In this article, you will learn about solar panels for bikepacking.
Touring on a bicycle is growing in popularity as people look for alternative ways to travel while reducing their carbon footprint. In addition, it allows you to explore the world at a slower pace and disappear off the beaten track.
When out on your bike, you’ll have limited access to electricity especially during long riding days. If you’re like me, you rely on gadgets like smartphones to run mapping apps like Komoot. With a portable solar panel, you can keep your electronics topped up anywhere there is sunshine. You can even hook them to a bag or pannier to charge while you ride.
Below we will discuss what to look for in a bikepacking solar panel, the best products available, and how to use them efficiently.
What Makes a Good Solar Panel for Bikepacking?
You can’t use any old solar panel for cycle touring adventures. There are a few key factors and features you need to consider for optimal performance.
This is always a key consideration for a solar powered product. It’s a fine balance between the wattage output and weight. For bikepacking, I recommend a panel with a power rating of between 10W to 40W. 15W will give you enough capacity to charge a phone at decent speed. Adding a little more oomph to 30W or more will give you the ability to charge multiple or large devices too.
Size and Portability
Many solar panels are bigger than they look so check the dimensions and weight before you purchase. Ideally, you want a product you can unfold and hang from your backpack or panniers. This will give you the ability to charge on the go. In addition, you need to ensure it folds down small enough to fit inside a bag when not in use.
Remember, it’s important to save weight when bike touring so don’t get too greedy with the size of your panel. When there’s no sun, it will become a deadweight!
Weatherproofing and Durability
You must ensure you choose a robust and well-built product. The equipment will be put to the test out on your travels and it needs to stand up to the task. Take the time to ensure what you buy is waterproof and dustproof. In addition, strong protective materials will help to reduce potential damage from falls, drops, and bumps.
Ease of Use
This is an often forgotten point, and solar panels arrive in all shapes and sizes. It’s best to pick a ‘plug-and-play’ product that doesn’t require any faff or setup. Ensure there are the correct USB ports and DC outlets for your devices. Avoid kits that need solar charge controllers or extra cables and adaptors.
7 Best Solar Panels for Bikepacking
Let’s take a look at the top products on the market today.
1. SunJack Foldable Weatherproof Solar Panel Charger
This is the ultimate solar panel to accompany you through every pedal stroke of your trip. It’s got everything we’re looking for including tough design and perfect size.
It contains monocrystalline cells for optimum efficiency which are wrapped in durable ETFE plastic film. This makes it waterproof and resistant to dirt. With 25W or 15W output choices, it will easily charge your smartphone or tablet in direct sunlight (it even has a smart charging chip). When you are done you can fold it down and sling it in your pack.
What’s cool is the inclusion of carabiners and in-built loops so you can quickly attach it to your pack or bike to use while riding.
This gets a big thumbs up. And it also comes in a 15W model if you want a reduced size.
- 25 watts
- ETFE covering
- Smart Charging
2. FlexSolar 40W Portable Solar Charger
This offering from FlexSolar is very similar to the top pick but is larger and more powerful. Its added output is ideal for you to charge multiple or bigger devices like action cameras, tablets, and laptops.
It’s rated to an outstanding IP67 waterproofing so you don’t need to worry if it’s raining or getting splashed. For charging you can hook up to USB, Type-C, or DC outlets and generate 5V in direct sunlight.
The downside here is the size. It will fold up to fit in a bag and weighs just over 1kg. But when unfolded it’s a bit big to use while you are traveling. It’s more useful during rest stops. Although, it does have grommets to hook onto tents and bags, etc.
- Charge multiple devices
- Easy to use
- Robust and durable
- Too big to use while riding
3. BigBlue Portable Solar Phone Charger, 15W
This solar panel is rated at 15 watts which is a little less than I’d usually go for. But it will still do a good job of charging phones and is super lightweight.
If you’re all about saving weight with your kit then this is the top option. It weighs just over 1lbs. Plus it folds down into a neat little bar shape. You can take this anywhere with you.
When you want to charge, it’s the perfect size to hook onto a backpack or bike bag. Then you can plug into the USB ports and forget about it. There is enough waterproofing to cope with light misting or fog but I’d avoid leaving it out in heavy rain.
With the reduced weight, there is a little less durability with PET rather than an ETFE covering of the solar cells. But this is always going to be a compromise between performance and portability.
- Lightweight and slimline
- Ideal size to use on the go
- Water resistant
- Easy to use
- Not as durable
- Slower charging speeds
4. Ryno Tuff Portable 21W Solar Charger
If you’d haven’t already noticed, I love tough products to stand up to my adventures. So something called ‘Ryno Tuff’ immediately caught my eye.
It’s got the high-performance monocrystalline cells and lightweight folding design that you’d expect. Protecting this is a 600D waterproof PVC canvas to keep out water dirt and dust throughout your travels.
Smart charging and multiple outlets enable you to charge multiple devices at once. In addition, touch loops at the top and tail allow you to hang it from packs, bikes, and tents. You even get a lifetime warranty if it gives up the ghost.
On final touch is that the brand plants a tree for every purchase via the National Forest Foundation.
- Waterproof and rugged design
- High efficiency
- Smart charging
- Easy to use
- A little heavier than some options
- Doesn’t seem to reach full power
5. Solar Charger 25000mAh, Tranmix Portable Solar Phone Charger
The main drawback with solar power is that you can’t generate electricity at night. This means you need to capture energy during bright sunshine and store it for later.
Modern devices like smartphones have in-built batteries which make this process simple. If you’re riding through the day you might not have the opportunity to do your required charging. This is where a portable battery bank comes into play.
You can use them to store plenty of juice for multiple phone charges and even hook them up to solar panels. This product is the best of both worlds with a power bank and solar panel trickle charger. It gives you access to electricity at any time.
Just be aware that the solar panel is just a trickle charger so you should fully charge the battery from an AC outlet at home before leaving. Then use the solar panel for top ups.
- Power at all times of day
- Multiple phone charges
- Easy to use
- Includes trickle charger
- Can’t rely on solar to fully charge power bank
6. Goal Zero Nomad 10, Foldable Monocrystalline 10 Watt Solar Panel
Rounding off the list is a super lightweight and easy to use from the American brand Goal Zero. Its Nomad range comes in multiple sizes and for bikepacking I suggest the 10W option.
This is a little less powerful than others on the list but the quality and performance is outstanding. You’ll still be able to get a decent phone charge in direct sunlight over 2 or 3 hours.
Weight just 1lbs it’s easy to get in and out of your bag. Then you can set it up anywhere you need. Hook it to your bike or lay it on a rock during a well-earned break. It’s even got a nifty kickstand to find the optimum tilt angle.
It’s durable enough to survive the odd splash or sprinkle of rain during your journey. Plus a 1 year warranty keeps you covered in the short term for any faults.
- Easy to use
- Tilt stand
- High quality
- Only 10W (Not good for multiple devices)
How Do You Attach a Solar Panel to a Bike or Backpack?
Small portable solar panels will have an easy attachment system that allows you to quickly hook it onto a bag, rack, or tent. Most bikepackers will either clip it to a backpack, handlebars or pannier while riding. The easiest way is to use a carabiner which some products have included.
You can see an example of sizes and how you might attach them in this video:
What Can You Charge with a Bikepacking Solar Panel?
These solar panels will be quite small and low-powered. This will restrict what you can charge when cycle touring. Of course, you’ll be traveling light with small portable devices that include batteries. These are perfect to use with your solar panel including smartphones, tablets, GPS, cameras, and LED lighting.
Can You Charge an Electric Bike with a Solar Panel?
Yes, you can charge an electric bike with a solar panel. You will require a large or multiple solar panels to generate enough electricity. This isn’t going to be achievable if you are bikepacking on an electric bike. Plus you won’t be able to travel during the middle of the day during peak sun hours when you need to charge your bike.
In general terms, you could use a larger 100W+ solar panel to keep your e-bike battery topped up and charged without connecting to the mains.
Solar Panel for Bikepacking Summary
I hope you’ve enjoyed this guide to backpacking solar panels.
You should have a clear idea of what you need and the top products on the market today. In my experience, you’ll need between 10W and 40W of power. The lower end is ideal for a single smartphone while 30W+ will run multiple or larger devices.
Finally, don’t forget to pick up something highly durable and robust to keep out the water and dust you encounter on your journey.
Ditching the bike? Check out my guide to the Best Solar Panels for Backpacking and Hiking.
Hi, I’m Michael, the editor here at Watt A Lot.
After years of experience with off-grid power like solar panels, inverters, and batteries I decided I should share my hands-on knowledge with you. In my professional and personal life, I’ve needed to find electrical solutions for remote situations from owning a food truck, to running events at the top of mountains, to my converted campervan. So whether you’re looking for the best products or fixing an electrical problem, you can rest assured my advice comes from real hands-on experience.