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Powered by the Sun: The best portable solar panels for 2022

There’s nothing worse than a drained battery when you’re out in the middle of nowhere. Any avid camper will attest to the need for accessible energy to power electronic devices when traveling off-grid. While portable battery chargers are an option, they can be heavy and limited in how much energy they provide. Enter portable solar panels.

Solar panels produce infinite power since all they require is the energy of the sun. Whether it’s a cell phone, laptop, or camping lantern, portable solar panels remove the need to carry a supply of heavy external battery chargers. However, not all solar panels are created equal, as we cover below.

This article reviews the best portable solar panels on the market. We’ll start with what types of panels there are, what considerations to look out for, followed by our list of recommendations.

What Is a Portable Solar Panel?

As the name implies, portable solar panels are transportable energy chargers that convert sunlight into electricity or heat. Designed to be carried anywhere, portable solar panels are foldable, lightweight, and easy to set up. Ideal for camping, hiking, or travel, they can power laptops, cell phones, speakers, RV engines, camp stoves, heaters, water pumps, and more.

Made from a collection of photovoltaic cells, portable solar panels vary in size, setup, and weight. Also, due to their size, they often need to be accompanied by a power bank or additional battery to store energy. This is especially necessary if the user is off-grid for long periods.

Types of Portable Solar Panels

Before purchasing a portable solar panel, it’s worth knowing the different types as they vary in terms of material. The two main types of panel cells are monocrystalline and polycrystalline.

Monocrystalline

Monocrystalline is the most common type of panel. Made with wafers cut from a single silicon crystal, these are constructed into rows and columns which then form a rectangle. Due to the purity of the cells and the ability to convert solar energy, monocrystalline panels come out on top in terms of energy efficiency and production. This high-quality construction means they are more expensive than polycrystalline versions. Monocrystalline panels are also easy to identify because they are black and tend to have thicker panels.

Polycrystalline

Polycrystalline panels are less expensive and are bluish in color instead of black. Rather than being made with single-cut silicon, these panels consist of silicon fragments melted together. The outcome of this process is less room for the solar electrons to move freely, resulting in less efficiency. However, polycrystalline models produce less silicon waste than monocrystalline panels.

Things To Consider When Choosing a Portable Solar Panel

Portable solar panels can vary in price, weight, and efficiency. Whether you’re looking for a panel that fits in a backpack or an SUV, below are a few things to consider before making your purchase.

Size and Weight

Size matters a lot if you need a solar panel that fits into small spaces. If you’re looking for a compact version, it’s a good idea to check the overall and folded dimensions. For example, some solar panels fold into thin, compact packages, making them ideal for carrying in a backpack. Others are foldable but are a bit larger and more suited to transport in a vehicle.

Weight is another consideration. The panels on our list are as light as 1 pound or as heavy as 40 pounds. When making your choice, look for large enough panels to generate efficient energy but small enough to suit your purposes. We’ve compiled a range of options in our list to help you out.

Efficiency

Another important consideration is the panel’s efficiency rating, which is a measurement of its ability to convert sunlight into energy. Efficiency is often depicted as a percentage and determined by the type of materials.

For example, because monocrystalline panels are made from pure silicon crystals, they have a higher efficiency rate of around 20% or more. Polycrystalline panels come close (approximately 15%), but they are generally less efficient because of impurities in the melted silicon wafers.

Wattage

Along with efficiency, you’ll want to assess the wattage as this can range depending on size and materials. More compact panels tend to have a smaller wattage, so it’s best to assess your needs before making your purchase.

As mentioned, monocrystalline produces the most energy and efficiency due to its silicon crystals. The monocrystalline panels on our list reach upwards of 200 watts, while polycrystalline is around 100 watts.

Device Charging

Device charging is another factor to consider before buying your solar panel. Many panels can only connect to a battery, while others connect to larger vehicles such as a car or RV. To assess its charging capabilities, check the outputs of the panel to see what types of devices it connects to. While most solar panels are compatible with multiple electronic devices, they can vary.

Battery Integration

Bear in mind that many solar panels don’t store energy once the sun is gone. To do that, you’ll need to attach it to a battery or power station. However, not all solar panels can connect to a battery, so you’ll need to check its ports and connectivity. For example, models like the Twelseavan Solar Panel has multiple DC connectors, making it compatible with most types of power stations.

Now that we’ve reviewed the considerations and features to look for when choosing a portable solar panel, let’s review our top recommendations.

Top 8 Portable Solar Panels

1. Best Overall: BigBlue Solar Charger

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Why We Like It: This monocrystalline solar panel is one of the lightest on our list, and its compact design makes it ideal for travelers and hikers.

Editor’s Rating: 5 of 5

Quick Facts:

  •         Size: 33 x 11.1 x 1.1 inches (unfolded); 11.1 x 6.3 x 1.7 inches (folded)
  •         Weight: 1.34 pounds
  •         Wattage: 28 watts (each panel is 7 watts)
  •         Efficiency: 24%
  •         Water Resistant: Yes (IPX4 splash resistant)

At the top of our list is this incredibly compact model from BigBlue. This durable solar panel is a fantastic lightweight option for traveling, camping, and hiking. At just 1.34 pounds, BigBlue’s four panels are easily foldable and compact enough to fit into a backpack or small piece of luggage. The panel also comes with four attached buckles, which means you can hang it from a bag, tree, etc.

With a quick charging time, this panel is an excellent option if you’re on a multi-day camping trip or traveling to places without reliable power sources. The upgraded version also comes with 3 USB ports, allowing you to charge multiple devices at once.

One downside is it doesn’t come with a blocking diode that stops devices from draining the solar panel — an issue that can occur in slightly shaded areas. The BigBlue is also not capable of storing electricity, so you’ll need a power bank if you want to store backup energy.

Pros:

  •         Very well made
  •         Fast charger
  •         Great value for money
  •         Lightweight and compact

Cons:

  •         Lacks a blocking diode to stop devices from draining the panel

2. Most Portable: Jackery SolarSaga Solar Panel 

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Why We Like It: Those interested in portability will appreciate the lightness and design of this model. It also comes with a kickstand.

Editor’s Rating: 5 of 5

Quick Facts:

  •         Size: 16.8 x 11.4 x 0.4 inches (unfolded)
  •         Weight: 6.6 Pounds
  •         Efficiency: 23%
  •         Wattage: 60 watts
  •         Water Resistant: Yes (IPX4 splash resistant)

This solar panel is highly portable and comes with a kickstand that allows customized angles to catch the sun. Jackery’s monocrystalline panel also comes with robust ETFE lamination, making it durable and efficient at transmitting solar energy. However, it can struggle to charge in partial shade.

Jackery’s panels come with a power cable, extension cord, and two USB ports (A and C). The cords also come in a small carrying bag on the back of the panel.

Like most portable solar panels, this model is foldable and has rubber handles, making it easy to carry and maneuver while camping or hiking. The Jackery solar panel is also splash-resistant, but it cannot be soaked in water or placed in the rain.

Pros:

  •         Very portable
  •         Lightweight
  •         Easy to use
  •         Well made

Cons:

  •         Doesn’t charge as well in partial shade

3. Lightest Model: Nekteck Solar Charger

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Why We Like It: At just 1.1 pounds, the Nekteck solar charger is the lightest model on our list. It is also compact and has excellent value for money.

Editor’s Rating: 4.5 of 5

Quick Facts:

  •         Size: 6.3 x 11.1 x 1.06 inches (folded)
  •         Weight: 1.125 pounds
  •         Efficiency: 21% – 24%
  •         Wattage: 21 watts
  •         Water Resistant: Yes

The NekTeck solar charger is incredibly lightweight and compact, making it another contender for those wanting an easily portable model that fits into small spaces. Like other monocrystalline models on our list, it is IPX4 water and dust-resistant. It also comes with an attachment hook for hanging.

While this model bears similarities to the BigBlue Solar Charger in terms of weight, price, and efficiency; one difference is it comes with IC chip technology, which detects electronic devices plugged into its USB ports. That said, this model only has 2 USB ports, so those wanting more may want to opt for the BigBlue model instead.

It’s also worth noting that the NekTeck doesn’t store power, so you’ll need a power bank if you need a lot of backup energy. This model can also overheat easily — especially in high temperatures — so make sure there is plenty of ventilation underneath.

Pros:

  •         Lightweight and compact
  •         Highly compact
  •         Great for traveling and camping
  •         Excellent value for money

Cons:

  •         Can overheat easily

4. Best Premium: Goal Zero Boulder Monocrystalline Solar Panel 

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Why We Like It: While the Goal Zero is too heavy for stowing in a backpack, this premium panel packs a punch in terms of wattage and solar efficiency.

Editor’s Rating: 4.5 of 5

Quick Facts:

  •         Size: 40 x 53.5 x 1.75 inches (unfolded); 40 x 26.75 x 3.5 inches (folded)
  •         Weight: 46 pounds
  •         Efficiency: 40% – 60%
  •         Wattage: 200 watts
  •         Water Resistant: Yes

Our premium pick is this 2-panel model from Goal Zero. While it weighs a hefty 46 pounds, it produces 200 watts and can charge batteries and power stations for RVs or boats. Suited to those traveling in campervans or all-terrain vehicles, the Goal Zero is a durable and sturdy option that has even been tested in extreme climates like the Arctic.

Although this model is heavy, it is foldable and portable and comes with a convenient briefcase for carrying. It is also designed to be paired with a Goal Zero Yeti power station, which allows you to store electricity while traveling or being off-grid for extended periods. Built with strong tempered glass and an aluminum frame, this solar panel is also water-resistant and includes a built-in adjustable kickstand for proper angling.

Pros:

  •         Solid build
  •         High solar output
  •         Easy to set up
  •         Reliable and powerful

Cons:

  •         Very heavy
  •         Not as portable as other solar panels

5. Best Polycrystalline: Newpowa Polycrystalline Solar Panel 

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Why We Like It: As far as polycrystalline models go, the Newpowa produces decent efficiency and power for an affordable price.

Editor’s Rating: 4 of 5

Quick Facts:

  •         Size: 35.83 x 26.57 x 1.18 inches
  •         Weight: 15.43 pounds
  •         Efficiency: 16% – 17%
  •         Wattage: 100 watts
  •         Water Resistant: Yes

Newpowa’s polycrystalline model is heavy-duty and built with a rugged anodized frame, designed to withstand adverse weather such as high winds, snow, and hail. This solar panel is ideal for RVs/camping, residential rooftops, remote farms, etc.

While the size and weight may not be ideal for stowing in a backpack, this solar panel is foldable and portable. It can also be challenging to set up, but one plus is that the frame comes with pre-drilled holes for mounting.

Another benefit of this panel is that it comes with pre-installed blocking diodes that minimize power drops in shady areas. While it doesn’t have the same efficiency rating as other models on this list, it produces a decent wattage for a lower price. Newpowa also provides a 25-year warranty.

Pros:

  •         Weather-resistant (withstands wind, hail, and snow)
  •         Durable materials
  •         Pre-installed diodes minimize power drops in the shade

Cons:

  •         Not as portable as other models
  •         A bit challenging to set up

6. Most Flexible: Renogy Monocrystalline Solar Panel

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Why We Like It: This super bendy model from Renogy is lightweight and thin, making it an ideal solar panel for uneven surfaces.

Editor’s Rating: 4 of 5

Quick Facts:

  •         Size: 26.5 x 20.0 x 0.08 inches
  •         Weight: 2.87 pounds
  •         Efficiency: 21%
  •         Wattage: 50 watts
  •         Water Resistant: Yes

For those seeking a solar panel that can accommodate irregular surfaces, this model from Renogy will do the trick. At just 0.08 inches thick, this highly bendable panel produces 50 watts of power and comes with metal reinforced holes to prevent it from blowing away.

However, the product falls short when it comes to its cables as they aren’t marked positive and negative; this can make identification difficult when connecting to a battery. The lead lengths are also strangely uneven, making setup a challenge.

Faults aside, the Renogy model weighs 70% less than other conventional solar panels and performs well in adverse weather such as high winds and heavy snow. Also, its highly flexible design makes it ideal for use in uneven areas such as curved roofs, yachts, boats, etc.

Pros:

  •         Thin, flexible panel
  •         Works well on irregular surfaces
  •         Lightweight

Cons:

  •         Cable leads are not marked positive and negative, making setup a challenge
  •         Lead lengths are not the same

7. Highest Compatibility: Twelseavan Portable Solar Panel for Power Station

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Why We Like It: This monocrystalline solar panel from Twelseavan includes 10 DC connectors, making it compatible with most solar generators.

Editor’s Rating: 4 of 5

Quick Facts:

  •         Size: 64.6 x 20.5 inches (unfolded); 20.5 x 14.4 x 1.6 inches (folded)
  •         Weight: 9.5 pounds
  •         Efficiency: 23%
  •         Wattage: 120 watts
  •         Water Resistant: Yes

Twelseavan’s portable solar panel is ideal for those who require compatibility with other power stations or solar generators. With ten different DC connectors and a 4-port output, this solar panel allows you to charge multiple devices at once. It also boasts 120 watts and a decent efficiency rate of 23%.

Made with durable polyester canvas and polyethylene terephthalate (PET), Twelseavan’s solar panel is a robust option for the outdoors — although it’s best kept away from excessive water.

The solar panel comes with four adjustable kickstands to prevent overheating, although the build on these could be more robust. The solar panel is also highly compact when folded, making it ideal for camping, travel, fishing, etc.

Pros:

  •         Highly durable
  •         Has 4 ports and 10 DC connector options
  •         Comes with 4 adjustable kickstands

Cons:

  •         Kickstands are small and flimsy
  •         Not very water-resistant

8. Best for RVs: Renogy Monocrystalline Foldable Solar Suitcase

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Why We Like It: While it’s a heavier model, this powerful solar panel is ideal for RV use and comes with a waterproof charge controller.

Editor’s Rating: 3.5 of 5

Quick Facts:

  •         Size: 26.4 x 32.5 x 2.8 inches
  •         Weight: 39 pounds
  •         Efficiency: 21%
  •         Wattage: 200 watts
  •         Water Resistant: Yes

This portable solar panel is perfect for people who are camping or traveling in RVs. Made with two 100-watt monocrystalline panels, the Renogy comes with a protective case, a heavy-duty handle, and an adjustable aluminum stand. It also comes with a waterproof solar charge controller with an LCD monitor so you can view data and prevent fires or over-charging.

While its weight rules it out as a backpack option, this hefty two-panel model produces a massive 200 watts. While this matches the output of the Goal Zero Solar Panel, it is slightly less efficient at 21%.

Pros:

  •         Sturdy build
  •         Great value for money
  •         Easy to use

Cons:

  •         Can be cumbersome to carry
  •         Panels don’t produce as much energy as other competitors

Final Thoughts

Portable solar panels are an ideal solution to your energy needs when traveling off-grid. Whether you’re looking to charge your cell phone or your RV, portable solar panels are suitable for traveling, camping, and working outdoors. Not only are these convenient chargers good for the environment, but they can produce infinite power in the right conditions.

Finding the best portable solar panel to suit your needs involves a combination of assessing size, weight, efficiency, and charging options. It also requires learning about what these panels are made of and how they connect to different devices. We hope the list above will inform your buying decisions and help you choose the best one for your needs. Good luck!

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