usbackroads products--Solar Panels for Camping
I counted all the solar panels I own and came up with 24. You can see 18 of them is this picture as they provide power for our vacation home rental at Camas Meadows. Solar for homes is expensive, but worth it when the alternative is doing without electricity or running a generator 24/7.
Fortunately, for camping you can get by with a fewer number of panels. There are basically two types of solar panels silicon and thin-film. Silicon panels are more efficient and expensive. They are have the drawback that if even a small portion of the panel is shaded electrical production is significantly reduced. The thin-film panels are less efficient, but cheaper to produce. This also makes them larger than the same electrical output for a silicon panel. Buy whatever, works for you. Most of my panels are silicon, but that is because of the application that I use them.
All solar panels do is basically charge batteries. Yes, I do run a fan and my solar powered fishing boat with just solar panels, but the boat also has a battery. At some point, the solar panel becomes large enough that you need a charge controller to be sure that you do not overcharge the battery. I generally have all my 20-watt and greater panels hooked up to a charge controller.
I started using a 30-watt "unbreakable" solar panel. Here is a 20-watt panel from the same company from Amazon. This panel comes ready to go with a cigarette plug attachment. You will need other adpaters over time. Pilot and the other large truck stops have the best selection of 12 volt accessories that you need. Yes, you will start wandering that section of every truck stop as you get more and more panels.
This is a great size to buy for your first solar panel. It will keep charged a "jumper battery" and with a 12 volt adapter for your computer keep it running. You can also use it for charging cell phones and other small electronic devices. I have no recommendations on "jumper batteries" but you do want one with a 12 volt charging input. That way you can directly hook up the solar panel and most "jumper batteries" have a built in charge controller to keep from overcharging the battery.
This is a serious solar panel at 125-watts and five feet by two feet in size. I pack it when we use the tent trailer. It will keep the battery charged plus run my laptop. The Honda Generator puts out 7.0 amps at 12 volts to recharge batteries. So does this panel. When my friend takes along his electric trolling motor we use the panel to recharge his trolling batteries. I attach it to the roof bicycle rack with those plastic electronic twist ties. Now think about how you are going to transport a 5X2 foot solar panel made of glass. I kept the original packing box and put it just behind my tool box in the bed of the truck. This is a very good price on a 125 watt solar panel, but I do not own it. However, most solar panels are commodities and construction quality, etc. is pretty similar. They are all pretty much made in China.
If you have a trailer with a battery I would get a solar battery maintainer. Batteries are very expensive these days and a solar battery maintainer will keep your battery from discharging and being ruined if it is not constantly being charged. I use it on my tent trailer to keep it from discharging over time. Note this panel is too small to re-charge a battery for that you need at least a 20 or 30 watt panel.
For some applications solar is much more effective than grid power and its required wiring, etc. One of the best applications is an LED solar powered motion detector light. I have two of these at my house at Camas illuminating the walkways. The neighbors say that the coyote's use the lights to walk down my walkways alongside the house. Yes, when the lights come on they use the binoculars to see who is walking next to our vacation house.
Here you can see the 10-watt panel that drives the fan that vents the battery bank inside the generator shed and the solar panel for the motion detector light.