Imagine being in a breathtaking wilderness, far from outlets, yet still having the ability to charge your devices – that’s the magic of backpacking solar chargers.
But are they really worth the extra weight in your backpack?
In this post, we’ll take a closer look at these devices and see if they’re a smart addition to your gear.
Solar chargers, or some may refer to them as solar panels, contain special cells called photovoltaic (PV) cells. These cells absorb energy from the sun and transform it into electricity.
Certainly, you might be aware, but what’s different now? Well, in the last 7 years, backpacking solar chargers have become approximately three times lighter and more efficient, operating at over 20% efficiency.
Certain portable solar chargers even come with built-in battery storage. While these batteries are usually small and don’t store a large amount of electricity, they typically have enough capacity to charge most modern cell phone batteries.
Now, there are solar chargers from companies like Lixada weighing around 3.5oz (100g). The upside seems substantial – limitless power for minimal weight. Right? Not so fast.
Regarding Lixada, users find it difficult to charge anything beyond low-powered USB devices due to the low real power output.
Reliable solar chargers that meet performance expectations generally weigh over 21 oz (600g). Even with such weight, they can still take from 4 to more than 16 hours of constant sunlight to fully charge a regular smartphone.
While backpacking solar chargers can be useful in certain situations, it’s crucial to consider their limitations and drawbacks:
Indeed, we’ve seen that solar chargers have become more efficient and smaller in size, but they still fall short compared to power banks in terms of performance. So, does this mean you should never consider using a solar charger? Well, not so fast.
Solar chargers are like a lifeline in desolate deserts or faraway places without access to towns or power outlets for a long time. So, if you’re facing weeks without power, choosing a solar charger can be a solution—just make sure to check the details of specific models for the best results.
However, in all other scenarios, it’s advisable to opt for a couple of ultralight power banks. For the best options, don’t forget to check out our TOP 5 guide.
The size of the solar panel for backpacking depends on your power needs and weight preferences. Smaller, compact panels (around 10 watts) are OK for charging smartphones and lightweight devices. For larger devices (e.g., tablets) or low sunlight conditions, opt for a more powerful panel (15-20 watts or higher).
For many backpackers, portable solar chargers may not provide significant value due to unpredictable weather and added weight. Instead, the focus should be on determining the right number of power banks to bring, as they are more reliable, ensuring you have enough power to last from one town visit to the next. Solar chargers make sense if you are off the grid for weeks.