Imagine if you could just walk around with a portable solar panel that can power your devices through your trek? No more dead battery in your cell phone, GPS, MP3, tablet, or flashlight. But it can’t be that easy to carry around solar panels. Can it?
When we say solar power, we’re used to thinking of massive panels lining the roof of a home or cabin. We might then think that these require a large investment and that they are difficult to install, all of which is somewhat true. Yet not all solar power systems are the same.
Portable solar panel kits, for instance, are small, light, and easy to carry in any off-grid situation. If you’re looking for an environmentally-friendly way to solar charge your phones or small appliances on the go, these foldable solar panels are likely an ideal choice.
Portable solar panel kits work in the same way regular solar panels do, by converting sunlight into electricity with the help of photovoltaic (PV) cells. These are comprised of two thin layers of silicone, one of the most common polymers of man-made products. In the presence of light, these silicone layers create an electric charge that is then harnessed by the system and used to power some of your appliances. Alternatively, this electricity can also be stored in a battery or bank for later use. Unlike the solar power systems you see on rooftops, even the best portable solar panel kits will have a relatively small wattage.
Low wattage means that these foldable solar panels are not capable of generating as much electricity, but they shouldn’t have to. There’s a reason why these products have a smaller surface and fewer PV cells, namely that they are made for increased mobility, so you can take them with you and have electricity anywhere you go.
How much energy a solar panel can generate depends on three elements: the size of the foldable solar panel, how much time it spends in direct sun, and the panel’s efficiency or capacity to collect power. Typically, mid-range products will be able to generate from 150W to 350W per hour in standard test conditions. This may not seem like particularly much, given the fact that an average household will need about 15-20 kilowatt-hours (kWh) per day. However, during a camping or an RV trip, these foldable solar panels can be lifesavers. A small, 50W solar panel for camping is enough to charge your smartphone or a similar electronic device. Several LED lights and a small fridge or TV would need anywhere from 120W to 150W per hour. The same amount of wattage is usually found on solar panels for RVs, since recreational vehicles can usually manage with that amount of electricity.
If you’re on the hunt for the perfect portable solar panel for your adventures, take a look at the most popular items, reviewed below. You’re sure to find one that fits your needs and can help you to create your very own solar power bank.
Renogy Foldable Solar Suitcase Kit 100W
Renogy 100 Watts Solar Starter Kit
Eco-Worthy 40W Solar Panel Kit with Handbag
- 1 Best Portable Solar Panels – Top Reviews of 2020
- 2 How to Choose the Best Portable Solar Panels?
- 3 Conclusion
Best Portable Solar Panels – Top Reviews of 2020
Portable solar panel kits for RVs, camping, and off-grid homes are small-scale versions of their larger, more common counterparts. The best solar panels are also easy to set up (in under two minutes), require little maintenance, and come in shapes that can be folded and unfolded quickly. Below, you’ll find our top choices that meet these demands and more in 2020’s top reviews of the best portable solar panels available. (Looking for related items like our favorite portable solar power generators?)
1. Renogy Foldable Solar Suitcase Kit 100W
This foldable solar panel by Renogy is perfect to take on the go. It features a USB charge port that works with any device so you can keep your phone or GPS charged, or listen to music while you walk, hike, camp, or relax by the beach. This panel folds in half but still stays ultra thin so it’s very easy to bring with you or pack in your car or camping gear for emergencies. When folded, the unit measures only about 10×6 inches. Unfolded, it’s approximately 10×13 inches.
This solar panel kit has a high-capacity monocrystalline solar glass that absorbs maximum energy from the sun. It also features overcharge protection so you cannot accidentally overcharge or drain your device’s battery. It comes with carabiners and suction cups for clipping or mounting for the best sun.
- High-capacity monocrystalline solar glass
- Unit folds in half for easy portabilityTakes under 1 minute to set upUltra thin design
- Short product lifetimeCLY 60 LED Solar Flood LightsProduct actually doesn’t work well for iPhone and Apple products
2. Zamp Solar Portable Solar Panels
These portable solar panels for RVs and mobile homes by Zamp Solar boast a powerful PV output of 120W each. While generating more energy than most other similar products, this kit is not much heavier and can be folded just as easily for convenient storage and transportation.
The set includes one foldable solar panel with an integrated stand for quick installation, as well as a charge controller attached to its back. The solar panel can be connected to an RV or other similar battery by the alligator clips or it can be plugged into a Zamp Solar sidewall using the dedicated port. In either case, it takes less than a minute to set up and start using the entire solar power system.
When not in use, the panel folds neatly into a suitcase that weighs just under 34lb. Although it’s not practical to carry it on a hiking trek, the kit fits into any vehicle for camping trips, fishing, or going off the grid.
- Powerful output of 120W, which is more than with most other options
- Includes a charge controllerTakes under 1 minute to set upIncludes components necessary for quick installation
- Heavier and larger than other optionsCLY 60 LED Solar Flood LightsMore expensive than other options
3. Renogy 100 Watts Solar Starter Kit
As you will undoubtedly learn from most reviews, Renogy manufactures some of the best portable solar panels for homes off the grid, RVs, boats, camping, and other applications. This 100W solar starter kit is no different. It features the highest quality components and comes complete with all the elements required for installation.
With an ideal output of 0.5kWh per day, this solar panel can fully charge a 50Ah battery over the course of one day, which is more than enough for most mobile devices, laptops, and small appliances you might need while enjoying the outdoors. Unlike foldable solar panels, however, this kit must be transported as is, which may be problematic if you’re trying to travel without a vehicle.
Otherwise, for cabins, trailers, boats, sheds, and other off-grid locations, the panel works perfectly and is very easy to maintain. The set includes a charge controller, mounting Z brackets, and all the cable necessary for installation.
- A great solar panel kit for those who are new to solar energy
- Includes everything needed to install and run the solar panelTakes under 1 minute to set upCan be expanded with additional, similar solar panels if more energy is required
- Slightly more expensive than other optionCLY 60 LED Solar Flood LightsNot foldable
4. Goal Zero Nomad 7 Solar Panel
If you only intend to use your portable solar panels for camping and other light applications, then this sleek accessory by Goal Zero is one of your best possible choices. The solar panel only produces 7W per hour of exposure to sunlight, but it can easily charge a phone or other devices in one to two hours and it’s small enough to carry on your own. The kit weighs only about 1.5lbs and it can even be attached to a backpack so that it can charge your devices while you trek. The Goal Zero Nomad also comes in 13W and 20W versions, all of which are foldable solar panels that can be easily stored and brought on camping trips.
- Very light and easy to carry in or on a backpack
- Rugged and weatherproof
- perfect for camping trips and outdoor exposureTakes under 1 minute to set upWill charge most USB devices
- Wattage is too low to charge tablets, laptops, and larger devices, although the Nomad 13 and the Nomad 20 can be ordered instead for additional energy
5. Eco-Worthy 40W Solar Panel Kit with Handbag
At 40W per polycrystalline panel, this kit by Eco-Worthy is powerful enough to feature in our list of the top 5 best portable solar panels and affordable enough to suit a tighter budget. The set includes one solar panel, a charge controller, an aluminum stand, a pair of alligator clips, and a useful handbag for storage and transportation.
Everything you need to install and start running this solar panel is included in one purchase. In addition, both the panel and the stand are built to withstand salt corrosion, humid environments, as well as heavy rain and high temperatures. When not used, the panel folds in half and can be placed in the handbag for protection. The item weighs only about 11lbs, which makes it perfect for camping and other light, off-grid applications.
- Very affordable compared to other options
- Light, foldable, and easy to carryTakes under 1 minute to set upIncludes a useful handbag for storage and transportation
- Less powerful than other solar panel kits of its sizeCLY 60 LED Solar Flood LightsLess durable than other options
How to Choose the Best Portable Solar Panels?
The best solar panels for you are the ones that successfully meet your electricity needs while travelling. Things you should consider when deciding which portable solar panel kit to go with are the number of devices you need to power or charge, but also several technical specifications that vary from one product to another, like how easy it is to install the solar panel.
Solar Panels and PV Input
There are two types of solar panels: monocrystalline and polycrystalline. The second are the least effective, with a conversion rate just under 20%, but are usually easier to transport. On the other hand, monocrystalline foldable solar panels are more durable and efficient, with their downside being a slightly higher price. You’ll be able to easily tell them apart by their STC rating or module efficiency.
The PV output is what sets the best solar panels apart from the others, since it says how much electricity they can generate at a time. The higher the number, the faster you’ll be able to charge your laptop, phone, or other batteries. If you just need to power a few solar lanterns, you’ll need less power, for example.
Battery and Charge Controller
Because most portable solar panels come without a battery or bank, you’ll likely need to purchase one separately. It’s important that you find an adequate, durable, deep-cycle accumulator, as it will have to be constantly recharged and discharged. Ideally, this battery should be able to keep a charge for a long while without using electricity.
The charge controller element of your foldable solar panel is crucial to maintaining the health of your batteries, as it essentially links the panel to the battery. This mechanism is also responsible for keeping your accumulators healthy by stabilizing the charge, as well as preventing any overcharging from taking place. (And don’t forget the solar inverter, which converts the power from DC to AC!)
Durability and Portability
The durability of your solar panels for your RV or boat is another element you should pay attention to. Since you’ll be travelling in the great outdoors, weather won’t always be friendly, so you need to be prepared for it in every way possible. Although most panels are weather-proof, you should make sure that the solar kit you’re considering can withstand rain and wind, as well as generous temperature variations. Ideally, the best kits are also easy to carry. You’re outdoors for a reason so being able to move and enjoy as much of nature is likely your primary concern. Whether you’re looking for the right kit for living off-grid, or for RVs, calculating how much energy you need should always be the first thing you do. This will help you understand what type of product you’re looking for, as well as narrow down your search quite a bit.
People have successfully used solar energy for camping off-grid ever since the technology first became available a few decades ago. Since then, solar technology has grown in leaps and bounds and continues to improve every year. Following suit, solar products that used to be scarce a few decades ago are overtaking the market. Recreational activities have completely changed since involving this new equipment. In many cases, solar technology, like these portable solar panels, can save lives and make emergency situations much better. (Looking for more cool solar articles? Check out our list of solar angle calculators as well!)