Our solar charger experts have been rigorously testing the best solar chargers on the market for almost 10 years. After reviewing over 65 models, you could say we know a thing or two about portable technology. For our review update, we purchased 8 of the 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, with our top picks for specific uses highlighted. Ready to join the solar revolution?If you're planning on bringing a portable solar charger on your weekend camping trip or carrying it 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 handheld GPS, PLBs, and altimeter watches, as well as everyday wearables like GPS watches.
|Price||$249.95 at REI|
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|Pros||Durable, works well in all kinds of conditions, large capacity||Inexpensive, efficient, user-friendly, excels in partly cloudy conditions||Efficient, powerful, great value for its size, lightweight||Quick to charge, portable size, panel actually works despite small wattage||Compact, lightweight, fast charging capabilities|
|Cons||Expensive, heavy, lacks portability||Bulky, lacks portability||Pocket too small to hold extra cords and accessories||Heavy, slow to replenish battery via solar||Lacks versatility|
|Bottom Line||A massive panel with an expensive price tag and a large capacity||We were impressed by its ability to charge our gadgets quickly and reliably and its reasonable price is the cherry on top||A compact, lightweight panel with exceptional efficiency and charging capabilities||This exceptionally priced battery pack quickly charges devices, and if left in the sun for hours, can replenish via solar||This little panel is by far the lightest in this review, but its charging abilities are impressive|
|Rating Categories||Goal Zero Nomad 50||BigBlue 3||Anker PowerPort 21W||Goertek 25,000mAh||BEARTWO 10,000mAh|
|Charging Speed (30%)|
|Charge Interruption Recovery (20%)|
|Multiple Device Charging Speed (20%)|
|Weight & Portability (20%)|
|Specs||Goal Zero Nomad 50||BigBlue 3||Anker PowerPort 21W||Goertek 25,000mAh||BEARTWO 10,000mAh|
|Panel Size (watts)||50W||28W||21W||5W||<5W|
|Weight (measured)||115.2 oz||23.5 oz||17.6 oz||19 oz||7.52 oz|
|# of USB outlets||1||3||2||3||2|
|Max USB Output Current (amps per port)||2.4 amp||2 amp||2 amp||1 amp||2.1 amp|
|Size folded||17" x 11.25" x 2.5"||11.1" x 6.3" x 1.3"||11" x 6.3" x 0.75"||7" x 3.75" x 1.25"||5.5" x 3" x 0.7"|
|Panel Type||Mono-crystalline||PET Polymer||Mono-crystalline||Mono-crystalline||Mono-crystalline|
|Size opened||17" x 53" x 1.5"||33.1" x 11.1" x 0.2"||26.3" x 11.1" x 0.2"||7" x 3.75" x 1.25"||5.5" x 3" x 0.7"|
|Battery input (Volts / Amps)||N/a||N/a||N/a||5V 2A||5V 2.1A|
|Charge capacity (mAh)||N/a||N/a||N/a||25,000mAh||10,000mAh|
|Direct USB Plug?||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
Best Overall Solar Charger
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 out there that charge faster or look cooler, nothing beats this model when it comes to 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 and the zippered accessory pouch. 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 will efficiently charge most small gadgets.
One downside to this panel is its weight. Weighing in at 23.5 ounces, it's a bit 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 review: BigBlue 3
Another Excellent Performer
Anker PowerPort 21W
Year after year, the Anker PowerPort 21W continues to be a high scorer. It has all the same attributes as the 15W but with 6W more power. It has a fast-charging speed: 3 hours and 40 minutes to charge a 6,000 mAh external battery in full sun, one of the faster in our review. It was also excellent at charging multiple devices at once, and it handled charge interruption as well as you could expect.
It's not the lightest model that we tested, but it does pretty well for its size (over 20 watts). Its tri-folding design is about the size of a magazine and is easy to store. This contender was hard to beat when it came to charging capabilities, weight, and price.
Read review: Anker PowerPort 21W
Best Bang for the Buck
The Goertek 25,000mAh battery pack is a high-capacity battery; it has three USB ports that deliver rapid charge to small electronics. We love that it has a large capacity and can fully charge a phone multiple times when the battery is topped off. Additionally, the small solar panel works well enough for the battery to replenish using solar, even if it takes a few hours. In addition to all these great features, the Goertek rings in as one of the most reasonably priced options for solar charger set-ups.
Our issues with this battery pack are similar to the problems we've had with other battery pack/solar options — patience is required. This product does not work that well as a solar charger alone; if you're planning to fully charge the 25,000mAh battery off the sun, give yourself a few full days. 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.
Read review: Goertek 25,000mAh
Another Excellent Value
The Ryno-Tuff 21W impressed us with its charging abilities right off the bat. In our first round of testing, this panel soared above its competitors in charging speed, charging our phones over 30% in 30 minutes. This is impressive for any panel, let alone a humble 21W model. The Ryno-Tuff also works fairly well at charging multiple devices simultaneously, even though its claimed output isn't all that impressive. The panel is also durable and relatively compact, making it portable enough for trips into the backcountry. This combination of features and a reasonable price tag make this panel an excellent option for those on a budget.
We had a few complaints with this panel, but they are all fairly minor. First of all, the storage pocket is very small and barely fits a phone, making it feel a bit useless. Additionally, the Ryno-Tuff ended up with underwhelming results in our interruption recovery tests, showing that it is not the best option for use in marginal conditions.
Read review: Ryno-Tuff 21W
Excellent Lightning Fast Charging Speeds
Though it is doesn't have the highest listed wattage of any panel in this review, the SunJack 25W wowed us with its impressive performance. It rapidly and easily charged our cell phones, external battery packs, and other random electronic gadgets. It boasts some of the fastest charging speeds we've seen in testing. Plus, its impressive build and durable construction are confidence-inspiring. It also performed well when partially shaded or in partially cloudy conditions, which many competitors failed to do.
The significant downsides are its price and size. If it were a bit smaller or lighter, it would have ranked higher on our list. However, the Sunjack remains an excellent option, with fast charging speeds.
Read review: SunJack 25W
Why You Should Trust Us
Jane Jackson authors this review and spend 200+ days a year outside using and testing gear. For the past few years, she has spent the summer months in Yosemite and the High Sierra, working for Yosemite Search and Rescue. In other months, she travels in pursuit of perfect climbing conditions, which means lots of sun (and lots of opportunities to test portable solar chargers!). Between Yosemite and the desert Southwest, Jane is no stranger to relentlessly sunny days. When she's not living in her van, which is complete with its own solar setup, Jane is in the backcountry, using these smaller, portable panels to keep her electronics charged.
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.
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 five important metrics. 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 Goertek 25,000mAh, has a larger capacity battery and a 5W panel. The BEARTWO 10,000mAh is one of the most compact and lightweight battery packs we tested, with impressive charging speeds.
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 42W 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 BigBlue 42 and the Goal Zero Nomad 50 are capable of charging laptops.
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 Goertek 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.
Charge Interruption Recovery
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 sun and then again in intermittent sun and shade. We also measured the output power before and after the charge interruption to see if the model could get back on track after being shaded.
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 Goertek, 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.
The main use for a portable solar panel is charging a cell phone when electricity is not readily available. We took this into account when we weighted charging speed as our 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 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.
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, Anker 21, and SunJack were high scorers, as was the Goertek. 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.
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.
When scanning through reviews online, we noticed complaints about various models withering and warping in the sun. Because of this, we were extra vigilant, even when we set them out in the blazing southern Utah desert sun. In our testing period, none of the chargers endured much damage. These are robust machines, and with technology advancing every year, solar panel companies have come leaps and bounds in the construction of portable options.
We appreciated the external storage options on the Anker 21W and the BigBlue 3. These pockets not only protect extra gadgets but also keep the USB ports protected.
Weight and Portability
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 Blavor Qi 10,000mAhand the BEARTWO 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 8.3 ounces and 7.52 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.
We used the same 10,000 mAh battery pack and USB cord to standardize our testing and procedures when testing all models. The battery we used is a well-reviewed and inexpensive pack designed to charge small gadgets and phones.
Panels that don't come with a built-in battery are often paired with a 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.
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.
— Jane Jackson
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