The question isn’t whether to invest in a solar charger: it’s how much, and which one.

Ten years ago, widespread reservations on the utility of solar power was understandable- photovoltaic cells at that time required almost as much energy to produce as they could hope to capture and transmit in their lifetime. The net savings in fossil-fuel energy were limited, and the cost to consumers was high. Household access to solar panels depended on government subsidies while the solar industry climbed to its feet and the market grew big enough to support ambitious companies.

Technology has improved exponentially in the last decade. This time last year, Tesla’s Powerwall battery made $800 million in presales in its first week. Solar-powered energy solutions, included solar-powered chargers, have hit escape-velocity in markets around the world, and their affordability is doing more for their popularity than government mandates ever could. So which solar charger is right for you?

So which is the best?

The best solar-powered charger for you depends on your budget and your lifestyle. If you go hiking on a regular basis, a small lightweight charger is best. A 7-volt solar panel and charging station (like this Goal Zero kit) will keep your phone, light and maybe a portable speaker up and running while you’re on the move. Some smaller solar panels are chainable, meaning that if you start out with a small, lightweight panel but then want to upgrade, you can buy another of the same and join them together for double the output/ charging speed, rather than having to buy a new, bigger kit and render your original panel and charging pack obsolete.

If you go car camping, then you can up your capacity to a bigger and heavier charging station that can charge several devices at once, but, crucially for survival purposes, has 12-volt capabilities. Goal Zero’s Yeti Solar Generator Kit is a good example of a larger multi-purpose kit. You can even scale that up with more solar panels, or a single large one, to fill a generator triple that size.

Even if you don’t often find yourself away from a wall-mounted power source, solar panels are a sound investment. This will be more and more true as the technology continues to exponentially improve, making devices more reliable, more powerful, and lighter; and the market continues to mature, bringing prices down as companies find they can scale up production and distribution.

Goal Zero’s Guide 10 charger can store 11wh at a time, which you could theoretically drain and replace three times a day. At current electricity costs, the average solar-powered charger would take several years of full-time use to pay for itself. But there are many reasons to prefer to depend on solar power over grid-power: if you like the idea of living independent from the grid; if you prefer to be sure that all your power is generated from renewables and can’t access a renewable energy provider through the grid where you live; if you live somewhere with few electrical outlets and many devices; the list goes on.

If you frequently go for long trips in your car, you probably find that your car charger struggles to charge your phone- a solar panel taped to the roof or sitting inside the job will charge your phone to 100 percent in under two hours on a sunny day.

If you are backpacking through cities, electricity may technically be very cheap, but gaining access to it is very expensive. Sipping an expensive and badly made coffee for two hours while you wait for your phone to charge is fine for rainy days, but when the sun’s out and you’d rather be sightseeing, you can have all the power you need on your back.

Why a solar charger is a crucial addition to a fuel generator

Your current back-up power plan, if you’ve invested in one already, might involve a petrol generator. Here are two reasons why you’ll want a solar-powered generator as well:

  • Quiet
    • Solar-powered chargers are silent. We don’t want to give you any alarming reasons for why this might be an advantage in a survival situation, but you can imagine.
    • If you want to hunt or trap close to where you live, that’s a good reason to prefer silence.
    • If you just want to appreciate the sounds of nature instead of the sounds of your genny.
  • No exhaust
    • It’s not a good idea to run a conventional generator if you are camping out in a vault or a bunker with limited ventilation, or if there’s any chance that enemies or accident could block your ventilation (say, a fallen tree branch or wind-blown debris).

Modular technology

The best and safest back-up power system is the one with the most built-in redundancy. Sunny day? Use the solar panels. Cloudy day? Hook up the turbine you built from scrap. No sun or wind? Get on the bike to top up your power supplies (and stay in shape).

Many solar-powered charging kits come with battery packs and solar-chargeable generators that are easy to connect to other sources. Even if you don’t always use the solar panels to charge them, those mobile power sources come in handy all the time. Once you get use to the freedom of having a solar-powered charger, we reckon you’ll find it pretty frustrating to go back to having to depend on the grid and wall-outlets.