When planning to solo bikepack the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, I romanticized that I would finish preparations with a healthy cushion of time before embarking on my journey. In reality, I learned that I would never feel completely ready to take on an adventure of that scale and that I simply had to start anyway. One thing that provided peace of mind, however, was carrying solar panels. By doing so, I knew I could charge my navigation tools almost anywhere and continue planning on-the-go as needed.
The 10W PWR Solar Panel by Knog fits easily at the bottom of my framebag. I mostly needed juice for my smartphone, to navigate with the Adventure Cycling Bicycle Route Navigator app, and for my satellite phone, to update my apprehensive family. Although I could charge these devices when I resupplied in towns, I was reassured to know I would not find myself in a desperate situation if cold nighttime temps drained my batteries. Additionally, having the Knog Solar Panel gave me the rejuvenating option of taking a rest, or “zero,” day in the beautiful backcountry (as long as I had enough food and water) rather than in a costly or damp motel room.
The panels worked very effectively in unobstructed sunlight. I would charge my phones directly if hanging out or, more often, I would charge an external power bank that I could use much more conveniently later, even while riding, if I needed to. I also discovered, when my framebag filled with rain one night, that the panels are as water-resistant as advertised (as long as the cable port protector is closed).
First, the technology has “solar” in the name for a reason. Without direct sunlight, like on an overcast day, the panels can maintain a device’s existing charge, but they hardly add any power, if at all. On a trip like mine, at altitude in the summer, finding sunshine was hardly a problem. But the panels might not be so helpful on a route like the Arctic Postal Road …
Secondly, I realized a tiny bit of strategy is involved to charge a device in the sun without overheating it. My favorite method was to use a fairly long cable so I could place the panels in the sun and still have my plugged-in phone tucked away in the shade.
Lastly, the Knog solar panel price ($99.95) matches that of all the comparable products I’ve seen. But I really appreciated investing in an external battery ($55–$120 from Knog), too, for the convenience. My power bank held 36 Wh (about three phone charges), so I usually only charged it once while resupplying in town and once more in between stops on longer stretches.
All of that said, the solar panel and external battery were super worth the price and weight (roughly 16 oz and 7 oz, respectively) for me because they allowed me to feel safer on my ride and spend more time outside, protecting and enhancing my bikepacking experience!
Price and weight wise the Knog Solar Panel is better than others I have looked at. I have done well with an Mpowered Luci light with solar power bank though it won't charge as many devices on a single charge. The other new innovation for keeping all our devices charged is the PedalCell. It mounts on the frame and uses energy from the wheel as you ride so it works rain or shine. However it costs considerably more. It's great that we have options. This was an excellent review.
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Nice review, Rebecca. The Knog panel looks pretty solid and seems to be a decent value. It may be a bit long for on-bike attachment (top of rear rack), and I don't see many built in attachment points other than main D-ring.
I've been using portable solar panels and batteries for all road bike touring since circa 2010. The combination has worked very well. Panels and batteries have improved over the last 12 years...small solar panels are more affordable, lighter, more weatherproof, and more powerful given the same size/weight than back in 2010. And the power bank/batteries are much less expensive and far more capable with fast charging/recharging capabilities, pass thru charging, etc.
A few specific notes/recommendations:
1. Solar panels obviously require sun. But they are otherwise tremendously versatile. You can continue to charge when you reach camp or take that much needed off day in a gorgeous off grid locale. If you enjoy other outdoor pursuits such as hiking, canoe/kayak camping, etc., solar panels work great in those contexts as well. So they are a good investment that isn't limited to bike touring (unlike hub dynamos and the recently re-booted rim dynamos).
2. I use the solar panel to charge a battery as opposed to phone/gps, etc. directly. A more reliable approach in my experience. Solar panel on top of rear rack, battery tucked away in dry bag or top pocket of rear pannier. No problem with rain.
3. For those investing in new powerbanks/batteries, definitely consider models that offer fast USB-C charging/recharge capabilities, and purchase a small, compatible plug adapter. When you roll into a campsite that has power outlets in the restrooms, these fast-charging batteries will fill up to 80 percent very quickly. Really helps with "opportunity charging."
4. Nowadays, I generally carry four batteries on tours longer than a week. Two small/medium sized batteries (one connected to solar panel), one smaller, very light lipstick style battery, and a magsafe battery for my iPhone. All (except magsafe) with fast charge capability. This approach provides redundancy in the event of a "bricked" battery. It also allows me to distribute the battery weight around my packs to optimize weight distribution as opposed to carrying one big/heavy battery. I have always had sufficient power to recharge phone, gps/navigation, garmin in reach mini, smartwatch, garmin radar/taillight (if touring on paved roads), headphones, etc., and lend power to others using this approach.