Updated: Jan 19
Solar chargers tend to fall into three styles: Power banks that have a solar panel attached, stand-alone solar panels for charging outdoors, and a few options that combine these two, pairing larger fold-out panels with a power bank.
For on-the-go use, smaller power banks may be more convenient, but any solar capability offered by putting a single panel on the face of a portable battery is going to be limited. Solar-capable power banks can recharge entirely by sunlight, but it may take up to a week of sunny days to do so. Instead, these pocketable power backups are meant to be charged like any other power bank, but exposing the charged bank to regular sunlight will help keep the battery topped off.
These external batteries do boast some added functionality thanks to built in flashlights and other features, but the solar aspect isn't the main selling point.
For serious charging when in nature, you'll be better served by one of several solar charging panels, which offer more surface area and more-efficient power generation. These portable panels can charge a phone or tablet in a matter of hours, and most are designed to attach to the outside of a backpack, so you can charge phones or cameras while hiking.
The best solar chargers bring you freedom. You're no longer stuck near wall outlets to stay powered up and racking up higher power bills as you make sure your gadgets are filled with juice. Instead, a solar charger can soak up the sun's rays and convert that into the energy to keep your gadgets on the go.
After all, for all the mobility of the modern age, we spend a lot of time tethered to stationary outlets, charging batteries. To help set you free, or just give you a way to charge a device in the great outdoors, we've pulled together a list of the best solar chargers out there.
Whether we're looking at the most popular best-sellers or rugged trail gear, these portable solar panels and solar-cell-equipped power banks are great for everything from backpacking and hiking to week-long camping trips, or just keeping a charge while you're out at a barbeque — perfect now that we're in the heat of summer and spending more time outdoors, away from plugs.