The best travel solar panel chargers for all kind of travel life
Solar chargers have become extremely portable and convenient, so you would need a very good excuse if you weren’t helping the planet by using travel solar panels while traveling.
Yet when most people travel, they don’t think twice about where they are plugging in their devices, even though it is most likely an oil-powered socket.
Your excuse for not having a solar charger may be that the market is flooded with solar charging options, but I have created this guide, to help you navigate around your best options.
One of the reasons for this sudden surplus of solar chargers is that in the last 45 years the price of solar panels has decreased more than 200 times, and the same has happened with the size. To give you an idea, in the 70’s it was around 100 dollars per watt, now is less than 50 cents.
When looking at the available solar options, I realised that every type of travel has different requirements and limitations so I recommend a different solar solution for each type of travel:
1 – Camping or Hiking
2 – Backpacking
3 – RV or Van
4 – Digital Nomad
And from all of them we have our favourite:
Why should you consider solar energy in your daily and travel life?
I remember reading an article that included an estimation about how many days or weeks of sunlight that reaches our planet we needed to power all our technology for a full year: less than 1 hour.
For someone with an engineer’s mind, I found there was too much inefficiency to sleep with a clean conscience.
We can imagine a future where there is an orbital solar panel to collect all the energy needed to efficiently supply the planet easily, but until then, we can and should increase the efficiency of our current solar consumption by doing better as individuals.
When you have a permanent address, there is an obvious impactful decision: solar panels on the roof, at least for water heating
But when you are on the road, the solar challenge is much harder. Even if you try to rent houses with solar panels they won’t be easy to find.
You can stay in eco-lodges and footprint-conscious hostels, which are getting easier to find, and with that, you undoubtedly will make an impact.
But, there is another, a more manageable thing you can do: charge your devices with solar energy
And luckily for us, there are dozens of options for solar energy. From the small solar bank that will charge very slowly but hold a huge charge, to the wide but portable solar panels that can charge almost everything and everywhere if on a RV or car.
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You may be surprised, but the first rechargeable battery was invented in 1859 by a French physician called Gaston Planté. Yes, we have the technology since the middle of 19th century, at the peak of the steam industrial revolution.
Unfortunately after some experimental materials, NiCd became the industry standard until the end of the XX century when environmental concerns forced the Industry to find alternatives. Sony in 1991 launched the Li-ion batteries which are still used today to power most of our electrical devices.
On the other hand, solar power has been used as power source for almost 3 thousand years, when glass became available and someone realised it could amplify the sun rays effect and start a fire. 25 centuries later, in 1767 the first solar oven was invented, and just like the batteries were in the 19 century the first comercial solar panel was created. You can see an infografic of it.
Since then the solar industry has come a long way, and you can now attach solar panels to virtually anything electric. You can dyi solar panels, you can buy in bulk and you can attach it to any power hungry device you want. Mass production has made the cost lower so much that it is almost becoming a commodity to carry solar chargers. Well, at least we hope it is going as fast.
If you go to the most energy demanding travel mode, the infamous RV then we are talking of heavy duty solar technology, which may not be enough to power all your RV but at least feed all support structures. Luckily electrical RVs are already on the priority list of manufactures and Nissan already launched their first model. Add it a proper solar kit and summer traveling can be close to nothing in terms of carbon footprint.
Happy days lay ahead, and we’ll talk here about all of it.
In 1839 Alexandre Edmond Becquerel discovered the photovoltaic effect which helped to explain how electricity can be generated from sunlight. He found that “shining light on an electrode submerged in a conductive solution would create an electric current.” Unfortunately, after much research, photovoltaic power was still very inefficient and solar cells were mainly used for measuring light.
1 century later, in 1941, Russell Ohl invented the solar cell, which happened almost at the same time of the transistor. Light (in the form of photons) striking certain compounds, like metals, causes the surface of the material to emit electrons. Photons striking other compounds causes the material to accept electrons. It is the combination of these two compounds that can be made use of to cause electrons to flow through a conductor, and thereby create electricity. This phenomenon is called the photo-electric effect. Photovoltaic (or PV) means sunlight converted into a flow of electrons (electricity).
Today we have solar chargers and rechargeable batteries which are essential to store energy from solar charge when we don’t need it. Specially with fixed solar panels it would be a waste if you only used them when you required to use some energy. When considering charging your devices you should have that in consideration and when possible use a power bank. When you connect you device directly to a solar panel, any cloud in the skies will reduce and sometimes stop the charge, which is not great to the device’s health on the long run. It’s better to store it on a power cell and then use it to charge your devices continuously. This is not always possible when talking about portable solutions, but still advisable.
Electrical charge terms:
Watts – is an instantaneuous consuption of power, it is the rate that energy is made or used. If a device or lamp for example is 100W means it is using 100W of energy when it is on.
Watts = Volts * Amps, so if you keep the voltage and increase the Amperage you will spend more energy (watts)
Amperage – it is the rate the current is flowing when the device is connected. When you see Ah or Ampers per hour means how many ampers it can deliver in an hour if there was no limit for Ampers. If a battery has 4Ah and it delivers 2A, this means it will work for 2 hours.
How is this solar chargers guide organized
Here you will find options for all kinds of travellers, a professional traveler also known as nomad or a low budget camping master who crosses the continent hitchhiking.
Some options are shared between the activities, a good example are the the small foldable panels, where you can use them for camping or backpacking.
I will try to refere the most suitable ones, but you will have to decide for yourself based on your travel style.
Many websites make best of comparisons but then mix solar power banks with a huge foldable panel, while they can be used for the same purpose they are not the same thing and the way you travel with them is very different.
I will choose the best options for me, based on my experience, some friend’s feedback and the consensual internet audience reviews.
I will talk about alternative untested options here and there and I will provide links who are mostly affiliate links to help supporting all the research and knowledge sharing of this website.
It will be updated as I want it to always be a reference for travel options, and I thank in advance anyone that shows me great options that should be featured too.
Enjoy and share with the world so solar becomes a commodity and not a fancy or crazy widget.
There were many things I took in consideration when choosing the best options in my opinion. It’s not quantitative evaluation, there is no formula I created to decide. It’s more a mix of quantitative (ex. price) and qualitative ( ex. brand website) qualifications with a salt of my own experience, you are welcome to disagree:
– Website : Brands that don’t have their own website are unlikely to be reliable for support or any claim. Website is a minimum requirement for any business today, so I penalised those brands who don’t have one. Nonetheless when talking of very inexpensive devices that could be relatively less important when comparing with pricey systems
– Reviews : I tried to look for review websites, and only amazon covers all the products so we can reliably compare them. Less than 50 reviews means a non popular or new product. A new product is a higher risk to purchase so I had it in consideration too. We all know a big chunk of Amazon reviews are fake, so when analysing reviews we need to search deep into the negative reviews to have a feel of it. There is no science for this, as far as I know, so you have to trust my review nose.
– Price and Weight Ratios : I looked at this two critical characteristics when you are talking about traveling gear and compared them with the power capacities. The idea was to see how much you were paying for the same amount of power, or how much weight would you have to sacrifice to have a certain amount of power output. The flaw here is that the marketed power is very frequently different from the real output because of the efficiency of the solar panel. It’s almost impossible to have it in consideration for this ratios because you still have to trust the manufacturer, and that’s only for the ones who share the info. Hence the oficial ratios will have to suffice.
– Extras : it was never a decisive advantage but I’m that kind of person that loves all-in-ones so I tend to look to see what other tasks the products can fulfil, and some of them are packed with goodies
Our top picks
This is a killer, the price and weight combination is almost unheard. It may be more uncomfortable to take if walking or using other transports, but for a van or RV this is perfect in our opinion
Like I said in the beginning, the type of solar solution I proposed to each activity is what makes sense for me but it does not have to make sense for you, you can choose the best of all worlds by combining the different options.
What is really important for me is that you consider your options for solar charging in your life.
Anyone interested on its planetary footprint should consider solar energy charge to mitigate that footprint.
We have been trying with different products and have recently partnered with Luzpac and their solar powered bag that we currently use. Soon we’ll give a detailed review of our experience.
In the meantime, remember that whenever you look at the sun you are seeing the single solution for all our energy needs.