Are Folding Solar Panels Any Good?

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Collecting energy from the sun is a great way to power much of your camping outing. It’s free, usually abundant, and doesn’t emit any harmful gases or noise. One of the best ways to lasso that energy is with a foldable solar panel. You can take it with you and set it up in seconds.

These durable and easy-to-operate panels give you the freedom to have power when needed. Let’s see exactly how they work and if you should add one to your shopping list.

How Does a Foldable Solar Panel Work? 

A foldable solar panel is a convenient portable way to collect the sun’s energy. Each panel has solar cells made of silicon with positive and negative layers. These layers create an electric field from sun rays. That electricity channels into a solar charge controller, which sends the current to a battery for storage. 

To use the stored energy, you can hook up an inverter to change the direct current (DC) from the battery to alternating current (AC) to use 120 Volt electricity. Or you can charge DC appliances directly from the battery.

Foldable solar panels come rated with a certain number of Watts that they can generate. Larger ones usually handle 60 to 180 Watts, and smaller-sized panels may only generate 5 to 20 Watts.

Foldable ones weigh less than rigged solar panels, and some have a solar charge controller built in. Smaller panels can charge cell phones and hook on a backpack, generating power as you hike in the sun. These won’t have a charge controller attached because it has no battery for storage. Simply hook small electronics directly to the panel.

Many larger panels will have kickstands to prop the unit in the sun’s direction. Then you can adjust the angle as the sun moves. These are popular for charging portable power stations like a Jackery or Bluetti, as it has an inverter. You can then use it to power AC and DC appliances like laptops, refrigerators, and more.

Cell Type: Monocrystalline Versus Polycrystalline Versus Thin-Film 

Rigid solar panels either have monocrystalline or polycrystalline cells. But flexible thin-film panels are popular for use on non-flat structures. They all come in different power output ratings, and all three types have varying uses.

Monocrystalline solar cells come from one piece of silicon, making them very uniform and efficient in energy collection. Polycrystalline cells are derived from a mixture of several silicon sources. Thus, they’re a little less efficient than monocrystalline ones. 

Thin-film solar cells are made from cadmium telluride or copper indium gallium diselenide (CIGS) instead of silicon. This allows them flexibility, but they don’t have the efficiency of either of the crystalline solar cells.

What to Look for in a Foldable Solar Panel 

Before shopping for a foldable solar panel, you should know how you’ll use it and where you’ll place it. This will help you to decide which panels will work best for you.

Power Output

How many Watts will you need to generate to power your battery or to charge devices directly? Small solar panels can charge a cell phone or tablet. But they generally produce 5 to 20 Watts over several hours under direct sunlight. Smaller wattage panels can trickle charge a car battery while in storage or provide energy for landscape lights.

If you need to charge a portable power station for AC appliances like a television, laptop, etc., you’ll likely need foldable solar panels with 100 Watts or more. Know your power station’s maximum input, or you won’t benefit from 200 Watts and up.

Pro Tip: So how much would installing a solar panel on your RV Cost? Let’s find out!

Weight and Portability 

If you use foldable solar panels while camping and store them in tight spaces, you might want to know just how portable they are. Some can get quite weighty or be rather large, even after folding them down. Take a look at the space you have for storage and shop accordingly.

A foldable solar panel on an RV
Source: Amazon/Dan

Lifespan and Reliability 

Many quality foldable solar panels can last for 25 to 30 years if cared for properly. But because of their portability, they may get thrown around or damaged in various ways. Look for panels with good warranties built by reputable companies that back their products.

The Best Foldable Solar Panels 

Foldable solar panels have become quite popular, as they can provide power wherever you go. We have collected five of our favorite options. These include some metal-mounted rigid panels and ones mounted on hard plastic with magnetic closures. Which panels would work best for you?

Zamp Solar Legacy Series 

This 140-Watt kit features two foldable solar panels made of rigid monocrystalline cells. It has an integrated solar charge controller and weighs 40 lbs. The panels have sturdy metal kickstands and come with a 15-foot cable, alligator clips, and a case.

Additionally, it comes with a 25-year output warranty and an integrated 10-amp digital charge controller. This device allows you to monitor the power and protect your battery. You can get the Zamp Solar Legacy Series for $802.

Zamp solar Legacy Series 140-Watt Portable Solar Panel Kit with Integrated Charge Controller and Carrying Case. Off-Grid Solar Power for RV Battery Charging - USP1002
  • Handcrafted in the USA; 25-year output warranty; Best-in-class solar cells; Easiest start to solar
  • No installation required; Includes everything you need; Charges most 12-volt batteries, even lithium

Go Power! Portable Folding Solar Kit

The Go Power kit provides 120 Watts of power and has two monocrystalline panels that fold open rather than shut. They weigh 29 pounds and have metal kickstands. The kit has an attached solar charge controller, alligator clips to hook the panels to a battery, and a carrying case. The Go Power Portable Folding Solar Kit costs $512.

Go Power! GP-PSK-130 130W Portable Folding Solar Kit with 10 Amp Solar Controller
  • Includes carrying case
  • 130 Watts of power 6.9 ampere DC per hour

Renogy Portable Foldable Solar Panel Suitcase

Renogy has produced a 100-Watt kit with two rigid, folding monocrystalline panels weighing 20 pounds. The panels have metal frames with kickstands. It also includes a 20-amp solar charge controller, alligator clips for battery hookup, and a canvas carrying case. You can get it for $220.

Renogy 100 Watt 12 Volt Portable Waterproof 20A Controller, Foldable 100W Panel Suitcase with Adjustable Kickstand Solar Charger for Power Station Camping Off Grid, Panel-20A
  • 【Plug and play solar kit 】complete kit includes a 100W solar suitcase, a 20A waterproof charge controller, and...
  • 【Highly portable design】 foldable solar suitcase small in size, provide more flexibility for outdoor and off-grid...

Jackery SolarSaga Portable Solar Panel

Jackery offers a 100-Watt portable solar panel mounted on hard plastic with covered kickstands. These monocrystalline cells can fold together, and a magnetic catch holds them closed. The panels have a USB-C and a USB-A port. This means you can plug small electronic devices directly into the panel for charging. It weighs 5.5 pounds and costs $300.

A foldable solar panel on an RV
Jackery SolarSaga 100W Portable Solar Panel for Explorer 240/300/500/1000/1500 Power Station, Foldable US Solar Cell Solar Charger with USB Outputs for Phones (Can't Charge Explorer 440/ PowerPro)
  • EASY SETUP & KICKSTAND INCLUDED: The Solar Saga 100 features 2 kickstands that can be placed firmly on any surface...
  • HIGHER ENERGY CONVERSION RATE: Covered by monocrystalline silicon solar cells, the solar panel adopts multi-layered cell...

Goal Zero Nomad Portable Solar Panel

Goal Zero produces a four-panel, accordion-folded setup rated at 100 Watts to complement their Yeti power stations. These hard-plastic mounted monocrystalline panels can chain together to increase your power output. It has a plug-and-play adapter cable for the Goal Zero Yeti power stations. These weatherproof panels weigh 10 pounds and cost $400.

Keep in Mind: You’ll probably want internet for your RV. Can You Get Satellite Internet for Your RV?

Goal Zero Nomad 100 Watt Monocrystalline Portable Solar Panel
  • 100 watt (18-22v) foldable and Weatherproof Solar panel
  • Features an 8mm Goal Zero connector for plug and play adaptability to Goal Zero Yeti power stations

Foldable Solar Panels Are a Great Introduction to Boondocking

When you don’t need a complete solar setup on your RV, a foldable solar panel could fill the gap in times of trouble. In fact, every trailer, motorhome, and even tent camper should have one onboard. You can use one as a backup for power outages or when you want to get off the grid. Charge your phone or spend some time on the laptop with your foldable solar panel and a power station. Make them your “Plan B” on every excursion.

Last update on 2022-09-28 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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