6 of the best solar phone chargers, and ones to avoid (2022 update)
Some types of solar phone chargers can actually shorten your battery life. Here’s how to choose.
Have you ever experienced the anxiety of your phone or laptop battery in the red zone when you’re nowhere near a power output? I bet you have.
Small external power banks can save you, but you have to remember to recharge them. Plus, they’re only a short term solution: if you’re away from power for an extended period of time, your handy power bank will eventually run out of juice too.
This is when solar power is great. You could be camping hundreds of miles from the nearest power output, but if you have one of these solar chargers, you can keep your electronics running indefinitely.
These portable devices range in sizes no larger than a smartphone case, to folding chargers with multiple panels that can supply enough power to charge a tablet or even a laptop.
Your product choice will depend on the type of device you want to charge, how frequently you need to charge, and whether you need power delivery even after the sun has gone down.
Before listing some recommended models, let’s first take a look at some devices that you should definitely avoid.
Don’t buy solar cellphone cases
There is one type of solar phone charger that you should not use, which are phone cases with solar panels built into the back. Here’s an example:
The reason is that heat will shorten the life of lithium-ion batteries. You might notice how your phone gets warm under normal charging conditions. But to use one of these cases, you’re supposed to leave your phone in the sunlight, where it will slowly heat up because of the dark color of the solar cells.
As you can read in this Battery University article, lithium-ion batteries like to be cool. Temperatures above 85°F will start to stress a battery, and going much higher than that can permanently damage the battery and shorten its capacity.
If you look at how they solar phone cases are designed to be used, they are bound to generate a lot of heat.
First, they wrap around your phone, helping to hold in heat. But to charge your phone, you put your phone face down in direct sunlight so the solar cells on the rear of the case can charge your phone. On top of that, you’re now charging your battery, which results in additional heat.
Taken together, these effects mean that you could very quickly overheat your expensive phone, potentially causing permanent damage.
Avoid these cases, and instead choose one of the products below that will let you charge your phone in the sun while keeping it cool.
Also avoid chargers that are too small
On Amazon, you can find many battery + solar panel combos where the solar cells are a single small panel mounted on the rear of the battery pack. While the small form factor of these products is nice, the amount of solar power you get from such a small surface area doesn’t really make the solar cells worth it.
Remember that you’ll not always have full sunlight, and will want to sometimes charge in less than ideal conditions, such as a cloudy day. In this situation a package with larger solar array, such as the type that folds out, will provide you with power in situations where a smaller solar array will fail you.
Solar phone charger features to look for
Depending on your power requirements and the device you want to charge, the features you need from a solar charger will vary. Here are some things to look for when you’re checking out the specifications for a device.
Solar panel output
Look for the rated total output from the solar cells. The very lowest we’d recommend is 5 watts. In full sun, that will be enough to trickle charge a battery. However, it might not be enough to charge a smartphone, which requires a minium wattage before charging will kick in.
As a general rule of thumb, you can expect these small solar chargers to generate only half their rated power. So if you have a 10 watt solar panel, it will probably only give you 5 watts under good conditions, and even less under clouds or through a window.
If you don’t mind the extra bulk, get a larger solar panel than you think you need. Not only will this let you charge your devices faster, but it’ll work better in dimmer conditions such as cloudy days, early morning, or late afternoon.
Little features like a kickstand or suction cups will let you position the solar panels to capture the most sunlight.
USB-A ports are the ubiquitous rectangular ports you see everywhere. If you have the right cable, you can charge nearly any portable electronic device with one of these, including some smaller laptops.
Check the rated output of the port to find out how quickly it will charge your device. Most of the time, the USB-A port will top out at 2.4 amps (A). You can charge small devices with lower amperage ports, but it will take longer.
USB-C ports with PD
USB-C ports, which look like a rounded rectangle, are a newer standard with several advantages - especially higher power output. Many solar chargers and battery banks don’t include them.
If you have a device that supports USB-C, a compatible charger will potentially charge your device much faster.
One USB-C feature to look out for is power delivery, or PD. Confusingly, not all USB-C ports support PD. But if a port does, it will be able to deliver even more wattage. For example, the AddAcc charger below has a USB-C port with 18W PD, which is more than 3 times the output of a standard 2.4A USB-A port.
DC ports for laptop charging
Some larger solar panels may have a DC output port and a collection of round DC adapters. These will let you charge a Windows laptop direcly, avoiding the need to use the AC power brick that you normally use.
Shared or individual power?
Solar chargers usually include multiple ports, but if you actually plug in multiple devices, the power output might be shared between them, slowing down the charging of each device.
This means that even if a USB port is rated for 2.4A, that might be shared between all of the ports rather than allocated to each one. Read the specs closely to see if each port is guaranteed a certain output, or if the power is shared across ports.
Qi wireless charging
Many newer phones include wireless charging capability. If your phone supports this, look for a solar charger or battery pack that supports the Qi wireless standard.
This is especially handy in a portable device because it means you don’t need to carry a dangling cord with you, making the package a lot cleaner to carry around. Just place your phone on top of the device to start charging.
The recommended products below all have a folding design, allowing you to tent the solar panels over your battery pack or device. This lets you keep your device out of direct sunlight, keeping it cooler and prolonging the life of the battery pack.
Waterproofness and durability
These solar chargers are intended to be used outdoors, so they will almost always have a waterproof rating. However, not all waterproof ratings are the same. Check out this explanation to learn how to read the ratings and tell the difference between a device that can withstand a little rain to one that can be submerged.
Solar chargers you should choose
The best type of solar chargers are either:
- A large, folding solar charger with multiple panels. These will allow you to either form a tent over your phone while the panels stay in the sunlight, or let you plug in a charging cable long enough that you can leave the charger in the sun while keeping your phone in the shade. The high power output will let you quickly charge your device.
- A solar panel-battery combo that includes both solar panels and a large battery. This will allow you to charge the battery any time you want, freeing you to charge your phone later, even when the sun isn’t shining.
With that out of the way, here’s some solar chargers that are recommended:
Best combo: FlexSolar 10W solar panel + Anker 10,000 mAh battery bank with wireless charging
- 10 watt foldable solar panel
- One USB-A port
- IP67 waterproof rating
- Solar panel folds up into a 8.8" × 7.7" package
- Anker 10,000 mAh battery pack
- Qi wireless charging
- One USB-A fast charging port
- Micro USB and USB-C input port (for recharging)
As it turns out, one of the best options for portable solar-powered charging is to buy the solar panel and portable battery separately.
While there are some good devices that combine both features (including ones listed here), having a separate solar panel and battery gives you more flexibility. For example, you might not always need solar charging, in which case you can leave the solar panel at home and save a little space by carrying just the compact battery.
You might also decide to have multiple solar panels to suit your charging requirements. The small 10 watt FlexSolar panel listed here is an inexpensive option but you could swap out a larger panel if you have bigger requirements.
You can buy a portable battery pack nearly anywhere, including a dollar store, but this Anker battery is high quality and includes both fast charging and wireless charging, making it a flexible option that is still inexpensive.
Battery price: about $22
Check pricing on Amazon
Solar panel price: about $30
Check pricing on Amazon
Best quality: Anker 24W solar charger with 3 USB ports
- 24 watt maximum output
- Three thin film solar panels panels
- Three USB-A ports (12W max per port)
- 18 month warranty
Anker is a company that is known for making products that are not only well-built and physically durable, but have excellent software as well. (Read more about Anker in this article in The Verge.) For example, the USB standard is surprisingly complex with a dizzying array of versions and specifications. For example, even if you have a phone that's capable of fast charging, a generic charger you buy might not be able to deliver fast charging output, even if the charger has the wattage to theoretically do so.
This 24 watt solar panel is capable of delivering 12 watts of power to one port, making it capable of fast charging your USB devices. When folded, it's smaller than a sheet of paper, but when fully deployed it has three thin film solar panels that collect up to 24 watts in total. Because it uses thin film panels, this device can flex more than other panels without damage.
Price: about $74Check pricing on Amazon
Best option with Qi charging: Blavor 20,000 mAh battery bank with 5 solar panels
- Large 20,000 mAh battery capacity
- Five fold-out solar panels with 6.5W total output
- Detachable solar panels
- Wireless Qi charger with 1.0A output
- Two USB-A ports with 2.1 A output
- Integrated flashlight
- One year warranty
Most new phones these days come with wireless charging. That's an especially handy feature with a portable battery pack because you don't need to carry around a charging cable: just place your phone on top of the battery, and it'll start charging.
This solar charger/battery pack combo includes Qi wireless charging and two USB ports that will let you charge multiple devices at once.
It includes five solar panels in total, but four of them are detachable. This is handy if you sometimes want to take the battery pack with you but don't need full solar charging capability. With all five panels it has 6.5 watts of output. In most conditions, this is only good enough to trickle charge the battery, but under really good sun it could be enough to fully recharge the battery in a day.
It includes two USB-A output ports, two USB input ports for charging from a wall socket, and built-in LEDs so you can use it as an emergency flashlight.
Price: about $53
Other good choices for solar chargers
Here some other good choices for charging your portable devices with solar power. While the devices listed above are probably best for most situations, the ones below give you some additional options, including ones that might suit you better if you have somewhat unusual requirements such as needing 70 watts or more solar generation.
BigBlue 28W Solar Panel
- High efficiency (21.5-23.5%) flexible SunPower cells
- Two USB-A ports and one USB Type-C port (2.4A each)
- Large 28 watt power output
- Moderate (IPX-4) water resistance
- Has four panels that folds up into a compact package
The BigBlue is a great choice because the 4 SunPower solar panels gives it a large enough output to charge larger devices such as a tablet or Chromebook. In addition, it two USB-A ports and one USB-C port.
The use of flexible monocrystalline SunPower cells is a good choice for this type of device because of the high power output. Other portable chargers may use thin-film solar, which has the advantage of being very flexible - even rollable - but at the cost of lower efficiency. These cells have the same efficiency as SunPower home solar panels, but in a flexible format.
Note that these types of cells are only partly flexible. They can withstand about a 30 degree bend, but anything more that that risks damaging the cells. This means that this charger should be stored flat, and not jammed at the bottom of a backpack where it could get damaged.
Price: about $70
X-DRAGON 70 Watt Solar Charger
- High efficiency (21.5-23.5%) flexible SunPower cells
- Two USB-A ports (2.4A)
- One 18V DC port (3A)
- Large 40 watt power output
- Includes adapters for direct charging of common Windows-based PC laptops
If you have large power requirements such as charging a laptop, this X-DRAGON charger with nine SunPower cells is the one for you. With 70 watts of output, it has enough power to charge a laptop when used in full sunlight. For Windows laptops, it has an 18V DC output and a selection of charging adapters that are compatible with the most common Windows-based laptops. This is a great feature for laptop owners, because the higher voltage means more efficient charging.
It also has two USB-A ports with 2.4A output.
Like the BigBlue, the X-DRAGON uses flexible monocrystalline SunPower solar cells. This means that while the cells can be safely bent up to 30 degrees, you should store this device flat to ensure that the cells don’t get damaged.
The tradeoff for the large power output of the X-DRAGON is that it’s a pretty chunky device. Folded up, it’s shorter and narrower than a sheet a paper, but more than 2 inches thick.
But if you’re frequently outdoors and have hefty charging requirements, this solar charger might fit the bill. It's big enough that you could even use it to charge a solar generator.
Price: about $120
Jackery 100 Watt Monocrystalline Folding Solar Panel
- 100 watt maximum output
- Built-in kickstand
- USB-C, USB-A, and Anderson power output ports
- Weight: 9.1 lbs
- 2 year warranty
If you need a lot of power, this 100 watt solar panel has the output to charge multiple large devices at once. Even if you don’t always need 100 watts, the large power capacity means you’ll be able to continue to generate power in dimmer conditions such as cloudy weather, or the early morning or evening. It folds in half to the size of a briefcase and has a carrying handle. It can be deployed in a few seconds, and the built-in kickstand is helpful for angling the panels to catch the sun’s rays.
While it's quite a bit more expensive per-Watt than the 70 watt X-DRAGON listed above, the design of the Jackery panel is more durable. If you want a product that you can use in rough conditions, this Jackery panel would be a good choice.
Price: about $300Check pricing on Amazon