Thanks to the numerous advancements in technology, today we have a wealth of electronic gadgets at our fingertips, from smartphones and laptops to tablets and portable printers that make doing work from a remote location easier than ever. These portable devices make it possible to enjoy the increasingly popular mobile lifestyle so that we can work or have fun on the go – until those gadgets run out of battery, that is.
If you like to get out in the backcountry and explore nature, you may not want to shell out big bucks for an expensive GPS device, which is why so many hikers often use an inexpensive app to mark waypoints and set tracks instead. The problem is that compared to a handheld GPS, the majority of smartphones just don’t have enough battery life to support this.
Fortunately, yet another technological advancement has made it possible for us to charge those mobile devices, even with a lack of access to electricity. A solar battery charger is a device that doesn’t require a traditional power source. It has solar panels which collect power from the sun and convert it into electricity. It doesn’t require an external electrical source to recharge the batteries so that you can enjoy a freedom of movement and access to your device at the same time. If you find yourself lost in the woods with a dead cell phone, for example, all you have to do is locate the sun’s rays and you’ll have it up and running again.
There are other, more subtle benefits too. Solar cells generate no emissions, waste or byproducts. The photons that aren’t used simply pass through the silicon or bounce off of it as they would any other material.
Freedom of movement and environmental friendliness are the two main reasons to own a solar battery charger. Solar panels now range from elaborate and spendy to ultra-affordable and pocket-sized. Some are the same size or even smaller than your smartphone itself.
Choosing a Solar Charger That’s Right For You
So, we have the technology, but the problem now becomes how to choose the solar charger that’s right for you.
Here are some of the most important things to consider.
Choose a reliable, high-quality brand
Something all users should consider in their search is the reliability of the brand. Keep in mind that there are multiple knock off solar panels sold by discounters. If you’re tempted to buy one you could end up stuck without a paddle. While it may work when you test it, if it isn’t reliable in all circumstances, it could fail during an emergency. The best way to determine whether or not the brand is reliable is to do lots of online researching. Find out what others are saying about the brand, looking through a wide range of reviews from various sites. You may also want to use a consumer research tool such as Consumer Reports. Some of the most common brands include Anker, Goal Zero, Yolk and Voltaic Systems, although there are many others out there.
Choose the charger that offers the right wattage for your needs
The right charger for you needs to provide enough wattage to charge the devices that you’ll need to charge. Basically, that means that if you’re hoping to charge a more powerful device such as a laptop and not just your smartphone, you’ll need more wattage. But there are other considerations too. A 4 or 5-watt panel may be all you need for charging small handheld devices, like a simple cell phone or a mp3 player, but many smartphones, like iPhones, particularly the newest models, can eat up power almost as much as a tablet or iPad. If you have an iPhone 7, for example, you’re going to need at least a 7-watt panel to ensure you’ll be able to charge it.
If you want a solar charger that will charge items like an iPad, or multiple devices at the same time, it’s going to cost you more as you’ll need more power – a panel with at least 15 watts. If you buy less wattage to save money, you’ll often end up frustrated by lengthy charging times. For example trying to charge your phone with a 4 to 6-watt charger can take 3 to 6 hours, whereas, it could be fully charged with a higher wattage panel in just 1 to 2 hours. Most solar charger stores will display the wattage on the information sheet for the product, or on the box. Just be sure you think about what type of devices you will need to charge before you buy.
Consider how many bright, sunny daylight hours your area typically experiences
This is important because you need to know about how many hours your solar charger can be powered up by the sun’s rays. If you live in or plan to travel to the often gray and wet Pacific Northwest, you may want a fast-charging, powerful panel that has a high wattage in order to charge up your devices quickly, taking total advantage of those rare moments when the sun peeks out from behind all of those clouds. On the opposite end of the spectrum, maybe you live in the desert or plan to do a backpacking trip there and you’ll be carrying your water supply on your back, meaning weight is at a premium. In this case, a smaller panel is likely to be all you need as long as you can set it out in full sun for longer periods of time.
Obviously, you need not only a reliable charger, but one that’s strong enough to handle being dropped, but you also need to think about whether or not it’s durable enough to handle issues you may personally encounter such as severe weather while hiking or camping. Many brands offer waterproof solar chargers, which may be an important consideration. If it is, find out if the manufacturer uses some type of protective coating or shell as well as what others have to say about its durability.
Top 3 Solar Chargers You Can Buy
Taking all of those factors into consideration, here are our picks for the Top 3 solar chargers, with a variety of capabilities for various users.
1. Anker PowerPort Solar Lite
The Anker PowerPort Solar Lite is arguably the best portable solar charger available today for those who want to power smaller devices like a phone during an emergency, or when off the grid. It can charge nearly all phones at almost full speed, and fill them up with less than a day of sunlight.
This powerful device is one of the lightest, smallest chargers, but it can produce 15 watts. It’s just 12.5 ounces and measures 18″ X 11″ when unfolded and deployed, and 11″ X 6″ when stored, which means it’s no bigger than a tablet, and it’s lighter too. While many solar chargers slow to a crawl when a cloud passes overhead, this one resume full-speed charging almost immediately after the cloud disappears. It isn’t waterproof, but it can handle a brief rain shower or thick morning dew. And, best of all, with a huge number of 5 star ratings, the Anker PowerPort Solar Lite is only $50 on Amazon at time of writing.
2. Voltaic Systems Arc 20 Watt Solar Charger
While it isn’t cheap, if you need a powerful solar charger that will keep your laptop running, the Arc 20 Watt Solar Charger is ideal. Unlike some of the clunkier, hard-shell models out there, this one easily fastens to a variety of packs, tents, and awnings to allow for consistent charging throughout whatever adventure you’re undertaking. The kit also includes a V72 Universal Laptop Battery, which is designed with a DC Output. That means that you can charge most laptops at least once. The external battery also includes protection against short circuits and overcharging, so you need not worry about frying your electronic gadgets. The V72 battery can completely charge most laptops in 6.5 hours in the direct sun and just an hour will charge up most smart phones.
3. Yolk Station Solar Paper
Solar Paper is the thinnest solar charger on the market today, measuring less than a half-inch at its thickest point. Although it doesn’t contain a built-in battery, a display on the top of the unit tells you if the charger is receiving enough energy to charge your device. Without a battery, this charger is likely to last a long time, and there are a number of different options available depending on your needs, starting with the basic 5 watts up to 15. Just be aware, as mentioned previously, that while the 5 watts can charge your phone, you need at least 10 for charging tablets or more than one device at a time.