Early in our testing, this was our favorite lightweight, ultra portable solar charger. The CIGS (copper-indium-gallium-selenide) solar panel is flexible and rolls into a compact tube for packing, giving it a great panel size to packed size ratio; there's a battery that allows for charging at night when you're back at camp; and the whole thing is extremely lightweight.
Among the fleet of panels we tested that include a battery, the Poweradd Apollo 2 edged ahead of the SolarWrap in several ways, including durability over time, but also in the amount of time spent charging the battery vs. the amount of charge to our devices. That is to say, we found we were always chasing a charge with the SolarWrap Mini while with the Apollo 2, since it holds more equivalent smartphone or tablet charges, we had more time to catch up on sun time before we lost the ability to charge a device at least once.
Unfortunately, the SolarWrap proved to have some significant durability issues, likely attributed to weak electrical components. After a couple of months, the panel would not charge the battery, nor would plugging it directly into a wall socket charge the battery, even though the charging light still lit up. Fortunately, the charger comes with a 1 year warranty.
For light and infrequent use, this solar charger will likely fit the bill. It is not a rugged or durable solar charger, but the concept and design is great. We hope to see some improvements to the durability, as it really is a great idea.
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OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review
Bushnell is a reputable company, and we were pleased with the overall design of the Bear Grylls SolarWrap Mini. We hope they can improve durability in subsequent models, especially given that it is representing a distinctly tough individual.
The SolarWrap Mini has one USB outlet with a max current of one amp. This is plenty to charge your smartphone, iPhone, tablet or other USB device like a camera or GPS unit. Some panels are including two USB outlets now, one around 1 amp and the other around 2 amps, specifically designed to charge a tablet in more reasonable time. So the SolarWrap Mini won't give you the fasted tablet charge, but it is more than a lot of other competing small devices. There is certainly no other unit even close to this size that delivers one amp of power.
Ease of Use
We found this panel to be relatively easy to use. It has a grommet that makes it easy to hang from a tent pole, and the velcro closure also allows you to velcro it to a number of things, like a loop on your backpack. The panel itself is paper thin, which makes it tricky to ensure that it remains in direct sunlight when it is windy, but a combination of rocks, tent, velcro, etc. would always do the job.
The panel comes with a warning always to roll closed with the panel facing outward to prevent damage to the panel. It is paper thin and feels very delicate, which is not inspiring for long term durability; but the panel itself proved rugged when compared with the electronics inside. After only a couple of months, all charging capacities inexplicably broke. This could be a fluke, but upon closer inspection, the USB outlet did not appear to be of the highest quality. In short, handle with care.
This panel offers no storage for accessories. A good solution is to bring a fabric sunglasses case and attach it to the panel to hold your USB cord and the cord that charges the internal battery; or better yet (given the durability issue), bring a small waterproof zippered pouch to hold the SolarWrap Mini and its cords all together.
You have to keep track of the little plastic protective end caps after you unroll the panel. This is not a big deal, and the caps with the elastic bands prove useful for troubleshooting hanging strategies, but it does give you one more thing to keep track of. A sunglasses case or zippered pouch is an easy solution, as it gives you a place to put the charging cords and caps.
This is by far the lightest portable solar charger we tested. It is also the most compact. Most other small panels can barely fit in your pocket--but you could fit about four of these in a pocket. This makes the SolarWrap a good option for backpackers who need to go light with their solar chargers. It's a very clever and efficient design, and if improved for durability this would have been far and away our favorite portable solar charger in our review.
Ten out of ten in the portability department! This was the smallest, lightest, and most compact panel we tested, and gets high marks for ingenuity of design. We also appreciate that you can charge your device discretely with the panel rolled up. We would tote this panel around often (before it broke), and could hang it in the sun easily, no matter where we were, then roll it up and toss it in our bag, duffel, glove compartment, etc. to charge our device while we carried on with our day. Convenient, small, discrete--and before it broke, it took little hassle and troubleshooting for glitches.
This panel is highly versatile (when it works). With a battery and strong output current, it gives you many charging options. The battery is enough to charge your smartphone one time, or tablet about half a charge. Having a battery means you can charge your device at night once the sun goes down, and collect a charge all day in the sunlight, even if your device is not plugged into the panel.
The battery takes about 4 hours plugged into a wall socket or 10 hours of direct sunlight to fully charge the battery. This is roughly on par with the Poweradd Apollo 2 which takes much longer to charge but gives several more full phone or tablet charges. The big difference here was that at the end of months of testing, the Apollo 2 was still working perfectly whereas the SolarWrap Mini had broken and defied all troubleshooting attempts. Good thing it has a one year warranty!
We experimented with charging our phones while the panel was sitting in the sun charging its battery. When the battery was full, we found this would work. However, when the battery was dead, not only did it not work, it also drained the battery of our phone. Major bummer. Be sure you separate the charging phases and allow the battery to charge, then plug in your phone when you've rolled up the panel to be out of the sun. This panel is not a multitasker.
A note on flexible CIGS solar panels: while they are very attractive to the backcountry user, keep in mind that these panels can delaminate when they get older, and they are typically less than half as efficient as a rigid monocrystalline folding panel.
This was a great panel (before it broke) for backpacking and climbing trips as a little extra security for your electronic devices. It only holds enough juice for about one smart phone charge and half a tablet charge, but it can be just enough to get you out of a bind--and the panel is tiny enough to carry with you as an afterthought.
It is also useful for around town use and traveling. It is so small that you can throw it in your luggage or briefcase without it taking up much space. If you forgot to buy your outlet converter for the foreign country in which you've just arrived, you have a USB charger ready to go, buying you some time until you can find the right plug adapter. If you're on a long flight, you can also use this for an extra battery charge so you won't run out of smartphone juice halfway across the Pacific.
This was one of the less expensive panels, with a lot of potential for greatness. It was powerful for its size, ultra compact for the size of the panel, and very conveniently designed. The durability issue was a major bummer, though we are pleased that there is a one year warranty on the charger.
While the more expensive and larger panels are better for high power needs, the SolarWrap Mini is a great value for charging a smartphone or small electronic device.
This panel is a great concept with poor execution. We were phenomenally pleased with it while it worked, but after a couple months of normal use, it completely gave out. The electronic components should be made more rugged, especially if it to be the namesake of a tough guy like Bear Grylls.
— Lyra Pierotti and Chris McNamara
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Most recent review: March 31, 2015
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