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Best Portable Solar Panels in 2021

(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

Zamp Solar Panels

Zamp Solar 120 watt portable solar panel

Pros

  • Monocrystalline solar panel cells
  • Made in the USA
  • Waterproof PWM solar charge controller
  • Widest selection of wattage ratings
  • Best overall construction quality

Cons

  • Pricey

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.

90-Watt System

140-Watt System

180-Watt System

230-Watt System

Continue Reading Zamp Portable Solar Panel Review

Best Value in Portable Solar Panels

Renogy Solar Panels

Renogy Eclipse 200 watt portable solar panel

Pros

  • Monocrystalline solar panel cell
  • Good combination of quality, performance and price
  • Waterproof PWM solar controller

Cons

  • 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 100-Watt System

Legacy 100-Watt System

Eclipse 200W (WITH controller)

Eclipse 200W (NO controller)

Purchase directly from Renogy and get an additional 10% off your solar panel kit purchase. Use the coupon code below on the Renogy website (button below).

Get 10% Off Using Our Coupon Code: CampAddict

You get 10% off of any Renogy solar panel (or other products) purchase. Batteries exempt from discount.

Continue Reading Renogy Portable Solar Panel Review

Best Portable Solar Panels on a Budget

Eco-Worthy Solar Panels

Eco-Worthy 120 watt poly folding solar panel front

Pros

  • Monocrystalline solar panel cells
  • Good for those who don't use much solar power
  • Priced competitively

Cons

  • 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. 

120-Watt System

Continue Reading Eco-Worthy Portable Solar Panel Review

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

Alligator Clips

Alligator clips installed

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 Apart

MC4 connector

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 apart

SAE Connector Separated

SAE connector

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. 

Solar panel extension cables

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 ZSHE15N Portable Harness Extension

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.

Solar hold down items needed

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 hold down setup

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...)

Solar hold down post detail

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?

Nope!

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.

Problem solved!

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 connector reverse polarity cable

SAE Polarity Reverser

Renogy SAE to MC4 adapter cable

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 Panel

BatteryMINDer controller

BatteryMINDer Solar Controller

Conclusion

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.

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!

Kelly Headshot
Kelly Beasley

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.


Marshall Headshot
Marshall Wendler

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. 

    • Hi Terri,

      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.

    • Hi Luigi,

      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!

  • Hey Addicts,

    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,

    • Hi Heyward!

      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. 😅

    • Hey Stephanie,

      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!

    • Hey Jill,

      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

    • Hey 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.

      Happy solaring!

      • 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.

      • Hey Kim,

        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.

        Happy camping!

  • 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.

    • Hi Tom,

      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.

        • Hey Tom,

          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!

    • Hey Cheryl,

      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

    • Hey 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.

  • 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 ..

    • Hi Joe,

      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.

    • Thanks, Sandra!

      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?

    • Hi Al,

      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.

  • Hi

    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

    • Hi 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.

    • Hi Scottie,

      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???

        • Hi Monique,

          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 🙂

    • Hey David,

      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.

    • Hi Chris,

      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.

    • Hey Mark,

      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.

    • Hey Jim,

      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!

  • Everything about a potable panel sounds great but what about theft if you leave the rv charging while off for the day.

    • Hi Bob,

      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!

    • Hey Adam!

      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?

    Great article!!

    • Hey Bill,

      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!

  • 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.

    • Hey Mike,

      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.

    • Hey Steve!

      ‘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.
    Thank you!

    • 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.

    Thanks, Cee

    • Hey Cee!

      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. Additionally, information at:
    https://www.renogy.com/template/files/Manuals/Voyager%20V1.1.pdf
    shows that it will also provide a 5 stage charging sequence PLUS is usable with Lithium batteries.

    • 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.

    • Hi Joseph,

      We didn’t forget to mention flexible solar panels, but these aren’t the best style of panels for the RVing application (for a portable unit). As Camp Addict is RVing focused, we discuss products that are best fit for the RVing lifestyle.

      A flexible solar panel can be a good fit for certain applications, but not necessarily for a ground deploy unit that you leave outside in all types of weather. As one example, when the wind starts blowing, a flexible solar panel is going to become a nice sail as it doesn’t have any weight to keep it from taking flight. Nor does it have any way to secure it to the ground (it’s fairly easy to do this with a solar suitcase, as shown on this page).

      Also, you will need to have some sort of frame for a flexible solar panel in order to be able to ‘point’ it at the sun, etc. It’s not a plug-n-play system that most RVers are looking for.

      Thanks for the input and Camp On!

  • Hey guys – Really informative article! You do a good job of explaining some complex information in an easy to understand format. We just upgraded our roof panels but might add a portable in the future for those pesky trees in the great Northwest.

    • Hey Scott!

      Awesome- so are you guys solar “magnifique” now? I will be joining you in a few weeks. Meaning I hope to FINALLY be adding rooftop solar. Thanks on the ‘easy to understand format’- that’s all because of me. I have to be able to understand it, and if I can understand it, pretty much anyone should be able to understand it! See y’all soon, and thanks for the comment!

  • “With lead acid batteries (the most common type used in RVs) you NEVER want to go below about 50% charge. While the above chart indicates that 40% charge is still ‘in the green’, try not to go below 50% state of charge. Your batteries will love you for this and will reward you by having a long, healthy life.”

    The Trojan depth of discharge v. life cycle chart does not indicate a large difference between 40 and 50%.

    • Hey Larry,

      The “don’t go below 50% state of charge” is a general rule that is pretty much universally accepted. As you quoted, the chart on this page does indeed show that a 40% state of charge is acceptable. However, 50% is what most people use as the general accepted “don’t go below” standard. And to further muddy the waters, 11.9 volts is the generally accepted “don’t go below” voltage. Which usually corresponds to 40% charge, but there are always exceptions to this. Yay for confusion, right?

      The truth of the matter is that the less you discharge your lead acid battery before fully recharging, the longer they will live. If you constantly take your batteries to 40% before recharging them, you will end up replacing them much more frequently then if you only took them to 80% charge before recharging.

      Here’s what I say. Use your batteries. Don’t obsess over them (which I’m guilty of). Be aware of the state of charge. Try to be as good to them as you can, but if you go below 50%, it’s not the end of the world. Batteries are relatively inexpensive (especially if you use Costco golf cart batteries like Kelly and I do) and allow you to camp off-grid (which can save a great deal off money).

      Get out there. Camp. Enjoy.

      Thanks for the comment and Camp On!

  • Marshall, we just bought the Renogy 100 Watt 12 Volt Monocrystalline Foldable Portable Solar Suitcase with Voyager Waterproof Charge Controller, so you might want to revise the text about Renogy not having waterproof controllers. I will only have 100 watts of solar, (at least to start) so we will have to see how adequate that turns out to be. We have an Alaskan Camper on our pickup, and we run the fridge on propane when there is no shore power, and nothing else uses any significant amp hours so far, just lights and USB phone chargers. We also just purchased a little Alpicool fridge/freezer ( and I do mean little, it is the 15 liter model with interior dimensions of 13.8″ x 9.7″ by 7.4″) solely to keep one bag of drink ice frozen! One reviewer stated in his tests that the Alpicool cycling off and on averages about 0.5 aH. I have a Victron BMV-700 battery monitor on my boat (C-Dory 25 Cruiser) with two 100 watt Renogy panels on the roof, and will probably add a Victron to the Alaskan Camper, but I will start our using the digital multimeter and the voltage / state of charge chart. If we get into any kind of pickle with the state of charge, we do have a West Marine 30 amp fast charger and a Honda EU1000i generator. How a 1000 watt generator can power a 30 amp charger I have no idea, but it can and does, as I proved on the boat when we were waiting out weather for three cloudy days! Anyway, thanks for all the information on solar, especially on the portable folding solar panels!

    • Oops, I see that the text DOES recognize that the Renogy legacy 100 watt solar panel has a waterproof charge controller. That was a major factor in choosing the legacy over the Eclipse for me!

      • Hey Pat!

        Yeah, the Legacy does have a waterproof controller now. This is the same panel that both Kelly and I have, but when we purchased it Renogy didn’t include a waterproof controller (as they didn’t have one). It has never really been an issue for Kelly (I quickly removed the controller and wired the Renogy panel into the interior controller that came with my Lance Trailer).

        If you know Kelly, then you know she isn’t exactly careful about keeping the controller out of the weather ? and her’s is still ticking along. But we hear you as far as wanting to go with the Legacy as it now offers the waterproof controller option.

        We hope the 100 watts works out for you! Smart to buy a panel that you can use on both your boat and camper!

  • Marshall,
    I find your article and I am glad I did. We are preparing for a trip out west and expect to be without electricity at a number of sites. We too have a LANCE camper, with solar on the side and the 160W solar panel on the roof. You convinced me to buy a portable version. Question, I am guessing you used the Solar on the Side connector on your Lance trailer. What did you end up needing to get as far as adapters? From my readings, it looks like will need to get a SAE adapter which will connect with the MC-4 connectors which are on most solar panels I have looked at. Did you have any recommendations which products worked well for you? Also I believe the Solar on the Side does have a controller which directly connects to the batteries and not through the Solar Controller inside the camper. For this reason I was looking at Solar Panels with no controller, as I would not need one. Is this your understanding too. Thanks again for the great article!!

    Mark

    • Hey Mark,

      Glad you found our portable solar panel page!

      My Lance is a 2014 year (model is 1995) that came factory installed with a 160W on the roof and a GoPower solar controller mounted above the fridge. Unfortunately Lance wasn’t putting solar on the side in on 2014’s so I honestly have zero clue how they wired them.

      I doubt that there is a separate solar controller JUST for the solar side port. I’d think the port is simply a ‘clean’ way to wire supplemental panels directly to the existing solar controller that Lance mounted inside your rig (the one the rooftop panel uses). This is how I wired my portable panel – I ran a wire up the back of the fridge to the top (where the controller is mounted) and wired it directly into the existing controller (so there are now 2 sets of input wires into the back of the controller).

      Lance didn’t give you any written documentation on how to use the solar on the side port? In my experience their tech support is pretty responsive. Either give them a call or send them an email (though it may take a few days to hear back via email).

      Best of luck and Camp On!

  • Marshall,

    I’m over joyed to have found your post! I’ve been a solar broker for over 3yrs for residential and commercial, but portable solar is a whole new animal to me.

    We have plans to go “off-grid” in the next few months and have been obsessing over all of the information I can find on the “how-to’s”.

    This was the greatest source I’ve found so far and I sincerely want to thank you for your in depth explanations.

    One question I have is, have you had the chance to look into the 30% tax credit incentive? I know 100% electric vehicles receive the benefits, but would portable solar for RVers?

    Thank you again for your time, really glad I found you!

    • I’m glad you found our portable solar page so helpful!

      I’ve only briefly looked into it. I’m not sure a portable solar system would qualify for the tax credit. Might have to be a permanent install only? Having said that, I am far from a tax expert, so I’m not going to hand out tax advice. You might want to check with a knowledgeable CPA on the matter (there are some that live in their RV’s full-time so they have more of a clue about the lifestyle then the average CPA might).

      Enjoy the off-grid lifestyle! Both Kelly and I love it!

      • I’m definitely not a tax expert, but I looked it up on the IRS website. “Qualified solar electric property costs. Qualified solar electric property costs are costs for property that uses solar energy to generate electricity for use in your home located in the United States. No costs relating to a solar panel or other property installed as a roof (or portion thereof) will fail to qualify solely because the property constitutes a structural component of the structure on which it is installed. The home doesn’t have to be your main home.” (from https://www.irs.gov/instructions/i5695)

        • Hey Steve,

          We certainly aren’t tax experts either (so please consult with a tax professional before pulling the trigger on any purchase you are hoping to claim a tax credit on). Pretty sure that any tax credit only applies to a permanently installed solar system, so the portable solar systems on this page wouldn’t qualify. Again, consult with a tax expert to find out the skinny.

          Good stuff! Thanks for the comment and Camp On!

  • I’m considering whether to add a portable solar unit to my camping equipment and this article was the most informative, most complete and easily understood I’ve read. Thank you.

    • That’s great to hear, Judy! Glad that we could convey the information in a way that was easy to grasp. Happy solaring and Camp On!

  • Thanks, Marshall for the article portable solar panels. You have written a detailed article which helps me to understand more about it and it also helped me to find waterproof panel.

    Keep sharing!!

  • Great and well written article…didn’t see any mention about how to actually hook-up the wiring to a bank of batteries…I have 4 6volt batteries so does it matter which terminals I use for hooking up ?

    • Thanks, Richard! It does matter, since the 6-volt batteries are wired together in both series and parallel (so there are a lot of batteries wires, but most you can ignore). The easiest way to figure out what terminals to connect to is see where the RV itself is getting its power from. In other words, where is the coach wiring connected to the batteries?

      This will be the one positive and one negative terminal connection that has a pretty beefy wire that leads back into the depths of your RV. There will be other fairly beefy, but much shorter wires that connect the batteries themselves together. You want to use the one positive and one negative terminal where the the coach wiring is connected. Should be pretty easy to figure out.

      Thanks for reading and Camp On!

  • Since Renogy Eclipse doesn’t provide a waterproof controller, are there other waterproof controllers that will work with the Eclipse?

    • Hi Bob,

      Renogy actually makes a 20 amp solar controller which is waterproof. This is what they put on the legacy 100 watt solar suitcase. Why they don’t use this on the Eclipse is something I don’t understand – I suppose they want to put a 30 amp unit on the Eclipse so you are getting more bang for your buck. Maybe. Honestly, I have no idea.

      I wouldn’t worry too much about the solar controller getting wet, even if it’s not waterproof. Kelly has been using a Renogy suitcase with a non-waterproof controller for a couple years now and it’s out in all sorts of weather (no, she ISN”T careful about keeping it dry) and it’s still ticking along just fine.

      The controller itself is the least expensive part of the system to replace, so even IF it got water damaged, it is an easy, and inexpensive, replacement.

      Just be smart if you have a non-waterproof controller. Don’t go pouring water on it. ?

      Thanks for reaching out and Camp On!

      • Marshall, thanks for the feedback and a great website. It has been very informative for us as we delve into the RV lifestyle.

        • You are most welcome, Bob! THANK YOU for the kind words. Kelly and I are doing our best to get quality RV product content on Camp Addict so that we can help everyone out there who is either just starting out, or looking for more information on a particular product category. Puts a BIG smile on my face when we get feedback that it’s working.

          The RV lifestyle is pretty darn awesome and we hope you enjoy the process and journey!

  • Thanks for a great website! I like the ease of having flexible solar panels on the roof of our conversion van, but my husband favors a deployable suitcase model that can be optimally located in the sun. I’m wondering if we can do both; is it possible to have rooftop solar in addition to an optional plug-in for a suitcase type system to use when we need more power?

    • Thanks for the compliment, Maggie! Kelly and I LOVE getting this kind of feedback. ☺️

      Sure enough, you can use both a roof mounted solar system and a ground deploy (solar suitcase) system. In fact, that’s exactly the setup I have. My current system is 160 watts on the roof and another 160 watts of ground deploy (oh, how’d I’d love to increase my total solar system wattage, and will soon, but that’s another story for another time).

      I run both my rooftop and my ground deploy (suitcases) through a solar controller that is mounted inside my rig (it’s the one that came with the rooftop panel that was installed at the Lance factory). One solar system, multiple solar panel “installs”. Easy peasy and keeps the “brains” centralized.

      You can, in theory, have a separate solar controller on the suitcases, but the two controllers may try and fight each other (this is what seemed to be going on with mine when I first introduced the suitcase portion of things to my setup – it came with its own controller – so I ended up wiring the suitcase to the existing controller and no more “disagreements” between controllers since there is now only one).

      So that was a long way to say, yes, you can do what you suggest.

      Thanks for the great question and Camp On!

  • Thank you for the very informative and easy to read article, it was exactly what I was looking for. I’m upgrading the electronics in my little Coleman Taos popup trailer. LED lights, new battery, solar. As my immediate needs are small (a few hours of light, a few hours of furnace fan, a few hours of charging phone) I was going to start with the 100W Renogy suitcase. If I ended up adding more, would the controller included be able to handle another 1-200W of panels? Thanks again!

    • Great to hear you think our solar page is easy to read. That was the goal, but you never know when it comes to electrical topics. ?

      Renogy makes two different 100 watt solar suitcases – the Legacy version (the one that both Kelly and I have) and the newer Eclipse version (lighter, smaller, more efficient solar panels).

      The Legacy version comes with a 20 amp solar controller which means you can easily add an additional 100 watts of solar to it. The Eclipse version comes with a 30 amp solar controller, which gives you another 200 watts to play with.

      The key would be to add additional solar suitcases that come without the controller (you don’t want to be using multiple solar controllers when you are deploying multiple solar suitcases – run them all through a single controller). You would them wire up the additional suitcase(s) to the original controller, using SAE (or other style) connectors that allow you to disconnect everything when you are packing up.

      I hope that helps and thanks for the great question.

      Camp On!

  • Just clicked the link for the Renogy 200 Watt suitcase and it takes me to the 100 Watt. I’m opting for the larger unit, would like to buy it through your link to support this great site, but that’s not working. It appears to me that Amazon no longer carries the 200 Watt suitcase, do you concur with that, and if so is there any other way to purchase it that will benefit Camp Additct?

    • Hi Michael,

      Thank you so much for wanting to support Camp Addict. Kelly and I greatly appreciate it!

      The Renogy Eclipse 200 watt solar suitcase is temporarily sold out, even through Renogy’s website. We have reached out to them to get an estimated time frame when these units might be back in stock. They should be available on Amazon again once this happens. Sorry that this is the case, but Renogy seems to be having a hard time keeping up with the demand for the Eclipse solar suitcases. ☹️

      I’ll update this comment once I hear back from Renogy.

    • Just heard back from Renogy. They don’t have an exact availability date but confirmed that the units are in production and should be back in stock over the next several weeks. Talk about a vague answer, but it’s all we have…

  • I’m converting a former prison transport van (’89 Dodge B350) for when I retire next year. I’ll be installing a split-charge system, running off my starter battery, through a Pollak kill switch, to (at least) two deep-cycle batteries. A 100 watt Windy Nation solar panel will be roof-mounted for when I’m stationary. An excellent source for all that’s 12-volt is 12 Volt Planet…they go all into voltage loss, wiring sizing & fusing, and even have kits (although they’re located in the UK). Tons of necessary info on 12-volt systems.

    • Hi Dave,

      Sounds like an exciting project!

      There are definitely a lot of great resources online, especially when it comes to sorting out the ‘mysteries’ of electricity.

      Best of luck with your van conversion and Camp On!

  • I recently bought a Renogy 100 watt suitcase for my Cabin A Expedition. I call it a hard sided tent with a throne. We like basic and we like easy to tow. While I am building longer solar cables for charging, I was struck at how easy the solar suitcase is to use. It’s not necessary to be a geek or a handyman to use this solar suitcase right out of it’s case. We don’t have a generator and we don’t like them much, so solar is the way for us. I have several friends who also have solar suitcases, and every one of them is satisfied. It’s pretty easy in the Southwest, but we as a group have good experiences all over the Northwest also.

    I think your blog is spot on and a great summation of solar. Thank you.

    Greg

    • Hi Greg- yes, portable solar definitely has its place! I am thinking it’s time for me to upgrade to rooftop solar, but I have been relatively happy with my two ground deploy panels for years now. And yes, the SW is the easiest place to use them! Thank you for the nice compliment and Camp On, Greg!

  • I am educating myself on off grid power and your blog has helped a lot. Every bit of info makes it a little more clear. Yours is particularly easy to read, so thanks. I am going to be traveling in my SUV and just need power to charge my ipad and phone and keep some lights running at night. Portable seems the best, but don’t have room for a battery. Do you have any experience with external battery packs charged by portable pv panels?

    • Hi Joanie-

      Educating yourself is what Camp Addict is all about. There’s no better power in life than being informed on things you need and want to do and use. We are happy you have learned about solar from our portable solar page. ? Sounds like you have very basic needs for power. We do not use our portable panels to charge external battery packs, we only charge our non-portable (in general) 6v batteries. There’s no reason you couldn’t charge an external battery pack using a portable panel that we can find, but it will likely take special connectors, etc. What may be easier for you, depending on how much power you need, are the portable solar panels with their own battery pack/inverter. It depends on how many watts you need. Goal Zero sells products like this though we have not yet reviewed them or any other company who sells this type of product. They are portable and usually pretty compact. We hope you have fun traveling in your SUV off the grid, and Camp On, Joanie!

  • Reading along, I WAS going to mention the Victron battery monitor – then I saw you addressed it at the end of the page! We cruised 5,428 miles on the Great Loop in our 25 foot boat with 200 watts of roof mounted solar. Our Victron was essential to monitoring battery condition – d led to buying new batteries about halfway around. We have a pickup camper that we just bought. I want to boondock, the wife not so much…but the portable solar panels are SO much more expensive than the roof mounted ones (we have Renogy panels on the boat, which cost about $300 for two 100 watt panels and controller), going to be a hard sell!

    • You got that right! Much less expensive to get rooftop panels. I have two 100-watt ground deploy panels as well, one that was given to me and the other is the rather pricey Renogy. I will be putting panels on my roof next. It will just make life more simple as far as setting up and tearing down camp goes. I need a battery monitor as well so I don’t kill my batteries. The Victron is in my future, as Marshall has had one for a while now. It’s time for me to have one as well. : ) I hope you get ‘the wife’ in on it, as boondocking, to both of us, is the way to go! Cheers, thanks for the comment, and Camp On, Pat!

    • Hey Michael!

      Yeah, we looked at Go Power when we were putting together this page. They only offer two panel sizes, and are more expensive than the Renogy solar suitcases, so we didn’t include them.

      We think Renogy is the all around better product at the mid-price point. Especially now that their Eclipse line of solar suitcases if finally available consistently (fingers crossed!).

  • Just bought a Aliner Expedition and will be doing a few weeks at a time off the grid this summer. Great information.
    Thx,
    Scot

  • I’ll be honest. I don’t have an RV. At least not yet. I do however believe this was an awesome post that really (and I mean REALLY) thoroughly discussed the topic of mobile solar power. I will be bookmarking this to come back to. I was researching about how to build a backyard system. Have you a tutorial for building these too?

    • Hi Neil- Thank you for the great, great comment! It confirms to us that we are doing it right. We wanted this site to be as easy to understand as possible while being complete information. It’s funny you’re not even an RVer, and you are getting good stuff out of it. We love it! We don’t have a backyard system setup as of yet and don’t anticipate having one as our focus remains on the RV and camping lifestyle.

      But if you have any questions that relate to a system that could go either way, let us know. We will do our best to help you out. Or, if you read the website enough, maybe it will push you to get an RV sooner! ???? Good luck with your backyard system- how great to be able to make your own power!! Thanks again, Neil.

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