Using a solar charger is one of the best ways campers, hikers, climbers etc. can charge their smartphone, GPS, tablet and other mobile electronics when off the grid. This article will help you understand what they are and how to find the right one for you.
Solar charging panels are typically rated in Watts, and how many of those you will need depends on the type and number of devices you want to charge. If you all you need to charge is a cell phone or mp3 player, a 5 Watt panel should work alright. On the other hand many today's smartphones, with large screens and fast processors are likely to need a larger 7-10 Watt panel to satisfy their energy needs.
If you have a even larger devices, such as iPad, or want to charge two smartphones, you will be looking at even larger solar charging panels, at least 15-20W.
It is important to know where and when you will use your solar charger, or more accurately - how many hours of sunshine a day can you realistically expect. The Watt numbers above assume a good summer weather, with a good amount of sunshine. If you plan to charge your electronics in darker months, when days are shorter and cloudier, you will always be better off investing in larger and more efficient panels. They will pull some decent Watts in cloudy weather, and can charge your devices faster whenever the sun does get through.
When picking a solar charger you should pay special attention to how many USB ports the charger has, and how many Amps of current you can get out of them. Amps mean how fast you can charge your device, for example a 1 Amp port will charge your smartphone faster than a 0.5 Amp port. Some chargers offer maximum Amp output of 2.1 Amps, however it is split into two or more USB ports. If you connect all of them at the same time, they will be charged at a slower rate.
There are basically three different types of solar charger panels:
Solar chargers with monocrystalline panels seem to be the best choice for personal use, because they combine durability with high efficiency.
Some solar charging panels come with a battery, which can be slowly charged by the solar panel during the day, and can be later used for recharging your devices after sunset. The battery can be separate, or built-in. Many smaller charging devices are in fact small power banks with a similarly small solar panel. Unfortunately due to the panel size, they are unable to charge any decently-sized battery in a reasonable amount of time.
If you plan to use your portable solar panels for camping or hiking, small dimensions are essential. If weight is the most important, you could take another look at CIGS thin film panels, as they are the real light weight there. Look for the most rugged and durable you can find.
On the other hand, if portability is what you're looking for, and you're not going to be off-grid for very long, you might come to the conclusion that an external battery or a power bank might be better in your situation. You will be able to charge your phone at least a few times and you won't have to worry about the weather. When it comes to the size and convenience, it would perhaps then be your best choice.
One of the best ways to figure out value of a solar panel is to divide the price of the solar panel by the number of Watts it can produce. If they panel you're looking for costs $60 and is rated at 5 Watts, that means $12 per Watt. The less you pay per Watt, the more the panel is worth, although you should also look at features and accessories the panel comes with to make a good judgment.
In the list below you will find the solar chargers you might be interested in looking at in your research: