How to Use Solar Panels for Camping?

By Kami Turky


Solar power is the best way to turn your camping journey into a green, eco-friendly adventure.

But how exactly do you use solar panels for camping?

There are many ways to use solar power while camping and it’s important to understand the basics of how it works.

And in this article, I’ll walk you step by step through the process of setting up a solar system for camping.

So, without further ado, let’s get started.

Key Takeaways

  • Before you go camping with solar panels, you should calculate the power needs of your campsite
  • After you’ve calculated your power needs, you should find the number and type of solar panels you need
  • When setting up your solar panel system, be sure to place the panels in an area that gets direct sunlight
  • You will need additional components like a controller, inverter, and battery to store the energy collected
  • After you’ve set up the solar system, make sure your wiring is properly connected and sealed

How Can I Use Solar Panels for Camping?

1. Calculate Your Energy Needs

Before we get into the nitty-gritty details of setting up a solar panel system for camping, you need to figure out what your power needs are.

Start by tracking your current energy consumption while camping.

Then make a note of the wattage needed to charge all of your electronics and appliances.

I’ll use my own camping setup as an example.

The table below shows the total wattage needed for my camping setup:

ApplianceNumberWattage/ApplianceHours of UsageTotal
Long Lasting Flashlight235W8 hours560Wh
Phone Power Bank115W6 hours90Wh
Waterproof Speaker115W5 hours75Wh
Portable Electric Stove1120W3360Wh
Total =1,085Wh

As you can see, the total wattage needed for my camping setup is 1,085Wh per day.

So, I need to choose a solar panel system that provides enough power for my camping needs.

2. Calculate the Number of Solar Panels

Now we know our power needs, we can calculate the size of the solar panel array that we’ll need for camping.

Since the energy production of a solar panel depends on how many hours of direct sunlight it gets, we need to find out the total peak sun hours available in the area we’ll be camping in.

You can use NREL’s Solar Calculator to get an estimate of the total peak sun hours.

For my example, let’s assume you’re going camping for 4 days in California, which has average peak sun hours of 5.83 hours per day.

So, the total peak sun hours, in this case, would be 4 x 5.83 = 23.32 hours.

Now, we can use the following formula to calculate the number of solar panels needed:

The Solar System Size (W) = Electricity Usage (Wh) / Total Peak Sun Hour (hrs)

Plugging in the numbers, we get:

Solar System Size (W) = 1,085Wh / 23.32 h = 46.53 W

But this is only the theoretical solar system size.

To account for losses due to inefficiencies, you should add 14% more wattage to the solar panel array.

To account for these losses, the total solar system size would be:

The Real Life Solar System Size (W) = Theoretical Solar System Size (W) x 1.14

Plugging in the numbers, we get:

Real Life Solar System Size (W) = 46.53 W x 1.14 = 53 W

And most solar panels’ power ratings range between 250 and 400W.

So, if you’re using 100W solar panels, you can calculate the number of panels needed:

Number of Solar Panels = Real Life Solar System Size (W) / Panel Wattage (W)

Plugging in the numbers, we get:

Number of Solar Panels = 53 W / 100 W = 0.53 ~ 1 Solar Panel

Therefore, for my camping setup, I’ll need just one 100W solar panel to meet all my power needs.

3. Determine What Components You’ll Be Using

Besides the solar panels, you’ll need other components to complete your solar panel system.

One of the most important components is the inverter.

Solar panels generate direct current (DC) electricity, but most appliances and electronics run on alternating current (AC) electricity.

So you need an inverter to convert the DC electricity produced by your solar panels into usable AC power.

To calculate the size of the inverter you need, simply add up the wattage of all your appliances:

Solar Inverter Size (W) = Sum of All Appliance Wattages Running at the Same Time

For my camping setup, the total wattage of all my appliances running at the same time will be:

Flashlight (35W) + Phone Power Bank (15W) + Waterproof Speaker (15W) + Portable Electric Stove (120W) = 185 W

Therefore, I’ll need an inverter that is rated at least 185 W.

Another important component is the battery.

Solar panels only convert sunlight into electricity when they’re in direct sunlight, but they can’t store electricity.

This is where the battery comes in.

Your battery will store the electricity generated by your solar panel system, so you can use it at night or on cloudy days.

To calculate the size of the battery you need, simply divide your total watt-hour requirement by the battery’s voltage:

Battery Size (Ah) = Solar Panel Daily Output (Wh) / Battery’s Voltage (12/24V) / DoD (0.5/0.75/0.8)

Since we’re using a 100W solar panel so we need first to calculate its daily output:

Solar Panel Daily Output (Wh) = Number of Panels x Rated Power Output per Panel (W) x Peak Sun Hours x (1-0.14)

Plugging in the numbers, we get:

Solar Panel Daily Output (Wh) = 100 W x 5.83 h x (1 – 0.14) = 501 Wh

Now let’s assume that you’ve decided to use a 12V battery with 80% depth of discharge (DoD):

Battery Size (Ah) = 501 Wh / 12V / 0.8 DoD = 52 Ah

Thus, you will need a 12V battery with 52 Ah capacity to meet the power needs of your camping setup.

The last main component you’ll need is the charge controller.

A charge controller regulates the voltage and current coming from the solar panels to protect your battery from overcharging.

To calculate the size of the charge controller you need, you can use this online calculator.

4. Wire Up the System

Now that you’ve got all the components, it’s time to get to putting them together.

The first step is to install the solar panels in a sunny location.

You’ll need to connect the positive wire of the panels to the charge controller and the negative wire to the ground.

Then, you’ll need to connect the battery to the charge controller using the appropriate cables.

After that, you’ll need to link the battery to the inverter and connect your appliances.

Now your solar panel system is ready for use.

Just make sure that your solar panel is facing the sun and that your appliance cords are tucked away safely.

What Are the Best Solar Panels for Camping?

1. Rigid Solar Panels

Rigid solar panels are the most popular choice among campers.

They are usually made of high-efficiency monocrystalline silicon cells and come in various sizes.

They are roof-mounted so you can easily install them on the roof of your RV or camping trailer.

I love using these panels since I can leave them on the roof of my RV even if I’m driving.

This makes it super convenient when I’m moving around and don’t have to worry about setting up the panels again.

2. Portable Solar Panels

Portable solar panels are great for campers who don’t have a lot of space to work with.

These flexible panels come in rubber handles and flexible bracket stands so you can adjust their angle to get the most sun.

They are also made of monocrystalline silicon cells, so they are just as efficient as rigid solar panels.


How Much Solar Power Do I Need for Camping?

Solar power you need for camping depends on the wattage of the appliances you’re planning to use.

You should calculate your total watt-hours requirements and get an inverter rated for at least that amount.

Are Solar Chargers Worth It for Camping?

Solar chargers are worth it for camping if you’re going to be out in the wilderness for a few days.

Are Solar Panels Good for Camping?

Solar panels are good for camping.

They save you from having to use a generator and make your camping trips more eco-friendly.


As promised, you now know all the basics of setting up a solar panel system for camping.

We’ve discussed what components you’ll need, how to calculate the size of your battery and charge controller, and how to wire up the system.

We’ve also covered which type of solar panels are best for camping and answered some common questions.

Do you still have questions? If so, please leave them in the comments section.

Kami Turky

Kami is a solar engineer with nearly a decade of experience in researching, testing, and reviewing various solar products. He has also provided technical consultation to several organizations on the best ways to incorporate solar energy into their operations. When he’s not busy helping others find the best solar solutions, Kami enjoys spending time outdoors, hiking, camping, and exploring the natural wonders of his home state.

Also Read

how to reduce your carbon footprint and save the planet

10 Easy Ways to Reduce your Carbon Dioxide Footprint

Your carbon footprint is the total amount of greenhouse gases -not just carbon dioxide- you ...

Read more

How To Use Solar Products To Keep Your Plants Healthy

How To Use Solar Products To Keep Your Plants Healthy

To say that gardening is a great hobby is an understatement; it is something that ...

Read more

6 Green and Smart Ways to Improve Your Home This Spring

6 Green and Smart Ways to Improve Your Home This Spring

Spring is here, and it’s the perfect time to think about making some green and ...

Read more

best solar powered kettle

The 3 Absolute Best Solar Kettle

Whether you are camping, mountaineering, hunting, fishing, or even kayaking, there is no better way ...

Read more

Drum Barrels vs Solar Water Heaters

Drum Barrels vs Solar Water Heaters

If you are looking to reduce your carbon footprint, switching from accustomed energy sources to ...

Read more

Will A Solar Panel Charge A Dead Battery

Will A Solar Panel Charge A Dead Battery?

If you’re wondering if a solar panel will charge your dead battery, then the answer ...

Read more

Leave a Comment