Our experts have rigorously tested the best solar chargers for almost 10 years. After reviewing over 65 models, you could say we know a thing or two about top portable technology. For our review update, we purchased 10 top models for in-person testing. While assessing each panel's charging abilities, we narrowed in on the best of the best to highlight. From gigantic panels designed for expeditions and car camping to pocket-sized battery packs made for the backcountry, we've been able to hands-on test a wide variety. The result is a detailed summary of our findings, highlighting the best solar panels for specific uses. Ready to join the solar revolution?Editor's Note: We updated this review on May 26 to add in our favorite larger solar panel, the Jackery SolarSaga 100.
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|$60 List||$249.95 at REI|
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|Pros||Inexpensive, efficient, user-friendly, great charging speed, excels in partly cloudy conditions||Good charging speed, lots of places to clip carabiners, highly affordable||Durable, well-designed, fast charging times, rugged design||Impressive charging speeds, can charge multiple devices simultaneously, affordable||Durable, works well in all kinds of conditions, large capacity, 12V Connection, can daisy chain together, has a built-in stand|
|Cons||Bulky, lacks portability, and the storage pouch is only semi-secure||Hard to reach pouch makes the panel lay crooked, just a solar panel with no battery pack,||Expensive, bulky, ridged design is harder to pack, weak magnetic closure||Poor interruption recovery||Expensive, heavy, lacks portability, can't charge multiple devices, massive size|
|Bottom Line||This speedy solar charger handles multiple devices and offers reliability at a reasonable price||This low-priced, incredibly efficient solar panel converts the sun into charges while saving on costs||A powerful, well-designed, durable panel, with fast charging speeds|
Decent solar charger that charges well
|A powerful, fast charging machine, capable of charging multiple devices, complete with a reasonable price tag||This massive panel with an expensive price tag and a large capacity performed below our expectations|
|Rating Categories||BigBlue 3||X-Dragon 20W||SunJack 25W||Ryno-Tuff 21W||Goal Zero Nomad 50|
|Direct Solar Charging Speed (35%)|
|Indirect Solar Charging Speed (35%)|
|Multiple Device Charging (15%)|
|Specs||BigBlue 3||X-Dragon 20W||SunJack 25W||Ryno-Tuff 21W||Goal Zero Nomad 50|
|Panel Size (watts) Power Output?||28W||20W||25W||21W||50W|
|# of USB outlets||3||2||2||2||1|
|Max USB Output Current (amps per port)||2.4 amp||3 amp||2 amp||2.1 amp||2.4 amp|
|Size folded||11.1" x 6.3" x 1.3"||12.1" x 7.2" x .51"||12.6" x 7.8" x 0.8"||5.9" x 11.8" x 0.8"||17" x 11.25" x 2.5"|
|Size opened||33.1" x 11.1" x 0.2"||23.3" x 12.1" x .12"||24.6" x 7.8" x 0.8"||18" x 11.8" x 0.1"||17" x 53" x 1.5"|
|Charge capacity (mAh)||N/A||N/A||N/A||N/A||N/A|
|Panel outside material||PET Polymer Fabric||PTFE||PET Polymer Fabric||PET Polymer Fabric||Hard plastic|
|Battery input (Volts / Amps)||N/A||N/A||N/A||N/A||N/A|
|Direct USB Plug?||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
Best Overall Portable Solar Panel
The BigBlue 3 goes above and beyond the rest. Thanks to its impressive charging abilities and consistent performance across the board, this panel maintains its place at the top of the pack for another year. Though there may be other options that charge faster or look cooler, nothing beats this model regarding overall performance. When your electronics need a boost, this panel will deliver a consistent charge in variable conditions (from full sun to partially cloudy). In terms of features, we love the built-in ammeter. We also appreciate this panel's simplicity and reasonable price tag. With three USB ports and a classic fold-out design, the BigBlue is an excellent all-arounder that efficiently charges most small gadgets.
One downside to this panel is its weight. Weighing in at 21.8 ounces, it's heavy. As a result, it's better suited for front-country use, though it will excel wherever you use it. Other than its weight, this panel receives high marks across the board.
Read more: BigBlue 3 review
Best Value for a Solar Panel
When you're outside in the sun, having a panel that charges quickly is key. The X-Dragon brought electricity to our devices. This 20W solar panel provides reliable charging at a fast speed and a reasonable price. The high conversion rate made the panel efficiently charge on pretty sunny days and when there were dark cloudy skies. Each of the X-Dragon's posts can generate up to three amps, providing an extraordinary amount of charge for any USB device.
Roughly the size of a notebook, this solar panel unfolds its three panels to capture an impressive amount of sunlight. The X-Dragon had a solid conversion rate, transferring a lot of sun into charges. Anyone looking for a backpacking solar panel, a place to charge while at basecamp, or just some extra energy in the sun should check out this affordable, strong solar panel.
Read more: X-Dragon 20W review
Best Battery Pack and Panel Combo
The OEUUDD 25000mAh battery pack is a high-capacity battery with three USB ports that deliver rapid charge to small electronics. We love that it has a large capacity and can charge a phone multiple times when the battery is topped off. The small solar panel works well enough for the battery to replenish using solar, though it takes longer than traditional panels. In addition to all these great features, the OEUUDD 25,000mAH rings in as one of the most reasonably priced options for solar charger setups.
Our issues with this battery pack are similar to our problems with other battery packs/solar options — patience is required. This product does not work that well as a solar charger alone; it will take a few full days to charge the panel fully from the sun. That said, the panel will continue to trickle charge the battery pack, even when small electronics are plugged in, which is a feature that we appreciate. We recommend also considering a top portable charger and pair it with a panel.
Read more: OEUUDD 25000mAh review
Best Larger Solar Panel
Jackery SolarSaga 100
In our Best Solar Panels for Camping review, which looks at larger panels, the Jackery SolarSaga 100 was both the best overall and the best value. This 100-watt solar panel is significantly more affordable than its competitors, user-friendly, lightweight, and performs well in full and partial sunlight. It is the most efficient in rapidly charging electronic gadgets of any panel we evaluated, regardless of outside weather. The SolarSaga instantly folds into a compact size and weighs only ten pounds which is light compared to similar wattage panels. The straightforward fold-in-half construction makes it very easy to transport it in your vehicle for your next camping trip. The handle makes it easy to transport throughout the campground. You can swiftly deploy its fold-out legs to position it squarely at the sun and get the most out of its rays in the morning and evening. It has USB-A and USB-C ports and a DC output to connect directly to devices or an external battery. A built-in pouch with a zipper on the device's rear provides convenient storage for the hardwired DC charging cable and USB ports. It's a wonderful addition to your solar camping setup or if you want to have an off-grid backpack.
Although light and folds into a small footprint, the SolarSaga 100 only has a single fold in its design. Because of this, its folded size is significantly larger than some of the other panels we examined. This is your panel if you want a high-watt solar panel that offers excellent overall value for your upcoming camping trip.
Read more: Jackery SolarSaga 100 review
Why You Should Trust Us
We put this comprehensive review together after researching over 80 different products on the market. After careful researching, we selected and bought the best of the best. Then, we tested each product objectively and thoroughly. We look at how quickly each model charges with different amounts of sunlight, how it handles multiple devices at once, the rate of charging, and its portability and durability. To test our metrics, we used each contender in the field. Our process reflects the most up-to-date products, with updates occurring multiple times per year.Our solar charger testing is divided across four different metrics:
- Direct Solar Charging Speed (35% of overall score weighting)
- Indirect Solar Charging Speed (35% weighting)
- Portability (15% weighting)
- Multiple Device Charging (15% weighting)
This review is headed up by James Lucas, a long-time writer, editor, and photographer. As an avid climber who authored the Yosemite Valley Bouldering guidebook, James spends hundreds of days outside every year documenting the outdoors and testing gear while traveling around his home in Boulder, Colorado and where his heart is, in the Sierra. From working out of his van in the dispersed sun of the Rockies to base camping on top of sunny El Capitan in Yosemite, James uses solar panels from large to small to harness the sun and power his adventures, charging his camera gear and his connection to the world. OutdoorGearLab and James performed rigorous testing on all the models in this thorough review.
Analysis and Test Results
Now more than ever, solar technology is growing in popularity. In this updated review, we've tested a wide variety of portable models. Our current line-up includes small panels with built-in battery packs to massive 50W behemoths. By spending time testing these solar panels on the road, we get to see firsthand the latest and greatest #vanlife solar setups. After looking over several options, we rated each on four important metrics: direct solar charging, indirect solar charging, multiple device charging, and portability. Whether you are looking for a solar setup for car camping or a compact charger to power your iPhone while on a backpacking trip, our review offers excellent recommendations for anybody.
Dozens of companies produce affordable, effective monocrystalline panels ranging from small 5W models to more substantial, powerful options that will allow for a faster charge. These monocrystalline models are much more effective and lightweight than their polycrystalline forefathers. We tested a few small wattage models that were portable and lightweight. The OEUUDD 25000mAh has a larger capacity battery and a 5W panel. While it doesn't function as well as some of the larger solar panels, its ability to charge our devices made it a force to be reckoned with.
We filled out the upper end of the wattage range with the addition of the Anker 21, the SunJack 25, and the Ryno-Tuff. We added the BigBlue 3 and the Goal Zero Nomad 50 on the far upper end of the spectrum. In general, solar technology is improving, and most panels performed fairly well. That said, it's important to note that in this review, the panels' metric ratings range in scores, mostly due to their output capabilities (i.e., wattage), rather than the design of the models themselves.
Just as was the case in past reviews, panels with large-capacity battery packs and small-capacity solar panels tend to charge our electronics quickly but take eons to charge via the sun. With this style of charger, we recommend topping off your battery pack at home before bringing it into the field.
The Goal Zero Nomad 20 and the Goal Zero Nomad 50 are capable of charging laptops.
We looked at each solar panel's durability as well. By design, portable solar panels need to be able to withstand long exposure to the elements. The way to get ample charge to small electronics is by leaving the panels exposed to the sun for long periods. To ensure these panels are up to the task, we have tested them in all kinds of conditions — from the baking desert sun to high alpine terrain to extreme wind and rain. In general, almost all the panels stood up to the challenge. The canvas protective fabric is like an exoskeleton guarding the important insides of the panels. Solar technology seems to be advancing too, with companies working to make cells more durable and resistant to sun and water damage.
During our testing, we also checked out each panel's accessories. Panels that don't come with a built-in battery are often paired with a top-quality portable external battery pack. This arrangement allows the panel to charge the battery during the day while you're using your devices, and you can charge your device at night via the external battery. External batteries are an essential addition to any portable charging kit. Most modern tablets and smartphones demand higher power (like 2A charging ports), and this becomes harder to produce from the sun (which is variable at best). Instead of bulking up the solar panels themselves and making them too cumbersome to use, we found it much more effective to simply charge external batteries on a rotating system to keep a constant stockpile of fully charged battery packs ready to go. That way, you have a lighter-weight solar charger that charges a high-quality external battery. This battery can, in turn, produce the necessary 2A of current to charge small devices. Overall, we generally prefer going with a top quality panel paired with a great battery rather than choosing a battery with an integrated panel.
Unlike some other products we test here at OutdoorGearLab (we've tested bikes that cost more than our cars!), portable solar chargers tend to be on the affordable end of the outdoor gear spectrum. However, even with such a reasonable price point, some models had much better value than others. For example, the reasonably priced OEUUDD 25000mAh performed exceptionally well across the board, even standing up to some of the more expensive, higher capacity models like the Goal Zero Nomad 50. Other models cost a pretty penny and did not compare to the high scorers in our side-by-side tests. To determine the value of the products we gauged the ability to charge, the portability, and how many devices the panel could charge against the price. This metric often comes down to being the most important as it determines the actual worthiness of the product.
Direct Solar Charging Speed
The main use for a portable solar panel is charging a device when electricity is not readily available. We took this into account when we weighted direct solar charging speed as one of our two highest rating testing metric. We used our lead tester's personal cell phone to execute this experiment — a Google Pixel 3. We timed each panel as it charged our phone and also used a standard small-capacity battery pack to cross-reference our results. It should be noted that in previous iterations of this test, we used an iPhone 6, which is also reflected.
We set each one in full sun for thirty minutes to test the panels and noted how much charge the phone received. This way, we could obtain a good read on how efficiently the individual models worked over extended periods. We also timed how long it took each one to charge our 10,000 mAh portable battery packs, so we also had that data to compare. In general, this size battery can charge an iPhone from 0 to 100% about two times.
We found a broad range in the ability to charge batteries. This considerable variability is due to the extensive range in output power of the contenders we tested. Twenty-one watts is four times as powerful as a 5W device, so it makes sense that panels like the BigBlue 3 earned one of the highest in our testing. The Ryno-Tuff 21W also impressed us in this metric, especially considering its humble 21-watt capacity. This panel charged our phone 34% over the course of a 30 minute period.
The main function of a solar charger is to charge electronics efficiently. Therefore, we recommend investing in a higher wattage charger to facilitate this function. For speed and efficiency, a more effective watt option is more efficient. That is unless you're trying to save weight or money, in which case a less powerful model might be a good compromise. With that in mind, it's no surprise that some of our highest scoring panels in this metric were panels with the largest capacity.
Indirect Solar Charging Speed
Here we consider the following questions: is your panel going to quit on you just because one cloud passes overhead, as you left it out on what appeared to be a clear afternoon? Or is the solar model strapped to your backpack, causing your phone to constantly vibrate as the connection goes in and out of the USB port? These are the questions we addressed in our charge interruption recovery metric. We measured the amount each model charged within a half-hour span to test this criterion, first in full shade and then again in intermittent sun and shade.
The highest performing models in this category were the ones with a large capacity (15-20W or higher) or a built-in external battery. Though small battery/panel combos, like the OEUUDD 25000mAh, can manage shade — since it continues to charge your device off the battery — the panels themselves are too small to receive substantial power from the sun. The panel capacity of these models means their solar production provides a backup as opposed to a primary power source.
Those with a larger surface area also tended to do better in this metric because there are more cells exposed to the sun at one time. The BigBlue 3, which has lots of surface area, comes with a built-in auto-restart function. This feature allows the panel to reconnect to your device after being shaded automatically. Naturally, the unit will still charge slower in cloudy conditions. The auto-restart feature will help to continue the flow of power in less-than-ideal charging conditions. It also helps avoid the constant vibrating that happens when a phone is continually reconnecting to a panel.
Multiple Device Charging Speed
As you might guess, when tasked with the challenge of charging multiple devices at once, the more powerful models performed better than lower wattage models. Smaller panels such as the 5W and 7W models don't have the power to sustain two gadgets at once. If this is a priority for you, then select a panel with a higher wattage. Generally, our testing found lower watt models to be less capable in this metric than the higher watt devices that can charge two devices.
The BigBlue 3, Anker 21, and SunJack were high scorers, as was the OEUUDD 25000mAh. As discussed above, the results show that models with higher wattage are more effective at charging multiple devices at once. We were impressed by the SunJack's overall power and efficiency in this metric. Panels with built-in battery packs also excel in this metric, with the Goertek holding its own.
Since an essential function of many of these panels is to remain portable, this is a crucial category. A too heavy or bulky model will be left behind to collect dust in the closet rather than accompany you on your next adventure.
The panels that cleaned up in this metric in terms of weight were the Dizaul 5000mAh Portableand the Blavor Qi 10,000mAh. These models are the latest in battery-pack/solar charger combos, and we were impressed to see manufacturers getting this design into such a compact shape and size. These two panels weigh 4.8 ounces and 9.3 ounces, respectively.
Others come with lots of accessories and extra features, which make them more exciting to use but also make them bulky and unappealing to carry on long trips. There is a happy medium between overkill and overly simple, which of course, depends on your preference and needs.
While portability is a critical consideration, we placed more emphasis on performance. If the panel doesn't work, then it is just training weight. That was our reasoning behind handing out awards to larger panels like the BigBlue 3.
Deciding on the right solar charger can be an overwhelming task. To make it easier to wrap your head around, you'll want to figure out what you will be using it for and go from there. Are you running a mobile office and need to keep multiple, energy-hungry devices happy? Or are you concerned with having a fully charged phone on a weekend excursion?
The smaller watt options are going to be less expensive and often less powerful. As you increase the wattage, the panels typically become more efficient. The sky is the limit, but it depends on how much money you are willing to spend. We narrowed in on the top competitors and put them to the test. Some perform better than others, and a higher price tag doesn't necessarily mean a better product. We hope that our thorough tests and reviews of these products will be useful to you as you shop around for your new solar charger.Looking for more backcountry tech? If you're planning on carrying a portable solar charger into the backcountry, then you must be carrying electronics that require charging. Our outdoor electronics experts have written in-depth reviews covering expedition essentials like the best handheld GPS and top satellite messengers.
— James Lucas and Matt Spencer