Electronics have made major inroads into the average hiker and camper’s gear list. Keeping all those drones, smartphones, GoPros, and other gadgets powered in the backcountry becomes a really important consideration. Modern solar chargers have finally reached the point where they’re small and efficient enough to be useful to outdoorsmen. Today we’ll review the best portable solar panels for camping and hiking to help you find the perfect power solution for your needs.
- 1 Best Solar Panels for Camping and Hiking
- 1.1 Goal Zero Boulder 100 Briefcase
- 1.2 Goal Zero Nomad 20 Solar Panel
- 1.3 Nekteck 21W Solar Charger
- 1.4 BioLite Solar Panel 10+
- 1.5 RAVPower 24W Solar Charger
- 1.6 Wildtek Waterproof Portable Solar Panel Charger
- 1.7 X-DRAGON 40W Solar Charger
- 1.8 Renogy 21W Solar Panel Foldable Charger
- 1.9 BigBlue 3 28W Solar Charger
- 2 Buyers Guide to the Best Solar Panels for Camping and Hiking
- 3 Final Thoughts
Best Solar Panels for Camping and Hiking
For a category that didn’t exist 10 years ago, there are now dozens of companies producing hundreds of different hiking solar panels. When you’re trying to decide on the best solar panels for hiking and camping you really need to specify exactly what you’re looking for.
The vast majority of panels in this category look very similar to one another. Looks can be deceiving though as price and performance vary wildly from maker to maker.
Lets dig deeper into this amazing new type of gear and see what solar charger best fits your needs.
Goal Zero Boulder 100 Briefcase
The Goal Zero Boulder 100 is a folding monocrystalline solar panel rated at 100W. It has a lightweight aluminum body and folds up into an easy to carry briefcase shape.
It’s definitely on the large side for a hiking solar panel, weighing in at 25.9 lbs and measuring 27 x 22 inches from edge to edge. This makes it unsuitable for anything other than car camping or as a basecamp charging system for a large camping group.
Despite this limitation it does a superb job as a portable solar panel. It has a single 8mm DC solar power port and is able to connect to a wide range of Goal Zero’s batteries and solar power generators.
While definitely too heavy for use on a backpacking trip the Boulder 100 is eminently suited for larger camping trips or when out car camping.
Goal Zero Nomad 20 Solar Panel
The Goal Zero Nomad 20 is a lightweight folding solar panel rated at 20W. It uses monocrystalline solar cells and provides a good balance between portability and performance.
It’s made up of three separate panels connected together and is just 13 x 8.5 inches when folded up. The body is protected by a rugged fabric lining and velcros closed when not in use.
The Nomad 20 gives you multiple charging options, including:
- 8mm DC solar port
- USB port
- 2.5mm DC mini solar port
It can also be chained together with additional Goal Zero products to charge up larger batteries or solar generators. It provides enough power to effectively keep you phones, headlights, flashlights, and other small electronics charged up while in the backcountry.
The Goal Zero Nomad 20 is a lightweight and easy to use camping solar panel that won’t let you down when it counts. It combines a good mix of features and performance, especially when you consider Goal Zero’s large catalog of natively pairable batteries, chargers, and additional panels.
It uses intelligent charging technology that helps regulate the power to match your device’s needs. Overall it’s good, if expensive, choice for your outdoor needs.
Nekteck 21W Solar Charger
The Nekteck 21W Solar charger is a lightweight and high efficiency portable solar panel. It provides 21W of power for an 11.1 x 6.3 inch foot print.
It’s designed with today’s electronics in mind and comes standard with a built-in IC chip to intelligently power your devices. The Nekteck offers two USB charging ports capable of offering a combined 3A of power under full sunlight.
It weighs a feather light 18 oz and is made from durable canvas to stand up to the most rugged conditions. The body includes two hanging hooks. This makes it easy to attach the Nekteck 21W to your backpack or anywhere else for maximum charging.
The Nekteck 21W solar charger is lightweight, highly efficient, and durable enough to stand up to frequent use in the backcountry. Even better is its incredibly affordable price.
BioLite Solar Panel 10+
The BioLite 10+ is a rigid solar panel designed for use in the backcountry. It pairs a 10W pair of solar panels with a 3,000mAh lithium ion battery.
It folds out from its main housing and comes standard with BioLite’s Optimal Sun System. This is a small sundial that allows you to adjust your panel’s position to achieve peak sun exposure at any point in time.
The BioLite 10+ includes an integrated kickstand that doubles as a hanging point. It weighs just over 18 oz and has an IPX4 weatherproof rating. It’s capable of charging its internal battery fully in just 1.2 hours of peak sun exposure. We found it usually took closer to two hours given the frequent periods of cloud cover and sun interruptions.
Overall the BioLite 10+ is a solid solar charging system with a useful internal battery. It’s comparable in weight and size to other hiking solar chargers on the market and has one of the best internal positioning set ups we’ve seen.
RAVPower 24W Solar Charger
The RAVPower foldable solar charger uses four monocrystalline solar panels for a total charging capacity of 24W. It’s 11 x 5.9 inches when folded and weighs just 21 oz.
This makes it smaller and lighter than many solar chargers producing less power. Its monocrystalline cells are capable of up to 23.5% efficiency, very high for a portable system.
It’s encased in durable and water resistant canvas for added stability. It comes standard with four hooks. This gives you lots of carry and hanging options while out and about.
The RAVPower 24W doesn’t have an internal battery but does offer three USB ports for charging. They’re each equipped with iSmart charging technology to intelligently adjust the voltage and flow of power to your device.
The RAVPower 24W folding solar charger is a lightweight and high efficiency backcountry charging system. It offers excellent performance at a very affordable price.
Wildtek Waterproof Portable Solar Panel Charger
The Wildtek portable solar panels charger is a 21W monocrystalline charging system that folds out into three sections. It’s 12.4 x 6.6 inches when folded, about the middle of the road for folding solar chargers.
Its monocrystalline panels are capable of up to 24% efficiency. It’s encased in a rugged fabric liner and is rated at IP65 water and dust resistance. This makes it suitable for use in just about any outdoor environment.
One really cool feature is the built in kickstand system. Two fabric coated panels drop down from the back and allow you to prop it up on a wide variety of surfaces and at different angles.
The Wildtek gives you two USB charging ports each capable of charging a modern smartphone or other small electronics. They use SmartCharge technology to intelligently adapt their power flow to the device.
The Wildtek 21W portable solar charger is a lightweight and highly portable solar charging system. It folds down to a very small package and is affordably priced.
X-DRAGON 40W Solar Charger
The X-DRAGON solar charger is a multifold charging system that uses eight monocrystalline solar cells. It weighs a bit more than similarly sized panels but is just 10.43 x 6.3 inches when fully folded.
This gives you substantially more charging capability for the same stored size, great for long duration hikes where power is important. Most folding panels give you three to four panels when fully unfolded. The X-DRAGON gives you a total of eight.
One really cool feature of the X-DRAGON is how many connector options it offers. It has standard USB ports but also offers a 10-in-1 connector designed to fit most modern laptops.
Overall the X-DRAGON is one of the most capable yet portable solar chargers available. It’s more expensive than many other panels but is highly competitive when you look at it on a per watt basis.
Renogy 21W Solar Panel Foldable Charger
Renogy is a well known name in the off-grid solar world. They produce a wide range of products including charge controllers, full size panels, and battery systems. Their 21W portable solar panel uses a folding design for maximum portability.
It’s 5.9 x 11.8 inches when folded and weighs just over a pound. This makes it one of the lightest panels available for the watts produced. It uses high efficiency monocrystalline solar cells coated with a durable PET plastic cover.
It has two USB ports optimized with Smart Charging capability to provide the optimum charging conditions for any device. They’re each capable of providing up to 2A of power.
The Renogy 21W is a lightweight panel from a quality manufacturer. It offers excellent performance at a very affordable price.
BigBlue 3 28W Solar Charger
The BigBlue 2 is a monocrystalline solar charger capable of producing up to 28W of power. It measures 11.1 x 6.3 inches when folded and weighs just 21.9 oz.
This makes it one of the most efficient solar chargers for its size and weight. It has two USB ports for charging, each capable of producing up to 2.4A individually. The charger is encased in a canvas and rubber housing that provides protection for very little added weight.
One of the most useful features found on the BigBlue is the builtin ammeter. This gives you a moment by moment reading of the amps being provided by the panels to your devices.
Overall the BigBlue 28W solar charger is one of the most affordable and efficient portable solar panels available. It’s lightweight, powerful, and includes all the features most in demand by hikers, campers, and other outdoorsmen.
Buyers Guide to the Best Solar Panels for Camping and Hiking
When you’re looking at portable solar panels for hiking and general outdoor use there are a number of factors you have to consider. Chief among them are price, portability, and efficiency.
These three will have the biggest impact on your decision but it’s important you keep other useful extras in mind as well.
Just a decade ago the thought of portable solar panels for hiking and camping purposes was laughable. Panels were bulky, inefficient, and highly expensive.
Now, you can get a really nice portable charger capable of powering your phone, GPS, or Ereader for a very reasonable price. You should expect to spend between about $40 and $100 for a reasonably nice panel of about 10 to 30 watts.
For larger panels, or panels with higher efficiency rating, the price goes up quickly.
Solar panel power output is measured in watts and efficiency. The greater a solar panels efficiency the more watts it will produce for the same size.
For hiking and camping solar panels you should try to get the most efficient ones possible. Most will be somewhere between about 10 watts and 40 watts. Any larger than that and you get into panels more suited for use when car camping, RVing or for a basecamp.
Charge Time and Battery Life
Some hiking solar panels are paired with built in battery systems. The time to fully charge these varies based on the size of the battery and the power rating of the panel.
For general camping solar panels you should look at the watt rating and compare it to the voltage of the battery you’re trying to charge. That gives you the number of amps the panel is capable of producing per hour to charge your battery.
Charge Interruption Recovery
Solar panels only produce power when exposed to sunlight. Even small amounts of shade on the panel will drastically drop the power produced.
Most panels come with a charge interruption feature that protects your batteries if this happens. Once the power production drops below a certain point it automatically stops charging them.
Charge interruption recovery measures how quickly the panels reconnect and begin charging when this happens.
Portability – Size and Weight
The best hiking solar panels are super thin and lightweight. They’re generally designed to fold down into a compact and easy to carry bundle.
Larger camping and off-grid panels will be heavier and more difficult to move around but produce more power. These are generally used when car camping or if you’re setting up a large base camp with substantial power needs.
Solar battery storage is measured in amp hours (Ah) and milliamp hours (mAh). Generally speaking anything small enough to be useful for a hiker is going to be below about 10,000mAh.
This is suitable for charging small electronics multiple times without weighing too much. There are larger solar generators with batteries going all the way up to 100Ah but these generally weigh in excess of 30 pounds.
Solar Charger Only – The most flexible solar hiking panels are standalone. They don’t include a battery of their own but instead can charge up a wide variety of batteries.
This allows you to use the same panel to charge up all kinds of devices and batteries. Most of these will weight right around a pound. They’re highly portable and easy to use.
Charger with In-Built Battery -Some hiking and outdoor solar panels come with batteries built in. Smaller solar panels are usually more like portable batteries with limited solar charging capability.
What your solar panel will connect to plays a major role in how effectively you can use it. Most panels in the hiking and camping size range use standard USB plugs. This allows you to plug them directly into batteries.
As panels grow larger they’re more likely to use a solar specific connector such as an MC4 or Anderson plug. These help prevent damage to sensitive electronics by ensuring only devices suited for direct solar charging are connected to them.
Water Resistance and Durability
One of the greatest things about portable solar panels is their high level of reliability. They’re electrical equipment but are entirely sealed against the elements. As long as you protect the actual connector from prolonged exposure to water there’s little risk of damage from rain or accidental immersion.
Durability wise it becomes more muddied. Hiking panels are usually encased in either a hardened housing or some kind of ruggedized fabric. This allows them to stand up to the elements but can’t totally protect them.
The nature of solar panels means there is a sheet of glass or hardened plastic that has to be exposed. If you drop them the wrong way, accidentally bend them or stand on them there’s a very good chance your panel will crack.
A single crack can effectively eliminate the usefulness of your panels.
Types of Solar Panels
There are many different kinds of solar panels, including some made from exotic materials in the early testing phase. For practical hiking solar panels there are currently three mature technologies being used.
CIGS – Copper indium gallium selenide solar cells, commonly referred to as CIGS panels, are a type of thin-film solar technology. They can be deposited on a variety of materials and are commonly used for highly flexible solar panels.
They can usually bend and move about as well as stiff sail cloth, making them great for portable or irregular use. They also hold up well under high temperature situations, something other types of panels struggle with.
The downside to CIGS panels is their low efficiency. It’s rare to find a portable CIGS panel with an efficiency greater than 13%.
Monocrystalline – Monocrystalline solar panels are made from a single shaped crystal of silicon. This gives them a distinctive diamond grid appearance with clipped corners.
Monocrystalline panels are the most efficient currently available and are generally more expensive than thin-film or polycrystalline panels. You can get up to about 24-25% efficiency from a monocrystalline panel.
Polycrystalline – Polycrystalline solar panels are made from silicon the same as monocrystalline panels but use many different sizes of crystals. They aren’t as efficient as monocrystalline panels but they are noticeably cheaper.
They represent a middle ground in price and performance between thin-film and monocrystalline solar cells.
What’s most important when comparing different hiking solar panels is portability, price, and performance. Each of the panels on this list trades off one or more of these in favor of another.
Think about what kind of electronics you need to charge and how much sun exposure you can expect in your location. That will give you a good idea of what kind of solar panel you need.
The BigBlue 28W panel is a great place to start for most people. It combines considerable power output in a very small package at an affordable price.