The Best Portable Solar Panels and Chargers of 2018

On the hunt for a new solar panel charging set up for your next off-the-grid adventure? We have scoured the market and looked at hundreds of different models. Eventually, we narrowed it down to the top 16 models for hands-on testing. We carried these panels on a road trip from Nevada to New Mexico to California, testing them in a wide variety of conditions. We tested their durability and portability on the road. We also recorded their output power and ability to charge a variety of small electronics. As it turns out, many of the panels do not live up to the online specs. We sorted out the top performers from the fakes and can recommend the best panel for you, whether you're looking for an ultra-light model, a budget option, or the best of the best.

Read the full review below >

Test Results and Ratings

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Analysis and Award Winners


Review by:
Jane Jackson
Senior Review Editor
OutdoorGearLab

Last Updated:
Thursday
May 3, 2018

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Updated May 2018
We've been reviewing portable solar chargers for many years now, and it's exciting to see that manufacturers are continuing to innovate and that the number of options and overall performance is still growing. We compared our favorite models from years past along with some new brands, like RavPower, Bernet, and iClever, and we also tested the new Goal Zero Nomad 7 Plus.


Best Overall


X-Dragon 20W


X-Dragon 20W
Editors' Choice Award

$47 List
List Price
See It

Weight: 19.7 oz | Panel Size: 20 Watt
Efficient charging
Decent in partly cloudy conditions
Roomy storage pocket
Doesn't work well for multiple devices
One of the heavier panels

If your main goal is efficient charging, the X-Dragon 20W is hard to beat. This panel needed only 3 hours and 30 minutes to charge our battery to full (fastest in this review). It is also reliable and managed to charge a device continuously, even through multiple interruptions due to cloudy conditions.

One major downside is its inability to charge multiple devices at once. Unlike other models of its size, the X-Dragon could not establish a connection to two batteries at once and ended up charging neither. This model used to be quite expensive, retailing for around $120 on Amazon, but can be found for far less now, often listed on sale for around $50, a much more palatable price.

Read review: X-Dragon 20W

Best Bang for the Buck


Instapark Mercury 10W


Instapark Mercury 10
Best Buy Award

$37.95
at Amazon
See It

Weight: 18 oz | Panel Size: 10 Watts
Reasonably priced
Lightweight
Straightforward design
Charges multiple devices simultaneously
Large for its capacity
Low overall output power
Bulky design

The Instapark Mercury 10W is a reasonably priced, mid-range panel that performed well across the board in our metric comparisons. Compared to other 10-15W panels we tested, the Mercury had some of the best scores in charge interruption recovery and charging speed. It also has a large storage pocket and is overall one of the more durable, well-made panels we reviewed.

One of the downsides to the Mercury was its failure to charge multiple devices at once. This is problematic only because the panel comes with two USB ports, but in practice, it seemed that this was an unnecessary feature. The panel is also only a 10W setup, which means each USB port only gets about 5W, or less, in full sun. The panel is also a bit heavy and bulky, especially for its relatively small output capacity. That said, the Mercury 10W was one of the highest-ranking panels in terms of durability. If you are in the market for a reasonably priced, durable, mid-range panel the Instapark Mercury 10W is a good option.

Read review: Instapark Mercury 10W

Top Pick for Lightweight


Renogy E.Flex5


Renogy E.Flex5
Top Pick Award

$22.72
at Amazon
See It

Weight: 6.1 oz | Panel Size: 5 Watts
Lightweight
Good price
Durable
Simplistic design
Lacks pocket
Cells have no protective cover
One USB port

In terms of weight, the majority of the panels in this review come within ounces of each other on the scale. The Renogy 5W stands apart from the rest in terms of weight and portability. This panel is sleek and durable, which as it turns out, it's a difficult combination of features to nail down. Though the Yolk Solar Paper weighs less (a mere 5.1 ounces as compared to the Renogys 6.1oz), it lacks the durability of the heavier model. The Renogy is about the size and thickness of a small cutting board. Its barebones, simple design means that the panel is made of a durable, waterproof material that doesn't wear out when exposed to the elements all day. This panel makes for a good alternative to the small battery pack/panels we have tested in the past.

The panel performed relatively well regarding charging speed for its size, but could not handle interruptions very well. Also, its small size means that it charges slow. For phones and other small devices, the Renogy works well, but we should note that it took 4 hours to charge our battery only 9%. This may seem shocking, but it is just the way it is with these small capacity panels. If minor charging is all you need, the Renogy will do the job!

Read review: Renogy E.Flex5


select up to 5 products
Score Product Price Our Take
72
$47
Editors' Choice Award
A true powerhouse in all regards: fast, efficient charging, spacious design features, weight and cost.
69
$280
Though the panel performed well in our side-by-side testing, the Arc 20 includes a battery that had a few drawbacks.
68
$60
Best Buy Award
As a mid-power panel, the Mercury 10W wins the award of Best Buy for its value as well as consistent ratings year after year.
66
$107
While the X-Dragon 40W is powerful and able to charge large batteries, it is also bulky and heavy, making it difficult to transport.
66
$40
The device is better used first as a battery, and second as a solar panel.
66
$30
Top Pick Award
Small and simple is the name of the game with the 5W. This lightweight panel is ideal for basic power ups.
64
$66
This lightweight, inexpensive panel did not charge our gadgets as fast as some, but managed to be a consistent contender in all metrics.
63
$51
For an inexpensive, large-capacity panel, the Sokoo is a good option.
62
$50
Ideal for road trips and van life, the weighty 21W can be selected in a color that suits your adventure style.
60
$60
This panel was a strong competitor to some of our previous favorites, especially because of its simple design and durability.
59
$65
It is efficient and portable, with the reliable design of a traditional solar charger.
59
$32
Low wattage combined with minimal features lend to a simple panel with a wallet friendly price tag.
55
$148
As a compact, sleek panel, the Yolk is impressive, but in terms of efficiency, this charger fell short.
54
$40
The Nekteck 14W is an entry level panel with a low price tag.
51
$100
This panel lacks as an efficient charging device, but it somewhat makes up for it in its design and portability.

Analysis and Test Results


Now more than ever, solar technology is growing in popularity, and we have many well-tested options when shopping for a portable model. Traveling around the southwest US during this testing period, we saw large solar arrays, of the grid homes with panels outside, to campers charging their smaller devices on the go. Not long ago, it was difficult to find a rigid, monocrystalline panel in a foldable, light design. Portable options were bulky, finicky, and didn't last long when exposed to the elements. Now, dozens of companies produce affordable, effective monocrystalline panels ranging from small 5W models to larger and more powerful 20W options for a faster charge. These monocrystalline models are much more effective and lightweight than their polycrystalline forefathers.

Here are the nine (of the 12) panels catching rays under the watchful eye of Castleton Tower in Southern Utah.
Here are the nine (of the 12) panels catching rays under the watchful eye of Castleton Tower in Southern Utah.



Folded up  the panels range in size from the large X-Dragon on the left  to the Goal Zero and the Renogy which have much smaller footprints.
Folded up, the panels range in size from the large X-Dragon on the left, to the Goal Zero and the Renogy which have much smaller footprints.

We tested small wattage models that were portable, like the Renogy 5W and the ever-popular Goal Zero Nomad 7. We also added the Goal Zero Nomad 7 Plus, which is much lighter weight than the original Goal Zero, but it costs more. Though they were two different models, both the Nomad 7's performed comparably in testing. Additionally, we added in the new Yolk Solar Paper, which is the lightest, smallest panel we have ever reviewed. Unfortunately, it did not stand up to the Renogy, which is still our top small option.

Then, we re-tested some of our favorites from last year, including the Instapark Mercury 10W. We also chose some with some extra wattage for faster charging; these models include the PowerGreen 21W, and the X-Dragon High-Efficiency 20W. Solar technology is improving overall. Every one of these panels performed well, their metrics ratings ranging mostly due to their output capabilities (i.e., Wattage), rather than the design of the models themselves.

We recently updated our review to include two new models, both of which include a battery. The iClever BoostCel 12W looks like a traditional fold-out solar charger but has a very thin battery inside. This model performed quite well in comparison to our other mid-range models. The Bernet 24000mAh battery/panel combo looks more like a giant battery with a small solar panel on it and performs in much the same way. It did not compare to the other 10W options in this review, such as the Instapark Mercury 10W which vastly out-performed the Bernet.

This year we have also included two solar setups that are designed to charge laptop computers: the Voltaic Arc 20 and the X-Dragon 40W are the two models we tested. Both had their hold-ups and our overall take away was that there is room for improvement in this technology. The panels had a hard time charging the large batteries and the batteries themselves struggled to charge our MacBook computer. There are tons of cords needed as well, and a lot of power is lost at all of these connection points.

Value


Unlike some other products we test here at OutdoorGearLab (we've tested bikes that cost more than our cars!) portable solar chargers all tend to be on the affordable end of the spectrum, ranging in price from $30 to $280. However, even with such a reasonable price point, some models had much better value than others. For example, our Best Buy winner, the Instapark Mercury 10W ($63 list price, often less online) had the same overall score as products that cost twice as much. If you're looking for a budget pick that still performs well, check out our Price vs. Performance chart below. Those models on the bottom of the Y-axis (i.e., cheaper) but further along the X-axis (higher score) are where you can find great value, and include the Mercury 10W.


Charge Interruption Recovery


Is your panel going to quit on you just because one tiny cloud passes overhead as you left it out on what appeared to be a cloudless afternoon? Or is the solar model strapped to your backpack causing your phone to constantly vibrate as the connection goes in and out of the USB port? These are the questions we addressed in our charge interruption recovery metric. To test these models, we measured the amount each one charged within a half hour span first in full sun, and then again in intermittent sun and shade. We also measured the output power before and after the charge interruption to see if the model could get back on track after being shaded.


The highest performing models in this category were the ones with more massive wattage. The Renogy 5W scored low in this category because it has a small wattage. This makes it more difficult for the Renogy to return to full output after an interruption. Those with a larger surface area also tended to do better in this metric, because there are more cells exposed to the sun at one time. This is a benefit of the Instapark Mercury 10W, which unlike the other two medium watt options, has three panels of cells, rather than two.

The Instapark Mercury 10W working to charge a battery in prime conditions and sun orientation.
The Instapark Mercury 10W working to charge a battery in prime conditions and sun orientation.

The included battery pack of the iClever BoostCel 12W and the Bernet 24000mAh also help in this metric, as the panels can fall back on the battery to continue a charge, even when the cells become shaded. That said, the iClever 12W worked much better to recover from an interruption since it has more surface area overall and stronger output capacity.

Here the iClever works to charge our external battery as we test its ability to recover a charge after an interruption. The panel works well because it can rely on its internal battery when the cells are blocked.
Here the iClever works to charge our external battery as we test its ability to recover a charge after an interruption. The panel works well because it can rely on its internal battery when the cells are blocked.

The Bernet has such a small surface area with cells on it that it runs more of a risk of being shaded as the sun's orientation changes. It also just isn't able to gain as much power from the sun as a more substantial model can.

These are the types of conditions we wish for when charging electronics using solar power.
These are the types of conditions we wish for when charging electronics using solar power.

Charging Speed


The majority of the time, these solar panels are being used to charge cell phones when electricity is not available. Because this is typically the case, our highest rating metric in testing was Phone Charging Speed. We wanted to know long it took each model to charge an iPhone 6 (the main phone used for testing) as well as our small external battery packs. We set each one out in the direct sun for 30 minutes and measured how much the phone charged.


This way, we could get a good read on how efficiently the individual models worked for more extended periods of time. We also timed how long it took for each one to charge our 6,000 mAh portable battery packs, so we had that data to compare as well. In general, these batteries can charge an iPhone from 0 to 100% about two times.

The X-Dragon 20W panel has multiple loops to hang it up oriented toward the sun. However  we found that it worked well propped up on the ground instead  especially since it is such a sturdy panel and can hold itself up easily. This model also had the fastest charging speed out of any in our fleet.
The X-Dragon 20W panel has multiple loops to hang it up oriented toward the sun. However, we found that it worked well propped up on the ground instead, especially since it is such a sturdy panel and can hold itself up easily. This model also had the fastest charging speed out of any in our fleet.

We found a broad range in ability to charge batteries, from the X-Dragon, which charged to full in 3 hours 30 minutes, to the Renogy, which took 4 hours to get the same battery only 9%. The Bernet model also scored a relatively high and was on par with the award winners.

In direct sun  the Bernet panel will charge a small device fairly efficiently  especially when the battery pack itself is charged.
In direct sun, the Bernet panel will charge a small device fairly efficiently, especially when the battery pack itself is charged.

This considerable variability is due to the extensive range in output power of the contenders we tested. 21W is four times as powerful as a 5W device, so it makes sense that panels like the X-Dragon 20 earned a 9 out of 10, the highest in our testing. In this test, the X-Dragon 20W outperformed all by charging our external battery pack the fastest. The Instapark Mercury 10W, held its own among the 15W and the 20W models.

Using this USB multimeter  we found that the measured output was often less than what the manufacturers' claimed.
Using this USB multimeter, we found that the measured output was often less than what the manufacturers' claimed.

For its size, the Renogy E.Flex5 held its own in both phone and battery charging efficiency. The Nekteck 14W and the RAVPower 16W were our two slowest performers and neither was able to fully charge our battery pack within a four hour period, unlike the other 14W and above models in this review. We found that it is overall a better idea to invest in a contender with a higher wattage since a fast charge is typically what we look for in a solar panel first and foremost. For speed and efficiency, a more significant watt option is more efficient. That is unless you're trying to save weight or money, then a less powerful model might be a good compromise.

Multiple Device Charging Speed


As you might guess, when tasked with the challenge of charging multiple devices at once, the more powerful models performed better than the less powerful ones. Six out of the twelve chargers in this year's testing had numerous USB ports. The 5W and 7W models don't have the power to sustain two gadgets at once. That's why on the metrics chart, the three low watt models get a 2 out of 10, compared to the models that can charge two devices.


The X-Dragon lapsed in and out of charging on both devices and the Powergreen 20W appeared to be working, but we never saw an increase in percentage. The PowerGreen 20 was the highest scorer, earning a 6 out of 10. Next was the Nekteck 14, and the Instapark Mercury 10.

The PowerGreen is the largest  and heaviest of the panels we tested. But  it was one of the top scorers that could charge multiple devices.
The PowerGreen is the largest, and heaviest of the panels we tested. But, it was one of the top scorers that could charge multiple devices.

Durability


Since their job is to lie out exposed to the elements, we had high hopes for these models regarding their ability to hang tough as we took them through deserts, mountains, sun, wind, and rain. Through months of testing, nearly all the contenders stood up to the challenge. The canvas protective fabric is like an exoskeleton-guarding the important insides of the panels. Solar technology seems to be advancing too, with companies working to make cells more durable and resistant to sun and water damage.



When scanning through customer reviews online, we saw some complaints about various models withering and warping in the sun. Because of this, we were extra vigilant, even when we set them out in the blazing southern Utah desert sun. Thankfully, in our testing period, none of the chargers endured much damage at all. These are hardy machines, and with technology advancing every year, solar panel companies have come leaps and bounds in the construction of portable options.

There is a fine line between exposure and turning your panel into a frying pan. Be aware that some panels will warp if left out in very hot conditions.
There is a fine line between exposure and turning your panel into a frying pan. Be aware that some panels will warp if left out in very hot conditions.

Models with external storage pockets, like the Powergreen 20W and the Instapark Mercury 10, won us over because their pocket not only protects extra gadgets but also keeps the USB port dry and covered when charging. Some of the models, like the Goal Zero Nomad 7, have a mesh pocket, which is helpful for seeing what is inside, but also tends to wear out faster than a more burly canvas construction. Others, like the Renogy 5W and the Bernet 24000mAh lack pockets, which makes them more streamlined but also harder to keep track of your cables. The Renogy 5Ws USB port is well-protected on the back of the panel, but the ports on the Bernet are exposed to the elements and often got dirt in them when we propped it up on its side to charge.

Sometimes a landscape orientation works better for the charging location. The versatility and durability of the Renogy are some of its best features.
Sometimes a landscape orientation works better for the charging location. The versatility and durability of the Renogy are some of its best features.

Weight and Portability


Since the primary function of all these portable models is to be, well mobile, this is an important category. A model that is too heavy or bulky will be left behind to collect dust in the closet when you set out on your next adventure.



The models range from a mere 5.6 oz, like the Renogy 5W, the only model to earn a 10 out of 10 for portability, to the <!--to {border: 1px solid #ccc;}br {mso-data-placement:same-cell;}-->iClever BoostCel 12W, which weighs in at 21.5 oz. For the most part, smaller options will be less powerful, but some of the low wattage panels, like the Goal Zero Nomad 7 and the Outad 7W, weigh almost as much as the 20W powerhouse panels.

Some come with lots of accessories and extra features, which make them easier to use and exciting, but also make them bulky and unappealing to carry on long trips. There is a happy medium, we found, between overkill and overly simple.

Here's the tiny Renogy panel in comparison to a standard Climbing magazine. They are about the same thickness  but the Renogy has a much smaller footprint.
Here's the tiny Renogy panel in comparison to a standard Climbing magazine. They are about the same thickness, but the Renogy has a much smaller footprint.

Accessories


This year we mostly avoided testing any models with battery packs included, though many of the companies in this review provide these products. To make the review more standardized across the board and to simplify the testing, we used a standard battery pack and USB for all the panels. We used the 1byone 6,000 mAh Portable Charger, as it was an inexpensive external battery with good reviews, used mainly for charging phones and small gadgets.

Accessories can quickly add up to create a heavy  cumbersome set up. These small external batteries work great to keep your electronics charged without creating a junkshow on the panel.
Accessories can quickly add up to create a heavy, cumbersome set up. These small external batteries work great to keep your electronics charged without creating a junkshow on the panel.

Many people choose to combine a solar charger that doesn't have an internal battery with an external battery. This allows the panel to charge the battery during the day while you're using your devices (phone, GPS unit, etc.). Then you can charge your device at night from the external battery. External batteries are an essential addition, too, because as our tablets and smartphones demand higher power (like 2A charging ports), this becomes harder to produce from the sun (which is variable at best), and requires higher wattages, and thus more panels, meaning more weight and bulk. The best option, in our opinion, is to have a less strong (and lighter weight!) solar charger that charges a high-quality external battery, which can, in turn, produce the necessary 2A of current for our devices.

Home Solar Models


The world headquarters of our sister site, SuperTopo.com, is now solar powered. Check out this detailed guide on how to choose home solar panels. The article contains photos, video, and many external links to help you evaluate if going solar is right for you.

Conclusion



Deciding on the right solar panel can be an overwhelming task. To make it easier to wrap your head around, figure out what you will be using it for, and go from there. Are you running a mobile office and need to keep multiple, energy-hungry devices happy? Or are you concerned with having a fully charged phone on a weekend excursion? The smaller watt options are going to be less expensive, and thus less powerful. As you increase the wattage, the panels become more and more efficient. The sky is the limit, but it depends on how much money you are willing to spend. We put all 12 of these competitors to the test and found that there are some that perform better than others, and a higher price tag doesn't necessarily mean a better product. We hope that our thorough tests and reviews of these products will be useful to you as you shop around for your new solar charger. If you need further assistance in finding the model that best suits your needs, check out our Buying Advice article.

Jane Jackson

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Still not sure? Take a look at our buying advice article for more info.

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