The Best Portable Solar Panels for Camping

To find the best portable solar panels for camping; there are many things to consider. For example, what type of devices or batteries will you want to keep charged up? Also, how many people will be using the solar panel at a time? 

Fortunately, the perfect solar panel for you is readily available today, but first, these questions demand answers. So, let's begin to take a look at some essential things to ponder.

Finding the Best Portable Solar Panels for Camping

Before you invest in the best portable solar panels for camping, consider the ways you plan to use the device and where you will be camping. As always, there are tradeoffs to keep in mind. 

Example tradeoff: Will you be willing to sacrifice overall wattage output for the convenience of lighter weight and portability? To answer, think about the following questions.

Are You Carrying the Solar Panel With You?

If you plan to carry the solar panel around backpacking or boondocking, then the size and weight are critical. Also, if you plan to camp for long periods, the weight and size become even more important. However, you'll also need something that will have enough output to last for the duration of your trip. 

Solar panels that have an energy output to last for long trips tend to be bigger and heavier, so you need to find the right compromise. Plus, lighter weight often means less durability so that you could damage the solar panel. Even if you use great care, cheaper panels tend not to last as long.

On the other hand, if you have access to a campsite or an RV, that opens the door to larger, rigid solar panels. Thus, you can invest in the best quality solar panel to attach to your vehicle or place near your campsite.

Does Your Campsite Have Adequate Light?

If your campsite is mostly in the shade, then the best portable solar panels for camping are those which can operate in less than optimal conditions. In fact, many inexpensive solar panels won't work well in deep shade. However, their portability also means you can move them around as much as you like to find the best sunny spot.

The best portable solar panels for camping are easy enough to move, but you may have to rig them to stand at the optimal angle and to avoid watching them blow away in a heavy wind. Plus, you may need to buy accessories like longer cords and adapters to attach the solar panel to batteries and devices.

Wattage, Charging Ports, and Accessories

When choosing the best portable solar panels for camping, the output capacity in watts is always a primary concern. Will you need the panel for charging cell phones, a laptop, or the battery for your RV? The number of devices and their energy consumption will determine your best choice.

If you only want to keep your smartphone charged, then a smaller solar panel that supplies at least 5 watts will be needed. If you want to charge your laptop, you'll need a minimum of 45 watts and probably more like 90 watts. Thus, you might want to invest in a solar panel with more than enough wattage. Keep in mind; the output will depend largely on the weather and amount of sunshine at any given time.

Depending on the devices you plan to charge, you'll need to buy additional accessories. For example, you may need an AC-to-DC inverter for laptops as well as a battery or portable power station to store the energy from the solar panel. 

For more technical considerations, see the video below:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GznMS5oEKXY

Monocrystalline Versus Polycrystalline and Thin-Film Solar Panels

When it comes to the quality of solar panels, monocrystalline is generally considered the best quality. However, polycrystalline and thin-film tend to be less expensive. Why? Monocrystalline is made from quality high-purity silicon, with the most energy efficiency in low-lighting conditions. Thus, these panels can be smaller but have comparatively high energy output.

Polycrystalline solar panels are cheaper but have lower heat tolerance. Thus, these panels may not work in the hot sun as well. These panels tend to convert 14-16% of sunlight into electricity, versus roughly 22% for monocrystalline panels. Nevertheless, these panels are popular due to lower cost, and they have improved over the years with better energy efficiency.

On the other hand, newer thin-film amorphous panels are the most economical but have lower efficiency. Also, these panels work best in low lighting conditions, which could be perfect for short backpacking uses if you only plan to charge your phone. Besides, these panels can be flexible and foldable, a big bonus if you need something that works on-the-go. As you would expect, thin-film panels are the cheapest but also may not be as durable or last as long.

So, which one is the best portable solar panel for camping? That depends on how much you want to invest and how you plan to use the product. You'll pay the most for monocrystalline panels but may opt to choose a lighter-weight thin-film model with lower wattage output, depending on your camping plans.

Our Picks for the Best Portable Solar Panels for Camping

Now let's take a quick look at some of the best portable solar panels for camping, along with their pros and cons.

Best Solar Panels for Camping Under $150

Goal Zero Nomad 10 Solar Panel

Featuring Monocrystalline solar cells, the Goal Zero Nomad 10 is one of the best portable solar panels for camping. At 9.5 x 14.5 x.75 inches (unfolded), and 9.5 x 7.2 x 1.2 inches folded, this one will easily fit in a backpack. It's lightweight at 1.2 lbs and is handy for emergencies.

Also, it's easy enough to position in the sun with a built-in kickstand. Plus, it's durable enough to last for repeated camping adventures. However, it offers only one USB port and only 10 watts of output, but you can upgrade to higher output models for a higher price.

Pros:

  • Small and lightweight yet durable
  • Integrated charging dock to store energy
  • Can upgrade to higher wattage models

Cons:

  • Won't chain with other panels
  • Low wattage
  • Only one USB port
  • Charging dock or power bank is separate

You can buy the Goal Zero Nomad 10 here.

BigBlue 28W USB Solar Charger

At 20.6 oz (1.29 lbs), the BigBlue 28W USB Solar Charger is an excellent size for carrying along on short camping trips. It fits perfectly over a backpack and can fit inside at 11.1 × 6.3× 1.3 inches folded or 33.1 × 11.1 × 0.2 inches opened.

As for energy efficiency, it's also great with four panels that fold out for up to 23.5% energy efficiency. However, with 28-watt output, it won't work with your laptops or larger electronic devices. Instead, this model is best for charging phones, with three USB ports.

Pros:

  • Works with iPhones or Android
  • Waterproof
  • Foldable and attaches to backpack
  • Dustproof plug design

Cons:

  • Doesn't store energy with no built-in lithium-ion battery
  • Not enough wattage for laptops
  • Not highly durable

You can buy the BigBlue model here.

Best Solar Panels for Camping Under $250

Renogy 100 Watts 12 Volts Monocrystalline Solar Starter Kit

Renogy kits are made with beginners in mind and come with a charge controller, adapters, cables, and brackets. The monocrystalline panel has high energy efficiency at 21% and 100 watts. It's sturdy and built to last for decades. 

Of course, at 26.60 lbs, this one isn't for toting along on a backpacking trip, but more for RV or central campsite use. At 19.9 x 27.2 x 2.8 inches, it's easy to move around. Plus, it comes with a suitcase, and the charge controller has an LCD display.

Pros:

  • Waterproof solar charge controller provides overcharge protection
  • Works for an RV, boat, or trailer
  • Folds up into a suitcase
  • Easy to put away for storage

Cons:

  • Too big for backpacking
  • A battery is sold separately
  • The temperature sensor is sold separately

You can buy the Renogy 100 Watts 12 Volts Monocrystalline Solar Starter Kit here.

See more about this solar kit here.

Rockpals 100W Foldable Solar Panel

With four monocrystalline panels, this foldable kit achieves 100 watts of output in ideal conditions. It pairs with the Rockpals power stations and is compatible with many other brands. This model features three convenient USB ports with built-in technology to prevent overcharging.

The Rockpals panel is made for use outdoors and is water-resistant for camping. Plus, at 20.5 × 14.2 × 2.6 inches and 10.8 lbs, it's easy to move around and has a handle.

Pros:

  • Great output and works in all weather
  • Compatible with various generators and power stations
  • Folds up into a suitcase 
  • 3 USB ports

Cons:

  • Too heavy for an average backpacker
  • Best used with a separate power station
  • Not able to chain with other panels

You can buy the Rockpals 100W Foldable Solar Panel here.

Best Solar Panels for Camping in Class

Acopower LTK 120W Foldable Solar Panel Kit Suitcase

The Acopower 120W foldable model checks off all the boxes for what many campers may be ideally needed. It's foldable, lightweight at just 8.4 lbs and 22 x 17.5 x 1.2 inches, and it's easy to move around inside a suitcase with a handle. However, it may still be too heavy for backpacking trips.

The monocrystalline cells have excellent energy conversion at 25% efficiency. This solar panel comes with a 10A LCD charge controller and cables and clamps to hook it up to many types of 12v batteries, such as a car or marine boat battery. With an MC-4 adapter, you can power up a solar generator or power station.

Pros:

  • Comes with charge controller
  • Two 5V USB ports
  • Lightweight and easy to move around
  • Best efficiency panels
  • Compatible with 12v batteries: Sealed, Gel, Flooded (deep cycle battery), AGM

Cons:

  • Higher cost
  • Generator sold separately
  • Works with only one set of panels
  • Needs to be held down to prevent blowing away

You can buy the Acopower solar panel kit here.

Our Pick for the Best Portable Solar Panels for Camping

As you can see, choosing the best portable solar panels for camping will depend on your future plans. If you want to carry the panel with you backpacking, then the BigBlue 28W USB Solar Charger might be just right. However, if you are going to use the solar panels at a campsite or with your RV, then the Acopower LTK 120W Foldable Solar Panel Kit Suitcase might be the best choice, depending on your budget.