Getting into nature shouldn’t mean leaving your gadgets behind. In the not-so-distant past, having a source of power while camping meant reserving an expensive RV campsite or running an expensive and noisy generator. Thankfully, technology has come a long way.
Portable solar panels have become increasingly portable, affordable, and effective. When paired with a solar generator or portable power pack like a Goal Zero or a Jackery, a folding solar panel can provide a reliable source of silent and environmentally friendly power.
However, there are a lot of options on the market, and a lot of factors to consider. We’ve looked at dozens of foldable solar panels for camping and compiled a list of the five best options. Here’s what we found.
What You Will Learn
- 1 Products Reviewed in This Article
- 2 Top 3 Best Best Folding Solar Panels For Camping Compared
- 3 Best Folding Solar Panel For Camping Reviews
- 4 Our Top Pick TP-solar 120 Watt Foldable Solar Panel Battery Charger Kit
- 5 Rockpals 100W Foldable Solar Panel Charger
- 6 Jackery SolarSaga 100W Portable Solar Panel for Explorer 160/240/500/1000
- 7 DOKIO 100 Watts 12 Volts Monocrystalline Foldable Solar-Panel with Charge Controller with Dual USB Outputs
- 8 Goal Zero Boulder 100 Briefcase
- 9 How to Choose the Right Solar Panel For You
- 10 Conclusion
Products Reviewed in This Article
Last update on 2021-09-11 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
Top 3 Best Best Folding Solar Panels For Camping Compared
Last update on 2021-09-11 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
Best Folding Solar Panel For Camping Reviews
If you are looking for a rugged panel with excellent specifications without breaking your budget, this TP-Solar 120-watt model is an excellent option. This is not the most compact panel available, so if space is at a premium there may be better options. However, there are numerous advantages to this panel that make it a great option in many circumstances.
First, this is a 19-volt panel, meaning its nominal voltage is considerably higher than the competition. In the world of solar power, higher voltage results in greater low-light performance. Thus, if you often need power on overcast days or in wooded areas without direct sunlight, a higher voltage panel is going to provide better performance more of the time. Further, this is an extremely durable panel. The entire panel is laminated with ETFE plastic. This blend of plastic is particularly UV resistant, meaning it will not degrade or become brittle in the sun. Combined with its completely waterproof construction, this is a great panel for long-term use. While it is a portable panel at heart, you could easily leave this panel set up for long periods without fear of degradation or damage.
TP-Solar did an excellent job providing a variety of connections and mounting options as well. Although this solar panel would normally be used on the ground, they included two mounting points to allow the panel to be hung from a tree or vehicle. They either go the extra mile and include two carabiners for hanging the panel. This flexibility made the panel extremely easy to set up for maximum sun exposure and efficiency. Further, similarly to Rockpals, TP-Solar included a very comprehensive set of adapters, connectors, and extension cords. Whether you want to charge a battery directly using alligator clamps, charge a solar generator, or charge a USB device directly, this panel has you covered.
For full-time users, such as van-dwellers or RV-owners, this is a fantastic choice. As long as space is not at an extreme premium, this panel will provide years of reliable and high-efficiency service.
- Very durable
- UV resistant
- Higher voltage
- Flexible mounting
- Fairly heavy
Rockpals is a relatively new brand on the scene, but they have quickly developed a solid reputation for quality gear at great prices. The Rockpals 100W folding solar panel is a legitimately impressive package. Not only is it a great value, but it is one of the most versatile options we could find. The first thing you will notice about this panel is how compact it is. Portable solar panels in the 100-watt range are typically divided into either two or four segments, with hinges for easy storage. Rockpals opted for the four-panel option, which plays a big role in making this one of the smallest units we tested. When folded it is a svelte 20″ x 14″, and only 2″ thick. It’s easy to stash in the trunk of your car or beside your tent.
In terms of connectivity, this panel also scores well. Rockpals included a very comprehensive set of adapters, allowing this unit to charge almost every solar generator on the market. Whether your power pack uses a 5.5mm, 8mm, or any other, Rockpals should have you covered. They went one step beyond, however. Typically a solar panel must be plugged into a solar generator to provide power. While this will be the normal situation for using this panel, Rockpals also included a built-in USB charger on the panel itself. Thus, if you simply need to top up your phone or tablet, you can plug your device directly into the panel. It’s a very convenient touch that makes this panel usable in a lot more situations. They even included a zippered pouch for storing your phone and keeping it cool while it charges.
The case of the Rockpals panel is a heavy-duty canvas fabric. This has its advantages, but also some drawbacks. The fabric covering makes this panel extremely lightweight and easy to store. However, it will not be quite as protected as a hard-shell panel. It is far from fragile, but still slightly more vulnerable than other models. That said, the fabric casing allows you to drape this panel over a vehicle without fear of scratching it, so this is a great option for car camping.
Overall, this is a beautifully designed panel that excels in terms of flexibility. It’s easy to set up, easy to store, and our testing showed the full 100-watts of power in even slightly overcast conditions. For a 100-watt panel for camping, it is hard to go wrong with this model.
- Very efficient
- Great selection of connectors
- Built-in USB charging
- Very compact/lightweight
- Slightly less rugged than hard-shell models
For a few years, Jackery has become the go-to brand for campers seeking high-quality gear for a great price. The Jackery Explorer line is among the best solar generators on the market, and we have consistently been impressed with and recommended Jackery products. Given this reputation, it makes sense that Jackery would make an excellent solar panel system to pair with their solar generators. The SolarSaga 100 does not disappoint. It’s a well-engineered panel that does its job beautifully. However, it is not necessarily for everyone.
The construction of the SolarSaga stands out immediately. There are a lot of functional foldable solar panels for camping, but they often lack fit and finish. Not so with the Jackery. It feels like a completely thought-out and engineered product. The hinge feels sturdy, the clasps are well-built, the edges are nicely finished, and there is proper strain relief on all the fittings. It feels great and I have little doubt it will last for years to come. The performance is excellent too. The SolarSaga uses solid solar cells. This means that when you look at the panel, it just looks like a pane of blue glass, rather than having lines through it like lower-quality solar panels. This not only makes for a stronger solar panel, but it leads to higher efficiency as well. This panel has a 23% energy conversion rate, which is about 10% higher than much of the competition. Even in moderate sunlight, this panel should perform beautifully.
It’s easy to use as well. Jackery made sure that you would have plenty of methods to aim this panel. There are grommets at each corner for hanging the panel, or there are nicely integrated stands that can be folded out for setting the panel on the ground. Whether you’re at the beach or a campground, it is easy to keep this panel facing the sun. Jackery also included direct USB charging, including Type-C. Thus, if you want to charge your phone directly from the panel you can easily do so.
The only notable drawback of this panel is the choice of connector. Jackery products use an 8mm barrel-jack connector for their solar charging ports. This works fine but is not necessarily standard across other brands. Thus, while the hard-wired connector works fine for using this panel with Jackery solar generators, you will have to track down an adapter to use this panel with other brands. This is an easily solvable obstacle, but one that is worth considering.
This is one of the higher-quality panels we’ve tested, and it has a lot of clever features. If the 8mm plug is not a deal-breaker, this is a great choice.
- Very high quality
- USB Charging, including type-c
- Solid panels for higher efficiency
- Built-in stands
- Hard-wired plug
DOKIO 100 Watts 12 Volts Monocrystalline Foldable Solar-Panel with Charge Controller with Dual USB Outputs
Every solar panel will feature different priorities. Some are designed to be incredibly tough. Others may be optimized for low-light performance. The DOKIO 100-watt panel was designed with two goals in mind: lightweight and affordability. In light of this panel’s impressive performance and all-inclusive kit, it makes for a formidable deal.
As mentioned above, the DOKIO’s most salient selling point is how light it is. At under 6 lbs, this kit is almost disorientingly svelte. Despite this, it does not feel cheap. The case is made from rip-stop nylon, and the edges are nicely finished with tight seems and consistent stitching. Compared to heavier panels with full plastic cases, the DOKIO is likely not to be quite as durable. However, it should be perfectly sufficient in all but the most extreme circumstances.
As with many of the other panels we chose for this folding solar panel review, the DOKIO features direct USB-charging. There’s even a pouch for storing a device while charging. Further, the DOKIO includes a solar charge controller. Most of the foldable solar panel camping models rely on the solar charge controller built into your solar generator. While you can use the DOKIO this way, you can also use the included solar charge controller to charge any battery bank. Thus, whether you want to charge your RV’s house battery bank, or simply top up the starting battery in your car, you can easily do so with the DOKIO.
The only notable oversight in this folding solar panel kit is the lack of a stand. DOKIO did include grommets for hanging the panel, and you can fold the panel in such a way that allows it to stand on its own. However, there is not a kick-stand for angling the panel towards the sun. In practice, this is not a large problem. Typically when I’m camping, I simply lean my panels against a rock or prop them up with a tent pole. Yet, in the interest of providing a comprehensive review, this exclusion was worth noting.
The DOKIO 100-watt panel is a truly fantastic value, and the inclusion of a solar charge controller only bolsters that point. While it is not the flashiest option on the market, it gets the job done and is a perfect choice for anyone just starting with solar power or anyone who prioritizes value.
- Very lightweight
- Includes a controller
- Great value
- Not the most rugged panel
- No stand included
If the DOKIO is the lightweight budget-friendly option among this list, the Goal Zero is the top-quality battle-tested choice. Goal Zero is one of the original players in the off-grid solar power game, and its name is synonymous with top-quality equipment. Goal Zero gear will rarely be the least expensive option. However, it will often be the most reliable.
The Boulder 100 is designed to work with any solar generator but is specifically geared towards Goal Zero’s Yeti series. As such, the overall design and appearance of the Boulder is very reminiscent of the classic Yeti generators. The fit and finish are superb, and it exudes a focus on strength. Between the full-frame aluminum construction and the rubberized bumpers on every corner, this folding panel would likely survive a quick trip down a cliff face. If durability is a priority, this panel will be hard to beat.
It’s a fully-featured kit as well. The panel unfolds and includes an exceptionally sturdy stand. Thus, getting this panel pointed towards the sun is easy in every environment. The panel is a particularly high-efficiency model. It runs at a nominal 22-volts and has a 27% conversion efficiency, so this panel will be among the highest-performing options in lower light conditions. This is doubly true if you pair this panel will Goal Zero’s solar optimization module that converts your Yeti from a PWM to an MPPT charge controller. In our testing, we were able to achieve the full 100 watts of output even on a fairly overcast day.
Beyond the incredible construction and high level of performance, there are a few drawbacks that should be noted. First, this panel is quite heavy. At 26 lbs, it dwarfs many of the competitors. For most RVs, this may not pose a problem. However, if you reside in a smaller van or prefer a lighter-weight setup, this might not be the panel for you. Further, the Boulder does not have onboard USB charging. This is a fairly minor consideration given the fact that it will normally be plugged into a battery bank. However, the exclusion of this feature was somewhat surprising given the design reputation of Goal Zero.
This panel may pack a little more heft than the competition, but it makes up for it in a myriad of other ways. If your goal is to get the most durable and high-performing panel on the market, this is it.
- Extremely durable
- Built-in stand
- Great low-light performance
- Fairly heavy
- No direct USB charging
How to Choose the Right Solar Panel For You
Thankfully, the days of solar energy being a complicated and niche hobby are over. Rather than the hard to understand, bulky, and unreliable systems that preceded, solar panels are now incredibly convenient, affordable, and easy to use.
A solar panel and a solar generator are now must-haves in my camping setup. In fact, I’m using a panel and a Jackery 160 to write this article right now. However, not every solar panel is right for every task. It’s important that you choose the right panel for your needs.
Here’s what to look for.
How Much Power Do You Need?
When purchasing a portable folding solar panel, one of the first considerations should be “how much power do you need.” Of course, traditional wisdom dictates that more is always better. Yet, a smarter approach is to look at your system and needs as a whole. Many people have relatively modest power needs when camping. You might need to charge a phone, power a laptop, or run a few lights.
Ultimately, these jobs require relatively little power. Thus, a relatively small solar panel may be sufficient. Although they have gotten significantly smaller over time, some solar panels can still take up a fair amount of room. If you think your needs can be satisfied with a smaller panel, you may be happier with a more compact setup.
Your solar generator should also factor into this decision. I have a few solar generators. But, as I mentioned above, my go-to is a fairly small Jackery 160. Even a small solar panel can charge this battery bank from empty in only a few hours of sunlight, so a larger system would essentially be wasted. As a rule of thumb, I generally suggest that people consider the capacity of their battery system and then divide that number by four to determine how many watts of solar power they need. For example, if your system has 400 watt-hours of capacity, a 100-watt panel should be more than sufficient.
Durability or Lightweight?
When shopping for any solar panel, there will always be a choice between ruggedness and portability. Thus, it is important to consider your priorities when selecting the best panel. One of the most common uses for a solar panel is to keep the batteries of your van or RV topped up. In this context, having a slightly heavier panel is unlikely to present a hindrance as you are unlikely to have to carry the panel more than a few feet. In contrast, some campers choose to take soft-sided panels with them to hike-in campsites or on longer backpacking adventures. For these contexts, choosing a lighter panel may be the better option.
This is not necessarily a “this or that” decision. Many outdoor enthusiasts I know will have multiple solar panels that they use in conjunction with different purposes. Having a few full-frame solar panels for daily use is a nice way to have reliable power to your van or RV. However, the sun does not always shine as brightly as we hope. I know many campers that keep a lightweight solar panel or two for these situations as “ground deploy” units to supplement their main system. Given the increasingly affordable price of solar panels, this is a situation where you can often have your cake and eat it too.
What Connectors Do You Need?
Although solar systems are becoming increasingly plug-and-play, there is one aspect that still requires a small amount of planning. The connections used by various companies are not yet standardized. For example, while Jackery uses an 8mm barrel jack for solar input, other companies may use an MC4 or a 5.5mm input. Adapters are readily available, but it is important to get the right plugs for your system to work.
Many companies will try to tell you that your solar panels need to be the same brand as your solar generator. This isn’t the case. One of the best things about solar power is that solar charge controllers tend to be very forgiving in terms of accepting various panels. In almost every case, there is no harm in mixing and maxing brands of panels, controllers, and generators. Thus, you should feel free to get the individual components that fit your budget and needs most closely. Just make sure you research the connectors ahead of time!
Do You Need Direct USB Charging?
Generally, solar panels are not designed to charge devices directly. Rather, they are intended to charge a battery bank via a solar charge controller, and then the battery can be used to charge or power devices. Solar charge controllers, such as the Bluetti, Jackery Explorer, or Goal Zero Yeti integrate these components into one easy-to-use package.
Yet, in limited contexts, you may want to be able to charge a phone or other USB device directly from a solar panel without needing to use a battery bank as an intermediary. Many portable panels have this capability, but not all. If this is an important feature to you, make sure it is available on the panel you choose.
Consider Your Location
When it comes to choosing a solar panel, your location can make a difference. Solar panels are most efficient when used in direct unobstructed sunlight. This is why they are so popular in western desert regions that receive a large amount of direct sun. However, solar panels can still be extremely effective in less ideal conditions as long as you keep your expectations reasonable and choose the proper panels. If you plan to use your solar system in a region with more obstructions or less direct sunlight, there are two things you should consider.
First, look for a panel with a higher nominal voltage. The specifications of a solar panel will list the output voltage. This will typically range from 16 to 22 volts. For less sunny environments, a higher voltage panel will perform more efficiently. Second, if you often camp in more shaded areas, you should consider getting a higher capacity panel. A 100-watt panel may only be able to produce 80-watts if the sun is streaming past a dense tree-cover or through an overcast sky, so a larger panel can compensate for this loss. Higher-wattage panels are the best solution for sub-ideal conditions.
Compared to the smell, noise, and inconvenience of a gasoline or diesel-powered generator, solar power can seem almost magical. The ability to cheaply and easily have an unlimited source of free power streaming from the sky is truly a game-changer when it comes to camping. The technology has evolved rapidly, and there has never been a better time to invest in a portable folding solar panel.
However, given how many options are on the market, finding the best portable solar panels for camping can seem challenging at first. In this roundup, each panel was chosen because it excelled at a specific task or situation. Yet, despite each panel shining in its own way, there is still a winner that rose about the rest. The TP-solar 120 Watt Foldable Solar Panel immediately impressed us during our review. We were universally impressed by its excellent build quality, consistently great performance, and impressive value.
Although it was not the most compact model we looked at, it was extremely durable and represented a very complete kit. As an all-around performer, it was tough to beat.
- 【Designed for portable power stations and 12V battery】: The 19V DC port is designed for charging portable power stations and is equipped with cables and connectors of different specifications, compatible with Suaoki, Jackery, Webetop, Rockpals, Paxcess, etc. The 14.4V DC port is equipped with a built-in charging control box. You can directly charge the 12-volt battery of cars, ships, and RVs without having to carry an additional controller.
- 【USB Smart and Fast Charging Technology】: Dual USB Ports QC3.0 & 2.0 (5V/9V/12V 2A max), and the USB-C port support PD3.0（24W max）.Designed for smartphones and tablets (compatible with iPhone, iPad, Samsung Galaxy), GPS, digital cameras etc. Perfectly compatible with outdoor life and help you deal with unexpected power outages. The build-in smart IC chip intelligently identifies your device, and maximizes its charging speed while protects your devices from over charging and overloading.
- 【Foldable&Portable】:After being folded, the size is only 17.05*21.06*1.4 inches. You can easily pack it into backpack or trunk to explore the world. At the same time, the panel is equipped with adjustable bracket.You could adjust the angle of the solar panel at will to obtain a higher output power.
- 【Powerful High Conversion Efficiency】: With high efficiency monocrystalline solar cell, you will get greater power efficiency even though the panel is smaller than a traditional model Maximizes system output by reducing mismatch loss. It performs better than similarly rated polycrystalline solar panels at low-light conditions.
- 【Reliable product quality and after-sales service】: Advanced lamination technology and ETFE coating material make the panel durable and have great waterproof performance, which cause it could adapt to most weather conditions. At the same time, the 12-month worry-free warranty and friendly Customer service will help you solve any product problems promptly and quickly.
Last update on 2021-09-11 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API