Having power off the grid can be a huge benefit when camping. CPAP machines, smartphones, and lights are just a few examples where a solar panel would come in handy in a camping environment.
Choosing the right solar panel depends on your camping style.
A portable solar panel with a kickstand helps you angle the panel on the ground to maximize its output. A solar blanket or flexible solar panel can be easily mounted on the vehicle. Determining the right solar panel wattage depends on what you’re powering while camping.
Some portable solar panels come with USB ports for charging small devices like phones, whereas most flexible solar panels only have one output cable to recharge batteries.
How do I choose a solar panel for camping?
As a general rule, a solar panel for camping should be powerful enough to keep your battery and/or devices fully charged throughout the day. This is done by estimating your daily power consumption (in watt-hours) and then correlating it to a panel powerful enough to keep them charged.
Choosing the right solar panel for camping depends on where it will be placed, the output of the panel, and your power consumption throughout each day. Weather changes should also be considered as cloud cover affects the output of the panel.
The steps that should be taken (in order) are the following:
- Calculate your average daily power consumption
- Decide if you need a portable power station in addition to the solar panel(s)
- Decide on where you intend to place/hang/attach your solar panel(s)
- Factor in occasionally cloudy weather to your solar panel’s rated output
- Choose a solar panel (or solar kit) that will produce the output needed to keep your devices charged daily
The reason why these steps are in this order is due to their importance. The most important factor is the amount of power you typically consume while camping. This varies from person to person. For example, one may need to use a CPAP machine throughout the night, which will require a lot more needed power than someone who only needs to keep their cell phone charged.
If you intend to use a solar panel for a CPAP machine, portable fridge, or any other appliance that consumes a lot of power, it’s a good idea to get a portable power station along with a solar panel. The portable power station’s battery can provide power during the night if you need it.
Next is the location of the panel or panels. Using a solar panel on the ground is best used with a kickstand because it will provide an angle to the sun. Unless the sun is directly overhead, this angle gives the panel a higher output as opposed to laying it flat on the ground.
Using your average power consumption in addition to potential cloudy weather will then allow you to find a solar panel large enough to keep your devices powered consistently.
How much solar power do I need for camping?
The typical amount of solar power needed for camping varies from 20-50 watts. A solar panel in this output range can recharge multiple small devices during the day. If more power is needed to run an appliance like a camping fridge, then a 100-200W panel along with a portable power station is ideal.
For example, say you’re camping out to use your drone for footage of a landscape. I provided an estimate of the recharging time and charging wattage of a drone and a smartphone below.
|Devices||Est. Charging Wattage||Hours of Use||Power Consumption|
|Drone Battery||12W||3 hrs||36Wh|
Since the devices provided can be charged from USB ports, then a solar charger like the BigBlue 28W charger (Amazon link) can fulfill the charging needs of these devices.
In the next example, I include small devices as well as a camping fridge. The fridge requires a lot of power and it also needs to run 24 hours, which means it needs a larger solar panel as well as a backup battery source.
|Appliances/Devices||Est. Charging/Running Wattage||Hours of Use||Est. Daily Power Consumption|
|LED Lights||15W||5 hrs||75Wh|
|40L Camping Fridge||17.5W||24 hrs||420Wh|
This equals 505Wh of power used per day while camping. I want to get a power station that will have a big enough battery to support my daily power usage, so for this example, I’ll be using the Bluetti EB70S (Amazon). It has 716Wh of battery capacity and a 200W maximum solar input.
I’m going to pair this with Bluetti’s PV200 (Amazon) 200W solar panel, which can realistically output about 160W in good sunlight. With an average of five hours of ideal daily sunlight, this panel can produce about 800Wh of power into the Bluetti’s battery.
At this rate, the solar panel will fully charge the power station every day as long as the weather is sunny, which allows me to run my camping gear throughout the night without issues.
There are several 12V appliances with different energy requirements, so it is best to do your own calculations on the ones you intend to camp with.
How much solar power do I need for a camping fridge?
The amount of solar power needed for a camping fridge depends on the battery used. The battery is the intermediary between the solar panel and the camping fridge. Typically, a portable power station is used for this because it has a battery, charges from solar panels, and has 12V and/or AC ports to run the fridge.
Below are three examples of different camping fridges. I’m going to use their estimated daily power consumption to find both solar panel and portable power station sizes that can successfully power the fridges for at least one full day.
Since the average 12V fridge uses between 30 and 55Ah per day, this equates to 360-660Wh. Using this estimate, you’ll need a power station with a battery that will support this power consumption.
|Camping Fridge Model||Avg. Maximum Power Consumption||Fridge Size||Est. Daily Power Consumption|
|1. Whynter FM-45G 45 Quart Portable Refrigerator||65W||42.6L||35Ah (420Wh @ 12V)|
|2. Euhomy Car Refrigerator, 55Liter(59qt)||45W||55L||45Ah (540Wh @ 12V)|
|3. DOMETIC CFX3 95-Liter Dual Zone Portable Refrigerator and Freezer||50W||95L||65Ah (780Wh @ 12V)|
The following runtimes are based on using a fully-charged portable power station on day one as well as having consistent quality sunlight:
- On average, a 50W solar panel paired with a 500Wh portable power station can power a 30-50L camping fridge for 38-45 hours. If a 100W solar panel is used in the same scenario, the camping fridge can run for 24-26 days.
- A 100W solar panel paired with a 500Wh portable power station can power a 50-70L camping fridge for 38-45 hours. Increasing the portable power station’s battery capacity to 1,000Wh can run the same camping fridge for 4.5-6 days.
- Using a 200W solar panel paired with a 500Wh portable power station can power a 50-70L camping fridge for an infinite amount of time as long as there is consistent sunlight. This is because the solar panel can fully recharge the 500Wh battery every day.
|Solar Panel Output||Daily Solar Output (5 hrs full sun)||Power Station Battery Capacity||12V Fridge Avg. Daily Power Consumption||12V Fridge Runtime|
|40W (50W panel @ 80% efficiency)||200Wh||500Wh||420Wh (30-50L)||38-45 hours|
|80W (100W panel @ 80% efficiency)||400Wh||500Wh||420Wh (30-50L)||24-26 days|
|80W (100W panel @ 80% efficiency)||400Wh||500Wh||540Wh (50-70L)||38-45 hours|
|80W (100W panel @ 80% efficiency)||400Wh||1,000Wh||540Wh (50-70L)||4.5-6 days|
|160W (200W panel @ 80% efficiency)||800Wh||500Wh||540Wh (50-70L)||Infinite|
Based on the examples given in the above table, the EcoFlow River Max is a 500-600Wh power station that can take in up to 200W from solar panels. If you want to get the highest solar input possible to run your 30-70L camping fridge consistently, I recommend using this power station.
You can read my review of it here: EcoFlow River 600 Review – Testing My River Max + Comparisons.
What type of solar panel is best for camping?
The type of solar panel that’s best for camping depends on where you intend to mount the panel.
- If you intend to lay the solar panel on the ground, then a portable/foldable solar panel with a kickstand is usually the best choice.
- If you can attach a solar panel onto your car’s side or on its roof, then a solar blanket, portable solar panel, or flexible solar panel can be mounted on one of these areas.
- If you have a rooftop tent with a hard tent surface, you can usually mount flexible solar panels on these surfaces.
No matter the case, finding a lightweight panel can make it much easier to mount and use throughout the day than heavier/bulkier panels.
How do portable solar panels for camping work?
Portable solar panels for camping work by using USB ports, DC outputs, or both to power devices and/or portable power stations. All are foldable for easy carriage and tend to have a kickstand and/or hanging loops/grommets for mounting on the ground, a vehicle, or other objects.
Portable panels under 50W usually have only USB ports for charging small devices, while ones over 50W typically include high-powered DC outputs for charging portable power stations or 12V batteries.
Most solar panels under 30W can be mounted on the back of a backpack to charge devices while hiking.
Are solar blankets good for camping?
Solar blankets are good for camping if the sun is directly overhead (for ground use) and/or if they are mounted on the side, top, or windshield of a vehicle. Most solar blankets don’t have kickstands, so they can’t be angled by themselves. They usually have grommets or loops for mounting.
The angle of a solar panel is important for gathering as much solar energy as possible. I tested my Atem Power 200W solar blanket both at an angle and lying flat on the ground and found that the output was completely different.
This had to do with the sun’s location, and you can read more about it in my review of the Atem Power here: My Review of the Atem Power 200W Solar Panel (Testing & Setup).
I made a video review of it as well found below.