Folding solar panels: what you need to know

Updated

Jackery 60W foldable solar panel
Foldable solar panels are perfect to pack up and carry to wherever you need. Image source: Jackery

Solar power technology has become more sophisticated and lightweight, paving the way for panels to be used to charge any device. Folding solar panels are a portable option that can be used for many outdoor activities, and as the name suggests, fold up for easy transport.

Foldable solar panels act as a portable power station for your devices, providing their battery pack with power from the sun.

Whether you are hiking, camping, or just enjoying a day at the beach, foldable solar panels can keep your devices charged up with solar energy. We will walk you through which portable solar panel options we recommend, their best uses, and how to choose the best option for you.

*Note: This is an unbiased review: we have no financial ties with any of the companies mentioned, nor do we earn money from affiliate advertising. The content of this blog is based on research and information available at the time of writing.

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    We’ve rounded up five of the best folding solar panels to help you determine which one is best for your needs. The BigBlue, Jackery, and the NekTeck charger are best for smaller electronics and as transportable chargers.

    If you need more power than a small portable panel can give you, the Renogy 100 watt off-grid portable solar panel suitcase is your best bet. For instance, if you need a foldable solar panel to charge a lithium 12v battery such as in your car or on your boat, you cannot just rely on small options like the BigBlue, which will not fully charge your car battery.

    Each of these options offers great features for your everyday charging needs. Check them out below.

    Best value overall

    BigBlue Solar Charger

    Price: $69.89 Buy Now

    BigBlue Solar Charger

    Image source: Amazon

    • Includes 3 USB ports to charge 3 devices at once
    • The panel is 28W and weighs 21.5 ounces, perfect for on the go
    • Has a conversion efficiency of up to 23%

    Best for high energy use

    Renogy 100W 12 volt off-grid folding solar suitcase

    Price: $220.99 Buy Now

    Renogy 100W 12 volt off-grid folding solar suitcase

    Image source: Amazon

    • Built for durability, this kit includes two 50W, heavy-duty monocrystalline portable folding solar panels
    • The solar panel kit includes a solar charge controller, to prevent overcharging, and alligator clip connectors
    • Weatherproof and compatible with RVs, boats, and trailers

    Most affordable, high-quality option

    NekTeck Solar Charger

    Price: $42.49 Buy Now

    NekTeck Solar Charger

    Image source: Amazon

    • The panel is 21W and weighs only 18 ounces
    • Can reach a high efficiency of 24% using SunPower Maxeon solar cell technology
    • Durable design for rugged outdoor use

    Best durable, lightweight option

    Jackery SolarSaga 60W solar panel

    Price: $179.99 Buy Now

    Jackery SolarSaga 60W solar panel

    Image source: Amazon

    • Includes 2 USB ports and an extension cord for ease of use
    • Boasts a 23% efficiency rating and includes a kickstand to angle towards the sun
    • Jackery products come with a 24-month warranty

    Best to charge your solar generator

    Rockpals Goal Zero 60W folding solar panel

    Price: $152.99 Buy Now

    Rockpals Goal Zero 60W folding solar panel

    Image source: Amazon

    • The Rockpals folding solar panel is built specifically to provide power to a solar generator's power bank
    • Includes built-in smart IC chip to maximize charging times to ensure a safe charge
    • This is best for multi-day camping trips when a generator can be charged up to provide power at night
    Go emissions-free on and off the go with solar panels

    A key thing to keep in mind if you are purchasing panels for large-scale uses, like the Renogy model for an RV, you might need to purchase an inverter separately. The inverter acts as an adapter for the electricity. Solar panels create DC currents, but to power electronics, the inverter converts them to AC currents.

    You will not need to purchase an inverter for the smaller, foldable solar panels to charge cell phones or small electronics. Foldable solar panels are a great choice for several reasons, but they do have a few disadvantages. Let's take a look and weigh the pros and cons.

    What are the pros and cons of folding solar panels?

    Typically, folding solar panels are used because of their lightweight portability, making them a great choice for on-the-go use. What makes them great for outdoor use does come with a few drawbacks, though. Folding solar panels need full sun exposure and take a while to charge, so don’t plan on using them every day to charge your phone.

    Pro Con
    Convenient Needs ample sunlight
    Portable Long charge time
    Practical Depending on model, takes up a lot of space

    Folding solar panels are convenient, portable, and practical – making them the perfect tools in your on-the-go arsenal. For instance, you can pack up the BigBlue solar charger in your camping backpack and have a source of power for your cell phone, chargeable lanterns, or any other gadgets that will make your camping trip easier.

    If you need a larger panel like the Renogy off-grid portable panel, the ability to fold it up and store it compactly in your camper is a huge bonus.

    The downsides to foldable solar panels are that they need a lot of sunlight to provide consistent power output. They also have a long charge time and some models, like the Renogy, cannot be carried in your backpack. The Renogy and Jackery panels are known as solar panel suitcases and are light enough to fold up and carry, but too big to fit easily in a bag.

    Because foldable solar panels are small and less powerful than a large panel you might install on your roof, they need exposure to ample sunlight to be able to charge devices. So if you are caught on a cloudy day, your foldable panel might take longer than anticipated to charge your cell phone.

    Additionally, solar charging takes a bit longer than your average wall charger to power up your phone. So instead of becoming 100% charged in about an hour, it might take the afternoon depending on the wattage of the panel you use and the amount of sunlight available.

    Best uses for foldable solar panels

    A tent on the beach

    Camping is one of the best ways to use foldable solar panels to charge your devices. Image source: Trip Savvy

    Foldable solar panels are best put to use when you have no electricity available. You can keep one packed and ready to go for trips to the beach, hiking, or camping. This way, you can spend the whole day outdoors without having to worry that your electricity will run out!

    RV camping in the desert

    Large foldable solar panels will ensure that your RV battery has enough charge to supply electricity. Image source: Car and Driver

    If you need a foldable solar panel to power things more energy-intensive than a phone, options like the Renogy or Rockpals panels can be used to charge the batteries of your RV, boat, or even your car. If you don’t want a noisy, polluting, gas-powered generator, foldable solar panels can act as a solar generator and be your backup power.

    How to choose the right size and type of folding solar panel

    Choosing the right foldable solar panel for you depends on a few factors such as what device do you plan to charge and how much power you need. For example, if all you want a charger for is small devices, the BigBlue, NekTeck, or Jackery are all you need.

    But if you need enough power for your entire RV, you might be able to get away with one of the Renogy off-grid panels. But depending on the wattage you need to supply, you might need more than one.

    If you are concerned that you might need more wattage than one panel can provide, you can calculate the typical energy usage of the appliances in your RV. You can do this by either using a battery monitor to measure the amount of energy, or amps, each appliance uses.

    Many appliances have the amount of energy they use listed on them. You can easily add up the watts and determine how many panels you might need to power your RV.

    But if you want to be less precise, buying three or four 100W panels, or 4 Renogy kits, should do the trick. Keep in mind that monocrystalline solar panels are more efficient than polycrystalline panels, so if you have less space, monocrystalline is a better choice despite its price tag.

    If you are ready to hit the hiking trail, adding a lightweight foldable solar panel like the BigBlue can be a simple way to keep your phone charged and your mind at ease. Folding solar panels offer the versatility and the freedom you want when enjoying the outdoors.

    For your RV trips, don’t spend extra money on a gas generator. Simply pack a foldable solar panel, pop it open when the sun is out, and charge away. If this type of freedom and practicality appeals to you, adding solar panels to your home will let you generate your own energy while reducing your electric bill.

    Find out how much a solar system will cost you

    Key takeaways

    • Folding solar panels can be small enough to fit in your backpack or large enough to power your RV.
    • Folding solar panels are convenient, practical, and portable, but they do need full sun exposure to best charge devices.
    • The best use for folding solar panels is for any outdoor activity where you need access to electricity but the sun is your only choice.
     - Author of Solar Reviews

    Ana Almerini

    Web Content Specialist

    Ana is a web content specialist at SolarReviews. She has 5 years of marketing experience blended with 2 years of experience in climate communications and holds a master of arts degree in climate and society from Columbia University. Ana frequently volunteers for environmental causes ranging from oyster reef restoration in NJ to expanding bike sharing in Naples, Italy.

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