Packing some tech for a 10-day camping trip:
Smartphone — check, Kindle e-reader — check, Mavic Mini drone — check, Macbook — check.
A power source to charge them all.
How about a fuel generator? No way. Too darn bulky, noisy, and not very efficient.
So, how do I charge all these gadgets?
I use flexible solar panels. In my opinion, they’re perfect for the role. You can literally fold them up and pack them with you wherever you go.
But which ones are worth buying?
Using my experience as an electrical engineer and camper, I was able to identify the 10 best flexible solar panels you can get for this year’s camping season.
Whether you have a boat or RV, this flexible powerhouse is only 1/10” thick and fits seamlessly on every surface like a rug. You can flex it up to 248 degrees and it will still work.
Renogy 100 Watt is also waterproof and extremely durable. I’ve had it working flawlessly in rain and snow.
At the end of my trips, I regularly have to remove branches and bird droppings, without any visible damage to the flexible panel.
This panel owes its toughness to a special lamination material that gives it a thin but durable anti-scratch layer. No scratches = high transparency and maximum solar conversion.
Why Do I Like It?
Renogy 100W is a perfect solar panel for road trips. Fix it to your roof rack and it will power everything you can pack in your SUV.
Bendable to the minimal arc radius of 16 inches, Topsolar Flexible Panels are a great choice for boats, tear-drop trailers, and all curving surfaces.
After reading some negative user reviews on output voltage and amperage, I decided to look into this product myself.
A bit of testing revealed the issue — the output really depends on the type of controller you use. If you get a quality MPPT (Multiple Power Point Tracker) controller, you’re all set.
A controller like converts excess voltage into more amperage for the battery, which really helps in charging in cloudy conditions.
On the downside, these flexible solar panels for car roofs feel a bit more fragile than Renogy, so I wouldn't try fixing them for tents and mobile canopies.
Why Do I Like It?
If you can’t get a good deal on Renogy 100W, this is a worthy runner-up that won’t leave your gadgets without charge.
I switch to a pair of these monocrystalline solar modules if I need a bit more power and although these are a bit larger than most panels I’m reviewing here, they fit nicely on the RV roof.
In my use, these Renogy flexible solar panels have excellent efficiency, even on overcast days.
Once I tried charging through the windshield, and after I came from work, the 42000 mAh portable battery in my van was fully charged.
With a water-resistant solar connector and the junction box, Renogy 175 Watt is ideal for marine use.
Just remember to mount them using silicone adhesive on the backside — the grommets are for non-mobile uses only.
Why Do I Like It?
The speed of charging with these flexible solar panels is unbelievable. If you like to top off your devices on the go, this is the one.
This SunPower flexible solar panel is a small but rugged ultralight panel that bends up to 30 degrees and folds easily for storage.
Depending on available sunlight, mine delivered anything between 50 and 100 watts. However, even in the shade, it gave me enough juice to power my 12V fridge.
On the downside, if you’re looking for a monocrystalline solar panel for your saltwater boat, you may want to look elsewhere. The warranty on this one does not cover saltwater use.
Also, I hope SunPower makes connectors easier to disconnect. Impossible to depress release tabs without a small screwdriver.
Why Do I Like It?
I found out that this panel size fits perfectly on the Thule cargo box. You can pack extra stuff and STILL stick a solar panel on your roof.
If that is not enough, the good news is that these flexible solar panels for boats weigh half the fully-flexible 100W model.
This means you can pack two for the same weight.
They might look simple, but these flexible solar panels are packed with high-tech solutions. The solar cells use half-cut technology that allows the panel to produce more power for the same size.
This is especially important for outdoor and marine use, when panels may come under accidental shading from tree canopies or boat sails.
Besides, when there’s no sun exposure a diode circuit prevents reverse current flow from the battery to the panels, which reduces their life span.
Why Do I Like It?
These small flexible solar panels come with extendable connectors. In my use, I often need to place the panels away from the battery to protect it from sunlight.
These semi-flexible panels from Topsolar use solar cells with back-contact technology which don’t have electrodes on the surface.
Thanks to this engineering hack, the conversion efficiency is increased to 50% more than panels with exposed electrodes.
A single panel works like a charm with my 12V battery. If you use a 24V battery, you can easily connect multiple panels in series. Just remember to use a quality controller for the best results.
Sadly, I learned it hard way that flexible doesn't mean portable with these panels. They are definitely not meant to be mounted and taken down on a regular basis. Only fixed installations for these ones.
Why Do I Like It?
Although it looks textured in the photo, the surface is smooth to the touch. It seems these panels have some kind of water-repellent coating that makes wiping water off very easy.
If you can’t fit one 40x20” panel, you can mount two 20x20” ones, and take your boar off-grid, even if you don’t leave the marina at all.
The panel feels solid and I hope it will last for years with normal use. Due to their size, these panels are perfect for camping and road-tripping.
Still, due to the 50W rating, I can’t give this panel more stars. The math is simple — a 100W panel will recharge your battery twice as fast.
Why Do I Like It?
If I don’t want to bother with a solar generator, I can use a DC converter with USB outputs and charge my phone directly off the panel. Works on a sunny day.
RichSolar 80 Watt uses the amorphous silicon thin-film technology that you can easily bend to math any kind of surface.
The panel is for the most part made of polymers so it’s highly resistant to vibration and fire, but also unbelievably tough — It can even take some foot traffic.
My only take on these panels is that they’re not the most weather-resistant option out there. Where I live we have scorching summers and unforgiving winters, and after two years of hard outdoor use, I see some delamination. It still works like the day I bought it.
Why Do I Like It?
Use the adhesive mountain system to stick it to your RV rooftop or boat hull, but here’s the best part — You can also sew this flexible solar panel to an awning or canopy.
Use them with a 12V battery or connect two of them for a 24V system.
It’s not the most flexible solar option out there, but surprisingly tough for monocrystalline technology.
The panel backside is made of durable PET, the cell layer is sandwiched between two sheets of EVA, while the business side is protected with anti-scratch film.
The only thing I don’t like is the packaging. Mine came in a torn-up box with no styrofoam to protect the face of the panel. Your mileage may vary, but this is something HQST and Amazon should definitely look into.
Why Do I Like It?
Thanks to the protective layers, the entire panel is water-resistant to the standard IP68 and also dust resistant. Keep this in mind if you like RVing in the Southwest.
Newpowa is among Amazon’s best-selling flexible solar panels in the 100-watt range.
However, there’s very little info on these besides the basic manufacturer datasheet, so I didn’t know what to expect.
I was pleasantly surprised to find that the level of packaging is on par with Renogy panels. All the cables are also pre-attached, so you’ll have no trouble installing the panel the right way.
On the edges, you get six mounting holes, which is a standard for a panel of this size.
The manufacturer claims the panels can bend up to 248, just like Renogy 100W. In real life, I just don’t see how this is possible. The panel feels much more rigid, so 40 degrees is the best I can do.
Why Do I Like It?
This flexible solar panel is very competitively priced. Perfect for a security system, water pump, or gate opener. Just prop it up and forget about it.
This is the most important feature when choosing the right solar panel. The higher the wattage, the more devices you can plug in, and for a longer period of time.
For example, a 100-watt flexible solar panel is often used on boats, while 200-300-watt products are used on RVs or off-grid shacks.
To meet their solar power needs, users often connect several solar panels to get the combined wattage they want. The solar panel wattage is directly proportional to its cost.
The solar panel durability depends on the materials used for the solar panel and framing. Certain types of resilient plastic are used to protect solar cells from dust and moisture.
For example, ETFE plastic is a standard in high-end products and provides better durability and light transmission than cheaper PET and PTE materials. Also, keep in mind that crystalline solar panels are considered tougher than solar panels made with thin-film technology.
Leading manufacturers also make their panels water-resistant to be safely used in marine environments.
There are two solar cell technologies that dominate the flexible solar panel market: crystalline silicon and thin-film.
Unlike their rigid counterparts, you can easily install almost any kind of flexible solar panel yourself. Some even come with self-adhesive tapes or velcro, which makes the installation a no-brainer.
Still, if more methods are available, look for a company that provides a detailed installation guide. A company that invests in a quality manual is often the one that trusts the quality of its product.
Due to their bendable materials and portability, flexible solar panels can never reach the service life of their quality rooftop counterparts. You can use them for a variety of applications, but they will never last as long as rigid aluminum and glass solar panels.
This is why you should always look for panels with the longest lifespan.
How to know this? Choose brands that offer at least a 5-year warranty on materials.
Flexible solar panels are bendable, portable solar modules that you can use outdoors, on cars and RVs, boats, and off-grid cabins.
They are lightweight and versatile, so you can easily transport and deploy them as you go. Some thin-film solar panels even roll and fold.
This flexibility makes this type of solar panel more durable than standard ones, while the curved surface gives better performance in low-light conditions.
The durability is important, as they need to perform off-grid in various elements, like rain, snow, and dust, and withstand sudden changes of temperature.
Compared to rigid silicon-based solar panels, flexible solar panels have lower efficiency, but their many advantages make up for that.
They are made using printing machines that apply a roll-to-roll method, allowing for the mass production of all shapes, sizes, and wattages.
The manufacturing process of flexible panels is also more affordable than the technology of conventional solar panels.
The two types of solar technology that are mostly used for flexible solar panels are crystalline silicon and thin-film solar panels.
You can recognize these panels by the rounded solar cells’ angles and dark monochromatic appearance.
These are made with the same silicon materials as conventional rigid panels. This type of solar module consists of many photovoltaic solar cells that are sliced to a thickness of a few micrometers, so allow them to be flexible up to 30 degrees.
Unlike rigid panels that use thick glass, flexible solar panels in crystalline silicon technology use protective layers made of durable plastic that allows a degree of flexibility.
Usually made as Copper-Indium-Gallium-Selenide (CIGS) modules, thin-film solar panels are the cheapest flexible panels on the market.
With this technology, the photovoltaic material is printed on a thin surface.
They need much less material for the manufacture but are incredibly flexible, so you can roll them up for storage and easily pack them for hikes or camping trips.
On the downside, without the protection of silicon, these panels are far less durable than their crystalline counterparts.
A flexible solar panel is always going to be thinner and lighter than a standard rigid panel of the same size. For example, a 100W flexible panel is going to be about 70% lighter and 95% thinner than a conventional rooftop panel.
This is why you can use them on surfaces that otherwise wouldn't be able to bear the weight of a traditional solar panel.
This feature makes flexible modules great for RVs and THOWs (tiny homes on wheels) because they lay flat against the roof and add virtually no load to the vehicle.
Flexible solar modules have many more uses apart from rooftop installations. For example, with personal RVs, solar panels can reduce engine and generator run-time, while reducing air pollution and getting a fast return-on-investment.
If your cabin roof can’t bear the heavy load of conventional solar panels, a lightweight flexible thin-film panel might be a great solution, as even multiple rolls wouldn’t endanger your home’s structural soundness.
Flexible panels come in many shapes and sizes, so they are an excellent solution for less conventional structures like carports or boat canopies. These structures often have curvatures that make the use of conventional panels impractical.
On the other hand, a flat profile of flexible panels allows them to be installed on cars and boats without affecting either aerodynamics or weight.
On the financial side, flexible panels will definitely reduce the installation cost of your solar array. Flexible panels, and especially thin-film variants, require minimum labor to install and are much more portable to handle than typical panels that are heavy and bulky.
If you go with flexible panels, you not only save on transport and handling but also eliminate the need for a heavy-duty roof mounting system.
You can find the best flexible solar panels online for a few hundred dollars and free delivery.
One of the top-selling points for flexible solar panels is the number of installation options they offer. With conventional rooftop panels, you can pretty much bolt them to a surface and that’s it.
The best flexible solar panels, on the other hand, often come with metal grommets on the edges that allow you to secure them to almost any surface at any angle you want. Hang them off the side of your cabin, tie them to the roof, or even hang them from a convenient tree.
If you choose to fix them permanently, since they are so thin, you can easily keep them down with permanent adhesive tape. No need to drill through your vehicle roof.
Although you can technically disconnect and dismount a rigid panel for transport, they are hardly considered portable. On the other hand, you can stack flexible solar panels in storage space and take them out when needed.
You can pack several of them and take them straight to a campsite, lay them on the ground, or hang them from your tent roof or a rack.
This way you can fix them to meet the sun’s rays at the optimal angle and even adjust them throughout the day without having to adjust your shelter or re-park your vehicle.
The last but not the least, flexible solar panels are, well, more flexible than conventional ones. While this sounds obvious, keep in mind that flexibility does not only apply to their ability to bend 30 degrees or more but also more flexibility in how to use them.
While traditional panels need a heavy-duty framework and a permanent mounting solution, flexible solars have a variety of mounting solutions, none of which requires technical knowledge or heavy lifting.
They can be placed on the ground, on a curving roof, strapped to a side of a tent, and eventually, easily put away when you’re ready to move.
There are several ways you can mount a flexible solar panel, but the two most common ones are by using either a mounting rack or an adhesive.
Make sure to gather all the parts you need for the mounting. This includes the arms, the mount, the screws and other moving parts, and finally the manual.
Flip the solar panel to its back and connect the arm bracket to it using screws. Make sure the screws are tight on both sides. Place lock washers to ensure the arm brackets fit properly. Then, the mount goes between the arm brackets and screws using the hex and nuts that came with the kit.
When you’ve assembled the mount, place it at the back of the rig on your RV using screws. Once the hex bolts and washers are in place, tighten them using the screwdriver and wrench.
Find the right angle. While this sounds easy, keep in mind that you'll be able to squeeze the maximum power out of your solar panel only if you take in the variables such as the placement of the panels on your RV, your location, the sun’s direction throughout the day, etc.
Connect the equipment. Now, most manufacturers use MC4 connectors, so anyone can connect the junction box and the battery. Still, there are different ways of doing this, so best stick to your manual’s specifics and follow them to avoid damaging your panel and the equipment.
Gluing the solar panel directly to the roof of your RV or boat often creates an overheating problem. Also, heating and cooling may cause it to crack as the roof and the panel have different expansion coefficients. This is why this method is the best one I’ve tried.
Make a sandwich of thin aluminum sheets and polyethylene, of the same dimensions as the back of your panel.
Glue the panel to the aluminum sandwich using a marine grade adhesive.
Glue the whole unit to a twin-wall polycarbonate roofing product with about an 8mm air gap and then glue it to the roof of your RV using a polycarbonate-friendly adhesive.
This way the sandwich construction will act as a buffer for the expansion differences, while keeping the solar panel itself cooler, allowing it to work at its peak efficiency.
The best flexible solar panels with a polymer top coating are pretty much self-cleaning, as the next rain will wash away any dust and debris. However, there are situations when your panels will get soiled by bird droppings or tree sap so you need to clean them yourself. Here’s how to do it:
Check for stain deposits on your panel and try to remove them with fresh water. This will remove dust, leaves, and even some bird droppings that reduce the efficiency of your portable solar panel.
For more persistent stains and grease, you need to use neutral soap and water. Make sure not to use any aggressive cleaners. Apply the soap and scrub carefully without using the abrasive side. You can also use denatured alcohol to remove grease.
Use a gentle brush to remove the buildup from the corners. Avoid using a pressure washer which can damage your panels.
If you allow contaminants to build up over time, or see traces of oxidation, you may have to polish the panel. Use either ReJex or Novus brand polish, the latter of which will also remove fine scratches. Always polish the panels by hand, as a power polish may burn the surface with too much friction.
When your panel is clean and dry, apply a coat of a plastic protectorate, such as Plexus or Novus Plastic Cleaner.
Keep in mind that dirty flexible solar panels can lose 20% of their power output, and this comes straight from the Solar Energy Power Association.
The National Renewable Energy Laboratory sets the figure even higher, at 25%.
Yes, flexible solar panels are good because they can be shaped to fit different structures, so they fit many types of solar projects. They are also lightweight which makes them easy to transport and deploy as needed.
Yes, you can walk on certain types of monocrystalline solar and thin-film panels. Monocrystalline solar panels that have a strong aluminum backing and extra-thick ETFE laminate layer are safe for walking, as are many types of super-flexible thin-film panels. Still, always check your products’ specifications.
Yes, flexible solar panels get hot, especially if you install them onto the metal roof of your RV or an off-grid cabin. Excessive heat reduces their lifespan and also makes them less efficient. This is why you should consider using a mounting rack or gluing them onto a raised aluminum sandwich plate.
You can attach a flexible solar panel to an RV roof either by using a raised mount or gluing it to the roof directly. In the second case, you should put aluminum and polyethylene sheets between the solar panel and the roof to reduce the overheating.
Flexible solar panels usually come with several options for fixing. Most have metal grommets in their corners, allowing you to rig them to a frame or roof side. Some monocrystalline solar panels and all thin-film have peel & stick backsides which allow you to paste them directly.
If you’re looking for one flexible panel that would give you your money’s worth when it comes to solar power, then you should really consider the Renogy 100 Watt 12 Volt Flexible Monocrystalline Solar Panel.
In my opinion, this flexible panel takes the best of both crystalline and thin-film products because of its outstanding conversion efficiency, which means you can effectively use it for several hours more during the day.
Also, unlike some products on the list that are only partially-weather-resistant, this one is impervious to the elements. I’ve used it in the rain, during a strong wind, and even while bivouac-camping in the snow.
Whether you want the best flexible solar panel for your RV, boat, or one to go camping with, I recommend you get the Renogy 100 Watt.
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