While I’ve given up on using solar chargers to recharge my batteries on east coast backpacking trips because there are too many trees in the way, they’re still a great portable energy solution for car camping trips and stationary camp sites. My wife likes to car camp and she likes bringing her “devices”, so we’re always in need of off-the-grid power.
While solar power is limited by the availability of sunlight, we usually get enough sunshine on our car camping trips justify bringing a solar power panel along. One product we’ve had good luck with last year is the SunJack 20 Watt Solar Panel Charger which comes with 2 x 8000 mAh fast charging batteries. We are able to get a full charge in just 6 hours, making the SunJack a viable solution for our needs.
When we go car camping, my wife and I bring our iPads along, smart phones, and a cellular-based wifi modem, in addition to a USB-powered lantern and USB rechargeable headlamps. But, we can only last about two days without recharging our batteries (no I don’t work constantly). This is a pain when we’re at a primitive campsite because it means a visit to town and a few hours spent hanging out at a cafe and hogging their wall outlets. Anecdotally, I can recharge my iPad up to 80% power from one of the 8000 mAh SunJack batteries and a smartphone several times.
The SunJack 20 Watt product includes four solar panels (each the size of a Kindle), two fast charging batteries, two USB cords, and a power splitter so you can charge two batteries at once. The batteries are capable of powering 5V devices including iPads, smartphones, and Kindles, but not a laptop. Each battery also has two USB output jacks and one input jack so you can recharge two devices simultaneously while recharging the battery, which is awesome when we’re in camp.
The lithium-ion batteries and cables provided with the SunJack 20W are also faster changing than the other USB batteries I own because they’re rated for 2 amps instead of 1 amp. I’ve tried switching in different USB batteries and different USB cords I own, but they take over twice as long to charge.
The benefit of having the pair of batteries hooked up to the solar panel is that you can store twice as much power without having to switch in a new battery. This is very handy when we’re away from camp all day. The two batteries stow away in a pocket on the back of the panel for easy storage when the unit is hung outside or folded up for storage. However, if you travel with other USB cords, you do need to be careful not to switch them with the fast-charging SunJack power cords because they are indistinguishable.
Both of the SunJack batteries must also be turned “on” when you hook them up to recharge your device. I own other regular USB batteries that also require this, so it’s not unique to SunJack. Still it’s not intuitive, so I thought I’d mention it. Each SunJack battery also has a small LED light built-in so you can use them as a flashlight at night.
Having owned the SunJack 20 Watt Solar Power solution for nearly a year, I’m surprised that it hasn’t been eclipsed by other faster charging and more powerful solutions in the market. I guess fast charging batteries and cables are a higher competitive barrier than I realized. But this solution is more than sufficient for our current car camping needs and one that I feel confident in recommending to others.
Disclosure: SunJack provided Philip Werner with a sample portable charger for this review.