Solar Power Banks are essential items as part of your hiking, camping or outdoor gear. They’re also fantastic for dealing with power outages and when you travel.
Solar panels are rapidly becoming cheaper and therefore more popular. This means many devices, including power banks, now including integrated solar panels.
What is a solar power bank?
Solar power banks are portable batteries that can be charged using the sun.
Solar power banks are about the size of a cellphone or mobile device and have an integrated single solar panel or array of folding solar panels that charge a battery.
Most devices include an input and output which you can connect to a USB cable that can connect to your smart phone or other devices. This means you can charge the power bank with the sun (through solar panels) or other sources of power.
The solar power bank has an onboard battery which holds the electrical energy for when you need it.
The device should include a display that shows you the charge and the status of the battery.
Some extras and features you might get with your solar power bank include:
- LED flashlight with multiple modes
- Micro USB input
- USB output/s
- IP rating for outdoor use
- Sturdy and rugged for hiking
- A latch or tie to hold it in the sun on the outside of your backpack while you hike
Some models have a separate solar panel unit which connects to the main power bank, and other models have integrated solar panels or a single solar panel integrated with the main unit.
How big is a solar power bank?
A fully folded up solar power bank is about the size of a large smart phone. It’s not likely to fit in your pocket but most power banks won’t so this is not an issue.
Do solar power banks really work?
How well does a power bank with integrated solar panels charge your devices? Does it charge fast enough in the sun to be of practical use?
Solar power banks are for charging small devices like smart phones. You should be able to get a full charge within an hour to an hour and a half. This is similar to what you would get from a regular power bank.
The power bank will charge from the sun and require a few hours in good sunlight to get to a full charge. This charge time depends on the device, the solar panels used, the location, time of day and the strength of the sunlight.
Make sure your device is rated for outdoor use if you plan on leaving it outside to charge. You don’t want it damaged by rain, snow or hail!
How do you charge a solar power bank?
The two methods are:
- Fast charging through a USB port connected to a strong source of power like your main electricity supply
- Slow charging through the solar panel that converts light from the sun into electrical energy which is stored in the battery
What should you look for when you choose a solar power bank?
The features and characteristics you should consider are:
- How fast does it charge my smart phone?
- How long does it take for the solar panels to fully charge the power bank?
- Is the device weatherproof?
- Is the device rugged enough for outdoor use, hiking, camping and other outdoor activities?
- Does the product have a warranty?
- Is the product made by a reputable company?
- Are there any additional features that may be useful e.g. camping light?
- Does the battery have a high capacity?
- Are there enough indicators or indicator lights to show the status of the battery and charging status?
- How much power (in Watts) can the solar panels generate?
- Does it have a wireless charging function?
- Is the battery airplane friendly so you can take it with you on the plane?
What can you use a solar power bank for?
Let’s be clear. The battery in the solar power bank will do a good job of charging your phone, just like any other power bank. However, the solar panel itself is a SLOW charging source of power. This means once your power bank is flat, it’s going to take a LOT longer to charge it up again using solar than if you were to plug it into the grid or some other larger source of power.
Solar power banks are awesome because unlike a regular power bank you DO have the option of charging using the sun.
You just need to realise that this type of power should be reserved for emergencies when you’re dealing with the very small solar panels you see on the solar power bank.
Get most of your juice from the grid or a large solar or wind system and reserve the solar power bank for those moments when you’re offgrid for a long time.
This makes it ideal for hikers and campers who are out in the sun all day and who can charge up, using the sun, for when they need power later.
Some solar power banks, like the Goal Zero Venture 35, come bundled in a kit with a larger solar panel like the Nomad 10. This means you get a faster charge from solar than if you were using a much smaller panel.
Advantages of Solar Power Banks
Let’s go over some of the benefits you get from using a solar power bank:
- Most obviously, you will be able to charge up a small device even if you don’t have access to a power point like a wall socket or the grid power outlet
- Ideal for outdoor charging
- Portable and easy to store
- Simple plug and play functionality makes them super easy to use
- Use a regular charging power source or renewable energy power such as wind, solar and more
Disadvantage of using a solar power bank
Quite frankly the only real disadvantage is:
- Takes a LONG time to charge if you’re using the sun
The smaller panel that comes with the device is going to charge the power bank but a lot slower. Sometimes this can mean you need 24 hours or more of direct sunlight for a full charge, so be aware of this.
Who would benefit from using a solar power bank?
If you love the great outdoors and spend a lot of time away from the grid, you should definitely get one. The same goes for people who live in countries with unreliable grid electricity, power failures and load shedding.
Solar power banks are super useful if you need to charge up your phone from a remote location or in an emergency.
We want to know from you
What’s your experience with solar power banks? Love em or leave em? Can’t live without them?
We’d love to know your thoughts and recommendations so let us know in the comments below.