Camping and spending time in the great outdoors can be incredibly rewarding, but there are plenty of valuable electronics and items you might bring along, whether you are roughing it or glamping. Many people have begun using solar panels for this purpose, as they offer a great way to camp off grid. But how do you choose a solar panel for individual camping needs?
Choosing a solar panel for camping will depend on the energy’s intended use, your camping style, the duration of your camping trip and how big the battery is you are trying to charge. The solar panel’s power, efficiency, features, size, versatility, usability, and technological compatibility should complement your camping needs.
When you’re off the grid, finding a power source to keep electronics up and running can be nearly impossible, and solar panels are a great way to ensure your outdoor experience is everything you’d hoped it would be. Choosing the right one can be confusing, so here are some tips about which solar panels are best suited to camping and what features to watch out for when investing in this sophisticated energy source.
What are the Best Solar Panels for Camping?
Australia has a great amount of sunshine and solar panels are a convenient and simple way to charge batteries so you can camp off grid and still cook, cool and charge appliances. Solar panels use varying technologies to achieve this outcome, and portable or mounted solar panels are usually the best for camping. Some solar panels offer convenient features that can be beneficial for campers. However, there are a few similarities amongst the best solar panel options that you should keep an eye out for when deciding which solar panel would be best for you.
- Practical and powerful for your needs
- Efficient and fast operation and energy output
- Water-resistant and weather-proof
- Straightforward to set up and use
- Easy to carry, transport, and store safely
- Quick charge port and smart charging
- Ability to charge numerous devices simultaneously
- Battery voltage sensor
- Temperature sensor
- All accessories and clips included upon purchase
- Constructed with durable materials such as heavy-duty aluminum frames
- LED indicators
Regardless of the type of solar panel you choose to invest in, the batteries you have will also influence usability. Batteries will store the solar panels’ energy, necessitating that they are durable and large enough according to the solar panel chosen and what you are trying to charge or use.
Types of Solar Panels for Camping/Caravanning
When determining what kind of solar panel would be most suitable for your purposes, a massive factor is the kind of camping you are planning to do. Depending on how you’ll camp, various solar panels may be too bulky or problematic, while others may offer the advantage of being portable without much hassle.
Camp Sites and Backpacking: Personal Portable Solar Panels
If you plan to camp or stay on the move throughout your trip, small personal portable solar panels are the way to go. Many of these portable solar panels have various features and capacities for convenience. These solar panels do not hold an abundant energy supply since they are generally smaller and are only suited to powering devices such as phones and basic electronics. Some of these small portable solar panels are otherwise known as solar chargers, or solar powerbanks as they are meant to power primary devices such as phones while traveling.
Having portable solar panels will allow users to access energy when needed, whether traveling or reclining after a long day of outdoor activities. Choosing to set up camp with portable solar panels also provides users with the ability to chase the sun for an optimal energy supply.
These types of solar panels, like this one from Tentworld, are designed to be carried with you so are small and compact with only a small wattage, general 10W or less. Most also have a USB attached so you can charge your device such as a phone directly off the panel. The most effective portable solar panels can be attached to backpacks, folded out to catch sunlight from multiple directions, and folded for storage or travel.
Camping and Caravanning: Portable Solar Panels and Solar Blankets
If you’re planning on going off grid for any length of time and use a battery set up in your camper trailer or caravan, you’ll eventually need to charge your batteries. If you’ve set up your battery system properly, you should be able to charge them via 240V, a generator or through solar panels.
An easy way to charge up your batteries is with a portable solar panel, or a solar blanket. The benefit of these over fixed solar panels is that you are able to move them around, hence the portable name, and chase the sun for maximum usage. This means that you can park your camper in shade but put out your solar panel in the nearby sun.
Portable solar panels are hard panels that can be connected to your battery via a cable like this one. They generally come with legs so you can angle them towards the sun, and they can be moved around to get the best sunlight at all times of day. These types of panels can be heavy, weighing up to 20kg so you need to keep that in mind when purchasing. However, they will also give you much more charging power than a portable solar charger, coming in various sizes up to about 200W. If you are going to go for this type of panel do your research and make sure you get one with a good quality panel and surrounds.
The other option for portable solar panels is a solar blanket like this example. This is multiple smaller solar panels attached to a backing that can be folded up like a ‘blanket’ for easier transport. Because they are attached to a fabric backing, rather than an aluminum or metal frame, they are lighter and can fold up much smaller than a normal portable panel. Due to their compactness, they also come in bigger power sizes, with some solar blankets up to 300W.
There are many variants of portable solar panels, some of which come with a charge controller built-in and some which do not. It’s important to know your battery system to know which one you need to get (eg if you are connecting straight to your battery you will most likely need a solar panel with a controller.)
RVs and Caravans: Mounted or Fixed Solar Panels
If you plan to set up in an RV or caravan for your camping trip and are not planning on moving around, mounted or fixed solar panels would provide the best experience. These solar panels are larger and can hold more charge, which affords the advantage of cooking and powering devices or appliances using this energy source. This one from Caravan RV Camping is a good example.
Mounted solar panels are meant to be fixed onto the roof of your RV or caravan, enabling it to catch the most sunlight possible. However, the main disadvantage of this is that users have limited access to sunlight, depending on where they have set up camp. Due to this reason, campers with this sort of solar panel should always try to park in sunny areas.
Many mounted or fixed solar panels have the option for upgrades through additional panels for increased power output. But they are generally abundant in providing energy for multiple uses and extended camping trips. Flexible mounted solar panels can be pricier and less powerful. Still, they can be advantageous as they can be bent up to a 30-degree angle allowing increased sunlight exposure and the convenience of fitting over a curved roof.
How to Choose a Camping Solar Panel
Before investing in a solar panel, have a think about the details of your camping trip and style, as well as the intended uses of the energy generated by the solar panel. These factors will determine the power, size and weight, flexibility, versatility, usability, and technological compatibility that you need in your solar panel.
When, Where, and How Will You Be Camping?
The main factors determining the type of solar panel you would need for your trip will be how, where, and how long you will be camping for. This will influence whether you should choose a fixed or portable solar panel. You will generally need to plan when and where solar-generated energy will be used throughout your trip to ensure there is enough to go around.
What Will You Use Solar Generated Energy For?
You should consider what the generated energy will be used for, whether it be primary devices such as phones, lights, and GPS devices, or if the power will be utilized for more energy-exhaustive uses such as cooking appliances. The wattage should be added up and should give you an idea of how capable your solar panel needs to be. Users should ensure that outputs are compatible with the appliances or devices used and check how many devices can be used simultaneously.
Remember that just purchasing the largest watt panel you can find may not be your best option. Depending on how you charge your battery, you might find that your charging capacity is limited anyway. If you need to use an appliance or device straight off the solar panel, make sure that the panel you purchase has a controller with the right type of connection for your use.
Choosing the right kind of camping solar panel for your needs can seem daunting, and inadequate solar panel choices undoubtedly pose various risks. But selecting a suitable solar panel doesn’t have to be stressful or perplexing with the appropriate considerations and determinations beforehand.