7 Best Solar Panels for Camping in 2021 (Review)
Going camping is always an amazing experience, and it’s different every time. But in anytime you might just end up with a dead battery on your cell phone, tablet or laptop.
That’s why every person that enjoys living in the open must have camping gadgets that help him/her to live as comfortably as possible. The best solar panels for camping in 2021 can help you achieve a comfortable lifestyle where no electronic appliance has to be turned off due to the absence of electricity.
Here we will help you discover all the amazing features of some of the top-quality modules and camping phone chargers on the market. You will learn how to estimate the number of solar panels that you need on the rooftop of your trailer, how to protect your solar system from thieves, how to set them up, and much more.
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The Best Solar Panels for Camping
1. Goal Zero Nomad 100 Camping Solar Panel
The Goal Zero Nomad is the line of portable solar panels for mobile base camps and off-grid applications of Goal Zero.
The Nomad 100 is the middle size panel of the line. This foldable, weatherproof, and lightweight solar panel is the perfect match for the camping experience.
The compact and durable packing protects the 4 monocrystalline panels and comes with attachment loops to hang it anywhere required. The back part of the package comes with a mesh to store the 8mm charging cable, the USB A, 2.5A port, and the 8mm combiner cable port.
With the APP 4x8mm combiner cable attachment, it can be combined with up to 4 Nomad 100 to harvest the most energy out of the sun and into the Yeti power stations, or any of your electronic device.
Having 4 panels fold into one makes the Nomad panels some of the most space-efficient panels on the market. Unfolded it extends 20.5 x 59.5 x 1 inches (52 x 151.1 x 2.54 cm), but folded, it only takes up to 20.5 x 15.5 x 2 inches (52 x 39.37 x 5.08 cm).
2. Renogy 50 Watt Flexible Camping Solar Panel
The Renogy 50 Watt Flexible Monocrystalline Solar Panel is an excellent choice for boats, RV, or camping purposes.
Flexible solar panels have an amazing advantage on curved surfaces where traditional modules would represent problems due to the fixed mounting structure. Since most people choose to go camping while riding an RV, these products are considered one of the best solar panels for camping.
Particularly, this module has an ultra-lightweight design thanks to advanced polymer materials that make it 70% less heavy than traditional modules. This also represents an important factor for transport purposes.
The flexible solar panel has a waterproof junction box and has been tested to withstand extreme winds of up to 2400 Pa and snow loads that are as heavy as 5400 Pa. Besides, the technology used to manufacture the product guarantees that there will be no hot spot formation.
My favorite feature of this product is that it has been designed with transparent dots on the surface to gather sunlight from any angle and use the distributed dots to cause refraction which allows using the energy from the Sun twice. Based on these features we can say it is one of the best solar panels for camping trailers.
3. ACOPOWER 120W Portable Camping Solar Panel
Another popular brand among campers is Acopower. A company that, as Renogy, is completely involved in the market to provide portable power for camping with foldable solar panels, power stations, and solar kits.
In this occasion, the brand offers a 120W portable and foldable solar panel kit that has a lightweight and compact design. As one of the best solar power kits for camping, the product uses monocrystalline cells from the most efficient and remarkable brand of the industry (SunPower) with a performance that increases the conversion of efficiency up to an amazing 25%.
The solar charger and all of its components are contained inside a suitcase that weighs 8.4 lbs. When we compare this weight to a solar panel with a similar power output module (21 lbs.), we will notice a big difference between both options. There is also the possibility to choose other available sizes such as 50W, 70W and 105 W.
Moreover, there is also a 10 A LCD Charge Controller included with two 5V USB ports and MC4 connector cables to safely charge an external battery (not included) at 12V.
Since it is all pre-wired and ready for connection, you would only need less than 10 seconds to mount the solar panels and connect them to your car battery, a marine boat battery, or another 12V lead-acid battery type such as AGM, flooded, sealed or GEL.
The best solar panels for camping must be lightweight, foldable, and have as much power available to charge your appliances. The Acopower solution meets all these requirements!
4. Goal Zero Nomad 50
The Goal Zero Nomad 50 is the smallest portable solar panel of the Nomad line of Goal Zero. Featuring a four monocrystalline panels design, the Nomad 50 is a 50-watt panel versatile for small spaces at your car or basecamp.
As the Nomad 100, its packing comes with attachment loops around the panels, a back mesh to store the 8mm charging cable, the USB A, 2.5A port, and the 8mm combiner cable port. Besides a secondary mesh is also available to store the Goal Zero Guardian charge controller or any electronics.
By using the built-in combiner cable port, it can chain up to 3 Nomad 50 solar panels for a total of up to 150 watts of maximum output.
Its small and lightweight design makes it a suitable choice for walking trips where you will need some extra energy for your electronics. In its folded position it is only as big as a paper folder reaching 17 x 11.25 x 2.5 in (43.2 x 28.6 x 6.4 cm) and unfolded it can reach 53 inches long (134.6 cm).
5. Renogy E.FLEX 50
An amazing option on the 50-watt portable solar panel world is the E.Flex 50 from Renogy E.FLEX 50.
Made to harvest solar energy and power your essential electronics, it offers multiple output options in a simple plug and play experience. With a switchable 12 volt DC port and 5-volt USB port, USB-C port, the intelligent built-in chip makes the panel ready to directly charge smartphones, tablets, and laptops.
The panel’s package is made of industrial-strength PET polymer and polyester canvas, along with its two integrated stand legs which makes it a self-stand panel. The best is that the panel can withstand the worst climate conditions of the field.
This lightweight and compact design of the panels makes it another great option for walking trips where some extra energy is needed on the go. On its folded position it reaches 19.9 x 16.1 x 0.8 inches (50.6 x 40.8 x 20.8 cm) and has predesign handles for easy transportation.
6. Renogy 100 Watt Solar Panel
Renogy 100 Watt foldable solar suitcase is another great option in the solar portable panel market.
This 100-watt panel consist of two 50-watt monocrystalline solar panels attached through a rigid aluminum frame with an integrated heavy-duty handle for easy transportation. The suitcase comes with an integrated adjustable stand to maximize the solar exposure of the panel.
The output power cables of the panel include the MC4 connectors for easy interconnection. Allowing easy parallel or series connection with any other solar panel.
This suitcase kit includes a lithium and lead battery charge controller capable of handle up to 20 amps. Throughout the controller, the panel can directly charge a battery and show the state of charge of the battery over its LCD screen. The kit also includes an MC4 assembly tool for rapid and easy assembly of MC4 connectors to your solar cables.
On its folded size (suitcase) it reaches 19.9 x 27.2 x 2.8 inches (50.54 x 69.08 x 7.11 cm) making it perfect for a handy transportation.
7. SUAOKI 60W Camping Solar Panel
Another giant Chinese company created in the Silicon Valley of the East is Shenzhen. The Suoaki offers some of the best camping gadgets in the market.
In this case, the Suoaki 60W portable solar panel is a very interesting and foldable product with remarkable features. One of them is the high efficiency of the module with a 60W output at 20% efficiency. Moreover, the portable power source has a 5V USB port and an 18V DC dual output to keep your USB devices completely charged. More than a simple foldable solar panel, the product also includes SAE and DC cables for energy storage devices. There is also a car charger that can be used in cases where your battery runs out.
Also, when folded, the solar panel looks like a normal briefcase that is easy to transport and put in your RV, tent or car.
My favorite feature of the Suoaki solar charger is that it has a built-in smart TIR-C technology that is developed for the USB port. This technology identifies the current of the equipment and speeds up the charging process of the device while providing overcharge, overcurrent and overload protection. Moreover, the briefcase includes a 10-IN-1 connector that allows you to get connected to any laptop.
How to Choose Solar Panels for Camping
You have noticed that you need additional power for your camping trips, and you have realized that solar panels are the best choice to achieve this.
Having solar power camping gear is one of the best ways to ensure that your batteries won’t run out of power when you are enjoying your vacations in a remote location. However, with so many brands, models, and possibilities, it might be hard to select the right solar panel for you.
First, you need to select the type of solar panel that best suits your needs. To evaluate this aspect, ask yourself these questions: How frequently you go camping? Are you an occasional or regular camper? Are you a nomad? Are you low on budget? What would you use the solar panels for?
For instance, there are three types of camping solar panels.
The best solar panels for camping are the so-called solar chargers. These devices generally have a small size mainly designed for charging electronics such as smartphones, laptops, iPads, etc. They integrate monocrystalline or polycrystalline technology in a foldable solar suitcase that can be easily put away or taken out.
The portability of these products makes them an attractive option for those campers that constantly travel and that are mainly looking for a camping phone charger. There are also bigger solar chargers that are occasionally called solar blankets that can be easily folded to put under the seat.
Portable Solar Panels
The second choice is the so-called transportable solar panels. These are generally traditional modules that can be folded and safely installed or kept away. The size of these modules is bigger than the solar chargers and they can be used for more demanding applications such as charging appliances and 12V battery packs. This is a good option for campers that do not regularly go on trips, but instead go for vacations.
Fixed Mounted Solar Panels
The third choice is the typical fixed mounted solar panels. These are the traditional modules that we constantly see on top of the roof. In this case, it would only be applicable for people that have a camping trailer or that want solar kits for an RV.
The greatest advantage of these products is that you won’t have to set up the power station kit every time that you go out camping and it avoids the possibility to get the modules stolen since they are fixed on the roof. These are the perfect options for campers that have a nomadic lifestyle.
Flexible Solar Panels
A small variant from the third choice is the flexible solar panels. These have the same advantages as the previous ones but the main difference is that they are ultra-lightweight and that they can be easily hidden. Moreover, the main advantage against the fixed mounted option is that for campers that have a curved roof on top of the trailer or RV, flexible solar panels can bend up to 30°.
Other people might just be looking for a camping power station, in which case it is essential to take into account the battery life and capacity to estimate the energy that your appliances need.
What Devices Can You Power or Charge
Installing a camping solar panel is a great way to charge many appliances that are generally used during camping trips. Multiple devices demand electricity and are important to enhance your camping experience and to stay in touch with the rest of the world while you are in the wild: Some of the ones that you can consider are:
- LED Lights
- Cigarette Lighters
Solar power kits for camping are a good option to charge a 12V battery bank for your trailer or RV if you are going on long trips. In this case, it is necessary to install a higher wattage module or an arrange of them to completely charge the battery bank. Typically, foldable but traditional solar panel kits of 100 W or 200W are used on trailers to serve this purpose.
What Is a Good Number of Solar Panels For a Camping Trailer?
This is a complicated question to answer because it isn’t simple. Two factors must be taken into account.
The first of them is the space available on the roof of the camping trailer. The average camping trailer has a length of 6-9 meters and a width of 2.5 – 3 meters. This is enough space to install around 6-8 flexible solar panels of 100W on the rooftop (without considering possible obstructions).
In many cases the shape of the trailer could be rounded, so the best solar panels for camping trailers are the flexible models that can be bent up to 30°. These will allow you to install more solar panels on the roof than a fixed mounted option would. Now, once you have selected the brand and type of module that you will install, you must check the available space on your roof and calculate how many panels could fit on the roof based on the dimensions of the modules.
The second factor that must be measured is the number of loads that you want to charge and supply with the modules and a solar power bank. Take into account the minimum power size that you need for your loads and calculate how many 100W flexible modules would be needed to cover them.
Make a balance between these two factors, and if the estimated size that you need exceeds the available space on the roof, you must consider reducing the number of loads that would be backed up. An average of four 100-watt solar panels should be enough to cover most of the appliances that you would normally have in a camping trailer.
What Size Panels Should You Buy?
Purchasing a solar power station for camping is deeply related to the size of the solar panels since they determine the amount of power and energy that you can obtain every day.
Solar energy varies according to environmental conditions such as temperature, shadings, irradiance, soiling and more. To understand how these factors influence the power output of the module requires some technical knowledge. However, if you are still interested in solar power for camping, there are some things that you must keep in mind to estimate the size of the modules that you need.
The first thing to consider is the region where you are located. Does the region count with a valuable solar resource? Some areas in the US are perfectly suitable for solar panels since the available resource is quite extensive. Cloudy days have an important impact on electricity production, which is why it is important to take a look at regular meteorological conditions of your area.
The next step is considering the energy demands that you will have.
To estimate the energy demands of your needs, you must simply check the wattage that your appliances require and estimate the number of hours that each appliance will be consuming. Once you multiply the wattage by the hours of use, you will have the energy demanded by each appliance. Afterward, all that needs to be done is summing up each energy consumption to obtain the total energy demand. An easy way to establish this energy demand is through a chart.
Once you have this energy estimation, you must find the average daily irradiance available in your area. This parameter represents the hours of full sun available in the areas where you normally go camping. You can go to the most reliable source of solar irradiance data in the US, which is the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), and check in the map the average value.
Later, the final step to estimate the size of the solar panels that you need is to apply the following expression. Remember that the k factor (0.66) represents the estimated typical losses of solar energy conversion according to NREL.
In the expression above, Ed represents the energy demanded and Irr represents the average irradiance value of the region. This expression assumes the energy demands will be met over the course of a day.
This expression is applicable mainly if you constantly go camping on an RV or travel in a trailer (nomadic lifestyle). This, of course, is useful if you are going to keep in mind the solar system as a 12V battery charger, or running small appliances inside your trailer such as microwaves, small fridges, coffee makers and electronics.
If your camping style is a more occasional-type and you only want to use the solar energy to charge multiple electronic devices and maybe an LED light, your best option is to purchase a 50W -100 W foldable solar charger. Moreover, if you are looking for a module that can charge your phone while you walk through a mountain, then it might be better to focus on finding the best solar panels for backpacking (typically 2-10W).
How to Make Sure Your Solar Panels Don’t get Stolen
Camping trips are amazing experiences that most people enjoy. Contact with nature, sharing with friends, family, and of course eating around the campfire.
However, things can get stolen so you may be worried about the possibility of getting your gadgets stolen while walking around the woods or the beach. Let’s discuss some valuable tips that will help you avoid unpleasant surprises at the end of the day
The first thing that you should take into account is the type of solar panel that you purchased. For camping purposes, you have several choices.
If you chose a flexible module to be installed on the roof of the trailer, then you must simply make sure that the solar panel is completely secured to the trailer. Since these products are really thin, the only way for thieves to really know if the module exists is if they see them from above (a higher terrain), so you should not worry too much about them. Besides, even if they see them, is hard to imagine that a thief will focus on stealing your flexible solar panel while it is already mounted on the rooftop.
However, if you purchased a solar charger or a foldable kit, then things change. Since they can be easily transported from one place to the other, they can be stolen easier than other products. For instance, the best solar panels for hiking are directly attached to your backpack. The best way not to lose them is to not take off the backpack unless is necessary.
If you are charging your appliances with modules, here you must remember that every time you leave the camp tent or site, your solar panels must be secured through a chain to an object that cannot be easily be moved (car, trailer or another heavy object). Since foldable kits often have a suitcase handle attached to the modules, it is easy to pass a bike chain through it and lock it with a padlock.
Another important tip to take into account when having a camping solar system is to know when you should be using it. These gadgets use direct sunlight to generate electricity, if there is no sun, it is pointless to have the solar charger opened outside.
Now, this does not mean that on a cloudy day you cannot obtain power from your modules. The power output will be reduced, but it might still be able to charge your cell phone if you need it. However, under the rain or at night when thieves might take the opportunity to pass through your campsite to steal, it makes no sense to keep it outside. Simply remember to keep your solar charger locked inside the car or the trailer where you will be sleeping.
Maybe a precaution that won’t avoid thievery of your solar panels but that will help you recover them if they are stolen is installing a small GPS unit tracker inside the suitcase, such as Ping. It is a small solution with a long-lasting battery that can be easily put inside one of the pockets available. It can be tracked miles away from your location via smartphone.
How to Set Up the Solar Panels When Camping
This will also depend on the type of solar panels that you have purchased. For instance, the camping solar chargers are the easiest to set up. All you need to do is unfold them (if they are folded) and open them on the ground. Once they are outside, you can connect the electronics to the USB outputs and charge them over time.
Now, if the purpose is to charge a 12V battery bank, the setup process might take a bit of time The first thing that you must remember for folded solar panels is that despite their small size, they can still generate enough electricity to be considered dangerous. Before opening them, it is better that you connect all the wires that are needed to charge the battery bank.
In solar panel kits, the charge controller also includes alligator clips to connect the device to the battery bank. Put the batteries in a safe, dry place. Connect them to the charge controller, then unfold the solar panels and carefully wire them to the DC input. Remember to take into account the polarity of the positive and negative leads.
Once the charge controller has the green light to ensure the charging stages of the corresponding battery bank, your solar system will be ready.