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.

OK, you might not be in the actual DESERT when there’s an emergency situation. But around my parts, the Pacific Northwest, it’s common to go for weeks in the summertime with no rain. I’ve lived in my city for 25 years, and over that time there’s been a noticeable shift in the weather patterns. When I first got here, the first summer we went the entire 3 to 4 month summer period with absolutely no rain at all and barely ever a cloud in the sky the entire time. After that, we’d regularly go the whole summer with little to no rain. Temperature-wise, it stayed in the 80s to 90s.

Now, 25 years later, we do get rain in the summertime on a more regular basis, but it is still very common to go weeks with no rain, and if there is rain it is a light mist that doesn’t do enough good for plants outside. And temperature-wise, it regularly gets up to and above 100 now. So even if there is a tiny but of rain, a stretch of a week or more of 100-degree weather is going to do a number on human bodies and any food plants we might be trying to grow.

This post isn’t going to cover the technology of catching rain–we covered that in a past post: “Build A Better Rainwater Harvest System”–but instead I will focus on collecting enough water to keep you alive. Humans can’t go longer than 3 days without water.

I’m also assuming here that you don’t need to be told to look in your environment for drinkable water in the form of lakes, streams or rivers. How about birdbaths or potholes? Fish tanks? Swimming pool? First things first, try to find fresh water wherever you can. If an emergency happens when you are in your home state, you probably already know where water sources are. If you’re on the road and something happens, it may be harder to find a river, lake or stream, but hopefully someone helpful will tell you. Look for areas where there are bands of trees or bushes where there aren’t any in other areas nearby. those bands of trees or bushes often grow alongside water sources.

Even in places where there does not seem to be much moisture in the air, there is always a little. A key way to collect water is to create a surface that water can condense on, and a temperature difference so that the water vapor in the air is induced to condense as vapor. Keeping a large sheet of plastic or a few plastic trash bags in your emergency kit is ideal for this. You can also create this temperature difference by collecting any moisture that is in the ground.

If you have access to salt water, you can boil it and collect the steam, which will condense into water vapor when it cools and is drinkable. This method also works with contaminated water. Based on what tools you have, you can create a “still” in a variety of ways. Take a container in which to boil the salt water. As the salt water boils, it will create steam. You want to be able to collect the steam and transfer it into a drinking container. Based on the gear you have, you might rig up a lot of ways to do this. for instance, you could cover your boiling pot with a metal screen and another cooking pot with a hole drilled into the side of it that would accept a high-temperature plastic tube. If you have a large garbage can you can place this over your whole system to contain as much steam as possible. Yes, you will lost some water along the sides of the garbage can, and perhaps you could rig up a way to collect that water as well. But some portion of the condensed water will go into your second cooking pot with the tube, and you’ll get water that way. You can buy distillation kits that will do this. They are often expensive, so if you can cobble one together yourself you’ll be better off.

You can also use the coolness of the ground to help you collect water. This is a good way to go if you do not have enough fuel to keep salt water or other contaminated water boiling. This is where it is helpful to have a large square of clear plastic sheeting and a vessel for holding your water–as large or as small as you have access to. Dig a hole in the ground, slightly smaller than the plastic you have. Dig a hole in the center of that hole that will hold the collecting vessel you have. Place the plastic over the hole and anchor it on all sides. Find a lightweight rock or something to cause the center of the plastic to dip down right above the collecting vessel. Now just wait. As the air underneath the plastic warms up, the condensation will begin to form and will drip toward your collecting vessel.

An even easier way is to simply place a clean cloth over the top of a boiling container of your water. The cloth will absorb the steam. Once the cloth has collected the steam, wring it out into your drinking container and repeat. The idea of drinking “cloth water” doesn’t sound that great, but it will work and does not require anything but cloth. Maybe the t-shirt you’re wearing.

If you have a tarp or trash bag, stretch it out on the ground and secure half of it with rocks. Fold the other half over to create a “pocket.” The vapor in the air will condense on the inside of the plastic. From there, you can carefully collect it. You can do this on a small scale, with whatever size plastic you have. Darker plastic will create more of a temperature difference and you’ll likely get more condensation.

An even simpler way to get a few drops would be to let the plants around you do the work for you. If you have an empty can or an empty water bottle with a small opening, simply place it over a plant stem or leaf of a tree. Secure it and seal it off as best you can. the plant’s transpiration will result in moisture collecting on the inside surface of your container.

If you’re anything like me, you probably enjoy having your phone around when you’re hiking or camping. I like mine for taking pictures and checking in with my family by text and checking my email if I happen to be in an area with cell service. I don’t want to have to worry about running out of battery or lugging around an extra device for charging. The solar panel chargers are great and they work, but sometimes I want to keep my packing light and simple.

This backpack does that by charging my devices right from the backpack. That’s right, a backpack that charges devices! It’s available in black, pink and gray, light blue and gray, tropical blue, gray, and white and black, it’s even fairly water proof. It’s a stylish and useful pack for a day bag and I really liked the fact that BirkSun gives you a money back refund if you’re not happy with the bag after 50 days.

The bags are TSA approved (nice for plane travel) and charge devices as fast as a wall outlet. The website says that every 3 minutes the solar panels are in sunlight they will generate 1% smartphone battery power. From wall outlets, the battery inside the back will be recharged 1% every minute. Too bad, but the bags can’t recharge laptops. however, if I just want to take a photo or check the time or whatever, my laptop being charged is not my biggest concern. Take this bag to the beach or to a festival, on a hike or just walking around campus, and never worry about whether there’s an outlet at hand or not. Wish I would have had this when I went to a big music festival and had to plan my day around what bands I didn’t mind missing so that I could hang out in the technology tent and get an outlet!

Check out the BirkSun bags and get one for your gear lover for $130, $170, or $200, depending on the style you get.

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