Camping doesn’t always mean setting up in a campground. Many of us choose to go off-grid, at least occasionally. The longer you want to get away, the more challenging it becomes to power your electronics. As such, camping solar panels can be a game-changer.
Most people can’t live long term without electricity for both comfort and safety reasons. And those who go off-grid often prefer camping solar panels to a generator.
But it can be difficult navigating the many types and brands. So how do you decide what’s best for you? We’ll break down the types of camping solar panels as well as some of the best options. Here we go!
What Are Camping Solar Panels?
Solar panels capture light from the sun and separate electrons from atoms to generate electricity. This applies to rigid solar panels that you see on houses or in fields along the highway, as well as camping solar panels. The latter can look the same or vastly different than those you might recognize.
Camping solar panels can be small, flexible panels that typically fold up for easy storage. Unfolded, they can hang from a backpack or anywhere they can get direct sunlight. Larger flexible solar panels that look somewhat like the rigid ones on houses are thinner and are portable or mountable.
Finally, there are also rigid camping solar panels that resemble what you’d see on a home. Sometimes, they come in a sort of suitcase to make them portable. Others there are permanently affixed on the roof of your vehicle.
Types of Camping Solar Panels
These three major types of camping solar panels, as with most technology, have their benefits and drawbacks. Here’s a quick breakdown of each.
Portable Battery Power Pack Solar Kits
Portable power pack solar kits range from small battery packs with built-in or attached solar panels to batteries paired with stand-alone mobile panels.
Most smaller battery packs are useful for charging devices like cell phones, tablets, or hotspot internet devices. They usually feature USB ports for connecting and aren’t powerful enough to operate larger devices.
The most significant benefit? They can store energy for use after the sun goes down.
Some portable power packs are highly mobile, so you can take them on your next hike, bike ride, or other adventure. Most can hang from a backpack, the side of a tent, or even a tree branch while charging. They also frequently include an LED light.
There are also foldable solar panels that can generate more power than most battery packs. If they’re small enough, you could also carry them in a backpack like the battery packs, and they usually include several USB ports to charge multiple devices.
Because the panels are more powerful, they can even charge laptops while simultaneously charging a phone or tablet. The drawback is they don’t have storage capacity, so they’re only useful for charging while collecting sunlight unless you have a separate battery bank connected to the panels. Since most of these units are so small, a battery bank is rarely worthwhile.
Portable Solar Panels
If you want to power an RV or charge vehicle batteries, there are portable solar panels that fulfill this need. These panels might be foldable or rigid, but they’re much more powerful than most power pack kits.
To power the battery bank on your RV, you need to collect much more energy, which means that you need more and larger panels. A truck camper, van, travel trailer, or even smaller class B or class C motorhome often uses one to four batteries.
Portable solar panels can be ideal for many of these vehicles, particularly when you have limited exterior space on your rig. You can set up these powerful panels on the ground and reposition them throughout the day to maximize charging. They fold up for compact storage while traveling.
These are solar panels only, so you’ll need a separate battery or battery bank. You also need to connect the panels to the batteries via wires and a charge controller, which regulates the energy it collects and stores. Some portable solar panels come with cables and a charge controller; others do not.
A couple of the cons of portable panels are setting them up each time you move. They could also be easily stolen if you leave them out while you’re not home. So you either have to risk theft or store them, meaning you won’t be able to maximize charging time.
Mountable Solar Panels
Like portable solar panels, mountable solar panels are just what the name says: solar panels that you permanently mount to a surface. Most people with mounted solar panels attach them to their rig’s roof.
Mountable panels come in rigid or flexible forms. They’re typically more powerful than their portable counterparts, which is why you’ll frequently see them on larger motorhomes or fifth wheels. Class A motorhomes, in particular, can have large battery banks that require several panels to charge.
Once you install mounted solar panels, they’re an excellent option for collecting solar power even while driving. You also don’t have to pack them away when moving locations.
There’s more time and cost with installing mountable solar panels, though. They’re typically bolted down, so the mounts need to be watertight.
Another issue to consider with mounted solar panels is positioning your rig so that the panels face the sun for the maximum amount of time possible. You can mount solar panels on brackets that you can raise and tilt, adding a degree of flexibility. But you won’t be able to park in a shady spot like; you’ll need full sun.
Pro Tip: Read our Ultimate Solar System Blog to learn about our massive solar system on our RV
Best Camping Solar Panel Options
There are also numerous options of brands and the differences between their offerings.
We’ve created a list of what we believe are the best camping solar panel options. Let’s take a look!
Hiluckey 25000mAh Battery Solar Charger
This Hiluckey 25000mAh Solar Charger is one of the best options for a portable power bank. It is inexpensive, comes with an ample 25-amp-hour lithium-ion battery, has two USB ports and four foldable solar panels for quick charging.
- 25000mAh High Capacity: Built-in 25000mAh Li-polymer battery, it...
- 4 Solar Panels: With 4 foldable high-effeciency solar panels, up...
- Dual USB 2.1A Output: Dual 2.1A USB ports allow you to charge 2...
The Hiluckey power bank is five-volt compatible, meaning it will charge most cell phones and tablets but not laptops. It’s also shockproof and waterproof and comes with a built-in LED light with SOS mode in case of emergencies. You can hang it from a backpack, making it a solid choice to take on a hike, mountain bike ride, or to keep your phone charged while off-grid.
BigBlue Camping Solar Panel Charger
Similar to the Hiluckey power bank, the BigBlue 28-watt USB Solar Charger is relatively inexpensive. It’s a foldable solar panel unit with three USB ports rated to charge five-volt devices. Again, this means it will work for most cell phones and tablets.
- Upgraded Triple USB-A Ports: Each maximum output is 5V/2.4A and...
- Portable Camping Solar Panel: BigBlue USB solar charger is a...
- High Solar Conversion: Highly efficient SunPower solar panel...
The solar panels on the BigBlue are larger than the Hiluckey, meaning quicker charging. It’s still portable, can be hung from a backpack, is waterproof, and folds down to the size of a magazine.
Unlike the Hiluckey, the BigBlue is truly a solar panel charger only, meaning that it does not have a battery to store power. You can use it to charge devices on the fly.
DOKIO Portable Solar Panel Kit
The DOKIO 300-Watt Solar Panel Kit is an excellent foldable, lightweight option if you want to charge a solar-powered generator, power pack, or a 12-volt battery.
- LIGHTWEIGHT AND ULTRA-THIN FOR EASIER MOVING: This solar panel...
- FOLDABLE AND PORTABLE DESIGN: The panel is well protected in a...
- HIGH CONVERSION EFFICIENCY: With high efficiency monocrystalline...
You can’t connect your electronic device directly to the panel, so it’s best used with some kind of battery storage. The DOKIO comes with a charge controller that can power a 12-volt battery.
The nice thing about the DOKIO 300-watt kit is that it’s four lightweight, flexible solar panels held together with a nylon material that makes them easy to fold and store. It also has a carrying bag and comes with several cables and adapters to attach to the charger and battery or directly to a power bank.
Jackery Portable Solar Charger
The Jackery Explorer 500 is a solar generator. You can’t run all of your appliances at once off of this generator, but it carries a hefty amount of power at 500 watts of output and 24 amp hours of operation. It can operate your RV lights, television, computer, cell phones, tablets, mini-fridge, etc.
- LONG LASTING ENDURANCE: The Explorer 500 portable power station...
- THE PERFECT CAPACITY: With a 518 watt-hour (24Ah, 21.6V)...
- SUPPORT PASS-THROUGH CHARGING: This power station features 1* AC...
The Jackery has a lithium-ion battery, which means you can get maximum usage of the stored power without damaging the battery. It has numerous charging options, including a 12-volt carport, three USB ports, and a 120-volt AC outlet.
The battery charges in about 8.5 hours with the included SolarSaga 100-watt, foldable solar panel. You can also use your vehicle’s 12-volt outlet or plug it into a 120-volt AC outlet to charge it.
It’s also worth noting that the SolarSaga solar panel has two onboard USB ports if you want to charge your cell phone or tablet without using the generator.
Renogy Portable Solar Panels
The Renogy Eclipse Monocrystalline Solar Suitcase is another portable option, but it fills the middle ground between lightweight, flexible solar panels and traditional mounted rigid solar panels.
- Compatible with gel, sealed, Lithium, and flooded batteries.
- Excellent performance in low-light environments, alligator clips...
- Adjustable, Corrosion-Resistant aluminum stand as well as a heavy...
The Renogy Suitcase is two 50-watt solar panels on an adjustable aluminum stand, like what you might see on a house or business roof. They’re easy to fold and store in a protective carrying case.
Some of the flexible options we mentioned earlier are great because you can easily move them and point them directly at the sun. You have similar portability with the Renogy Suitcase, which is slightly heavier, but that can be beneficial since they hold up better in windy conditions and aren’t damaged as easily.
These rigid monocrystalline solar panels also perform well in low-light conditions and are compatible with a wide variety of 12-volt batteries. It also comes with a robust, five-stage charge controller that maximizes charging and increases safety.
If you want something a little more substantial than flexible solar panels but aren’t ready to commit to mounted solar panels, the Renogy Eclipse Monocrystalline Solar Suitcase is an affordable option that gives you the best of both worlds.
Renogy Mountable Solar Panels
Just like the Renogy Suitcase, these 100-watt mountable solar panels are rigid monocrystalline panels with most of the same benefits.
- [Reliable Power Output] Renogy's 100W monocrystalline solar panel...
- [Efficient Performance] Bypass diodes protect the solar cells...
- [Industry-Leading Technology] This Renogy 100W 12V...
If you’re ready to commit to mounted panels, Renogy is one of the premier brands on the market, known for reliability, customer service, and durability. They can handle years of being in the elements and are manufactured with enhanced impact resistance, making them a perfect option for RVers.
They’re relatively lightweight, so you can mount several 100-watt panels together to charge even the largest battery banks via Renogy’s advanced charge controlling systems.
Which Panels Will You Choose?
Ultimately, camping solar panels offer an excellent way to go off-grid or make more eco-friendly power choices, and there are numerous options to meet your needs.
Whether you want to have just enough solar-powered energy to keep your cell phone charged or you want to power a massive class A battery bank, the right solar panels can do it.
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