Solar chargers are available in many shapes and sizes these days from small rechargeable battery packs to larger solar charger backpacks. Allowing you to charge virtually anywhere (as long as there is sunlight) these chargers are great for people backpacking or travelling in areas where the nearest power socket might be miles away. But to get to those destinations in the first place you are likely to have to fly and so a common question many people have is ‘can I take a solar charger on a plane’?
In short, the answer is yes solar chargers can be taken on a plane but if they contain a battery it should go in your carry on bag and shouldn’t exceed 100wH in power.
Does my solar charger have a battery?
This is the first question to ask yourself in determining whether or not your solar charger is allowed on a plane.
Some solar chargers contain a battery and the solar panel charges a lithium battery up which can then be used to power other electronic devices via USB.
However, some solar chargers simply charge devices directly via USB and don’t store any of the energy generated in batteries.
This distinction is important because there are no restriction in taking solar panels themselves on a plane (apart from the size of course, they have to fit in a bag!). But there are restrictions on some lithium batteries and therefore if your charger has a battery carry on reading to see if it is allowed.
What are the Federal Aviation Authorities guidelines on batteries?
Pretty much all solar chargers on the market contain lithium based batteries. The reason for this is because they are rechargeable. This is done by a clever process where lithium ions flow in one direction to release electrons to provide power and then the ion flow is reversed to recharge the battery (click here for a full explanation).
This process however makes these particular types of battery vulnerable to catching fire if they become damaged.
Therefore, the advice from the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) is:
- To avoid putting devices containing these batteries in your checked bag, where they are more susceptible to being damaged and potentially catching fire. They state that if it is necessary to pack a lithium battery in check luggage that it should be packed so as to prevent it from accidental damage.
- Uninstalled lithium batteries (i.e ones not inside a device) are prohibited from being in a checked bag and must be taken onto the plane in a carry-on bag.
- Any damaged or defective batteries should not be taken on the plane in any luggage, which may seem obvious now.
- Lithium -ion batteries rated above 100 watt hours (Wh) per battery are prohibited in any luggage.
Which rules apply to my solar charger?
It still might not be clear after reading that advice, which rules apply to your solar charger so I will attempt to answer that.
Carry on or checked baggage?
You may be wondering if a solar charger counts as a device containing a battery, or whether it counts as a spare uninstalled battery?
Well according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA) power banks are considered spare batteries and therefore are treated as such and should only be taken in carry-on luggage.
How to tell if a solar charger is over 100Wh
Rules state that any power bank over 100Wh cannot be taken on a plane without prior approval and even with prior approval this must not exceed 160Wh.
Before you go scrolling through your solar charger specifications to see if your charger exceeds this, bear in mind you are unlikely to see any figures stated in Wh and are much more likely to see a number followed by the abbreviation mAh instead.
mAh stands for milliampere hours rather than watt hours. Milliampere hours is a good way of comparing batteries of the same type as it tells you how many hours of charge the power bank can supply, which is the thing you want to know as a consumer. Watt hours are the number of watts supplied per hour, not very useful to compare batteries as a consumer but more useful for comparing different battery types.
You can work out how many watt hours your solar charger is equivalent to by using a simple equation which is:
mAh/1000 x 3.7 = wH
This 3.7 is the nominal voltage and is pretty much 3.7v in all lithium based batteries.
So let’s take the Bonai Solar charger (shown below) as an example. The battery boasts 30,000mAh so:
30,000/1000 x 3.7 = 111wH
Therefore to take this particular charger on a plane it is likely you must first get permission from the airline. If you have entered the amount of mAh for your charger into this formula it is therefore definitely worth checking with your airline before you fly to avoid it getting confiscated.
Examples of solar chargers that can be taken on a plane
So with solar chargers now trying to boast as many mAh as possible you may actually find that in a lot of cases this now means you can’t actually take them on a plane. Many of the solar chargers you will see on Amazon these days claim 30,000 or even 50,000 mAh which will be over the allowed 100wH you can take on board.
So I’ve had a look for a few solar charger options that you can take on a flight:
This is a great option for a traveller where saving space and weight is a priority. The Renology solar Bluetooth speaker is as you might have guessed a solar-powered Bluetooth speaker, but with the added bonus of USB ports so you can charge your phone and other electronic devices too.
Coming in at 5,000mAh that equates to approximately 18.5wH and therefore puts it well within the range that is allowed on a plane.
The sound quality of the speaker is also really great for something so small with plenty of bass coming through. It should give you up to 10 hours of power too.
If you want a bit more power without exceeding the limit the 15,000mAh RAVPower solar charger works out at an equivalent of approximately 55wH. This charger is dustproof and shockproof so great if you are planning on hiking and camping on your travels.
It claims to be able to charge an iPhone 7 over 4 times and does this quickly via a USB-C connection with 3 outputs meaning you can charge 3 devices at the same time.
Can I take a solar backpack on a plane?
Solar backpacks are becoming more popular and are a great way to be able to charge electronics whilst on the move. They allow you to access the suns power whilst hiking or cycling for example which is great when travelling.
Solar backpacks (such as this one from Faraz) look and function like regular backpacks in most ways but with the added bonus of a built-in solar panel.
Most solar backpacks don’t actually store power in a battery and are used to directly charge devices via USB. For this reason they will not be restricted by the same rules as solar charges and should be allowed on a plane both as check and carry-on luggage.
Other things to bear in mind
Some airlines take carry-on bags off passengers at the gate due to a plane being particularly busy. So remember if this happens to you to take your solar charger out of the bag and on with you into the cabin.
There is a good chance you will be able to take your solar charger on a plane but you are best taking it in your carry-on bag and check the settings and see if it complies with the rules in this article.
I will caveat this article by saying that this is just broad advice and if you have any specific questions or are still unsure if our solar charger fits with the rules then contact your airline for advice before flying.