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When it comes to going out on the road on a long-haul road trip in your van, then power will always be an issue for you.
If you are a fan of boondocking, then being able to run your appliances will be essential for having a fun and reliable trip.
However, with great power comes great responsibility. You might be worried about how much your battery is affecting the environment, as well as whether it will keep your camper van running for your entire trip. This is where solar panels will really come in handy.
There are many benefits to having a solar panel fitted to your camper van. The first one is that it is obviously an endless supply of energy. This will be perfect if you want to keep running an electric barbeque or having a hot shower morning, noon and night.
If you are planning on being off the grid for months at a time, then we would say that a solar panel is essential. The ability to recharge your battery using the power of the ever-present sun will mean that you won’t have to roam around the area trying to find a gas station or recharge point for your battery.
Not only will a solar battery be a much cleaner method of getting energy, but it will save you a lot of money on fuel and new batteries in the long run.
So where can you find the best solar panels for your van? What features should a solar panel have to give you the maximum amount of energy, even on a cloudy day? What materials should a solar panel be made from? How much can you be looking to spend on a decent solar panel?
Well, if you are a camper who likes to go off-grid for long periods of time, then this is the article for you. We cover some of the best solar panels currently available on the market, along with a buyer’s guide to help you decide on which are the best and worst models, along with some frequently asked questions.
Best Solar Panels for Vans
This first solar panel unit is perfect if you want something that is extremely easy to set up, is very lightweight and portable and gives you an amazing level of output for your dollar.
This comes in a flexible design that makes for easy storage and high-quality construction – introducing the Renogy 100 Watt Extremely Flexible Solar Panel.
The main design feature of this solar panel is flexibility. You can simply unfold this solar panel and start using it within minutes. This has a high quality construction which means that the panels won’t be damaged during storage. The 4 pounds of weight will certainly be appealing to senior users who might have mobility issues.
You can fit this solar panel with a number of different camper van designs. So whether you have a curved roof or a traditional flat roof, you can be sure that this solar panel will be able to accommodate any style of van.
You can even unfold this one on the floor and have a game of cards while your battery recharges.
- The high quality construction – this one is perfect if you want something durable that will last you a couple of years.
- The design and shape of this solar panel are perfect for anyone who might suffer from mobility issues yet still wants to save money on their power supply.
- If you are a boondocker who wants a solar panel that will last them the duration of a week-long trip, then you can’t go wrong with this model, which is also very cheap.
- This solar panel has a decent energy transfer, giving you 100 watts of energy, which will be perfect for powering most of your appliances.
- This unit can be prone to scratches, which will affect the efficiency with which it can transfer power from one place to another.
- Product 1: With a flex range of up to 248 degrees, this panel is capable of meeting a wide range of applications where standard panels can be inconvenient to mount, such as on the curved roof of an airstream.
- Product 1: ETFE material has higher light transmittance, longer service life than PET material. ETFE material also has antifouling and self-cleaning abilities, ensure best performance day after day.
- Product 1: Thanks to advanced polymer materials, this product weighs 70% less than conventional solar panels, making transportation and installation a breeze. The lightweight design also contributes to lower mpg on vehicles.
- Product 1: Sleek and barely noticeable, the Renogy 100W flexible solar panel laid flat is only a tenth of an inch tall! Approximately 95% thinner than its rigid counterpart, this panel is ideal for a stealthy solar setup.
- Product 2: Two cables with hard plastic Female & Male connecters at one end and bare on the other end.
The next solar panel is another that is extremely useful for your camper van, one that has been variously described as a straight-out-of-the-box unit that is very easy to set up and get your camper van appliances up and running fast.
This comes with plenty of brackets and other mounting cables for easy attachment – introducing the WindyNation 200 Watt Solar panel Kit.
This solar panel comes with an electronic LCD controller that will enable you to operate your solar panel without even having to leave your camp chair. Having this degree of control will be very important for being able to enjoy your camping holiday without having to worry about power.
You have a much higher degree of control over this solar panel than you would over others. It lets you adjust the voltage, temperature, as well as how many hours that it operates.
This is perfect if your cloud coverage changes and you want to reroute more power to your battery to see you through the night.
- This unit is extremely affordable, making it an ideal choice for a family that wants to save themselves money on electricity in the long run, but might not have the capacity for a state-of-the-art unit.
- This LCD unit has a great method of control, allowing you to get the right temperature control to avoid overheating or desaturating the battery.
- This is a very heavy-duty unit that will be able to withstand the repeated assaults of the weather, that’s if you decide to keep it mounted to your trailer. It is also very resistant to water and wind.
- This panel comes with great power output, enabling you to easily give plenty of juice to your electrical items such as a stove or the shower.
- This churns out just over 350 watts of power per day, which might not be useful to anyone looking for great power output.
- Complete kit includes: (2) 100 Watt Polycrystalline Solar Panel, 30 amp P30L Solar Charge Controller w/ LCD display and user adjustable settings, 40 feet of UL Listed 12 AWG Solar Cable, all necessary connectors, all necessary solar mounting hardware, 1500 Watt (3000 Watt surge) VertaMax Modified Sine Wave DC to AC Power Inverter w/ 2pcs of 3 ft. 2AWG Battery Cables (for connecting the inverter to a 12V battery)
- Designed for RVs, cabins, homes, boats, backup and remote power use
- Perfect kit for a off grid 12 volt battery system. 1500 Watt VertaMax Inverter provides plenty of AC power to run your household appliances
- Solar charging will provide on average 800 Watt Hours (Wh) or 67 Amp hours of charge per day (depends on sunlight availability)
- Bundle and save. Purchase all the components together and save time and money
This next solar panel is another one from Renogy, which is widely considered to be one of the best makers of solar panels on the market.
This one is a lot smaller than the previous version, making it perfect for more compact camper vans with smaller roof space – introducing the Renogy 100 Watt portable Solar panel Suitcase.
It is made from incredibly durable materials – so if you are planning to hit the road for longer than a few weeks, then you should have this reliable model. This also has an LCD screen that will help you to adjust some of the settings and give you greater control over your solar input and output.
This is an incredibly affordable solar panel, perfect for first-time buyers who might be reluctant to spend too much money on their first solar panel. This will also save you a lot more money on your fuel and electricity in your camper – making it the perfect all-round unit for energy saving.
- This is compact and portable – if you have a smaller camper van with less roof space, then we would certainly recommend that you select this one.
- This is very durable, lasting many years if taken care of properly – when it comes to having a solar panel, it will have to be very resistant to scratches.
- The LCD controller – this is perfect if you want to have the optimum control of your solar panel from the comfort of your own home.
- This is very affordable, so if you are trying to save some dollars before and after your purchase, then we can certainly recommend this unit.
- This is still more expensive than some of the other units on this list, so if you want to conserve dollars and energy, then pick up one of these panels.
- Adjustable, Corrosion-Resistant aluminum stand as well as a heavy duty handle and latches for longevity. Folded size: 19. 9 x 27. 2 x 2. 8 inches. Ideal output: 500 Watt hours per day (depends on sunlight availability)
- Compatible with gel, sealed, Lithium, and flooded batteries. Charge controller with LCD display for displaying operating Information and data
- 20A built-in 5-stage Solar charge controller provides overcharge protection, reducing Fire risk.Operating Temperature: -40°F to +185°F
- Negative-ground charge controller for compatibility with your RV, boat, trailer, etc.
- The low-voltage system avoids electric shock hazards
This next solar panel is another perfect one for storage, coming in a foldable unit that weighs only 8 and a half pounds.
If you are a senior user who plans of spending their retirement boondocking around the country and you want that reliable backup power source without the heft – introducing the Acopower 120W portable Solar Panel.
This solar panel comes with a carry case and a handle, as well as a built-in bypass that you can use to cancel your electricity supply if your solar panel gets overheated. Having these safety features will be very important for keeping you and your family safe on your vacation.
You can place this panel in a number of different locations, either on the roof of your van for the maximum amount of light absorption or next to your trailer, where you can adjust its input and output levels.
The charger comes with a built-in handle, so if you are experiencing cloud coverage in one area, you can easily move it to another.
- The compact size – this is great if you are a senior user who does not want to put their back out when setting up their solar panel.
- You get a durable steel carry case with this, which will protect the often very delicate panels themselves.
- You can use this in practically any scenario, even in a domestic setting, you can hook this panel up to provide supplementary power to your main electrical supply at your house.
- This is a great budget unit, you can easily adjust and control the various temperature and output settings to give you that exact amount of power that you need.
- This unit is not waterproof, so you might have to be on the alert if you spot any dark clouds on the horizon.
- Light and portable handle design, sets up in one minute! Backpocket for accessories, 3 legs.
- Excellent monocrystalline cells increase conversion efficiency up to 25%.
- This kit includes a portable solar panel suitcase; 20A LCD waterproof charge controller, alligator clamps for battery charging, a USB QC 3.0 port, a USB-C(Type C) port, a DC to DC adapter, different sizes of connectors, two pairs of MC-4 Connectors, and an SAE to SAE adapter.
- 3-USB SMART CHARGING TECHNOLOGY - The build-in smart IC chip identifies your device, and maximizes the charging speed while protecting your devices from overcharging and overloading. Charging current of USB ports is monitored and automatically adjusted according to the sunlight level.
- Supports 8 battery types: Lithium-ion, LiFePO4, LTO, Gel, AGM, Flooded, Crystal and Calcium.
This final solar power unit is probably the most versatile of all the units that we’ve listed here. This has a low-profile design that can flex up to 30-degrees, making it perfect for storage.
It weighs very little, making it perfect for senior users who might have mobility issues – introducing the Allpowers 10 Watt portable Solar Panel.
This charger is very energy efficient, meaning that it can absorb the maximum amount of energy and give you the maximum amount of input. These Allpowers cells can offer you up to 23% power, with other monocrystalline panels only giving you around 20% power. This is perfect if you’re operating a diverse array of appliances.
You can also hook this one up to other panels to give your caravan that extra boost that it might need. It has pre-drilled holes in the shell, so you can bolt it to the side or on the roof of your camper van. This solar panel is weatherproof and will be able to withstand extreme conditions.
- This solar panel is very compact and can be used for short or long vacations – if you are planning on going off-grid for a number of months, then you can buy a few of these to take with you.
- Hooking these up to a few other panels will give you that amazing energy boost, which is perfect for long-distance trips and other off-grid road destinations where fuel is in short supply.
- This solar panel is one of the more energy-efficient items on this list, you can consume as much power as possible, adjusting the output as and when you see fit to do so.
- The holes on the inside are perfect for mounting your solar panels, giving you the ability to save on a lot of space and power your van sufficiently.
- This solar panel is resistant to rain, but it is not entirely waterproof. This will give you a limited amount of time to stash it in your van when the drizzle becomes a downpour.
- ☀️ ALLPOWERS Car battery maintainer can charge 12V batteries with the power of the sun and create 10 watts of energy, output current of 550mAh
- ☀️ Mono-crystalline silicon panel works in all daylight conditions and is weatherproof（rain drop is OK, but not completely waterproof）for added durability
- ☀️ Environmental protection and energy saving, which can extend the battery lifetime. Perfect solution for charging the batteries of motorcycles, automobiles, snowmobiles, tractors etc
- ☀️ Built-in blocking diode to prevent reverse discharge, not only maintains the battery lifetime but also extends its usage life.
- ☀️ Package: ALLPOWERS car battery charger, cigarette lighter plug, clip line, suction cupds, instruction manual, 18-month warranty and friendly customer service
Best Solar Panels for Vans Buyer’s Guide
When buying a solar panel, you’ll obviously want to bear a few things in mind, mostly what style of camping that you’re planning on doing or whether you’ll be using it for camping at all.
The amount of space you have to work with as well as how easy your panels will be to store will all be important factors.
However, there will be a few basic things that you’ll need from your solar panels so that you can rely on them when you’re out in the wild without a gas station or a hardware store in sight. Here are a few things you should be looking out for:
How Much is the Wattage?
You’ll probably have seen from the list above that a number of the panels on this list come in a wattage of roughly 100, although you can also get 50W and 200W solar panels. Which wattage you buy will all depend on your daily power consumption.
On average you’ll need around 100W of power to supply 400Watts per hour per day. If you are powering a 60W light bulb for 6 hours, for example, you’ll need around 360 watts per hour.
We would recommend calculating the total amount of wattage that all your electrical appliances will use so that you can more accurately pinpoint the amount of power that you’ll be needing.
How Heavy and How Big is Your Solar Panel?
You can get dramatic differences in weight with your solar panels, with some of the more portable units designed so that you can carry them around easier.
However, the largest weight of solar panels is around 40 pounds, which might be difficult to mount on the roof of your RV.
You’ll also need to know the size of your solar panels in case you’re going to keep them free-moving and want to store them in the van when you aren’t using them.
Are Your Panels Portable or Fixed?
Having fixed panels will certainly be useful both for saving space on the inside of your camper van, but also for collecting energy while you’re driving.
If you are operating a large camper van, then we certainly would recommend that you opt for the larger panels that you can bolt to the roof.
Portable units are generally less expensive and it gives you more control as to where you’re going to point them. This means that if you expect some cloud coverage, then you can angle them towards the sunlight.
If you have a smaller campervan then you’ll have less surface space, so portability might be your only option.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is Better: Rigid or Flexible Solar Panels?
Rigid solar panels are the kind we are used to seeing, with solid squares that can be bolted onto the side of your van or set up on a stand outside. The panels are usually mounted under temperature glass and are very resistant to weather conditions.
However, having flexible panels is great for storage, giving you a modest amount of energy to power your electric stove or shower unit. These flexible panels tend to be more expensive than the rigid versions.