Heading out into the wilderness or hitting the open road helps you leave behind the daily stresses of work and life. However, when your emergency weather radio battery runs low or your phone is down to a 10 percent charge, it changes everything. A portable solar panel allows you to enjoy the freedom of the great outdoors without worrying about your camping gear or your devices running out of juice.
When setting up a portable solar power panel, angle it toward the sun to absorb its energy. Connect a battery to hold the stored energy or, for quick charging, connect your device directly to the solar panel. Finding the best portable solar panel for your next adventure depends on your power requirements, size and weight restrictions, and several other factors described here. This list of top products will help you find the best portable solar panel for your next outing.
- BEST OVERALL: Renogy 200 Watt Monocrystalline Foldable Solar
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: Nekteck USB Solar Panel, 21W Solar Charger
- BEST WITH CONTROLLER: Dokio 100W 18V Portable Foldable Solar Panel Kit
- BEST FLEXIBLE: Renogy 50 Watt 12 Volt Monocrystalline Solar Panel
- BEST COMPACT: GoerTek Solar Charger, 25000mAh Battery Solar Power
- BEST MONOCRYSTALLINE: Goal Zero Boulder 200 Watt Briefcase Monocrystalline
- BEST POLYCRYSTALLINE: HQST 100 Watt Polycrystalline 12V Solar Panel
- BEST THIN FILM: Jackery SolarSaga 60W Solar Panel for Explorer
Types of Portable Solar Panels
Portable solar panels can be classified into three types based on the material used to make their cells, including monocrystalline, polycrystalline, and thin film.
Constructed with silicon wafers cut from a single silicon crystal, monocrystalline solar panels rank best in both energy production and efficiency. The purity of the solar cell increases the ability of the solar panel to absorb energy from the sun, allowing these panels to output a high amount of electrical energy.
This type of portable solar panel is easy to recognize because the solar cells are black and thicker than thin-film products. The silicon wafers are typically assembled into rows and columns to form a rectangle. These high-quality panels cost more than either polycrystalline or thin film.
On polycrystalline panels, the solar cells are blue, not black, because the silicon wafers used to make the solar chargers and solar panels comprise silicon crystal fragments that have been melted together, not a single silicon crystal. This manufacturing process reduces the price, so they’re less expensive, but it also lowers the energy output. However, polycrystalline solar panels are still more efficient than thin-film solar panels.
Thin-film portable solar panels, which are made with a variety of different materials including cadmium telluride (CdTe), amorphous silicon (a-Si), and copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS), typically incorporate conducting layers made of glass, ethylene tetrafluoroethylene (ETFE), or aluminum or steel. Thin-film portable solar panels are the least-efficient type of the three, but they’re generally more affordable than both polycrystalline and monocrystalline panels.
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Portable Solar Panel
Whether looking for a portable solar panel for the RV or a smaller solar panel for backpacking, learn about the various products’ features and specifications to make certain it’s the best portable solar panel for your purposes.
Size and Weight
Size can actually refer to both the physical size and the size of the power output, but here, the focus is on physical size and weight.
A solar panel’s size can be limited by its intended purpose. For instance, hiking with a 36-by-24-inch solar panel in the backpack might be difficult, but this size solar panel is an excellent option for an RV. Choose a solar panel that’s large enough to gather the required energy, but small enough that it’s not a burden. A lightweight portable solar panel could weigh as little as 1 pound, while a heavy-duty portable solar panel can exceed 60 pounds.
The efficiency rating is typically dictated by the type of portable solar panel.
- Monocrystalline portable solar panels have the highest efficiency rating because they use a single piece of pure silicon crystal. Their efficiency ratings can exceed 20 percent.
- Polycrystalline portable solar panels, with an efficiency rating ranging from 15 to 17 percent, are close to monocrystalline in efficiency, but they fall just short because of the impurities in the silicon wafers used to make the solar cells.
- Thin-film portable solar panels vary in efficiency among products because they’re made with a variety of different materials. However, they typically have an energy efficiency rating of just 11 percent.
Higher efficiency is always better, but these products also cost more than low-efficiency solar panels.
Because of the differences in materials used to make the solar cells and the number of solar cells in a panel, power output also depends on the type of solar panel.
- Monocrystalline portable solar panels are the best choice for power output. Some monocrystalline solar panels have power capacities that exceed 400 watts (W).
- Polycrystalline portable solar panels and monocrystalline solar panels come in standardized sizes, including 60, 72, and 96 solar cell variants, and often hit a maximum of 200 watts.
- Thin-film portable solar panels vary between products, but thin-cell solar panels rarely have power capacities of 100 watts or more.
Also determine goals for the charger: Those who want to charge their devices directly should determine if a product has the outputs that allow for a direct connection. Many portable solar panels are designed to connect only to a battery. Other products connect with an RV battery or car battery to provide power to the vehicle and its accessories.
While a boat or RV may have built-in power outlets, when the engine isn’t running, the alternator isn’t recharging the battery. Connecting it to a portable solar panel can provide the power necessary to charge devices without draining the battery.
Adding a battery to a portable solar panel ensures stored energy is available even when the sun has gone down. However, only specific portable solar panels can connect to a battery. Some products are designed to connect directly to devices through USB ports, while other solar panels are made for charging vehicle batteries specifically.
To connect a portable solar panel to a vehicle battery, attach the positive wire from the solar panel to the positive battery terminal and attach the negative wire to the negative terminal, the same configuration used to connect a solar panel to a portable battery. However, a charge controller may be necessary to prevent the solar panel from overloading the battery and causing a reverse flow of energy from the battery to the solar panel.
Our Top Picks
Product efficiency and overall value, with an emphasis on the important considerations mentioned, comprise the main criteria for assembling this list of some of the best portable solar panels available.
The 200-W Renogy portable solar panel can provide the high amount of energy necessary to operate an RV or boat’s accessories and charging ports. It also has a built-in charge controller with a bold LCD display for reviewing operating information. The charge controller automatically stops the flow of energy from the solar panel to the battery when the battery has reached its storage capacity, which prevents overcharging and reduces the risk of fire.
This monocrystalline portable solar panel has a foldable design and a handle to carry it like a briefcase. With an adjustable, corrosion-resistant aluminum stand that folds out from the back of the solar panel, it can be set to different angles to best absorb the sun’s rays.
This Nekteck portable solar panel allows users to connect up to two USB devices at once, including both Apple and Samsung products. The solar panel’s built-in microchip detects the electronic devices plugged into its USB ports, providing specific power outputs based on each device. However, this product probably can’t charge a larger battery or a vehicle.
The monocrystalline portable solar panel folds out into three panels, with a fourth side that acts as a base. It’s made with a lightweight but durable canvas material that weighs just over a pound, and it can fold up to fit in a backpack. The solar panel has an efficiency rating of 21 to 24 percent.
This Dokio monocrystalline portable solar panel can be connected via the five included DC adapters or the charge controller. The controller moderates the flow of energy into 12V batteries, such as those in cars or RVs, to prevent overcharging and reduce the risk of fire. It also includes two USB ports to charge USB devices.
Weighing just 6 pounds, the Dokio can be folded in half for easy carrying with its two built-in carrying handles. It has a 100-W power output, and it features a waterproof fabric backing.
The flexible material on this Renogy portable solar panel is just 0.08-inch thick, and it weighs only 2.87 pounds, allowing it to be carried or folded. It’s designed for use with 12V batteries.
The monocrystalline portable solar panel outputs 50 watts of power, and it’s made with six metal reinforced holes to mount the panel so it doesn’t blow away. However, this portable solar panel has been tested to withstand winds of up to 140 miles per hour and snow loads of up to 112.8 pounds per square foot (PSF).
This portable solar panel has a built-in 25 Ah battery, which means it can provide one ampere of power for up to 25 hours when fully charged. The solar energy that’s absorbed and converted by the solar panel can be stored directly in the device. Or, use the power immediately by plugging in up to three USB devices.
The portable solar panel can be used as a flashlight. Weighing just over a pound, it fits in a bag or connects to a backpack with the included carabiner.
The Goal Zero Boulder portable solar panel, with a power output of 200 W, comes in a convenient fold-up design to fit in a briefcase. However, it weighs about 46 pounds, so it’s not the best option for hiking.
Instead, this portable solar panel can charge portable batteries and power stations for an entire RV or boat. It’s built with monocrystalline silicon wafers pressed between strong tempered glass, and its water-resistant aluminum frame includes a built-in adjustable kickstand to angle it toward the sun.
This HQST polycrystalline panel has predrilled holes in the back of the frame for fast mounting. Also secure it via a variety of different mounting systems, including Z-brackets, pole mounts, and tilt mounts. The aluminum frame resists corrosion, and it’s been tested to withstand snow loads of up to 112.8 pounds per square foot (PSF) and winds of up to 140 miles per hour.
The portable solar panel has a power output of 100 W, but it’s only intended to be used with 12V batteries, like those in boats, RVs, trailers, motorcycles, and other vehicles. For more power, it can be connected to additional portable solar panels and installed on the roof of a camper or even used at home.
This thin-film Jackery portable solar panel has durable ETFE paneling and comes with a power cable to charge portable batteries and power stations. It also has an extension cord with an adapter that includes a USB-C port and a USB-A port to charge two small devices at the same time. The cords are in a small carrying bag on the back of the solar panel.
The portable solar panel has a foldable design with built-in rubber handles. It’s light enough for long hikes, and it can be set up on any surface with the built-in adjustable kickstand.
FAQs About Portable Solar Panels
Portable solar panels, solar chargers, and solar power banks are essential to enjoying an extended trip, but it can be difficult to choose a specific product. Take a look below for more information to help you decide on the best portable solar panel for your needs.
Q. Is a solar blanket different from a portable solar panel?
Solar blankets and portable solar panels have the same function, but solar blankets are less fragile and more flexible than solar panels because they don’t rely on solid panels and rigid frames for stability.
However, solar blankets are more expensive and less effective than solar panels at absorbing the energy from the sun because the loose flexibility of the material limits the position choices to flat or angled areas.
Q. What portable solar panel size should I buy?
Determine the typical electrical output you need from a portable solar panel for items like a weather radio, lights, and mobile devices. Then choose a product that can generate enough energy from direct sunlight to power your devices.
Q. How long do portable solar panels last?
If properly cared for, portable solar panels can last a long time. The average lifespan of a portable solar panel before its energy output begins to decline is between 25 to 30 years.