5 best portable solar panels for RVs and camping
Individual panel prices
Prices of DIY kits
Installed system prices
There’s nothing better than taking a break from the stress of everyday life and trading computer screens for scenic views. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you want to be totally off-grid. Typically, the solution for this is to use a loud gas-guzzling generator with smelly fumes that can bring you right back to city life.
The good news is, there is a fossil-free alternative for campers and RV owners who want to make the most of a serene outdoor trip: portable solar panels. Portable solar panels connect to mobile battery packs, or in some cases directly to devices, in order to charge them with clean energy so you can unwind without having to unplug completely.
We’ve compiled everything you need to know about portable solar panels, from what to look for, to our picks for the best portable solar panels on the market.
*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.
There are many different models on the market, but we put together a list of some of our top picks for the best portable solar panels for camping.
Renogy’s 200 W foldable solar suitcase is our pick for the best overall portable solar panel. Image source: Renogy
What we like about it: Renogy’s 200-watt foldable solar suitcase comes at a reasonable price and has great performance specifications.
With 22% cell efficiency, these panels are actually comparable to premium home solar panel brands. The foldable design and included carrying case make storage easy. It also comes with a charge controller and alligator clips to charge 12-volt batteries.
Plus, Renogy is a trustworthy brand that offers a 3-year manufacturer warranty - which is much longer than the standard one year warranty offered by other portable solar brands.
What we don’t like about it: It’s been noted that the legs on the Renogy 200 can be a bit flimsy, and being that there’s no bar that locks the two sides of the foldable panel, it can be a bit awkward to set up.
Goal Zero’s Ranger 300 briefcase allows for storage and portability, without having to sacrifice on power. Image source: Goal Zero
What we like about it: The Ranger 300 lets you easily access 300 watts of power without having to worry about connecting multiple panels yourself.
Considering the wattage, it’s relatively lightweight, coming in at 39 pounds. It’s also easy to find a battery to pair with this, in fact, the Ranger 300 is designed to pair with multiple Goal Zero solar generators, and you can bundle the panels and generator into one purchase!
Like Renogy, Goal Zero is known for having reliable products.
What we don’t like about it: The Ranger 300 doesn’t come with a charge controller, and while we do like how easy it is to pair with other Goal Zero products, it might be hard to find other solar generator models that are compatible.
Also, the Ranger 300 cannot be mounted onto vehicles, so if you’re looking for something to attach to an RV, this might not be the option for you.
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: Zamp Solar
What we like about it: Zamp Solar is known for its high-quality products, and the 140-watt portable solar kit is no exception. What’s unique about Zamp’s panel is that not only does it come with a charge controller, but the charge controller is attached to the back of the panel, which lowers the setup hassle for you.
Zamp is a great option for RVs, as many RVs come wired and ready to pair with Zamp products. Plus, Zamp’s products are made in the USA!
What we don’t like about it: Zamp’s portable solar kit is pretty expensive - just $100 cheaper than the Goal Zero Ranger 300 for half of the same power output. They are good quality and made in the USA, but it’s up to you if that’s worth it for your investment.
The BigBlue portable USB phone charger is great for just about anyone who wants to keep their phone charged for the weekend! Image source: Amazon
What we like about it: The BigBlue solar phone charger is made of SunPower solar panels, some of the most premium panels available. It has the ability to charge two USB devices at once. Customer testimonials say that it also delivers decent power output even in cloudy conditions.
What we don’t like about it: The BigBlue is, in fact, big, weighing about 1.3 pounds. This doesn't sound like a lot, but there are much more lightweight options for solar phone chargers.
It also doesn't include an external battery pack, so you need to either purchase one separately, or have your phone plugged in directly to the panels to charge, which can make using your phone a hassle.
Rigid panels are preferred if you aren’t planning on moving the solar panels a lot, and aren’t too concerned about storage space. Image source: Goal Zero
What we like about it: We know Goal Zero is already on this list, but they offer a wide range of products, including this 100-watt rigid panel.
Rigid panels are durable, and this particular one isn’t so bulky that it makes storing and setting up a problem. It also comes with a 2-year warranty, which is longer than many other portable panel warranties.
Just like other Goal Zero panels, this one can easily integrate with Goal Zero solar generators.
What we don’t like about it: The Goal Zero Boulder 100 doesn’t come with a charge controller, so you’ll need to purchase one separately. It also doesn’t come with a carrying case, so it may get scuffed or scratched easily without some form of protection.
And last, some reviews claim that the panel doesn’t produce a full 100 watts of power in sunny conditions.
When shopping around for portable solar panels, there are a few things you need to keep in mind in order to make the right purchase that fits your needs, including:
There are a variety of portable solar panel types to consider, and you should choose one based on your power needs and how you plan to use the panels.
We divide portable solar panels into three types:
We just touched on the different portable solar panel types, but there’s also different solar cell types within those categories. When you look at a solar panel and you see those “squares” on the face of it, those are the cells - and they are what allow solar panels to generate electricity.
There’s three different types of solar cells: monocrystalline, polycrystalline, and thin-film (aka flexible) cells. We’re not going to get into all the nitty gritty details about the different cell types here, but you can read our in-depth guide to solar cell types if you want more information.
When you’re thinking about portable solar panels, it probably seems like a panel made out of flexible cells would be best. However, flexible solar panels have the lowest efficiency, meaning they produce the least amount of electricity out of all the options. We would try and steer clear of flexible panels, unless it’s in a solar phone charger.
Your best bet is to go with a monocrystalline solar panel. Even though they will cost a little bit more money upfront, they’re able to produce the most electricity, giving you the most bang for your buck.
Polycrystalline panels will work just fine, but they are less efficient than monocrystalline options. If you’re on a tight budget, you could definitely make a polycrystalline portable setup work, just know that it won’t produce the same amount of electricity as a monocrystalline setup.
How many of these panels you need depends on what you want to run. For instance, if you want to run a 100-watt mini fridge, you’ll need at least one 100-watt panel. But if you wanted to power the mini fridge and some lights in your RV, then you’ll probably need 200 or 300 watts of solar.
You can figure out exactly how many watts of solar you’ll need by adding up the wattages of the appliances you want to run at one time.
It’s also important to consider what your portable panel setup will be like. If you’re setting up camp in one spot, the actual portability of the panels might not matter as much to you.
But if you’re going to be bouncing around a few different sites, or if you’re going to be in a shady spot that requires you to move the panels into sunlight, lighter weight and movability might have a higher priority.
“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. Why?
Well, for one, 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.
Not only that; once purchased, portable solar panels cost nothing to operate. This is way better than the alternatives - buying costly fuel for a generator or paying for access to electricity in order to charge your batteries. They are also much quieter than gas generators.
Measured in financial terms on a cost-per-watt basis, portable solar panels aren’t as efficient as a roof-mounted or ground-mounted solar system; meaning, they aren’t practical to power a whole home.
Where they do come in handy is when it comes to charging your RV battery over extended camping trips. You can park your RV in the shade and place the portable panels 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.
All in all, portable solar panels aren’t a replacement for rooftop or ground-mounted options, but they are worth considering if you enjoy camping off-grid.