The Ultimate Solar Camping Gear Guide
It is really amazing just how much good solar camping gear is available to outdoor enthusiasts today. I couldn’t imagine having so much great gear available to me when I was out camping 20 years ago.
You have everything from solar backpacks, solar flashlights, solar lanterns, and even solar fire starters available to buy. This gear is dependable, affordable, and often works just as well as some of the traditional camping gear you currently have stored in your closet.
There are so many good reasons to make the switch to solar camping gear. For starters, those of us that are looking for a way to cut down on batteries, saving money and helping the environment, this gear helps with that.
For hikers and campers that are looking for dependable, lightweight light sources – you can’t beat solar lanterns and flashlights. A lot of these different solar products also have USB ports that allow you to charge your small electronic devices. Who doesn’t want to have their phones and cameras fully charged when exploring the great outdoors?
Solar gear is also perfect for emergency or survival situations. If your car breaks down at night, a solar powered flashlight will provide that light you need. Matches and lighters can break, a solar powered fire starter is going to use the power of the sun to start that much needed fire.
As part of our Ultimate Solar Camping Gear Guide, we have listed some of our favorite solar powered camping gear. Hopefully you find a few things that surprise you!
Solar Powered Camping Backpacks
There are many different solar powered packs that you can pick from. There are some that are designed specifically for hikers and campers, others that are designed for students, with some even being designed specifically for cyclists.
Since we focus mostly on outdoor camping and hiking equipment, we would always recommend picking a backpack that was specifically designed for that purpose. With that being the case, you want a solar backpack that has a great frame which helps keep you comfortable when hauling gear, but also has enough size to it to store your clothing and supplies.
The real value to having a solar hiking backpack is the ability to keep your phone and other small electronic devices charged. You might not always have access to electricity – and we all love having our phones charged so we can take pictures (and depending on how far into the wilderness we are) – call for help and post social media status if needed.
How solar backpacks work is incredibly simple, you literally plug in a USB cord that runs from the solar panel to your electronic device inside of the backpack.
The solar panels on these packs are very durable, so I wouldn’t worry about scratching them or breaking them. The one downside is that these panels won’t charge if it is a cloudy day – so having a battery backup is a great idea.
The battery backup can be used to charge your electronics, and the battery can be recharged by plugging it into the solar panel. When plugged directly into the solar panel, most of these solar panels can charge a phone in 4 to 5 hours, the battery backups charge much faster.
For our complete review of solar powered backpacks please click on the link to our full review article. As a quick reference point, we highly recommend the Zuoao Solar Powered Backpack or the ECEEN 7 Watt Solar Backpack.
Solar Powered Camping Flashlights
I’m going to assume that nobody likes being in the dark while out camping because you don’t have a reliable light source. Batteries die, and traditional flashlights can run out of juice, so having a good solar powered light is a must when camping.
There are different solar lights you can pick from, including flashlights that have a crank that you can wind up to produce energy – and also lights that have a battery backup that will store energy from the sun. Both options will eliminate the fear of you not having a light source in the middle of the night while out in the wilderness.
What is amazing is just how well solar flashlights work. There are models that when fully charged will last up to 16 straight hours! Now after that long of a usage the battery is going to have to be recharged in the sun, but that is a fantastic amount of light time.
The hand crank versions can usually store enough energy to run the light for about an hour after one minute of cranking. Most of these flashlights are also going to have two or three different lighting options, and while not as bright as some of the heavy duty flashlights you can buy, they provide plenty of light for most camping situations.
Since most of these lights are small in size, you can easily store them in a tent or a solar backpack. Having one or two of these flashlights should be a camping requirement, and when not camping, they should be in your vehicle in case of a nighttime breakdown.
The other thing I love about solar lights is that they reduce battery waste – which has become a serious environmental issue. Solar lights also provide people in third world countries that don’t have access to a consistent electrical supply the opportunity to have light at night. That is powerful when you think about it.
Click here for a full review of solar powered flashlights. The Gen RR Hybrid Solar Powered Flashlight and the MECO Hand Cranking Solar Powered Flashlight are two of our top recommendations.
Solar Powered Fire Starters
Another piece of solar powered camping equipment that we strongly recommend having is a solar powered fire starter. It is pretty easy to figure out what this piece of equipment does – it harnesses the power of the sun to start a fire quickly and efficiently for you!
Solar powered fire starters work by having a curved mirror reflect sunlight to the tinder you are trying to light on fire – and that tinder is held in the proper fire starting position by a tinder holder attached to the fire starter. When used properly, these fire starters can light the tinder in a matter of seconds. Of course, cloudy weather does affect the performance of these tools.
There are two basic types of solar powered fire starters you can pick from, a tinder box style and a traditional mirror style. The tinder box solar fire starters have a box that holds the mirror and tinder holder, but also provides you with a safe and dry place to store tinder when not in use.
The traditional mirror style solar fire starter does not have a case, and is simply a curved reflective mirror that has the tinder holder attached to the center. The tinder holder can normally fold down when not in use, but there isn’t any place to actually store and keep your tinder dry.
Both models are effective, but the tinder box style tends to be built a little better and tends to be a little more durable. However, both styles will start a fire quickly when they have access to direct sunlight.
Since my early days of camping and hiking, I was always told to have multiple ways to start a fire with you at all times. If you break a lighter, if your matches get ruined, what are you going to do? There really isn’t any reason to not have a lightweight, easy to store piece of equipment that can use the sun to start a fire included in your gear.
At price points ranging from $5 to $30, you would be crazy not to purchase a good solar powered fire starter. For a full review, please click on the linked article here. The best solar powered fire starters that we recommend are produced by Solar Scientific and Sundance Solar.
Solar Powered Showers
An underrated piece of solar camping gear are solar powered showers. Now they aren’t practical on all camping trips, but if you are going to a campground that doesn’t have the best shower facilities, these can be really useful. They are also really useful if you have a camper and don’t want to be using propane to heat your water all the time. They are also environmentally friendly, which we always like.
They are very simple to use as well. You fill up a shower bag with water – they come in different sizes depending on how big of a version you buy. The shower bag is placed into the sun, and the water will warm up in 1 to 4 hours depending on weather conditions. Some options even have temperature gauges so you can see just how warm your water is.
Once the water is warm, you hang your solar powered shower bag and let gravity do the rest. You can take a 10 minute shower with some of the bigger options. The water pressure is surprisingly effective for rinsing off – and sometimes it is just nice to be able to wash away the sweat and grime of a day of camping.
The downside is the bags can get pretty heavy. A 5 gallon shower bag is going to be over 40 pounds when full, which can be difficult to hang up. Since solar power showers rely on gravity for water flow, you have to hang them up in a spot that is high off the ground – which can require some assistance.
Again, this item isn’t going to be practical for every camping adventure, but there will be times when you are grateful you bought this product. These solar powered showers have often been used in areas that have had significant power outages.
For a full rundown of different solar power showers, please click on the link. Our #1 recommendation for solar showers will be the Advanced Elements Summer Shower – it is hard to beat all the features you get for that price point!
Solar Powered Lanterns
I love having both a good solar powered lantern and a solar flashlight. I really like using solar lanterns around the campsite because they provide a great deal of light, and make nighttime drinking and card playing a little more comfortable!
Solar lanterns are much easier to hang from a tent or place on a table to provide light than a flashlight, and I like solar vs. traditional battery powered lanterns because a good solar lantern will provide 5 to 12 hours of light on one charge! And you never have to worry about those batteries running out on you.
There are a lot of different outdoor solar lanterns you can pick from. Picking the right one will just come down to how you want to use it. Some of them are very compact, and will weigh just a few ounces and be about an inch in size when closed. Those are perfect for hikers and long-term campers that need to maximize storage space.
Other lanterns look much more like the traditional lanterns we all imagine in our head. Those normally come with a hook that makes them very easy to hang around a campsite – and are perfect for providing light for social activities while camping.
Some solar lanterns do have hand crank options or battery backup options to make sure you have light even if the sun hasn’t come out in a few days.
I would encourage you click on our complete article on Solar Camping Lanterns – but for a quick recommendation – we loved the AGPtek Solar Lantern, Ergalogik Compact Solar Lantern, and Trekk Outdoor Solar Camping Lantern depending on what your needs are.
Solar Powered Chargers
Another piece of outdoor gear that we can use to charge our phones and other small electronics is a solar powered charger. These solar charges are really simple to use, just like the solar panels in the solar backpacks, you plug in a USB Cord connected to the solar panels to the device.
Most of these chargers are going to be two or three solar panels. They also normally have multiple charging outlets, allowing you to charge one or two devices at the same time. A good charger will be able to charge upwards of 2.4 amps per port when in direct sunlight. That can charge most devices at a pretty quick pace.
What are nice about these portable solar chargers is their flexibility. They aren’t locked down to anything, so they can be hung on backpacks or tents, or laid out on a picnic table, you can literally take them or hang them anywhere the sun is.
The downside will always be you need sunlight. They don’t store energy, so when the sun isn’t out, you aren’t going to be charging any of your devices. However, they are small in size, normally weight around a pound and a half, and are very easy to transport and store while camping or hiking.
For long camping trips, having a tool that can keep all of your electronics charged up is a great thing. These solar chargers certainly provide you with that opportunity. Our number one recommendation is the Anker 21W 2-Port USB Solar Charger, with the Nekteck 20W Solar Charger and PowerGreen 21W Foldable Solar Charger being great options as well.
If you want to learn more about solar power chargers and see reviews on the specific products listed above, please click on the link here.
Solar Battery Bank Chargers
Another solar charging option that you can use to charge electronics is a battery bank charger. These are actually batteries that store power, you plug your devices into them via a USB cord, and the devices will pull the juice from the battery bank – charging your devices.
There are a lot of these battery banks that will have a solar panel on them. These solar panels will help keep the battery packs charged, BUT they are not strong enough to be the only thing keeping the battery back charged. The initial charge to the battery back should come from an at home charge – than the solar panel can be used to keep the battery pack topped off with power. Just using solar energy, you are probably looking at a recharge time for the battery pack of between 3 to 5 days when in strong sunlight.
The huge benefit to this type of charger is that they store energy – so they can be used at night or anytime when the sun is not present. Those traditional solar chargers need the sun to be effective, if you are out camping for two or three days and the sun doesn’t come out, this charge gives you that backup power source you may need.
These battery solar chargers are small in size and weight, so you can easily keep one in your hiking (or solar) backpack. Most of them are dual port supported, giving you the ability to charge multiple devices. They do tend to charge at a slower rate than a good solar charger in direct sunlight, but again, they don’t have that sunlight restriction to how well they work.
You can normally find these charges in a price range of $20 to $50, so I always recommend keeping one on hand. The March Dual USB Solar Battery charger is one of the newest and most effective versions you can buy, but there are a lot of possible options you can purchase.
There is more information about the battery solar chargers here in this article!
Solar Cookers or Solar Ovens
If you are looking for a unique way to cook food that does not require any fuel, you need to take a look at purchasing a solar cooker. Solar cookers can reach temperatures of 200 to 550 degrees Fahrenheit, which is going to be plenty hot enough to cook some food!
Solar cookers can slow cook roasts and soups, cook meat, boil water, bake cookies, you can basically create all sorts of meals with them. Windy and cloudy conditions really effect the temperatures these ovens can reach, but they units can be used in cooler temperatures.
There are many different styles of solar cookers you can pick from. In the $75 to $150 range or so, you are able to buy some very efficient and portable solar cookers. They have a zip up design that looks like a plastic bag/case – but they cook at 200 to 300 degrees in the right conditions! You do want to give these ovens sometime to preheat.
These smaller units are good for camping and trips, I have even seen people use them at long tailgating events. The ovens do get hot, so you want an oven mitt or cloth to remove the food.
There are also more expensive solar ovens or solar tube cookers that normally range around $300. They can reach temperatures that are much higher than other units, but they can be harder to transport. The tube cookers are really neat, they basically use mirrors to heat up the inside of the tube, while the outside remains cool to the touch – eliminating the risk of getting burnt.
You can even purchase some solar cookers that look like a giant satellite dish. These are more for cooking at home, just because they are a little bulky to be transporting long distances. These solar cookers reach very high temperatures, and look really really cool.
The other major reason I support the development of solar cookers is the impact they make on the world. The World Health Organization released a study a few year ago that said 4.3 million people were dying prematurely around the world due to poor air conditions caused by smoke inhalation and other factors. Many of these deaths were children.
Wood and fuel mining have also devastated the environment in many 3rd world countries. A lot of these solar oven manufacturers donate their products, time, and money to giving back to these countries. Saving lives and the environment, helping people that need it, those are all good things in my book. Buying a solar cooker from one of these manufacturers is a great way to support that cause.
If you are looking for a full breakdown of the different solar cookers available, please check out our review here! It really does a great job of showing you all your different options. Our top recommendations are going to be the Sunflair Portable Solar Oven (Deluxe) or the GoSun Portable Solar Cooker depending on how you are planning to use your cooker.
Solar Bluetooth Speakers
I’ll agree that a good solar Bluetooth speaker might not be the most important piece of camping equipment, but I really like being able to jam out to music during my camping trips.
What is nice about these speakers is the sound quality and volume is much better than trying to listen to music on your phone. The Bluetooth connection also makes it super simple to connect your devices, and you don’t need electricity to run the speaker!
I also like how a solar speaker can be recharged by the sun. You don’t have to burn through batteries- and some of these speakers can play up to 8 hours – even without the sun charging them – once the internal battery is fully charged!
There are a lot of fun designs to pick from, and most of these speakers are very durable. Some have hooks and bungee cords that make them easy to connect to backpacks, making them great for hikers.
For a complete review, please read this article on solar speakers. Our top recommendations are the Reveal Solar Speaker and Eton Rugged Rukus Solar Speaker!
This is a quick review of some of the best solar camping gear on the market today. As more and more solar gear becomes available, and updates are made to existing equipment, we will come back and update this article to reflect those changes.
We also understand not everyone is looking for solar camping gear – so if you are looking for some more traditional camping gear, we encourage you to check out a few of the following articles:
Also, as we get a chance to play with (I mean review) more solar camping gear, we are going to let you know about those experiences! So check back often as we will be updating our Ultimate Solar Camping Gear Guide, and enjoy using the greatness of the sun to help power your outdoor adventures.