This affordable portable solar charger could start you down the road to a serious solar habit.
For some people, going solar for their gadgets is a matter of practicality, because being able to recharge on the go during the day, wherever you are, just makes sense and makes things easier. Others may choose solar for portable power for a specific activity, such as offgrid camping and hiking adventures, to supply the electricity for lights or music, and for recharging cameras, headlamps, or GPS units, which can make those adventures a lot more comfortable. Still others may choose a portable solar charger out of the desire to get at least some of their gadgets off of the grid, even if home solar is out of the question for them. And a much wider group of emergency preppers are starting to add portable solar chargers to their emergency preparedness kits or bugout bags, because having access to power could be a key element to survival after the SHTF.
[Note: Before you invest in a solar charger of any kind, I think it's important to spend some time thinking about how you'll use it, where you'll use it, and how often you'll use it. If you choose a portable solar system that doesn't work that well for you, you'll probably end up not using it, at which point it will just gather dust in the closet, which is a total waste of resources. Each of the above reasons for going solar has a bit of a difference in their requirements, based on how and when the charger will be used, so just buying a solar charger because it's got great marketing behind it isn't always the best plan. For example, someone who wants to be able to charge their gadgets at night, after they get discharged, will need a battery pack of some kind in order to store the electricity generated while the sun is shining, but someone who only needs to charge their gear during the day, directly, could get by with just a solar panel and no battery pack. And people who have a number of gadgets to charge will need to do the math based on each gizmo's power demands, and then size the panels and battery pack they purchase according to those figures.]The sheer number of portable solar accessories on the market right now can make it difficult to choose the best one for your purposes, because most of them come with trade-offs, whether it's quality or price or capacity, and it's not always easy to decide. While I'm usually an advocate for choosing a product from an established company with a good track record for quality (I like GoalZero), sometimes that's not always feasible based on your budget, in which case it's better to try to find a more affordable product with similar specs.
Which is a long-winded way of saying that I recently got my hands on a small folding solar charger from Accessory Genie, the ReVIVE ReStore RA4 14W model, and while it does have some limitations (panels only, no battery pack), I think it's a great affordable gateway to solar.
The RA4 is a lightweight solar power system, consisting of 4 monocrystalline panels individually sewn into a rugged 34" long fabric body (with a pocket for holding gadgets while charging), which folds up to about the size of a book (9.25" x 6.75" x 1.5"), and costs just under $50.
The RA4 is rated at 14W, and has two USB ports for charging (according to the company, larger devices will receive an output of 2.1A, and smaller devices will get 1A), which are located in a covered pocket at the top of the unit. Smaller devices can be placed in the velcro-secured pocket while charging, which also serves to keep them out of the sun, and with a total of 9 nylon webbing loops to choose from to hang the unit in the sun (or secure it to a pack or tent), you can be very flexible in the way you set it up. The charger also comes with a basic adjustable webbing strap for carrying or hanging, as well as a drawstring "weather cover" to keep out moisture and dirt.
The pros: For $50, a folding 14W solar charger with a 3 year limited warranty is a pretty good deal (unless you roll your own), and the small size and weight of the RA4 makes it a good choice for mobile solar power. The addition of a strap to the unit gives you an easy way to hang it (and a basic strap is something that is often missing from other solar chargers), and the cover could help prolong the life of the unit.
The cons: The RA4 doesn't come with a battery pack, so if you plan to charge your gadgets after dark, you'll need to find and buy an appropriately-sized power pack to store the electricity from the solar panels until you can use it. The only connections on the unit are two 5V USB ports, so you can't chain two of them together for a 28W system, as you can with some other brands' portable chargers. Like many of the folding solar chargers, because they don't come with something to prop up the unit, you have to hang it from something or lay it flat on the ground, which could be a challenge in some situations.
The ReVIVE ReStore RA4 solar charger is available from the Accessory Genie website, which also has a range of other solar chargers and battery packs.
[Disclosure: I was sent a review model of the RA4 from Accessory Genie, but all opinions here, as well as any errors, are mine alone.]