Small Things – The Solio Bolt

Failures In Portable Solar Charging

The Solio Bolt is a portable solar-powered charging device. I received my Bolt as part of the Bosavi Headlamp project that I backed a couple of years ago on Kickstarter. It was a package option at one of the backing levels and I figured it would be a good foray into portable solar charging… not all things turn out as one would hope however. While the headlamp proved to be great, the Solio Bolt has failed to deliver the goods.

Overview and Specs

As mentioned in the intro, The Solio Bolt is a portable solar-powered charging device. Open it up, put it in the sun for a day, and it will charge any of your devices with a micro-USB port. Such devices may include your smart phone, handheld GPS, headlamp, and camera, among others. The Bolt has an on-board battery so it can store a charge to be used later, or charge a device while it’s soaking up the sun. When hanging out in town or at home, the Bolt can be charged up by connecting it to the USB port of a computer, or a wall adapter.

  • Battery Storage Capacity: 2000 mAh
  • Charge Time: 8-10 hours
  • Output: 5.5V, 450 mA, 2.4W
  • Dimensions: 3.5×3.5×1 inches
  • Weight: 5.3 oz
  • MSRP: $69

Initial Impressions

I was fairly impressed with how compact and relatively lightweight the Bolt was when I received it. It came fully charged and I connected it to one of my headlamps which reached full charge in a couple of hours, draining the Bolt by about half it’s internal charge. Not bad I thought, however that was early on still. As I would later discover, getting a complete charge on the Bolt using sunlight is not the easiest thing in the world to do.

The Solio Bolt
The Solio Bolt

In the Field

The bolt is small and light enough to stuff into the pocket of a backpack, or even a pants pocket. To use it, it just needs to be flipped open which exposes both of the solar panels, then placed in direct sunlight. Direct Sunlight being key. Solio mentions that it needs direct exposure and even a pane of glass will prevent the on-board battery from fully charging. As I’ve discovered it also won’t fully charge if behind mesh in a backpack, and it won’t fully charge if it’s partly cloudy outside, or if hiking under a combination of sun and shade, or even in direct sunlight if it’s not propped up at the correct angle! The package includes a wooden pencil of all things (pointy, marks everything up – ditched it for a stick)… well as the directions indicate this is to go through the hole in the unit and is used to prop it up to face directly towards the sun and provide adjustment as the angle of the sun changes. Not that someone needs to babysit their charger and adjust its angle continuously, but ideal charging would require several adjustments over the course of a day; unless you’re lounging around camp that’s just not gonna happen. The reality is, in all but the best sunny weather, it’s only going to make enough juice to get a smartphone up to about 30-50% on a daily basis. In cloudy weather don’t expect much, if anything, from the Bolt.

Dual Solar Panels
Dual Solar Panels
Closed for Size Comparison
Closed for Size Comparison

Problems and Warranty Issues

Sadly the problems for the Bolt don’t end there. The biggest “gotcha!” may be the fact that you have to nurture your Bolt as if it were a living thing! If the Bolt is not charged at least once a month the battery will die, forever. This would (presumably) require sending the unit to Solio to have the battery replaced for an unspecified cost. IF you can manage to source a battery (anyone??) online you can do it yourself, however this will void your warranty. Speaking of warranties, you may not even have one to begin with. Unless the unit was purchased from one of a very small list of authorized dealers, you don’t have a warranty. Did you buy it from REI, Backcountry Gear, Newegg, B&H, Amazon… so sorry, no warranty for you! Solio’s warranty page is all lawyer-speak and doesn’t give one the impression that they care about their customers much. That aside it would have been nice if they at least put an insert into the package with a big “STOP!” label on it that goes on to make sure the end user understands that the battery must be maintained. Mine is now dead and shall never live again.

In Summary…

The Bolt has been a disappointment. Straight up. Are there any solar powered charging units out there at (or near) this size and weight that actually work well? That’s a good question. In ideal weather and circumstances the Bolt performs decently enough. However, under more typical scenarios the Bolt ultimately falls shot in terms of performance, in terms of required maintenance, and in terms of the warranty and customer support that Solio offers. Give it some thought before you… Hike It. Like It.

Jacob D Written by:

Jacob is the head honcho, wearer of many hats, and modern day berserker here at Hike It. Like It. When he's not out hiking or running the trails you'll find him operating in full capacity as a Super Dad and chipping away at a degree in Kinesiology. This guy likes to stay busy. Follow on Strava

3 Comments

  1. Glaswegian
    October 14, 2014
    Reply

    I’ve used a few solar panels and found this to be the best:

    https://www.powertraveller.com/en/shop/portable-chargers/outdoor-adventure/solarmonkey-adventurer/

    It’s got a 2500mAh battery built in which isn’t huge but it’s a realistic size considering how much energy you’re likely to gather during a day. It’s easy to hang on a pack and is quite light compared to anything comparable from Goal Zero or others. I’ve had mine for 2.5 years and it’s still going strong.

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