You’re going camping! No city noise, no work, no … electricity.
That’s a problem, isn’t it? Not to worry, we’ve got you covered. Below is SolarLoco’s list of The Top 3 Portable Solar Panels for Camping.
Best Solar Charger for Cell Phones and Tablets: Sunjack 14W Portable Solar Charger
The Sunjack 14 Watt Portable Solar Charger is a great choice for a cell phone solar charger. Even better, it doesn’t just charge cell phones. Users can charge cell phones, tablets and cameras. Plus, with the included battery pack, it can power DC lights such as the Sunjack USB LED CampLight.
How the Sunjack 14W Works
As it’s title indicates, the Sunjack 14W Portable Solar Charger comes with one 14 watt of monocrystalline solar panel, and it also comes with one 8,000 mAh lithium-polymer battery.
If you’re new to solar chargers, this is how it works: You connect the battery to the solar panel and let the battery charge. Once the battery is fully charged, you then connect the battery to your cell phone and charge your cell phone.
Connecting a Device Directly to the Solar Panel
With the Sunjack 14 Watt Solar Charger you also have the option of connecting devices directly to the solar panel, bypassing the included battery. The connection port is a simple, regular size USB port.
Personally, I don’t recommend connecting devices directly to a solar panel. For one thing, it’s rather clunkly and inconvenient to make calls and answer text messages on a cell phone with a solar panel tethered to it. In addition, there’s a significant chance that the solar panel may not be able to put out as much voltage as your cell phone needs to charge. Your phone may display an error message—something along the lines of, “Accessory not supported.”
By charging your cell phone from the Sunjack battery instead of the solar panel, your cell phone will receive a constant charge at a constant voltage, and it should charge without any problems.
What about the cheaper solar chargers that are on best sellers list on Amazon? Most of the best-selling solar cell phone chargers on Amazon.com do cost less, but the drawback to most of these is that they do not come with a battery. Without a battery, you’re stuck being able to charge your cell phone only when the sun is shining, and for a lot users, that is less than ideal. In addition, several users (albeit a small minority) who have connected their cell phones directly to these cheaper solar panels have reported problems. The cause of these problems is anyone’s guess, but I’ve read the complaints and I’m of the opinion that the use of an intermediary battery would likely solve those problems.
Using the Sunjack 14W for Camping
The Sunjack 14 watt solar panel is perfectly sized with the Sunjack 8,000 mAh battery. The solar panel will charge the battery with about 5 hours of direct sun. You can strap the Sunjack 14W Solar Charger to your backpack while you hike around during the day, and by the time evening rolls around, you’ll have a fully charged Sunjack battery. You can then use the Sunjack battery to power a USB LED light for your tent, and charge your phone.
The design of the Sunjack 14W Portable Solar Charger is really wonderful for camping. It folds down to about the size and weight of a book. When unfolded, can easily be hooked to a hiking pack for charging. Worn in this manner, it can flap around a bit, but to me that’s a small price to pay for being able to charge my cell phone in the middle of nowhere. The Sunjack 14W is not waterproof, but it is well-built and should last through several camping trips.
The included Sunjack 8,000 mAh battery will charge a smartphone approximately 3 times, or a tablet once. For most campers, this should be adequate. However, if you think that you might need more power, be sure check out the Sunjack 14W’s big brother, the Sunjack 20W Portable Solar Charger. This slightly larger model functions the same, but comes with a 20 watt solar panel, and two 8,000mAh batteries.
Where to Buy
Best Portable Laptop Charger: Goal Zero Sherpa 100 Solar Kit 42011
Goal Zero’s Sherpa 100 Solar Kit is the ultimate solar charger for adventurers on the go. The Sherpa 100 Kit comes with the Goal Zero Nomad 20, the Goal Zero Sherpa 100 Power Pack, and Goal Zero’s Sherpa Inverter.
What makes this kit so awesome? Functionality, versatility, and ease of use.
The Sherpa 100 is essentially a battery that can be used to power cell phones, laptop computers, DC lights, and cameras. You can charge the Sherpa 100 via a standard household outlet, a 12 volt DC source (like a car cigarette lighter), or any of Goal Zero’s solar panels.
The Nomad 20 is the solar panel that typically accompanies the Sherpa 100 Power Pack. The Nomad 20 is foldable, and can easily be packed away, or strapped to a daypack for charging while on a hike.
However, it does take 10-20 hours for the Nomad 20 solar panel to fully charge the Sherpa 100 Power Pack. If you feel that this is too long, you can purchase the Goal Zero Boulder 30 solar panel instead, which will charge the Sherpa 100 Power Pack in only 7-14 hours. The drawback to using the larger Boulder 30 solar panel is that it is a rigid panel, which means that it isn’t very packable, and can’t easily be attached to a day pack for charging on-the-go.
With a built in 12 volt outlet, the Goal Zero Sherpa 100 is capable of powering almost anything that has a 12 volt plug attached. With two USB ports, it can charge cell phones, bluetooth headsets, speakers, GPS devices, and more. Laptops can be charged using the special laptop port.
The Goal Zero Sherpa 100 Kit includes the Sherpa Inverter, which lets users power 120 volt devices with the Sherpa 100 Power Pack. There are two things that you have to keep in mind, however: a) the Sherpa Inverter can only power devices up to 100 watts, and b) the Sherpa Inverter is modified sine wave inverter. It may not work very well with certain kinds of electronics, such as digital clocks, some laptop computers, and medical equipment. For sensitive electronics, you’ll need a pure sine wave inverter.
One of the biggest and most overlooked reasons why the Sherpa 100 is great for campers is its battery. The battery inside the Sherpa 100 is a lithium-ion battery, which means that it can hold its charge for several months. By contrast, the Goal Zero Yeti solar generator series uses sealed lead-acid batteries.
Lead-acid need to be topped off more often, discharge much more quickly, and should only be discharged to about 50%. Generally speaking, discharging a lead-acid battery by 50% or more drastically reduces the lifetime of the battery. This means that if users are either: a) not charging the Yeti regularly or b) drawing the battery down to 50% capacity or less, over time, the Yeti unit will not hold as much charge as expected. I have a hunch that this is why there are more one-star reviews on Amazon for the Yeti 400 (there are currently 22) than there are for the Sherpa 100 (none as of this writing).
Ease of Use
Goal Zero’s products are easy to use, and that is a huge plus for most consumers. The Sherpa 100 Solar Kit is plug-and-play. It’s “no muss, no fuss.” It’s an all-in-one system, and it works great. For campers who need to power a laptop, or need to charge several small electronics, the this kit is ideal.
The Sherpa 100 Power Pack contains a 98 Wh battery, which should be enough to charge a smart phone 7+ times, a tablet twice, or a laptop computer once.
Where to Buy
Best Portable Solar Panels for Camping DIYers: Renogy 60W Portable Folding Solar Panel (or 100W version)
The Renogy 60W Portable Folding Solar Panel is a 60 watt folding solar panel with an adjustable stand and a charge controller built in. It is a truly fantastic option for any car camper who is also a DIYer.
In addition to the solar panel, you will also need to purchase a few other items to complete your setup:
- A deep cycle 12 volt battery, around 30 amp hours capacity. I recommend something like a VMAX857 AGM Battery 12 Volt 35AH Deep Cycle Battery.
- A clip-on 12 volt outlet, something like a Roadpro 12V Battery Clip-On and Cigarette Lighter Adapter.
- An inverter, around 200 watts, such a this Wagan 200W inverter. Remember that it is best to use only up to 80% of any inverter’s rated wattage. For a 200 watt inverter, keep usage to under 160 watts.
Setting It Up
Setting up the Renogy 60W Portable Solar Panel and deep cycle battery takes only a few minutes. Simply unfold the panel, lock the stand in place, attach the alligator clamps to the battery, and configure the included charge controller. Remember that as soon as sunlight hits the surface of the solar panels, the wires coming out of the back are “hot”. Do not let the clamps and wires coming out of the charge controller touch each other. Covering the panels with a thick blanket during setup will help prevent accidents.
The main advantage to using a Renogy 60W Portable Folding Solar Panel over an all-in-one solution like the Goal Zero Sherpa 100 Kit is that it’s much cheaper while providing 3-4 times the power. The Goal Zero Sherpa 100 Kit retails at $599.95, whereas the Renogy 60W, plus the battery and accessories, comes to less than $400. That is a steal! For current prices, click on the links below.
|Renogy 60W Folding Solar Panel|
|VMAX 12 volt 35 AH Battery|
|Roadpro 12 volt Clip-On Adapter|
|Anker 12 volt USB adapter|
|Wagan 200W Inverter|
Campers who are also DIYers will enjoy being able to customize their system:
- You choose the battery.
- You choose what type and size inverter to use.
- You have the ability attach several 12 volt devices, lights, etc. at one time.
However, there are some cons to a DIY portable solar setup:
- Not child-friendly
- Not pet-friendly
- Somewhat dangerous
- Lead-acid batteries need to be maintained
- Can’t be strapped to a day pack
The Renogy 60W Portable Folding Solar Panel folds down to 13.6 in x 25.4 in x 2.8 in, which is a manageable size for car camping. However, it’s pretty much impossible to set it up to charge, and then strap it to a day pack. Well, it’s possible, but it would be very heavy and cumbersome. The Renegy 60W does best sitting on the ground or on a table.
If the Renogy 60W Portable Folding Solar Panel sounds like it might be too small to power all of your electrical devices, be sure to check out its big brother, the Renogy 100W Portable Folding Solar Panel. It functions the same as the 60W, but provides more charging power. I have a hunch that the 60W unit will be more than enough for most tent campers, but the 100 watt panel is great for RV campers who have extra storage space.
Where to Buy
Whichever solar panel you choose for your camping adventure, you’ll most likely need a few accessories to go with it. Here are highly rated accessories:
ThorFire Camping LED lantern – It’s a lantern! It’s a cell phone battery backup! Too many functions to name.
Sunjack USB light – great for hanging inside a tent
Goal Zero USB LED Light Stick – perfectly portable, simple LED light
Arctic Breeze USB fan – great for cooling off a small tent