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)

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.

While we were at SHOT Show earlier this year in January, we met the people selling the JIT Charger. They were also selling Ron Hood survival videos (more on that later!) I got to talking with the guys at the booth and became really interested in their JIT charger. I got one and tested it out.

The JIT charger is an emergency power device that accepts a charge and then transfers that charge to either an Android or iPhone for battery power. It also contains an LED flashlight and an electric lighter that heats up metal coils. You could use this to smoke your last cigarette when the SHTF and you lost your lighter (unless you have this badass lighter on you) or make yourself a fire that might keep you alive until Judgement Day. The JIT is small and affordable, and does its job. It comes in three pieces: the flashlight, the lighter, and a USB that charges it. It’s light, at only 1 ounce you will not likely even know you are carrying it. The charger plugs directly into the phone with no need for an additional cord, which is nice. It’s available online for $21.49 for an Android version and $22.49 for the iPhone version.

Here’s how it worked for me. I plugged the flashlight part of the JIT into the USB on my desk computer at 11:30, and by 12:30 it was fully charged. It was actually full in less time than that, probably about 5 or 10 minutes earlier than that, but I’m not sure exactly since I wasn’t looking at it every second. I did not expect it to charge that fast. There are four green LED lights on the outside of it that show the progress visually. When it has only one green LED light lit it is only 1/4th charged. When all four green lights are lit it is fully charged. I let my iPhone 6 completely die, meaning that I let a game continue playing on my phone until it shut itself off and had no more power left. I plugged in the JIT at 1:19. Twenty minutes later, at 1:40, the JIT had imparted all of its charge (the four green LEDs had gone down from four lit to none lit) and my phone was at a 15% charge. This is plenty of charge to send a few emergency texts or make a quick phone call. The JIT will not fully charge your battery, but if it is totally dead, as mine was, it will give you enough juice to reach out for help.

I had to take my phone out of its OtterBox case in order to plug it in, but I didn’t mind doing that. It’s good to take it out of the case once in a while and clean it! Within 5 minutes it was down to 1 LED light on the charger, and the phone was at 7% charged. So you could use this to get a quick charge to make a text, and if you don’t connect with the person you’re trying to reach you could have enough power to try again a few minutes later. The packaging has actual instructions, which I didn’t read at first because I wanted to see how intuitive it was to use if I didn’t know what I was supposed to do. I fumbled a minute pressing the on button, not sure exactly how to turn the flashlight on and turn the LED lights off. Turns out, all you have to do is press and hold the button to turn the flashlight on. The green LED lights go off by themselves after 15 seconds. The lighter automatically shuts off after 20 seconds. When I plugged the lighter into the JIT it got red right away, just like a cigarette lighter.

I don’t know exactly how many lumens the flashlight is but it is bright for its size and will dispel darkness enough to get you somewhere. I turned on the flashlight at 3:00 pm, and left it on the whole night while I was sleeping. By the next morning at 9am, it was still going strong. That’s a minimum of 18 hours of light. It could have kept going for a lot longer than that but my son got a hold of it and started playing with it, so I’ll have to test it again another time!

One drawback is that the three pieces are small so it could be easily lost or broken. I’d like to see the JIT come with a small case or carrying bag to better enable keeping track of them and keeping them all together. You can’t connect them all together, because then the charge from the charger will go into the lighter. You can connect the flashlight piece and the USB piece and keep those together. Both the flashlight piece and the lighter piece came with a small carrying loop so that it could be hooked to a keychain. The charging end of the flashlight had a cover that remains connected via this loop. The flashlight part requires a lithium ion battery, which is included.

There are a lot of chargers you can get out there, and many of them cost a lot more than the JIT. But I like the JIT because of its simplicity, its small size, and its affordability. This would be a very easy thing to keep in your purse, at work, or in your car in case of any power emergency, and for the price of three JITs you’d spend less than some other chargers that may or may not work as well as they say they will (read our comparison of smartphone power banks). Many smartphone chargers simply do not provide as much power as you think they will, and, they don’t have the flashlight or the lighter feature.

I’m the kind of person that keeps my phone fully charged at all times in anticipation of emergencies when I won’t be able to charge it. I have to admit that it made me nervous to let my cell phone dwindle its battery all the way down to nothing and then shut itself off! But the JIT came through, and when I plugged my phone in to charge back up, I plugged my JIT in too, so it’s ready for next time.

Buy the JIT from