Running out of power on the road or in the backcountry can mean anything from a mild inconvenience to a life-threatening emergency. Finding the right portable charger to add to your gear list can be both a trip- and a life-saver.

Battery and electronics technology have improved dramatically over the past ten years. Modern power banks can do anything from powering up a few iPhones or cameras to jumpstarting a dead car battery.

Portable chargers let you quickly check your GPS on your way home, take photos on day ten of your thru-hike, or even power small appliances like fans, lights, toasters, CPAP machines, or small refrigerators.

Whether you use it for comfort, convenience, or as an emergency backup, the right portable charger is a solid investment for any camping or backpacking trip.

Of course, the choices available vary widely in size, price, quality, and intended purpose.

To help narrow down your options and make the research easier, here’s our guide to the best portable chargers in 2018.

Rankings

RankingProduct NameWeightInputOutput / CapacityWeather-proofReviewPrice
#1goal zero guide 101.2Goal Zero Guide 101.21.2 lbs.Solar or USB4 AA Batteries or 1 Cell PhoneYesRead Review
See Price on Amazon
#2ravpower solar chargerRAVPower Solar Charger1.65 lbs. Solar or USB18V, 3 Cell Phones NoRead Review
See Price on Amazon
#3trianium battery cell phone caseTrianium Battery Cell Phone Case 6 oz. Wall Outlet1 Cell ChargeYesRead Review
See Price on Amazon
#4rockpalls 250 watt portable generatorRockPalls 250-Watt Portable Generator 5.5 lbsSolar or Wall Outlet250W, or 12V DC ports, 60,000 mAhNoRead Review
See Price on Amazon
#5anker powercore 26800 portable chargerAnker PowerCore 26800 Portable Charger1.1 lbsWall outlet26800 mAhNoRead Review
See Price on Amazon
#6xiaomi mi power bankXiaomi Mi Power Bank8 oz. Wall outlet10000 mAhNoRead Review
See Price on Amazon

Factors to Consider when Purchasing a Portable Charger

When choosing the best portable charging option, it’s helpful to first consider when and how you’ll be drawing from your backup power source.

Here are some things to keep in mind:

Inputs: where will you get power?

There are many potential power sources for charging your battery pack and/or device, such as:

  • A wall outlet (used to charge up your battery pack beforehand)
  • A 12V charger (such as a car charger)
  • USB (attached to any source, including a generator)
  • Solar energy (i.e. solar panels)
  • Kinetic motion (for example, hand-crank flashlights, windmills, or streamflow-powered devices).

Depending on your needs and what you have available, consider narrowing down your options to one of these inputs before making any other decisions.

Storage: how will your battery pack be integrated with your charger?

There are, generally, three types of batteries:

  • Nickel-Metal-Hydride batteries work best to recharge AA or AAA batteries; if you plan to recharge headlamp or GPS batteries, this is likely the most convenient option for you.
  • Lithium-based batteries are the same as what’s in most cell phones; they are a common type of portable battery pack best for recharging USB-corded devices.
  • Lead-acid batteries are heavier and less efficient, but can power much larger devices. These are best for car camping and power-intensive charging situations.

Some units are designed to be recharged indefinitely in the field (e.g. solar panels), while others (e.g. most portable battery packs) only serve as a backup reserve of energy which must be charged through a DC or wall outlet before each use.

If your model includes a power source as well as a storage location, consider whether you want the two to be detachable – for example, it may be useful to leave your solar panels in camp and take the newly recharged battery pack with you.

Outputs: What kind of devices do you need to power?

The output of your charger (in volts) must match the input of your devices, or they won’t charge.

If your electronics need DC input (like a laptop), you’ll need over twice the voltage output than you would to power a USB-cord charged device.

For example, most chargers can charge a cell phone, but few can power up a laptop or anything else which need direct current input. Some chargers include only USB ports; others will have more options or more ports to charge multiple devices at once.

If you have a lot of people or devices needing to charge at once, you’ll want to look for a product with both higher maximum output and more ports. If you want to charge bigger appliances or do things like jump-start a car battery, you’ll also need to look for much more heavy-duty options.

Some small chargers will work well for just 1-2 smart phone charges. If you just want to extend the battery life of your phone or camera on a short trip, these options will work just fine.

If you’re on an extended trip and need to recharge multiple times, looking into a solar-powered model vs. a battery charged option might make more sense.

If you need to power larger devices like laptops, or charge multiple devices at the same time, this should also factor into your decision-making process, as larger-capacity chargers tend to also be bigger, heavier, and more expensive.

Do you need to limit weight or footprint?

Unsurprisingly, battery weight and size generally increase proportionally with capacity and/or maximum electricity output.

If you’re in a front-country setting or car camping, a large battery or even a generator might be the best choice. In the case of solar-powered chargers, larger panels usually equals faster charging.

On the other hand, if you’re backpacking across Europe, in an ultralight thru-hiking situation, or just trying to shove a charger last-minute into your pack, investing in something small and lightweight can free up extra inches and reduce weight.

Still, on a long trip, an already-used battery pack becomes useless dead weight, and if your solar panels are too small, you may have to wait a very long time for them to work.

So, consider the length of your trip and how much energy you’ll need when deciding whether to prioritize weight or charging capacity.

Where will you be bringing your charger?

Not all chargers are acceptable on airplanes. If you have a lithium-ion battery, you’ll have to remember to put in in your carry-on baggage. This is because multiple-component batteries pose a slight fire risk which is easier to address in the cabin than in the cargo hold of a plain.

If your power bank holds over 100-watt hours, you probably won’t be able to fly with it at all.

If you’re camping or hiking, you should also consider the weather you’re likely to encounter. Some models are more weatherproof or drop-resistant, or designed to function better in extreme cold or hot temperatures.

Solar models will also only likely work somewhere with reliable direct sunlight and when you have time to leave them out in direct sunlight for extended periods of time. Some outdoor activities, like canoeing, car-camping, and desert backpacking, work better for solar charging than others.

The rugged factor: how durable do you need your equipment to be?

If you’re in the backcountry, a waterproof charger, or a power source which can work in below-freezing or very hot conditions can be really important.

For example, solar powered models are a popular and effective choice for many campers, but solar power only works where there’s abundant and predictable sunlight, and when you know you can be stationary for extended periods of time to charge.

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What’s the maximum capacity of a portable charger? How much juice do I need to charge up my device?

Two factors are important here: output and capacity.

The amount of electricity a battery pack can release at one time is different from how long that electricity production can be sustained. Even if a portable charger holds enough charge for 10 iPhones, for example, it might not be able to charge all 10 of them at the same time.

Output is generally measured in volts – for example, USB-charged devices generally need up to 5V, while larger devices like laptops might need 12V-or up to 24V to charge.

Capacity refers to how much energy the battery can store, and is usually measured in milliamp hours (mAh). For context, 10,000 mAh is about enough to charge a small iPhone twice.

So, to charge your device, you’ll need both sufficient voltage to move current into your device’s battery, AND enough battery capacity to charge it. You should be able to examine your device itself and find the technical specs to tell you what your device’s voltage and battery capacity are.

How long do portable chargers last?

As the technology stands today, all batteries do have a shelf-life. It’s worth investing in a more durable model if you know you’ll be using it on many trips.

However, assume that even high-quality batteries can only be charged a limited number of cycles. This stat will generally be provided by the manufacturer; most models say they’ll work for at least 1,000 charging cycles, or 500 on some models. Most products will work longer than this, though your results may vary after you pass that mark.

How heavy are portable chargers?

Advances in lithium battery technology have resulted in devices which are much lighter than they were even five years ago. Earlier models and larger power stations use lead-acid batteries, which are less energy-dense, so these stations are heavier.

Lithium batteries cut weight in half, but larger models are still typically on the heavy side for a backpack – you can find single-phone-chargers which clock in under a pound, but expect to pay more for lightweight, bigger-capacity chargers.

Is paying a higher price worth it?

For bigger batteries and generators, it’s not uncommon for them to weigh upwards of 30 lbs. and cost over $1k.

When investing in a battery, keep in mind cost per mAh output rather than the simple price tag. It may be worth paying more for a more efficient, lighter-weight model, but cost-per-watt-hour is generally the best method of evaluating a product unless that number is balanced out with extra useful features.

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Decision Criteria: How We Ranked Our List

Because the uses for portable chargers are so varied, the most important criteria for choosing them also vary. Selling points to you might be drawbacks for other people.

So, in addition to user opinion, we looked for portable chargers which were useful in different environments and use cases, but also which delivered the best results for their price.

More specifically, we ranked the options on this list by:

Weight

We’ve included the weight of each model to help you assess how much heft it would add to your pack or vehicle. We also considered the amount of energy per added pound as a method of gauging whether extra weight is a detracting factor.

Output and Storage Capacity

While your exact needs may vary in terms of the output required, we’ve factored in both voltage and storage capacity to help you estimate what devices you can charge, and how many times, using each model.

This is also a key aspect of assessing the value of each charger; price per unit of electricity output also factored into our decision.

Speed of charging/recharge

Waiting four hours for your camera to recharge is no fun. Of course, the exact speed you need will vary, but we included an estimate of the time it would take to fully recharge your device into our ranking.

Durability and Weatherproof-ness

Some models are water proof or cold-resistant. Even if you don’t plan to use your charger in extreme environments, some models are susceptible even to a bit of early-morning dampness.

We also ranked our options in terms of versatility and the number of outdoor weather types they’d be able to withstand.

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Ratings and Reviews

So, after all of that information and food for thought, what are the top portable chargers/power banks?

Here’s a list of our top 6 picks, along with some info on each product’s weight, capacity, and what the experts have to say.

  1. Goal Zero Guide 101.2
  2. RAVPower Solar Charger
  3. Trianium Battery Cell Phone Case
  4. RockPalls 250-Watt Portable Generator
  5. Anker PowerCore 26800 Portable Charger
  6. Xiaomi Mi Power Bank

Our Number 1 pick: Goal Zero Guide 10 Plus Solar Recharging Kit with Nomad 7 Solar Panel

goal zero guide 101.2
  • Weight: 1.2 lbs.
  • Input: Solar or USB
  • Capacity/Output: 1 Pack of 4 AA batteries or 1 cell phone at a time
  • Weatherproof: Waterproof

High points: Versatile, lightweight, and highly functional

Low points: Different models of this product have varying reliability, limited output and charging speed on cloudy days, no internal battery.

Why it’s Number 1:

This option is a number one choice because of its versatility. It can charge using either the included solar panels (which take a couple of hours to provide a full charge), or, on cloudy days, can also be charged through a USB cord attached to an outlet or other power source.

Its output is either a pack of rechargeable batteries or a USB-powered device like a cell-phone or GPS.

This design means that it can easily go from front-back country situations, be used multiple times over even in the most remote settings, and charge virtually any small device, from a camera to a smart phone.

What the experts have to say:

Goal Zero is one of the biggest names in portable chargers and batteries; it’s very well known for its versatility and wide range of products. There have been reports of varying quality across different suppliers; it’s worth checking the model number against reviews when you buy.

When choosing a specific version or model of this option, also be sure to check the output voltage against the requirements of your device; it may not be able to power some larger Android phones.

Features and considerations:

The battery pack and assorted cords come with the panel, and the manufacturer offers a warranty as an add-on service you can choose. The solar panels are fairly large (about 6 x 9 inches), which is a sweet spot between too big for a pack and too small to charge quickly.

It takes about 2 hours for a full solar-powered charge in direct sunlight, or 6 hours from the USB. On an overcast day, it might take as much as a day and a half to provide a full charge.

Because there is no built-in battery, you have to leave the device or batteries you want to charge with the charging pack until it’s done charging; this may or may not be a deal-breaker for you depending on how you intend to use it.

The panels feel high-quality, and the model is waterproof, but it may be slightly fragile for the price; this is an expensive brand of charger. The price-per watt is relatively high, but it can feel overpriced due to the lack of durability on some models.

Still, it’s generally a high-performing and highly functional choice regardless of your backcountry adventure plans.

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The Next-Best: RAVPower 24W Solar Panel

ravpower solar charger
  • Weight: 1.65 lbs.
  • Input: Solar
  • Capacity/Output: 18V, can charge 3 devices or battery packs at once
  • Weatherproof: No

High points: Charges up to 3 devices at once, can charge some larger electronics like iPads

Low points: Have to buy separate battery pack to store power. Can overheat if left in “too much” sun. Not weather-resistant.

Why it’s a top choice:

Works really well and consistently; one of the most efficient solar chargers, senses what kind of current is needed by the attached device. Inexpensive for what you get; highly functional. Folds up to fit within a smaller footprint without sacrificing efficiency.

What reviewers have to say:

Well-known brand, especially after natural disasters leaving people without power for extended periods of time.

Features and considerations:

This model comes with hanging hooks, an included Velcro pouch for your phone, and a long USB cord (though this pocket isn’t actually big enough to fit some phones, which can be an annoyance). It’s relatively easy to position so that it faces the sun, but be careful not to leave it flat on a hot surface as it can overheat.

To avoid uneven power distribution and inefficiency, this model also offers “iSmart” tech, which claims to automatically deliver the optimal charging current for a device, up to 2.4A. It has 3 USB ports, which can all charge at once at an even rate.

It’s hard to estimate how accurate that claim is, but this device does seem to work quite quickly and efficiently charges three phones at the same time.

It’s not fully waterproof, but the solar panel itself is water-resistant, which can be enough to withstand dew or some moisture in the air.

Overall, this is a great middle-ground option for solar charging in many different situations.

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3. Trianium Battery Cell Phone Case

trianium battery cell phone case
  • Weight: 6 oz.
  • Input: wall outlet
  • Capacity/Output: 3200mAh – about 1 full cell phone charge
  • Weatherproof: Waterproof

High points: Waterproof, lightweight, and protects your phone.

Low points: Doesn’t work with all phone models. On some models, doesn’t accommodate headphones. Only charges phone, and only provides one full charge.

Why it’s a top choice:

If you know you only need to extend the life of your cellphone charger, this is going to be your most reliable and durable option. It costs less than $40 and provides an entire full recharge of one cell-phone.

It’s also possible to charge your phone and the battery case at the same time.

What reviewers have to say:

Many users appreciate the sleek design with soft grip on all sides. It’s generally known as an affordable and functional option. Some people report diminishing quality after a few months of heavy use; however, the manufacturer does offer a 1-yr warranty to support the product.

Features and considerations:

There are specific models of this case for each phone; make sure you pick the right one, and that your model of phone is supported, before buying.

One nice feature of this model is that you can turn the battery on and off while using your phone to conserve or use the backup battery as needed.

It works fairly quickly and will continue charging your phone while you use it; the added convenience of charging both phone and battery at the same time is also nice to have.

It can’t be recharged in the field, but it does do an excellent job of extending the hours you can use your phone between recharging. If that’s all you need, this is a good choice.

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4. Rockpals 250-Watt Portable Generator Rechargeable Lithium Battery Pack Solar Generator

rockpalls 250 watt portable generator
  • Weight: 5.5 lbs.
  • Input: Solar or wall outlet
  • Capacity/Output: 250W 2x USB 2.1A and 4x DC 12V ports. 60,000mAh capacity.
  • Weatherproof: No

High points: This is essentially a generator without the gas – it lets you charge virtually anything for a very long time.

Low points: expensive, doesn’t come with solar panels.

Why it’s a top choice:

For car camping, it’s hard to beat this option. It can run anything from microwaves to lights, TVs, CPAP machines, and laptops. To put its capacity in context, it can charge a cell phone 25 times, run 75 hours of lights, or power 3 hours of TV.

Unlike gas-powered generators, it’s also quiet, doesn’t product exhaust, and is relatively lightweight. It can take either a wall-outlet charge (generally overnight to charge it to full capacity), or be attached to solar panels, which are sold separately – if you get both, this is a sustainable option for long-term field electricity needs.

What the reviewers have to say:

This model was made famous by CPAP-users. If you know that to be camping you’ll need to power devices overnight or for a long time, this is a great choice and an excellent investment for the money.

The company is also known for its generous warranty support and good customer service.

It’s surprisingly powerful for how small it is, and can power multiple devices on the same charge at one time.

Features and considerations:

This model comes with the Rockpals portable generator itself, a 6.5ft AC adapter, 3.3ft car charger cable, DC to Cig Socket adapter, user guide, and an 18-month warranty.

The four DC ports feature a 5.5mm DC jack and also come with a standard cigarette lighter socket for automotive accessories. It’s possible to use any or all of the outputs at the same time.

There is a built-in set of indicator lights, each indicating 20% of total power capacity; this is useful, except when the power is running lower than 20%.

It is much more expensive than other options, particularly if you will need to recharge it using a solar panel instead of a wall outlet; the solar panel only comes separately and costs nearly half again as much as the generator.

Still, it’s hard to beat this generator for the efficiency, versatility, and lightweight footprint.

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5. Anker PowerCore+ 26800, Premium Portable Charger

anker powercore 26800 portable charger
  • Weight: 1.1 lbs.
  • Input: Wall outlet
  • Capacity/Output: 3 USB ports; 26,000 mAh, or about 10 phone charges.
  • Weatherproof: No

High points: High capacity

Low points: Not waterproof, no pass-through charging, might be too heavy for some backpackers

Why it’s a top pick:

One of the highest capacity, and yet slimmest and lightest options on the list.

It’s smaller than many options, and a great value for the capacity it provides. It’s just small enough to fit in a pocket, and the construction feels solid and sturdy.

A single phone could be charged for an entire week using one full wall-charge of this model.

What the reviewers have to say:

For those who don’t need to recharge on the go, but just need a backup battery for small electronics, this is known as one of the most effective and well-built options. It’s also known for its classy, sleek aesthetics.

Features and considerations:

It’s easy to read this model’s capacity and charging status. It looks sleek and well-built, and feels solid, though not as heavy as it could be considering how much “juice” it holds.

This model can get a bit warm (not “hot”) while charging and can be slow to finish charging (4-6 hours). It’s also not waterproof or designed for backcountry use; this can become an issue in some wilderness scenarios.

It’s also not possible to “pass-through” charge with this model; that is, you can’t charge your device while the charger is also plugged into the wall (charging itself).

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6. Xiaomi 10000mAh Mi Power Bank

xiaomi mi power bank
  • Weight: 8 oz.
  • Input: Wall outlet
  • Capacity/Output: 3 USB ports; 10,000 mAh, or about 3-4 phone charges.
  • Weatherproof: No

High points: Inexpensive, high capacity for your money, durable, lightweight.

Low points: No USB type-C port, can be slow to switch power sources, only holds enough power to charge a cell-phone.

Why it’s a top choice:

This is a relatively inexpensive option, and gives you a great bang for your buck. It can charge a typical iPhone about 3 times; this is perfect for a weekend backpacking trip or a longer trip with lighter cell usage.

What reviewers have to say:

This is a popular budget option, but is also known as durable and sleek. It’s made of light metal, and about the size of a phone.  Some users report that the light-colored surface can get scratched easily, but it’s still a generally durable model, especially considering the price.

Features and considerations:

This is one of the least expensive options on the list (<$30). It comes in a small box that fits just it, a short instruction manual, and a short charging cord. You can also use your own USB charging cable if you need a longer connection.

If you let it get to a very low charge, you may need to charge it overnight. Otherwise, both the battery pack and your device charge within a few hours.

Like the previous option, the Xiaomi Mi isn’t waterproof, but it is small enough to just slip into a Ziploc bag if this is a concern for you.

The only major drawbacks of this option are that it doesn’t include a type-c connector, and holds only 10,000 mAh. This is more than enough to charge a cell phone a few times, however, so this can also be a great choice for short backpacking trips or just to store in your car as an emergency backup in case your phone dies.

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