Portable solar panels are ideal for those who enjoy camping, RV-ing, hiking, backpacking and off-the-grid life. They can also be useful for residential settings in limited capacities. Although portable solar panels don't offer the same energy output permanently mounted panels provide, it’s enough for pool houses, sheds, backyard offices and other small accessory dwelling units (ADUs).
The primary use for portable solar panels is to charge devices while camping and to power small appliances in RVs. These panels come in many forms, including suitcase-size folding panels and flexible, ruglike panels that can be rolled up for storage and unrolled to use in nearly any location.
If you're seeking a permanent source of solar power for your primary residence, portable solar panels will not provide enough energy for your needs. If you want an efficient and practical source of clean energy to bring with you on off-grid trips or to use in your converted shed, a portable solar generator or portable panel could be the perfect option for you.
What to look for in the best portable solar panels
Before making a purchase, consider the size, weight, functionality and energy output of any solar panels you're thinking about buying. There's a wide variety of products on the market. Knowing your goals and priorities for your portable solar panels will help you choose the right one for you.
Keep in mind that you may need to purchase multiple portable solar panels for different purposes. For example, you may decide a lightweight 10-watt panel is perfect for your upcoming hike, while a much larger, heavy-duty 200-watt solar panel might be right for the roof of your RV.
Knowing when you'll be using your portable solar panel, how many people will be using it and what devices you'll use it to charge is important.
Size, shape and weight
The smallest portable solar panels (aside from the panels found on your portable calculator) are about the size of a cell phone and are typically used to charge cell phone batteries or batteries for other portable devices.
Larger portable solar panels may be several feet wide or may fold up to the size of a piece of paper. These bigger panels may weigh multiple pounds, while smaller panels may weigh just 1 pound. When purchasing a portable panel for your next trip, pay close attention to the weight, especially if you'll be carrying it around on your back.
When you're buying your portable solar panels, ask yourself how, when and where you'll be using the panel, including whether you'll be carrying it around or packing it up in an RV. Having the answers to these questions will help you decide which type of solar panel is best for you.
Mounting and kickstand options
Some portable solar panels mount to legs or have a kickstand. Kickstands and rotating legs help ensure that a solar panel can be angled so that it catches the light.
Some portable panels simply open up like a book and can be propped on their side to catch the sunlight. Others come with carabiners that can be attached to a backpack or a tent — whatever is most convenient.
Standard permanently mounted solar panels found on the roof of a house generally produce between 250 and 365 watts. Typical portable panels produce around 100 watts, although some portable panels can produce as many as 200 watts.
Smaller electronic devices usually need a 5-volt output, while larger electronic devices may need 12 to 24 volts.
Portable solar panels come with ports for plugging in various devices or with only one port to plug the panel into a power station. When you’re choosing a portable solar panel, it's important to select a product with enough ports to charge your devices. Portable solar panels typically come with a USB port and other plugs of various types. Smaller electronic devices usually need a 5-volt output, while larger electronic devices may need 12 to 24 volts.
Solar panels can be made from different types of materials. The material the solar cell is made from can impact its efficiency rating. Monocrystalline portable solar panels have an efficiency that can exceed 20%. Polycrystalline solar panels have an efficiency of 15% to 17%, while thin-film portable solar panels typically have an efficiency rating of 11%.
The efficiency of the solar panel affects how quickly it takes to charge a battery and how quickly it can take to charge devices. Thin-film solar panels can be very flexible, easy to roll up and lightweight (and, therefore, easy to transport). However, with these portable solar panels, the lower efficiency rating can make them less useful. If you need a high-efficiency solar panel, you'll need to purchase a panel made from less flexible, higher-quality materials — like monocrystalline.
Batteries or a power station
Backup batteries ensure that your solar panel is able to capture a charge even when nothing is plugged in. Backup batteries are important because they allow you to continue charging devices even when the sun is down or the solar panel is stationed where it cannot get a full solar charge.
Some solar panels plug into a power station, which is essentially a large rechargeable battery that can power many devices at once. A typical solar power station might be the size of a small microwave oven or a car battery.
There are many special features found in portable solar panel units. Choose the special features that meet your needs.
- Folding design: Solar panels are broad and tall, which can make them hard to carry. Some solar panels fold in the middle like a book. When unfolded, they collect sunlight. When folded, they're easier to carry from one location to another.
- Case for transport: Big solar panels can be difficult to carry to and from the RV or campsite. Bigger panels sometimes come with cases for easier transportation. These cases generally have a shoulder strap, and sometimes they have two straps for hiking.
- Controller: Some solar panels have charge controllers that make it easier to check settings, battery power, wattage, efficiency and more. Controllers are a common feature in high-end solar panels but may not be easy to find in the most basic models.
- Wearability: Solar backpacks feature a small-wattage solar panel on the broadside. The solar panel is connected to a small battery that can be used to charge a phone or another small, portable device.
- Flexibility: Some portable solar panels are flexible and can be easily rolled up like a cloth for transportation purposes. Flexible solar panels are lightweight and easily transported in a backpack. They can also easily be attached to the roof of an RV for powering a refrigerator. Some portable flexible solar panels can be rolled up very small, but more powerful solar panels are less flexible.
- Weatherproofing: Not all portable solar panels can be left in the rain or exposed to the elements. If you need a portable solar panel that can be left outside throughout your trip, look for panels that are waterproof, can withstand rain and snow and bear the label "all-weather."
- Customizable elements: Some companies that make portable solar panels offer customizable elements for campers, hikers or RVers who know exactly what they want and can't seem to find it in the products available online.
Our picks for top portable solar panels
When selecting a solar panel for your upcoming camping trip or hike, choose a product that's designed with features that will be useful for you.
Solar is a growing industry, and companies are always creating new products for clients. This section outlines our picks for portable solar panels available for sale at some top solar energy companies.
When choosing the "best for" products in each category, we considered factors like weight, size, portability and cost. We also considered reviews from customers. All prices are accurate as of the time of publishing.
- Our pick for camping: Goal Zero NOMAD 100
- Our pick for backpacking: BioLite SolarPanel 10+
- Our pick for RVs: Renogy 200 Watt 12 Volt Monocrystalline Foldable Solar Suitcase
- Our pick for cloudy days: Renogy 100 Watt 12 Volt Solar Starter Kit
- Our pick for folding solar panel: Renogy 100 Watt 12 Volt Flexible Monocrystalline
Our pick for camping
Goal Zero NOMAD 100
The NOMAD 100 solar panel is a 100-watt foldable panel designed for campsites and mobile base camps. The solar panel comes with lightweight solar charging cables to connect to power stations and can be chained to other solar panels to collect additional power. You'll need to purchase an adapter to connect the combiner to the high-power port in order to connect multiple panels, so if this is your goal, make sure you've got the right accessories for this product.
Available for $399.95 from Goal Zero or Amazon, the NOMAD is a highly efficient monocrystalline solar panel. With only one port, this product is meant to be plugged into a controller station to charge your devices. The company also sells portable solar chargers, solar generators and solar power banks.
What makes it great for camping: The NOMAD is foldable for easy transportation and is also weatherproof. At only 10 pounds, this is a good product for campers who plan to drive to their campsite and unload, but it may be considered too heavy to transport for backpacking. Its dimensions (folded) are 20.5 by 15.5 by 2 inches. You can attach it to your tent, trailer or vehicle for easy charging.
Our pick for backpacking
BioLite SolarPanel 10+
The BioLite SolarPanel 10+ is a lightweight folding panel that produces 10 watts of usable electricity. It comes with a 360-degree kickstand to make angling your solar panel easy, even on rugged terrain. It also comes with a battery so you can charge it now and use the power later. Equipped with a USB solar charger, you can use this solar panel to charge your phone or another small mobile device.
Priced between $89.95 and $139.95, the BioLite SolarPanel 10+ is relatively affordable. Don't need quite that much portable solar power? It comes in a 5+ version as well.
What makes it great for backpacking: When you're backpacking, the most important features in a solar panel are portability and functionality. You might want a solar panel that will power your devices and fold up small when it's time to move on. The BioLite SolarPanel 10+’s dimensions are 10.12 by 8.19 by 0.94 inches, and it weighs about 20 ounces.
Our pick for RVs
Renogy 200 Watt 12 Volt Monocrystalline Foldable Solar Suitcase
This solar panel kit comes with two foldable solar panels, a practical case for easy portability and an adjustable aluminum stand. The protective casing comes with latches to keep the solar panel safe and a sturdy, durable handle. The kit also comes with a solar-charged controller with LCD and a negative ground-charge controller to be used specifically with a trailer or a boat.
Priced between $339.50 and $399.99, this Renogy product provides affordable, efficient solar energy.
What makes it great for RVs: RVs need a lot of power for their refrigerator and other appliances. When you're looking for a solar panel for your RV, it's important to focus on efficiency and ease of use, especially if you're planning to perform the setup yourself.
Our pick for cloudy days
Renogy 100 Watt 12 Volt Solar Starter Kit
This is a solar kit, which means it includes everything you need to get your solar system up and running. The 100 Watt 12 Volt Solar Starter Kit is described as the perfect start for people who are new to solar energy. It's highly efficient, achieving over 20% efficiency. It works well for dry camping but can be used in other settings, such as in RVs, trailers, boats, sheds and cabins.
On Amazon, it’s priced at $179.99 for the 100-watt panel plus a 30-amp PWM (pulse-width modulation) charge controller. The kit’s dimensions are 47 inches by 1.5 inches by 20.87 inches, and it weighs about 20 pounds.
What makes it great for cloudy days: On cloudy days, it's important to have a solar panel that's highly efficient, so it converts the little sunlight that's available into usable energy as quickly as possible. This kit's high efficiency really makes a difference — if you frequently take your RV or trailer to areas where it’s cloudy or if you enjoy winter camping, this would be a smart choice for you.
Our pick for bendable panels
Renogy 100 Watt 12 Volt Flexible Monocrystalline
When you're searching for a flexible solar panel, look for a monocrystalline solar panel for maximum efficiency.
The Renogy 100 Watt 12 Volt Flexible Monocrystalline solar panel can be used in or on an RV. It's bendable like a rug, so it's easy to place just about anywhere. Panels can bend up to 248 degrees, which makes them easier to put on uneven surfaces.
Priced between $179.99 and $189.99, this flexible solar panel has a low cost and a high value.
What makes it a great bendable solar panel: These solar panels are designed to be flexible; they can roll up for easy storage, and they can also flex depending on the surface below. They're easily mounted because they're extremely lightweight.
Pros and cons of portable solar panels
Overall, portable solar panels are helpful for people who need a source of clean, renewable energy while they're in remote locations. Compared with RV generators, portable solar panels provide clean, quiet energy.
Many people claim that portable solar panels even work in shade, although they may work better in sunlight. Since the panels are portable, they're often easy to reposition to get more exposure to sunlight.
On the other hand, portable solar panels do not produce the wattage you'd get from a permanently mounted solar panel. How much they produce varies depending on size and efficiency. At most, a typical portable solar panel can power small RV appliances.
Portable solar panels also aren’t designed to be permanently mounted in one location, so if you need to use your solar panel in one location only, consider a permanently mounted solar panel.
For more information, read about the advantages and disadvantages of solar panels.
- Easy to carry and set up
- Usually charge within a few hours
- Clean source of power to charge devices
- Energy production varies
- Less wattage than permanently mounted panels
Frequently asked questions
- What is a portable solar panel?
- A solar panel is a device that absorbs rays from the sun and converts them into energy. Each panel is made up of photovoltaic cells. Solar panels work by allowing particles of light to knock electrons off their atoms. This creates a flow of electricity, which can then be used to charge or power a device.
A portable solar panel is a small version of the permanently mounted panel that you see on homes. Portable panels are not bolted in place and can be moved and set up on different types of terrain and in hard-to-reach areas.
Portable panels typically come with an inverter, cables and a battery. If you plan to mount your panels in a location like your RV rooftop, it helps to buy a solar panel with some kind of mounting straps or other devices that can secure your panels.
Some portable panels are easier to move than others. Large panels that generate a lot of electricity are heavier and less portable than lightweight panels that can be strapped to backpacks and tents. These lightweight panels are convenient to move but produce far less electricity.
- How much do portable solar panels cost?
- Portable solar panels can be as cheap as $60 or as expensive as $500, depending on the functionality, features, energy output, construction and more. When you're choosing portable solar panels, shop around to save money and find the right solar panels for your needs.
Portable solar panels are long-lasting, durable and can be relatively inexpensive compared with permanently mounted solar panels. They're also practical because they provide power in places where power may otherwise be unavailable.
- How long do portable solar panels last?
- Solar panels lose efficiency very slowly and can last a long time. Portable versions typically last about 25 to 30 years.
- What is the difference between traditional and portable panels?
- Traditional solar panels are permanently mounted fixtures that appear on homes and businesses around the country. Stationary solar panels are not the only kind available, however. Portable panels are available for those who need solar power on the go, whether for camping, backpacking or RV travel.
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