What are the best portable solar panels to use for your truck?
Full Size Friday: Week 10
This post will cover:
- Solar Power's Role in Overlanding
- Portable Solar Panels and Power Stations
- Vehicle Mounted Solar Panels
It’s early morning, the sun is just starting to crest the 12,000 foot peak you parked below late last night, birds are chirping, and it is pure tranquility………Until Uncle Eddie fires up his 30 year old generator that is seemingly louder than gravel in a cement mixer. But for what? All so he can get his MR. Coffee brewing a fresh pot of hot bean water. At this moment three things are going through your head:
- I need to camp farther away from people
- I wonder what Uncle Eddie is cooking for breakfast
- And lastly, I need to go to www.godzmfg.com to get my rig upfitted with overland parts so I can get away from this.
Solar Power's Role in Overlanding
Let's talk solar! The sun is one powerful unit and it's awesome that we are able to harness the power it provides. Solar technology has come a long way since it first began, especially in regards to vehicle mounted and portable solar panels. There are two main players in this solar game and I will highlight these in depth.
Portable Solar Panels and Power Stations
Starting with portable solar, this is going to be a two piece system. Part one consists of the solar panel itself. Part two is your power storage, i.e. your battery, the battery can be one of many brands but Goal Zero and Jackery tend to me the most prominent in the overland and off road space at this time. This battery can more simply be thought of as your ‘power station’. Generally, your power station is going to feature a couple to a handful of USB outlets and will often also feature one or several three-prong 110V outlets just like the outlets in your home.
Prior to departing for your trip, you are wise to charge your powerstation via a much more powerful wall outlet located in your home. The solar panel then will only need to top off your powerstation once you make camp for the day.
When you start shopping for solar, you will quickly see a lot of abbreviations and numbers, but what do they all mean? Most of the power stations feature watts or watt hours, more or less, the larger the number, the more power (reserve) they have. Goal Zero’s new ‘X’ lineup features lithium batteries. Lithium batteries are on the leading edge of battery tech, and as such are much smaller and lighter than the batteries of yesteryear. If you are a weekend warrior, then you more than likely only need a 50-100 watt powerstation. Something like the Goal Zero YETI500X or the Jackery Explorer 500. If you plan on being off grid for an extended time, you may want to look at something larger such as the Goal Zero YETI3000X or Jackery Explorer 3000 PRO with both feature a power reserve of 3000Wh. While larger power reserves are great, just remember, these larger batteries will take longer to charge compared to their little brothers.
As far as solar panels, this is where it gets a little more tricky. On the small end of the spectrum there is the Goal Zero Nomad 50W and the Jackery SolarSaga 80W. These panels are going to be very portable and collapse or fold for tight packing. However there is a downfall to these, small panel means long charge times. This is the point where you must make a decision and determine what the purpose of your power generator is. Are you just trying to charge a laptop or are you trying to run a Dometic Fridge and lights all night? These smaller panels will charge a powerstation, but it could quite literally take a few days of sunshine to do so. Bigger panels like a Jackery SolarSaga 200W or the Goal Zero Ranger 300W will be much more bulky and require somewhere to store but will decrease charge times down to nearly nothing. These portable systems are also great because it gives you the ability to “chase the sun”. If you are camping in a dense wooded area then having the ability to move the panel around the site to capture the most sun you can is super convenient. Portable solar definitely has its perks but I think there is one option that works better.
Vehicle Mounted Solar Panels
Vehicle Mounted Solar is definitely my favorite option when it comes to ease of use and practicality but will come at a price. The absolute best vehicle specific solar is going to be from Cascadia 4x4. This is the only company making vehicle specific solar kits. The VSS from Cascadia 4x4 will be mounted in one of two locations. The hood of the vehicle, the roof/RTT, or both. The hood panels are attached with a strip of 3M tape giving you a super secure fit but also giving you the ability to remove the panel without damaging the paint. The roof panels can be mounted in many different configurations depending on what is on the roof. A roof rack such as one from Sherpa Equipment Co, is a great location for vehicle mounted solar. The other option is on top of a hardshell tent like a 23Zero or iKamper. If a VSS panel is not exactly what you are looking for then the other vehicle mounted panels would be from Redarc. They are going to offer many different sizes and wattages with panels that can be mounted to roof racks or a RTT. When it comes to getting the power from the panel to the vehicle battery or auxiliary battery there are options. If it’s hood mounted, then running the wire is easy, and will require no drilling. If the panel is on the roof then it may require drilling or getting crafty with wire management. In any situation, you will need an MPPT charge controller in order to harness the energy of the sun and store it in one or multiple vehicle batteries. In my Cummins Turbo Diesel, I have my MPPT charger hooked up to my primary starting battery which is wired in parallel to a secondary battery.
Solar has a lot to offer in our world. Getting off grid for longer is undoubtedly made easier with solar panels, battery technology and portable power stations. Select the right battery and panel for your adventure and get lost!