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How We Tested Solar Panels For Camping

By Sam Schild ⋅ Review Editor
Friday May 26, 2023

In an era when we're carrying more and more technology with us no matter where we go, it's important to keep all your devices charged, even when you're camping. We put the top 100-watt-and-larger solar panels through head-to-head testing to find out which are the most efficient in direct and indirect light, which are the most portable, and which are the easiest to operate. We divided our testing into four metrics: direct solar charging speed, indirect solar charging speed, portability, and functionality.

solar camping - testing panels for solar camping in the field.
Testing panels for solar camping in the field.
Credit: Sam Schild

Direct Solar Charging Speed


We set up every solar panel in the same open area with full sun exposure to test their direct solar charging speed. We then hooked up every solar panel to an identical Jackery Explorer 160 battery with a 20% charge. We then left each panel to charge its test battery to 80% to see how long it took.

We also hooked up a voltmeter directly to the output lines of each panel to measure their output at peak sunlight efficiency. We recorded our results and compared them with the manufacturer's claimed output.

solar camping - we set up every panel in the same open area and hooked them up to...
We set up every panel in the same open area and hooked them up to identical batteries to measure direct solar charging speed.
Credit: sam schild

Indirect Solar Charging Speed


To measure indirect solar charging speed, we repeated the direct solar charging speed test with a large white sheet suspended above the solar panels to simulate a cloudy day. With this simulated cloud cover in place, we hooked up every solar panel to its own Jackery Explorer 160 battery with a 20% charge. We then timed how long they took to charge their batteries up to 80%.

solar camping - we tested indirect solar charging speed using a white sheet...
We tested indirect solar charging speed using a white sheet suspended above the solar panels.
Credit: Sam Schild

Portability


To test portability, we measured the weight and dimensions of every solar panel. We measured them when folded and set up. We also carried them around, packed them in our cars, and set up every panel to evaluate their functional portability.

solar camping - we measured the weight and packed dimensions of every panel and...
We measured the weight and packed dimensions of every panel and considered other features that made them more portable.
Credit: Sam Schild

Functionality


To test functionality, we assessed the features that make each panel more or less easy to use. We assessed how many devices each panel could charge, whether it had features to angle the panel towards the sun, if it came with all necessary cables, and other relevant aspects that contribute to functionality.

solar camping - we assess how many devices each panel supported charging at once and...
We assess how many devices each panel supported charging at once and other aspects that go into a highly functional solar panel.
Credit: Sam Schild

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