Best Portable Solar Panels in 2023
(Camp Addict does NOT accept payment from any company to review or endorse their products.)
Portable solar panels are a great way to recharge your RV batteries when dry camping.
With portable panels, you can easily dip your toes in the solar power waters.
They are also great if you only need to generate electricity via solar energy on occasion.
Also, portable solar systems are a great way to complement an existing installation of rooftop panels.
They give you a bit of flexibility when it comes to parking in less than ideal solar locations.
On this page, you will find reviews of three different price points for portable solar panels.
You will also learn some things to consider before purchasing portable solar.
All About RV Solar Panel Systems!
Below are reviews of the best portable solar panels.
If you want to educate yourself more about the technical details of a solar panel system, read our guide here.
Best Portable Solar Panel Reviews
We narrowed down the many choices in solar power to show only the best portable solar panels.
Zamp is an industry leader in portable solar power. They are a natural choice for inclusion.
They produce an awesome product and a wide variety of panel sizes. However, they have the most expensive portable RV solar panel kits.
Renogy offers a much more limited selection of portable solar panels. Still, they have more affordable solar power kit options.
Finally, if you don't want to spend much to get portable RV solar panels, look at our best on a budget solar panel kit. It isn't the best quality, but it will do the job.
Best Portable Solar Panels
- Monocrystalline solar panel cells
- Made in the USA
- Waterproof PWM solar charge controller
- Widest selection of wattage ratings
- Best overall construction quality
Zamp portable solar panels are some of the best portable folding solar panel systems that money can buy. But they aren't cheap.
Zamp portable solar power suitcases can cost twice what Renogy portable systems cost. Are they worth it?
That's for you to decide - we just provide the facts about these solar panel kits. Zamp does offer the widest range of panel wattage choices.
In our book, choices are a good thing.
Continue Reading Zamp Portable Solar Panel Review
Zamp makes its foldable solar panels in Bend, Oregon.
This separates them from other solar power manufacturers that have overseas manufacturing.
All Zamp's solar panels are of the higher quality monocrystalline type.
This means they offer smaller overall dimensions for the same power output when compared to the cheaper polycrystalline solar panels.
Smaller is always a good thing when you are dealing with a portable solar panel system. It helps keep the size and weight down.
Zamp Solar - Made In The USA
Renogy portable solar panels also are monocrystalline, so they are a viable consideration.
But what makes Zamp 'better'? A few things:
- The construction of their foldable solar panel kits is second to none. From the anodized aluminum frames themselves, to the thought put into the enclosing latches, these are arguably the best RV solar kits available.
- Solar controllers are waterproof, which makes sense when you have something living outside. The competition's solar controllers with displays aren't waterproof. Therefore, you have to keep them out of the rain and snow - just another tedious job.
- If you believe things made in America are of higher quality, then Zamp solar panels are right up your alley. Manufactured in a state-of-the-art production facility in Bend, Oregon, Zamp takes pride in its quality.
- Zamp offers a very nice range of power wattage output options: 90 watts, 140 watts, 180 watts, and 230 watts. (Note: Zamp does offer a 45-watt version, but this isn't practical for an RV. It doesn't produce enough power, so we don't include it here.)
Zamp 90 Watt
Zamp 140 Watt
Zamp 180 Watt
Zamp 230 Watt
Ergonomics and Storage
Very high-quality latches secure the solar panel suitcase in the closed position while being stored.
It comes with a padded ballistic nylon case.
Each solar panel kit has an ergonomic handle. Carrying the folded up camper solar kit couldn't be easier.
Latch In Open Position
Latch In Closed Position
Legs, Wires, and Connectors
The solar panel legs are adjustable.
That said, the amount of tilt will vary with the season and your location, depending on the angle of the sun.
All Zamp portable folding solar panels come with a 15-foot lead. It runs from the mounted solar controller to the RV.
The power lead has alligator clip electrical connectors. Simply connect them directly to your RV battery bank.
The alligator clips are removable, which reveal SAE connectors that can plug into the solar port of your motorhome or travel trailer.
(Some RVs come from the factory with SAE style solar connectors that allow easy connection of portable solar panel system.)
About the Charge Controller...
Depending on the wattage of your Zamp portable solar power kit, you will have the following rating on the included PWM solar charge controller:
- a 10-amp (90 and 140-watt systems)
- a 15-amp (180 and 230-watt systems)
All Zamp charge controllers are waterproof, which means you don't have to worry about them getting wet while outside.
Zamp solar charge controllers have 5 charge stages (soft, bulk, absorption, float, and equalization).
All manufacturers make solar charge controllers that have bulk, absorption, and float charge modes (called a 3-stage charger).
The vast majority will also have an equalization mode (4-stage charger).
Zamp 10-Amp Solar Charge Controller
Zamp 15-Amp Solar Charge Controller
The soft charge mode that is unique to Zamp controllers slowly ramps up the battery to 10 volts of charge after it has suffered an extreme discharge.
This smells a little of marketing hype (soft charge mode) to us, but we aren't electrical engineers.
Other than the 'fancy' 5 charging modes, the Zamp solar controllers feature LED lights that display what charge mode is currently active as well as RV battery condition (voltage).
It's a pretty slick feature that allows for a glance to see what is going on.
The Zamp solar charge controller has a digital LCD display which cycles through the following readings:
- Battery voltage
- Charging current (amps going into battery bank)
- Charged capacity (amp-hours)
- Battery temperature reading (requires optional battery temperature sensor)
- You can download the Zamp portable solar panel quick start guide here (PDF).
- You can download the Zamp solar charge controller manual here (PDF).
Zamp Portable Solar Panel Overview
Zamp Foldable Solar Panel Features and Specs:
- Available in 90, 140, 180 and 230-watt versions
- Monocrystalline solar cells - made in the USA
- Anti-reflective coated glass for maximum solar energy absorption, especially at low sunlight angles
- Anodized aluminum frame
- Ergonomic carrying handle
- Precision machined butterfly clasps for secure closure of suitcase
- Tilt legs allow for precise solar panel angle adjustment to maximize the capture of solar energy
- Padded carrying case made from ballistic nylon
- 15-foot cable (from controller to RV) with alligator clip ends for direct connection to the battery bank, and SAE style connectors to plug directly into RV's solar port
- 25-year limited power output warranty (tiered)
Zamp 90-Watt Portable Solar Panel Specs:
- Maximum power output: 5 amps
- Open dimensions: 39.75" x 21.5" x 1.5"
- Closed dimensions: 21.6" x 21.5" x 3.1"
- Weight: 27 pounds
Zamp 140-Watt Portable Solar Panel Specs:
- Maximum power output: 7.8 amps
- Open dimensions: 39.4" x 32.4" x 1.5"
- Closed dimensions: 21.5" x 32.4" x 3.1"
- Weight: 32.75 pounds
Zamp 180-Watt Portable Solar Panel Specs:
- Maximum power output: 10 amps
- Open dimensions: 40" x 39.5" x 1.5"
- Closed dimensions: 21.5" x 39.5" x 3.1"
- Weight: 34 pounds
Zamp 230-Watt Portable Solar Panel Specs:
- Maximum power output: 12.6 amps
- Open dimensions: 53.1" x 39.5" x 1.5"
- Closed dimensions: 28" x 39.5" x 3.1"
- Weight: 47 pounds
Zamp Solar Charge Controller Features and Specs:
- PWM (pulse width modulation) solar charger controller
- 10-amp solar controller (90 and 140 watt systems) or 15-amp controller (180 and 230-watt systems)
- 5-stage charge controller (modes: soft charge, bulk charge, absorption charge, float charge, and equalization charge)
- For use with lithium, flooded, gel, AGM, and calcium style lead-acid batteries
- The regulator prevents battery overcharging
- Equalizes batteries every 28 days or if the battery is drained below 10 volts - Equalization mode only for wet lead acid or calcium battery types
- Colored LEDs indicate battery condition and controller operational status
- Digital LCD screen shows battery voltage, charging current (amps), charging capacity (amp hours), battery type (user selected), and fault codes
- Maximum wire gauge accepted: #12 AWG
- Optional battery temperature sensor to optimize charger performance based on the temperature of the battery bank
- 1-year warranty
Best Value in Portable Solar Panels
- Monocrystalline solar panel cell
- Good combination of quality, performance and price
- Waterproof PWM solar controller
- Build quality not as good as Zamp
Renogy offers a great combination of price and performance with their portable solar panel kits.
Both Camp Addict Co-Founders have a legacy 100-watt Renogy portable solar power system. They used them for several years.
There are a few negatives to a Renogy system when compared to a Zamp portable solar system.
But for the money, you cannot go wrong with a Renogy solar panel kit.
Eclipse Or 'Legacy'?
Renogy Eclipse foldable solar panel kits are the latest technology that features more efficient solar panels. This means they are smaller and lighter than the (older) 'legacy' version, but the Eclipse does cost a bit more.
Therefore, if you need a 100-watt solar power kit, simply decide if the price is the most important factor for you (legacy panel), or if you want smaller and lighter (Eclipse panel).
If you need a 200-watt solar panel system, Eclipse is your only option (available with and without a solar charge controller).
Eclipse 200W (WITH controller)
Eclipse 200W (NO controller)
Renogy's Spring 2023 Sale
Now through March 21, 2023 during Renogy's Spring Sale, take advantage of up to 30% off select products. Click the button below to view the sale items on Renogy's website.
Continue Reading Renogy Portable Solar Panel Review
Renogy offers 100-watt and 200-watt portable solar panel systems. Both feature monocrystalline solar power cells.
The 100-watt portable solar power system is available in the older style panels (Legacy) and the newer Eclipse panel.
The 200-watt system is available only in the newer Eclipse portable solar panels.
All Renogy foldable solar panel kits use monocrystalline solar cells.
This allows them to be a smaller overall package size and weight when compared to the more affordable polycrystalline solar panel kits.
With a portable solar system, size matters. The larger the size, the heavier the panels and the more space it takes up.
While monocrystalline solar cells are more expensive, having a more compact size is worth the extra cost.
Renogy has newer style 100-watt and 200-watt portable solar panels. They call them Eclipse.
The Eclipse camping solar panels are higher efficiency (make better use of 'incoming' solar energy when converting it to usable electricity).
This makes them smaller sized and lighter than the legacy 100-watt portable solar panels.
Renogy Eclipse 100-Watt Panel
Renogy Eclipse 200-Watt Panel
Back Of Renogy Eclipse Portable Solar Panel
Renogy Eclipse Solar Panel Folded
Zamp VS Renogy
When compared to the best portable solar panels for camping, Zamp portable solar systems, the Renogy portable solar systems aren't built as well.
They have lower quality overall. Also, they lack the features of the Zamp portable solar panels for RV use.
Having said that, Renogy makes very satisfactory products.
You cannot go wrong with them.
However, the main downside to Renogy foldable solar panels is they do not offer the wide selection of wattage choices that Zamp does.
Latch In Open Position
Latch In Closed Position (Plus Handle)
Renogy folding solar panels have a sturdy aluminum frame.
However, their latching system leaves much to be desired. It can give a bit of a hassle.
And the support legs can be a bit shaky. Why? Their hold-down bolts tend to back out easily.
Neither of these 'issues' are deal-breakers, but they are annoying enough to share.
A very nice padded case comes standard with the Renogy portable solar systems.
This provides adequate protection while storing your panel.
Case With Solar Panel Inside
Please Excuse The Well Used Case
Additionally, the support legs are infinitely adjustable.
Therefore, you can adjust the tilt angle of the solar panels for maximum output.
Of course, the amount of tilt you need depends on the time of year and your location. Location determines the angle of the sun in the sky and hence, the angle needed.
Connectors and Cables
Renogy portable RV solar panel kits come with a 10-foot electrical lead that has alligator clip electrical connectors.
This makes for an easy connection to your RV battery bank.
There are MC4 style connectors near the alligator clip end of the lead.
This allows you to disconnect the alligator clips.
Then, you can either connect the portable solar panels directly to a solar port on your RV, or extend the lead's overall length if you want to add an extension cable.
Legacy 100-Watt Renogy Panel
Legs Adjust To Tilt Panels
Charge Controller Information
The 100-watt and 200-watt Eclipse foldable solar panel, as well as the legacy Renogy 100-watt solar suitcase, include a 20-amp solar charge controller (Renogy's Voyager model).
This is a 5-stage PWM charge controller. It's equipped with a digital LCD screen and LED indicator lights.
The screen shows RV battery charge information plus other important information.
Its LED indicator lights show battery state of charge and which charge mode is currently active.
Additionally, the Voyager 20-amp controller is waterproof. This is important because it's going to 'live' outdoors in all types of weather.
20-Amp Voyager Waterproof Controller
Charge Controller Swing Mount (Older Style Controller)
- You can download the Eclipse Renogy portable solar kit manual here (PDF).
- You can download the Legacy Renogy portable solar kit manual here (PDF).
Renogy Solar Panel Manufacturing
Renogy Portable Solar Panel Features and Specs:
- Available in 100-watt (Eclipse and legacy versions) and 200-watt (Eclipse) versions
- Monocrystalline solar panel cells
- Anti-reflective coated glass for maximum sunlight absorption, especially at low sun angles
- Aluminum frame
- Carrying handle
- Latches to secure solar panels in the closed position when not in use
- Tilt legs allow for precise solar panel angle adjustment to capture the solar energy
- Protective carrying case
- 10-foot cable (from controller to RV batteries) with alligator clip ends for direct connection to the battery bank, and MC4 style connectors for easy lead extension
- 5-year material and workmanship warranty. 25-year limited power output warranty (tiered). View warranty here (PDF).
Eclipse 100-Watt Portable Solar Panel Specs:
- Maximum power output: 5.6 amps
- Open dimensions: 42.2" x 21.5" x 1.6"
- Closed dimensions: 21.1" x 21.5 x 3.1"
- Weight: 19.4 pounds
Eclipse 200-Watt Portable Solar Panel Specs:
- Maximum power output: 11.3 amps
- Open dimensions: 42.2" x 41.3" x 1.6"
- Closed dimensions: 21.1" x 41.3" x 3.1"
- Weight: 33.6 pounds
Legacy 100-Watt Portable Solar Panel Specs:
- Maximum power output: 5.6 amps
- Open dimensions: 40.2" x 27.3" x 1.6"
- Closed dimensions: 20.1" x 27.3" x 3.1"
- Weight: 27.6 pounds
Renogy 'Voyager' Solar Charge Controller Features and Specs:
- 20-amp solar charger controller
- PWM (pulse width modulation) solar controller
- 5-stage charge controller (modes: soft charge, bulk charge, absorption charge, float charge, and equalization charge)
- For use with flooded, gel and AGM style lead-acid batteries as well as lithium batteries
- Equalizes batteries if they fall below 11.5 volts or every 28 days
- The digital LCD screen shows battery voltage, charging current (amps), charged capacity (amp-hours), and battery temperate (if optional battery temp sensor is used). Any error codes will also show on the LCD.
- LED lights show current charge mode as well as battery state of charge
- Maximum wire gauge accepted: #10 AWG
- Includes battery temperature sensor (to optimize charger performance based on temperature of battery bank).
- 1-year warranty
Best Portable Solar Panels on a Budget
- Monocrystalline solar panel cells
- Good for those who don't use much solar power
- Priced competitively
- Solar controller has no display
- No carrying/protective case
- Solar panel tilt angle is not adjustable
- Not constructed well
Eco-Worthy portable solar panels for camping are one of the most affordable ways to get solar energy into your batteries.
But, are they worth the small savings compared to getting a substantially better portable solar system?
We think not, but it's up to you.
Sure, you can save a little under $100 by going with an Eco-Worthy portable solar kit versus a Renogy solar system. However, you'll make some sacrifices.
You get cheap construction and a solar charge controller giving zero information about your state of charge.
Continue Reading Eco-Worthy Portable Solar Panel Review
Camp Addict Co-Founder Kelly was gifted an Eco-Worthy portable RV solar panel kit.
So, we have first-hand knowledge of what you get when you choose this solar power option.
Be prepared to deal with a very cheaply constructed solar suitcase.
Who Is The Eco-Worthy Line of Panels For?
They suit the camper/RVer who doesn't very often need solar power for camping and doesn't care about having the best portable solar panels for RV use.
If you do a lot of boondocking and/or like to see what is going on with the charge and battery states, get a different portable solar power system.
Monocrsystalline Solar Panel
Monocrsystalline Solar Panel
As has been noted, these are cheaply constructed.
They have legs that bend if you look at them sideways, and it has no carrying case.
These are just a few of the downsides to going with Eco-Worthy solar panels for camping.
There is an aluminum frame for the Eco-Worthy portable solar panels, and folding aluminum legs.
However, the legs are not adjustable.
Therefore, you cannot control the tilt angle of the solar panels to adjust for varying sun angles.
The aluminum folding mechanism bends VERY easily.
If they should bend (and they will), they're hard to fold back into the stored position.
Legs Do Not Adjust For Panel Tilt
It comes with a carrying handle
Also, it has a fairly decent latching system (better than Renogy) to secure the solar suitcase in the closed position.
Latch In Open Position
Latch In Closed Position (Plus Handle)
Connectors and Wires
10 feet of electrical lead is included with alligator clip style electrical connectors to connect directly to your RV battery bank.
The wire is very small, which allows Eco-Worthy to save money.
However, this doesn't help with power transmission between the portable solar panels and your RV battery bank.
Also, there are no additional electrical connector types included (which come standard with the other reviewed portable solar systems). Therefore, you cannot easily extend the lead.
Charge Controller Information
The included 15-amp solar charger controller is as basic as it comes.
It is a 3-stage charge controller, whereas the competition comes with either a 4 or a 5-stage charge controller.
15-Amp Solar Charge Controller
There is NO display of any type on the connected solar charger controller.
This means you have absolutely no idea what charge mode it is in.
You don't know what the state of charge of the battery bank is.
You are given zero useful information about your portable solar system.
There is only a single green LED. It indicates that the solar battery charge controller is receiving power and functioning.
Then Who Benefits?
Therefore, why would anyone buy an Eco-Worthy camper solar kit as it's far from being the best solar panels for RV use?
The only scenario we can see this being a viable option is if you don't need a portable solar panel for camping except on the rare occasion. Or, if you have an extremely tight budget.
If this is you, then the cheap construction and lack of information provided by the solar battery charge controller might be something you can live with.
If you rely on solar power to keep your RV batteries charged, we strongly recommend sending a little more money.
This means going with one of the other reviewed portable RV solar panel options.
Knowing what your RV batteries are doing is vital in keeping them from dying prematurely. This means having a solar battery charger controller that gives you the necessary information.
This is not the case with the Eco-Worthy foldable solar panels.
- You can download the Eco-Worthy portable solar kit manual here (PDF).
Eco-Worthy Portable Solar Panel Features and Specs:
- Monocrystalline solar power cells
- Aluminum frame
- Carrying handle
- Latches to secure foldable solar panels in closed position when not in use
- Protective carrying case NOT INCLUDED
- 10-foot cable (from controller to RV) with alligator clip ends for direct connection to the RV battery bank
- 5-year material and workmanship warranty. 25-year limited power output warranty (tiered).
120-Watt (Mono Cells) Portable Solar Panel Specs:
- Maximum power output: 7.3 amps
- Open dimensions: 62" x 20" x 1.5"
- Closed dimensions: 31" x 20" x 2.8"
- Weight: 26.5 pounds
Solar Charge Controller Features and Specs:
- PWM (pulse width modulation) solar charger controller
- Waterproof (sort of): IP22 rated (which is protection from vertically dripping water, also known as the lowest waterproof rating, so it's best to keep it from becoming wet)
- 15-amp solar battery controller
- 3-stage charger controller (modes: bulk charge, absorption charge, and float charge)
- No equalization charge mode
- For use with flooded, gel, and AGM style lead-acid batteries (NOT compatible with lithium batteries)
- The regulator prevents RV battery overcharging
- No digital display so you cannot tell what mode charger is in, what amperage it's sending to the battery bank or any other information about battery or charge condition.
- Green LED light that indicates the charge controller is powered up and functioning
- No user-adjustable settings
Portable Solar Panel Purchase Considerations
Below we offer some additional things to consider when shopping for the best solar panels for RV battery charging.
Also, you will find information on what to do if your camper has a Zamp solar port.
Waterproof Solar Charger Controllers
The best RV solar panels come with a solar battery charge controller that is waterproof.
That said, there was a time when Renogy's solar controllers were not waterproof.
However, they have since corrected this and are using waterproof charger controllers.
So, both Zamp and Renogy controllers on the foldable solar panels are waterproof.
If you happen to purchase a portable solar panel without a waterproof controller, be very mindful of the wet weather.
Solar Panel Electrical Connectors
Another key thing to ponder before you pull the trigger on purchasing a portable solar power system is what type of electrical connectors it uses.
To be honest, this isn't a deal-breaker. Electrical connectors can be changed if necessary.
Most users of portable solar systems won't care what type of connectors come with a portable solar power system.
Often, they'll use the supplied wiring harness and alligator clips to connect directly to their RV battery bank.
Alligator Clips In Use
If your RV comes with a pre-wired solar port that you plug portable solar panels into, pay attention to what type of connectors a particular solar panel kit has before you buy.
Or, simply change the connector ends.
That said, if you want to put your portable solar panel farther away from your motorhome or travel trailer, you'll need extension cables.
In that case, you must know what type of connectors your camper solar panels have. Then, you can buy a compatible extension.
MC4 Connector Apart
MC4 Connector Together
This may not surprise you, but each manufacturer of portable solar systems has its idea of which connector is best.
Just like they have their idea of how to program a solar controller. Let's hear it for industry standards! (LOL)
Some of the more common solar wiring connectors include:
- MC4 connectors
- SAE connectors
- Anderson connectors
- No connectors - cheap portable solar systems come with small gauge electrical wires that just have alligator clips attached to the end of a length of wire. This means you cannot easily extend the reach of the panels.
SAE Connector Separated
SAE Connector Together
Solar panel kit wiring connectors aren't something to lose sleep over. Worst-case scenario, you purchase the connectors needed and change them out.
For most users of portable solar panels, what comes with the system is good enough.
Solar Panel Extension Cables
Portable solar panels have one big advantage over rooftop-mounted solar panels. The ability to move panels to a location that has full sun.
Also, you can angle them to point directly towards the sun throughout the day, maximizing solar energy harvesting.
Trust us, it comes in very handy to have a bit more power cable than comes standard with the portable panels.
Indeed, this can help keep your panel in the sun. Have no fear, you can purchase extension cables.
We BOTH have used them and we both HIGHLY recommend getting extensions.
The most commonly available extension cables (the ones with the correct size/gauge wire and multiple length options) have MC4 connectors on the ends.
These are the connectors that come with Renogy portable solar panels. Zamp portable panels use SAE connectors.
It's a lot harder to find the properly sized wire in this style of an extension cord.
Zamp does offer the 15-foot extension cord, but sometimes it's not available on Amazon.
Don't forget to choose what wire gauge and wire length you want for your solar panel extension wires.
Solar Extension Cables (MC4 Connector)
Zamp solar panel extension cord (part number ZSHE15N) is 10 AWG wire and only comes in a 15-foot length. It has SAE connectors.
Zamp Extension Cable (SAE Connector)
Easy Portable Solar Panel Hold Down
Portable solar panels for camping 'live' on the ground. There, they can be affected by high winds.
Winds can easily flip them over and cause damage.
Fortunately, it's easy to rig up a hold-down system that prevents this.
All You Need for an Easy, Affordable Solar Panel Hold Down
For portable solar panels that have a Renogy style leg setup, you need:
- a metal fence post
- a 5-gallon collapsible water jug or the like
The metal fence post sits on top of the legs. The filled 5-gallon water jug sits on top of the fence post.
You end up with 40+ pounds of water holding the panel in one place. (Bonus- if there is no more wind in the forecast, you have spare water.)
Solar Panel Hold Down Setup
Both Camp Addict Co-Founders Kelly and Marshall use this exact setup to secure their Renogy 100-watt portable solar panels.
This has worked in some pretty extreme winds. We have yet to experience solar panel flipping using this method.
(Update- Kelly shattered one panel by not securing it down in Moab in 2018. Ask her if it is the only one she has broken...)
Notice How the Metal Post Goes Over the Legs
If your portable solar panel has legs like the current designed Zamp portable panels, you will only need the collapsible 5-gallon water bag.
Place it over the leg's horizontal support.
You won't need the metal fence post because of the 'built-in' horizontal support.
5-Gallon Collapsible Water Container
Do You Have A Zamp Sidewall Solar Port?
Some RVs come from the factory with a Zamp Sidewall Solar Port. This port is an SAE connector.
It allows you to plug in a foldable solar panel. In other words, the RV is pre-wired to 'accept' a portable solar panel.
Does this mean that you are only able to use Zamp portable solar panels with this setup?
YOU CAN USE ANY BRAND!
BUT, be aware that the Zamp Sidewall Solar Port is reverse polarity (positive side goes to the negative battery terminal and vice versa).
This can create big problems if you just willy-nilly plug in a foldable solar panel that is wired 'correctly'.
As in, things will fry!
Have no fear! As long as you are aware, there is a simple workaround.
If you want to go with something else besides a Zamp system, you can.
Simply purchase one, or both, of the below adapters, and you are in business.
If your portable solar panel of choice has an SAE connector, simply purchase the SAE polarity reverser connector below.
If you are wanting to plug in a portable solar panel (such as the Renogy portable solar systems) with MC4 connectors, you need to purchase just the SAE to MC4 adapter shown below. Why? This particular adapter handles the polarity reversing.
Bingo! You are in business!
SAE Polarity Reverser
SAE to MC4 Adapter POLARITY REVERSING
Solar Battery Maintainers
If you don't need a portable solar system to keep your batteries charged WHILE camping, you can benefit from solar charging while your unit is stored.
Simply use a solar battery maintainer. It keeps your RV house batteries charged when stored and not connected to power.
There is always a slight draw on your batteries when you are not plugged in.
Because of this, over time, the batteries drain, unless you have some way to maintain the charge.
Solar battery maintainers (chargers) are available at many price points and many power outputs.
Be aware that cheaper products will most likely have low wattage solar panels.
They may not be able to maintain your RVs house battery bank at a fully charged state.
OR, they may come with a cheap solar battery controller that isn't 'smart'. This can damage your batteries.
The below featured solar battery maintainer by BatteryMINDer comes with a 15-watt solar panel and solar controller.
It will not overcharge your RV house battery bank. Also, it can be permanently mounted.
Otherwise, it comes with legs that allow for temporary installation.
You can read the instruction manual (PDF) to find out how to properly use it.
BatteryMINDer Model SCC515-15 (15-Watt System)
BatteryMINDer Solar Panel
BatteryMINDer Solar Controller
Portable solar panels for campers are a great way to charge your RV battery bank. It uses free solar energy, courtesy of the sun.
While a portable solar system isn't for everyone, it is a viable option if your camping style includes boondocking or dry camping (dry camping tips).
If you camp off-grid for long enough periods where your batteries would be drained from normal use, solar power is an awesome solution.
Your neighbors will thank you if you are using sunlight to charge your batteries instead of using a generator for RV use.
Now you have a better understanding of what is available when it comes to portable motorhome or travel trailer solar panels.
Start enjoying the free solar energy today!
Camp on, Addicts!
He-llllo. I'm the co-founder of Camp Addict, which my biz partner and I launched in 2017. I frigging love the RVing lifestyle but in December of 2020, I converted to part-time RV life. Heck, I lived in my travel trailer for over 5.5 years, STRICTLY boondocking for pretty much all of it. Boondocking is a GREAT way to live, but it's not easy. Anyway, I'm passionate about animals, can't stand campgrounds, I hardly ever cook, and I love a good dance party. Currently, I can be found plotting and scheming whether or not to start collecting farm animals (or plotting my next RV trip!) at my beautiful new 'ranch' named 'Hotel Kellyfornia', in Southern Arizona.
Camp Addict co-founder Marshall Wendler brings his technical expertise to help explain RV products in an easy to understand fashion. Full-time RVing from April 2014 - December 2020 (now RVing about 50% of the time), Marshall loves sharing his knowledge of the RV lifestyle. Marshall spends the majority of his RVing life boondocking. He is the part of Camp Addict that knows 'all the things'. He's good at sharing his technical knowledge so you can benefit.
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Hi Kelly and Marshall. I posted a question about a week ago but I don’t see it on your page, maybe I goofed up, or maybe you’re not accepting questions anymore? Sorry if you get this twice. I followed your great advice a couple years ago to use my renogy solar panel suitcase with the zamp port on my aliner. This year I plugged it in and I got a message: battery reversed. All along, I’ve been using both the SAE polarity reverser and the SAE to MC4 adapter and it worked great. But after re-reading your article, it appears I should only need the SAE to mc4 adapter. I was going to add back the SAE polarity reversal to see if that would help, even though I now believe I shouldn’t need it, but I brought a broken one not the new one. For some reason, is it possible that I need both? I’m on the road so will go ahead and order the SAE polarity reverser unless you tell me that’s not the answer to the battery reversed message. Thanks so very very much for your help! Diane
Sorry about the comment mix-up! We never received the first one. We definitely are still accepting questions.
Yeah, you shouldn’t need both. If my mind is working correctly this morning (still working on my first cup of coffee, so you never know!), if you used two adapters that reverse polarity, it is the same as using no reversing polarity adapters. In other words, the two adapters cancel themselves out.
So if I’m following you correctly, you are saying that in the past you used both polarity reversing adapters together and things worked great, but now you are just using the MC4 to SAE and you are getting a reversed polarity warning?
If that is true, then it sounds like the solar port plug on your Aliner isn’t reversed polarity and all you really need is a normal MC4 to SAE adapter (not a reverse polarity one).
You can search Amazon for “mc4 to sae adapter” and a bunch come up. As of today they appear to cost around $13. Bonus is that most appear to come with an SAE to SAE adapter that will reverse polarity should the need arise. But if I’m understanding your situation, you won’t need to use that – just the MC4 to SAE connector.
I hope that helps and have a great trip!
What do you think of the Jackery 100w portable solar panel?
Oddly enough we are currently testing a Jackery solar generator product that came with four of their 100 watt panels, so we are getting some experience using it.
Keep in mind that the Jackery panels are made to work with the Jackery solar generators and have a connector specific to the Jackery. This isn’t a panel that you would necessarily use to charge your RV’s house batteries.
Having said that, the panels are actually pretty nice. Lightweight. Easy to use.
A couple of negatives are:
1) The price (they are expensive!).
2) They aren’t waterproof, so you can’t leave them out all the time. I can’t count the times when I’ve used a portable solar panel when it was raining, so this is a deal breaker for me as far as using this panel with my RV.
3) They don’t come with a solar controller, so you are paying a premium price for a product that you will then need to add a solar charge controller to (if you don’t already have one).
4) They probably won’t do well in the wind because they are so light. And the stand setup doesn’t allow you to add weight to it to keep it secure in windy conditions.
I wouldn’t consider using the Jackery panels unless I had a Jackery solar generator to plug them into.
Hopefully that helps! Thanks for the comment.
Can I use one brand of panel with a solar generator of another brand? Thanks.
By ‘solar generator’, you mean a portable lithium battery pack that you can recharge using solar panels, correct?
I haven’t looked into solar generators as they tend to not be something RVers use to power RVs, but rather what people use as an off-grid power supply for smaller appliances and electrical requirements.
I don’t see why the brand of solar panel used to charge a solar generator matters. What would matter is how the panel connects to the battery pack.
The manual for the particular solar generator you are looking at should discuss the solar panel requirements and connectivity. Manuals should be available online from the manufacturer.
We love boondocking and have two lead acid batteries for the coach. I would like to know what kind of portable suitcase I should buy. Thanks in advance.
Boondocking is the best, isn’t it?
If you are going to be doing a lot of boondocking and don’t want to be running a generator a lot, then you are probably going to need more than a solar suitcase to keep the batteries charged. Unless you are really, really, really good at not using any power.
Solar suitcases can only produce so many amps as they are size limited. Yes, you can have multiple solar suitcases but at a certain point it becomes a big pain. Having to deal with setting them out, continually keeping them pointed towards the sun, and having a place to store them as you travel.
Solar suitcases are a good gateway drug to being power self-sufficient, and are great if you want to try out boondocking before you go all in with a roof top solar install. But there becomes a time in most people’s boondocking life when they opt to go with the rooftop panels. Especially if they are full-time RVers.
Anyhow, to answer your question, get the biggest (most watts) that you can afford and for which you have the storage space for. For a more precise answer as to how many watts you need (probably more than you can get via portable panels), see our guide to RV solar systems, which talks about how to figure out how many watts you need.
Welcome to the solar lifestyle and here’s to many happy nights boondocking!
I’m a new camper and trying to wrap my mind around energy usage. I have an old camper with no solar port so expect that I’ll use alligator clamps unless/until I decide to hardwire one in. I’m running a 12v deep cell lithium battery and shopping for ‘weekend warrior’ ground deploy solar (thanks for the appropriate terminology, Stephanie).
Here’s my question, since I’ll be running power in through the alligator clamps (while I’m off mountain biking) will
I be able to run DC power off of the battery while it’s actively charging through the clamps from the solar array? Feels like I should, but wanted to clarify.
Hey cool, thanks,
Great question! Yep, you most certainly can use the DC power system when you have a portable solar setup attached directly to the batteries.
This is essentially how all permanently installed solar systems work. They just connect directly to the battery via a power distribution bus (bar) and longer cabling. But in electrical ‘terms’ it is all the same.
Hope that helps! Happy camping!
Hi there! I’m brand new to the camper life and trying to figure a solar panel setup that will work for me. I’ll be dry camping for long weekends and we’re planning on just using a marine battery + portable solar panel (Renogy looks more in my price range). Best portable solar panel + charge controller for weekend warriors? I’ll been running several LED lights, USB chargers and a roof fan. I’ve read this article several times but still can’t process all the information! Please help me make an informed decision. 😅
Thanks for checking out Camp Addict!
Renogy is a solid brand of portable solar panel and is the one I used for the first 6 years of full-time RV life. Until I finally upgraded my rooftop solar array to 600 watts and installed lithium. Now I don’t have to worry about a ground deploy (portable solar panel) as I have overkill for both solar and battery. Obviously this isn’t practical for your situation (or anyone who just uses their rigs on weekends).
I’d start with a 100 watt portable panel. This is the easiest to deal with size and weight wise and should get you through long weekends of dry camping if you are smart about your power use. LED lights shouldn’t be an issue. USB charging (assuming we are talking phones) won’t be a huge power drain (just try and charge when you are getting good solar). The roof fan will be your biggest power draw by far. So be mindful of its use.
Most importantly, just get out and camp! Have fun! Don’t worry too much about power (but do understand it is a limited resource when dry camping). Figuring out your power consumption will come with practice.
I have a travel trailer with factory installed 90W Zamp Solar panel on the roof. It also has a Zamp Sidewall Solar Port for a portable suitcase. I already have a Furrion 95W solar suitcase with the 2-pin round connector. Can I use the Furrion suitcase I already have with an adapter? I can’t find a Furrion -> Zamp adapter. Only Zamp -> Furrion. Please help!
Ugh, aren’t all of these possible electrical connections mixing-and-matching a whole lot of fun???
I cannot find a Furrion -> Zamp either. It looks like if you want to use your existing Furrion solar suitcase, you will need to remove (cut-off) the existing Furrion connection on the solar suitcase and add something that will be compatible with the Zamp solar port on your travel trailer.
To be on the safe side, I’d give Zamp a shout and ask them exactly what you need to do. They know their solar port better than any of us (or they should!) and they’ll be able to steer you in the right direction.
Sorry that I don’t have a definitive answer for you.
Your info has been very helpful to me. I bought the Renogy 100W suitcase and the Polarity Reverser and Adapter you recommended so I could use the Zamp solar outlet on my Aliner Ranger 10. Works great!! Now I realize I need a solar extension cable for putting the panel in the sun when it is farther from the trailer than the existing cord allows. I am confused about which of the two solar extension cables you show that I need. Can you steer me to the correct one? Thanks! Diane
Yay! Glad the Renogy portable solar suitcase is working out for you!
Whenever I use my ground deploy solar panel (not really needed anymore since I upgraded my rooftop solar, but I used it for about 4 years constantly), I always use my extension cables. That just gives me sooooo much more flexibility as to where I can put my ground deploys.
So with the Renogy, you have MC4 connectors. Which means you need the extension cables labeled as “Solar Extension Cables (MC4 Connector)” and have the red/black pair of cables in the picture.
Simply choose what length you want, and you will be all set.
Thank you, Marshall! Unfortunately, I’m still confused. I want to attach the panel into the SAE Zamp port, does this mean I just plug the MC4 extension cable into the existing MC4 short cable on the panel, with the polarity reverser and adapter on the other end of the extension cable that goes into the SAE Zamp port on the trailer? I also don’t know how to tell what gauge cable I need, the existing short cable on the Renogy panel has some long numbers on it, along with 300/500V. Does this tell me the gauge? Also, why does the extension cable you recommend come with a red and a black cable? Are they used differently? Thanks again! Diane
Sorry for the confusion, Diane!
Yes, you connect the extension cable exactly as you described – between the polarity reverser and the permanently attached (short) MC4 cables on the solar suitcase.
Black and red is just there to designate one is for positive and one is for negative. But that’s more confusing than anything. The extension cables that I purchased years ago are all the same color.
The way that MC4 connectors work is that they only connect one way (female and male ends). Notice how the existing MC4 cables/connectors on your solar panels have one with a male end and one with a female end? And then the polarity reverser is the same.
This means they can only be connected one way. Therefore there is no way to ‘mix up’ positive and negative wires.
The extension cables work the same way. So you cannot hook them up with reversed polarity (mixing up positive and negative connections).
Long way of saying, I don’t know why they include different colors since you don’t really care as there is only one way to hook up the extension cables to the solar panel side and only one way to hook them up to the polarity reversing bit. And it doesn’t matter if you use black extension on one side or the other.
Bottom line is they will work no matter which colored cable you plug in first, or where you plug it in. Because there is no wrong way to connect them (you’ll see once you get the extensions).
Go with the 10awg wires (the choice that is ‘defaulted’ when you click on the green button above on this page).
10awg is larger than 12awg (makes perfect sense, right? 10 being bigger than 12? Why is this stuff so unintuitive?????). Larger diameter wire means less voltage loss due to ‘extending’ the wires.
So it really simply comes down to a choice of length. 10awg at whatever length you think you need. I use 40 footers (I had to look it up as I woulda sworn they were only 25 feet!) and that has been plenty for every situation I’ve ever been in. I don’t recall ever needing longer, and that might even be overkill. Mine are 10awg as well.
Hope the fog of confusion has been lifted! If not, fire away with any other questions.
Wow, that was SO helpful – and so clearly written that I can easily understand it, thank you.
As long as you said more questions are OK……I read ‘somewhere’ that the longer the extension cable, the more you lose charge to the battery. I’d prefer going with your suggested link to make my purchase, 40 feet 10awg, as I’d rather have too much length rather than too little, if it doesn’t appreciably affect the….effectiveness! Thanks again, D
Glad I could (finally) make it clear! 🙂
Yes, that is correct. The longer the wire, the more voltage loss. Copper wiring inherently has resistance in it, which causes ‘friction’ as electricity flows through it. The larger the wire, the less resistance it has.
If you look at one of those overhead power lines that takes power from a generation plant (say a dam) to the ‘big city’, the wire is rather large. This is because it has to ‘move’ a considerable amount of power with the least resistance. Larger wire = more efficiency moving power.
BUT it’s a trade-off. Pure copper wire (the wiring with the least resistance) is really expensive and heavy. So you use the size wire that is ‘just right’ for the distance you need to move the amount of power you are dealing with.
There are fancy calculations to figure out voltage loss over a certain distance in a given wire size. Yawn!
Or you just buy the largest wire you can (which in this case is the 10awg, which isn’t too big/heavy/expensive) and don’t go too crazy on the length.
There I go getting long-winded again. Bottom line is that 40 feet, 10awg is a fine choice.
Enjoy your ‘free’ energy!
Once again….great explanation. Off to place my order for the 40 ft 10awg. You guys are great!
Hi Diane, I just bought a new Aliner Ranger 10. Which Renogy 100W panel controller did you purchase, the 10A or 20A? I just have the one 12v battery.
Congrats on the new rig! Let the good times commence!
While I’m not Diane (obviously), I thought I’d chime in.
I didn’t even realize that Renogy still offered the 10 amp controller. I see it’s a used unit being sold by Renogy (via Amazon). Good way to save a few bucks. I assume there would be no problem with it being used, considering Renogy is selling it.
It doesn’t matter which one you go with as a 10 amp controller is plenty for the single 100 watt solar suitcase. I have zero idea why Renogy packages the 20 amp controller with a 100 watt solar setup when they have a 10 amp version available. But I’m sure they have some reason.
The 20 amp controller would give you room for expansion, but then you’d have to hook up a second solar suitcase to the controller on the first. Definitely doable, but I’m not aware of people usually having this type of setup (multiple solar suitcases feeding into one controller on a suitcase). OK, this is getting complicated, I know. And my explaining ju-ju is off a bit now as I’m just having my first cup of coffee.
Bottom line – order either one. Whichever you want – new or used. You’ll be fine.
We have a small Winnebago class c with a 100W Zamps solar panel and controller. I want to plug a portable panel(non-Zamps) into the three port roof mount. It sounds like I need the SAE polarity reverser and the SAE to MC4 adapter? Just want to confirm as this is all new to me.
Just to confirm – you want to plug a portable solar panel into roof solar ports? You going to haul the portable panel up on the roof? Having done that before, let me tell you it’s no fun. Or you going to use wiring extensions?
The reverse polarity bit is for a Zamp solar port on the SIDE of your rig (easy to plug in a portable solar panel). NOT the roof mounted solar ports.
I’m not real familiar with roof mounted solar ports as I’ve never had a rig with them, but I believe they are just a straight pass-through (just a way to get the solar wiring through the roof) and don’t require any reverse polarity ‘magic’. You will need to confirm with Winnebago (directly or via owner’s manual) what exactly these ports do.
As far as what other adapter you need, it’ll depend on what the solar panel has and what the roof port accepts.
So it sounds like you just need a way to plug your portable solar panel into the roof ports without any polarity reversing. Again, confirm with Winnebago what happens in the ports.
Your Class C motorhome has a solar controller installed already? Does that mean it already has a roof mounted solar panel?
We do have a 100W Zamps that the dealer installed on the roof. I’m just looking for probably a 100w portable that i can move into the sun when needed. I did look for the side port and I don’t have one. The 3 terminal roof port is from Zamps.
Ah, OK. I’m not certain if the Zamp roof ports do the same reverse polarity thing that the sidewall ports do. And of course the Zamp website gives zero indication of this.
I’d reach out to Zamp and ask them directly. They’ll be the best source of information.
Hello! I was just wondering why Go Power’s portable kit wasn’t included? We’ve have been using ours for the past 3 months and it’s been great!
There are MANY portable solar panel options on the market. We have chosen a few that we recommend. That doesn’t mean there aren’t other viable options out there.
Regarding Go Power’s portable solar setup, here’s one thing I really don’t like about it – the solar controller.
I have an older version of that controller in my rig and I really don’t like it. The buttons are a pain to use, and that’s being generous.
Also, they are using a controller that isn’t weather proof on a portable panel that is exposed to the environment. In fact, the manual for the controller they include states the following regarding where to mount it: “Indoors, protected from the weather”.
Curious that they are using this controller mounted outside.
I’m glad to hear it’s working out for you.
more of a question than a comment. Going back and forth between purchasing 100w portable renogy voyager vs eclipse. Besides the weight difference, are the components on the eclipse that much better and warrant the $100 difference in costs. Also, I have a zamp port on my trailer that I would love to use. Your explanation on adapters, polarity issues are pretty clear. But I get a little nervous and want to double check. I need a sae to mc4 adapter and polarity reversal adapter? Do all zamp portals need this polarity reversal? Thanks. andy
The solar charge controllers are the same between the Eclipse (newer) and Legacy (older) panels, so the only difference really is the panels themselves.
The Eclipse are going to be smaller and lighter. But to be honest, the 100 watt legacy solar suitcase isn’t that big and bulky. Unless you absolutely need the weight and space savings, I’d go with the Legacy and save some money.
I’ve been using the Renogy Legacy solar suitcase daily for years and it’s still ticking along. Though I’m finishing up a major electrical upgrade including 600 additional watts of solar on my roof and lithium batteries, so I don’t anticipate needing the ground deploy panels anymore. But I’ll keep them just in case.
Yes, if the Zamp solar plug on the side of your rig is wired correctly (in other words, with reverse polarity), then you’ll need both the SAE polarity reversal adapter and the SAE to MC4 adapter.
You can always verify with a multi-meter what side of the Zamp Solar Port is positive and which is negative, and then see how that lines up with the SAE to MC4 adapter. But my understanding is that a properly wired Zamp Solar Port is reverse polarity.
Thanks, Marshall. Very helpful.
Hi guys! We have just purchased a 2020 airstream BasecampX with 160watt roof top panel and controller. Also comes with an external Zamp port for portable solar option. Our question is do we need a separate controller on the portable panels or is the interior controller going to work for both?
Thanks for your great information.
Kelly & Joel
Hey Kelly & Joel,
I checked with a friend who full-time RVs in a Basecamp. She has actually looked into this, so I’m confident that this is the correct answer. Plus it makes sense to me.
The Zamp port doesn’t run through any permanently mounted solar controller that came from Airstream. It connects directly to the battery.
Therefore, any portable solar panel you plug in to the Zamp port needs to have its own controller.
If you think about this, it makes sense. I believe the Zamp port is standard equipment, so every Basecamp will come with it. However, the solar package with the interior solar controller is optional. So NOT every Basecamp comes with the interior controller.
Airstream is only going to wire the Zamp port one way for ALL Basecamps, which means direct to battery.
Anyhow, my friend confirmed this with a dealer, and as we all know, dealers are never wrong. 🙂
Thanks for the question and we are glad you like Camp Addict!
Thinking of running two portable solar panels on my 28 ft Airstream while boondocking .. zamp has 230 and 170 watt portable panels can I use them together with my zamp port and 2 factory batteries … thinking of flexibility and redundancy .. any special modifications I’d need to make ? Thanks for your thoughts and help .. also would consider Renogy panels as well if you think they are in worth looking into .. thanks again ..
Two portable panels? That’s going to be a big PITA, speaking from experience. Especially since Zamp panels of those wattages are going to be large.
You are going to have to deal with where to store them while not in use. Pull them out of storage and set them up. Make sure they are pointed towards the sun during the day. Etc, etc, etc. This is easier to do if you only have a single portable panel.
Also, if you purchase 2 portable Zamp solar panels, you will end up with 2 solar controllers since each panel comes with one. You will only want to use a single controller, so you will need to take one controller ‘out of the loop’ and change the wiring on one panel. Then come up with a quick disconnect splitter (most likely using MC4 connectors) so that you can connect the one panel without the controller to the other panel’s controller.
Fun times beyond the scope of this article.
Is you think you need 400 watts of solar while boondocking, why now put 400 watts of solar on your Airstream? You’ll find that having roof mounted solar to be sooooo much easier to deal with if you want/need 400 watts of solar.
Having a ground deploy portable panel is great if you need extra power or camp in shaded areas where a portable panel can ‘reach’ into the sun. But it’s not a great solution for 400 watts of power.
Yes, putting 400 watts of solar on the roof can be expensive, especially if you are paying someone else to do it. We put 600 watts of solar on Kelly’s roof and saved a ton of money by doing it ourselves. But this isn’t something to do if you don’t have the skills.
And spending the money for a permanent install only makes sense if you are going to boondock a lot to get your money back.
If you truly need 400 watts of power, maybe a single ground ground deploy panel supplemented with a portable generator used when the batteries are getting low.
Thanks for the comment! There’s a lot to consider when it comes to RV solar.
Thank you for sharing this very informative article. Solar systems can be very confusing to get your head around the first time and you have done a great job outlying the basics to make an informed decision on any purchases.
You were spot on in saying that different brands of panels and generators were interchangeable but to be very sure as to the polarity and connection type as these generally vary between different manufacturers.
Keep up the great work.
Yes, it always pays to triple-check connectors and polarity whenever you are dealing with anything electrical, including solar panels.
Ok. Thanks. Reading up it looks like the PMW controller is usually part of the portable kit package. I’ve read that mppt controller is better. Do you recommend getting one for a portable kit?
MPPT controllers work better, are are worth the extra expense, when you have a larger solar array (more watts ‘worth’ of solar panels). They aren’t worth the extra expense for a small ground deploy setup.
We explain more about this in the solar controllers section in the above guide.
I’ve seen a 120 watt portable system from acopower that seems to have the components you like in a compact package. Is there a reason you didn’t include it in your review? Thanks, al
There are many solar panel options on the market. We included those that we have first hand knowledge of and/or feel are the best available. That doesn’t mean that what we feature on this page are the only options available or the right one for your situation. If you find something that may work better for you, great!
In the end it’s all about making it possible to use your RV off-grid without having to run a generator and annoy yourself and your neighbors.
Thanks for the comment and best of luck finding a solar solution that works best for you!
Great article, thank you. My question is regarding the hooking up of the portable solar to the RV’s batteries… I have two 6 volt batteries wired in series. How should I connect the charging cables from the solar panel? Are we supposed to disconnect the batteries from the RV before attaching the solar charging cables? Since the RV already has a charge controller for when it’s plugged in to shore power, I wasn’t sure if there would be a problem when the charge coming in was going through a whole separate controller… and can we still be drawing power from the batteries (say, running a fan,) while they are charging from solar? Thanks for your help.
You have the same battery setup that I do – two 6-volt batteries wired in series. You do not need to disconnect the batteries from the RV’s electrical system while charging via solar. You will connect the portable solar panels to the batteries the same way that the rig is attached to them. Positive on one battery and negative on another. To make is easy, just use the same terminals that the RV’s electrical system does. The portable solar panel’s manual should give more information on this, but it’s actually very simple.
An RV that has permanently mounted rooftop solar panels will be charging the batteries via solar even when plugged into shore power. No problem with charging from the two different sources at one time. They just figure things out. (That’s a simplification to say the least, but just know it’s OK to have solar doing its thing while plugged into shore power. Though, if you have portable solar panels only, you wouldn’t need to have those connected when your rig is plugged in to shore power.)
Yes, you can use your RV’s 12-volt electrical system when charging via solar. That’s how both Kelly and I operate on a daily basis (as do every other RV that has permanently mounted solar, or uses portable panels to recharge). We are using our electrical systems normally as they are being charged via solar.
Sometimes we are using more power than is coming in from solar, so the batteries are making up the difference. But more often than not, the solar is producing enough power to compensate for what we are using, plus charge the batteries.
There is a lot more on solar that can be written on Camp Addict. I’m actually just starting a new guide on solar charge controllers today. It’ll be a while before it goes live, as it takes a lot of work to produce quality content.
In the meantime, you can read about the process we went thru to install solar on Kelly’s rig this past December. It’s a two-part blog series that covers the planning/thought process and the actual installation.
It’s awesome that you want to learn about solar! I know it can be confusing, but hopefully we are doing a little to make things a bit more clear.
this statement definitely answered my confusion on connecting directly to the batteries.
i believe i have 2 12v house batteries, and my intentions are to park in the arizona desert for winter. will it run my furnace (propane) for heat. or will i need several more batteries because the desert gets cold at night.
and what about air conditioning, for those hot days?
besides using a generator, can a solar system allow these to function properly???
I’m glad that this helped clear up some confusion.
Your 12-volt house batteries will be capable of running your furnace overnight, but the question is for how long?
It all depends on the other electrical loads you are putting on the battery. How much you are ‘asking’ from your batteries.
The HUGE problem with lead acid batteries is that they don’t like the cold weather. They only produce their rated output at around 70º F. Or when you don’t need your furnace.
As the outside temperature drops, so does the capacity of lead acid batteries. In other words, when you need them the most (to run your furnace), they have the least to ‘give’ you.
If you like it really warm in your RV at night, and it’s really cold outside, your furnace is going to be running a lot. (Hello crappy RV insulation!) And thus your batteries will be being used a lot. When they are cold. Not a great combination for how much power they can supply.
And then you have to figure out what else is using your battery power overnight. Watching a lot of TV? Charging computers? Etc, etc, etc.
The real solution to this issue is lithium batteries. However they are A LOT more expensive than lead acids. But they charge faster, let you drain down to almost 0% charge and don’t care (lead acids don’t like going below 50% charge). Are considerably lighter. And other benefits that are slipping my mind right now.
However, neither lead acid or lithium batteries (or a reasonably sized solar setup) are going to be able to run your air conditioner. This requires a large inverter (to change 12-volt electricity from the batteries to 120-volt power used by the AC), enough lithium batteries (as in it will put a dent in your wallet) to run the AC for long enough to actually make a difference, and some way to charge the lithiums quickly (a large solar system).
It really isn’t practical for most rigs to be able to run their AC off batteries. A properly sized generator will do the trick and is a much more cost effective solution.
This is a great article, you may want to add to it for people that want to use solar for post-disaster use, your input would definitely be welcome. I live in south Florida (Hurricane Central – Andrew, 1992. Sure Katrina was bad, but most of that damage was caused by failing levees)
Last storm that went through, we lost power for ~5-7 days (AFTER the storm passed, ironically), and been thinking about getting some panels, just for things like charging phones/laptops/electric razors (I looked like Grizzly Adams by the time we got power back on).
I wish photoelectric tech had been as advanced back in ’92 with Andrew. I put a 55gal trashcan on the roof and filled it with water in the morning, by evening, it was warm enough to take a not-cold shower for 3-4 people. Sure, not photoelectric, but taking advantage of the sun 🙂
That’s a great use for a portable solar panel setup. Combined with a lithium battery pack. There are a bunch of them on the market that are designed to recharge small electronics and in turn are designed to be recharged by solar panels.
Not a bad idea to have something like this if you are in a disaster prone area. We don’t focus on this use case as we are an RV centric website, but there are definitely other uses for many of the products we discuss on Camp Addict.
Thanks for the suggest and may hurricanes/large storms avoid your house in the future.
What is the life expectancy/ efficiency level of suitcase solar panels? I didn’t see where you addressed that.
All current solar panels are around 20% efficient, give or take. This doesn’t matter if they are permanently installed or ground deploys. However, some are more efficient, therefore they can be smaller/lighter for a given output. We address the size difference (for example, the Renogy Eclipse solar suitcase versus the legacy version) which is a far more important factor for RVers than efficiency.
Weight and size are what matter for someone who is hauling around a ground deploy panel and has limited space to store it. Any suitcase rated for 100 watts should produce at least 100 watts of power when new. It’s up to the end user to decide if they can live with a slightly larger/heavier 100 watt unit and save a few bucks, or if they want to spend more money for the smaller/lighter 100 watt unit. But both will produce 100 watts.
As far as life expectancy, your solar suitcase’s solar panels (as far as output) will outlast your ownership. Both Renogy and Zamp have a 25 year output warranty that is tiered. This means they will guarantee output levels for a certain amount of years. The older the panel, they lower the guaranteed output percentage. Both brands guarantee 90% output after 10 years. We link to output warranties in the specification section of individual reviews if you want to see what exactly they are guaranteeing.
The real problem with longevity of solar suitcases is wear and tear on components other than the actual panels. They suitcases lead a hard life. I’ve had my Renogy 100 watt solar suitcase for over 3 years and while it’s still ticking right along, it definitely is showing signs of wear. The hinges have become distorted such that the closing latches no longer line up/work. I’ve had to redo the MC4 connectors multiple times, as well as deal with other wiring issues due to wear and tear. Granted, I use them on an almost daily basis, so a two week a year user is not going to have these issues for many, many years.
Kelly has been extremely harsh on her ground deploys – so much so that she no longer has any. She’s destroyed multiple panels by running over them with her truck, having high winds blow them over so they crack, or otherwise caused damage during normal use. She now has 600 watts of solar on her roof (which are going to be pretty hard to damage) and no longer uses ground deploys.
Life expectancy ultimately comes down to how hard you are on your equipment. And size/weight is what to pay attention to (both do have something to do with efficiency, but the normal solar suitcase user doesn’t care about efficiency – they care about the size of the item they have to manhandle).
Thanks for the question and may many happy solar days be in your future!
Ugh, what a dunce. I went and looked at my battery case, and the SAE port on it definitely says Zamp. So I could (should) have answered that question myself before bothering you…
No worries, Mark!
I have been known too, on more than one occasion, to ask before looking myself. So, I’m right there with ya! 🙂
Thanks for this excellent and very readable article!
About the Zamp port reverse polarity:
My little trailer has a single 12-volt battery on the tongue, in a plastic case with a SAE port that says “Solar Ready” next to it. Is that like a Zamp? How do I KNOW whether I need a reverse-polarity adapter? I have a multimeter, but I would need very basic-level instructions.
And, about the polarity reversing adapter you link to, it says 18 ga wire and 5 amp max capacity — is that enough for, say, the 100 W Renogy that I want to buy? If 18 ga wire is enough for the adapter, is it also enough for, say, a 25 ft extension cord? The 18 ga extension is much cheaper than the 10 ga Zamp extension cord.
Since you answered question #1 for yourself already, I’ll just comment on #2.
When you are figuring out what wire gauge is ‘good enough’ you have to consider length. The adapter is rather short, so a smaller gauge wire is OK to use.
However, a 25 foot extension cord is a relatively long run, and in this case, you want a larger sized (smaller wire gauge number) wire. Over longer runs, there is more voltage drop, so you want a bigger ‘pipe’ for the wire to run through.
You can Google ‘wire size calculator’ and plug in some wire size and wire run lengths to see what the voltage drop is for a given voltage (use 12 for your 12 volt system for a ‘good enough’ number). You’ll quickly see how wire size does matter on runs as long as the extension cord.
Yes, 18 gauge is going to be cheaper because it uses less copper (assuming it’s actually a pure copper wire, but it doesn’t matter, it uses less overall wire material, so it’s cheaper to make).
Have fun with your solar setup! It’s life changing if you do a lot of boondocking like Kelly and I do.
THANKS for such an in-depth explanation. The only thing that has my head spinning is figuring how many amps I need. I have a small RV (Aliner) with 1 battery. Can you suggest how many Amps I need. It is primarily to run lights, the fan, the water pump and the fridge fan. The rest can be run on gas. Thanks again for this information.
When you say the rest can be run on gas, I assume you have a generator you can use when necessary?
It sounds like you could get away with a single 100 watt ground deploy solar panel for the amount of battery draw you are talking about. Assuming you are able to position the panel so that it receives good solar (not shaded) during daylight hours, it should have no problem recharging your single house battery under the minimal load you mentioned.
Glad you liked our solar panel page! Best of luck and Camp On!
Good article, learned lots, help me chose what to buy in what order! Thanks
Glad the solar panel page helped you out, Jim!
Happy battery charging with your new solar setup.
Everything about a potable panel sounds great but what about theft if you leave the rv charging while off for the day.
I’ve been using a Renogy portable solar panel for 3.5 years and have had zero problem with theft (and I use my panel everyday). Then again, a good friend of mine had his portable solar panel stolen after less than one year of use.
I used to lock mine to the trailer with a longish cable. My friend’s was locked in a similar way when it was stolen.
The key is be aware of your surroundings and know when you can leave your panel unattended and know when it needs to be put away.
I’m rarely in an area that attracts thieves since they tend to not go out into the wilderness. My friend was camping at a popular California State Park location right on the beach, along a busy road.
So yes, theft is something to consider. Just be smart. If you aren’t going to be around and are worried about the particular area you are in, put it away.
Thanks for the comment, and Camp On!
Whoa! Such a great job on this y’all. Just made my Renogy purchase thanks to y’all. Really appreciate the extension cable advice!
Thanks! It definitely took a lot of work and research, but you are exactly why we did it. (Oh, and for me to reference when I forget something, too, LOL!)
The extension cables are pretty much non-negotiable for portables if you ask me. Let us know how it all works out!
The newer Eclipse models say that they are “excellent performance in low light areas.” I live in the Midwest so lots of cloudy days. Do you think this is a valid, discernible claim or marketing hype?
Also I do a week to 10 days out at a time a few trips per year. I have a cell, iPad, WiFi Box, and will be buying a Dometic Cfx 50 (0.77 AH/Hrs) or the ARB 50 freezer fridge for refrigerator. For this will a 100 W system be sufficient or do I need to go with 200 W?
Glad you like our portable solar panel page!
Renogy Eclipse and low light conditions… We’ve only got experience with the Renogy Legacy panel and when the light goes low, so does the power output.
This is the case for the three (or maybe it’s four) different brands of solar panels we have between my and Kelly’s rig. As the sun goes behind the clouds, you see a very noticeable drop-off in solar panel output.
Simple fact is that solar panels operate best when they have full sun on them. Solar panels cannot manufacture sunlight to produce energy. Yes, while some panels may be a bit more efficient in lower light conditions, I’m not convinced that you are going to be able to notice enough of a difference to make your eyes bug out in surprise.
Regarding the bit about if a 100 watt panel will be sufficient… You don’t mention your battery setup (though this isn’t critical information to answer the question as it boils down to power usage and you’ve given a pretty good outline of that).
A 100 watt system may be enough, assuming you have nice sunny days during the summer (i.e., longer days so you can ‘harvest’ more solar energy). But if you have the funds (and space to store it), I’m always gonna err on the side of more solar is better (to a certain point) and I’d go with 200 watts.
200 watts gives you more options. Cloudy days. Short days. Increased power use. Future expansion of power use. Etc.
Thanks for the question and Camp On!
Thanks for the additional information.
I am considering an EGO 56 volt 3000 watt Nexus portable power station to power my 1966 Avion Tourister. There are no batteries now. I have a 2000 watt Honda also.
What would be the needs to charge with solar? I have several EGO tools and the modules can detach and power them.
You would figure out the solar requirements with this type of setup as you would with any other battery ‘solution’ (including RV house batteries) as outlined here.
It’s all the same calculation – you need to be able to replenish the energy that you use. The battery source is irrelevant. It’s your consumption that matters,
BUT in the case of the system you are looking at you need to confirm that it’s capable of being recharged with a 12-volt (solar) power source. If it requires a 120-volt (household) outlet, then you need to look elsewhere for a battery solution as you’ll need shore power to recharge it. This defeats the whole using solar thing.
Thanks for the question and Camp On!
My apologies if others have covered this in the thread below- I did look first. Question- our trailer came equipped with a Zamp (SAE) port on the side. Id like to save a few bucks and buy a panel that has MC4 connector. I know there a conversion connectors available but what have heard is that the Zamp prewiring is reverse polarity from most other systems. If this is true, has anyone devised a simple work around?
Thanks in advance, oh gurus of solar, for your advice.
‘Gurus of solar’? Oh the pressure!
I went ahead and added a section above (titled ‘Zamp Solar Sidewall Port?‘ that discusses what you need to do in order to deal with the Zamp port reverse polarity issue when plugging in a non-Zamp portable solar system.
Thanks for prompting us to do this!
Thank you Marshall! This will save myself and others a few bucks! But mostly, thanks to you and Kelly for sharing your knowledge for the benefit of everyone.
You are most welcome, Steve. And THANK YOU for prompting us to update the page with this information.
Camp Addict was created so we could help our fellow RVers. It makes both Kelly and I extremely happy to hear that our efforts are being well received.
Thank you for this great article! So very glad to find it. You’ve made a difficult technical problem understandable and it sure is doing appreciated. We are going to need to use our 5th wheel for a live in situation for an extended period and shore power isn’t available. We do have a generator and two 12volt batteries. Really want to avoid using generator unless needed due to poor weather and lack of sun. Deploying the panels on the ground is not a good/safe situation. Can you advise/suggest if a secure pole or tripod mounted situation would work? We are looking to purchase ASAP and think the Renogy system is good for us.
Hi Jerry and Chris-
Thank you for the nice compliment! We don’t blame you for not wanting to use your generator. Even the quiet ones are still noisy, eat gas, and produce exhaust. We have not seen a pole system and wouldn’t particularly advise it as it doesn’t sound very stable. Even on the ground, ground deploys can get flipped over in the wind if they are not secured down with weight somehow.
It sounds like you will be in one place and not traveling? If you are in a place that never gets wind then it might be feasible to tripod mount a solar panel. We google searched ‘solar panel tripod’ and there were Youtube videos showing how to make your own mount onto a camera tripod as well as tripods you can purchase. However, we’re not sure how many panels/watts they could support.
Unfortunately, we have not had experience with this method. Maybe another reader who has will comment.
If not the tripod solution, we would suggest trying to secure it to your roof if possible or to a wall that’s south facing near you if you can’t do the ground. Another ground deploy benefit is that it’s easy to turn it to follow the sun during the day for a little more % of input.
Good luck with your new solar and your decision on where to put it! Thank you for reading, and Camp On!
I have been reading about solar for my motor-home for weeks, months! Trying to educate myself in order to make informed decisions. I learned very little, finally quit reading articles because my head was going to explode from all the technical jargon in all those papers! Understanding what I was reading was miles above my pay-grade. Is solar so complicated and secretive that those authors have to protect their knowledge of the subject by speaking in terms most people (me) would have trouble grasping!?
Very happy I came across Camp Addict and your article. You were able to cut through the crap and explain issues in terms I could understand. So thank you!
In my search for info I also talked with a salesman at my local RV store knowing his main objective was to sell me something but I figured it was a win if I came away knowing more than I went in with. They carry Zamp and he said the portable panel will still charge the house batteries with 4 inches of snow on top. Is that true? I am skeptical because he is a salesman and I am a female.
Boy, do we feel your pain!! Solar IS very complicated and technical, and there is a TON of jargon to (mis)understand. ? Heck, it makes our heads want to explode as well. Still, we are happy to hear you understood our portable solar page!
And you were right to be leery of the salesman. I laughed out loud when I read your comment about it charging through 4 inches of snow!!!! ?
Seriously, salesman??? What a concept that he should know at least a little about how solar works.
Anyway, any sort of shading to your panel(s) will cause a STEEP drop in your solar output. 4 inches will pretty much completely shade the panels and you will get basically zero input. *Sigh* It’s tough to get correct information sometimes. A lot of times. Sorry you were mislead!
But now you know! Thanks for stopping by and for taking the time to comment!
We love you, and Camp on, Cee!
Well written article! Concise, well structured and written in a style that isn’t “lofty” but personal. I have recently purchase a Jayco 2012 popup which I intend to outfit with 2 – 6v batteries in series (12v) and use a 200W “suitcase” solar system from Renogy to provide a charging function.
Renogy’s site now indicates that their 200W system now DOES come with the Voyager 20A waterproof charge controller.
Thank you for your kind comment, Bill! We try our best to make our pages understandable by those that don’t aren’t uber technical.
We actually previously updated the Renogy review to reflect the use of the Voyager waterproof controller, but neglected to update the section of the guide that talks about it. Ooops! Thanks for giving us the kick that we needed to make sure the page was 100% up to date!
Best of luck with the new-to-you camper. Sounds like a great electrical system setup you are going for.
Thanks again and Camp On!
You forgot to mention flexible panels like this. I wouldn’t consider the panels you mentioned to be portable. But these I would.