My family loves to road trip and camp, so we bought a solar phone charger to keep on the dash while we drive. It is a nice backup if we need to charge our phones while out exploring.
On average, solar phone chargers last between 4 and 5 years. Monocrystalline is the most durable and most effective type of panel. The larger the panels the more effective the solar charger. Most solar chargers take 12 or more hours to fully charge the battery bank, then your phone will charge from the battery bank.
When I am looking for gear, I see what the hikers use. They use this kind of gear every day, it stays outside and gets carried around all day. If it can work on the trail then it has proven itself.
How to Properly Use a Solar Phone Charger so it Lasts Longer
Start by putting your solar charger in the sun. It should be at a 45-degree angle with the sun, but can also lay flat during midday. The charger collects energy from the sun and stores it in a battery.
There are two main types of solar chargers, a solar charger, and a separate USB battery pack, or a combo unit that has the battery pack built-in.
The combo units are generally lower quality, and that has certainly been my experience. It is simply not powerful enough to be practical for most people.
If you want a backup for occasional power outages this works perfectly well and is very inexpensive. Just be sure to give it time to charge after each use. Once changed, it will hold the charge for months without any sunlight.
If you will be relying on a solar charger as a critical part of your setup for a vacation, hike, boating trip, or road trip, invest in a unit with a large solar panel and separate battery banks.
These units are more expensive, but also more durable and more suited to repeated frequent use.
When choosing a solar phone charger you likely came across this guy:
I know we did, we snagged this one off Amazon for a reasonable amount, but it takes over 12 hours to completely charge.
The solar panel is very very small, it is about the same size as an iPhone, which is convenient but not very powerful.
I put it on the dash of the car and let it charge all day. It was a painfully slow process, but it did finally reach a full charge after 8-10 hours. Then I could plug my phone in using the provided cables to charge my phone.
I recommend getting a quick charge cable, which will work as well, and make the process go a bit faster.
Solar Phone Charger Dos and Don’ts
Do Plan for the Weather
Make sure that the location you plan to use your solar panel charger is sunny. This may seem basic, but many areas are heavily shaded or maybe never or almost never get full sun.
In Alaska for example the sun does not always rise high over the horizon, so solar chargers may not be as efficient as they would be in Texas.
Do Have a Backup Plan
If you encounter unexpected weather, you may not be able to collect much sunlight. This is a great reason to keep your batteries charged at all times.
Plan ahead, charge your batteries every chance you get. There is no shame in changing your battery before you head out.
Turn the cord around and charge the battery with your car or home phone charger, then collect sun on your next opportunity.
Don’t Leave Without Testing It
Everyone loves new gear, packing up your new tools is fun, but be sure to test them first.
I tested my solar bank by putting it on our dash when we drove around town, then I used it to charge my phone. I was able to see if it worked when I didn’t need it, now I know I can depend on it.
Don’t Forget Your Cords
Your solar charger likely came with a bunch of cords, make sure you identify the purpose of each one and bring the ones you need
You may not think of bringing the cord to charge the charger with shore power, but I would highly recommend that you do.
Don’t Forget Your Battery
Again, maybe basic, but truly necessary.
When you pack your solar panel, pack your battery, this video shows the setup with a battery that zips directly to the solar panel, be sure to check twice, so you are prepared.
A Spare Battery for your Solar Phone Charger Will Extend it’s Lifespan
Heat is hard on batteries, so it is recommended to purchase a separate battery pack with your solar charger. This will give you longer use of your solar charger, so you can replace the battery if it stops working.
You can also more easily replace any components that fail. If you find that you can no longer charge a battery with your solar charger, the batteries can also be charged with wall power.
You can use fast charging cables that will reduce the time you need to connect your phone to the battery bank. These are higher-quality solar phone chargers, and they are worth the price.
How Long Can a Solar Phone Chargers Battery Pack Hold a Charge?
Another benefit of choosing separate batteries with your solar charger is you can choose the best battery for your application.
A high-quality battery can hold a charge for 3 to 6 months without any power loss.
I found that even my budget charger held a charge for months in a junk drawer. I was surprised when during a severe storm I was able to plug my phone into the charger and my phone charged at a normal speed.
This is perfect if you are concerned about cloudy days or if you want to start your trip with some power on board.
It would be a good idea to have two batteries if you expect to be off-grid for more than 3 or 4 days, then you can use the power for phones, laptops, games, and even small electronics that use USB power.
This is a great addition to your adventure gear.
Do Solar Phone Chargers Last Long Enough to be Worth it?
Solar chargers that charge a separate battery bank are a reliable way to charge your phone without traditional power. With full or partial sun they can be used to charge a battery that can last up to seven days for GPS and taking photos.
The larger the panels the more effective and the faster the unit will charge your battery bank. These battery banks can also be charged with an outlet so you have backup power if you expect an outage or for camping or boating.
Solar phone chargers with a battery built-in are generally of lower quality. These small solar chargers have small panels as well as a small battery pack.
I have one that we bought after several power outages, I just went and dug it out of the junk drawer where it has been for months and the battery was still fully charged.
While I would not rely on this charger if I needed to use it daily, it was a great backup charger for a power outage.
If you will be relying on a solar charger for your next outing, be sure to test all components at home before you hit the trail.
If used properly, a solar phone charger should last for 4-5 years before needing to be replaced. However, the battery may fail before the charger does so it is recommended to buy an extra battery with your solar phone charger.