Backpacking Solar Chargers: Worth the Weight?

Backpacking Solar Chargers: A flexible solar charger fixed to a backpack

In this post, we'll take a look at:

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.

Backpacking Solar Chargers: A Closer Look

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.

Backpacking Solar Chargers: Pros and Cons

Backpacking Solar Chargers: A man trying to get some sunlight for his solar charger

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:

  • Poor Weather: When it rains or the sky is cloudy for several days, your solar charger won’t work as well. On days with heavy cloud cover, solar panels generate only about 10% to 25% of their normal power output.
  • Inconsistent Sunlight: Hiking trails don’t offer continuous sunlight, and even on sunny days, the sun’s position shifts during your trip, making it hard for solar panels to stay optimally angled for efficient charging. Certain trails, like the Appalachian Trail, have dense forests that limit sunlight.
  • Weight: While solar chargers have improved, they still add weight. Those meeting expectations may not be as light as extra power banks:
    • For example, a popular solar charger from Amazon weighs 21.5 oz (610g), which is like carrying three or four 10,000mAh power banks.
  • Backpack Mobility: Backpackers keep moving, and their packs shift on different terrains. Solar chargers on backpacks may struggle to stay at the right angle for sunlight, resulting in low power. Trails don’t just go north-south or east-west; they twist and turn in many directions.

The Verdict

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.

FAQ

What size solar panel for backpacking?

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).

Are solar chargers worth it backpacking?

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.

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