Hate to say it, but solar chargers are usually a craptastic waste of time. That may sound jaded, but believe me — no one wants them to work more than I do. The ability to charge portables using the power of the sun is a really tempting proposition, and I’ve checked out my fair share of them.

These are finicky gadgets. They need to be set in direct sunlight, and even then, they take several days — sometimes even several weeks — to fully charge its own battery before it can then power up your device. And most of them seriously lack in manufacturing quality or materials, feeling like a breakable Cheapy McCheaperstein in your hands.

Still, I lie in wait with fingers crossed, hoping someone — anyone — will crack this nugget and deliver something of quality that works well and doesn’t tank after a short while.

Looks like Bootstrap Solar has answered the call, and with a unique twist: The company has a Chi-qoo Solar Power Pack that lets people build a powerful solar charger at home. People with a knack for tinkering and about an hour to kill can pick up this DIY package, which includes:

  • 5W monocrystalline solar panel (with room for a second, for a total of 10W). One solar panel measures 6.3in x 8.66 inches
  • Bamboo enclosure
  • 6000mAh/22Wh battery (capacity equates to approximately 4-5 times as much power as an average smartphone’s built-in battery)
  • 2 USB ports (1.5A)
  • Optional AC adapter
  • Charging speed: Able to juice up a smartphone in 1-1.5 hrs

The total price for the pack is $117 (or $160 with a second panel, which is ideal for full-charging iPads), so it’s not exactly cheap. But if you’re penny-pinching, you could go rogue instead. Since the design is open-source, you could just cobble together your own parts.

Once assembled, you’ve got a fully functional charging pack. (And look, Ma! No exploited foreign workers required!) Just set it soak in the sunrays to power up, plug in your gear, and you’re ready to go.

[via TreeHugger, source Bootstrap Solar]