Beat load shedding with sunshine science: compact solar chargers tested

Posted on 5 February 2015

When the lights go out, friends will want to borrow your solar powered smartphone charger. We tested six compact, convenient and extremely powerful gadgets which will make you very popular when Eskom pulls the plug.
Compact solar chargers
We’ve also tested the best solar lanterns and the most effective rechargeable batteries, found awesome games to play that don’t need to be plugged in, carried out trials on long life milk to see what happens when the fridge goes off and, on those dark, load-shedding nights, why not try your hand at stargazing?


Test conditions

  • All the chargers were simultaneously positioned outdoors for three days to guarantee the same exposure to the sun
  • Each fully charged unit was used to charge an iPhone 5C and, in one instance, an iPad Mini from a low, two percent battery reading
  • The unit was timed to see how long it took to charge the phone – proof was captured in the form of screenshots to determine exact timing
  • The iPhone was scarcely used during the charge time (only to check incoming messages) to ensure standard testing and all apps were turned off
  • If the unit fully charged the phone, the exercise was repeated to measure how many times it could charge the smart device

Here are the test results. Keep reading for prices and pictures plus the pros and cons of each device.
Solar Charger Comparison Table


1. Birksun Boost Solar Backpack

R1 880,
Birksun Boost Solar Backpack


  • Simple design, no-fuss, 100% waterproof backpack
  • Fleece-lined laptop compartment
  • Powerful BirkSun 5000 mAh power pack costs R570 and is included in the price listed above, but you can charge any power bank you may already own
  • Four LED indicator lights to track battery charge
  • Charges two devices at once
  • Best warranty of two years


  • It’s a comfortable, lightweight bag with soft padded straps but not much of a hiking pack (a meshed breathable-back option is available for R2 250, which excludes the price of the power bank)
  • It takes a long time to charge up the smart device, but the slim battery packs a lot of power.


Final word

A nifty gadget that’ll keep you powered up on the go, but the basic pack is not designed for serious hikes.

Buy it: R1 880 from Xtreme Accessories


2. Solarway Smartphone Charger

R399, Trappers and 4×4 Megaworld
Solarway Smartphone Charger


  • Affordable price
  • Flip-out stand
  • Three bright built-in LED lights
  • Battery charge indicator
  • Water resistant


  • Wide surface area (so it won’t fit into your pocket)
  • Only charges one device at a time


Final word

An affordable unit that doubles as a bright reading light, but has the least powerful battery storage.

Buy it: R321 from


3. Waka Waka Power

R800, Outdoor Warehouse
Waka Waka Power


  • Two bright LED lights
  • Flip-out stand
  • Solar charge indicator
  • High-impact resistant housing
  • Sleek and compact design – the unit will fit in your pocket or backpack easily


  • It didn’t live up to its claim of charging most smartphones in two hours. However, the extra 200mAh gave the unit a 24% iPhone boost over the Solarway charger (which will cost you an extra R350).


Final word

‘Waka Waka’ means ‘shine bright’ in Swahili. This trendy gadget is a compact size, gives enough juice on the go and is a handy travel companion. I want one.

Buy it: R800 from Outdoor Warehouse


4. Powermonkey Expedition – *Getaway recommends*

R6 000, Action Gear
Powermonkey Expedition


  • Best battery storage here at 10500mAh
  • Most powerful solar panels here at 5-watts
  • Rugged body that’s 100% waterproof and dust-tight
  • The aluminium body acts as a heat-sync making the solar panel both efficient and hard-wearing
  • Charges devices in low light
  • Panel can be fitted to backpack
  • Features both 12-volt DC and 5-volt USB outputs to charge iPads/tablets, two-way radios, satellite phones, smartphones, GPS, head lamps and SLR cameras
  • Percentage charging indicator
  • Handy carry case
  • Wind turbine feature planned as a future power option


  • Very heavy so not great for hiking
  • The hand crank feature is uncomfortable, awkward to hold and it takes ages (longer than three minutes) to power up the unit even one-percent – in the words of a fellow Getaway colleague you need to be pretty desperate to make that call
  • The most expensive smart charger here


Final word

This device is hectic. For a heavy-duty outdoors adventure companion, look no further. This is the greatest gadget featured here.

Buy it: R6 000 from Action Gear


5. Bushnell Bear Grylls Solarwrap Mini

R1 000, Cape Union Mart
Bushnell Bear Grylls Solar Wrap Mini


  • The most lightweight product here at 88g
  • Simple to use
  • Paper-thin, flexible solar panel that won’t break easily
  • Water resistant
  • One green light indicates when charging is complete
  • Can tie the unit to your backpack while hiking thanks to eyelet in panel


  • Won’t work with tablets
  • Not great in windy conditions as the panel flaps around
  • Only charges one device at a time


Final word

For hikers and bikers who prioritise weight.

Buy it: R1 000 from Cape Union Mart


6. A-Solar Power Case – *Best value*

R1 299, Trappers
A-Solar Power Case for tablets


  • Great design: both a padded protective tablet pouch and solar charger
  • Carabiner clips attach it to your backpack
  • Very powerful but compact portable power bank of 7000mAh
  • Four LED indicator lights to track battery charge
  • Splashproof
  • Compatible with most 10-inch tablets like the iPad or Samsung Galaxy Tab, but I stashed my smaller iPad mini it in no problem
  • Charges two devices at once


  • It’s bulky for your backpack or briefcase
  • Short six-month warranty


Final word

Buy it. This is the best value gadget here.

Buy it: R1 299 from your closest Trappers store

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