When looking for the best portable solar panels – you must ask yourself first what you want to use your portable solar panels for.
Most people are aware of the traditional glass solar panels that usually get permanently fixed to a house roof.
However, in terms of portable solar panels, there are two main types:
1. Flexible, semi-flexible and bendable solar panels (read full guide on flexible & bendable solar panels)
2. Folding solar panels (read full guide on foldable solar panels)
Folding panels are the more portable and hard wearing of the two, with the smaller 20 Watt folding panels being great for backpacking & hiking.
Let’s look at the best portable panels brands and products …
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Top Rated Portable Solar Panels List
Best Small Folding Solar Panel
For charging small USB and 12 Volt devices like mobiles/cell phones & GPS systems
Best Large Folding Solar Panel
For powering multiple items at once like a small-medium fridge, camp lights, radios, tv’s, OR charging trailer & RV batteries & more
Best Flexible Solar Panel
For rv’s, van, boats, cabins, cars, camping, and also curved and uneven surfaces
Best Portable Solar Panels: Reviews
Goal Zero 12004 Nomad 20 Watt Solar Panel
You can read more on the full review of the Goal Zero 12004 Nomad 20 Watt Solar Panel here.
But, what is this folding solar panel in summary?
Designed to fold out and fold up in seconds, or to carry around
Particularly useful for backpackers, hikers, campers, kayakers and adventurers
Good for either laying out, carrying in a backpack, or fastening to tents, back-packs, kayaks with the stitched loops
Good for charging USB devices and 12 volt devices – phones, GPS devices, and emergency gadgets
A 20 panel system
17-18 % efficiency
Weighs only 1.1 kg
Go Power! GP-PSK-120 120 Watt Portable Folding Solar Kit
You can read more on the full review of the Go Power! GP-PSK-120 120 Watt Portable Solar Panel.
But, what is this folding solar panel in summary?
Designed with steel frame to fold out, and fold up and pack away as quickly – not for carrying around like the Goal Zero though
Can be used for maintaining RV or trailer battery while on the road, or trickle charging your car, ATV, boat battery, or other 12 volt batteries
Come with a 10 Amp controller
120 Watt panel output
Comes with 10 Amp charge controller, battery clamps, quick connectors, ring terminal connectors, SAE solar plug adapter, XLR-style solar plug adapter, 15′ of UV 12/2 cable and heavy-duty nylon storage case
Optional additional accessories include extension cable and trailer pin connection
Windynation 100 Watt Flexible Solar Panel
You can read more on the full review of the Windynation 100 Watt Flexible Solar Panel here.
But, what is this solar flexible solar panel in summary?
Designed for mounting or to be hung to collect sunlight
Good for mounting and demounting from coach roof, RV, boat, cabin, tent, or any irregular or curved surface
Good for charging 12 volt lead- acid and lithium batteries – marine batteries, rv batteries, bike batteries etc.
A 100 Watt panel system
Bendable up to 30 degrees, but not any further
Weighs only 4.1 lbs
Best Portable Solar Panels: Buyer’s Guide & FAQ
What Is A Portable Solar Panel?
A portable solar panel is a solar panel which is not permanently fixed.
Portable solar panels can be transferred between different mounting locations, and even folded/unfolded and carried around.
Types Of Portable Solar Panels?
There are two main types:
Flexible, semi-flexible and foldable solar panels
Foldable solar panels
What Are Portable Solar Panels Used For?
Portable solar panels are great for off grid applications – and there is more than one type of portable solar panel available to choose from.
There are solid solar panels, flexible solar panels, and the small and large versions of the folding solar panels.
These solar panels, especially the smaller ones, are often referred to as solar chargers.
They are great for activities such as:
Flexible, semi-flexible and bendable solar panels
Flexible, semi-flexible and bendable solar panels can be installed, uninstalled and transferred between rv’s, caravans, boats and other locations with uneven surfaces.
However, they can usually only bend up to a 30 degree angle, and because they are made of plastic/laminate – they aren’t designed for carrying around or for general wear and tear.
The upside to flexible solar panels is that you generally pay less for a higher Wattage than a folding solar panel.
Foldable solar panels
Foldable solar panels on the other hand are highly portable as you can unpack/pack them up very easily, and the smaller folding panels can be carried around in a backpack for hiking around and adventuring activities like kayaking.
Because of their extra portability, you’ll generally pay more for higher Wattage foldable solar panel when compared to a similar flex panel.
Which Portable Solar Panel To Get – How To Choose One?
As a standard, solar panels are designed for charging 12 volt DC battery supplies, and sometimes USB devices.
With an inverter, you can charge 240 volt house supply items.
As a general guide…
A small 20 watt setup will charge 1 mobile type device at a time.
A 120 watt setup can charge camp lights, small-medium camp fridges, tv’s, radios and those types of items.
A 180 watt setup can charge multiple small-medium items at a time, or 1 large item.
But, should you get a flexible or folding solar panel?
Well, flexible solar panels are more cost effective and less suitable for wear and tear – the laminate can be torn easily around sharp objects.
Folding solar panels are more expensive, but they are made of durable materials, easily fold out, and the smallest panels can be carried around in a back pack or on a kayak.
Features & Things To Look Out For In Portable Solar Panels
Portable Solar Panel Bits & Accessories
Another Type Of Portable Solar Setup – Portable Grid Tie Solar Systems
A grid tied system is simply a solar panel system connected via an inverter to the household electrical supply.
A portable grid tied system is a system that does not have any structural or permanent installation components, so it can be plugged and unplugged as required.
Portable grid tie systems might be good for people who want roof mounted solar panels for their roof that aren’t permanent.
They can be plugged into the household AC electricity supply, but can also be easily disconnected and taken to another location, or even used with battery devices with the DC power.
They might be good for renters for example.
It is always encouraged to check with all parties – energy suppliers, councils, professional electricians/solar installers, house owner – to confirm you have approval to install any solar system to a grid.
Types Of Portable Grid Tie Solar Systems
Portable grid tie solar systems come in different sizes depending on their output – usually measured in watts per day, or KW per year.
An average solar panel will do roughly 250 Watts, and a 6 panel stacked system 1.5 Kw.
Usage monitors/power meters can vary in reading capabilities, from simple LCD display, to WIFI dongles that show you output and panel health on a smartphone or tablet app.
How They Usually Work
Portable grid tie solar systems usually have a solar panel with a junction box (if you purchase a solar controller and connector cables, you can utilise the DC energy from here).
A grid tie inverter connects the panel to the grid by plugging into a powerpoint.
In direct sunlight, the panel will provide energy to the grid via the DC to AC inverter.
Which Portable Solar Panel Is The Best For You?
1) Rigid/Solid Solar Panels
If you want the best value for money, and to buy from the most established and well resourced portable solar companies – a rigid solar panel is a good option.
They are called rigid/solid, because they are stiff panels with usually aluminium frames.
50 or 100 Watts is a common size for a rigid solar panel, and they can be stacked in systems up to about 400 Watts, or 4 x 100 Watt panels.
They function with a solar controller (the cheaper PWM solar controllers are usually rated up to 400 Watts), and 1 x 100 Watt panel is usually good for a 12 volt DC battery.
Rigid solar panels are usually fixed using Z brackets – so once they are fixed, the panel generally stays there.
They are great for:
Marine Batteries and Boats
Any flat surface where you want a fixed solar panel
2) Flexible Solar Panels
Flexible panels are frameless, and are usually made of a laminate with the solar cells layered in between them.
They are often called stick on, or bendable solar panels, because some models can be adhered to a surface, and most of them will bend or curve to say around 30 degrees or less.
They are good in this regard for uneven or curved surfaces.
Flexible solar panels are very lightweight, and a benefit is that they can be temporarily fixed, or even hung up on a tent for example.
Flexible panels are good for charging 12 volt DC batteries (with a solar controller) where you want a panel that can be temporarily installed, and have more flexibility of a solid panel.
They are particularly good for:
Marine Batteries and Boats
Camping and tents
Curved and uneven surfaces
3) Large Folding Solar Panels (50 Watt and above)
Large Folding solar panels most commonly come in about 100-200 Watt models – 120 watts is popular.
Large folding solar panels are like a rigid solar panel, except, instead of being installed with brackets, they fold out and sit on a metal frame on the ground.
They are versatile and convenient because whilst they have lots of power for a 12 volt battery, they can easily be folded out or packed away in a travel case.
A large folding solar panel is used to great effect by those with RV’s and trailers – although you’ll want long connector/extension cables so you can extend the cords between the batteries and the panel.
You will need a solar charge controller for large foldable solar panels
4) Small Folding Solar Panels (~ 5 to 30 Watts)
These panels are becoming very popular – they are referred to as solar chargers.
They are for small handheld battery, and USB devices, like mobile, tablets, GPS systems, LED lights and GoPro’s.
They are especially good for any activity where you need to be on the move like:
Survival type activities
Any activity where you want to charge small devices
They even come in waterproof models for kayaking and water based activities.
Small folding panels are usually extremely rugged, durable and light enough to carry around or attach to a backpack.
They mostly have in built charge microchips, and it can be a good idea to get a charge regenerator with them for charging when the sun isn’t out.
What To Look For In A Portable Solar Panel
How do you know what to look for in a good portable solar panel?
From the type of panel, to the watts, voltage and even number of panels – it can be good to have somewhere to start in your research or buying process.
Below are some things to potentially look out for (such as where it will be used, types of panels, power requirements, & more)
1. How and where will you be using it
Before you look into the best portable solar panel, you should consider where and how you will be using it.
As an example, here are a few of the ways modern portable solar panels can be used:
For an RV
Boating and Marine Uses
On remote cabins
On cars and vans
For motorbikes and touring bikes
In addition to the range of uses, portable solar panels will charge mainly two types of batteries/devices:
1. 12 volt DC batteries (for RVs, boats, cars, vans, cabins etc.)
2. Small handheld device batteries, and USB type devices (phones, radios, tablets, lights etc.)
When you are looking at the type of solar panel that appeals to you – see if you can match it up to the activity you want to use it for and the type of charging you are looking to do by reading the product description.
2. The type of panel
Portable solar panels come in 3 main types:
- Rigid/Stiff Solar Panel
We are talking about panels like the Renogy 100 Watt Rigid Solar Panel.
These panels are:
Good value for money per Watt
Good mostly for charging 12 volt batteries in RVs, boats, cabins etc.
Stiff, and not bendable
Come with mounting brackets – so they are usually temporarily fixed
A company like Renogy is well established and has good customer and technical support
Used with an external solar controller
- Folding Solar Panel
There are the smaller portable folding solar panels and the larger folding solar panels.
Small Folding Solar Panels
These are panels like the Goal Zero 20 Watt Folding Solar Panel.
Small folding solar panels are:
Best for handheld battery operated devices and USB devices
Ultra lightweight and durable
Can be carried around with you on or in a backpack – good for hiking
Some are waterproof like the Voltaic Systems 6 Watt Solar Panel
Come with an in built chip for charging
Large Folding Solar Panels
The large folding solar panels are the 80 Watt + panels like the Go Power! GP-PSK-120.
Large folding solar panels are:
Can be folded up into a travel case
Folds out really easily onto the ground with a metal stand
Good for 12 volt batteries
Good for RV’ing and camping
The Go Power! comes with Anderson connectors which a lot of people will like for hooking into the input/output near their tow bar of their trailer or RV
Used with an external solar controller
- Flexible Solar Panel
Flexible panels are usually 50 Watts to 100 Watts like the Allpowers flexible solar panel.
Honestly, they can be fantastic for the right use and as long as you check out the customer and technical service of the company who manufacturers the panel beforehand.
If you buy from a bad company, they can have their problems.
Flexible solar panels are:
Usually bendable up to 30 degrees (but some are just lightweight – so check this before you buy)
Used mainly for charging 12 volt batteries
Good for uneven and curved surfaces
Made of layered laminate
More vulnerable to sharp or rough surfaces than rigid panels
Can be permanently or temporarily fixed – or even hung up on a tent
3. Size/watts, and voltage of the panel
If you are looking for an idea of the watts and voltage to get for your portable solar panel, a good start could be:
For small mobile and handheld devices – a 20 Watt 18 volt folding solar panel (with a regenerator if you want to store the power for when the sun isnt out)
For 12 volt batteries – for one or two 12 volt batteries, a 100-120 watt panel 18 volt panel or two would be a good start
You might like to read this guide for more information of how you might calculate the size in watts of your portable solar panel.
4. Number of panels
The number of panels will depend on the number of devices or batteries you want to charge.
Refer to the above guide, and read the manufacturer’s instructions of the panel you are looking to buy for an indication of the charging capabilities.
But also, if charging 12 volt DC batteries for RV’s or boats for example, take into consideration whether you are charging the batteries in a bank or separately.
This will effect the number of panels you need and their size + you’ll need to make sure the solar controller is rated for the total load you have going through the cables.
5. Portable Solar Panel Setup/Kit To Get Started
A good portable solar panel kit to get started would be:
Regenerator (optional for storing power)
Inverter (optional if you want to convert DC to AC and charge AC items)
For the small folding solar panels, generally the panel itself comes equipped with everything you’d need except for maybe a device specific connection, or a regenerator.
**NOTE: this is an informational guide only. You should always read the manufacturer’s instructions of all products you have or purchase for best use, and seek professional expertise where necessary in installing and setting up a system.
This also applies to calculating loads for different devices and batteries
How To Connect A Portable Solar Panel To A 12 Volt Battery
You might be thinking of buying a portable solar panel, but you might also want to know how you can use that solar panel to charge your 12 volt DC battery.
There are two common ways to connect your portable solar panel to your 12 volt DC battery, which we have listed and outlined below.
We’ve also included examples of panels which connect using both of the methods mentioned, and have put together some tips to consider when connecting your battery and setting it up.
Let’s get to it …
(Note that this is general information only. Follow manufacturer’s instructions and seek the advice of a professional yourself before connecting a solar panel to a battery)
Connection Method #1 – Connect the panel directly to the battery
The first one is relatively straight forward, and that is to connect the panel directly to the panel via a charge controller and tray cables with loops and battery plugs.
An example of this is the Renogy 100 Watt 12 volt Rigid/Solid portable solar panel.
The actual connection in the setup goes:
Solar Panel > MC4 Connectors > Solar Controller > Tray Cables with loops > 12 volt Battery
Apart from the battery itself, all of these accessories are included in the starter kit with the panel.
There is also another slightly differ method of direct connection to the battery, which is to use alligator clips instead of looped tray cables.
An example of a portable solar panel that connects in this way is the Renogy 100 Watt 12 Volt Monocrystalline Foldable Solar Suitcase.
Connection Method #2 – Connect via a direct connector
The second method is to connect via a direct connector like a 7 pin plug on a camper trailer or RV for example.
To do this, the solar panel usually comes with anderson connectors that plug directly into a 7 pin plug connector – which plugs into your trailer or RV.
The anderson connectors are universal though in that they can plug into other connectors or attachments that take them as well.
An example of this is the Go Power! 80 or 120 Watt Folding solar panel.
The actual connection in the setup goes:
Solar Panel > Built in solar controller > Extension cables and anderson connectors > pin plug connector plugs into trailer or camper with batteries.
3) Tips To Be Aware Of When Connecting Your Portable Solar Panel To A 12 Volt Battery
Solar controllers come in PWM and MPPT models – some are external and some are built into the panel
With some panels like the large folding panels – it’s wise to buy an expansion cable to allow you to position the panel further away from the charging connection in the sun
Make sure you have a suitable solar controller that is rated for power you have coming through your solar system. Also, check whether it is weatherproof or not
If you have a bank of batteries that are connected together, and you are charging them as a bank, you will need to have the right Watts, voltage and controller to deal with this bank compared to charging a battery as a single
Always check that you have a powerful enough panel, or enough panels with higher voltage and sufficient watts to fully charge the battery
Note that panel and charging accessory warranties are usually separate and different – check these before you buy
*Important note – always get professional and qualified advice installing panels and power connections – to protect your goods and the people using them.
4) What Are Some Portable Solar Panels That Are Good For Connecting To A 12 Volt Battery
Go Power! 80 and 120 Watt Panels can connect to a battery both ways.
With their kits, you get:
Anderson connectors which connect to any attachment with anderson plug and play connectors
And, battery plugs/leads to connect up to the battery directly
Renogy also have a different panel kits that can each connect in different ways – but most are direct connection with tray cables
Tips To Potentially Prevent Losing Money On A Portable Solar System
There’s no doubt sustainable energy is here to stay, and solar is leading the way at the moment.
The benefits are well known – solar is clean energy, it depends on the sun and not a sometimes questionable energy supplier, and over the long term it usually ends up paying the user if they get their setup right.
However, being that solar is still a relatively new market in the world – there are definitely some traps and points to be aware of – especially with the newer areas of solar technology.
Below, we’ve listed some of those points for portable solar systems and kits.
In the future, we intend to bring out a similar guide for home & grid based solar systems.
NOTE: we intend to keep adding to this guide – so feel free to bookmark it, or share with friends to reference in the future.
Let’s get into it …
Firstly, What Are Portable Solar Systems?
Before we get into the list, what are we talking about when we say portable solar system?
Compared to the traditional glass crystalline solar that are mounted on a house roof – the portable type solar systems above are newer to the market.
Let’s look at some of the thing to look out for with these systems and panels:
1) Quality Of Brand/Company Who Makes The Panel, and Other Solar Accessories
This is a big one. Especially with flexible solar panels and portable grid tie systems, there are companies popping up frequently who might be cheap to buy from, only to go off the radar, or go out of business shortly after.
Some of these companies may even be third party sellers or own exclusive rights to sell the product – which can blur the line with what they can offer, and what happens if there is issues with the product or warranties.
Check the track record of the company that manufacturers the panel (how long they’ve been around), ask questions to the seller, in addition to confirming the following:
> What is the length of warranty?
> Are there separate warranties for any components of say the panel, and the controller if it comes with one?
> Get a written guarantee from the seller what happens with the warranty/s if you need to use it
- Level and Quality Customer and Tech Support
> Ask questions of the seller before you purchase – what instructions come with the panel for set up, ask them technical questions about the product..see the quality of the responses, and how long it takes for them to get back to you
- Google the seller
> Do they have a website?
> How long have they been in business?
> What information does the seller offer for selling terms and conditions?
2) Compatibility Of Accessories, Extras and Solar Devices
Let’s say you have the following components in your portable solar setup:
- Solar Panel, solar controller, LCD display to monitor battery and panel health and performance, 12 volt battery – you might also have an inverter to turn DC power into AC power for household items
You might have a different brand that makes each one of those products.
Yes, most products are made to function with most other products, but there can be certain solar panel brands that won’t work with one type of inverter or regenerator for example.
3) Availability Of Tax Rebate
Look at whether the system comes with an available tax rebate in your area if you’re using it on your home.
Call your council, energy supplier and check with your government to confirm rebates on the product beforehand.
4) Look At What Is Actually Included In Your Purchase, & What Extras May Be Required
In a typical portable solar purchase, you get a panel with MC3 or MC4 cables running from the solar panel junction box.
A standard solar panel starters kit might include the panel, connectors, a charge controller, tray cables and brackets.
Typical items that are rarely included in a solar panel kit are LCD displays for battery and panel health, regenerator batteries to store solar energy, inverters (although grid tie inverters usually come with an inverter lead), angled mounting racks, and any type of non standard attachment or connection.
You may need to buy additional panels or accessories to complete your system setup.
Also, check whether the system can be set up by you, or whether you need to get a professional/qualified person in to install and provide extra items – this can potentially be expensive.
5) Check The Solar Panels And Accessories You Buy Are Rated For Your Battery System And Each Other
With portable solar panel setups, the panels and components of the setup have to be rated to work with each other.
Can you imagine buying a $1000 portable solar panel kit, and the designed voltage doesn’t match your batteries? You’d be pretty annoyed right?
Important things to check are:
Do you have enough watts in the solar panels for the A/h of the battery/s you are trying to trickle charge? Read this guide for more information on how you might calculate, or find this out.
Are the solar panels designed for the voltage of the battery/s? i.e. do you have a singular 12v battery, or a bank of 2 or 3 batteries – giving you a 24 or 36 volt system? You will need to have a solar panel setup that matches your batteries, or use controllers or voltage inverters to match voltages.
Is the solar controller rated for the watts coming from the panels, and for the batteries they are outputting to?
6) Consider what you are installing the solar panel on, and how the installation impacts that object/surface
Are you installing on a house roof, and Rv roof, a boat deck, a van/car roof, a cabin roof?
Especially when using permanent fixings, check whether you are creating any waterproofing issues that need sealing on surfaces, or whether you might be voiding existing warranties.
For example, if installing on an Rv roof – check Rv manufacturer warranties and roof loading instructions.
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