Camping solar panels are a great addition to a campsite if you would like to run some home comforts. Solar panel technology has made huge advancements in recent years, but be careful that your expectations are not a little too high. Do not expect to run a fridge or tent heater the whole day on a single solar panel.
Before we get to the best camping solar panels, its best to make sure you know what your needs are. If you just want to charge your iPod to have some music, there is no need to buy a 100W solar panel with a deep cycle battery.
How do Solar Panels Work?
Solar (or photovoltaic) panels rely on the photoelectric effect to convert the suns rays into DC power. The solar panels are made out of silicone, a semiconductor (it shares similar properties of metals and that of insulators). Depending on your needs there will be an inverter in the circuit if you need to run AC appliances (120V/220V).
How much power can a camping solar panel generate?
This can be a tricky question and can get very technical. The amount of power a solar panel can generate depends on the amount of sunlight hours. Because an hour of sun in Alaska is different from an hour of sun in Arizona the industry have a measurement called Peak Sun Hour (PSH).
Imagine it as the same as measuring rainfall and one PSH is the same as one “bucket” of sunlight.
So for arguments sake, there are typically 5-6 PSH (or buckets of sunlight) in Arizona and only 1-2 PSH in Alaska.
The solar industry uses a different method of rating the panels and will only roughly deliver about 70% of the power it says on the box. So a 100W panel will only deliver 70W of power.
So multiply the panel rating with the PSH and you get your amount of power.
For example a 100W panel in Arizona:
70% x100 x 6=420 watt-hours
Promise that’s all the tech jargon over! So what does this mean? Here is a rough guide on the power needs of certain appliances (in watts):
• CD/DVD player – 30
• Coffee grinder – 50
• Computer (laptop) – 20 to 50
• Computer (desktop) – 300 to 500
• Computer printer (ink jet) – 40 to 70
• Computer printer (laser) – 1000
• Fans (230-volt) – 30 to 100
• Food mixer – 350 to 45
• Juicer – 35
• Lights (compact fluro) – 5 to 18
• Lights (LED) – 3 to 8
• Macerator pump – 300 to 350
• Microwave oven (‘800-watts’) – 1350*
• Portable radio – 5 to 15
• Sewing machine – 75 to 100
• Stereo – 50 to 60
• TV (LED/LCD 16-20 inch) – 20 to 30
• TV (LE/LCD 26-32 inch) – 100 to 130
• VDC/DVD – 30
• Washing machine (cold cycle) 225-300
• Water pumps (12/24 volt) – 50
So after all said and done here is the top recommended camping solar panels.
Best Small Camping Solar Panel: Joos Solar Orange
Almost all solar panel reviews will mention the Solar Joos Orange . The unit is built as tough as nails with a polycarbonate injection molded case. All the internal components are protected and it is also waterproof.
The monocrystalline panels are very efficient and in test it has shown to charge an iphone 4 from dead to full in an hour. This type of photovoltaic also allows the unit to generate power in the shade.
Inside the case is a lithium-ion replaceable battery (20Wh/5400mAh), which will be charged in 12 hours in direct sunlight.
I really like this unit, the only downfall is that it is not powerful enough for a laptop, but will charge anything else from an iPhone to IPad.
Here is a video made by Joos that will explain its uses better:
Best Medium Size Camping Solar Panels: Goal Zero Nomad 13
If you need to power a laptop but still need the solar panel to be ultra compact then the Goal Zero Nomad 13 is for you.
Goal Zero specializes in solar energy and this is a great unit. The monocrystaline panels are in a folded, waterproof sleeve and can charge multiple units at the same time.
You can either use a usb port or a 12v socket and it will charge any portable unit from telephone to laptop.
Here is a look at it:
Best Big Camping solar Panel: Uni-Solar 128W flexible solar panel
If you are in need of more juice, but do not want massive panels outside your tent, the Unisolar 128 Watt camping solar panel is the one.
This thin, flexible, rollable panel generates 128w of solar power, but is still extremely light and portable. Its ideal if you want to flip it over the roof of the tent and it will still generate power in low light.
Remember you will have to buy an inverter or charge controller and battery for this system to work.
So, as you can see, the best camping solar panels is not the biggest or most powerful, but rather the one that suits your needs the best.