What Size Portable Solar Panel Do You Need? (Detailed Overview)


What Size Portable Solar Panel Do You Need? (Detailed Overview) cover image

When deciding on the right portable solar panel to get, the two questions you need to ask yourself are:

  1. What activities do I intend to use my solar panel with?
  2. What devices/electronics do I intend to charge up with my solar panel?

Once you have these figured out, you’ll be able to decide on which solar panel you will get.

Portable solar panels come in all types of sizes, typically ranging from seven all the way to 100 watts of power.

The right panel will make your off-grid charging a breeze – That is, if you pick the correct panel for your needs.

The ideal portable solar panel size for charging small electronics like cell phones, lights, and small battery packs ranges from 15-40 watts. For larger devices like solar generators, laptops, and cell phones with 60-watt USB-C charging capabilities, a 100-watt solar panel is most practical.

In this review, you’ll not only find examples of portable solar panels for both cases listed above, but I’ll also be sharing key elements to look for before deciding on a panel to purchase. This will be a full analysis of each element of portable solar panels, including waterproof capabilities, accessories, and more.

Connectors

Blue cable

When using a solar panel to charge something up, you want to look and see if it comes with more than one type of connector. By connector, I’m referring to connectors to charge certain types of devices like laptops, battery packs, solar generators, and the likes.

Some portable solar panels have several types of connectors for a variety of uses and utility, but these are usually only available when you want a solar panel that is higher than 50 watts.

The reason why is because most people are only looking to charge smaller devices with a small solar panel. I’m referring to phones, small battery packs, and lights, just to name a few.

Larger solar panels can support connecting to several different sources that require more power.

When looking for a solar panel, ask yourself what you intend to charge with it, and if they’re mostly small devices, you should be set on anything under 50 watts.

Most small devices use USB ports or micro USB ports, and nearly all portable solar panels under 50W have at least one USB port.

So you’ll be able to get power and charge up no problem with those. If your phone or device requires more power, like a 60W phone connection, see below where I discuss outputs more in-depth. I’ll also be giving examples of portable solar panels throughout the article to give you some models to review.

And if you need more power for devices and electronics, get a larger solar panel and make sure you log all the devices you’re wanting to use with it. Then, you can figure out which panels have the connections you need.

Kickstand

 Goal Zero Nomad 28 Solar Panel with kickstand
Goal Zero Nomad 28 Plus Solar Panel

Having a kickstand on a portable solar panel isn’t a necessity, but it is a great asset to have when outdoors. At a campsite, a kickstand is excellent because it makes it easy to angle it towards the sun.

A lot of people like to use portable solar panels when backpacking or hiking, and a kickstand obviously isn’t needed then because you can strap the panel on the back of your backpack, so it charges your devices up while you’re moving about.

But kickstands are excellent for people using the panels while stagnant, for example, camping, tailgating, while on a boat, etc.

Material

The material of each kickstand varies, but the really good panels use some type of metal like aluminum or a rubbery-plastic material to stand the panel up and keep it in position.

Some companies use cheaper materials like thin and flimsy plastic for the kickstands.

This is not ideal because they may require you to put the panel on a very conditional area – meaning a perfectly flat surface like a picnic bench or concrete pavement to keep it upright.

It may be difficult to figure out what kind of material the kickstands are just by looking at pictures of the panels online, so I recommend looking at youtube reviews and amazon comments for the panel you’re into in order to find out the specifics of its materials used.

The reason why you need sturdy panels is simply so they won’t fall over from wind or from placing the panel upright on an uneven surface.

This will allow for easy charging.

Similar: Can You Run a Refrigerator on Solar Power? Advantages & Breakdown

Waterproofing

BigBlue 3 USB Ports 28W Solar Charger waterproof
BigBlue 3 USB Ports 28W Solar Charger

Some portable solar panels are more waterproof than others. This is a great feature to look into when shopping for panels for obvious reasons.

Waterproof solar panels have different ratings, along with other factors like intrusion protection. When reviewing the solar panel you want online or in a store, find out its actual IP rating.

For example, on Amazon.com, the Wildtek Source 21W solar panel has an IP rating of 65 (seen as IP65), which means it is totally protected against dust and also is protected against low-pressure jets of water from all directions. See the full IP rating system and how it works here.

Handle

A carrying handle is usually for solar panels larger than 50 watts because anything lower than that is usually foldable and can fit in your backpack.

But for people looking for a panel with 50+ watts, a carrying handle is a necessity. This characteristic is often overlooked and is definitely underrated.

The reason why it is overlooked is mostly because people are more focused on what the panel can power as opposed to its ease of portability.

A carrying handle on a solar panel lets you carry it easily to wherever you need to go. Any handle is great, but the best ones are rubberized.

Pouch

Nearly all portable solar panels have a pouch to carry your devices and/or charging cables in, but some don’t. Make sure that you get one that has a pouch because it makes it easier to utilize.

This is especially useful if you like to keep everything in one area. A pouch isn’t necessary, of course, but it keeps things together when you need them.

Grommets

Nekteck 21W Portable Solar Panel Charger grommets
Nekteck 21W Portable Solar Panel Charger grommets

What are grommets? Grommets are little holes with metal or plastic rings located on the corners of some solar panels. Some portable solar panels have these and some don’t.

So why are these important? Because they allow you to attach your solar panel to a tent, tree, or even your vehicle so you can get a good angle towards the sun.

This feature makes your solar panel capable of charging in several different scenarios.

If needed, you can also use these holes to connect to your backpack if you want to charge on the go. Some solar panels have small loops on them for the same purpose, which are also very helpful.

Look out for grommets when solar panel shopping because they are easy to overlook, but they provide so much versatility to charging.

Similar: What Can a Solar Generator Power? (Charging, Capacity, and More)

How Foldable Is It?

This is one of the most important factors to consider when looking into portable solar panels. Why? because you want it to be able to fit in a backpack or be able to be carried with ease.

Simply checking the dimensions of the panel when reviewing it will give you a good estimate of whether you can put it in a backpack or not.

There are several large solar panels that can fold three or more times over to be compact. One of them is the Rockpals 60W solar panel, which folds four times over to easily fit in many backpacks.

Most portable solar panels that are less than 50 watts will be able to fit in nearly any pack. If you intend to use the solar panel to charge devices up while hiking and want to hang it on the back of your backpack, make sure that when the panel is completely unfolded, it isn’t too long that it will be a nuisance.

How Large Is It Unfolded?

Solar panels with high wattages (50 to 100+W) will either unfold long-ways or will unfold into more of a square shape. This will not be useful while hiking but will be exceptional for static use (i.e. camping out).

Smaller portable solar panels usually do not have this issue, and most unfold long-ways. The 25-40W panels will usually have three separate solar cells that all fold together when wrapped up. In this case, they will be great for use while hiking.

Weight

kettle bells in different colors

Weight varies for portable solar panels. Some solar panels are high in wattage and weight less than six pounds, but then some lower-wattage panels are heavier than the high-wattage ones. This can be attributed to the solar panel cells themselves and the material used to bring the panels together.

If you intend to use the panels for backpacking and need to keep the overall weight as light as possible, comparing the weights of several solar panels can save you, in some cases, up to five pounds in your pack.

Watts

As touched on at the beginning of this article, the type of portable solar panel that you need when hiking or backpacking is a smaller one between about 15-30 watts. This allows for a comfortable-sized panel that you can use on the back of your pack.

The ones that are 30W and greater are going to best be used when not moving around. They unfold to be much larger than the smaller ones, making it great for several activities because they can be easily transported.

A lot of companies sell large portable solar panels either in 60W format or 100W format. If you’re charging multiple devices, the 100W panels are the best choice.

What kind of outputs does it have?

Jackery SolarSaga 100W Portable Solar Panel

The outputs on solar panels depend on the style. Since we’re talking about portable ones, they usually come with at least one USB port. There are also ones that support USB-C and can charge more power-hungry devices.

Make sure that the panel’s ports have what you need, and also look into any smart chips or smart technology that comes installed with the ports. The Rockpals 100W solar panel has a Smart IC Chip in their panel’s ports, so it will read the device and maximize its charging capabilities.

Similar: Top 15 Best Solar Generators for Camping (Small to Large)

Real Life Output (Reality: Only gives out 50-75% of rated Watts)

Most portable solar panels, unfortunately, have a low efficiency compared to the wattage stated. This means that for a 30W panel, with good sun and a good angle towards the sun, you may be able to pull a maximum of 20-22W in reality.

This is a notorious marketing scam that should be noted before you buy a panel. Several companies seem to do this so they can compete with other companies. The companies can easily say that the full wattage capabilities are only available under the ideal weather conditions (perfect sun with no clouds, perfect angle towards the sun, etc.).

Although this practice is really a shame, several panels still have a great output that is practical, so it is best to assume that you will be receiving 50-75% of what the panel is capable of on a sunny day.

For example, a 100W portable solar panel will be able to produce about 50-75 watts of power on an average day.

If you’re using the panel to charge a solar generator, you will find that the power you receive from the panel depends on the type of charge controller that is inside the generator.

For example, a Jackery 1000 solar generator has an MPPT charge controller, which is the best you can get for a controller. The MPPT controller allows for more efficient charging and will usually get around 65-75% of the rated power from the panel.

If you have a solar generator with a PWM charge controller, like the YETI 200X from Goal Zero, it will be less efficient and will pull anywhere from 50 to 65% of the wattage rating from the solar panel.

In my eBook of the 30 Best Camping Items, one of them on the list is a portable solar panel.

They are almost a necessity when going off the grid so you can charge lights, phones, batteries for cameras and drones, and more. For the other 29 recommended items on the list, click below to get your free copy!

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