After shelter, water and food, emergency power may be your next priority in a disaster situation.
Granted, cell towers often go down when disaster strikes, but if they’re still standing, you’re likely to be using your phone a lot to check in with family and friends and gather intel on the situation.
And that means the battery will drain – fast.
Add on other electronics you may be carrying, such as a GPS unit or rechargeable headlamp, and you may start to wonder just how long you can last without power.
There are plenty of rechargeable power packs on the market, but most require you to recharge the unit by plugging it into a wall charger or laptop. Which isn’t that helpful if you’ve drained it and the power is still off…
Today, we’re looking at power packs with an integrated solar panel for off-grid charging.
Here’s what you need to know about portable solar power banks.
Our Top Pick
Best Solar Power Bank Comparison Table
Best All-RounderProduct: BLAVOR Power Bank
Benefits: High capacity, fast charging.
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Best For Solar ChargingProduct: BLAVOR Five-Panel
Benefits: Fastest charging, good capacity.
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Most DurableProduct: Beartwo Portable
Benefits: Waterproof, durable, lightweight
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Solar Power Bank vs Solar Panel
A solar power bank consists of a small solar panel mounted on a large battery to store power.
They’re typically smaller and more portable than solar panels (which can’t store power unless plugged into a separate power pack), making them a good option for your Bug Out Bag or other occasions when weight and pack size is a consideration.
Since they store charge, you can use them to charge your phone when it’s dark.
Will they perform as well as a dedicated solar panel?
To put it bluntly, when it comes to generating power from the sun, bigger is better. The solar panels used in portable solar power banks are very small and therefore limited in the amount of power they can generate.
If you want to use it to charge your iPad in an hour, think again.
But as a low-cost emergency power source, they can be useful, especially if you start with a fully charged unit. You can use the sun’s energy to keep the power bank topped up and in a worst-case scenario, get enough juice into your phone for an emergency call.
If you’re looking to use solar energy as a reliable, long-term source of power for off-grid living, then you’ll want to combine solar panels with an external battery.
How Much Power Can I Expect?
This will vary from unit to unit, but most power banks will enable you to charge your phone at least 3 or 4 times. More expensive high-capacity units will also be able to charge an iPad or other devices, though you won’t be able to use them for larger devices such as laptops or televisions.
Then again, you’re probably not going to be able to fit a television in your Bug Out Bag. 😉
It’s best to treat a solar power bank as a back-up power source for times when you may have to go a couple of days without power.
For example, if you’re moving between your home and a Bug Out location or if you’re staying put but expect the power to come back on soon.
What to Consider When Buying
Power banks are pretty simple devices, so you shouldn’t have to spend hours agonizing over which one to buy. That said, there are a few things to consider before you part with your hard-earned cash.
The capacity of a power bank (how much charge it can hold) is usually given in milliamp-hours (mAh). The bigger the number, the more times you’ll be able to charge your phone.
Real life example:
Our top pick the Blavor can store 20000mAh which should give you at least four full charges on a mid-range phone.
There is a trade-off though. High-capacity power banks are usually heavier, more expensive and take longer to charge up.
You’ll need to weigh up these factors against your power needs and access to more efficient charging sources.
Most power packs come with at least two charging ports so you can charge two devices at once. This is handy if you’re sharing your power pack with a friend or are trying to make the most of a day of blazing sun in between rainy days but the more devices you plug in, the faster the battery will drain.
For fast charging, you’ll want at least one 5V/2.1A USB port. The BLAVOR solar charger (our top pick) also comes with the latest rapid-charge ports, though these are only useful if you have a compatible device.
Some power packs also have an option for wireless charging for Qi-certified devices. Although this may be handy if you have one of these devices (or are very prone to losing charging cables), we felt it wasn’t a must-have feature.
Size and Weight
Most portable solar power banks weigh under a pound and are a little larger than a smartphone. Higher capacity units may weigh more, but generally, we feel the extra weight is worth it for the extended charging time.
However careful you are with your kit, accidents happen and in an emergency situation, you won’t want to deal with the fact that your power bank is no longer working after you dropped it in a puddle.
Most power banks are reasonably splash-proof, but if you’re particularly accident-prone or are likely to be using it around water or in a dusty environment, it’s worth opting for a more rugged waterproof model.
How to Use Your Solar Power Bank
Because of the small number of charging cells, solar power banks take a long time to fully charge once drained. We’re talking days of constantly being in the sun.
With most power banks, you need to fully charge it using mains power at least a couple of times to activate the battery before trying to charge it using solar power. So don’t just stick your brand new power bank straight into your Bug Out Bag.
It’s best to keep your power bank fully charged and then use solar power to trickle charge your devices when you’re out and about. When you’re not using it to charge your phone, leave your power bank outside to soak up some sun.
To help your power bank charge as quickly as possible:
- Place it in full sun. Any shade (even cloud cover) will lengthen charging time and reduce the amount of power you can draw on when charging directly.
- Angle the panel toward the sun. As a general rule, the angle of tilt will be similar to your latitude (with a bit of seasonal adjustment). The further you are from the equator, the steeper you’ll need to tilt the panel. HOWEVER, as the solar panels on power banks are so small, there’s a limit to how much difference this is going to make, so don’t get too hung up about calculating the precise angle.
It’s also worth remembering that while solar panels love the sun, your phone does not.
If you’re trickle charging during the day, then try to find a bit of shade for the device you’re charging so it doesn’t overheat.
Also, try to avoid placing your power bank on your car hood or any other surface that will heat up rapidly in the sun – it’s not great for the battery.
Portable Solar Power Bank Reviews
Best All-Rounder: BLAVOR Power Bank
Given that the solar charging capability of most portable power banks is limited, a high-capacity model will guarantee you can power your devices for longer off-grid. The 20000mAh capacity of the BLAVOR power bank is the first reason it’s our top pick.
If you have a device compatible with quick charge technology, this will allow you to charge it up much quicker than other power banks. It’s also got a fast Qi wireless charger.
This makes the BLAVOR charger a good choice if you’re already using top-of-the-range phones, but it’s also future-proofed for when more devices come out with fast-charge capabilities.
On the downside, it’s one of the heaviest and most expensive models we looked at.
There’s a decent built-in flashlight and a built-in compass, though we wouldn’t recommend relying on this in an emergency!
- High capacity
- Fast charging ports
- Qi wireless charging
- Robust construction
- Slow to charge
Best for Solar Charging: BLAVOR Five-Panel
BLAVOR have attempted to address the issue of monumentally slow solar charging times by adding an additional four panels to a 20000mAh power bank.
It does still take 18-20 hours of “optimum sunlight” (i.e. lab conditions) to go from zero to full charge – in reality, about 4 days if you’re in a sunny climate.
So it’s not going to provide you with constant power, but you should be able to keep your phone and other small devices topped up for light use.
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As the additional panels are detachable, you can leave them at home to save weight if you’re using the power bank for weekend use (you’ll still have the single panel on the power bank).
Even with the full panel array, it won’t be as effective at charging your devices as a solar panel charger, but it does pack up much smaller, so if you can’t fit a larger panel in your Bug Out Bag, this could be a good compromise.
- Detachable solar panels for faster solar charging
- High capacity
- Battery charge indicator
- Qi wireless charging + 2 USB ports
- More expensive than other models
- Only one high-speed charging port
- Not waterproof
Most Durable: Beartwo Portable
All the charging ports on the Beartwo power bank have rubber caps, making the unit both waterproof and dustproof.
According to the IP67 rating, you can fully immerse it in up to a meter of water for 30 minutes. This makes it the most weatherproof model we’ve reviewed.
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It’s also the most lightweight model on our shortlist, weighing in at just 7.4 oz, a fraction more than most smartphones.
Like all small power banks, it’ll be super slow to charge in the sun, but if you plug it into the wall, it’ll charge in just 4-5 hours. On the downside, the capacity is half that of other models, but it’ll still give you a couple of full charges on your phone.
Overall, this is a great option for your Bug Out Bag at a reasonable price.
- Lightweight and compact
- Waterproof and dustproof
- 3-mode emergency flashlight
- Fast charging time (4-5 hours via wall charger)
- Lower capacity than other models (10000mAh)