We’re all living our lives in a hustle nowadays, running errands and waiting for a gasp of fresh air. That’s why so many people nowadays enjoy getting out in nature and enjoying a day or two of breathing mountain air. Who doesn’t love camping? It’s truly a gift to be able to go out in nature and venture outdoors. However, when we’re wandering around the woods, we need to be properly prepared. It doesn’t matter if you’re driving an RV, or if you take the trip with a car, we all need energy sources when we’re out there – and solar panels have proven to be a great choice for that.
In this article, we’ll be taking a look at camping solar panels available, comparing them to one another and pointing out the best you can buy for your needs.
Before we start with listing the products, we need to take a look at how solar panels work, what are their benefits, what things we need to be careful about, and what types of solar panels out there. Let’s get started!
There are many benefits you can get from using solar panels on your camping trip. They can charge your devices almost anywhere. This is actually the main selling point of solar panels. They can conjure energy virtually out of thin air, although it’s actually coming from the sun. As long as your panel has access to the sun, you’ll be able to charge your devices.
They’re also capable of charging batteries. You can hook them up with your rechargeable battery packs and you can use them to charge your devices even when there’s no more sun. This way, you can have power even during the night. They’re also pretty silent, so they won’t keep you up at night (unlike generators who are infamously loud).
Using a solar panel lets you travel to remote areas where electricity isn’t accessible, and since this source of power is completely renewable, you’re keeping the planet healthy. You’ll also be saving money, since you won’t have to pay any fees for power sites.
There are differences when it comes to how much power you can get from a solar panel. Obviously, solar panels differ in sizes, and different sizes of solar panels have different outputs of energy. Generally, the larger the solar panel, the more amount of sunlight it can absorb, which results in a larger energy output. Solar panels also function better in cooler areas (contrary to the popular belief, as people connect sunlight to warmth, which is true, but irrelevant when it comes to solar panels). Areas that keep the temperature at 20 degrees Celsius or less are better for solar panels, although warmer areas don’t really take away too much – solar panels are only 0.3% less efficient in warmer areas.
The difference between use of solar panels depends on your needs. If you’re camping with an RV, there are panels you can mount at the top of your vehicle. If you’re camping with a tent, this can be an issue and you may be more interested in solar blankets (same thing, they’re just foldable).
The crucial thing is placement – you do not want any part of your panel to be in the shade, and you do not want dust to get on it. Clearly, you can’t control the wind, so make sure to clean your panel if you notice any dust on it.
You also need to gauge how much power you’ll need your panel to generate. You don’t want to buy a panel that won’t produce enough power for your camping trip. You can easily calculate how much power you need by adding up all of your appliances’ power draws, often shown on the products’ labels. The amount of energy your panel can produce is usually clearly defined in the description.
When choosing your panel, you don’t want to buy a panel that’s not strong enough, as you’ll be running out of energy. You also don’t want to buy a panel that’s too strong, as it’s a waste of money – sure, you’ll have energy in excess, but that’s unnecessary and smaller panels with less power are usually cheaper.
When we’re discussing types of solar panels; let’s first take a look at how they’re constructed. We have multi-fold and multi-panels.
Multi-fold – these panels are the largest when they’re unfolded, and the panels themselves aren’t usually large, but there are many of them. They’re made to fit a substantial solar collecting surface area into a transportable package. These panels are great because they can be moved around easily because they fold. However, once you open them up and they start collecting energy, you shouldn’t move them around.
Multi-panel – these chargers are made to be portable even when they’re charging. They usually have three or four panels with canvas casings that can be worn over backpacks and charge devices even when the wearer is on the move. This is great if you’re trekking or backpacking. However, panels that have metal or plastic cases can go through a lot and still work functionally, so you should be careful when using these panels.
There are also three main types of panels when discussing what they’re made of. Classic, crystalline and amorphous silicon.
Classic panels are made of crystalline silicon and come in monocrystalline or polycrystalline models. Monocrystalline models are more efficient than their polycrystalline counterparts – meaning that they get more energy from the same amount of sunlight. They’re also more expensive.
Amorphous silicon panels are cheaper and less efficient, but they’re foldable and crazily mobile. They’re very flexible, as well. That’s why they’re less efficient, so they need much more space in order to function.
Lastly, we have crystalline panels. They’re rigid and more fragile, that’s why they need to be covered with a glass layer and it’s difficult to move them around. Their efficiency, however, is less affected by higher temperatures.
Before we move on to listing the panels, let’s talk about the features that are important to think about. These features are prices, efficiency, portability, charging ports, and amperage.
When it comes to pricing, portable solar panels are usually cheaper – less than $100. They’re also less effective and powerful.
Stationary power panels are much more powerful and efficient, but they’re less portable and usually cost over 100$.
Efficiency – solar panels can’t effectively use all solar energy that they receive. They can usually only absorb about a quarter of that energy, with the best solar panels absorbing 23% or more. Lower quality solar panels absorb about 20%.
Portability – it’s pointless buying a solar panel for camping if you won’t be able to move it around properly, that’s why you need to make the important distinction between choosing panels you can use while hiking, and ones you set up and leave to work. If you’ll be moving around a lot, panels you can hang on your backpack should be your choice, but if you’ll live a sedentary life in nature, then you should be good with stagnant panels.
Most solar panels only have two USB ports for charging. If you need to charge your phone(s) and nothing else, then that should be enough. However, if you need more, then you should look for a panel with more ports.
When it comes to amperage, most solar panels have only 2.4 amps of power, and that won’t charge your phone quickly. Only high-end panels have quick charging abilities.
Now, let’s move on to actual camping solar panels.
- BigBlue Foldable Solar Charger – Best Overall
This camping solar panel is great if you’re looking for a powerful charger that’s also portable. The panel hosts three USB ports, so you can charge multiple devices at the same time without running the risk of short circuiting, overcharging or overheating. The polymer surface it dons is great for protection from light rain and moisture, but you’ll still need to clean it from dust. All the ports are covered by a cloth flap and rubber cover to protect them from dust or water damage. It’s a 28 watt-panel, and it’s not that heavy – only 20.6 ounces, and it’s only 11.1 inches wide with 6.3 inches across.
With this panel, you get a micro USB cable for almost all 5V Android devices & some DSLRs, but you’re going to need an additional cable for Apple devices.
According to the manufacturer, BigBlue foldable solar charger panel bag is small and light enough to fit into any camping backpack, hiking daypack, or emergency kit. The highly efficient SunPower panel will convert up to 23.5% of solar power into free energy with enough sunlight.
When it comes to support, within the package you’ll be getting: BigBlue 28W Solar Phone Charger, 50cm micro USB Cable, a user manual, 24-month Worry Free Card and friendly customer service.
Once you open it up, you’ll find four panels, and the buckles allow it to be suspended from your back, or you can hook them up at your camping site. This panel doesn’t store energy, so you can’t charge anything while it’s off – you can only use it during the day. The manufacturer also offers a two-year warranty.
To use it, all you have to do is unfold the panels in direct sunlight with no cover or shadow, connect your device(s) to the panel, and wait for the red LED light to go on (that means that the panels are working normally).
Here’s a comment left by one of the many satisfied customers “Very satisfied with this product. Use it every day on Denali. This means it was quite exposed to different elements: I had to stuff it in my backpack with other things, rain/snow drizzled on it, very cold at night, etc.. Never stopped working. Given the three outlets more people of our expedition came to me to use my charger since it was the most reliable one. The holes on the edges and the carabiners that come with it make it very easy to attach it in a way that it can soak up a lot of sun.”
This model is definitely a great overall choice if you’re looking for something that’s good all around. And here’s a link where you can purchase it.
- Feelle Solar Charger – Budget Pick
Feelle is definitely one of the top choices if you’re travelling on a budget. It’s almost the same size as most smartphones, so you don’t have to worry about it fitting with the rest of your gear. However, once it unfolds it reveals three solar panels and a battery backup.
The 24000mAh Power Bank has built-in an eco-friendly 24000mAh Li-Polymer battery, the battery can fully charge an iPhone 6s 10 times, iPhone 7 9 times, Samsung S7 5.5 times, and an iPad Air 3 times.
According to the manufacturer, the portable solar charger with 3 highly efficient solar panels can be charged faster in sunlight. It is 3 – 5 times faster than single panel solar chargers.
USB outputs are all waterproof, and there are two of them, so you can charge two devices simultaneously. The ports are 2.1A, and the multi-protect safety system ensures complete protection for the solar charger itself and your devices.
The solar charger also has a flashlight mode with three different modes of work; steady, SOS, and strobe. This can be great for walking or using in a tent, and it can come in handy during an emergency.
In the package, you get the solar charger, one micro USB cable, and a user manual.
What’s great about this design is the fact that it’s so portable and that it’s waterproof. You should definitely take a closer look at it if you’re on a tight budget, and you can do so here.
Here’s a review from a satisfied customer “Just got this a couple weeks ago and took it out on a 3-day kayak/camping trip. Love how I could just strap it to the front of the kayak and let it charge. I was in and out of the sun all day, with a good amount of cloud coverage, and never seemed to have any issues getting fully charged. Once in the tent and ready to call it a day, I just connected my phone, and by morning, I was fully charged and ready to go.
However, if you’re one of those people who are always on your phone, this item does take a good while to charge your phone. It’s not a quick charge at all. But, when you’re out on the water, camping, and enjoying Mother Nature, you shouldn’t be on your phone anyways. I do use my phone for maps and for emergencies, when on trips. But, for the most part I usually don’t have reception where I’m at anyways.”
- GoerTek Solar Power Bank
This unit can charge your camping trip even if you’re planning on packing very lightly. It’s very light, in fact it weighs only 1.18 pounds, and it’s just 7 inches long by 3.8 inches of width.
The portable solar charger has a batter built in, so it will store power once it goes dark. The built-in 25000mAh Li-polymer battery is enough to charge an iPhone XS 7.4 times, a Galaxy S9 Plus 5.7 times, and an iPad Pro 1.6 times! You have two charging methods with this charging device. The portable solar power bank powered by 5V/2A adapter (the adapter is not included) or solar. The blue indicator light is on when you’re charging with the adapter, and the green indicator light is on when you’re charging with the solar panel.
With this device, you get three USB charging ports which you can use at the same time.
The USB power bank uses ABS environmentally friendly material, which is also stylish and sleek. It has 36 LED lights built in the device with powerful lighting functions.
Along with the portable solar power bank, you also get 1 carabiner, 1 USB cable and a user manual.
The reason this solar panel is so popular is because it’s almost impossible to go out without having a source of power. According to the manufacturer, the panel is waterproof, shockproof, and dustproof. Take this with a grain of salt, as dust is really important when it comes to solar panels, so you should always check it before you use it.
The lighting option is great in case of power outages, and you also don’t have to bother to bring a lantern.
Here’s a review from a satisfied customer “I absolutely love this solar charger. It has three USB ports so I can charge my phone and tablet at the same time. It is solar so it is perfect for taking with me hunting, fishing, camping or anywhere I go that does not have a AC power outlet. It will change my phone just as fast as plugging into the wall. This is a must have item with all the electronics I use on a daily basis. Another great thing is, if your power goes out you don’t have to worry about keeping your phone changed without power.”
- Renogy 100-Watt Monocrystalline Solar Suitcase
If you have a more established campsite and you’re hosting more people, rather than going alone, you will need more power. Now, instead of having to hassle with bringing several solar panels, why not just bring a single really powerful panel? This is where Renogy comes in.
This is the most powerful option on this list, and the aluminum (that’s also resistant to corrosion) and the hardware used to set it up make this a great option for long-term camping sites. You can use it with your camping spot, RV, or a mobile home.
You can use this panel to charge all kinds of batteries; gel, sealed, lithium, and flooded. The systems will stay safe because the panel uses a charge controller, so you don’t have to worry about an overload happening. With this panel, you also have an LCD screen where you can check the current status and performance.
It can operate safely from negative forty degrees to ninety degrees Celsius. The panel is also quite large, but it folds into a 25.9-inch by 35.6-inch case, so it’s portable, as well. It weighs only 40 pounds.
According to the manufacturer, the panel’s stand is adjustable and corrosion-resistant, and you don’t have to worry about the longevity of the system – it’s all heavy duty. This is all packaged in a protective casing, so it’s not clumsy to carry and it’s always protected from possible damage.
The setup also has a 10A built-in solar charge controller which is here to ensure overcharge protection, which should be very important to you if you’re worried about fire risks. The positive-ground charge controller is compatible with RVs, boats, trailers, etc. and the low-voltage system works on decreasing shock hazards.
If you’re interested in this option, you can check it out here.
And here’s another review from a satisfied customer “I bought this to charge the deep cycle battery on my RV and to charge the Duracell Powerpack 600 (26ah AGM battery inside) when car camping, which runs an ARB portable fridge and some other smaller items. I tested it recently at sea level on a 65 degree no clouds day in TX and I was quite pleased to see peak outputs of 7 amps from the panel when I really loaded up the battery. Later I disconnected the battery from the panels and depleted it to around 40%. After reconnecting, it was near fully charged in around 2 hours. The complaints about the dim LEDs on the controller are not an issue for me as I would rather not waste power on bright LEDs that I will rarely look at. The charge controller is the same one used on another similar kit being sold on Amazon for over $500. It claims to be fully waterproof including the controller and from the looks of it that is true. The build quality is solid and the case seems like it will do a good job of keeping the panels protected. I can see no reason to buy one of the more expensive kits if you can get this level of performance at such a low price.”
- Renogy 50-Watt Flexible Camping Solar Panel
If you’re looking to get the best value for your money, this 50-watt flexible camping solar panel is the way to go, as it’s excellent for boats, RVs, and camping trips.
The surfaces of this solar panel system are curved, as traditional solar panels are usually flat. This often represents problems with mounting, but you won’t be seeing any of those problems with this panel system. The ultra-lightweight design used to create this system from advanced polymer materials makes it 70% lighter than traditional modules. This is great for transport, as it won’t bring a lot of weight to your car or RV.
The junction box of this solar panel is completely waterproof, so you can easily bring it to your boat without having the fear of a short circuit. It’s also been tested for winds and it can withstand extreme winds and heavy snow loads. Also, the technology behind the panel guarantees that no hot spots will form. To quote the manufacturer “Rigorously tested, the 50W panel was designed to withstand extreme wind of up to 2400 PA and snow loads of up to 5400 PA.”
It can also gather sunlight at any angle because of the transparent dots used in its design. These dots cause refraction, and that allows using the energy of the Sun twice.
According to the manufacturer, this panel can meet a wide range of applications, which sets it aside from other panels. It can mount to a lot of places where most panels would be inconvenient to mount, like a curved roof of an airstream.
The hardly noticeable Renogy 50W lightweight panel is laid flat, and it’s only a tenth of an inch tall – this makes it ideal for a solar setup.
If you’re interested in the product, you can check it out here.
And here’s a quote from a satisfied customer “After installing two panel sets of another brand that eventually failed, I decided to try these on the roof of my Road Trek Van. So far, so good after two months in the hot sun. Voltage and current is what I would expect to charge/top-off the AGM house battery through a 20A controller. These panels appear to be better constructed than the ones they replace. Another plus is that they are close to the width of the old panels and I was able to use mirror holder brackets with rubber spacers to secure the panels with the same mounting holes I had used for the old panels.