Portable solar panels for camping can mean anything from a little roll-out thin-film PV that straps to a backpack and charges your cell phone, to a 4,000 pound mobile solar array that you tow behind your motor coach.
Forgive me if I’m wrong, but I’m going to assume that the mobile solar array that folds up just to make it street-legal, is a niche market item. With a price tag well into the thousands and 7,200 watts of total system power, this is an investment for disaster response agencies or remote lodges, not your average campers.
Instead, I’m going to focus instead on solar technologies that are out there for charging your standard technology, such as cell phones, cameras, and laptops, while you’re out enjoying the wilderness.
I have to admit that had I read an article such as this a few years ago, I would have thought “Good grief, just leave the technology at home!”
However, some time as a freelance writer has altered this opinion. After all, it would seem a shame to miss a camping opportunity with my family for the sake of a few hours of writing that I can do on my laptop.
So, whether we want to accept it or not (or maybe it’s just me), we are very reliant on technology and therefore on some form of power. Out in the wilderness, solar power is the best option.
Six portable solar panel systems to consider taking camping
1 – The Goal Zero Sherpa 120 Explorer Kit – This kit was awarded the Editor’s Choice Award by Outdoor Gear Lab and they tell you why in the video below. Though it has a 27 watt solar panel, a lithium-iron phosphate battery and a universal inverter, giving 120 watt-hours of power, it’s still lightweight (8 lbs) enough to be carried in a backpack. It will charge just about anything and the universal inverter is great for global travellers as you can easily switch between 110V and 220V current. This kit is a pretty serious investment with a price tag of just under $600 USD.
2 – Go Solar! 42-Watt Portable Folding Solar Charger Kit – This kit is probably better suited for car campers rather than backpackers. It is 10”x3”x8” and weighs about 5 lbs. With 40 watts of power, it will power most of your devices such as laptops, cell phones, iPads, lights or anything else with a standard plug or USB cable. It comes with a lithium-ion battery, car jumper cables, a cigarette lighter adapter and a power inverter. This kit will run you about $350.
3 – PowerFilm 30 Watt Foldable Solar Panel Charger – PowerFilm products seem to excel in their ability to capture energy from the sun even in low-light conditions. This can be very important depending on where you find yourself camping (e.g. forest). The 30 watt charger can power your smaller devices such as phones, as well as laptops. This kit weighs just under 2 lbs and is also known for its durability. It costs $330.
4 – Brunton Solaris Solar Panel – This panel weighs less than one pound (11 oz.) and folds into a tiny package the size of a DVD case. It has a 12-watt output with a price tag of $235. This unit will charge your cameras and power a satellite or cell phone. If you want more power, you can buy additional solar panels and link them together.
5 – Sunforce 12-Watt Solar Panel – This panel is one of the lightest (1.5 lbs), most compact 12-watt panels on the market, for a bit less than the Brunton at $169. This panel is good value considering its portability and power output. You will need to buy adapters, such as a cigarette splitter, if you want to charge more than one device at a time.
6 – Ground Zero Nomad 7 – There seems to be a lot of support out there of Ground Zero products in general. The Nomad 7 is a cost effective system that is great for charging small devices and can even charge two devices at once. This is a great investment if you’re essentially looking to charge your cell phones and not much else. The unit weighs less than 1 lb and costs about $80.
Before you go out and buy a portable solar panel, give some thought as to what your needs really are and what they might be in the future. After all, you don’t want to have to upgrade in a year if you don’t have to. As you can see, the costs reflect the power output and so you do really need to understand what your power needs are going to be. It’s also a good idea to consider what adapters come with each kit when you’re comparison shopping. A cheaper kit that doesn’t come with all your adapter needs may not seem very cost effective if you need to go out and buy additional adapters.
This video has some more purchasing advice for when you’re shopping around for portable solar panels for camping, so be sure to have a look.