When you’re out on a camping trip, there’s nothing more frustrating than running out of power. Sure, you could always bring along a generator, but that’s not always convenient, especially if you’re trying to pack lightweight. That’s where portable solar panels come in! Let’s talk about what these panels are and review some of the best portable solar panels on the market today. Whether you’re an avid outdoorsman or just want a backup power source for emergencies, here’s everything you need to know about these panels.
What are Portable Solar Panels?
Portable solar panels are exactly what they sound like: solar panels that you can take with you wherever you go. Nowadays, you can find these panels in all shapes and sizes, from small, lightweight panels that can fit in your backpack to larger ones that fold out like a briefcase. Some even come with built-in batteries so you can store power for later use.
Portable solar panels are a great way to charge up your devices when you’re away from home, but they’re also useful for powering small appliances, lights, and other electronics. More powerful options can keep a fridge running for days.
People often use portable solar panels for some types of camping where they will not have access to electricity. Even if you might be near your vehicle, it is nice to use a cleaner source of power when out in the wild. They are also great for any outdoor activity that is away from outlets our power. They are WAY quieter, cleaner, less-stinky, and less of a nuisance than a portable generator.
These panel systems usually come with the panels, charge controllers, batteries, and inverters. Although similar, these aren’t the same as solar panels that you attach to the roof of your car. Instead, portable solar panels are designed to be more lightweight, easy to transport, and move around. This is a huge advantage over roof panels because they’re usually fixed in one spot and can be a pain to move around. The only downside is that you’ll have to set up them up every time, rather than just having them mounted on the roof or your car.
How do Portable Solar Panels Work?
Portable solar panels work by converting sunlight into electricity. When sunlight hits the solar cells, it knocks electrons loose from their atoms. These free-flowing electrons create an electric current, which is then stored in a battery. From there, you can use the power to charge your devices or run appliances. The efficiency of portable solar panels has come a long way in recent years. In the past, these panels were only able to convert a small percentage of sunlight into electricity. But now, some of the best portable solar panels can convert a large percentage of sunlight and generate up to 300 watts or more. This is about the same as rooftop solar panels. They’re quite impressive!
Of course, the amount of power you can generate depends on a few factors, like the size of the panel, type of solar cells, and the weather conditions. For an obvious example, you’ll generate more power on a sunny day than on a cloudy one. In general, though, you can expect most portable solar panels to generate between 5 and 150 watts of power. The more powerful ones can generate even more.
Are Portable Solar Panels Reliable?
In short, yes. Portable solar panels are quite reliable. They’re one of the cleanest sources of electricity, as they generate no emissions. They’re also pretty quiet, durable, and can withstand some harsh conditions. Most panels are made with tempered glass, which is resistant to hailstones, wind, snow, and other elements.
As far as power output, expect anywhere from 150 to 200 watts of output from a solar unit. Obviously, one of the tradeoffs of spending less is that you probably don’t get as much power.
Portable solar panels are also low maintenance — there’s no need to regularly inspect or clean them like you would with a generator. The only maintenance they require is an occasional wipe down to remove any dirt, dust, or leaves that may have accumulated on the surface. This is easy to do with a damp cloth and takes just a few minutes.
One thing to keep in mind is that portable solar panels don’t work well in cold weather. The cells need sunlight to generate power, and they don’t work as well when it’s cold out. So, if you live in a cooler climate, you might want to consider getting a solar panel that can be used indoors, or perhaps a generator. You must also be careful when using these panels, especially when they’re generating electricity. Always read the instructions.
Many people we know who are overlanding or traveling by RV rely on a combination of solar power and propane. A portable solar panel and a refillable camp propane tank can pretty much cover your needs.
Best Portable Solar Panels
EcoFlow 160W Solar Panel
If you’re looking for a foldable, lightweight, and durable solar panel, the EcoFlow 160W Solar Panel is a great option. Weighing 15 pounds and 6.4 ounces, it’s an incredibly lightweight panel that you can easily bring along for any outdoor trip. It also folds up into a compact size, making it simple to transport and store. Although it’s on the pricier side of $450, you’re able to generate up to 160 watts of power! And it only takes seconds to start.
The panel has a high conversion rate between 21% to 22%, meaning it’s able to capture more sunlight and convert it into electricity. And when paired with an EcoFlow power station, you can produce the most power possible during any time of the day. Unfortunately, the power station is not included but is worth the investment if you plan on using the panel frequently. You may find the kickstand a bit flimsy, but it’s still able to support the panel well.
All in all, this is an excellent solar panel that provides great value for its price.
- Quick starting
- No power station
Goal Zero Nomad 200 Solar Panel
The Goal Zero Nomad 200 Solar Panel is another popular option. This time, you’re able to generate a staggering 200 watts of power! It’s one of the most powerful portable solar panels on the market that can easily charge a laptop or two quickly. The panel is on the heavier side, weighing in at 22 pounds, but it’s still manageable to carry around. And of course, since it’s able to produce more power, it’s going to cost you a little more with a price tag of around $600.
The Zero Nomad 200 folds down very compactly, about a fourth of the size of when it’s fully open. It also has a very sturdy build quality with an aluminum frame that can withstand some pretty tough conditions. The panel has a protective enclosure with loops that you can hang and strap to your vehicle or tent, making it versatile. The base is very stable with legs that can be staked down for additional stability in windy conditions, making it a better choice if you expect your panel to get some wear and tear. Overall, this is an excellent solar panel that’s built to last and can provide you with all the power you need.
An alternative to the Goal Zero Nomad 200 is the Goal Zero Boulder 200. It’s also able to produce 200 watts as well for the same price, but it does weigh 42 pounds instead of 22. This is definitely a heavy alternative, but it pairs perfectly with more robust power stations, such as the Goal Zero Yeti 1000 or above for the best results.
- Strong build – rugged
- Better power output
- Compatible with Yeti power station
- Higher price