Smartphones and other devices let us stay connected wherever life’s adventures take us… until the battery runs out. Solar power banks promise to end the hunt for power outlets, letting you harness the power of the sun to charge your devices even in remote areas.
How Does a Solar Power Bank Work?
The market for portable batteries is very crowded. Most charge only from a wall or USB socket, but some also have the option of charging from solar panels. Sometimes the panels are completely separate, but most smaller solar power banks use panels that are either built in or can be attached to the battery for portability.
Larger solar power banks may offer a choice of plug-in bi-fold or tri-fold solar panels, while smaller units typically use a fanfold design for the panels. All let you charge from a USB-A and/or USB C socket, while others add extras like Qi wireless charging and (on larger models) AC and DC power as well.
While versatile, you’ll still find a particular solar power bank is best suited to certain kinds of use. A power bank designed for smartphones, for instance, isn’t likely to charge your laptop efficiently (or at all). Larger units can handle bigger charging jobs, but at the expense of easy portability.
Carefully consider how you’ll use your solar power bank before clicking the buy button.
Single-Panel vs. Multi-Panel Solar Power Banks
Keeping the weight down is always important when you’re carrying all your gear, which can make single-panel power banks appeal for things like hiking and bike camping. However, you’ll be a happier camper (pun intended) if you invest in a model that uses multiple panels.
Single-panel units often take an extremely long time to recharge the power bank, with many models never reaching a useable charge level even after a full day in the sun. Multiple panels let the power bank recharge significantly faster, making them a must-have feature as far as we’re concerned.
Fortunately there are many compact power banks out there with a foldable multi-panel design. While they’re a little larger and heavier than their single-panel siblings, there’s often not a big difference — and if you’re buying a solar charger, don’t you want one that actually charges in the sun?
☀️ If you already have a power bank and are just looking to charge it using the sun, we’ve got a range of recommendations for the best solar chargers as well!
- Size: 7.0 x 3.5 x 1.6 inches
- Weight: 1.5 pounds
- Capacity: 20,000mAh
- Solar Panel Output (Max): 1.2 amps
- Outputs: 2 x USB-A, 1 x USB C
- Size: 7.0 x 3.5 x 1.6 inches (generator), 22.9 x 19.7 x 2.4 inches (panel)
- Weight: 13.3 pounds (generator), 5.5 pounds (panel)
- Capacity: 518Wh
- Solar Panel Output (Max): 100W
- Outputs: 3 x USB-A, 3 x DC, 1 x AC
- Size: 3.9 x 3.1 x 1.0 inches
- Weight: 7.8 ounces
- Capacity: 4000mAh
- Solar Panel Output (Max): 4W
- Outputs: 1 x USB-A
- Size: 10.5 x 5.3 x 8.5 inches
- Weight: 7.7 pounds
- Capacity: 280Wh
- Solar Panel Output (Max): 100W
- Outputs: 3 x USB-A, 3 x DC, 1 x USB C, 1 x AC
- Size: 7.3 x 5.5 x 2.2 inches
- Weight: 20 ounces
- Capacity: 20,000mAh
- Solar Panel Output (Max): 1.3 amps
- Outputs: 2 x USB-A, 1 x Qi wireless
- Size: 7.3 x 5.5 x 2.2 inches
- Weight: 19 ounces
- Capacity: 25,000mAh
- Solar Panel Output (Max): 5W
- Outputs: 2 x USB-A
Best Solar Power Bank: BLAVOR W12Pro
There’s a lot to like about many of BLAVOR’s products, but our favorite is the well-rounded W12Pro. Overall, it’s our top overall solar power bank pick for most people.
The 20,000mAh capacity is a useful size for a portable solar power bank like this, with enough juice to recharge a tablet once or twice, or most smartphones multiple times, while not being excessively heavy. Robust and reliable, the W12Pro can take a fair amount of abuse, although it’s not fully waterproof.
A foldable four-panel design helps the W12Pro recharge faster, while still remaining reasonably compact and easy to stow in your bag. The W12Pro’s solar charging panels, rated at up to 300 MA per panel (1.2 amp total) are enough to top off the power bank between uses on sunny days.
The W12Pro supports both Power Delivery (PD) and QC 3.0, allowing charging of supported devices (including some smaller laptops) at up to an impressive 18W. As well as a microUSB input, there are two USB-A outputs and a single USB C port.
The USB C port is for charging either your device or the W12Pro itself, so you can use it to quickly recharge the power bank from a wall outlet before you hit the road. As with most solar power banks, we’d recommend doing this: while the charging rate from the four panels is much better than single-panel designs, you’re still looking at a couple of days of sunshine or more for a full charge.
Extra goodies include two lights (one focused, one covering a wider area) that can be adjusted through three brightness levels. There’s also an inbuilt compass, but no Qi wireless charging, so you’ll need to look elsewhere if that’s a requirement.Buy on Amazon
Best Solar Power Bank for Camping: Jackery Solar Generator 500
If your camping needs include a bunch of electronics, a small solar power bank isn’t going to cut it. You’ll need something much more powerful to charge your devices or power small appliances while you’re relaxing in your camp chair.
Our top pick for drive-in camping is the Jackery Solar Generator 500. The 500 in the name speaks to the power bank’s whopping 500-watt output, which is enough to charge laptops, run camping coolers, or even power a portable TV if you just can’t miss your favorite show.
If you need more power (and have a bigger budget), you can also consider Jackery’s 1000-watt solar power bank that impressed us during our review. Budget shoppers can also look at Jackery’s 240-watt model that’s cheaper and lighter, but has less power and capacity.
Larger models like these use a modular design with a heavy-duty power bank paired with your choice of solar panels to charge it with. You’ll trade some portability for versatility here: these units are comparatively big and bulky, but are also up to the task of much bigger jobs.
The Jackery Solar Generator 500 offers several attractive features, including pass-through charging that lets you power devices while the generator recharges from solar, vehicle, or mains power.
The unit has a 110-volt AC outlet so you can plug in gadgets just like you were at home, plus three USB sockets and three DC ports, including an auto-type adapter.
Jackery’s 500-watt solar power bank can’t run high-power devices like hair dryers or microwaves, just in case you were planning on taking those along on your next camping trip, but it’s ideal for powering a wide range of other devices.Buy on Amazon
Best Solar Power Bank for Backpacking: Sunslice Photon
Weight and bulk are big considerations when backpacking, and that’s as true for power banks as anything else. Enter the Sunslice Photon, advertised as the smallest portable solar charger in the world.
The Sunslice Photon pairs five small solar panels with a 4000mAh power bank that’s enough to top off your phone even if your journey takes you miles from civilization. Sunslice includes a small, clip-on cable that fits all popular smartphones, so there’s no need to pack a separate one.
You’re able to quickly charge the power bank via its USB C port (input-only) before hitting the trail less traveled, and once it’s depleted, you’ll get enough juice back into it to charge most smartphones in about three hours using solar power.
At just 7.8 ounces, the Sunslice Photon packs a lot of punch for such a comparatively small, lightweight package. Folded, the power bank is smaller than most wallets. With all five panels extended, the device can easily attach to a backpack via the inbuilt carabiner without getting in your way.
A flashlight is built in, which is always a useful extra when camping, and the magnetic closure on the power bank helps keep the panels secured when you’re not using them.
While we’d like to see a higher capacity battery in the Photon, it’s still enough to fully charge most smartphones, and an acceptable tradeoff for such a small device. For hiking or backpacking, the high efficiency and lightweight design makes the Photon our top pick in this category.
Best Solar Power Bank for Emergencies: ROCKPALS 300W Portable Power Station
For home use or emergencies, the capable 300-watt portable power station from ROCKPALS offers a compelling value. Whether you need to power your laptop in your sun-kissed backyard gazebo or charge multiple phones during a post-storm blackout, this is the device to do it with.
With up to 300 watts of continuous power and a 500-watt peak power rating, the ROCKPALS 300 is ready for most home or emergency uses. A battery capacity of 280wh offers enough power to recharge phones and other small devices several times over.
Paired with fanfold 100-watt panels, the power bank recharges from the sun in about five to seven hours. Other recharging options include AC charging, DC charging from a vehicle, and USB C power delivery (PD) at 30 watts.
You can power a range of devices and gadgets thanks to the wide range of outputs. There’s an AC outlet, three DC sockets (including a cigarette lighter-style 12v port), a USB C PD port, and three USB-A jacks.
The unit supports passthrough charging for the DC and USB ports, meaning you can recharge your devices while the power bank itself is charging. You’ll have to wait a bit before plugging in more demanding devices, though: there’s no passthrough power for the AC outlet.
At under eight pounds, the ROCKPALS 300 offers portable power on demand, making it a solid alternative to generators for home or emergency use. If you’re looking for something more heavy duty, ROCKPALS also makes a 500W/505Wh model, and there’s also the Jackery 1000 mentioned above.Buy on Amazon
Best Solar Power Bank for Travel: BLAVOR W09
BLAVOR makes its second appearance in this roundup, this time with the best solar power bank for travel. For this category, we looked for a device with a useful battery capacity that could take a beating (within reason) while bumping around in a suitcase or travel bag.
We also wanted a power bank that offered Qi wireless charging and the ability to charge at least two devices at once, making it appropriate for as many of the devices that people are likely to be traveling with as possible. The BLAVOR W09 delivers on all those requirements and more.
Like some other solar power banks, the BLAVOR W09 uses a foldable five-panel design that keeps the overall dimensions small. However, we liked that the solar panels could be detached from the power bank, offering a safer way to transport the unit and reducing the risk of damaging the connectors.
This design choice also lets you save space and use the unit as a standard power bank if your travel day won’t require you to charge it via solar power.
The BLAVOR W09 has a pair of USB-A ports, one for slower (5W) charging, the other for higher-speed (12W) charging. Place a phone that supports Qi wireless charging on top, and you can charge three devices at once. At 20,000mAh, there’s enough capacity to charge all your phones once, or one phone several times.
There’s both a microUSB and USB C port for charging the power bank itself (they’re both for input only), and as with the W12Pro above, there’s a compass and inbuilt flashlight as well.
Best Budget Solar Power Bank: ADDTOP Solar Power Bank
If you don’t want to spend up to a hundred bucks on a pocket-sized solar power bank, this ADDTOP model does a good job for less than half the price. This affordable option can charge two devices at once, with quick charge (12W) supported on both USB-A ports.
The four-panel design produces up to five watts of power, which is about standard for this size of power bank, and will take up to three days in the sun to fully recharge. That sounds like a long time (and it is), but it’s partially due to the battery’s larger 25,000mAh capacity.
That also means this power bank lasts longer than many others before needing a recharge, of course. Fully charge it from a wall outlet via the microUSB port, and for overnight or other shorter outings, you may not need to charge the power bank via solar at all.
A sturdy nylon loop lets you attach the power bank to a backpack or bag so you can charge it while you’re walking, and a handy light helps you navigate safely in dark conditions.
You can spend more on a solar power bank with more features, like USB C ports or wireless charging. For many people, though, this ADDTOP model provides everything they need at a more affordable price.Buy on Amazon
Main image via Shutterstock, product images via Amazon except Sunslice Proton image via Sunslice