Related

Solar Mobile Phone Charger (Shutterstock: see credit below)

Traveller's guide to: Solar chargers

We may travel to get away from it all but what if you want to keep in touch with friends and family or update your blog? Enter the solar charger, the perfect on-the-go way to power your electronic devices, wherever you find yourself…

Issue 150 | September 2014

How does it work?
Basically speaking it takes energy from the sun and converts it into electricity that can be stored in a supplied battery, which you then use to power up electronic devices.

Charge time

Most chargers will advise how long they take to fully charge using the sun. Remember though that these are based on full sunlight, outside, so in cloudy or overcast conditions, or if charging on a windowsill, it will take longer. It will always take longer to charge it from solar than it would to charge it from your laptop of direct from the mains.

What can I charge?

That depends on the size of the panels and how efficiently they work. In theory, the larger the panel, the quicker the charge (and obviously the higher the price), but when travelling you don’t want to be stuck with a giant solar panel. So check the charger’s capability before buying – one that might be fine for powering your smartphone or iPod, could struggle to generate the juice required to re-charge your tablet or laptop.

Price vs Weight
As a general rule, if you want a powerful all-singing, all-dancing charger that will power your devices and be as light as it can be, then you will have to pay more for it. Cutting the price will often mean the charger consists of bulkier, heavier components. But remember, a larger panel could mean a faster charge, so think about what you can afford/what you need and be prepared to compromise in terms of weight versus performance.

Casing
Some chargers will be all-in-one solid units, incorporating both a solar panel and battery; other two-part chargers will have a fold/rollable solar panel as well as a separate battery. Think about where you will be travelling and what you’ll be doing as you want to ensure that yours is packable and also sturdy enough to handle the rigours of travelling and luggage handling. Look for an attachment so that you can strap it to your rucksack/bag during the day – a perfect way to charge it!

How many gadgets?
Some bigger chargers will power several devices simultaneously, which could be ideal if you’re taking several with you. You will pay more for these though in both price and weight.

Adapter

It sounds obvious but make sure the charger you opt for comes with an adapter lead that will match your devices. If not you can always buy one, but it will be an extra expense worth considering.

Powertraveller

powermonkey, £45

The test: This is essentially a battery pack that you can charge using either a solar panel (which you’d have to buy separately) or via a USB cable (supplied) attached to your laptop/computer. If you’re just after a boost to power your small electronic devices, eg smartphone, MP3 player, and are happy to power it up before you go then this is a light (120g), portable option – its alloy casing means it’s fairly robust too. It’s easy to use – there’s one button you hold to see the level of charge left, indicated by LED lights.

It takes around 7-8 hours to fully charge, which might be an issue if you don’t have a solar panel and are relying on using a laptop to charge it (note: you can’t charge from the powermonkey while charging it). One full charge can give you up to 96 hours of standby time on an iPhone or around 120 hours playing time on a basic MP3 player. Adapter-wise it has a socket for a USB and micro USB.

The verdict: If you’re happy to use the USB to charge this and only need to power small devices then this is a light, cheaper option.

In brief:
Charging capability: ★★★✩✩
Design: ★★★★✩
Ease of use: ★★★★★
Size & weight: ★★★★★
Value: ★★★★✩
Overall: ★★★★✩

www.cotswoldoutdoor.com

Wanderlust readers get 10% off Powertraveller solar chargers: click here for details


Brunton

Heavy Metal 5500, £65

The test: Brunton’s offering is also a portable battery that you can power up either via the mains, computer/laptop USB port or a solar panel (available separately). For a little extra money though, you get more power. Once fully charged – which takes 5-8 hours depending on the source – you can charge a smartphone around five times and even a tablet up to 1.5 times. Top tip: recharge your devices from a half charge rather than empty as it’s quicker.

It is a heavier (aluminium-based) option, weighing 254g, but more robust for it. It couldn’t be simpler to use. There is one button that turns it on and off and three LED lights to advise of the charge remaining. The really nifty aspect with this one is that the two cables – for USB and micro USB – are built in and tucked away into the sides of the charger, note that Apple users will need to use the USB port to charge their devices.

The verdict: Small but capable of powering even some larger devices, though you’ll need a solar panel or rely on mains/USB to power it.

In brief:
Charging capability: ★★★★✩
Design: ★★★★★
Ease of use: ★★★★★
Size & weight: ★★★★✩
Value: ★★★★✩
Overall: ★★★★✩

www.bruntoneurope.com

Freeloader *Best-value buy*

Isis, £65

The test: Combining a battery and solar panel in one unit, the Isis is a strong option. Robust, simple-to-use (one button and display screen) and weighing in at 229g (in its protective gel casing – only 185g without) it fits into most pockets. Charge time varies from 8 hours via USB/computer to up to 20 hours from the sun: the case provided is easily attached to a rucksack/bag/belt so you could get the charge up during the day’s efforts.

Once charged it can power up a variety of devices, even compact cameras (up to three charges). Aside from the regular ports, this also has two cables tucked away into the main body of the charger – one micro USB and one going straight into the newest iPhone and iPad. Both ports are covered with rubber to keep them water tight: this is made to work in the extremes (-20 to 60˚C). There’s even a handy stand so you can angle it to best catch the sun.

The verdict: A great, compact travel-friendly option at a great price, providing a good level of charge for a number of items.

In brief:
Charging capability: ★★★★✩
Design: ★★★★★
Ease of use: ★★★★★
Size & weight: ★★★★★
Value: ★★★★★
Overall: ★★★★★

www.maplin.co.uk


Powertraveller

powermonkey explorer, £65

The test: This easy-to-use system comes in two separate parts – the flip-close solar panels and the battery to hold the charge. They attach together via a cable (supplied) and then you plug the charger into your device via one of the many supplied adapter ends (note: Apple users will need to charge via the USB). You could charge it by hanging it on the side of your bag during the day (strap supplied), plug it into the mains (a 150-country adapter plug included) or via your USB and computer/ laptop.

The time taken to fully charge it varies from 3.5 hour (mains) to 6 hours (USB) to much longer for the solar panel. Once fully charged you can power up your smartphone around one-two times (it won’t charge larger devices, eg tablets). Weight-wise it’s just 160g for both the battery and solar panel – and only 78g for just the battery. The plastic and rubber casing makes it fairly robust and weather resistant.

The verdict: Light and (one button) easy-to-use with lots of charging options, though it will struggle to power anything beyond a phone.

In brief:
Charging capability: ★★★✩✩
Design: ★★★★✩
Ease of use: ★★★★✩
Size & weight: ★★★★✩
Value: ★★★★✩
Overall: ★★★★✩

www.cotswoldoutdoor.com

Wanderlust readers get 10% off Powertraveller solar chargers: click here for details

Soulra

Rugged Rukus, £90

The test: For something different, there’s this multiple-use charger from Soulra. This will not only power your phone or MP3 player using the sun’s rays, but will also allow you to play your music through its in-built speaker. Featuring a large panel on the top, 5 hours in the sunlight will give you up to 8 hours of playback (though it also plugs into the mains/computer).

It’ll also charge your smartphone – even while it plays. You’ll need to use your phone cable to attach it as it comes with none – though it does have a USB, mini USB and aux port. It’s easy to use with a simple on/off switch, a button to enable Bluetooth, volume control and a button to check battery charge remaining – using five LED lights. Weight-wise, it’s unsurprisingly the heaviest here, being 528g. However it is certainly well built and splash proof so fine in your luggage.

The verdict: Certainly a quirky option for music/radio lovers, though its higher price tag doesn’t mean it can charge bigger devices.

In brief:
Charging capability: ★★★✩✩
Design: ★★★★✩
Ease of use: ★★★★✩
Size & weight: ★★★✩✩
Value: ★★★★✩
Overall: ★★★★✩

www.soulracorp.com/uk


Powertraveller *Best in test*

powermonkey extreme, £120

The test: Bigger paddles, higher voltage output, heftier price tag. But once fully charged, the extreme not only powers smartphones and tablets but also DSLR camera batteries (twice) and even a portable DVD player (for up to 4 hours) – with most adapters included! As well as charging it from the sunlight you can also power it from the mains, USB and laptop/ computer, and even using a car lighter socket.

It’s also easy to use, with a swipe on/off panel and an LCD screen giving you a more precise reading on how much charge is left. It will take around 18-22 hours to charge it using the sun – but you can attach it to a bag or similar and charge throughout the day. It’s also robust, well-built with a flip solar panel design, waterproof for 30 mins (up to 1 metre) and shock resistant. All this comes at a fair weight – 456g for both the panel and battery pack (261g for the battery pack alone).

The verdict: An all-singing, all-dancing model that charges all of your devices via multiple methods, though you pay for it…

In brief:
Charging capability: 
Design: ★★★★★
Ease of use: ★★★★★
Size & weight: ★★★★★
Value: ★★★★✩
Overall: ★★★★★

www.powertraveller.com

Wanderlust readers get 10% off Powertraveller solar chargers: click here for details



Main image: Solar Mobile Phone Charger (Shutterstock)

You must be logged in to leave a comment. Login or get more from Wanderlust - register today!

 Your Comments (0)

MAKE IT HAPPEN

loading...
select
select
select
select
Departure date:
RadDatePicker
RadDatePicker
Open the calendar popup.
Return date:
RadDatePicker
RadDatePicker
Open the calendar popup.
Date flexibility:
Spin UpSpin Down
Search

Need some travel planning inspiration?

Simply select the destination you’re interested in or the activities you’re looking for and we’ll send your request to a select panel of tour operators.

Each operator will respond to your request individually. Your details remain private and are not disclosed to any partners unless you decide to proceed with a booking. Enjoy!

Search
Email

Wanderlust in your inbox

Wanderlust sends out regular email newsletters – be the first to know about web exclusives, competitions, hot offers and travel jobs. Register today!





I have read and agree to the Terms & Conditions

Submit