Best Solar Panels For Backpacking (Review & Buying Guide) in 2021
Take your hike to the next level with these top-rated solar panels for backpacking.
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BY Corrina Murdoch / LAST UPDATED ON August 20, 2021
If there’s one thing you have plenty of when backpacking, it’s sunlight. You might not have access to the comforts of home like electricity when you’re hitting the trail with just a pack on your back. But if you’re out in nature on a sunny or even overcast day, you can make your very own electricity. Solar panels are now making it easy to generate electricity when you’re on the go, and that includes when you’re hiking outdoors. There are even backpacking solar chargers that you can carry with you on the trail.
These innovative solar panels are lightweight, fit perfectly into a pack of any size, and can help you charge everything from your smartphone to tablets, camp lights, and more when you’re far from home. From slim, foldable solar panels you can connect to any device to portable solar panel power packs that work like external batteries, you can find all different kinds of solar chargers. To help you find the right fit, we’ve listed the best solar panels for backpacking in the guide below.
Offering a high-efficiency rating of almost 25 percent, this solar panel folds down compactly. It is durable, waterproof, and gains power quickly.
- Lightweight and easy to carry
- Simple to store
- Includes four charging ports
- Safeguards against overcharging and overheating
- Can run out of power quickly
- Works best if only one port is used
- Not compatible with all types of chargers
This affordable solar charger is lightweight and gives enough surface area to work well. It connects via USB and gives a trickle charge to any device.
- Comes with mounting cups and carabiner.
- Works with any USB-powered device.
- Efficient monocrystalline solar panels.
- Cost-effective price
- Not waterproof
- Thin structure makes it vulnerable to impact
- No micro-USB port on the panel
Powerful and effective, this folding solar panel is compact enough to backpack with. It has both DC and USB connection ports, letting you charge all types of devices.
- Works at a 22 percent efficiency rating
- Three sets of solar panels for maximum reach
- Monocrystalline design
- Connects to all types of devices
- Not waterproof
- Requires constant sun exposure
- Works best during hours surrounding high noon
- Thin structure is easy to break
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Our reviews are driven by a combination of hands-on testing, expert input, “wisdom of the crowd” assessments from actual buyers, and our own expertise. We always aim to offer genuine, accurate guides to help you find the best picks.
Benefits of Solar Panels For Backpacking
- Lightweight and compact design. A key virtue of solar panels for backpacking is the fact that they fit in with any gear. You can tuck them into your backpack. Most come with a protective layer to prevent scratches. Since they are neither bulky nor heavy, you can tow them with you almost effortlessly.
- Environmentally friendly energy. Harnessing the sun’s rays to convert into power for your devices is one of the most ecologically forward ways to get power. Instead of relying on fossil fuels or the chemicals in batteries, you can limit your carbon footprint without foregoing convenience.
- Safety while hiking and backpacking. Nature walks have inherent risks. The ability to access GPS, cell-phone technology and even email can make this a lot safer. Solar panels give you the chance to explore the wilderness without being out of touch with the outside world.
- Works in conjunction with other gear. A solar panel can complete your setup for outdoor travel. When used in conjunction with a quality sleeping arrangement, you can take longer trips and have them be more enjoyable.
- Cost-effective power solution. Instead of paying for batteries for your flashlight or GPS, you can save the expense and rely on solar energy instead. Though it may take some time, it is lighter than batteries and costs less as well.
- Long-lasting appeal. Solar panels are pretty hardy. They are designed to be moisture-resistant and usually have a cover to protect them from impact. Most aren’t too vulnerable to wear and tear thanks to quality circuitry. This means the panels will provide a reliable charge over the long-term.
Types of Solar Panels For Backpacking
This type of solar panel is one of the most common for backpackers. It is designed to spread out to maximize surface area when in use. After you are done, it folds down compactly and can be placed easily in a backpack. Most of these accommodate standard USBs. Others can work with micro-USBs and DC outlets. Generally, these consist of two or three panels that work together to catch the sun.
The most compact of solar panels, you can find handheld options that are only a few inches across. These are designed for small-scale use and are generally suited for those looking to only charge a smartphone. In most cases, these will have only a USB or a micro-USB port. Though efficient, the small size means fewer rays are caught. It can take a while to get an effect out of a handheld model. As a result, it is best as an emergency or survival tool.
This refers specifically to the kind of solar technology used in the panel itself. The monocrystalline is constructed using a single crystal, usually made out of silicon. It is very pure; and, as a result, highly efficient. This piece is cut to form cells, much like in natural tissue. It takes in the sun's rays quickly and offers a high level of efficiency.
Another type of solar technology, this kind of panel consists of several different small pieces of silicon. These different parts are placed together like cells. This forms the solar panel. Generally, these are effective, though have less efficiency than a monocrystalline option. As a result, they are less costly. However, they are often less compact making it ill-suited to backpacking.
Perhaps the least common type of solar panel, the thin film is made out of various semiconductors that are placed on a backing. Usually, the back is made out of glass or metal, though there are polymers as well. Lightweight and flexible, this type represents some of the more expensive tech on the market. Despite being easy to maneuver, this type of panel is more vulnerable to scratches.
Opening its doors in 2010, Renogy began as a student project in Louisiana. Since that time, it has become a common name in the field of energy efficiency. With solar tech available in all sizes, this brand remains a strong competitor in the industry. A popular offering from this brand is the Renogy Eclipse Solar Panel.
After commencing operations in California in 2015, Jackery quickly became an international name. Starting with the first-ever portable power station, it expanded its offerings into renewable power sources. One of this company’s leading offerings is the Jackery Solar Saga Portable Generator.
Solar Panel For Backpacking Pricing
- Under $50: In this range, you are most likely to find handheld options and smaller folding selections. Usually, they can charge one device at a time.
- $50 and up: Solar panels in this range are almost always monocrystalline in design. They have a big surface area, overheating safeguards, and can charge multiple devices.
To gather and process solar energy, the panels are essential. Either this tech will be monocrystalline, polycrystalline, or thin film. The most common is monocrystalline. Depending on the structure, size, and design, efficiency can get to over 23 percent. The more efficient the panel, the more quickly you can get the charge you need. Larger panels can be bulkier, though tend to work more quickly.
To charge your devices, you need to be able to connect them to the power source. Most solar panels feature a standard USB outlet. While some have multiple outlets, it will always reduce each device’s access to power when multiple pieces are charging. There are also panels with micro-USB attachments and those which offer DC outlets. Ensure that the devices you plan to charge are compatible with the panel.
Since backpacking is mostly outdoors, the safety features are essential to the lasting performance of the device. An important feature is the ability to resist water. While most aren't waterproof, a certain amount of moisture-resistance is very helpful. Secondly, quality panels feature smart-charging tech. It optimizes the amperage for each device. This charges the piece more quickly and prevents circuitry damage and overheating.
The backing may seem like a small feature, but it goes a long way to protect the panels from scratches and damage. If the panel has a sturdy enough backing, you can place it on the ground directly. Otherwise, it needs mounting hardware. Usually, the backing is polymer and nylon. It keeps water away from the outlet. It also helps in the event the panel gets dropped and to prevent overheating in general.
- Weight and Size. When you pick your solar panel, keep an eye on the size. You want something that folds out to give you a large surface area. This catches sunlight well. However, it should also fold down to be small enough to fit into your backpack. Since you’re going to be hauling it everywhere with you, opt for something light enough to tow easily.
- Maintenance Needs. Especially when you’re out in nature, you want low-maintenance tools on hand. Though all tech requires a certain level of upkeep, it is more convenient to choose something less demanding. Find a solar panel that is easy to clean and comes protected against scratches and moisture damage.
- Time to Charge. Pick something that charges your devices quickly. Choose a device that is easy to set out in the sun without causing overheating damage. Ultimately, you want to consider your amperage needs. Pick a solar panel that has a higher amperage rating and an overall high efficiency. These two aspects of the panel will determine how soon your device can be working again.
- Durability. The goal is to have a lasting power source. To get this out of your solar panel, you want something tough. Choose something that comes with a case or has a strong protective backing. Consider how sturdy it is, both when folded and when expanded. By opting for something that isn’t prone to overheating and is water-resistant, you can slow wear and tear.
- CompatibilityF. inally, consider the devices you are going to have plugged into the piece. Think about the kind of charger you need to use for them. Is it a micro-USB or a standard one? Perhaps you need a DC outlet. Whatever the case, be sure that the panel can provide sufficient amperage to the device. Also, make sure that you can plug it into the panel itself.
Best Backpacking Solar Chargers Reviews & Recommendations 2021
- Use the solar panel when the sun is at its highest point.
- Set it up according to the original instructions to prevent overheating.
- Protect the solar panel from precipitation to ensure lasting function.
- Keep the ports free of debris to prevent charging issues.
- Charge smaller devices and power bigger devices like coolers with something else.
- Plug-in only one device at a time to maximize its access to amperage.
- Wipe down the panel and keep it free of dust and debris to optimize efficiency.
- Avoid scratching the surface to prevent damage to the power conversion technology.
Q. What are the best solar panels for camping?
The best solar panels for camping are compatible with your technology. They should be lightweight, compact, and have a high level of efficiency. A good example is the Nekteck 21W Portable Solar Panel Charger.
Q. What is the best solar charger for backpacking?
The best solar panel for backpacking is small enough to fit in with your other gear. It should be durable and reliable. Often, handheld options are ideal for this purpose. Choose something with a high level of efficiency to get faster charging results.
Q. Do solar panel chargers work?
Provided the solar technology is of a high enough quality, yes solar panel chargers work. They harness sunlight and convert it into electricity. You connect your device to the port and it takes on power. The efficiency, however, varies based on the panel.
Q. Can you charge a laptop with solar power?
In theory, you can charge anything with solar power. Provided it is sufficiently efficient and can offer enough amperage, it can get a charge. The other caveat is the attachment point. The panel needs to have a port compatible with the laptop (such as a USB port).
Now that you’re fluent in solar panels for backpacking, you can pick the perfect option for your next hike. It could be the Nekteck 21W Portable Solar Panel Charger or our value pick, the Renogy Portable E.Flex Solar Panel.
Do you have experience with portable solar panels? Share your story in the comments below. Happy charging!