Buyers Guide: The Best Solar Power Bank of 2017

solar power bank with map

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

Solar Power Bank Reviews

I have sorted the gadgets from the gimmicks to reveal the best solar power banks on the market…

 

The Super-portable RAV Power

solar power bank ravpower

With a rugged design and impressive battery capacity, the RAV Power solar power bank is the ideal solution if you are an outdoorsy sort in need of a charger to carry around in your pocket. The integrated light on the back of the case also makes it well-suited to camping trips – letting it function as a mini hanging lantern.

It is lightweight enough for storing in a bag when hiking, or even on your daily commute, and at 15000mAh it has enough capacity to charge most phones at least three – four times. Plugged into the wall, it will take around eight hours to fully charge.

Pros

Dust proof covers on ports will keep moisture out.

Rugged design

Cons

A tiny solar panel makes this option little more than a backup. (Ravpower say It will take a week to fully charge the device if relying only on the sun)

Verdict

A durable little device that is a great backup for the car glove box, or for backpacking. But you shouldn’t rely on the solar panel for anything more than a quick battery top-up or as a last resort survival source of electricity.

Specs

 15000mAh

Two USB outputs

Price

Check on Amazon

 

The Solar Flower – Solio Classic 2

solar power bank solio classic

Solio has a good reputation for making chargers, and this device doesn’t disappoint. With a rugged design that is presumably based on a flower, it unfolds to reveal three small solar panels that can be propped up with a pencil (included) to face the sun. This little device has a capacity of 2000mAh that will fully charge in 8-10 hours of sunshine or a couple of cloudy days. Plugged into the wall, it takes a neat 90 minutes to reach full capacity.

This device also incorporates ‘apple mode’, which optimises energy transfer for apple devices: Charging tailored to iPhones.

Pros

Elegant white design keeps it cool in the sun

Cons

Hinge mechanism might be vulnerable if dropped

Verdict

Great little device but not for anything bigger than a smaller iPhone

Specs

 2000mAh

One USB outputs

Price

Check on Amazon

 

 

The Freeloader Pro

freeloader pro

 

This device needs to be in direct sunlight to work well, but leave it in the sun even on a cloudy day and it will create a little trickle of energy to top up batteries. This is not suited to charging bigger smartphones, but could work for low capacity devices, taking 7-9 hours to charge the integrated 1600mAh battery from sunlight.

It is solid and well-made with a tough aluminium construction and comes with a range of adaptors.

Specs

1600mAh

One USB output

Price

Check on Amazon

 

 

The Voltaic Fuse 

best solar power bank - voltaic fuse

 

The solar panel is mounted on a little case that you can put a tablet or phone inside while charging. The hard wearing fabric is made from recycled plastic bottles, and it is weatherproof so there is no need to worry about rain. This makes it quite convenient to connect to bicycles, backpacks etc. Just clip it on, get on your way, and after a couple of hours enjoy a full charge.

The internal battery has a capacity of 4,000mAh, enough to charge most phones 1.5 times, and it takes 3 hours in the direct sun to fully charge a smartphone. 8-10 hours should charge a tablet.

Pros

Clips mean it is very easily attached to bags, bikes etc.

Design usefully incorporates space for phone

Cons

None! Voltaic have a great product and a great customer service team

Verdict

Perfect forstrapping onto your pack to top up smartphones during a small hiking trip 

Specs

 4000mAh

One USB output

Price

Check on Amazon

 

The Voltaic Amp

A cuter, more compact version of the Voltaic Fuse, this combined panel and charger unfolds to reveal two small and efficient solar panels. This model is very compact and lightweight, meaning it should fit easily in even a small bag. Claiming three hours of smartphone usage from one hour of charge, It comes with adapters to charge various electronic devices.

Pros

Clips mean it is easily attached to bags, bikes etc

Cons

None! Voltaic have a great product and a great customer service team

Verdict

Perfect for keeping a small smartphone topped up on a hiking trip

Specs

 4000mAh

One USB output

Price

Check on Amazon

 

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.

 

Anker Powerport Solar

solar power bank

The Powerport uses the latest monocrystalline solar cell technology to charge devices efficiently.

It consists of three 21 watt panels, with 5 volt 3 amp outputs that fold into the hard-wearing material, with a handy little pocket to put your phone in and stop it overheating when you leave the panel in the sun.

It also has handy loops for hanging the panel on your backpack,  so that you can charge as you hike!

Pros

Solar panels will fold up small and slide into a pack.

Efficient technology

Cons

Could have stronger pocket closing for phone than Velcro

Verdict

Compact, rugged and weather-resistant, from a very reputable company with a great customer service ethos.

Price

Check on Amazon

 

The Solar suitcase – Renogy 100Watt

 

solar panel anker

This one is not for hiking, but great for RVs, caravans, or boats. It is a robust energy solution that can be hooked up to an RV inverter, and power TVs, laptops etc with full sun.

Pros

Easy to use, will charge smartphones with ease

Cons

Large, bulky, not suited for lightweight travel

Verdict

Well-made panels suitable for mounting permanently on trailers etc, or for use while camping.

Price

Check on Amazon

 

Note: I recommend coupling this with a large capacity power bank like Anker Powercore 20100mAh. 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.

 

Accessories

If you use electronic devices that depend on separate batteries, you might consider investing in a USB battery charger like the Portapow solar USB charger that you can hook up to a solar panel.

Usage Tips

  • 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.

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