The Complete Guide to the Best Solar Powered Camping Gear
Everyone who camps will agree on the main reasons why they camp...
To get away from busy city life, rest, relaxation, and/or a way to decompress. It usually falls somewhere along those lines.
While the idea of having batteries and power blocks for powering our gadgets while camping sounds like blasphemy to certain individuals, it's more than being able to Instagram your camping trip and stay in touch with the outside world. There are ways to clean your water, light your tent, and cook a hot meal all with energy derived from the sun.
Thanks to modern technology we have a bunch of really cool camping gadgets that are powered by the sun, au naturale.
The days of packing an assorted bag of batteries for the power you consume are over, or at least close to over. You can have nearly all the power you need, and best of all, solar powered camping gear comes from a clean and renewable energy source.
What is solar power
Solar power is a clean and pure energy derived from the sun. Traditional electricity is obtained from three major sources...
Solar power was first invented in 1876 when William Grylls Adams along with one of his students, Richard Day, figured out that when Selenium was exposed to light it produced electricity (source).
In 1883 an American inventor named Charles Fritts applied selenium to a layer of gold and invented the very first operating solar cell (source). The Selenium cells were far from efficient, however, this discovery proved that when using the sun, it was possible to produce electricity.
This was long before we had any understanding of how significant and trans-formative the growth of electricity would be. Edison was still convinced that DC was going to change the world, and he couldn't have been more wrong.
Fast forward a hundred and some years and we have solar panels that can be placed almost anywhere and will harness 25% of the sun's energy, with new discoveries pushing that number up to 45% (source).
Benefits of solar power
The main reason that solar power is so promising is the concept of having a 100% renewable and clean energy source. Solar has the ability to become the perfect energy source, it is only limited to the amount of material that it takes to construct the solar panels.
Renewable energy source
This is the most attractive benefit of solar power. The idea of having an unlimited supply of electricity available to everyone on the planet. With the technological advances in solar panels coupled with advances in lighting and mechanics, there is a chance that solar will replace coal, nuclear, and natural gas in the future.
Clean energy source
Zero waste is produced through the harnessing of solar energy. The only waste produced in the process occurs during the manufacturing of solar panels.
When you burn coal, which is mainly carbon, the biggest side effect is the emission of greenhouse gases which are directly attributed to the increase in global warming.
For example, a 500 megawatt power plant produces...
- 720 tons of carbon monoxide
- 10,000 tons of sulfur dioxide
- 3.7 million tons of carbon dioxide (the main greenhouse gas)
- 2.2 billion gallons of water for cooling
These are just a few examples of the waste produced by coal.
Nuclear generation brings with it radioactive waste and hydroelectric involves building a giant wall of concrete and altering the flow of water.
Potentially unlimited power source
The sun is everywhere and there is a real possibility that solar panels could replace all global power supplies in the future. There are an estimated 173,000 terawatts of solar power hitting the earth's surface each year and current global usage sits at 15 terawatts per year (source).
The current issue is harnessing that amount power, but for camping gadgets, the problem is close to being solved on a micro-level.
Why use solar powered gadgets camping
Everyone who goes camping does it on their own terms, and that's the best part of camping. As long as you stick with the Leave no Trace guidelines there really is no right or wrong way to camp. Electricity makes life at camp a little more comfortable.
When talking about solar powered camping gadgets the first items that come to mind are cell phones.
The truth is, there is so much more you can do with it... Take a hot shower, cook a hot meal, and of course, charge your tablet or cell phone.
Access to power when camping is limited
Power outlets are not available at every campsite, especially if you are partaking in dispersed camping. If there is power at the camp site you may have to pay more for a spot with power.
Side note... I saw a line for the bathroom outlet once. There was a rice cooker plugged into the bathroom outlet, and three people waiting to charge their phones. With solar power you don't have to wait for the guy cooking rice.
Save that money
Batteries cost money and electricity costs money. The average American household spent roughly $1,366 dollars on electricity in 2015 (source). This is a general estimate and each state has different costs, so keep that in mind.
Camping gear that uses a charge does not consume a significant amount of power at home. Over time, however, the cost of replacing batteries and using electricity at home will add up. You'll save money in the long run using solar equipment.
Save the planet
Ok, so that's one helluva stretch, you won't save the entire planet by switching over to solar camping gear. but, you will make a small difference.
Solar power generates electricity without emitting any greenhouse gasses. According to the EPA the amount of greenhouse gas emissions in 2015 was 6,587 million metric tons. From 1990-2015 the total warming effect of the planet increased by 37%. Needless to say, every little bit helps.
Best Solar Powered Gadgets for Camping
Not everything that you need for camping is going to be solar powered, we've taken a look around and found the coolest solar gear out there.
Here are our recommendations for the best of solar powered camping gear.
MPOWERD Luci Original - Inflatable Solar Light
This is a really cool and versatile light for any and every outdoor activity. It collapses down into less than an inch tall and has a strap that makes it super easy to attach anywhere.
The light itself only weighs around 4 ounces making it a realistic addition to carry as supplemental light on a long distance backpacking trip.
It takes roughly eight hours in the sun to charge and you'll have at least eight hours of light. The Luci has three modes: high, low, and blinking in case you want to have a disco party.
The clear plastic helps it give off plenty of light in the evening and the LED lights are not overbearing. It's a perfect addition to any backpacking, camping, and sailing trip. You never have to worry about running out of batteries again... Unless the light breaks, then you're screwed.
- Year warranty
- Not extremely bright
- Rare on/off issues
- Rare charging issues
Advanced Elements 5 Gallon Solar Shower
Even when you're roughing it, a hot shower is nice every once in awhile. With Advanced Elements 5 Gallon shower you get just that, as long as your camping in hot weather.
Advanced Elements 5-gallon solar shower is built with 4 layers of materials including a solar panel, reflector panel, insulator panel, and a 5-gallon water reservoir.
As far as heating up the water a number of different factors come into play. The ambient temperature, how cool the water is when it's placed inside the bag, and how much direct sunlight it's exposed to. There's a reason they call it a summer bag, it requires warm conditions for it to work effectively.
If you use the water sparingly you can get two quick showers out of one fill. It comes with a built-in thermometer and on hot summer days it will heat the water to well over 100 degrees.
The nozzle on the shower head is an on/off button, just make sure it's all the way closed otherwise it leaks.
- Hold 5 gallons
- Heats efficiently
- Temperature gauge
- Has to be hot
- Nozzle can leak
- Slow flow
Solavore Sport Solar Oven
The Solavore Sport Solar Oven is a pretty slick way to cook outdoors with zero gas, using only the heat from the sun. All of the components are made in the USA and it only weighs 9 pounds, making it a realistic addition to any camping kitchen.
It usually heats up to anywhere from 200-300 degrees giving it the ability to cook nearly every camping meal you can think of.
The temperature of the oven is going to vary on the amount of sunlight and the ambient temperature.
The interior of the Solavore Solar Oven is large enough to hold 2 pots or pans, a cookie sheet, or a full-size casserole dish.
- 9 Pounds
- Wide interior
- Easy to transport
- Moisture can creep in
- Cover scratches
- Lid can warp
Anker 21W Solar Charger
Anker continues to raise the game when it comes to solar technology. The Anker 21W Solar Charger is lightweight and efficient. It takes 4-6 hours to go from zero charge to a full charge and comes with the option of charging it with house power.
The solar cells are made with industrial strength PET polymer faced solar panels which are sewn into a weather-resistant polyester canvas. It's extremely compact and with the trifold design it ends up being as thick as a book or thick magazine when folded.
It comes with two USB ports for charging electronics and a 3 foot micro USB cable. Overall it's a lightweight workhorse that charges in 4 hours and can power multiple devices.
- 2 USB ports
- Direct sunlight req'd
- Rare charging issues
- Rare circuitry issues
ECEEN Solar Backpack
When you're camping chances are the days aren't spent sitting down in one spot for the ENTIRE day. You'll be hiking, heading to the water, and exploring with a backpack.
The ECEEN Solar Backpack is made of a cotton polyester denim fabric and is wrinkle free. It has thick and wide shoulder straps making it a comfortable backpack to wear on a day hike.
The solar panels are removable so if you're just chilling you can throw it into direct sunlight for a fast charge. The entire backpack including the solar panels weighs just under a pound.
The solar charger is connected to a 2000mAH battery with a waterproof Li-polymer battery pack for charging all your devices. The 2000mAh charge isn't going to charge your device fully, but it will give you some juice.
- Direct sunlight req'd
- 2000 mAh
- Limited storage
Suaoki Collapsible Tent Light
This solar powered camping light has a unique design when compared to other camping lanterns. It folds down to charge, resembling a water bottle and folds out as a light looking like a ceiling fan.
It has 3 modes of lighting: light, dim, and blinking. The 3 solar panels are efficient and it charges in just a few hours of direct sunlight, and it also comes with a USB port for external charging.
The 3 shades with the solar panels can be adjusted individually to disperse the light in different directions. It's about 6" long and 2.5" wide when closed, and around 10" long when opened completely up.
- Long solar charge
- Arms get loose
- Last a few hours
Kuzon Solar Lantern and Fan
The Kuzon Solar Lantern is an awesome multi-functional piece of camping gear. It's a camping lantern, fan, flashlight, and USB charger.
No more worrying about tripping over a log when you go pee at night, and on a sweltering summer night you'll have a fan for the tent.
As a lantern it's bright and it has a sliding case that travels up and down to dim the light as necessary. The fan runs at a low speed, however, on a full solar charge it will run for 8-9 hours.
The flashlight option is bright and the handle has a comfortable feel. Overall this multi-functional piece of camping gear is a utility piece of camp equipment that will get a good amount of daily use.
- Weak fan
- Rare charging issues
- Long solar charge
Puralytics SolarBag Water Purifier
Drinking water at home is no big deal, when you're camping and the only water source is natural there is always a risk. Water borne pathogens are no joke, and these days you should never drink from a stream without cleaning the water first.
The Puralytics SolarBag is a reusable and simple water purification system that holds 3 liters. It eliminates 99.9% of bacteria, Virus, Protozoa and reduces the amount of metal and man made chemicals in the water.
It offers a wide range of protections and is the one water purification device that is both non-powered and non-chemical while meeting EPA standards.
It's a great option for campers, all you have to do if fill it up and let it sit in the sun for a few hours and you have drinkable water.
- 3 Liters
- EPA approved
- Easy to use
- Must be sunny
- Rare leaks
- Cannot fold
RunningSnail Solar Radio
When you're camping, cell phone service and digital signals are few and far between. It's always nice to have a way to find out any emergency warning, weather warnings, or just have some tunes to listen to.
There is actually 3 different ways to charge this radio so if it's not sunny outside you're still in luck. It has solar panels, a hand crank, and a USB port so there is always some way to get a charge.
The flashlight has 140 lumens of power so it's plenty bright. The radio/flashlight is made with plastic material, is water resistant, and comes with an AM/FM/NOAA.
- Bright light
- 3 ways to charge
- Cheap plastic
- Long solar charge
Paxcess 100-Watt Portable Generator
When your camping and you need a significant amount of power a generator is your best bet. This holds enough power to run most of your camping gear, but keep in mind this is technically a big battery, not a generator.
The Paxcess portable generator (battery) comes with USB, 12V, and 120V outputs. You can charge it with house power, the 12V plug in your car, or solar panels (not included).
It contains a 3.3-pound lithium power pack with a battery management system that regulates voltage and protects your electronics. It comes solar ready, however, this generator doesn't include the solar panels.
- 40800 mAh
- 3 ways to charge
- Long solar charge
- DC output always on
- Power display issues
Ivation Solar Flashlight
Try and get around a campsite at night without using a flashlight, it's gonna be a comedy of errors. With the Ivation Solar Flashlight you'll have zero chances of running out of a charge on the way to the bathroom in the middle of the night.
You can charge this flashlight with the sun and if you need a quick charge when it's dead it comes with a hand crank. It emits 8 lumens of light with three different modes: light, dim, and disco (blinking).
The case is waterproof up to 45 feet and is made of a soft rubber coating that increases durability. Roughly a minute of intense cranking will give you 2-3 hours of use, and leaving it out during a sunny day for a few hours will charge it completely.
- Handle can break
- Handle screwed in
- Rare water damage