While it can be fun to get away from the hum of technology and being tethered to an outlet, it’s hard to escape the need for light or to miss out on capturing perfect moments on a digital camera. Whether completely off the grid, away from power sources, or even a day at a lake, overnight campsite, or cabin in the woods, you’ll likely need something to keep your electronics powered, and portable solar power systems are some of the best options.
Photo: Dan Rhodes
Whatever your reason or need for power on the go, we’ve pulled together some of the best solar power options that are compact enough to fit into your backpack yet powerful enough to provide ample juice for your devices. Check out these top picks from Goal Zero and Enerplex.
Goal Zero Sherpa 100 Solar Kit
When you are completely off the grid, you might think that your energy needs are minimal. However, how are you going to power the devices that record your memories, manage your playlists, and light up beachside dance parties? We selected Goal Zero’s big daddy Sherpa 100 to keep us illuminated, rocking out, and charged up to capture memorable moments. The AC inverter was perfect for the cameras, and the USBs got the most constant usage; good thing there are two! The 12V port and the laptop port were used the least, but both worked well. With the help of some Goal Zero Micro Flash Lanterns, rechargeable via the USB port, and a few other lighting options, our hut was functional and quite brilliant any time of day. With the Sherpa solar charger, you don’t need to leave the drone behind, and why would you want to when the views are so spectacular.
Best for: Use over one or two days; charging a cell phone six to eight times off one full battery
Goal Zero Switch 8 & Nomad 7 Kit
This Goal Zero charging kit includes the Switch 8 battery pack and the lightweight Nomad 7 solar panel to charge up your gear and have a backup power pack on the go. The whole system weighs in at 1 pound, so it’s light enough to pack into the backcountry or carry around on day hikes attached to your backpack. It takes about 4 hours of sunlight to fully charge the Switch off solar power from the Nomad 8, and provides enough power to boost a cell phone up to 60% to 100% charge. While this is not powerful enough to fully charge anything significant like a laptop, it will keep your devices alive and at the ready when traversing off the grid.
Best for: Powering most USB devices, including smart phones, headlamps and cameras
Goal Zero Venture 30 Solar Kit
There’s no substitute for back-up power from this proven brand. A 7,800mAh weatherproof recharger is paired with the reliable Nomad 7 solar panel, which testers used to capitalize on sunny, early spring days on Chiloe Island. Devices always stayed topped off with Venture 30 resting on a rock or car hood. Goal Zero makes every function intuitive. Battery status monitoring doesn’t take a second thought and all connections between components (charger, panel and devices) are solid and secure even with gloved hands.
Best For: Trips over five days, anytime phones, tablets and camera are getting heavy use
Enerplex Kickr IV
According to Enerplex’s website, this piece was originally designed for the military. Many solar panels have complicated interfaces, but the Kickr IV is decidedly to the point: there are four foldable panels and a single USB output. If you need to charge GoPros, headlamps, phones and other small devices for days on end, this is the solar panel for you. Plus, it’s super light at only .65 lbs and packs down to the size of a small book. Even though the size is small, it will charge your devices as quickly as a wall outlet will (at least in full sunlight). The panel itself does not hold a charge, so we recommend pairing it with a power bank if sunlight may be intermittent.
Best for: Backpacking and international travel