Keeping your phone charged on the go can be a hassle – hunting for an outlet isn’t the way anybody wants to spend their day. Whether you’re hiking, camping, or simply walking around, there’s an easy and environmentally-friendly solution to your charging problem: a solar phone charger.
How do solar-powered cell phone chargers work?
You don’t have to install solar panels on your roof or subscribe to a local community solar farm to benefit from renewable solar energy. Instead, you can start small (both for your wallet and in physical size) with a solar-powered phone charger.
Solar phone chargers use the same technology as regular solar panels but on a much smaller scale. The sun hits a small solar panel, which in turn either charges a battery bank or directly plugs in to and powers your phone, much like solar panels on your roof can either power your home directly or charge a battery system.
What to look for in a solar phone charger
One of the critical factors to consider if you’re in the market for a solar phone charger is the size of the product. When we say “size” in this context, we mean how much power the charger produces, in watts, and stores (if it has an attached battery). For example, a charger with between 10 and 15 watts of power is usually sufficient for charging one, maybe two phones. Importantly, the wattage of a charger is basically the amount of solar electricity it can produce, so larger panels will usually mean more wattage.
Type: direct charger vs. attached battery
There are two main types of solar phone chargers to keep an eye out for:
Direct phone chargers do just that – they are usually a couple of small solar panels (often that fold up for easy transportation) that you can plug your phone right into. These chargers only work when the panels are in the sun, however, as there’s no attached battery to store any generated electricity for later.
Panel/battery combo chargers are direct chargers with an added battery. This means that you can charge the battery separately from your phone, which frees you up from having to have your panels exposed to the sun in order for your phone to charge. In other words, you can keep the panels out during the day when it’s sunny, and charge your phone at your convenience at a later point in the day.
The beauty of a solar charger is that you don’t need a wall outlet to juice up your phone. You’ll probably want a device that’s easy to move around and easy to lay out in the sun. Many solar phone chargers can hang off of a backpack on the trail (or sit on the dashboard of a car if that’s your thing) and fold up, which makes them perfect for on-the-go power.
Device compatibility is less of an issue these days, but you’ll want to keep an eye out for device compatibility in solar phone chargers just in case. Most chargers come with a USB port that can be used for just about any phone, but it’s worth double-checking to make sure you won’t have any connection problems.
Best solar phone chargers: top options
There are thousands of solar phone charging products out there – a simple search on Amazon will give you pages and pages of them. We went ahead and took a look at some of the more popular options to see how they stack up against each other. At the end of the day, most solar phone chargers will get you where you need to go, and it’s more about subtle aesthetic and functionality differences between chargers.
Blavor Solar Power Bank
Best features: Size and backup power
The only solar charger on our list with attached backup battery storage, the Blavor Solar PowerBank looks like a small black and orange brick with solar panels attached, and is perfect for a little charge boost on the go. While it won’t charge as fast as some of the other options in this article (the panel is less than 20 square inches large), its all-in-one design lets you charge up the built-in battery and juice up your phone later.
One fun feature on some newer Blavor products is Qi charging compatibility. That’s the technology that allows for wireless charging in many smartphones these days.
BigBlue 28W Solar Charger
Price range: $70 to $80
Best feature: SunPower solar panels
The BigBlue solar charger uses a brand of solar panels that should be familiar to anyone who’s shopped for home solar panels before: SunPower, the industry leader in efficient monocrystalline solar panel tech. BigBlue says that their SunPower solar cells are up to 23.5% efficient, a surprisingly high efficiency rating.
Aside from the top-notch solar cell technology, BigBlue’s solar charger is collapsible for easy transport, durable in most weather conditions, and lightweight, despite its ability to provide up to a whopping 28 watts of power. It also has three USB ports, allowing you to charge multiple devices at once. Importantly, BigBlue’s phone charger needs to be in direct sunlight and connected to your phone to charge, as there is no connected battery pack. You can always buy a separate one, however.
Anker 24W Portable Solar Charger
Best features: Flexibility
Most solar chargers use the same kind of solar panels as the ones that go on your roof: ones made of the element silicon. The Anker Portable Solar Charger does something different, and has solar cells made of copper indium gallium selenide, or CIGS for short. These are a type of thin-film solar panels that are physically flexible, meaning you can bend the panel itself without breaking it.
For more rugged trips, that added flexibility makes the Anker charger a good option if you’re worried about damaging some of your gear. Anker’s product still has enough power to be effective, and it can support charging three different devices at once. Importantly, the phone charger needs to be in direct sunlight and connected to your phone to charge, as there is no connected battery pack. You can always buy a separate one, however.
Goal Zero Nomad line
Price range: $60 to $250, depending on size
Best feature: Integrated kickstand
Goal Zero makes plenty of eco-friendly outdoors products, from solar-powered coolers to phone chargers and everything in between. Available in 5, 10, 20, and 50 watts, their Nomad line of portable solar phone chargers stands up well to most options out there, and you can pick the size that works for you based on the number of devices you want to charge.
A unique feature of Nomad phone chargers is the attached kickstand (except for the largest size) – for any hikers out there, a Nomad solar charger could be the perfect solution for on-the-trail electricity. Importantly, these chargers need to be in direct sunlight and connected to your phone to charge, as there is no connected battery pack. You can always buy a separate one, however, and Goal Zero offers plenty of their own – check out their Sherpa or Venture lines as a starting point.
LuminAID PackLite Charger Lantern
Price range: $50 to $70
Best feature: Built-in lantern
We first saw the solar lantern chargers back at the Solar Power International (SPI) conference in 2018, and they truly are a unique solar charging product specifically designed for camping trips. LuminAID’s solar lantern is a multi-use product: it’s an inflatable lantern and solar phone charger in one aesthetically pleasing package.
While it’s not the highest-powered option on our list, the LuminAID PackLite is a fun product that can provide extra charge on a trip while also functioning as a light powered by the sun.
Start your solar journey with EnergySage
Want to upgrade from a phone charger? You can power your home and appliances with solar – check out our solar marketplace, where you can compare solar options from qualified companies in your area. Or, head over to our solar calculator to get an instant estimate of your solar savings potential.