Anyone who loves going off the grid and spending time in nature knows it can be a rejuvenating experience. While you recharge outdoors, though, it can be challenging to find ways to recharge the devices you take with you.
Disconnecting from everything for a time can be a good thing, but you also want to keep your safety in mind, which is why having at least a functioning mobile phone during any off-grid trips is a smart idea. To charge your phone and other devices, you can invest in a solar phone charger.
But before you go and order the first charger you find, consider these six features you should look for in a solar phone charger.
Different solar phone chargers come with different types of ports and different amounts of ports. Take into account which devices you plan on charging and which type of ports they use. Even when it comes to USB cords, there are the more standard USB-A ports, the thin rectangular ones, and USB-C ports, which are also rectangular but with more rounded edges.
If your devices don’t have direct USB ports, do you have the necessary adapters to connect them to the solar charger? For example, if you plan on charging a laptop, you will also need to invest in a DC to AC inverter.
A standard mobile phone will need at least 5 watts of power for charging, with newer phones requiring closer to 7 watts. For a tablet, you’d need at least 15 watts to adequately charge it. Also, keep in mind that solar charging will generally be slower than standard charging. A charger with an output of 5 watts would need about three to four hours of full sun to charge a single phone.
Something else to keep in mind when it comes to power is how many devices you may need to hook up at once. Some solar phone chargers state the output for one device only, while others display the total output potential. It’s vital to know which amount is displayed to determine accurately if the charger will suit your needs.
So if you need to charge two phones at 7 watts each and a tablet at 15 watts, can the device charge them at the same time, and if so, how long will it take? How long would it take to charge them one by one? These are questions you want to answer before you make a purchase.
3. Backup Battery
Not all solar phone chargers come with a backup battery, which may make a difference for you. A solar panel without any battery backup means you can only use the charger while it is absorbing UV rays. That doesn’t mean it only works on super sunny days, but cloudy days, early morning sun, or late evening sun, aren’t going to charge your device as quickly.
Solar phone chargers that do come with a backup battery can store the extra energy they absorb so that you can use it when you need to, such as overnight or on a rainy day. This battery also allows you to charge your device while it is connected to the solar panel. Most chargers without batteries don’t have this option—they have to charge themselves first, then they can charge your device.
If you plan on using your solar charger for a laptop, a backup battery is a must. Not only does a computer require a lot more energy than a mobile, but it also takes a lot longer to charge. Without a backup battery, you may as well leave your laptop at home.
Once you’ve found a charger with the right connections, power levels, and a backup battery (if needed), the next features to consider are all about convenience. For starters, how heavy is the solar charger? Is it easy to pack up and carry around with you? If you plan on doing a fair amount of hiking or biking while off the grid, these are valuable things to think about.
Another aspect of convenience to keep in mind is how easy is it to set up the charger? Does it have a kickstand or suction cups to make it easy to angle it directly at the sun? Is it foldable, making it even more portable? Can you attach it to your backpack easily?
Decide what features surrounding convenience are most important to you, and try to find a charger that ticks most, if not all, of those boxes.
While you’re considering where and how you will use the charger, you also want to think about its durability. Your charger has the potential to be exposed not just to the sun but also to the rain or other elements. For this reason, most solar chargers will be waterproof, but not all waterproofing is equal. If you plan on being close to water or travelling during the rainy season, ensure the solar charger is waterproof, not just water-resistant.
Also, if you will be moving around a lot, you want a charger that can move with you without the risk of damaging it or its components. Another factor to consider is overheating—not the charger, but your device. If your mobile is sitting out in the sun along with the charger, it could quickly overheat. Some solar phone chargers account for this due to their foldability, which creates shade spots for your phone.
With so many makes and models to choose from, the price range of portable solar panels varies greatly. Something very basic without a backup battery won’t cost you much more than a new phone case would. Other models with greater output and all the bells and whistles can run in the hundreds.
In the end, it all depends on what your individual needs are and which charger fulfils those needs. Investing in a more expensive charger upfront may be more cost-effective in the long run. But, if you are just looking for something to take on day trips, a simpler model would do the trick.