Do Solar Chargers Need Direct Sunlight?

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Solar chargers are a really neat product, especially for those who live a mobile sort of life. Whether you are an avid backpacker or a campsite socialite, being able to charge your hand-held devices without a plug, just enhances your experience.

Because of this, there is a certain incentive to sell. And while some solar chargers can provide you with a fair amount of performance, I have found that there is a lot of over-selling with regards to what a user can realistically expect.

As someone who has lived off-grid since 2015, I can tell you with certainty that your best chance of getting the optimum performance from your solar charger will occur when it has access to direct sunlight.

This is not to say that your solar charger will not work in sub-optimum conditions. However, I would suggest that it will probably seem that it is not working at all!

Solar Chargers And Their Solar Panels

When it comes to solar panels and what they can do, there is a notable lack of real world experience. And this is understandable as solar panels are still relatively rare (with regards to total household energy production).

Almost anyone can identify a solar panel when they see one, and the knowledge of what solar panels do is pretty well understood. But much like an automobile, just because you can identify one and understand what it does, this doesn’t mean you are a seasoned operator.

Knowing what a solar panel does and being able to correctly anticipate how it will perform under various conditions, are two different things.

This has a direct impact on someone utilizing a solar charger.

For the record, solar panels are an incredible tool with regards to energy production, but they do not always perform like the plug you have in your house.

A house plug will give you the same amount of power ever single time. A solar panel doesn’t do this. Sometimes they will perform at maximum and sometimes not at all. Generally, power output is somewhere in between.

And with your solar charger having solar panels of its own, charging behavior is going to depend on a variety of things.

Solar Chargers And Sunlight

There are three general factors to consider when it comes to maximizing the amount of charge the solar panels on your solar charger will produce. They are:

  • Quality of sunlight – Power production in solar panels is initiated by the bombardment of photons (generally found in sunlight). Because of this, the quality of sunlight striking the panels is absolutely critical.

If, for some reason, an obstruction comes between the sun and your panels, then the amount of photons striking the panels will be reduced. When this happens, there will be a corresponding drop power production.

And these obstructions come in many forms. Clouds, dust or even reflective window panes can be extremely detrimental when it comes to charging your solar charger.

  • Orientation of your panels – Having clear skies is simply not enough for your solar charger to work. The solar panels of your charger must be facing the sun, at just the right angle, in order to capture the maximum amount of sunlight.

Anything less than the optimum orientation will result in a decrease in energy output.

This means that your charger will perform much better when it is positioned correctly on say a picnic table, than it ever would strapped across the back of a backpack as you hike. (Not only is your backpack going to be constantly moving, but it is very unlikely that you are going to orientate your posture for hours on end, in a way to capture the most sunlight).

  • Duration of exposure – As you have probably realized by now, a successful charging is all about maximizing the amount of sunlight coming in contact with the panels on your solar charger.

Even if the skies are completely clear and even if your panels are oriented just perfectly, it will all be for naught if adequate exposure time is not achieved.


As mentioned above, solar chargers can be a valuable asset for places where an electrical outlet is not available. But understanding what the real world capabilities of your solar charger are, will go a long way towards a successful powering your outdoor endeavor.

If you are considering a solar charger for your next adventure, I recommend reading ‘How Do I Choose A Solar Phone Charger?’

THANK YOU for sharing!