Solar power has gotten a lot more efficient over the past decade, and the way things are heading, it’ll only improve. Ten years ago, the efficiency of solar energy was around 13 percent. But in 2019, typical solar energy efficiency is 20 percent. When you’re looking for the right rig, remember to consider how many Watts (W) each solar panel is capable of producing. Under the most direct, powerful sunlight, a 100W solar panel will produce 100W of power per hour. Because optimal conditions are hard to come by and don’t last all day, keep in mind that solar panels can take a while to juice-up a device.
Investing in a full-roof solar set-up isn’t right for everyone, but using solar in smaller ways is something everyone can do. To start, take a look at these top-rated lightweight solar panels that blend functionality and portability.
Suner Power 12V Off Grid Solar Panel Kit
For more permanent portability
These Suner Power panels come in 30W and 50W options, depending on what you need to power. It’s best for mobile mounts like on an RV or on a boat hooked up to a marine battery—the panel comes with battery clamps, battery rings, and bare wire cable (no USB ports here). The Solar Charge Controller allows the user to adjust the panel’s output so the device that’s hooked up to it doesn’t sustain damage from over-charging. It’s a set-it-and-forget-it model, rather than one designed to move around, but is still light enough to make installation easy in places you don’t want to commit to having a large solar set-up.
Rockpals 100W Foldable Solar Panel
These portable panels pack a 100W-punch and are perfect for car camping
This panel is super versatile and comes with adaptors that can be hooked up to most batteries that accept a solar charge. The panels themselves are high quality and have three USB ports that charge USB-compatible devices directly from the panel. The system folds into a compact carrying case, but still isn’t deal for hauling into the backcountry (it’s about the size of a briefcase) so car camping is where this guy shines. It weighs five pounds, so hiking with the Rockpals panel is still an option if you’re feeling up for it.
Goal Zero Nomad 14 Plus Solar Panel
These foldable panels are rugged and light enough to toss in your pack before a hike
What makes this portable set-up stand out is its rugged design—it was built to tag along on excursions. It’s compact and lightweight enough (about two pounds) to toss in a backpack. The foldable system comes with a kickstand that props the panels up for optimal sunlight capture. Because it’s just 14 Watts, it’s ideal for charging phones, tablets, cameras, other similar USB devices. If you have some time, the Nomad 14 can charge a 30Wh power bank in a few hours on a sunny day.