Camping trips are a great way to detach from the daily work grind and get some distance between you and the city. Fresh air, beautiful scenery, glimpses of wildlife and a wonderful sense of satisfaction often come after setting up the perfect campsite.
Let’s face it though, in these times its impossible to completely disconnect and also in the event of an emergency its always good to have at least basic devices such as your phone working.
Solar technology is making huge strides and portable solar panels are fast-becoming an essential item for seasoned campers who want to keep their appliances working without having to resort to grid electricity. Let’s check out some of the best portable solar panels to bring on your next camping trip.
Our best overall pick due to its lightweight design, durable build, elevated output and high-level tech. The Qisa Solar Charger is a popular, reliable and compact solar charger compatible with multiple devices that also comes at an extremely convenient price.
Another very popular foldable solar panel that is noted for its power, versatility and affordability. Made of durable materials that are water, dust and shock proof. The 1A input current it offers is 4 to 6 times faster than other solar chargers.
Our premium pick from DOKIO is a high-tech, extremely powerful and easy to use portable solar panel that comes with comes with its own solar controller and an LCD screen to monitor electric current. Its high level mono crystalline solar cells coated in thick protective fabric guarantee a super fast and steady charge for all your appliances whether at home or immersed in the great outdoors.
How Do Camping Solar Panels Work?
You may well understandably associate solar panels with large home, office, or industrial installations comprising many massive, rigid, heavy panels feeding electricity through various junction boxes into the national electrical grid. If this is the case, then you’ll be surprised to learn that it’s possible to buy affordable versions small, durable, and practical enough to be used on camping trips.
Even if you know that such a thing is possible, perhaps you’re left wondering whether these camping solar panels work the same as the larger versions in your mind. The answer is that yes, essentially they work exactly the same! Solar panels, or photovoltaic modules, are simply panels of photovoltaic cells encased together in a weatherproof, UV-protected frame, with a junction box attached allowing for the safe and efficient transfer of electricity from these cells through compatible wiring.
Photovoltaic cells are cells comprised of crystalline silicone (in most cases, though increasingly solar panels are made of ‘thin film’ flexible cells). Crystalline silicone reacts chemically and physically when exposed to sunlight, converting that sunlight into electric current (voltage and amperage), which when fed through the junction box becomes DC current of a wattage particular to the volts and amps being generated.
Camping solar panels work like any other solar panels in this regard, with the main difference being their size, weight, and portability. Many camping solar panels are either flexible (most likely thin film celled solar panels), or foldable, providing the user an easier means of transporting them. Moreover, they often come equipped with USB ports so that you can charge your devices directly from the solar panel, rather than first having to wire the solar panel to a battery (which would of course be more of a chore to carry around, especially on hiking camping trips).
Generally speaking the wattage of solar panels for camping is much lower than that of commercial panels, but this will rarely negatively impact the consumer, given that far less wattage is required to power and charge the sorts of electrical goods you’d take on a camping trip, than those on a commercial or home site would require.
Pros and Cons of Camping Solar Panels
As with all modern technology, especially in the realm of the most recently emerged renewable energy products, there exist both pros and cons when it comes to portable solar panels.
- Lightweight and portable. Probably the most appealing aspect of camping solar panels is the fact that they have been specially designed to be contained in lightweight and durable casing, often times foldable, or at least capable of being packed into a small case or carrier. Whether your camping trip starts on foot, or even in an RV, space is always of premium importance. Thus, having access to a power source that can fit almost anywhere and doesn’t way you down is a major plus.
- Weatherproof and durable. This is a total necessity for portable camping panels, and thankfully most are designed to withstand all but the roughest of weather conditions. A waterproof rating of IP65 and above is recommended, and with that you should find most panels equipped to withstand dust, dirt, wind, and even snow and ice – a must when you could end up camping in some pretty wild conditions.
- Affordable. Solar power has come a long way in recent years, so much so that many of the panels on this list are remarkably affordable. Whilst you can of course branch into the more luxury, premium ranges, even then you’re not necessarily going to break the bank. And, surprisingly perhaps, cheap doesn’t need to mean poor quality, either.
- USB ports included. Whilst most regular solar panels require extensive wiring, batteries, charge controllers and sometimes even a connection to the national grid in order to function most effectively, with camping solar panels you needn’t worry about any of that. Almost all (if not all) of them come with USB ports built-in, meaning that as soon as you’re in sunshine, you can be sure to begin charging your phone in seconds, just by unfolding your solar panel into the sun and plugging your device(s) right in.
- Emergency cover. Camping is fun and relaxing in almost all situations, but accidents do happen, and having the security that a portable power source provides ensures that you need never worry about your phone running out, or your RV battery dying when you’re alone in the middle of the wilderness.
- Dependency on sunlight. As with all solar energy, the effectiveness of a portable solar panel for camping relies entirely on its exposure to sunlight. If you find yourself in an overcast or shady area, or the storm clouds roll in, you’re going to be hard pushed to get any charge out of your solar panel. This is an unavoidable fact of solar powered technology, and whilst it shouldn’t put you off, it should be something you factor into your buying decision.
- Slow charging. Less of a problem these days, as solar technology continues to improve and become more affordable, it is nonetheless still the case that renewable power tends to power batteries, appliances and devices at a slower rate than fossil-fuel/grid-linked power does. What this means for you is that you’ll just have to be sure to set aside a little more time to fully charge your phone when out camping with a solar panel, than you would with your phone plugged into the wall socket at home.
- Limited functionality. This comes with the territory. You’re buying a small, flexible or foldable, lightweight and portable camping solar panel, not an industrial solar array. As such, there is a limit to what you can charge with a camping solar panel. Whilst they’re perfect for charging laptops, phones, MP3 players, tablets and the like, and whilst they might help top up motor vehicle engines/keep them topped up, you won’t be able to use a camping solar panel for, say, powering your RV’s refrigerator, or a TV and games console. (Which begs the question, why are you taking a TV and games console camping in the first place?)
The Top Portable Solar Panels For Your Camping Trip Reviewed
A more in-depth review of some of the best portable solar panels and their features.
DOKIO 220 Watts Mono Crystalline Foldable Solar Panel
- Brand: DOKIO
- Foldable and lightweight easy to carry
- High conversion efficiency
- Free solar controller
- 9 pounds
- 21.2 x 28.7 x 0.9 inches
A top of the range model in the portable solar panel department though it comes at a higher price than other featured models, hence its best premium ranking. Extremely powerful at 220W but weighing only 9 pounds. Its lightweight and compact build for such a powerful solar panel make it extremely versatile. It is equipped with a practical carrying handle and side flaps meaning you can hang or attach the panels practically anywhere both at home or during trips.
The panel is made from some of the most high-efficiency mono crystalline cells on the market. These are covered by thick pocket sewn fabric that greatly increase durability in the face of weather extremes, debris, humidity and other outside elements.
These cells also ensure a greater solar yield than traditional panels even if the surface area is reduced. The model also comes with its very own solar controller which integrates a 4-Stage PWM charging (providing Bulk, Boost, Float, and Equalization) increasing battery life and improving system performance.
On the subject of safety and fail-safe features, the panel provides intelligent protection against reverse polarity, overcharging, short-circuits, and reverse currents. It also has integrated 5V 2A USB ports to charge a wide array of USB devices.
- Extremely high power and conversion rate
- Very compact and lightweight build in relation to power
- Model comes with a solar controller and 4-stage PWM charging
- Top tier high-tech safety features
- Versatility with a wide array of devices
- Full output is only reached in optimal conditions
BigBlue 3 Solar Charger
- Brand: BigBlue
- Color: Black
- 3 USB charging ports
- High Energy Conversion
- Wide Compatibility
- 3 USB charge ports
- 21.5 ounces
- 11.1 × 6.3× 1.3 inches (folded)
This lightweight panel from BigBlue packs a punch despite its smaller size. With a conversion rate that sits squarely in between the 21-23.5% figure and 3 USB ports that utilize smart tech to recognize practically any device including: 5V Android devices, Apple phones (though the Apple cord is needed) and some DLSR’s (no laptops or tablets though).
It is also CE/ FCC/ RoHS certificated, ensuring totally safe charging that prevents overheating and implements short circuit protection. It’s PET polymer cover also ensures substantial protection against water and the flaps and rubber covert over the USB ports shield against debris and dust.
This panel is an awesome gadget to integrate with your survival kit as it is reasonably light, compact, durable and can be easily folded and stored in your backpack during any kind of outing from a boat ride to hiking trip.
- Versatile, lightweight and compact build
- High rate energy conversion rate
- Very durable
- Integrated smart safety features
- Can only charge phones
- Expensive despite its small size
- Charges much slower in cloudy weather
Renogy Monocrystalline 100W Solar Panel Suitcase
- Brand: Renogy
- Negative-ground charge controller
- Overcharge protection
- LCD display
- 26.6 pounds
- 19. 9 x 27. 2 x 2. 8 inches (folded)
The Renogy Solar Monocrystalline 100W Solar Panel Suitcase is a strong contender for best premium model. Its hefty 26.6 pounds and large size make it a bit bulky for on-foot transport so its use is more intended for RV and camper enthusiasts. A powerful portable solar bank, the panel made of high-tech mono crystalline silicon that can deliver up to 500 watts a day in optimal conditions.
Also included is a 20A waterproof Voyager Charge Controller, a 10 foot tray cable with alligator clips, and a hard plastic casing for protection. The panel itself and adjoining kickstand is made of corrosion-resistant aluminum with an IP65 waterproof rating. A cool feature is the LCD display to check on current output.
The built-in charge controller provides high-tech overcharge protection, which reduces fire risks while the low-voltage system avoids electric shock hazards. This portable panel is one of the ultimate solar solutions for lengthy camper, RV or boat trips and an overall great addition to your camp.
- Heavy-duty high charging model
- Extremely durable and water resistant
- Versatile installation
- High-end built-in safety features
- On the expensive side
Qisa Solar Charger/Solar Power Bank
- Brand: QiSa
- Color: Black
- Wireless charging function
- Waterproof, drop-proof and dust-proof
- 35800mAh large-capacity battery
- 1.46 pounds
- 7.09 x 4.29 x 1.93 inches
Our top pick is an incredible gadget that is highly water, dust and shockproof and can brave even the harshest environments. It’s four high-conversion solar panels and high-capacity 35800mAh power bank can charge up to three devices at the same time at very high speeds. The conversion rate reached solely via solar charging is around 116% of the charging speed of a standard 1A plug.
This model possesses an upgraded built-in smart chip that increases charging speed while ensuring stability protocols that auto filter any danger posed by short circuits or overheating. The intuitive approach taken by QiSa means that compatible devices can be charged through a wireless connection. It also integrates a useful LED flashlight that is awesome for camping through the night or any other situation where light is required. The cherry on top is that this model is both conveniently priced and popular with solar panel savvy customers worldwide.
- Lightweight and compact build
- Extremely durable
- Very high conversion rate, compatibility and charging capacity
- Integrated safety features
- LED flashlight included
- Needs good conditions to charge efficiently
- Velcro straps can get worn out easily
Hiluckey 25000mAh Outdoor Solar Charger
- Brand: Hiluckey
- Color: Orange
- 25000mAh High Capacity
- 4 Solar Panels
- Dual USB 2.1A Output
- 25000mAh Li-ion battery
- 1.34 pounds
- 6.1 x 3.35 x 1.37 inches
Our runner-up pick is made up of 4 durable and highly water-resistant foldable panels, a fast charge external battery pack with dual 2.1A Output USB ports that are highly compatible will all the latest models of smartphones and tablets.
Hiluckey’s decently capable 25000mAh power bank supports a built-in Li-ion battery that guarantees 8 to 10 smartphone and 3 to 4 tablet charges a day at full power for an average of 9 days of usage per charge.
The 1A output this model reaches under direct sunlight can charge a phone up to 6 times faster than other solar panels of the same type. Also the the dual 2.1A USB ports allow the charging of 2 devices at the same time. The panel also auto-detects any devices’ current to pair the optimal output. Finally a built-in LED flashlight with an SOS distress setting included makes for a great addition as a survival tool.
- Compact design and rugged build
- One of the best conversion rates of models of similar size and output
- High compatibility with many devices
- Excellent charging time
- Fabric holding the solar panels together may suffer in extreme heat conditions
The Buyer’s Guide To Solar Panels For Camping
What are the defining features to look for in a portable solar panel?
Type Of Panel
There are three types of portable camping solar panels, all of them have their pros and cons:
- Mono crystalline: Constructed with single large silicon crystals. Mono crystalline panels are frequently hailed as the best type of solar panel as they are resistant to high temperatures, adverse weather and have the highest energy conversion rating even during overcast weather. On the downside this also influences their price tag as they are usually the most expensive.
- Poly crystalline: Considered the best type of solar panel composition for RVing, built with multiple silicon crystal blocks, they absorb less energy than mono crystalline panels but usually take up less space than large-scale amorphous panels
- Amorphous: Made from a silicon sheet, they are also known as thin-film panels and are almost always the most budget friendly option. They are also very flexible, versatile and usually easy to set up and configure. They also take up much more space than the first two types while producing the same or less solar energy.
Size and weight are both very important factors to consider for any tool when camping. Some models are intended for larger groups and/or specifically RVing, camper or boat expeditions, others for shorter items and emergency charging of small devices. Portable solar panels come in all shapes and sizes.
You can attach some models to your backpack and forget they are even there, while other models are an integral part of your camp functioning as power banks and solar generators for a large party of people. Cater specific options to your needs before purchase as some of the larger models are actually quite cumbersome especially if your lugging it around for multiple days.
This is a multifaceted factor of primary importance that applies to nearly all aspects including: Energy conversion rates, charging speed, number of charging ports, compatibility and especially power output. A 7 – 15W solar charger will work fine for say a duo of campers who only have to charge small appliances such as a cell phone.
A lengthy camping trip with more appliances depending on electricity will need larger and more powerful panels, though this can affect portability. For example a cooking stove or portable fridge would need a panel somewhere in the range of 100W to even 300W to adequately charge using only solar energy (and in optimal sunlight conditions).
A crucial component is the tech specs and compatibility a portable solar panel can effectively offer. How many USB outputs? What kind of connectors and cables does the solar panel or power bank use? Can the panel can convert AC to DC power? These are all technology specific questions (closely related to the solar panel type and efficiency categories) that you must ask yourself before choosing the right model for you.
Another very important feature especially for novices in the portable solar panel sphere. Usage and especially ease-of-use are deal breakers for many. No ones want their camping trip to be ruined by over complicated devices or even worse, faulty equipment.
All models reviewed on our list are intuitive and simple to use, compatible with practically all next-gen appliances and composed of panel, generator (in some case), cable and USB port. Models with adjustable kickstands and holes for hanging are usually the most sough-after.
Reliability and Durability
Of paramount importance for any gadget, especially when you’re isolated in the wilderness miles from home. You should be able to rely on your portable solar panel and it should be durable enough to not suffer at the first inconvenience.
The models we have reviewed are all rugged, resilient and durable, able to withstand even adverse conditions. Check for a models IP rating, it is the value used to measure resistance to water and other debris.
Don’t be fooled by their sometimes basic appearance, solar panel kits and all their related accessories are high-tech performance devices. Choosing the best value device for your needs can be challenging so know exactly what kind of camping trip you are embarking on. A day long trek won’t warrant a heavy-duty solar panel just like an ultralight model may not be the best idea for a two week camping trip with a large group of people and one solar charger between you.
Choose wisely before investing in certain heavy-duty models, some of the larger mono crystalline type panels can actually be quite expensive, though practically all of the major brands offer various 1 to 2 year-warranties.
With all that said we reiterate our prize pick, the Qisa Solar Charger. An easy choice due to its incredible resistance, durability, high-tech features, practicality, power and solar energy conversion rates (especially considering its weight and slender size).
Check out our updated Pinterest board with the best solar panels:
The main disadvantage of any solar powered appliance is over reliance on one source of energy, the sun. Some models suffer more during cloudy weather, while others (especially mono crystalline models) can still work adequately. The truth is optimal sun conditions are not always possible so it would be wise to have a back-up source of energy in the case of a challenging or long camping trip.
No one can say for sure as the factors are simply too many. Broadly speaking anywhere between 3-25 years considering extended usage, possible damage, model, type of panel and many other aspects. Most portable solar panels for camping use are sturdy models built to last.
Yes, large-scale models with a wattage of over 200 can charge anything from portable fridges, cooking stoves to even 12V car and RV batteries.
Multiple advantageous reasons. Apart from being eco-friendly, portable solar panels make you independent from grid electricity by producing free solar energy. Portable solar panel tech is always improving with some models delivering as much charge as traditional battery operated power generators.
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