Buying advice – How to select best solar chargers for camping and round up of best solar chargers in the market.
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Solar Chargers 101
The great outdoors is far from being invulnerable to the merits of modern technology. These days people are capable of using technology not to ignore the experience of being outdoors, but to enhance it. Outside of simply enhancing the enjoyment of an outdoors experience electronic devices have also increased the overall safety aspect of exploring the great outdoors and nations’s popular camping grounds. The main flaw with electronic devices is of course that they require electricity.
We have, as a culture, specifically a technology based culture, moved mostly from disposable batteries to rechargeable batteries. Rechargeable batteries have quite a few advantages over disposable, and they do protect our environment. The main problem is the fact it’s not nearly as easy to bring extra batteries with you. So the option is to bring some form of power that will allow you to recharge your devices.
Solar chargers have become quite popular as well as a few other natural, and green energy courses. With their popularity rising, more and more companies are producing chargers and the competition is steep. This has also driven the price down, and sometimes the quality. Many a charger is being produced and marketed with sometimes exaggerated or even absolute false claims.
So you can take the time to read dozens of reviews, research the tech behind chargers, and try to sort through them yourselves. If everyone did that I wouldn’t have a job, so let me do it for you. I have taken a look into the tech, read the reviews, got my hands on the best I could and have given them a solid run down through just a bit of testing, which I’ll go over later.
What are Your Needs?
First you need to be able to identify what you are going to charge, and this will determine quite a bit about what you are trying to charge. The biggest takeaway is what kind of wattage are you looking for? It takes a long time to sail to London in a row boat, and a long time to charge an iPad with a charger designed for an iPod.
Watts are a measure of electrical power. The watts of a device is what will most often be advertised with a solar charger, well watts and amps. Without going into how multiplying voltage by current will give you watts I can give you an idea of what you look out for.
If you planning to charge basic devices like cameras, simple or dumb phones, GPS devices, flashlights, and other simple devices you can use a device with a small watt panel. 4 to 5 watts on average will allow you to charge these simpler devices. If you wanna move up to power hungry smartphones and tablets you are going to need a little bit more in terms of watts. When charging one of these more powerful devices you are going to need something between 7 to 10 watts. Seven is an absolute minimum if you do not want to wait 3 or more hours to fully charge a phone.
If you are looking to charge a couple devices, perhaps a smartphone and a GPS, then a 15 watt should do quite well. Beware a 15 watt won’t charge two smartphones or tablets super rapidly, but is good enough.
If you want to charge a laptop or bigger you are beginning to go quite big. We are talking 25 watt panels, dc to ac inverters, and a battery to make this function. Kits do exist for this purpose and for people like myself who work outdoors constantly this may be a good business investment. For most campers and hunters it is a bit much.
Now more watts means more money, but also more performance. So in terms of budgeting out the solar panel and charger you will pay for performance and quality. Another factor is matching your device’s necessary output power to what the charger can put out. Most often your device’s manual will list the necessary output power required, and the information can typically be found on it’s provided charger. Now these watt ratings are somewhat subject to change in terms of charging devices. This is due to new advances in solar technology that means less equals more.
Now if you’re wondering what the hell output power is, allow me to give you a quick example. Solar charger A features a 1.5 amp output power and charger B features a 2.1 amp power, and you want to charge… let’s say your Nook, which is charger is more appropriate? Well if answered B you are correct. A higher output amperage will charge your device faster and be much more efficient is dispersing energy watts.
Direct Connection or Battery?
Nine times out of ten I will suggest the battery. The only time I wouldn’t is for someone trying to have the lightest charger available. A battery will hold a charge so you have an option to recharging devices at night. Batteries can also be charged prior to an expedition, and be ready without having to worry about a dreary, non solar efficient day. Some high quality chargers will come equipped with a battery, like the Joos Orange. It is more efficient though to have a folding panel connected to an external battery in my experience. The built in batteries models are convenient though.
So outside of the normal considerations for a solar panel what else do we have? Obviously you are going to have to consider what device you’re charging and if it’s compatible with the panel. Most of these panels and even batteries are compatible with USB cables. Since the vast majority of devices these days use USB power it makes them very convenient. If the panel and battery comes with pre attached cables it’s best to make sure they work with different generations of devices. For example the charger the Iphone 4 is much different than the IPhone 5.
When considering a backpack ready panel for camping or hiking, battery, or combination you need to consider a few things that will make the solar charger really ready for the backpack.
– Weight. The lighter the charger the easier it will be to carry all day in a pack. Many lightweight panels will be CIS style chargers.
– Mass. Clearly the smaller panel the more room it takes up in the pack. That pack can be used for a variety of things that aren’t solar chargers. Small panels equals small power, but many panels are capable of being folded and minimized.
– Strength. Anything outdoors needs to be tough. It needs to be able to take a bit of moisture, and different temperatures, as well as being knocked around on occasion.
So with all that information in mind what kind of charges do I recommend. I’ve tested and been disappointed by many, but those that shine have made the adventure worthwhile. I’ve put together my top choices for solar panels taking into account, their efficiency, strength, and capabilities.
The Joos Orange
The JOOS Orange is one of the most high tech, high quality and highly efficient solar panels and battery combinations. Of course the unit can be charged by the glorious power of the sun, but it can also be charged view wall charger, computer, or any other USB charging options. This allows the unit to be used solely as a battery for shorter trips. The JOOS is small, easily packable, and is quite capable of suffering the use and abuse of backpacking and camping.
The JOOS Orange packs an extra little option, it has two folding legs that allow positioning of the device. These legs allow this cool camping gadget to be moved with the sun, and allow it to charge a faster and more efficiently. The JOOS Orange is capable of 18 watts of solar powered goodness. 18W is the maximum solar cell wattage of the device, which can vary throughout the day. The watt it uses to power is only 3, now you may be thinking that’s not enough for much. Traditionally it would not be, but the JOOS packs some efficiency in it’s charging methods. The JOOS Orange has no trouble charging an Iphone or Ipad with it’s mere 3 watt power.
PowerPadd Apollo 2
The Apollo 2 is another combination battery and panel charger. The complete package is very compact, and very tough. The Apollo 2 can be used to to charge nearly any USB device, including Iphones, Ipads, GPS devices, Samsung phones, Motorola phones, tablets in general, pretty much any USB device you can dream about. The Apollo 2 by Powerpadd is also quite affordable, well under a hundred dollars, but it is not a ‘cheap’ device, just an affordable one.
The Apollo 2 has dual charging port, one is a 1.7 amps, and the other is 2.1 amp. This allows the charger to charge either a phone efficiently, or a tablet. In fact they can be used at the same time. The Apollo 2 is capable of charging most smart phones three to four times, or charging a tablet twice. Did I mention how compactly awesome this device is? It’s about the size of a smartphone. This small size does affect it’s one flaw, it takes a long time to fully charge the battery.
Instapark Mercury 10
The Instapark Mercury 10 is a very lightweight, affordable solar panel and is a strong contender for your camping gadget check list. The three panel design looks bulky from the outside but can be folded into a compact, lightweight package. In fact the entire kit weighs about the same as a Iphone 6 Plus. The design even implements strap downs and velcro to secure the folding panels.
This design does not incorporate an internal battery, so devices need to directly connected to the panel, or an external battery is necessary. The Instapark definitely thrives with a battery pack, but charges devices incredibly fast, and some may not find a battery necessary. The Instapark Mercury 10 has two usb ports and is capable of charging tablets, phones, small devices like lights, cameras, and GPS devices.
The Instapark ten can unrolled and set up in about a total of two minutes. The panel uses the stock charger that comes with your device, so it’s essentially compatible with any device that runs off USB cables.
SolarMonkey Powertraveller Adventurer
The SolarMonkey PowerTraveller Adventurer is a solar panel and battery combination capable of emitting a mere 3 watts. This 3 watts combined with the battery and high quality panel is an exception to the wattage rule. These mere 3 watts are more than capable of charging smartphones and tablets with ease. The SolarMonkey folds in half with an internal carrying case capable that also insulates and protects the device for up to 194 degrees.
The Solarmonkey weighs a meager 9 ounces and some change, and takes up very little backpack room. The Solarmonkey can also charge a device and charge the battery at the same time. The Solarmonkey comes with 5 mobile device tips, including an Apple compatible charger. The SolarMonkey is a very handy device that is both compact and lightweight, a perfect camping companion.
In all fairness I want to go ahead and let you know this is not a solar powered charger. Remember I said top 5 devices, not top 5 solar panels. So what is the RavPower Element. It is a highly efficient, lightweight, easy to use portable battery. This is the kind of battery that can be attached to a solar panel that does not come with a built in battery.
The RavPower Element is a 5V battery capable of charging a cell phone 5 times. The battery is compatible with pretty much every USB device. The only tablets it cannot charge is Asus, and Samsung. The device can charge Samsung phones though. The battery has two ports so multiple devices can be charged at one time. The battery is charged through simple USB cables and is quite long lasting. At it’s 20 dollar price point it’s an excellent bargain.
So this was my run down of my favorite solar chargers for any outdoor activities like camping or RV trips. Have a good experience with one you’d like to share? Leave a comment and let us know. Until next time. Stay safe, and venture far.