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If you’re like us, odds are you’ve probably never thought too deeply about portable solar panels. As long as they harness energy from the sun and charge your devices on a long trek, they’re all the same, right?
Actually, no. The Box Synergy Solar 7 ($85) is the first such product to earn an Editors’ Choice Award, checking all the boxes with an extra-thick Sharpie: it’s light, compact, durable, and powerful—everything a backpacking solar panel should be. In fact, we couldn’t find another contender that delivered the same combination of size, weight, and performance.
The Solar 7, which collects but doesn’t store solar energy, only eats up a tiny bite of pack space and can even tuck into a roomy pants pocket; it’s perfectly designed for hikers who want unlimited energy (well, as long as the weather cooperates) on multi-day hikes. Open, it measures 15.7 by 6.7 inches. But it folds down to about the size of a smartphone—just under 7 by 4 inches. Plus, this sun-absorber weighs a mere 8.1 ounces. Still, its 7.2-Watt, 5V/1A output packs a punch. The Solar 7 directly charged a smartphone from 10 percent to full in a little over two hours. You can also pair it with a power bank. Our testers found that their preferred method was to use the Solar 7 during the day to refuel a 10,000 mAh power bank, which they’d use to recharge devices in camp.
The Solar 7 includes a charging cord with USB, micro-USB, USB-C, and lightning connectors, so users don’t have to carry multiple cords. “On a four-day trip through the Seven Lakes Basin in Olympic National Park, it kept my phone, GPS unit, and headlamp all running with plenty of juice,” one tester said. “I hooked it to my pack, plugged in my half-depleted power bank, and arrived at camp four hours later with a full charge.”
With an IP67 rating (dustproof, shockproof, waterproof), the Solar 7’s ETFE panels are built to last. Testers loved the anchoring options; with beefy grommets on each corner and four S-carabiners included, this device is easy to hang from a pack. The included waterproof storage bag is big enough to hold at least one other device or power bank—a nice bonus.
Hikers walking through direct sunlight will reap the best results, but any trail or camp sans canopy will keep the trickle flowing. Priced at $85, the Solar 7 hits the wallet harder than others, but it is still an excellent value. It’s tough to find competitors that fight in the same weight class.