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The BioLite SolarPanel 10+ is a lightweight and portable 10-watt solar panel with a built-in battery. You can charge a smartphone from sunlight during the day and then use the battery to charge at night.
To get us a closer look, BioLite sent Man Makes Fire a review unit. This is what we learned:
BioLite SolarPanel 10+ Review
Here is why we’re interested in lightweight solar panels: They’re great for outdoor recreation, off-grid living, and perhaps most importantly, they could be must-have gear for environmental catastrophes that disrupt our electrical grid. After every hurricane, it seems as if thousands of people in the United States are out of power for days, if not weeks.
After major snow and ice storms, the power can go out. Raging wildfires can take a toll on power lines, too. Most of us are lucky in that our power workers get the juice flowing fast, even in adverse weather conditions. But not always. Having a backup power source for critical communication devices — like your phone — is a good idea.
Enter the BioLite SolarPanel 10+
The BioLite SolarPanel 10+ uses two foldable solar panels to create a 10-watt panel. If you set it in the sun, it can charge your phone or mobile device directly. In addition, it has a built-in 3,000 mAh battery. This means you can charge the on-board battery during the day, and then, when the weather is cloudy or the sun goes down, you can use the battery to charge your devices.
Granted, the 3,000 mAh battery isn’t huge, but it’s plenty large enough to give your phone a good boost. The popular iPhone 11, for reference, has a 3,110 mAh battery. And, of course, the solar panel itself will charge the phone’s battery. You could charge your phone during a bit of sunshine, then disconnect and let the SolarPanel 10+ charge its built-in battery to use later that night.
Or you could use the SolarPanel 10+ to charge a separate battery pack (like the weatherproof BioLite Charge 10).
Rugged and Easy to Use
The BioLite SolarPanel 10+ solar panel surface has a dimpled and matte-like protective finish that is scratch resistant and rugged.
USB out on the left, Micro USB in on the right.
The best feature is the integrated sundial, which has a black dot that casts a shadow. When you move the panel to change the angle of the panel to best match the sun, the shadow moves. When you get the shadow centered, you know you’re capturing optimal energy from the sun.
You can see this happen by watching the panel’s 4 LED indicator lights flash as the panel collects energy. When it’s cloudy and you’re not getting great sun, one light will flash. Better sun, two lights, and so on. When all four lights flash, you know you are generating maximum power from the sun.
If you misalign the solar panel at a sub-optimal angle in full sun, you could lose 30% of your energy collecting abilities. The indicator lights give you positive feedback that’s pretty handy as you learn to position the panel.
To get the best angle, you use the built-in wire kickstand. You turn the panel to face the sun and tilt using the kickstand.
In full sun the rated solar cell output capacity is 10 watts. BioLite says you can fully charge the on-board battery in about 1.2 hours. On a bright and sunny spring day in Idaho, it’s taken closer to 2 hours to charge. A similar timeline works for smartphones that have 3,000 mAh batteries or so. Smaller batteries will charge faster, larger batteries a bit more slowly.
It’s actually impressive in person.
Just remember to tuck your phone underneath the shadow of the solar panel when you’re charging it in full summer sun. If you don’t, your phone might overheat.
On partly sunny/cloudy days, it’s a lot harder to figure out exactly how long it takes to charge a phone or battery. On a cloudy day, you’ll likely only get one blinking light — and it’ll be harder to position the panel for the best light because the sundial won’t cast a shadow.
Charging a phone or the battery in partly cloudy or completely cloudy days takes longer — plan for 2-8 hours depending on your conditions. However, the built-in battery really helps with charging on partly cloudy days because it maintains a consistent charge to your device if a cloud temporarily blocks the sun.
The whole point of having a portable solar panel is to charge things. You can keep it at home for emergencies, of course, or you can let the panel do its job when you go camping by powering your camping lantern and headlamps.
BioLite provides power and lighting products for off-grid households in less developed countries as well as products for recreational use, like camping.
We’re big fans of the excellent rechargeable BioLite HeadLamp 200 — read our full review. We’re also fans of the solar-powered mini-lantern, the SunLight. While the SunLight has its own built-in solar panel, BioLite makes quite a few different lantern and light styles like the more powerful BioLite BaseLantern that might fit your camping setup.
It’s definitely nice to go camping and not have to worry about using throw-away batteries.
Of course, you don’t have to charge only BioLite products with the SolarPanel 10+ — it’ll charge most any small device through its USB out port, including satellite communicators like the Garmin inReach Mini. You just need the USB-based charging cable for your device.
Incidentally, you can pre-charge the battery on the SolarPanel 10+ through the included USB charge cable before you head off-grid — you don’t have to charge it solely by the sun.
Some users have reported that the BioLite SolarPanel 10+ can overheat if left in full sun. BioLite has confirmed that if the built-in battery compartment reaches 100°F, it will temporarily shut down to protect the battery. This is a common design to protect rechargeable batteries. For instance, if you leave your smartphone in direct sun on a warm surface, it’ll usually shutdown, too. I haven’t had a hot enough day yet to experience this myself. In an emergency situation, I would try to shade the battery compartment portion of the SolarPanel 10+ to help avoid overheating.
In addition, our first review unit did not work upon arrival. When I plugged it in, only one LED indicator light would light up. The battery wouldn’t charge and it wouldn’t charge a device. I contacted BioLite’s support team online. BioLite responded quickly via email and asked me to plug in the SolarPanel 10+ to a household wall outlet to let it charge for a full 12 hours. That didn’t fix the problem. BioLite shipped out a replacement unit, which has worked flawlessly. I’ve thought about this quite a bit and I don’t personally consider it a con or a problem with BioLite. I always test electronics at home before taking them into the field, and while problems are rare, batteries and electronics are sometimes DOA. When you test a lot of gear, it happens, but still rarely when you work with great manufacturers. On the upside, other BioLite products I’ve used have worked flawlessly, and the BioLite warranty/support process was smooth and easy. I still trust BioLite more than cheap/knockoff international manufacturers. Always test your emergency gear before you head out!
All-in-all, the BioLite SolarPanel 10+ is a lightweight and rugged solar panel device charger with a built-in battery that provides great charging versatility. The 10 watts of charge power provides a good balance between power and portability, making it great for off-grid camping as well as home emergencies. Highly recommended.