Hand Crank vs. Solar Array Charger: Which is Best?

More and more preppers are coming around to the idea that they don’t have to part with their electronic devices as part of their survival plan.

Used to be that smartphones, GPS and other gadgetry were considered “crutches” at best or liabilities due to their reliance on electricity, meaning a power grid, that was all too likely to be knocked offline more or less permanently during a long-term survival situation.

solar panels
solar panels

But that old way of thinking is being phased out thanks to the preponderance of lightweight, portable, personal power generation technology in the form of hand-cranked dynamos and solar charging arrays virtually everyone now has the capability to keep their devices charged no matter where they go and what kind of situation they are facing.

Folks today can take advantage of a wide array of on-the-go chargers, with solar arrays and hand-cranked dynamos being the most popular, and the most common.

The real question is: which is best for the average Joe: hand crank or solar?

Both hand crank and solar have significant advantages, and equally significant drawbacks, but overall, a solar charging system is better because it requires no input from you (so long as it has a clear line of sight to open sky during the daytime).

You can have your device or power bank charging while you attend to other tasks, and they even have a modicum of utility while on the move if carefully attached to your backpack. In the end, solar chargers provide greater efficiency for the average prepper because they allow you to effectively multitask.

But like most complicated topics the simplest answer is not always the complete one. We will provide you with a few more considerations to help you choose between these two capable charging systems below.

Hand Crank Charger, Advantages and Disadvantages

Far and away the single biggest advantage of hand crank chargers is they can provide power on demand in any conditions, indoor or outdoor, so long as you or someone else can provide enough muscle to turn the crank.

Though this is far from a speedy method of charging, a person with even reasonable physical capabilities can turn the crank rapidly enough to produce considerably more power than the average solar charger. Or at least, a solar charger in anything but ideal conditions.

For preppers who plan to bug in, are worried about atmospheric threats that could make going outside dangerous, or people who just live in areas that are notoriously overcast, and rainy hand crank chargers make a lot of sense.

You will not be reliant upon fickle clear weather and open sky to generate electricity. Put in just a little bit of effort, and you will get electricity in return.

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That is a pretty good bargain, and in addition many popular hand crank chargers are multifunction affairs with built-in LED flashlights, emergency disaster radios, and even their own power storage pack. Multi-function tools like this are a great way to save space and weight.

The biggest downside of the hand-crank charger is its most obvious: the mode of operation. Unlike windmills, hydroelectric generators and solar arrays, if someone isn’t running the crank you aren’t making any electricity.

This means that you are completely dedicated to the task or someone else is, no exceptions. This is generally a two-handed affair and any attempts to do anything else besides walking will be a complete boondoggle.

This might not seem like a big deal until you consider the enormous checklist of other tasks that you very well might have to attend to in a survival situation.

Even if your workload is comparatively small, what if you have several devices to charge, or are trying to charge one of your devices and completely refill your power bank before departing on a journey?

You might have to spend a lot of time cranking in order to accomplish that, time that could have been spent on something else if you weren’t using a hand-crank charger!

Bottom line, hand crank chargers are great when you have plenty of time or are worried about a lack of sunlight or even access to the open the sky at all. Assuming you have plenty of the latter a solar charger is probably a better choice.

Solar Array Charger, Advantages and Disadvantages

If you have been spending any time in the prepping sphere here lately you are probably already familiar with solar chargers in their various configurations.

These things have seemingly become the darlings of the camping and prepping world in the past couple of years and with good reason!

They are more reliable, more capable and more efficient than they have ever been, and costs continue to go down despite capability going up, up, up. That is a sure sign of a popular and a mature technology.

Solar chargers are the very picture of simplicity: unfold the charging array and lay it out, prop it up or hang it in such a way so that is directly facing the sun.

If the array does not have a built-in battery pack connect it to the device you want to recharge or to your own separate power bank. That’s it. So long as the sun’s rays are striking the solar cells you will be harvesting that sweet, sweet electricity on the cheap and with virtually zero effort.

When you are done, or it is just time to move, disconnect any connected devices and fold up the array before storing it and its case or bag. Ready to go!

But solar chargers to have their issues. The amount of power they produce as well as the speed at which they produce a given quantity of power is dependent greatly on ambient atmospheric conditions.

They won’t produce any power at night, will suffer from greatly reduced efficiency on an overcast or cloudy day and will start to lose efficiency if they are not kept squarely facing the sun, though this necessitates only a little bit of babysitting and rearranging throughout the day assuming the weather is clear.

Obviously, a solar charger is a non-starter if you are forced indoors unless you are lucky enough to have favorable sun coming through windows or skylights and even glass will impede the amount of energy that can be harvested.

Solar chargers also take as much time as they are going to take to produce a certain amount of electricity.

If you are willing to put a wildman on the crank or have plenty of stamina, you could conceivably produce the required amount of power and considerably less time using a hand crank charger.

This is mitigated somewhat by marginal utility while on the move with a solar charger, because you can rig up the panels on to your backpack in an effort to collect what sunlight you can while hiking.

Despite these shortcomings, a solar charging array allows you to generate electricity for all of your devices while you are busy with other things. That is a great advantage.


Solar and hand crank charging arrays both provide the average prepper with the ability to produce their own off-grid electricity completely independent of any power grid woes.

They both have considerable advantages and just as many drawbacks, but overall a solar charging array gets the nod from us because it allows you to recharge your devices without any interaction from you, freeing up your mind and your hands for other tasks and allowing you to be more efficient with what time you have.

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