Portable Solar Chargers

In the October 2010 issue of Countryfile Magazine there is an article reviewing some of the portable solar chargers available on the market. I am a heavy phone user whilst out hiking (thanks to Social Hiking), and the idea of a free source of power to keep my phone going is great, but is it actually practical?

Here is a summary of the results of the Countryfile testing:

Make/Model Charged iPod For Price
Infinit Bag 49 minutes £89.99
Powermonkey Explorer 88 minutes £65
Freeloader Pico 32 minutes £16.99
Vaude Charger 33 minutes £65
QSOL Backpack 53 minutes £29.95

[Reproduced from Countryfile Issue 39 – October 2010]

It should be noted that the test was to place the devices side by side on a sunny mid-August day to charge from empty from 7.30am – 7pm. Each device was then used to charge an iPod, and the length of time the device provided a charge was recorded.

I am a big fan of Powertraveller’s Powermonkey, and it is great to see that the Explorer performed the best out of all the devices. However, whilst I do not have the figures to hand, I am pretty sure that the power required to charge an iPod is less than the what is required for your average smart phone. So in ideal conditions you may just about about get enough charge to make a few phone calls and take a few pictures.

Of course as a portable charger, you want to carry it with you – so it is unlikely to be ideal conditions – anything on your back is unlikely to have 11.5 hours of direct sunshine, and lets face it, you are fairly lucky to be hiking in a full day of Summer sunshine anyway.

I used to own a Powermonkey Explorer (until it suffered a tragic and fatal accident), and in real conditions I was lucky to get 5-10 minutes of charge from it (by charging a Powermonkey from it and then using that to charge the phone). Other than giving you a bit of backup charge for emergencies, that is not particularly useful.

Of course, if you have a fixed place to camp, you could leave it to charge whilst you go out hiking – but there are better, more powerful, heavier solar chargers on the market which would do a better job, for example the Powertraveller Solar Gorilla but you are looking at £140.

Personally my solution to portable power is having a couple of fully charged Powermonkeys – each one provides enough power to recharge my phone fully and provide top up charge to keep it going for a full day of hiking, tweeting, using ViewRanger, sending BuddyBeacons, and taking photos. They are small enough (and ultimately cheap enough) to leave in campsite toilets or pubs charging.

For wild camping or remote hiking, another solution is to use a battery mobile charger – batteries are pretty much available everywhere (although environmentally I suppose you should use rechargeable ones) and you can carry enough to keep you powered up for the duration.

I would love to hear your comments below on how you keep your devices fully charged whilst hiking!

6 Replies to “Portable Solar Chargers”

  1. Had a similar experience with solar chargers. Took a PowerMonkey Explorer on the Essex Way last year. 10 hours of direct sunshine barely gave enough charge to put 15% back into the phone. And i consider that brand to be one of the best. So Solar chargers are a fail for my use, imo. I carry a PowerMonkey and a Proporta 3400 which usually get me through a couple of days when out hiking. I supplement this by by buying a decent pub lunch before requesting the landlord if i can ‘plug in’ for a while.

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  3. I would not put much faith in solar chargers. At least not current technology. If you have hours and hours of time and plenty of good sunlight you can get a decently charged battery that you can then use to charge your device but it’s an iffy proposition. As noted in the article carrying a couple extra batteries is a better approach. Also if you drain your smarphone down to nothing don’t expect the solar charger solution to be able to do much. At least with some iPhones and iPods I’ve found that if you drain down to nothing you really need to plug into the mains to get the battery at least started.

    Of course, what we really need is improvement in battery technology but that’s not oging to happen any time soon.

  4. I would definitely agree with you there Ken – all these solutions are just sticky plasters on the bigger issue that battery technology has not improved at the same rate of the devices they power!

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