Now that the sun is reliably shining, harness that energy for your devices and emergency gear. Here’s a list of the top 5 solar chargers that you can have on you at all times. We also wrote this helpful guide to choosing a power bank to explain what qualities to look for in a charger. There are a lot of variations on power sources. You can use the equation I=P/V to help you figure out the power requirements based on what you know. V is voltage, P (power) is measured in watts, and I is amperage. For instance…a 100 watt light bulb requires just under 17 amps. if you plug in 100 for I and 6 for V. Most chargers are in the realm of 3 to 5 volts. You pay more for more power output. Make sure you understand the specs of what you are buying and how it relates to the actual device and the battery capacity of the devices you have.
1. Voltaic Systems Amp Solar Charger
This clever design has the charging panels fold over each other and zip into a case. The case is made from recycled soda bottle plastic and is lightweight and waterproof. (Honestly, I’d say water resistant and not proof. I wouldn’t submerge the case or get it near any significant amount of water.) Point the solar panel towards the sun and charge the battery, or charge the battery from any USB port. Once the battery is charged, hook your phone up to it. It also comes with an adapter to charge a camera. The voltage is adjustable to either 4.4 watts at 6 or 12 volts. It charges all USB devices including Apples and Android phones and tablets (it will not charge the 12 or 16 volt tablets like the Lenovo brand).
- 6.5″ high x 5.5″ wide x 1.5″ deep (16.5 cm high x 14.5 cm wide x 4 cm deep)
- 1.1 lbs (480 g) including battery and solar panels
Comes in silver or orange colors at an affordable price of $99. buy from Voltaic Systems.
2. Goal Zero Guide 10 Plus Solar Kit
When I first saw a coworker with this about 5 years ago I went out and bought one. We were away from home at a conference and were in a sunny spot. He plugged it in and kept his phone full all day. My own phone charged at the time fully in about 2 hours and there was still power left to partially charge another phone. When charging your device from the Goal Zero, it charges in the same amount of time it takes to charge your device from a wall. It takes about about 3 hours to fully charge the battery pack from the sun and about 6 hours to charge using the USB port. Since I bought mine, the newer versions are less expensive (only $40) and they come with 4 rechargeable AA batteries.
- .8 pounds (solar panel)
- Dimensions (unfolded): 9 x 1.5 x 17 in (22.9 x 3.8 x 43.2 cm)
- Dimensions (folded): 9 x 1.5 x 6.5 in (22.9 x 3.8 x 16.5 cm)
Buy from Goal Zero.
3. PowerTraveller PowerMonkey Extreme Tactical
This is an upgraded version of the PowerMonkey Extreme the Australian company introduced a few years ago. I love the idea of the versatility of this item. It charges most 5V devices via USB and also has a 12V DC port for charging camera batteries and two-way radios. In an emergency situation, charging your communication radios could be key. The problem with it for me us the sheer number of pieces and adaptors that you have to keep track of. If you’re organized, it could work. Everything does fit neatly into a zip case though. The case color is “coyote brown.” The other issue for me with this is that it can take up to 22 hours in full light to fully charge. But when it does, it gives you 3 watts of power and said to be waterproof for 30 minutes.
Total weight: 1.00531 pounds (456 grams)
Buy from Power Traveller.
4. Goal Zero Sherpa 100 Solar Kit
This is more money than I can spend on solar, but if I could afford it, this is what I would get. This baby will charge a phone, a MacBook Pro and even a lightbulb. It has two USB ports so you can charge two devices at the same time. The 12V port will charge a light (Goal Zero makes LED lights specifically for this purpose). Recharge it from a wall, car or the sun with the solar panel that comes along with it. It fully charges from the sun in 10 hours or 3 hours from a wall. When it is full, it says you can get 2 full laptop charges from it.
- 4.4 pounds (1.99 kg)
- Dimensions: 5.8 x 1.5 x 5.25 in (14.7 x 3.8 x 13.3 cm)
- Weight: 2.5 lbs (1.1 kg) (solar panel)
- Dimensions (unfolded): 30.5 x 8.5 x 1 in (77.5 x 21.6 x 2.5 cm) (solar panel)
- Dimensions (folded): 13 x 8.5 x 1 in (33 x 21,6 x 2.5 cm) (solar panel)
Buy from Goal Zero.
5. Bushnell Powersync SolarWrap 400
As awesome as the Goal Zero Sherpa 100 would be, sometimes you just want something a little more basic. This is only $50 and is pretty much the same size and the charging panels roll up. The solar panels are flexible and the whole thing is lightweight. Because you get a larger (longer) charging surface, it charges faster than other smaller models. It has one USB port, so you can only charge one item at a time. One drawback is that it needs to charge from a wall with a microUSB, which I don’t always have readily available. It takes 4 hours to charge it from the wall and 3.5 hours to charge from solar. It outputs 5V.
- .10.1 ounces
- Dimensions (rolled): 9.125 x 2.4 inches
- Dimensions (unrolled): 29.25 inches
Find a retailer.