This resource piece is a three-part series that will discuss what solar panels are, how they work and why they are ideal for camping. You will also find product recommendations based on the type of portable power solution you need.
Camping is not the same for everybody. For those who travel light, camping can be as simple as setting up a two-person tent or spending the night on a pickup bed. Others take the comforts of home with them: sleeping in a 25 - foot campervan complete with a working kitchen and bathroom, air conditioned sleeping areas and for some - even satellite TVs.
Either way, a portable solar panel has become a must-have for the modern day camping enthusiast. And why not? Camping solar panels have proven vital to the success of off-the-grid camping where access to the main power grid and fuel is unavailable.
To start with, you will need solar panels if you:
- Enjoy camping in remote areas
- Usually go camping for more than two days at a time
- Want to avoid the noise and smoke produced by traditional generators
- Do not like turning your RV or campervan’s engine on and off (when charging auxiliary batteries)
If mobility, and the capability of producing and storing all the power you need throughout your camping trip without the limitations of fuel availability or plugged in power sources is your priority, then investing in solar panels make sense.
Commonly Asked Questions about Solar Panels
Solar panels capture sunlight, which causes the electrons in the panel’s solar cells to release energy that becomes Direct Current (DC) electricity. This electricity then passes through a regulator that provides a stable 12V output which you can then use to charge your batteries. There are two main types of solar panels: polycrystalline and monocrystalline solar panels. Camping solar panels, like those by Maxray, are made with monocrystalline solar cells due to their higher efficiency rate in generating electricity from sunlight. These panels are also very durable, often with a lifetime power output guarantee.
“Will my camping solar panel work during cloudy days?”
Although the use of solar panels has been very popular for the past decade, and the system is not new - there are still a lot of people that ask whether solar panels work during cloudy days. The answer is: Yes, they do. While they are understandably more effective during sunny days, solar panels still produce enough power to charge your gadgets and run your campsite lights at night. Solar panels, however, DO NOT work at night. Solar panels, as their name implies, need sunlight to generate electricity. Power generated during the day is stored in 12 Volt batteries which you can then use at nighttime.
Some actually do this - starting their RV or campervan and letting it run for a couple of hours or so to charge auxiliary batteries, so the answer is TECHNICALLY yes. However, this is not really a practical way to address your outdoor power needs. Having several power options available while you are off-grid is ideal. Having a portable solar panel to charge auxiliary batteries is a versatile, simple and hassle-free solution and you have the option to scale up your power charging system as needed.
Camping solar panels give you additional powering up options and at the very least, share part of the load which would otherwise fall entirely on your vehicle's own fuel, battery and alternator. In addition, your campervan or RV is purpose-built for transportation. In truth, you are pushing its electrical system beyond what it is designed for when you use it exclusively to power up living spaces or camping appliances.
Solar panels on the other hand are completely silent, do not emit fumes, cost nothing to use and last decades without the need for extensive maintenance. Solar panels are built for one purpose: generate clean, reusable power to charge your mobile phones, run your camp lights and power up camping/outdoor appliances (fridge, air conditioning, stove).
“What gadgets and appliances can I power using my portable solar panel?”
By far the most common camping gear that portable solar panels power is a 12 volt camping refrigerator. Keep in mind though that because of its power requirements, camping appliances like refrigerators or coolers can account for almost 60% of your total power draw.
You can also charge other 12 Volt gadgets like laptops, televisions and lights, inverters, air compressors and camping lights. If you are going to stay overnight at a campsite, we suggest using LED lights because they are more energy efficient compared to halogen or fluorescent light bulbs.
“Can I connect camping appliances directly to a portable solar panel?”
No. It is actually oversimplification to think that appliances can draw electricity directly from solar panels.
The problem is that the raw power generated by solar panels is not stable for camping appliances or even gadgets to use. This is the reason why using a solar battery regulator is necessary. The regulator then needs to be connected to a battery that you can use to draw power for your gadgets or appliances.
For camping appliances like mini refrigerators, electric stoves, coolers and even lights manufacturers usually recommend connecting these to a 12-volt battery. Better yet, calculate the daily Amperage requirement of the gadgets and camping appliances you will use throughout your trip.
To do this, you need to do a little bit of preparation. First, you need to determine how long you are going away. So, if you are camping for three days, what camping appliances and gadgets will you use for those three days?
The next thing to do is to determine the total Amperage requirement of the appliances and gadgets you will use and then choose a portable solar panel that is able to handle that load. To calculate your gadgets and appliances’ power requirements, you need to multiply the number of Amps consumed by the appliance per hour by the number of hours you plan to use the appliance in a day.
Then, you need to multiply that total by the number of days you are going camping and you will have the total Amperage requirement of the camping appliance for the entire length of your camping trip.
“What is the lifespan of a portable solar panel?”
Most standard solar panel systems have a lifespan of 25 - 30 years. Usually, solar panel manufacturers give a guarantee that after 25 years of use, solar panels - fixed and portable - will still generate 80% of the electricity it produced on the first set up. This makes solar panels a truly worthwhile investment.