Long-Term Review: BigBlue 28W Solar Charger (Backpacking and Bikepacking)

Summary

  • The BigBlue 28W solar charger weighs 1.25 pounds, attaches to a backpack or bicycle bags, and can charge up to 3 USB-rechargeable devices at once.
  • On sunny days it provides ample power to keep multiple smartphones charged indefinitely. In cloudy weather it charges slower but still makes progress.
  • I’ve used it on multiple month+ trips, including two mid-distance thru hikes and a bikepacking trip in remote Central Asia, and have been very pleased with it.

I love to unplug in the wilderness, but I have to admit that sometimes important devices need to be charged. Whether it’s a smartphone for navigation, a satellite messenger for safety, or even a Kindle or earbuds for entertainment, a good portable solar charger can be essential on a long remote adventure.

I used to believe portable solar panels weren’t worth carrying, especially if you’re backpacking and trying to pack light. Maybe you can eek out a couple extra days of power with a solar charger, but eventually you’ll still run dry, right? Better to just conserve battery and go without.

So I was pleasantly surprised to find that the BigBlue solar charger kept my electronics, as well as my husband’s, charged pretty much indefinitely on the Colorado Trail. It worked so well that we carried it the following spring on the Arizona Trail, and then strapped it to our bike bags for a month of bikepacking in Central Asia.

In all cases we were very glad to have the BigBlue along. When the time between towns stretched to 5 or even 7 days, it alleviated worry about our essential navigation and communication devices running dry. It saved us money during resupply stops because we didn’t need a hotel to recharge overnight. And it improved quality of life on the trail by allowing stress-free reading of Kindle books in the tent, which can be pretty darn important when you’re out for a month or two.

This review of the BigBlue solar charger shares how it works, how to get the most out of it, and who might find it worth the weight and on which types of adventures. If you’re thinking about adding a portable solar charger to gear collection, I hope it helps.

When you buy through affiliate links in this post, I may earn a small commission. Thanks for your support! I always offer unbiased opinions based on real experience from the road and trail. Learn more.

About the BigBlue Solar Panel

Price: $66 on Amazon

Size: 11 x 6.3 x 1.3 inches when folded. Expands into 5 panels when unfolded: 4 solar panels and one panel with device pocket and USB ports.

Weight: 20.5 oz

My Rating: 4.5 / 5, works very well, just wish it were a little lighter

Review Summary: The BigBlue 28W Solar Charger worked perfectly for me on two mid-distance thru hikes and a monthlong bikepacking trip, keeping electronics for two people charged indefinitely. Even in shade and intermittent sun it still provides a meaningful amount of charge. At 1.25 pounds it’s reasonably compact and light considering how well it performs, but ultralight folks may struggle to justify the added weight.

What I love:

  • Handles clouds and partial shade surprisingly well
  • 4 panels / 28 watts means fast charging
  • 3 USB ports for simultaneous charging
  • Affordable price

Could be better:

  • Heavier than some competition
  • Pocket didn’t close securely (Update: looks like this has been fixed in the updated version, which has a zipper pocket!)

Carrying the BigBlue Solar Charger

The BigBlue solar charger has five panels that fold up into the footprint of a single panel. Four are solar panels, and the fifth has a device pocket and three USB charging ports.

Four eyelets on the corners attach to included mini-carabiners for securing the panel to whatever your setup is. If they’re not quite in the right place, it’s easy to extend them with paracord loops. We’ve tested the BigBlue extensively on both backpacking packs and bikepacking panniers.

Backpacking

The BigBlue fits nicely over the top of a backpacking pack with the fifth (non-solar) panel folded underneath. It’s a slight inconvenience to remove a couple clips when getting into the pack, but not bad. Another option is to let the entire thing dangle down the back of the pack, but this works best when the sun is behind you. The setup pictured below gets overhead sun on at least one panel regardless of where the sun is.

Solar panel on hiker's backpack in mountains
Attached to a traditional Arc’teryx pack on the Colorado Trail
On a ULA Circuit on the Arizona Trail (if you can tear your eyes away from the stunning Grand Canyon for long enough to look at the pack!)

Bikepacking and Bicycle Touring

Does the BigBlue work well for bikepacking? Yes, if you have a good way to carry it. I’ve considered trying to attach it to a minimalist bikepacking bag setup but it was a bit too bulky. BigBlue does have a 21W version with one less panel that might be helpful in this case.

With a rack and panniers, however, the BigBlue works great. I carried it horizontally across the top of my rear panniers, like this, for a month in Central Asia:

BigBlue solar panel on bikepacking setup in Kyrgyzstan

Cloudy and Shady Performance

Based on our research it seemed the BigBlue solar charger is especially good at charging efficiently in conditions that are typically hard for solar panels to deal with, like cloudy weather, changing sunlight levels, and partially shaded trails. This is because of an automatic reconnect feature that allows the BigBlue to quickly reconnect and restart charging if it stops due to lack of sun.

This was the defining point in favor of BigBlue, and is one of the most critical functions of any solar panel for backpacking. So I’m happy to say, it works quite well. Even on cloudy days and shaded trails we were able to charge enough to stay ahead of our power usage.

How Much Power?

Here’s some qualitative info about our experience with the BigBlue solar charger while thru hiking the Colorado Trail and Arizona Trail, about 90 total days of backpacking in varied weather.

The BigBlue solar panel successfully kept our phones and power banks (and a Kindle and Garmin InReach Mini) charged as much as needed on both trails. Aside from our pesky need for food, we could have lived out there forever without ever needing a wall plug. This allowed us to avoid sleeping in towns when they were too expensive or crowded, and to enjoy our few town breaks without needing to crouch beside an outlet for hours.

Above treeline on a sunny day, we could charge a 10,000mAh power bank completely within a few hours. Granted, the Colorado Trail does spend a lot of time above treeline, but afternoons were often cloudy.

On a cloudy day we could still charge a power bank from empty to maybe 70% during a full day of hiking. It worked so well that there were plenty of days where we didn’t even mount the panel on the outside of the pack because we had more power than we needed.

This kind of performance was unexpected based on what I’d read from other hikers. Many said they didn’t bother carrying a solar panel because it wouldn’t keep even a single person’s phone charged, let alone two. Technology is constantly improving though, and perhaps they haven’t tried the BigBlue.

Durability

We’ve thoroughly knocked this panel around while backpacking and bikepacking, and it’s still going strong. It’s seen plenty of rain and mud with no issues, so I can confirm that it’s waterproof. Just make sure the ports themselves stay dry; the panels are fine to get wet. The panels have become a little scratched over time, but they continue to work well.

Our only complaint on the model we used was the pocket that holds devices while they charge. The hook and loop fastener came loose a little too easily, causing our power banks to come dangerously close to falling out. But it looks like BigBlue is on top of customer feedback. Their latest updated version now has a zippered pocket – bravo!

Tips for Backpacking with a Solar Charger

Here are a few tips to help you get the most out of the BigBlue, or any solar charger you use for backpacking or other outdoor adventures.

Charge your power bank, not your phone. This is especially true for high-vibration activities like bikepacking, but is wise for hiking too. To protect your phone’s charging port and make sure there’s no chance of it falling out when it shouldn’t, use the solar panel to charge a power bank and then use the power bank to charge your phone.

I’ve been a long-time fan of Anker power banks like this one, but on our CT thru hike we tried these from Ainope and were impressed. They’re very light, have a true 10,000mAh capacity, and the numeric LED capacity counter is a nice touch. Anker, you have some competition!

Lay your solar panel out flat in direct sun when stopped for lunch or long breaks to maximize the power it generates.

To conserve phone battery if your solar charger isn’t quite keeping up: Keep your phone in airplane mode, turn the screen brightness down, and keep the screen off as much as possible.

Backpacking solar panel unfolded on grass next to tent
To generate even more power, lay the panels out flat whenever you have a chance.

In Conclusion

The portable BigBlue 28W solar charger hits the sweet spot for self-propelled activities like backpacking and bikepacking. Smaller panels don’t quite provide enough power to be worth carrying in my opinion, while larger panels are too heavy and cumbersome.

If you’re car camping you can get better performance with a bigger panel, but the BigBlue 28W would still be helpful, especially if you lay it out in direct sunlight. It would also work well for travel to places with unreliable electricity, as it’s thin enough to pack easily into a suitcase.

Overall I’ve been very pleased with the BigBlue 28W solar charger and would buy it again, as long as BigBlue continues to keep the panels up-to-date with the latest and lightest technology. Given that the current version is already 2.5 oz lighter than my older version, it looks like they’re doing exactly that.

More Backpacking Resources

If you’re interested in a solar charger for backpacking, you’ll probably find these helpful too:

Or visit the backpacking section for lots more!

About the Author

Hi there, I’m Alissa, founder of Exploring Wild. I’ve had the pleasure of hiking the Arizona Trail, Colorado Trail, John Muir Trail, Tahoe Rim Trail, and countless shorter amazing trails throughout the US and abroad. I love solitude, big views, and a good lightweight gear setup. Learn more here.

Excited about backpacking but need help getting started? The Backpacking Trip Planner Workbook will help you start off on the right foot.

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Pictures of solar panel on backpack with text: BigBlue Solar Charger backpacking gear review
Pictures of solar panel on backpack with text: BigBlue Solar Charger backpacking gear review

3 thoughts on “Long-Term Review: BigBlue 28W Solar Charger (Backpacking and Bikepacking)”

  1. Hi Alissa! Thank you for the info! I am definitely going to look for a Platypus gravity water filter now! I am also very pleased to read about the Big Blue 28W solar charger and the Anker and Ainope power packs. I travel alone and Mom sure would be glad to hear I m O.K. when I give her a call! Thank you for sharing your time and guidance for other like-minded spirits who may not be as informed and could really benefit from your knowledge. Be safe, not sorry. Happy trails to you and your loved ones.

    Reply
  2. On the Big Blue Solar panel. I wasn’t very satisfied with it. After sitting in the sun for Four hours,I made a small charge on my iPhone. The Mac book next to nothing. This particular solar panel was not so good either on doing multiple charges at once.I had a friend use it with a cheap flip phone in which had a better bit of charge. I phone, Mac books not so good. Before my experience to use I should have researched the product to what it really could do. All companies claim they have great products until the user sets out into a venture and we expect that company experience to be really accurate. Put it to the test yourself a bit
    while your home before time.I kept reading all this great reviews on the Big Blue! NOT!!! Now I test out beforehand and I would encourage any hiker or someone going on any venture to test that testimony of the product they are to utilize. Also I am definitely a light weight packer and I spend a bit more to say the least on the most light weight products, because once out on that trail that back pack sure “GETS HEAVY “ after a couple hundred miles. This solar panel was and is a no go for long hikes. I used the Big Blue on just camping local fun time. I would not use it on any long adventure. If someone states it’s cool for long hikes, they definitely didn’t carry it around all the hike. I didn’t like the product and I would rate it very bad indeed.Leaving me to believe the reviews. Buy a product and test run it. The one time I didn’t test run , bla,bla, my fault. In all actuality total truth I threw it away, out about 70 bucks, lesson learned.

    Reply
    • Sorry to hear you had a bad experience with it. I wonder if your particular model was somehow defective. We carried ours over 1300+ miles of backpacking (Colorado Trail and Arizona Trail) and it charged our two power banks and two smartphones beautifully. I wouldn’t expect it to work well with a Macbook though, as laptops draw a lot more power.

      Reply

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