Are you tired of going camping with a noisy, gas-guzzling generator? Then portable solar panels are the right solution for you. Portable solar panels allow you to generate solar energy to provide clean power whenever you’re on the go.
In this blog, we take a look at what portable solar panels are, find the best ones available, and discuss what you should keep in mind when shopping for them.
What are portable solar panels?
When you install a solar system on your roof, the solar cells in the solar panels convert sunlight into usable solar electricity for your home.
Portable solar panels apply the same concept on a small, mobile scale, which allows you to generate power on the go. Their easy-to-use features and compact design makes it so simple, just about anyone can set up these portable power stations when they need them.
Portable solar panels are very popular for RV camping. They allow you to generate electricity even when you’re residing outside of an established campground. Keep in mind, portable solar panels are much smaller than a residential rooftop solar system, so they produce a lot less electricity.
However, they can produce just the right amount to run a few small appliances, or charge batteries, which makes them perfect for off-grid camping.
What are the best portable solar panels for RVs?
There are many different portable solar panels on the market, but we put together a list of some of our top picks for the best portable solar panels for camping.
1. Renogy Solar 100 watts 12 volts monocrystalline Solar Starter Kit
Price: $155.56 Buy Now
Renogy’s solar starter kit is our pick for the best overall portable solar panel. Image source: Amazon
Renogy Solar’s Solar Starter Kit is great for first-time portable solar system users, as it comes with everything you need. The package comes with:
- One 100 watt monocrystalline solar panel
- 30A PWM charge controller
- 20-foot MC4 adapter kit
- 8-foot tray cables
It also includes mounting brackets, making it easy to hang on your boat or RV. The MC4 adapter kit allows you to make the system larger by connecting more solar panels.
The 100 watt solar panel is highly efficient, and under ideal conditions can produce 500 watt hours (Wh) per day. That is enough to fully charge a 50Ah battery power bank, which will allow you to have power even when the sun isn’t shining.
And thanks to the included charge controller, you don’t have to worry about overcharging your battery. Plus, the included 8 foot cable allows you to park your RV in the shade while keeping the panel in the sun for maximum production.
2. HQST 100 watt 12 volt polycrystalline solar panel
Price: $74.99 Buy Now
HQST’s portable polycrystalline solar panel is great for campers on a budget. Image source: Amazon
HQST’s 100 watt polycrystalline solar panel is a great option if you’re boondocking on a budget. It comes in at a low price point, but it doesn’t include some of the added equipment needed for a portable solar panel setup.
This panel can put out 500 Wh per day, and can still perform well in low-light environments. The panel has pre-drilled holes for mounting, however, it does not come with any mounting brackets. It also doesn’t come with a charge controller, so it will need to be purchased separately.
Even so, purchasing a charge controller and Z-mounts separately would bring the total cost to just about $110.
3. Zamp Solar’s Legacy Series 140 watt portable solar panel kit
Price: $665.97 Buy Now
The high quality (and high price point) make Zamp Solar’s portable solar panel kit best for people who frequently go camping off-grid. Image source: Amazon
Zamp Solar is known for its high quality, so it’s no surprise that its portable solar kit comes with a high price tag. The kit comes with:
- 140 watt foldable solar panel
- 10 amp charge controller for managing battery charging
- Solar suitcase for easy carrying
- 15 foot cable
The panel delivers 140 watts of power, which is higher than some other portable panels on the market. The solar panel also has extendable legs which allow you to place the panel on an angle for optimal production.
Many RVs come wired for Zamp’s products, so the panel can either be plugged directly into your RV, or can be connected to a battery for charging. Although Zamp’s kit runs for more money, it is a great investment for frequent campers who want high quality, reliable equipment to produce solar energy.
Draw solar panels on your specific roof
4. ACOPOWER 100 watt foldable solar panel kit
Price: $243.17 Buy Now
ACOPOWER’s portable solar panel has some of the highest customer reviews on Amazon. Image source: Amazon
ACOPOWER’s foldable solar panel kit comes at a decent price and has great reviews. The kit includes a foldable monocrystalline solar panel with a wattage of 100 watts and a 10 amp charge controller.
The panel has great portability, as the kit includes a carrying case. It can be connected to a 40 watt solar panel to expand the size of the system, as well. This kit is designed to charge a 12 volt battery.
This kit has everything you need to run your camping trip on solar. Keep in mind that the included solar charger is not weather-proof, so it’s important to keep it high off the ground in case of flooding.
5. Go Power! GP-PSK-130 130 watt portable solar panel kit
Price: $519.91 Buy Now
The Go Power! foldable solar panel is both durable and reliable. Image source: Amazon
Go Power! is another reliable portable solar panel manufacturer. Their kit includes a 130 watt portable solar panel, 10 amp battery charger controller, and a durable carrying case. The panel has a sturdy kickstand that makes setup easy, as well.
Although the kit does come at a higher price point, Go Power! has a reputation for being durable and long-lasting.
Because of the high price point and high power output, people who frequently go on extended off-grid trips will be best suited for this portable solar panel. Be warned – Go Power! will not honor charge controller warranties if the purchase is made through Amazon.
What are the advantages of portable solar panels?
“Boondocking”, which is RV camping outside of established campgrounds, is becoming increasingly popular. Though fun, off-grid RV camping comes with its set of challenges, one of which being the lack of electrical power to charge batteries and run appliances.
Portable solar panels have emerged as a popular option to address this issue for the following reasons:
- Portable solar panels can be moved around for optimal sunlight. Even if you park your RV in the shade, you can place the portable solar panels in direct sunlight with the help of an extension cable. You can also periodically reposition the portable panels to face the sun as it moves across the sky during the day.
- Once purchased, portable solar panels cost nothing to operate. This is better than the alternatives: buying costly fuel for a generator or paying for access to electricity in order to charge your batteries.
- They are much quieter than noisy gas generators.
Questions to ask before buying portable solar panels
Thanks to the technology of today, there is a solar array available for just about every budget and lifestyle. Because there are so many types available, it’s important to do your homework.
Here are the most important questions you need to ask before you start your search:
- What are your daily power needs?
- What is your budget?
- Will you need solar battery storage to go with it?
- The desired power output – many portable solar panels don’t produce enough to charge an RV battery or bigger appliances.
Other considerations for portable solar panels include:
- How easy are setup and orientation?
- What are the connection options?
- How durable are the panels? Are they rugged enough for your intended use? Are they waterproof or weather resistant?
- Does it have good read-out displays to allow you to monitor output?
- Does it include all of the necessary equipment (i.e adapters, cords, charge controllers, inverters)?
Portable solar panels are a great option for RV camping
Measured in financial terms on a $/watt basis, portable solar panels aren’t as efficient as a roof-mounted or ground-mounted solar system. So, they aren’t practical to power a whole home.
Where they do come in handy: charging your RV battery over extended camping trips. You can park your RV in the shade but place the portable RV out in the sun with the help of an extension cord. Plus, many portable solar panels can charge lead-acid batteries, so you have extra solar power stored up for when the sun goes down. And they definitely beat noisy, gas-guzzling generators.
You can also purchase solar panel chargers for your phone, so you can charge up small electronics like cell phones, battery packs, and any other gadgets you might need on your camping trip!
Portable solar panels aren’t a replacement for rooftop or ground-mounted options, but they are worth considering if you enjoy camping off-grid.