Sunburst: The 8 Best Portable Solar Panels

A dead battery in your phone when you’re on the subway and the guy next to you insists on humming “It’s a Small World” is irritating. A dead battery in your handheld GPS when you’re miles from anywhere on a trekking mission can be downright deadly. We believe in the power and majesty of getting away from it all, but we also believe in using good sense when we do it. That means, if you can spare the space in your backpack or roof mounted cargo box, you should pack some portable solar panels. They might literally save your life.

Unless you’re still in primary school, you remember the days when solar panels were bulky monstrosities that sat atop your house like drunk weather vanes. Now, you can get some serviceable panels that fit in your pocket. Even if you never pull them out, having the option of charging up a lantern or juicing up your phone to call for help should be part of every backpackers and every campers “To Pack” list. So that you aren’t stuck with an inferior panel when it matters most, we found the 8 best portable solar panels for every situation.

Poweradd Apollo 2

Poweradd Apollo 2

Pro: Pocket sized
Con: Confusing and finicky LED display

Batteries Included: Perhaps it was that we didn’t expect much from the Apollo 2. It looks like a bulky iPhone 6 battery case rather than an actual portable solar panel. Since we all know that more size means more sunshine hitting the cells, which creates that sweet electricity we crave, the little whippersnapper didn’t seem up to the task. Yes, it does take a long time to charge, but it has a 10,000 mAh limit (for those playing at home that’s about 3+ charges of the biggest smartphones out there) that dumps its load quickly. Easy to carry on a bag with a 5V USB interface, just keep it loading up at all times, and it will be there when the chips – and battery bars – are down. [Purchase: $36]

ALLPOWERS™ Solar Panel Charger

ALLPOWERS™ Solar Panel Charger

Pro: Weighs less than a pound
Con: Requires direct sunlight for results

Apt Attachment: While it seems a little awkward when spread out like a windshield sun blocker, the series of eyeholes around the body allow for this to be attached to backpacks, hung from branches, or dangled from your suspended tree tent. The small quadruple panels give it a unique flexibility while still also capable of pushing out 16 Watts at 2 amps when placed in direct sunlight. With a monocrystalline PET body, the entire device resists scratches and abuse for years of full-powered output. [Purchase: $49]

Instapark Mercury 10

Instapark Mercury 10

Pro: Fast charging
Con: Does not have a battery

Blessed Balance: When folded up for stowing, the Mercury 10 is just about the size of a tablet with all the wires stowed, making it compact but not too small or underpowered. As the name implies, it pumps out 10 Watts worth of energy via the dual USB ports which work for most modern electronics. The feathery feel comes at the expense of a rechargeable battery, but get an external one and you’ll be ready to go. Three panels catch lots of light for quick power output. [Purchase: $40]

Anker Dual-Port Solar Charger

Anker Dual-Port Solar Charger

Pro: Incorporated metal eyeholes
Con: Testing shows some units fall below benchmarks (made in China)

Auto-Detector: Portable solar chargers can be tricky when it comes to which devices they will recognize and which they will charge properly. Not so with the hyper-intelligent PowerIQ built right into this accordion-style folder from Anker. It automatically detects the right output to give your equipment enough juice and minimize charge time. The 4 panels combine to create a 14 watt monocrystalline solar array that gives you 2 amps when laid in direct sunlight. Wrapped up, it has a polyester canvas shell for fighting off weather or sharing a pack with a busted water bottle. Unfortunately, no battery backup (cue sad trombone). [Purchase: $50]

EnerPlex Kickr II

EnerPlex Kickr II

Pro: Hooks and buckles for multiple carrying options
Con: 0.6 amp output

Solar Flex: Rigidity is overrated. Go ahead and buy one of those stiff upper lip solar panels if you like, but the Kickr line is better for bending across your hiking backpack like a yoga instructor. You can literally drop it on the ground and stomp it or fold it completely in half without it breaking to pieces and destroying your chance of survival. Patented CIGS tech offers premium power density to weight ratio, making this a weather-resistant generator weighing only a pound. 3 watts of solar power is cranked out over the 5V micro and mini USB interface, or via the 30-pin Apple connector. [Purchase: $62]

Goal Zero 11800 Nomad

Goal Zero 11800 Nomad

Pro: Weather resistant notebook casing
Con: Will not charge larger devices (tablets)

Slim Pickin’s: Ounces and girth count when you’re filling up your backpacking bag, and some chunky roll-up array or a hefty hunk of thick panels just won’t do. That’s when you snap up the ultra-rugged, one pound Nomad. It’s a self-contained system with storage space for all the cords that works with any USB device. If you need to, you can also snap on the cigarette lighter adapter for use with a second device, a 12V item, or a non-USB-compatible piece of hardware. It only grabs about 7 watts worth of sunshine, so the output isn’t astounding. You’ll need a battery if you pack around an iPad or similar bigger items. [Purchase: $80]

Voltaic Amp

Voltaic Amp

Pro: Tough polyethylene terephthalate case
Con: No automated voltage switch

The Case For: Built like an iPad Mini Case you get a little protective storage when you buy the Amp. A zippered mesh pocket sits on the inside, along with a 4,000mAh, 15Wh removeable battery pack. On the outside is a pair of monocrystalline solar panels that can kick out 4.4W worth of juice at either 6V or 12V depending on your needs. The battery alone can give you more than a full smartphone charge, but just hours in the light can get all your devices back up to full function. Compatible with just about everything from DSLR cameras to USB fitness trackers to the iPod you still have from 2001. [Purchase: $94]

Poweradd 40W Foldable Solar Panel

Poweradd 40W Foldable Solar Panel

Pro: Plastic-faced solar panels
Con: Difficult to hang or mount anywhere

Computer Conduit: This might push the boundaries of what some would consider a truly portable solar panel, but we can pick it up, which means portable to us. You’re not going to want to try to carry this around with you, but rather load it up with your basecamp gear for working on your screenplay while everyone else pitches their little camping tents. It has a 5V port for charging up your typical gadgets via USB, but also offers an 18V 2+ amp DC power option for bigger products that chug power. Though it has 40 watts worth of energy, it is specifically designed to keep whatever you plug into it safe throughout the process, so no fried drives or boards. [Purchase: $200]

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