Portable Solar Panel Comparison & Guide

 

G’day solar fans.

This post is a solar blanket comparison, comparing solar blankets only.

Solar blankets are those that fold multiple times, they pack away into small cases and differ from portable panels in that they fold out many times attached to a membrane/blanket.

There are a lot of options when looking at solar panels, so this post will consist of solar blanket comparisons, while there will also be posts covering:

As the top portion of the fixed solar panel comparison post is just general solar panel information, you will find that it is the same across all three posts, so feel free to skip it on the other posts.

In this solar blanket comparison post you will see the pros and cons of this particular choice of system, be sure to check out the other posts for their respective pros and cons.

To make the solar blanket comparison easier for the reader, the tables provided will be sortable so you can organise the data as you see fit. The table of contents is also clickable so you can skip to the desired section.

The solar blanket comparison scatter plots are an interesting visual aid but should not be taken too seriously as a buying guide.

With solar blankets, budget does come into play as they can get quite expensive. The more expensive blankets however are far more likely to perform as advertised and will last the distance if treated correctly.

 

12 Volt system comparisons

*Disclaimer

Affiliate links may be present on this page. These are links to websites such as Amazon, where if you decide to purchase something, then they will offer me a tiny commission. This comes at no extra cost to you and is just a way for me to try and support myself and the blog.

Why I did the portable solar panel comparison?

 

As someone who is currently in the process of a 4WD build, this was my own research that was going on for my benefit in the background, but it would be a waste not to share it with others.

Although my initial interests are mostly towards a fixed solar panel, I was eager to have a look through portable panels and solar blankets as well.

I saw them as an addition to a fixed panel, a way to better target the sun at camp and compliment the fixed panel, so I decided to look into the costs and weights of solar blankets with this future development in mind.

The size of your lithium battery will play a large part in determining how much solar you might be interested in, check out my lithium battery comparison here.

The other aspect that will play a part is the period of time that you plan on being stationary in camp, your outputs and the climate that you travel through.

As far as sizing is concerned, I don’t really know what I am after as I haven’t yet purchased the fixed solar panel, so it is hard to judge how large the additional panel requirements might be.

In this solar blanket comparison though the panels are all ranging from 100W to 300W for good measure.

 

 

What brands are included in the solar blanket comparison?

The brands that you will see in this post are listed in no particular order below, click their titles to be taken to the solar panel section of the respective websites.

Being in Australia, these brands were selected for the solar panel comparison based on availability to me here.

 

Redarc

Often referred to as the cream of the crop in 12 volt systems here in Australia, Redarc have a great track record when it comes to being bullet proof as well as innovative.

 

Kings

Kings are a budget brand that sell out of 4WD Supacentre stores across the country.

A good brand for those looking to make their first purchases without breaking the bank, but buyer beware of their reputation.

 

Baintech

Baintech are an Australian  owned and operated company that have quite a large range of blankets on their website, including in different bundle deals.

 

Ecoflow

Ecoflow are a company created by former DJI engineers that focus on portable power solutions, known for some portable power packs. They also have a range of solar products to compliment the power packs.

These kind of blue the line between being a “blanket” and a “portable solar” set up.

 

KT Cables

KT cables are an Australian brand originating in 1994 on the Gold Coast. They appear to be quite innovative

A brief rundown on solar panels

 

When it comes to solar panel comparisons, it can get quite confusing.

The three types of solar are: fixed, portable and blankets. You can combine all three of these if you wish to boost your system’s power by paralleling the panels.

This post is about solar blankets, but there are posts for the other two types as well. Just so everyone is on the same page here is a very brief explanation of the different types available.

FIXED
These are the panels that will be permanently mounted to a roof, canopy, caravan etc. They can be removed but are not getting packed away daily as they are bolted down.

BLANKETS
The blankets are the most technologically advanced, it will fold multiple times and pack away very small to take up a tiny footprint. They offer the best performance when looking at their weight against output.

PORTABLE
The portable panels are like the fixed panels, but they fold in half and get packed away when not in use, they come with legs to angle them towards the sun and get the maximum efficiency from your system.

 

 

Why you should consider getting a solar panel

 

If you want to set up camp for a few days and don’t think that you’ll be driving around, then solar is really important to top up your batteries.

Solar can allow you to run a smaller battery capacity in some instances as you know it will get refilled to some degree, so you don’t need a bucket load of amp hours to get you through an extended stay somewhere.

The way people travel these days with the amount of technology that needs a recharge, a solar panel will help you go further and maintain creature comforts. A panel is good clean energy and the system can be built up to the appropriate size over time.

Output amperage vs. Input amerage

 

Some manufacturers will advertise the output of the panel, others the theoretical input into a 12 volt system. In the solar comparison tables below I have added a column for both of these values.

Let’s do a little bit of simple math to get started, who doesn’t love math?

Solar panels often operate on a voltage of 17-19 volts, this gives them headroom to provide enough voltage to charge a battery in poor conditions: late afternoon, overcast, shade covered, or very hot days where resistance increases etc.

In these poorer conditions the voltage is hopefully above 14 volts and can charge a lithium battery. When conditions are good, this means that your solar regulator can input a higher amperage into the battery than that being measured at the solar panel.

This is because of a variant of ohm’s law: Power = Current x Voltage.

Therefore: Current = Power ➗ Voltage

The “power” of the solar panel is fixed, for example 100W of power. Your solar panel does not get hooked up directly to a battery, it goes through a regulator first (DCDC chargers often have built in solar capabilities).

A regulator will be outputting 12 volt** to the battery, this means that the current will be higher to compensate for the lower “voltage” of the equation, keeping the maths correct.

Simple theoretical example for a 100 watt panel with 20 volts max output:

100W =  20 Volts x Current

Therefore current = 5 amps.

 

MPPT regulator transforms voltage to 12V**

Current = 100W ➗ 12

Current = 8.333 Amps into battery.

 

**it’s not actually 12 volt, it is higher, but for the purpose of the theoretical maths in the tables I just used 12, because of the naming scheme “12 volt systems” etc.

Voltage Open Circuit

 

Voltage open circuit is not listed in the tables below as all of these panels listed are in the 20-23 VOC range.

BUT it should be noted that you can’t use just any panel on your 12 volt system!

The panels are especially made for this type of activity, they are different to the panels found on houses for example. Where the VOC becomes relevant is making sure your solar regulator can handle the panel’s VOC.

Solar panel accessories

 

Please note that you cannot hook a battery directly to solar power.

The voltages are too high and they need to be regulated, so they need to go through a regulator. Most DCDC chargers these days offer solar input built in, so be sure to buy a DCDC charger to suit.

See what the maximum power of each regulator or DCDC charger is so you don’t overload your system.

When it comes to solar regulators there are 2 types: PWM and MPPT.

Without going into details, MPPT is the option that will get you more power from your solar panel system and is the preferred method of regulation.

MPPT regulators will give anywhere from 20-30% more power back to the battery depending on the conditions.

 

Solar blanket accessories

Much like the portable solar panels, solar blankets will usually come with a solar regulator, a carry or protective bag, and a 5m extension lead to place the solar panel out in the sun away from the vehicle.

As they are portable and you may want to place them further than 5 metres, you can also get extension leads as an added extra when you purchase.

Can you combine solar panels?

 

Yes, you can combine solar panels, provided you know about how you are connecting them.

You want to combine the solar panels in parallel to boost your wattage, the solar regulator will be the limiting factor so make sure you are aware of what it can and can’t handle.

Do not connect your solar panels in series as this will add the voltages together and you will more than likely ruin the solar regulator, or it will auto shut off.

People can and do connect in series, but I don’t think those people will be confused about why they do it, so for the purpose of most people, it is always in parallel.

Combining solar panels is a very popular thing to do provided you have the space and budget, as it allows you to combine the advantages of each system, which will be discussed further down in the solar blanket comparison.

You forgot about [insert brand here]!?

 

Look, I am sure I missed out a few brands but these are the brands that were readily available for me to buy and look at, therefore the easiest to research and compare.

No further brands will be added to the tables but feel free to use the tables to make your own solar blanket comparison and find the best product for you in your region. I hope it helps in some way.

 

Solar Blankets

 

Solar blankets are similar to portable panels in that they fold away and are not mounted to the vehicle.

Generally they fold multiple times to form a very small footprint given their large unfolded state.

Solar blankets are the most expensive of all the different types of solar panels. They do however provide the best power to weight ratio.

On top of this you also pay for the convenience of the design and how little room it will take up in your 4WD or camper.

Avg $/Watt = 4.09

Avg Watts/kg = 29.16

In comparison, fixed panels:

Avg $/Watt = 1.71

Avg Watts/kg = 15.38

 

Portable solar:

Avg $/Watt = 3.34

Avg Watts/kg = 11.62

 

Solar blankets provide a massive output per kilogram when compared to the other styles of panel.

Who are solar blankets for?

 

Solar blankets are for those who want to get the most out of their time in camp, without adding bulky and heavy portable panels to their 4WD setup.

They can be used as an addition to a fixed panel, or as a standalone system, with a massive 300 watts of power available in something that weighs about 10kg!

They’re great for people who don’t want a fixed panel taking up roof space all the time.

 

Solar blanket pros

 

  1. Great performance for very little weight.
  2. Tiny footprint in the car with some 300 watt panels taking up less than a 400×400 sized parcel of space.
  3. Quick to setup, just throw it out on the ground or over the bonnet.
  4. Use blankets and keep the roof free for things other than solar panels.

 

Solar blanket cons

 

  1. Solar blankets are the most expensive of all the solar panel designs.
  2. Solar blankets can be a pain to direct at the sun properly, often just lying flat on the ground.
  3. Less air flow around the panels as they’re flat on the ground, which could affect the performance in high temperature environments.
  4. Possibility of them getting stolen if you leave camp and don’t pack them away, they’re not really made to be tied down.
  5. In windy conditions they might blow over and block themselves from performing if not weighted at the corners.

Pricing

 

Wherever possible the pricing used was from the manufacturers’ websites. This was done regardless of if there was a sale on at the time of the table being made.

However the opposite may occur and prices may also go up after the making of this table, so understand that everything is fluid and forever changing.

Clicking the solar panel tag under “brand” will take you to see the latest pricing on Amazon or eBay, these are affiliate links but they don’t cost you any extra (as described below the intro).

Clicking the “price” will take you to the product on mygenerator.com.au

To see what other fixed solar panels are available at mygenerator.com.au that didn’t make the cut here, click to be taken to the relevant page. The website often has bundle deals if you’re after more than one panel.

Solar Blanket Comparison Table

 

I have set the lower limit to 100 watts here as I couldn’t see myself bothering to buy something smaller than that as the input into the battery would be too small.

You can of course buy smaller panels, but they’re less common below that size. They are often used by people who are hiking and want to charge small devices like phones.

BRANDWATTSCOSTWEIGHT (kg)$ / WW/kgWxLxD (OPEN)WxLxD (CLOSED)MAX VOLTAGEMAX CURRENTTHEORETICAL AMPS INTO 12V BATTERYWARRANTY
ECOFLOW110$49964.5318.33703x165x24480x420x2418.55.9509.161
KINGS120$1494.91.2424.491540x510x5510x400x4017.86.74101
BAINTECH120$7903.66.5833.331560x770x???NOT SPECIFIED186.66101
ECOFLOW160$59973.7422.861570x680x25420x680x25NOT SPECIFIEDNOT SPECIFIED13.331
REDARC160$7954.84.9733.331635x740x2.5365x365x70188.913.332
BAINTECH180$1,1805.16.5535.291830x775x?398x300x781810151
KINGS200$2295.51.1436.361255x940x5480x201x519.110.4216.661
KT200$7297.53.6426.661500x740x7355x355x6019.910.0716.661
ECOFLOW220$7999.53.6323.161830x820x25NOT SPECIFIEDNOT SPECIFIEDNOT SPECIFIED18.331
REDARC240$119574.9834.281635x1110x2.5365x365x751813.4202
REDARC300$14958.54.9835.291995x1110x2.5365x365x801718252
KT300$94911.33.1626.551100x1500x7350x500x7021.713.8251

Solar blanket comparison scatter plot

Below is the solar blanket comparison scatter plot, this might help you decide between two panels that you hadn’t really been able to split before, or help you rule out a panel that you think represents bad value.

Solar blanket comparison thoughts

 

When I look at the solar blanket comparison scatter plot I see that within each manufacturer, their panels appear to be similarly valued, with similar weights per watt.

Redarc and Baintech appear to produce a lot of power per kilogram. Kings do as well but I personally wouldn’t expect to get the stated performance from their panel.

The Ecoflow 110 seems like a pretty poor option when you could just upgrade to the Ecoflow 160 and get a higher output with better value across both parameters.

The KT offerings seem to be a good middle ground, they have placed themselves as a bit of a middle man and this is often a really good place to be.

Solar Blanket Comparison – Things To Consider

 

There are a few things to consider when looking at this data. Things that could shape the way you decide to go with your purchase.

 

Buying cheap vs buying reliable

There are two different types of purchase here. If these solar blankets are purely supplementary and are simply topping up an existing system, then you might be able to go for the cheapest option.

Just be warned that the cheaper options will rarely if ever produce the output that they claim they can, so factor that in to your considerations.

If you are buying these as your primary source of solar energy than I strongly recommend that you buy a better quality product that will perform as advertised and won’t let you down.

 

Ecoflow’s advantage

I wasn’t really sure where to put Ecoflow, they are solar blankets that sort of fit as portable solar as well. They fold more than the one time in half, but they offer stands built in so they can face the sun.

With this in mind, you could potentially get better output from these panels as they will have better air flow and can be directed perpendicular to the sun in the mornings and afternoons.

 

Brand reputation

As above, this goes a long way. This goes beyond the performance of the panel and also considers what sort of customer service you will get.

Both in the way of repairs, but also technical assistance over the phone if something has gone wrong.

 

Weight

Weight won’t be as big an issue within the bracket of blankets, but if you’re a stickler for weight Redarc and Baintech can save you some weight.

Which solar blanket did I end up choosing?

 

I have not chosen yet.

I am planning on getting either a portable panel or a solar blanket down the line, but only as an addition to a fixed solar panel. So it may be quite some time before I decide which solar blanket to go with.

That is of course if I  don’t decide that a portable solar panel would be worth the extra weight to gain the advantage of being able to angle it towards the sun better.

I think there’s a lot of good options here that will need further consideration closer to the time. I will update this section if/when I decide to make a purchase.

Solar blanket comparison – Final thoughts

 

There’s plenty of competition out there, more than I could ever list in this post. I personally see these as a supplementary item to a fixed panel, but for those who don’t want a fixed panel these are a great item.

The weight savings and tiny footprint really appeal to my lightweight build preferences.

I hope this has been of some help, if for nothing more than to get you thinking.

If you can think of anything else that needs to be discussed feel free to comment, but I won’t be adding any more blankets to the comparison as I am sick to death at looking at numbers.

Now you can critique your panel of choice if it isn’t presented here and compare it against the panels that are.

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