The great outdoors is always right around the corner.
However, going out without a plan for powering devices is impractical these days. Solar panels offer free energy to those who use them and provide a simple solution to the problem.
The issue then becomes picking the correct one for your favorite adventures.
Below is a table summarizing the five best portable solar panels for camping. In total, they go from 21 watts all the way up to 100 watts of power.
Due to the difference in power, the panels naturally vary in weight and size. The 100W panels also vary in weight significantly due to their materials.
|Solar Panel Ranking||What Makes It Unique?|
|1. Best Overall – Rockpals 100W Foldable Solar Panel||– Avg. 4.7/5 on Amazon based on over 2,000 ratings|
– Comes with multiple adapters for devices
– 3x USB ports in addition to DC port
|2. Best Small Panel – BigBlue 3 USB Ports 28W Solar Charger||– 3x USB ports|
– Small enough to attach on backpack; powerful enough to charge 3x devices
|3. Best Value – Nekteck 21W Portable Solar Panel||– Over $20 less than competition (Anker)|
– Lightweight (1.12 lbs)
|4. Most Compact – ALLPOWERS 100W Portable Solar Charger||– Can fit in a backpack (uncommon for 100W panels)|
– 2x USB ports in addition to DC port
– Lightest 100W panel on this list by far (5.23 lbs)
|5. Most Robust – Goal Zero Boulder 100 Briefcase||– High-quality materials (aluminum frame & tempered glass)|
– Has kickstand to angle panel
Below are some of the basic specifications of each selection in this post.
|Model||Rockpals 100W Foldable Solar Panel||BigBlue 3 USB Ports 28W Solar Charger||Nekteck 21W Portable Solar Panel||ALLPOWERS 100W Portable Solar Charger||Goal Zero Boulder 100 Briefcase|
|Weight||10.8 lbs||1.35 lbs||1.12 lbs||5.29 lbs||25.9 lbs|
|Folded Size||20.5 x 14.2 in||11.1 x 6.3 in||6.3 x 11.1 in||12.6 x 7.5 in||20 x 26.75 in|
If you’re looking for solar panels designed specifically for recharging cell phones and smaller devices, I recommend checking out my other blog post dedicated specifically to this topic.
I discuss FAQs on cell phone recharging and give my top three portable solar panels for this purpose. You can find this post here: How Long Does It Take a Solar Charger to Charge a Cell Phone?.
1. Rockpals 100W Foldable Solar Panel
- Weight: 10.8 pounds
- Size (Folded): 20.5 in by 14.2 in
- Size (Unfolded): 20.5 in by 64.5 in
- Wattage: 100 watts at variable amperage
- Solar Efficiency Values: 21.5% to 23.5%
Rockpals 100W foldable solar panels are designed to work with both solar generators and individual devices.
The panels come with a wide variety of connectors for the various solar generators. The junction box also contains three USB ports equipped with quick charge and intelligent device recognition powered by TIR-C.
The panels themselves fold up into a briefcase-sized package. The panels are waterproof, and the cover is water-resistant. The junction box must be kept dry for safety.
The panels offer enough surface area to be effective even on cloudy days.
The Rockpals panels are incredibly versatile. The built-in USB ports offer you the option to charge handheld devices quickly.
Meanwhile, being able to plug these panels into a solar generator can create enough power for whole campsites. That kind of versatility is hard to come by.
The three USB ports are beautifully incorporated. The pouch containing the ports can store all the necessary cables and connectors, so they’re never separated from the panels.
This collection will make camp setup infinitely more comfortable, and you never need to worry about where you left the bag of connectors.
These panels are large enough to generate 100 watts under optimal conditions. The foldable panels are generally efficient and easy to set up at a campsite.
Plus, the folding capability means it fits in the car well with your other camping gear. The panels are also durable enough to handle the moving and jostling required during an off-road trip.
Many different connectors link the Rockpals panels to various solar generators and devices.
While the packages have storage for these connectors, there is still the possibility of losing the one that works with your generator.
Despite having all these connectors, the panels do not work with some generators, such as the Jackery 440.
Additionally, when folded, the panels are the size of a briefcase. This feature makes them suitable for car-based excursions, but not backpacking.
Also, you may need to be creative when rigging the panels off the ground because of their size. While there are loops for easy connection, finding a spot that holds ten pounds in direct sunlight is, at times, a problem.
These panels are also not designed to be parallel capable. That means the solar devices cannot work together to generate more power, and each must hook into a solar generator directly.
If you want a more extensive power network, that can become difficult to wire.
2. BigBlue 3 USB Ports 28W Solar Charger
- Weight: 1.35 pounds
- Size (Folded): 11.1 in by 6.3 in
- Size (Unfolded): 11.1 in by 33.1 in
- Wattage: 28 watts at up to 4.8 amps
- Solar Efficiency Values: 21.5% to 23.5%
There are four buckles for easy attachment just about anywhere. The panels also offer built-in current protection and smart charging as extra safety measures for the charging devices.
The design itself is designed to be both rugged and useful. The panels have a PET polymer coating for water repellency, while the case offers IPX4 standard level waterproofing.
The three USB hubs are located inside a pocket that works with a waterproof port protector to keep everything running.
The BigBlue solar charger is both lightweight and rugged.
The built-in hooks make it easier to attach to backpacks than some other models of the solar charger. Its folded dimensions make it easy to store in the pack or on the carabiner hooks once everything is fully charged.
This solar charger is specially designed for handheld devices. This category includes phones, music players, and camping devices, such as rechargeable headlamps.
It’s also possible to charge camera batteries, such as those used by a DSLR, with the right connector. Being able to capture all the moments from your outdoor trips without worrying about the battery is incredibly useful.
While BigBlue does offer current protection, it does not have a battery.
That means it needs to be in sunlight to charge devices, and any changes in the intensity of the sunlight can alter how fast machines charge.
While the current protection technology does help keep the devices safe, it doesn’t help keep a charge going.
Additionally, there is limited compatibility. This solar charger does not connect to any sort of solar generator or any battery that does not have a USB connection.
It also does not work on bigger devices, such as tablets and laptops. Depending on the purpose of your excursion, that makes it significantly less useful.
The design itself also either works for you, or it doesn’t. If you’re used to working with mini-bungees and carabiners, the attached buckles can require some working around.
Additionally, the pouch which houses the USB ports is secured with Velcro. Some adventurers find that their device is not secure enough with the single strip of Velcro and falls out of the solar charger.
3. Nekteck 21W Portable Solar Panel
- Weight: 1.12 pounds
- Size (Folded): 6.3 in by 11.1 in
- Size (Unfolded): 26.2 in by 11.1 in
- Wattage: 21 watts at up to 3 amps
- Solar Efficiency Values: 21% to 24%
This Nekteck portable solar panel is designed to be rugged, with a PET polymer cover and waterproofing that meets IPX4 standards.
It’s also designed to be lightweight and compact. The foldable panel and sturdy attachment points make it perfect for outdoor adventures.
The solar panel connects to your devices through two USB ports built into the design. These ports have smart IC technology.
Smart IC recognizes what devices are connected and charges them at their optimal rate when possible. This technology is all built into an easy use pouch in the canvas cover.
Nekteck portable solar panels are lightweight, which is beneficial regardless of your planned adventures.
This piece of gear weighs a little over a pound, folds small, and has a rugged design. It is ideal for backpackers but would not be out of place around a campsite.
The pocket design on this solar panel is useful. The USB charging ports are located inside the zippered pocket. You can plug the devices into the solar panel, zip them into the pocket, and then hike all day without worrying about where those devices are.
Charging optimization technology is also practical. Since each device is different, using the different charging rates decreases the probability that a device will do a safety cutout.
It also allows the panel to charge the machines as fast as possible, which is very useful when you’re moving around.
The most significant disadvantage to the Nekteck solar panel model is the lack of an internal battery.
This lack limits the panels to active charging, which means what the panel converts right then is what’s available. This distinction can become annoying as you thread through tree-lined trails or under the occasional cloud.
Many devices have a safety cutout built-in if the charging current is too low or too high.
Without a battery to even out the current, walking under trees or clouds can cause the charging to cease until the device is unplugged and plugged back in. That is less than ideal when hiking.
The way around this is charging portable batteries instead of the devices directly, but more batteries add more weight to the trip.
The other disadvantage is only being able to connect the panel via USB. While most devices charge off of USB these days, there are still some oddball devices.
Requiring an adapter decreases the efficiency of charging for most devices and negates any benefits from the smart IC technology.
4. ALLPOWERS 100W Portable Solar Charger
- Weight: 5.29 pounds
- Size (Folded): 12.6 in by 7.5 in
- Size (Unfolded): 37 in by 46 in
- Wattage: 100 watts at variable amperage
- Solar Efficiency Values: up to 23.5%
The ALLPOWERS solar panel offers PET panels sewn into durable canvas fabric. The unique feature of this device is the way the solar panels are laid out.
Rather than having large solar cells, the design incorporates a higher number of smaller panels. This choice makes the solar charger incredibly foldable and easy to carry.
While the overall design is lightweight, the outputs are versatile. The device offers two USB ports and a DC output.
Included in the package are a variety of connectors, ranging from a car battery to a cigarette lighter adapter to various laptops.
That kind of diverse usability makes it an excellent option for outdoor adventures. The solar charger can also be compatible with solar generators.
ALLPOWERS solar charger features iSolar technologies. This technology allows the charger to sense the device on the other end of the connector and supply power in the way that charges that device fastest.
Since you can choose to charge a cell phone from the 100-watt panel, it is important, so the device does not overload.
The overall design is highly foldable. It is also dust and water-resistant, which is useful for the great outdoors. The solar charger has several eyeholes and loops for easy attachment, whether that’s a tent side or a backpack.
The availability of direct charging ports is useful for powerful solar panels. It allows the device to operate without a solar generator or charging station.
In the case of backpacking, that’s a lot of saved weight. In the case of cars or recreation vehicles, that’s a significant amount of space. Regardless of the outdoor adventure, it’s a benefit.
ALLPOWERS also built-in exceptional device compatibility. The technology behind the charger determining what is on the other end of the cable is exceptional to manage all of this.
The basic package includes ten laptop connectors, DC 5.5×2.5mm to 5.5×2.1mm cable, USB cables, carabiners, and a cigarette lighter plug, The combination is both useful and easy to work with, whether its personal electronics, laptops, or generators.
The biggest issue with this product is what allows it to be so foldable. There is no robust framework in the solar charger.
This feature makes putting the cells at a significant angle to catch sunlight difficult. While they do work well on the ground, that position does not offer maximum solar efficiency, and charging may suffer.
Additionally, there is no controller unit included in the package.
Instead, the solar charger relies on the controller built into the generator or power station. While not inherently dangerous, that means lugging a separate controller if the device does not include one.
5. Goal Zero Boulder 100 Briefcase Solar Panel
- Weight: 25.9 pounds
- Size (Folded): 20 in by 26.75 in
- Size (Unfolded): 43.5 in by 26.75 in
- Wattage: 100 watts up to 7 amps
- Solar Efficiency Values: up to 23%
The Boulder 100 is a solidly built pair of solar panels hinged together for maximum power. The panels are tempered glass and mounted on a lightweight aluminum frame.
The modules come with removable kickstands for proper angling without the hunt of the right sized rock to lean them against. The panels also come with a built-in handle.
The package also includes a carry case for even more mobility. The Boulder 100 panels take a no-frills approach to panels, so no extra wires are hanging around or bulky controllers.
The panels are specifically designed to work with other Goal Zero products, so the 8mm connector fits snugly and securely with them. Goal Zero designed the panels to work alone or in combination for even more power.
The Boulder 100 is more straightforward to transport than many similar wattage products. The designers took the time to create a lightweight frame, which helps cut the weight.
While few people are going to set these up with one hand tied behind their back, the maneuverability is welcome while setting up a campsite.
The Boulder 100 is specifically designed to work with other Goal Zero products, and specifically power stations.
By narrowing their focus, Goal Zero optimized what the power stations get out of the solar panels. Additionally, the connector is designed with increased precision, so it is safer to use in adverse outdoor weather.
Additionally, Goal Zero designed the Boulder 100 to run either alone or with other units.
Combined technologies make it easy to place the panels and get the most juice possible flowing through the power station. This feature is especially useful when there are less than optimal levels of sunlight available.
Like many solar panels this size, there is no battery and no direct charging of handheld devices. Unless your outdoor adventures include the associated power station or a cabling workaround, the panels are not usable.
Additionally, the panels lack a controller unit, as Goal Zero integrates those with the power stations themselves.
There have also been problems with storing the panels. When the panels are folded closed, the glass is on the outside.
The case is not exceptionally well padded, so any bump can damage the panels. This problem is compounded by the carry case only opening on one side, so getting the solar cells back in the case can be rough on them.
The kickstands can also be slightly problematic. The locking position for the panels when open is only 45 degrees.
While this works well in many locations, it is not a universal position. In many areas, the angle for optimal sunlight capture is higher.
Since the cables are built into the Boulder 100, there are some issues with length. Many devices charge best when kept cool and out of direct sunlight.
The shorter cable may not have the range required and using an extension cable causes small power losses.
Advice on Choosing the Right Panels for Your Adventures
The critical part of choosing the right product to compliment your outdoor trips is understanding all the factors.
Without due consideration, you may end up with a solar charging panel that does not meet your needs or sacrifices too much portability.
Number of Devices and Users
The devices you intend to charge plays a big part in what sort of solar power you need. For example, a phone requires far less energy than a heater does.
The other important factor is how many devices and users will be relying on the panel. If there is only one panel for a group of six, charging time may get a little competitive.
The more watts a unit generates, the more electricity can be created. Accounting for the sunlight availability fluctuations, this power determines how many devices can charge.
The output of portable models will vary, so make sure to test it out at home using the set of gear you intend to take on your next outdoor adventure.
What type of adventures you favor also plays a part in which solar chargers will work best for you.
Each style of camping, from backpacking to RVing, has different power requirements. The requirements for backpacking are typically limited to mobile phones, and portability is paramount.
Meanwhile, car camping and RVing may use a few more devices, all of which need charging.
Solar panels are reliant on being placed in the sunshine. If you love a good beach or plains campout, there’s nothing to worry about.
However, once you introduce woodlands, finding the open space required to set the panel in the sun becomes more difficult, but certainly not impossible.
Finding sunlight in dense woodlands requires some ingenuity at times. Fortunately, most solar chargers come with a variety of attachment points.
This variety allows you to rig the panel to take advantage of any sunlight available, whether it’s up a tree, against a rock, or even on your own pack.
After a time, trip duration does matter when choosing a solar charger model. The models without batteries or power stations work well for weekend getaways.
However, the inconsistent availability of sunlight can hamper device charging over a more extended trip. The convenience factor must be considered when it comes to having power when you need it.
How the Charger Gets There
Some panels fold up into a little pouch, while others are about the size of a briefcase. If you plan on hiking ten miles a day with a briefcase-size panel, chances are you’re going to be picking up that panel unused on your way back down the trail.
It’s important to consider how the charger is going to get where you need it before you buy one. Larger models are more suited to car camping.
Storage is another major consideration for camping solar panels. Many fold up and fit into pouches.
However, you need those pouches to have a home while not in use. Ideally, this location shields them from temperature extremes and rough handling until your next outdoor adventure.
Tips for Using Camping Solar Panels
Solar panels require a little more finesse than merely plopping them in a sunny area. Angles and placement play a significant part in how efficient the solar units are. Additionally, there are safety measures to observe, regardless of the solar charger model.
Stationary or Moving
Stationary or fixed solar panels attach to the tops of RVs, the lawns of homesteaders, and everywhere in between.
These panels always face the same direction. While this has the advantage of less labor and attention required, it is also less efficient. Since the angle to the sun does not change, a suboptimal amount of sunlight is captured and converted.
Moving or mobile solar panels, on the other hand, tend to be more efficient at sunlight collection.
Using a portable panel means you can reposition it throughout the day for maximum efficiency. You could even save it from rain showers. However, this model of solar panels requires attention and rearranging to work well.
Generally, solar panels must be placed in a way that prevents the underside from heating up.
While there’s no way to avoid the sunlight, you can avoid putting the panels on surfaces that heat up, such as concrete or sand.
Instead, aim to raise the cells off the ground by attaching them to a backpack, tent, or tree. This position will also help with solar efficiency if done correctly.
Many people worry about their solar chargers walking off with some unscrupulous individual while they’re away from camp.
Fortunately, many solar panel designers have also considered the possibility. Looping a bike chain through the eyeholes of the panels and then attaching it to something immovable should deter a casual thief.
While solar chargers tend to be low wattage systems, they do still require some electrical safety. When working with electricity, it’s vital to complete the circuit before running power through it.
With solar chargers, that means connecting all the cables and chargers before exposing the panels to the sun.
If not done this way, the initial surge could harm the internal components or even shock you. Treating electrical burns in the wilderness is not advisable.
In some cases, you may discover that the device you would like to charge has a safety feature that prevents it from charging effectively off the fluctuations in a solar charger.
In this case, it is often easier to charge a portable battery or power bank off the solar charger.
Then you can charge devices off the portable power bank at your convenience. This method can save a lot of frustration, especially in changing weather.
The Benefits of Camping Solar Panels
The benefits of using solar are numerous. By making this choice, you are likely to increase your own enjoyment of the great outdoors and help keep our outdoors clean.
Solar charging is a practical option to keep devices full of battery. Whether you enjoy walking through the woods listening to the classics or using rechargeable tools around the campsite, there’s a solar panel built to work with that activity.
Many can even charge multiple devices at once, which is a practical option for groups.
These days everyone needs to be reachable. When you’re outside, though, it’s not about the next message. Instead, having a working phone is a matter of safety.
There is no way to predict an emergency and being able to summon aid is paramount.
Solar energy exists, whether it is harvested or not. By selecting a solar option, you are mindfully selecting a different form of power as compared to a gas generator reaction whose sole purpose is to provide power.
By choosing solar, you’re selecting the eco-friendly solution that protects the outdoors you love.
Solar chargers and generators are significantly quieter than their conventional counterparts, and in many cases, are even silent.
When the goal is to enjoy the great outdoors, not having an interrupting generator whir helps to give you more pleasure.
Solar panels have existed for more than 60 years, during which time the technology has been tested repeatedly. With solar panels, there are no fumes or moving pieces.
Not only does this reduce the breakdown rate, but it also makes solar chargers safer.
After the initial investment in the right gear, there are no additional costs to harvest solar energy.
There is simply nothing more affordable than free. Even though the panels are an investment, many will last ten years or more.