You love the wild. You frequently take trips to your favorite hunting grounds, tackle the most challenging terrain, or just spend as much time as you can in the middle of nowhere, disconnected and enjoying the trail. What happens, however, when you're in the middle of nowhere in your favorite rugged terrain and the instrument, as well as the gear you adore, run short of power?

Whether you're an expert backpacker or challenging yourself to a rough and tumble week in the wild, there is only so much weight you can pack and only so many batteries you can carry before your space needs to be used for more essential items. The answer? Portable solar power.

Today's portable solar power, whether for Tactical gear, hiking gear, camping gear, and more, has come a very long way over the last few years. Innovative technology and lighter components have allowed for lightweight equipment to keep items that need electricity going while taking up less space in your backpack, rucksack, or bug-out bag. Portable solar power, whether it's a charger or a product that can be recharged with solar energy, is well worth the investments. Let's look at how portable solar power items are and where to begin when choosing what portable solar power is right for you.

Portable Solar Power

Many of us are no doubt familiar with the concept of solar power panels for homes and businesses. But with technological advances, you no doubt have noted solar power becoming smaller, lighter, and more portable than ever. But how do things like portable solar power chargers work?

Generally, there are three most common designs for portable solar power chargers. One design often can usually be folded and looks like smaller, more lightweight panels. The second design for a charger is nearly the traditional square or rectangular shape of a conventional portable battery charger; instead of a battery, it is a single solar panel. While ranging in size, the third looks like a portable generator or box, referred to as a mobile power station. All of these designs harness energy from the sun to convert it into electricity.

Solar Charger or Power Bank?

Should you get a solar charger or power bank with your portable solar panels? What about a power bank? How do you choose?

Let's help you match the portable power options that may best suit you depending on the task, travel, and power needs.

Choosing Solar Charger tips

The options available are usually:

  • Panels only, rigid or semi-flexible
  • Panels with integrated storage batteries
  • Panels with independent (separate) storage batteries

So what are the main variables to consider when choosing a solar charger?

  • How much surface area will you need? The larger the solar panel, the more sunlight it collects and the faster it will convert that to power stored in a battery. A smaller panel will take longer to charge a battery. Larger panels with larger surface areas are also excellent for conditions such as cloud cover or low-angles, low-intensity light found during the winter seasons, or when constraints limit how long you can leave the panels out in the sun. However: the larger the panel, the bulkier it is to pack and the heavier. In contrast, the smaller panel will be lightweight and take up far less space.
  • How much output? Solar panels are rated in watts. The higher the wattage, the more electricity is generated in a given time period.
  • Flexible or rigid? Semi-flexible solar panels can be folded or rolled up for easier transport, which can give you a bit more leeway in going for larger panels while opening up to provide a greater surface area than many of the more rigid panels. Consider, too, what options a solar panel comes with for attachment options. Many semi-flexible panels can allow you to secure it safely to the outside of a backpack, bike, tent, and so on, which conserves space.

What are the main variables for considering a solar power bank (battery)?

When it comes to charging your electronic device, having a solar power bank or battery pack along with a solar energy producer is best. Why? The power sources may not contain any circuitry to regulate the flow of electricity into your electronic device, which can quickly damage the device. It's essential before purchasing a solar panel to check manufacturers' recommendations. Some panels will offer a regulated USB output for direct charging of small electronic devices.

Integrated storage batteries will offer the all-in-one convenience of a power generator to create power and the battery to store it.

Independent storage batteries offer the flexibility to leave the generator (the solar panel, for example) at home or back at camp, so you only need to carry the battery.

The key specs for battery packs will be:

  • Capacity for storage tells you how much charge the battery pack can store for use later to recharge devices before it needs to be renewed. Comparing the storage capacity of the portable solar battery to the battery in your device, you can get an idea of how many recharges you have available. This will also ensure that the power bank you pick will be able to recharge your device entirely.
  • How much power output does the charger have? The output of a charger (measured in volts) has to be equal to the voltage requirement of the electronic device you are charging. If it's lower, you may end up draining the device's battery instead of charging it!

Considering Practicality

Last but never least, consider the practicality of what you will need and have to carry.

  • How long is the trip? For a weekend away, you may only need a battery pack, but once it's used up, it's just dead weight to carry. If you're going off-the-grid for an entire week or more, you'll more than likely need a solar charger/panel or some other solar generator.
  • Where are you traveling, and what will the weather be like? For effective solar charging, you'll need lengthy exposure to direct sunlight. Backpacking in open country during bright, sunny weather is suitable so long as you can face a panel to the sun. But if you're going hiking under a thick canopy of deep forest, or if the weather is overcast and rainy, there's not much point in setting up or strapping a panel to your backpack.
  • All panels, chargers, and power banks take up space and weight. Is it worth it to you to carry it around while you're off the grid? Do you need it no matter what? Is one emergency pre-charge before leaving enough?

When it comes to portable solar power, with these considerations in mind, you should be well on your way to choosing the perfect product that will fit your adventures no matter what you face. These innovative and convenient products can keep your must-haves for hiking, camping, exploring, and more going in places where they might usually fail.