Even if you rarely go camping and you’ve only set foot in REI a handful of times, chances are pretty good that you’ve heard the name BioLite before. The company got its start with a hugely successful biofuel camp stove, but in the past few years, it has slowly begun to branch out and expand its product offering. We recently got our hands on the company’s BioLite Solar Panel 5+ and PowerLight Mini, and took them for a camping trip to test their mettle.
Let’s start with the The SolarPanel 5+. This gizmo is basically a lightweight and highly portable solar panel that provides 5W of power with full sunlight. It has a sun dial on the top corner that helps you aim the panel directly at the sun, maximizing efficiency. It’s really clever and simple to use, as you just adjust the kickstand to angle the SolarPanel 5+ correctly. The kickstand can also be swiveled so you can hang the solar panel from a tree, whereas the corners of the SolarPanel 5+ have corner latches so you can strap it to your backpack and charge while hiking.
The SolarPanel 5+ is also weather resistant, and features an ultra-thin design that allows it to dissipate heat faster. Just plug your USB cord to the back of the SolarPanel 5+, and your phone or device will start charging immediately. An LED indicator on the side allows you to see how much power the 5+ generates from sunlight. In our tests with full sunlight, the panel drew just under 5 volts and 1 amp of current, which is pretty on par with most indoor wall chargers. The SolarPanel 5+ will charge most phones fully within one hour, and can fully charge a tablet within 2 hours. And the 5+ has a 2,200 mAh battery, so you can continue charging your devices at night. The added battery also helps the 5+ consistently charge devices with partly cloudy weather.
Next up, we’ve got the PowerLight Mini — an ultra slim stainless steel enclosed lantern with an internal 1,350 mAh battery that can double to charge devices. It uses high efficiency LED lights to provide soft, even light for use as a lantern, and also has a bright point-light so it can be used as a flashlight. On the back of the device, you’ll find a small kickstand that can be clipped to a pocket, made to stand on its own, or hung from a tree. To charge devices, just lift the rubber flap on the right hand-side and plug in a USB cord.
The PowerLight Mini has multiple lighting modes, including a dimmable white lantern, a red night-vision lantern, a red and white strobe light for biking, and a white point light. A bike mount is included in the box. The best part about the PowerLight Mini having a large internal battery means you can get up to 52 hours of light, and 5 and a half hours of light at maximum brightness.
Both the SolarPanel 5+ and PowerLight Mini are incredibly well-designed. We never had to worry about having a drained phone over our weekend-long camping trip, and we were quite impressed with how both devices handled multiple days of dusty and windy camping in Arizona.