Anker PowerPort Solar Charger Review: A Gamechanger for backcountry trips

(Model A2421, 21W)

by SwiftyPaddler (@SwiftyPaddler on Instagram, or swiftypaddler.ca)

Like many of us these days, I’m more reliant on technology than ever before.  And while that doesn’t pose much of an issue for me when I’m close to home, or in my car, it does require some extra planning when traveling in backcountry (even the newest canoes don’t come with a power outlet)!  That makes you a bit obsessed with your batteries: how much power you have, and when it may run out.

Anker PowerPort Solar Charger Review1
Charging with PowerPort Solar during a paddling break

When planning an extended trip last year, I realized that adding just one more large power bank to my already heavy pack would be simply too much.  I had to either leave a luxury item behind (a telephoto lens, or, gasp, that delicious tetra pack of wine) or find another solution.  Clearly, the time had come for a solar charger.

I asked a few folks I knew this question: what were they using and would they make the same purchase decision again?  One name kept coming up: Anker.

A quick search revealed what I was looking for, the Anker PowerPort Solar, about $95 CDN on Amazon.  Detailed specifications are online, but those that mattered most to me were:

  • The PowerPort Solar produces 2 to 3 amps of current in sunlight (or up to 21 watts of power).  That’s enough to charge all my devices, though not simultaneously.  Unsurprisingly, the best output is in direct, full sunlight.
  • The form factor is great for travel.  It folds up to the size of a tall, narrow book, about 11 inches by 6 inches.  The unfolded length is about 26 1/2 inches.
  • It has two USB-A ports.  These are the older, currently most popular, USB plug size.
  • It has a tiny LED light to indicate when sufficient sunlight is present to enable charging.

So how did it perform in real life?  In short, it’s one of those rare pieces of gear that’s a true “game changer”!  Was it perfect?  No, and I’ll tell you why.

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Charging during the afternoon

When I first received the device, I plugged in my phone and gave it a try.  The phone immediately “chirped”, the charging light came on, and the phone began to charge.  Great!  I then added in one of my USB power banks.  It too started to charge.  Super!  I took off the power bank and left my phone plugged in. 

As the day progressed, the sun moved, sometimes clouds came out.  A couple of times I heard my phone “chirp” again, telling me the charging had stopped, then restarted. The last time I checked my phone it had stopped charging.  “What’s going on?” I thought.  “There’s still plenty of sun”.  I unplugged the phone and plugged it back in.  After a minute, the charging stopped again, and a message popped up which suggested the charger wasn’t recognized.  I plugged my USB power bank back in and it resumed charging without issue.  I left it on for the rest of the afternoon and it fully charged.

After more trial and error, I eventually came to the conclusion that my phone itself had decided that the variable nature of the current coming from the charger (which changes with the strength of the sun) made it think something was wrong with the charger, and decided to ignore it.  Since the USB power bank doesn’t have that kind of intelligence (which in this case isn’t so intelligent), it gladly accepted whatever current the charger produced.

So, going forward, I would use the charger during the day for my USB power bank and other devices, then at night, I’d use the power bank to charge my phone.  This worked very well for me, since I use my phone for many reasons during the day.

I’ve included a couple of photos here showing my PowerPort Solar in action.  You can’t see the power bank being charged because I tuck it into a pocket in the PowerPort itself; this keeps the device being charged from getting too hot when sitting in direct sunlight.

I found it incredibly liberating to have so much power available, and not to have to be “miserly” with my device usage.  I was able to take long duration time lapses, use my GPS extensively, review and edit photos, without worrying that I’d “run out of juice”.

I’ve since upgraded to a newer phone and the latest OS version, and the phone now works as expected with the charger.  Regardless, I’m quite happy with the way I used the device this summer, and will continue to charge my power bank during the day so that my phone is aways available.

The bottom line here is simple: would I spend the money and buy the PowerPort Solar again?  Absolutely!  It has lightened my load, and I am no longer obsessed with power.

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Charging with the PowerPort Solar on a breakfast break

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