The modern world is always connected, running on a cocktail of information overload and technology-dependence.Getting away from all of this can feel like tapping into a whole new, authentic way of being. But it can also be exceptionally jarring. Many people it seems would rather lose a limb than suffer a day or two without their smartphone. Electricity, however, isn’t always easy to come by. If you are heading out to the wilderness then you are not going to be able to charge your devices. This is where a solar power bank comes in.
There is one source of energy that is always present. Even on the greyest of days the light of the sun offers a source of power that can make or break a tough situation. Even on overcast days, solar panels will still pick up a little solar radiation, and the idea with a solar power bank is that you can soak up sunlight during the day, and then distribute it to your devices as electricity at night.
Obviously, this is going to be far more effective in the Arizona desert than it is on a cloudy afternoon in Scotland, but it still makes solar power banks useful for those spending lots of time outdoors. Especially if you are hiking, camping or staying in an isolated location for any period of time. Although the most efficient way to get a full charge is by plugging in at home, solar power banks are still a great backup option for anyone who spends lots of time away from electricity but still needs electronic devices. If you are looking for a more robust solution to charge devices fully, rather than just as a top-up backup option, you might want to consider a separate solar panel battery combo.
What Is a Solar Power Bank?
Solar power banks consist of:
- A USB rechargeable battery, in varying capacities.
- A compact solar panel that captures energy from the sun to charge the battery
Choosing the Right Mobile Solar Phone Charger
The primary considerations of most people will be battery capacity and panel size. But most would do well to consider durability and portability, and some might be interested in charging speeds.
Battery capacity. As a rule of thumb, you need up to 2000mAh + of a portable battery charger to get one full smartphone charge. Smartphone batteries are getting bigger and bigger all the time to cater for increasingly thirsty technology.
Panel Size While the pocket-sized panels found on most power banks will suffice to keep your phone topped up for weekends away and overnight hiking trips, longer off grid trips will require a more robust solution. This could come in the form of a separate folding (solar panel and battery), which is more likely to provide reliable portable power and allow you to charge more power-hungry gadgets.
Durability and Portability Despite the fact that these things are designed to be used outdoors, they are not always the most robust of items. I have rated each product here according to its build quality, and ability to withstand drops and repel dust and moisture. As for heat, most of the solar power banks can operate in temperatures up to 50 or 60 C, but beyond that, you will need more specialist gear.
Charging Speeds You don’t need to worry about overloading your phone as it includes a built-in regulator to prevent pumping too much power into the battery and frying it. But, if you want to maximise potential charging speeds then you might consider buying a particular power bank. The most recent iPhones, for example, can charge at faster speeds depending on how powerful the charger is. Some solar power banks, like the Solio Classic 2, take this into account and give the option of delivering a more powerful output.
What Can I Charge With A Solar Power Bank?
Most people are looking to charge micro USB-powered devices like smartphones, cameras, tablets, e-readers etc. While these can all be topped up by a small device like the Solio or Rav Power you would be wise not to rely on these to charge your batteries from flat to full.
Solar Power Banks can also charge electronic cigarettes, vapes, gopros, garmins, and USB torches and flashlights, but for more demanding devices like laptops you will need to purchase a stand alone solar panel and a battery pack.
Best Solar Power Bank 2017
I have sorted the gadgets from the gimmicks to reveal the best solar power banks on the market.
Solar Panel & Battery Combo
The tiny panels on most solar power banks are not well equipped to feed power-hungry modern gadgets, and putting a lithium-ion battery in the sun is not exactly great for its lifespan.
With this in mind, it might be a better option to get a solar panel and a separate cache battery. This will give you more juice, and gives you more opportunity to buy a panel of your chosen size, and a battery of your chosen capacity.
Charge the solar panel during the daytime – either stick it on your backpack, or on the back of your canoe or bicycle, and then draw the energy from your power pack at night for charging phones etc.
Note: I recommend coupling this with a large capacity power bank like Anker Powercore 20100. A good quality device that is roughly the same size as a TV remote, and weighs a bit more! But it has two USB outputs, and also incorporates quickcharge technology if your device features this. You should be able to charge your phone at least 6-7 times with this battery.
If you use electronic devices that depend on separate batteries, you might consider investing in a USB battery charger like the PortaPow Smart USB Charger that you can hook up to a solar panel.
- Do not try to charge a solar panel through glass
- Charge the panel only in strong sunlight
- Do not let the solar panel or battery get too hot. Heat can affect battery life. This means avoid leaving it in your vehicle during summer.
Can You Carry a Solar Power Bank on a Flight?
Power banks can usually be stored in carry-on luggage only. So great news if you want to charge your phone on the flight. However, very large powerbanks cannot be taken on flights. But smaller ones like those on this page will be fine.
Conclusion – Gadget or Gimmick?
Solar technology has grown greatly in popularity and there are many options available. Although all of the banks and panels here can feasibly be fully recharged with sunlight, it is often advertised as more of an emergency solution, rather than as the primary source of power. This is because most solar panel banks with integrated batteries have a low output, and a small panel. So they take many hours to recharge fully.
This means rather than fiddling about with solar, many travellers would be better off going with a large capacity power bank like the Anker Powercore for reliable electricity. Although devices like the Ravpower and Solio are still worth considering.
For those serious about solar on the move, then you are better off looking at a separate solar panel and external power bank combination. For which the Anker Portapower is great for hiking, and the folding Regony panel ideal for camping or caravanning.