Anker PowerPort Solar Review: off-the-grid touring
Anker’s PowerPort Solar is a charging system suited to more powerful electronic devices, like larger iPhones and tablets. We head off-the-grid to the Peruvian Andes, loaded with framebag full of gadgets…
When I head out on an extended bike tour, I generally make sure I have a front wheel built up with my dynamo hub – a SON 28 wired into the excellent Sinewave Revolution. After all, while external ‘cache’ batteries are perfect for long weekends away (I suggest one with at least 5000mAh capacity), the ability to independently charge the likes of your GPS, smartphone, Steripen, and other electronic wizardry can be very useful during longer tours.
But for my most recent trip to Peru, I didn’t have a chance to rebuild my front hub into a 27.5+ wheel, so opted to travel with a solar panel instead. In the past, I’ve used small and light models that have worked well when conditions have been optimal, as they often are where I’m based in New Mexico. But as devices have become every more power hungry – particularly the likes of the latest iPhones and tablets – smaller panels often end up lacing in the consistency department, especially if conditions are cloudy. Given that I was visiting the Peruvian Andes on the shoulder season, I was expecting mixed weather. I also knew that charging points in this part of the world can be few and far between… and even when you track one down in a local barebones hostel, wiring can be notoriously sketchy…
For this reason, I opted to bring along Anker’s PowerPort Solar. It isn’t the lightest or most rugged panel on the market, but it comes highly recommended from around-the-world fatbiker, Ben Page, whose panel saw action across the length of Asia, and is now continuing to do so across Africa. Available from amazon.com at $60, its price is certainly hard to beat.
There are two models available. The slightly thicker and heavier (535g) 21W Anker PowerPort Solar, which I took with me, offers 2 USB outlets and promises up to 2.4 amp per port or 3 amps overall – in translation, this makes it especially well suited to quickly charging the likes of an iPhone alongside a GPS. The PowerPort Solar Lite (15W) features one less panel, a single USB outlet and a max of 2.1 amps; so it’s still perfectly capable at charging a smartphone or tablet. Both fold down to the same size, one that fits easily into my framebag. If weight is an issue for you, by way of comparison, a SON dynamo/Sinewave revolution will add around 250g to your setup, with very little packing space required.
In use, the PowerPort proved very impressive indeed, even in cloudy conditions. Charging time is eyebrow-raisingly fast – comparable to a 2.4 amp charger in an electrical outlet, when the sun is out. It proved amply powerful enough to charge my iPhone 5s directly in cloud cover, without the need for an external cache battery, as it often required for fussy Apple products. Over the course of the last month, I’ve also used it to charge a Black Diamond ReVolt headtorch and my Outdoor Tech Buckshot topped up… so I was never without those all-important podcasts!
Compared to some solar chargers, the PowerPort doesn’t include its own internal cache battery. I actually see this as a benefit rather than a hindrance: there’s less to go wrong electronically and when your external cache battery wears out, it’s easy to source an up to date replacement. The panel includes a sleeve to house the devices you’re charging. In practice, it could do with more velcro tabs to stop contents from sliding out. Still, the pouch is a handy way of keeping cables contained when the panel is folded away, so you’re not rummaging around for them elsewhere and can set the panel up quickly whenever you to for a lingering break.
In terms of build quality, I don’t think the PowerPort Solar can match the complete weather-sealed goodness that other more expensive models have, like heavier and more expensive models from Bushnell, Powermonkey, and Goal Zero. Although there are attachment point eyelets to jerry rig it to your bike, I’m not convinced it’s quite tough enough for long-term use in this way, at least on bumpy dirt roads. The side pouch could also do a more secure job at carrying devices you’re charging on the move, as mentioned above. Bear in mind too that given its unfolded size, you’ll need a fair bit of real estate to attach it to. On a similar note, it’s a shame the top corners don’t include reinforced grommets.
Thankfully, the panel charges so quickly that I don’t think strapping it to your bike is often necessary. Certainly, I was never left wanting. My usual MO was to leave it out at sunrise while I prepared breakfast and broke camp, and pack it away last just before I was ready to roll out. This time alone was was usually enough to charge my Wahoo Elemnt GPS, from around 50% to 95% and keep my iPhone alive (tips: keep in airplane mode, turn off apps not being used, drop down screen brightness, and store in your sleeping bag at night). If need be, I’d unroll the panel at lunchtime too, just to top up any other devices. As a result, I very rarely found myself hunting around for plugs as soon as I arrived in town… true off-the-grid touring!
- Very affordable way to keep devices charged on the road – considerably cheaper than a dynamo/new wheel.
- Works fantastically in sunshine and surprisingly well in cloud clover.
- Especially effective with high draw devices, like new smartphones and tablets.
- Double USB outlet useful for those travelling with a friend or reliant on multiple devices.
- Bulky and a little heavy compared to a dynamo (but reasonably light compared to similar solar chargers).
- Internal pouch could be better designed for carrying devices, if you’re using the panel on the move.
- Weight 18.9oz / 535g (compared to Anker’s claimed weight of 417g)
- Size open 26.4×11.1×0.2in / 670×282×5mm
- Size closed 11.1×6.3×1.1in / 282×160×28mm
- Place of manufacture China
- Price $60
- Contact Anker.com
Check the price online at Amazon
Anker’s PowerPort Solar is powerful enough that you don’t need to leave it on your bike all day. This is just as well, as I’m not sure it’s built for riding rugged, dusty roads, and its internal pocket could certainly benefit from extra velcro tabs. In practice, I found leaving it out when the opportunity presented itself – at breakfast and again at lunch – kept my devices amply charged up for my needs, even in cloudy conditions. It quickly became part of my packing system; the first thing to come out and the last to go away.
The inclusion of two USB outlets proved really useful, given that I combine an iPhone and a rechargeable GPS for navigating – as well travelling with other USB-powered devices, like a portable speaker, headlamp, and a Steripen… Gram-saving bikepackers may find the PowerPort Solar heavier and bulkier than they’d like – even if it’s actually on the light side, considering its generous wattage, when compared to its competition. If all you only want a panel for emergency use and occasionally topping up your phone in bright conditions, there are smaller, lighter, less powerful options around – though I’d argue that in many situations, a 5000mAh+ cache battery is probably a better alternative (Anker’s Astro E1 is my current favourite).
As it is, the PowerPort Solar works extremely well and is particularly well suited to more demanding charging tasks. If, like me, you’re tethered to various electronic devices and striking out on a long tour, then it’s likely to be weight and space well invested, for an extremely affordable price.