In recent years, technology has brought real changes to backpacking. Cell phones, personal locator beacons and other devices have made backpacking a safer way to enjoy the outdoors. And powering those devices has been made easy by the development of the backpacking solar panel.
Whether strapped to your backpack, or unfolded at your campsite, a backpacking solar panel can now be part of your adventuring gear. But choosing the best backpacking solar panel for your needs might just be a little tricky.
Read on for our recommendations on the best backpacking solar panel options. You’ll also find a buyer’s guide, along with answers to some frequently asked questions. Hopefully, this post will allow you to keep a sunny disposition while making your panel choice.
Our Top Picks
Nekteck 28W Portable Solar Panel Charger
Best Budget Option
FlexSolar 15W Small Solar Panel Charger
Best Premium Option
ALLPOWERS 100W Portable Solar Panel
Weight is everything in backpacking, with lighter hiking being better hiking. The Nekteck 28W Portable Solar Panel Charger takes that into account, and packs considerable power into a package weighing less than 1.5 pounds.
But that’s just one reason this Nekteck solar panel is our recommendation as the best overall choice for a backpacking solar panel. With two USB ports, the Nekteck 28W panel can charge a cell phone and a tablet or camera or other device at the same time.
Another great feature of the Nekteck solar panel is that you need not wait until you’re setting up camp each day to use it.
Instead, you can simply use its hooks and eyelets to attach it to your backpack. As it gathers sunlight, the Nekteck panel can be connected to your two devices while they’re secured in your backpack. That way, your devices are ready to use when you stop for the day.
- Easy to attach to backpack for on-the-go charging
- Great performance for a compact solar panel
- Excellent for charging batteries
- Wiring may not be as durable as some users expect
- May cut out during some charging activities
- May not charge all brands of digital devices
Best Budget Option
So let’s say you’re a little skeptical about investing in a backpacking solar panel, and don’t want to spend a lot of money. The FlexSolar 15-watt solar panel, weighing just 1 pound, is an excellent choice. In fact, it has earned our recommendation as the best budget-conscious backpacking solar panel.
But don’t think the FlexSolar’s $40 price signals a lack of quality or performance. On the contrary, the FlexSolar charger includes special features that both protect its three solar panels while ensuring maximum capturing of sunlight.
Thus, the FlexSolar delivers plenty of power to its single USB port. It can be mounted on the outside of your backpack for charging while you’re hiking.
According to the manufacturer, the FlexSolar charger can charge most phones within two hours, with some phones only requiring an hour of charging time. So, during a typical day of hiking, you could charge multiple devices.
And of course, you can also set up your FlexSolar panel in camp for stationary use if that’s your preference.
- Lightweight and easily fits in backpack
- Can be hung outside backpack for charging while hiking
- Good performance even with overcast skies
- Has only one USB charging port
- Device charging may be slower than some users expect
- No waterproofing around USB port
Best Premium Option
Certainly, you’d expect a premium backpacking solar panel to deliver a lot of power, and to handle charging a number of devices. Those are precisely the reasons the ALLPOWERS 100-watt solar panel is our choice as the best premium option for a backpacking solar panel.
Of course, portability is also a primary factor in choosing a backpacking solar panel. The ALLPOWERS panel delivers here, too. Weighing just 5 pounds, the ALLPOWERS folds down to just over 12 inches long, less than 8 inches wide, and less than 4 inches thick.
Unfolded, the ALLPOWERS solar panel measures roughly 3 feet by 3 feet. And speaking of charging, the ALLPOWERS includes two USB ports and a DC electrical connection. With that configuration, you can easily keep a variety of devices charged.
- Can be linked with other panels to reduce device-charging times
- Works well in indirect sunlight
- Easy to set up
- Overheating may be an issue
- Positioning panel to collect sunlight may be tricky
- Wiring at USB, DC connections could be improved
Best Charging Speed
Even when taking a leisurely hiking pace, you want to know your cellphones and other devices are being charged as quickly and efficiently as possible. The BigBlue 3 is designed to do just that, which earns it a place on our list as a recommended backpacking solar panel.
Equipped with three USB ports, the BigBlue 3 includes technology that recognizes the specific devices being connected to it. From there, the BigBlue 3 configures the most efficient charging speed. Along with that, the BigBlue 3 includes protections from potential overheating and short-circuiting.
Regarding its backpacking-related specifications, the BigBlue 3 weighs less than 1.6 pounds. It folds down to 11 inches wide by just over 6 inches wide and less than 1.5 inches thick. And of course, you can attach an unfolded BigBlue3 to the outside of your backpack, for charging while you’re hiking.
- Effective charging even when panels aren’t directly aligned with sun
- Excellent option for quickly charging cellphones
- Comes with carabiners for attaching to backpack or hanging in camp
- Solar collection panels should be more sturdy
- May not be compatible with some devices
- Charging capacity may be somewhat overstated
Best Integrated Model
Sure, there are many great backpacking solar panel options that allow for attaching panels to a backpack for on-the-go charging. But the ECEEN Solar Backpack deserves a recommendation for its integrated design.
Designed to work together, the ECEEN backpack — great for day hiking — and its attached solar charging panel offer great outdoors convenience. Along with its single 5-volt USB port, the solar component of the ECEEN backpack includes voltage stability control to protect your devices.
With the ECEEN solar backpack, you can fully charge a cellphone in just 3 hours. And for charging on the go, the backpack includes a number of secure pockets for devices. Also, when needed, the solar panel can be removed from the backpack to take optimal advantage of sunlight or charging needs.
- Solar panel stands up well to rough use of backpack
- Great product for environmentally conscious persons
- Can also be used for cycling or as a school backpack
- Backpack may not fit some users comfortably
- May not be suitable for long backpacking or hiking trips
- Backpack may not be as durable as some users expect
Best Backpacking Solar Panel Buyer’s Guide
After perusing our recommendations for best backpacking solar panel options, you should have some idea of how to address your power needs outdoors. But to be sure you’ve considered the full range of factors in choosing a backpacking solar panel, take a look at this buyer’s guide.
Assessing Your Needs
If there’s one thing at which backpackers are experts, it’s determining what will be absolutely necessary on the trail. Anything not necessary will, in the end, represent only dead weight that didn’t have to be carried.
So, if you’re considering the purchase of a backpacking solar panel, you need to be clear about a couple of things. First, what is the length of your average backpacking adventure? If you’re normally gone for only a night or two, you may not need a solar panel to charge a cellphone or other device.
However, if your backpacking adventures extend for many days, and/or you’re hiking in unfamiliar territory, you’ll want to have a power source. You’ll want it for your cellphone, but you also may need it for GPS location hardware in case of emergency.
Weight and Dimensions
As you’ve learned from this post on the best backpacking solar panel options, the weight and dimensions of solar charging panels can vary. Routinely, though, you’ll be able to find panels that weigh under 5 pounds, so 5 pounds might be a good maximum weight to consider.
In terms of dimensions, there can be a wide range between the size of a solar panel folded and stored in a backpack, and the size of that same panel when it is deployed.
Particularly if you plan to unfurl your panel on your backpack, you’ll want to be sure it isn’t so wide or low to become a safety hazard. An unfurled panel shouldn’t be more than a few feet wide or a few feet long.
You need to be exceedingly realistic in the expectations you have for a backpacking solar panel. As even manufacturers will tell you, power ratings, charging capabilities and other performance-related data don’t reflect how your panel will perform in all situations.
Obviously, the amount of sunlight that gets to your panel won’t always be the same. Also, the age of your devices and their internal batteries are additional variables. All of those things can affect the ultimate performance of a backpacking solar panel.
Best Backpacking Solar Panel Frequently Asked Questions
As is the case with any prospective purchase of outdoor gear, you may have questions beyond the information you’ve already seen in this post. Read on for some additional help in choosing the best backpacking solar panel for your needs.
What things can adversely affect the performance of a backpacking solar panel?
As you’ve noticed from our recommendations, one great feature of many, if not most, backpacking solar panels is that they can be deployed while hiking. Unfurled against your backpack, panels can be hooked up to and charge devices stored in the backpack.
Watch for possible jostling
While that’s certainly convenient, the constant motion of hiking may jostle the panel and your devices. In turn, that can compromise charging efficiency, or in some cases, completely cut the connection between the panel and the device.
As a guard against this, check the status of your panel and any devices you are charging whenever you pause for a rest break. That way, you’ll ensure your panel is performing as effectively as possible.
Keep the panel properly oriented
As you move through the outdoors, the terrain and vegetation are subject to change. And of course, your position in relation to the sun will be changing, too.
To ensure your device is being adequately charged, you should regularly check the position of your backpacking solar panel relative to the sun. Once you’re in a situation where sunlight is no longer shining as directly as possible on your panel, take steps to rearrange it.
Most backpacks will have a number of loops, eyelets or other suitable attachment points that will allow you to shift your backpacking solar panel.
What is the best power output range for a backpacking solar panel?
Most backpacking solar panel options will have power ratings of 5 watts to 15 watts, with some higher-end panels offering 20 to 25 watts.
For devices like cellphones, digital fitness watches and GPS locators, 5 watts to 15 watts is plenty of power. However, if you’re carrying a tablet computer or a “power bank” of rechargeable batteries, you’ll need a backpacking solar panel rated at 20 to 25 watts.
What are some tips for maintaining a backpacking solar panel?
As with any outdoor equipment, the first step in ensuring long-time, trouble-free operation is to invest in a top-quality product. Also, check the warranty of any backpacking solar panel you are considering as a potential purchase.
Beyond that, particularly if you’re an infrequent backpacker, set up your solar panel in the backyard periodically to ensure that it is performing correctly.
After each of your backpacking adventures, be sure to clean your solar panel. It’s likely that the manufacturer of your particular panel will have specific instructions. At a minimum, use a soft-bristle brush to clean dirt and grime from your panel before you store it.
Wrapping Up the Best Backpacking Solar Panels
Whether for ensuring digital connectivity, powering a light source, or maybe even a fan, a backpacking solar panel can add comfort and security to your adventures. As a reminder, our recommendation for the best overall backpacking solar panel is the Nekteck 28W Portable Solar Panel Charger.
Check out Beyond The Tent for many more posts on integrating solar power into camping.