Written by Terry Smith
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Best portable solar panels for a caravans, camping, phones, and hiking that are foldable
This article was last updated on April 23rd, 2022 at 6:43 am
Electronic gadgets have embedded themselves into our lives to such a degree that I think most of us would have to hold up our hands and admit that we feel a bit lost without them. I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels a rush of anxiety when they see that their phone battery is almost done while out and about and nowhere near to charge it. I know finding a spot to replenish your device in urban areas is a pretty easy task these days, but if you’re like me and enjoy camping, hiking, mountain biking, etc.
You’ll know just how important it is to have a reliable source of energy at hand to power GPS devices, headlamps, electric BBQs, TV’s, Phones, and all the other little comforts we bring along to the outdoors with us. I also have a solar panel I lay in the front of the van connected to the battery just to make sure I keep the van battery topped up and it even works on the cloudiest days! Well, after we’ve had years of carrying around an extra ‘ton’ in the form of spare batteries, the world of technology has finally given us a viable alternative in the shape of portable and foldable solar panels – just a single battery is enough now. You can even go for an inverter setup so you can run 240V for short bursts too!
The best of these devices can ensure that our electric lanterns still work when nature calls in the middle of the night, that our Go Pros stay charged so as not to miss the action, and that our kids don’t end up killing each other after their tablets or phones die during a camping trip. Yes, who knew that it would only take the harnessing of the Sun’s energy to stop them arguing??
Whatever you need a portable solar panel for, it’s important that you choose one the best, and this article is here to steer you in the right direction. We have a helpful buyer’s guide coming up next, and then reviews of the top portable and foldable solar panels in the UK, which we think are as follows-
Best portable solar panels – editor top picks:
Overall and for camping: Aeiusny Solar Panel Foldable 60W Portable Solar Charger
For backpacking and hiking: BigBlue 14W Solar Charger Foldable Outdoor Solar Powered Charger
Powerbank For phone: Solar Charger 26800mAh Power Bank – Hiluckey Wireless Portable Charger
For charging car battery and caravan: ECO-WORTHY 120 Watts Foldable Solar Panel Charger Kit for Portable Generator
Most efficient: DOKIO 110W 18V Portable Foldable Solar Panel Kit Monocrystalline(HIGH Efficiency) with Controller – good for cloudy days
Best portable and foldable solar panel buyer’s guide
While it is amazing to have so many choices when it comes to solar chargers these days, it can also make choosing the right one all that more difficult. So, to aid you in your purchase, we offer this brief but informative buyer’s guide where we’ll point out the things to look out for when making your decision.
What do you need a portable solar charger for?
Portable solar chargers come in many guises and some are better suited for certain purposes than others. For example, a large, rigid, portable solar charger like Dokio 110W solar charger or the Eco-Worthy 120-watt charger kit might be a fantastic choice for keeping in the car or caravan, but I doubt a hiker or backpacker would choose to carry one on their excursions – let alone the inverter or battery – they serve two completely different purposes. Juts look at this 100W model for example and how much larger it is than a little charger type solar panel:
On the other hand, compact, folding, solar chargers are ideal for people who need to move them around by hand or in their bag, but these models tend to be lower wattage and wouldn’t be able to charge a car battery or something similar. Having said that, I have tried out some foldable solar panels that have high wattage, not quite as high as most rigid solar chargers, but still impressive to say that they are foldable products.
It isn’t just about being foldable or not, either. There are other things to consider such as what kind of ports the panel has and whether or not it has a built-in battery, the latter being quite important if your main intention is to charge your phone and tablet. The reason being, the power that will come from the solar charger will not be constant and this could affect your phone’s own battery in a negative way unless you use a charge controller or the charger has a smart IC chip like the Aeiusny 60W model.
It would probably take a good-sized article of its own to goo into all the details about the different options available, but I hope the information above will spur you on to doing a bit more research into which portable solar chargers fit your needs the best.
What size and weight would suit you?
This ties in directly with the section above and will more than likely be determined by what activities you’ll be engaging in with your portable solar charger. Let’s say you’re into hiking or bird watching and you’ll be spending a fair bit of time traversing the countryside on foot; an ultra-lightweight foldable solar charger such as the Big Blue 14W charger is what you want. However, different models have different capacities and thus varying weights, so make sure you check this before ordering. Typically something around this wattage will weigh about 1.5kg from what I found and they’ll normally have usb points – two is common like this one I use:
If you like camping, but always drive to the camp sites in the car, with very little walking involved, then the extra weight or size of a 100W (or more) solar charger shouldn’t bother you too much. On the other hand, campers who have to carry all their equipment, such as tent, cooking tools, food, etc. and are planning on walking a good distance to their chosen site, will probably have to find some middle ground. The Eco-worthy 120W that you can see here weighs over 4kg, which isn’t super heavy but certainly not the lightest product out there.
Portable solar charger durability
In life, there’s always a trade off, and when it comes to portable solar chargers it is most often found in the durability vs the weight. Don’t get me wrong, there are some models out there that do a great job of balancing being lightweight with toughness, and the 30-watt Elecaenta model is a good example of this, but there are also others that sacrifice things like waterproofing and shock resistance for the sake of being ultra-light.
Some things that you should keep an eye out for when it comes to improving the durability, and therefore working life, of your portable solar charger are materials that can fight off rust and other weather-based damage, water resistance, ability to handle extreme temperatures at both end of the scale, and just a general all round build quality that is of a high level. Will you have to pay more for these things? I would say that’s a given, but take my advice and pay the little extra for reliability.
How much power do you need?
The power output of these products varies from product to product, from as little as a couple of watts, up to over a hundred. Now, as someone new to portable solar chargers you might be thinking “well that’s great, but how much power do I need?” and that’s a great question, but one that doesn’t have an easy answer.
You see, it all depends on what you’re going to be charging. If it’s only for your solo use and just meant to be for your phone, then the smallest and lowest powered solar power banks like 26800mAh model from Hiluckey will do you just fine. For larger electrical devices you’ll obviously need something bigger, but a happy medium is something around 15 watts which should be around the size of the charger in this photo:
A good, basic, rule of thumb is that the wattage of your portable solar charger should be higher than the wattage of the device you want to charge. This is because there is always some energy loss that occurs, and when you add this to the fact that a given wattage of a solar charger is measured at its optimum performance (direct sunshine, clear skies etc.), you can start to get an idea of how much power output you require.
If you require a lot of power, you can always use more than one solar panel at a time and this is often what people have in their set up when they want to charge larger batteries up quickly.
Portable solar charger efficiency
When solar energy is transformed into DC power there is inevitably some loss, but some types of solar chargers lose more than others. Efficiency is really important as it not only affects the performance of a charger, but can also influence the size and weight of it too.
The most efficient type of solar panels are ones that are made with monocrystalline solar cells such as the ones found on the Dokio 110W solar charger , with polycrystalline coming in second place. It’s our advice that you opt for monocrystalline solar chargers if you can find one in your price range and that matches your needs, but we realise that for some people, having the type of charger that has a thin film is more important than efficiency, and each to their own as they say.
There are plenty of videos on YouTube that cover the difference between solar panel types, but here’s a short one for you to watch:
Things that can affect solar performance
We already talked about different efficiency ratings, but you should also consider a couple of other things when trying to get the most out of your portable solar chargers. The first one is where and how you place the solar panels, and the second is keeping them clean and undamaged, and so having ETFE solar panels that have a coating to protect from dust damage can be very helpful.
Leaving your portable solar charger on the windowsill is not going to get you the energy that you want. Instead, you should have the solar cells facing directly towards the sun, ideally on clear day. Don’t be surprised or thinking that there’s a problem with the charger if there’s very little power output during overcast weather, it’s just the nature of beast I’m afraid, although better quality solar panels can still provide some energy without perfect conditions.
Dirty solar cells will also not work as they should, even with a thin layer of dust or dirt on them, so make sure you keep yours clean. However, care has to be taken when cleaning the panels so that you don’t accidentally damage them.
Best Portable and foldable solar charger reviews
So, we’ve spent numerous hours getting some hands-on experience with a lot of the best rated portable and foldable solar charges and below you’ll find out which of them we chose as our top picks, why we did so, and how they compare to each other and other products out there.
1. Aeiusny Solar Panel Foldable 60W Portable Solar Charger
I have to say, with all the excellent foldable solar panels out there, choosing one for the best overall spot wasn’t an easy task. Not least of all because everyone has different needs and is therefore looking for something different in their panels. In the end though, we decided upon the product we also chose as our best for portable solar panel for camping- the Aeiusny 60W model (don’t ask me to pronounce it).
Let’s face it, not many of us do old school rough camping these days and are far closer to what would be described as ‘glamping’. This is particularly true if you are taking the family with you, and it is not uncommon to be loading the car up with electric stoves, heaters, lamps, and all sorts of creature comforts.
To keep all of these charged and ready to use, and also you and your family ember’s phones, tablets, etc. you’re probably going to need a portable generator and a portable solar panel that has a larger output than the average, while still remaining compact and portable when packed away.
Well, that’s exactly what you have with the unpronounceable Aeiusny solar charger. When folded, it resembles a small laptop bag, complete with carry handle, and doesn’t weigh all that much. It’s not as lightweight as some other foldable solar panels, and I wouldn’t want to carry it around all day, but moving it from the car to, and around, the camp site won’t bother you and it does have a significantly higher power output than most of those at 60 watts.
Although this foldable solar panel is more than up to the task of charging up a portable generator (and in fact there are multiple connectors included for just this purpose), you can also just use the built in USB ports to charge your devices directly or one of the three DC adapters for your laptop. There’s no need to worry about damage to your smart phone or tablet either, as the smart IC chip that is built in will keep the current stable.
At just under 58 x 14 inches we found it just the right shape and size to throw over the top of our tent, and I was really happy to see that the designers had thought about securing the panel in place and had added four holes in the corner through which you can thread ropes.
With an energy conversion rate of over 20% under perfect conditions, waterproof material (apart from the junction box), and safety features like short circuit and overcurrent protection, there’s a lot to like about this portable solar panel. Is it the cheapest out there? No, but for what it offers it is definitely good value in my book.
If you’d like to see another opinion, or just to get a closer look, check this video out:
- 60 watts should be enough power for all your electrical camping equipment
- High energy conversion rate
- Smart IC chip to protect your devices
- Multiple connectors included for all kinds of devices and power stations
- Would have like the junction box to be IP rated
2. BigBlue 14W Solar Charger Foldable Outdoor Solar Powered Charger
As good as the Aeiusny 60W solar charger is, it is probably not ideal for backpackers and hikers. I say this for two reasons- first, most hikers aren’t carrying around a ton of large electrical devices around with them and therefore don’t need 60W of power output, and second, they tend to want something that doesn’t add too much weight to their backpacks.
Big Blue’s 14W solar charger, on the other hand, is a perfect fit for any of you outdoor wanderers, folding down to just 14.8 by 15.3cm and is noticeably lighter than the Aeiusny. At only 360 grams. Now, it doesn’t have all the connectors and cables to work with a ton of devices, and is only really designed to charge a single 5V product like a smartphone, but for the majority of backpackers, I’d say that’s probably all they require.
One thing you need your solar panel to be, if you’re going to be out in the open for long periods of time, is waterproof and Big Blue have got you covered here. The IPX4 rating earned by this product means that it won’t be damaged if you get caught in a shower while it’s unfolded down your backpack, and with its polymer coating it is certainly better equipped to deal with a spot of bad weather than many other foldable solar panels.
Under the right conditions, you can expect an energy conversion rate of up to 23%, about the same as the Aeiusny 60W panel, and will charge up your phone relatively quicky (about 2 hours or so). Just like with most of the best solar chargers these days, smart IC tech will keep your devices safe, along with protection against surges, overcharging, and short circuits.
On cloudy days, I’d advise using this panel with some kind of power bank, so that the energy is stored and can build up into a usable amount over time. Trying to charge my iPhone on a particularly overcast day just ended up in frustration for me, so take my word for it.
To get the most out of the panel, you should ideally angle it up at 45 degrees, but I found that because of the design it was only possible to have the top two sections angles like this when hung on my rucksack, but it still seemed to do the trick.
There is a 28-watt version of this product, and I would normally have recommended that one for the extra power, but it doesn’t seem to be that easy to get your hands on one at the moment, and to be honest, this 14-watt model will do just fine for charging a power bank, GPS device, etc. while hiking.
- Very compact and lightweight, making it a great choice for hikers
- 14 watts should be more than enough for any backpacker
- IPX4 will protect against light showers and water splashes
- protection against surges, overcharging, and short circuits
- Although great when conditions are good, overcast days hamper performance a lot.
3. Solar Charger 26800mAh Power Bank - Hiluckey Wireless Portable Charger
I’m sure that a large number of you are only on this page to look for a solar charging power bank for your phones and who could blame you? They are, after all, the main bit of tech in 99.9% of people’s lives these days.
In our opinion, the solar Charging power bank that offers the best value for money is the 26800mAh model from Hiluckey, giving you a nice set of connection options, solid build quality, and portability.
Once fully charged, the Hilucky power bank can fully charge a smart phone between 6 and 8 times, or a tablet three times, thanks to the large internal battery. I have to make it clear though, that you shouldn’t expect to fully charge the power bank using only the solar panels as that would take forever!
Instead, the best way to use this product is to charge it from the mains supply in your house, which will take about 7 hours, and then use the solar panels to keep it topped up when you’re out and about, sitting around the campsite, and things like that. If you do plan on using solar power only to charge a device like this, watch this video to see what you should expect:
Now, 7 hours might seem like a long time to charge from the mains but this is a large battery and once fully topped up it’ll allow you to charge up multiple devices at the same time. This is done through the 2 USB and 1 USB-C ports, but if your phone allows for it, you can also use wireless charging by placing your phone directly on the back of powerpack.
As you would probably expect from a foldable solar panel charger, the Hilucky is small enough to fit in your backpack or to hang from the outside of it without being a nuisance. I did find that it was too big to slip in a standard trouser pocket, but it would probably be ok if you’re wearing khaki shorts or combat pants with deeper pockets. Weight-wise, it’s a little heavier than the Big Blue foldable solar panel, but considering that this has an integrated battery, it’s actually impressively lightweight.
The solar panels only have an output of around 2 watts, which is much lower than the big blue and Aeiusny products we reviewed above, so as we mentioned earlier- don’t expect to be able to charge the battery on sunlight alone.
Still, this is a well-made device, especially considering the very reasonable price, and has protection against dust and water. The casing and solar panels feel nice and solid too, giving it some resistance to shock which is always a good thing when camping or hiking.
- Can charge a smart phone up to 8 times
- Solidly built and durable product
- Can be used to charge multiple devices at the same time
- Small enough to fit in a backpack
- Long charging time if using solar power only
4. ECO-WORTHY 120 Watts Foldable Solar Panel Charger Kit for Portable Generator
After spending countless hours playing around with foldable solar panels from a long list of brands, we decided that the Eco-Worthy 120-watt charger kit is your best bet for charging a car battery without having to spend a fortune.
Whenever I’m asked about using a foldable solar panel to charge a battery in a car or caravan, I always advise using a solar charge controller and not to attach the panel directly to the battery. The main reason for this is that without a charge controller, current can still be pushed into the battery when it is already full, risking overheating and damage.
Another good thing about solar charge controllers is that, from my experience anyway, they shorten charging times on car batteries by at least a couple of hours when compared to a direct connection.
So, it’s good to know that this Eco-worthy foldable solar panel comes compete with its own charge controller, as well as a practical 3 metre cable and various connectors that will allow you to charge lead acid batteries, lithium-ion batteries like the ones found in mobile phones, and even gel batteries. The cable and connectors aren’t terrible but far from the best in the world, but you can buy good quality replacements fairly cheap if you’re really not happy with them.
The polycrystalline panels do a cracking job of converting energy and will kick out a decent amount of voltage on a clear and sunny day, and we were reading about 90 watts. Like with all solar panels, the performance is seriously hampered by cloud, but from our measurements the Eco-worthy was still giving us about a single volt and 15 watts under bad conditions. This is better than many we tested which basically stopped working when it was overcast.
For a good-sized solar panel, this product actually folds down to a nice and compact 21.5 x 14.6 x 2.5 inches, and at around 4 kilograms it isn’t going too heavy to hang up on the outside of your caravan using the fee buckles, nor will you have problems laying it out on the inside of your car windscreen. There are also two kickstands included so that you can angle the panels up towards the sun when they are placed on the ground or other flat surfaces.
The only thing I would like to see improved on this product, apart from the quality of the cable and connectors, is for it to have a good IP rating. At the moment it is not waterproof, so you can’t just leave the panels out in the open if you think you might get a shower popping along.
- Comes with a solar charge controller to protect your batteries
- Practical 3 metre long cable
- Can charge li-ion, lead acid, and gel batteries
- Good quality polycrystalline panels are very efficient
- Cable and connectors could be better quality but are easily replaced
5. ELECAENTA 30W Foldable Solar Charger 3 USB Ports PD18W QC3.0 Type-C Portable Solar Panel Kit
I honestly can’t believe just how much the cost of good-quality solar chargers has gotten to in recent years, and there are now some excellent options for people who don’t want to spend too much.
For us, the 30W version of Elecaenta’s foldable solar charger is one of the best you can get in a lower price bracket, delivering a practical amount of energy while still being highly portable and durable.
You might look at the price tag on this foldable solar panel and think to yourself that you’ve seen cheaper chargers out there, but my bet would be that those are either power banks for phones like the Hilucky wireless charger, or they have panels of a lower quality.
If you only want a power bank that you charge mainly from the socket and only top up with solar power, then by all means purchase one as it will no doubt cost less. However, if you are relying on a foldable charger to supply all the energy you need while camping or picnicking in the woods, then this is the best budget choice.
With a high energy conversion rate, it will produce up to 30 watts on a good day and will keep your notebook, tablet, or other device going so long as it can be connected using one of the three outlets- USB-A for 5V devices, QC3.0 12V/2A, and Type-C PD18W. So, plenty of options there. I read that someone had problems using an aftermarket apple charger, but I had absolutely no problems with my genuine one.
When folded, this solar charger is only slightly larger than your average I-pad, around 300 grams heavier, and unlikely to be bothersome to carry around. It’s durable too, having been made with ETFE panels that are coated with thermoplastic resin, which makes them resistant to dust, and the product has an IPX5 rating too. This means it isn’t completely waterproof, but you wouldn’t have to worry if your bag gets a soaking in the rain and the charger is in there.
Please be aware that this isn’t a portable power station, and doesn’t store energy in a built-in battery, and so you’ll have to either charge up a power bank or solar generator with it, or use a charge controller if you’re going to be plugging it directly into your devices, just to be on the safe side.
- Excellent quality for the price
- 30 watts gives you plenty of power for your devices
- ETFE panels are resistant to dust particles and has an IPX5 rating
- Good energy conversion rate
- No built in battery
6. DOKIO 110W 18V Portable Foldable Solar Panel Kit Monocrystalline(HIGH Efficiency) with Controller
If you read our buyer’s guide, you’ll already be aware of the fact that not all solar panels are the same, and that some are more efficient than others at turning the sun’s rays into usable electrical energy.
It is widely accepted that the most efficient solar panels are monocrystalline products, so it shouldn’t shock you that we picked such a product as the winner of our most efficient solar charger category- t Dokio’s 110W 18V model.
This thing is so good, that it will still give you energy on cloudy days – partially it’s the higher watt rating though. The amount of energy is of course much less than on a sunny day, but it is still more than almost all of the other foldable solar chargers we tested.
On those pre-mentioned clear days, you can use the Dokio to charge car and caravan batteries with the aid of the free controller, or charge up a power station with one of the many connectors that come with the charger. What’s more, you won’t need to use the controller to charge your power station / generator.
Like our best budget pick- the Elecaenta 30W product, Dokio’s portable solar charger takes advantage of ETFE’s durability boosting properties, but on top of that, this product has one of the highest certifications of water and particle resistance (IP65).
The Dokio isn’t ideal for everyone though. For a start, it doesn’t fold down small enough to fit in a backpack and has to be carried using the handle of its carry bag. In fact, with dimensions of 54 x 73cm it is still quite large, even when folded up. On the plus side, it is very thin at just over a centimetre and only weighs 2.7kg, so carrying it from the car to a camp site is easy work.
Like most of the best solar chargers, this model offers protection for your devices in a number of ways. Namely- reverse polarity, overcharging, short circuit, and reverse current. On top of this, it also offers smart charging that works in four stages in order to increase battery life.
All in all, a product very worthy of being on this list of best portable and foldable solar chargers, but like we say, it might be a bit large for hikers and backpackers to carry around with them comfortably. The man in this video uses his for his camper, which I think is ideal for this product:
- Highly efficient monocrystalline solar panels
- Very lightweight considering the size
- Durable ETFE panels and protections against reverse polarity, overcharging, short circuit, and reverse current
- 4 stage smart charging
- Still quite large even when folded and won’t be ideal for some people