How to Set Up a Solar Panel for Camping
One of the best things about our lightweight solar panels is their camp friendliness. That is, whether you’re on a backpacking trip or car camping, our foldable panels don’t take up a ton of space in your pack or car, won’t weigh you down and they can be unfolded and producing solar power in a matter of seconds. That said, there’s a few things to consider before setting up your panel that will help you maximize the amount of power it generates.
10 and 2
The best times for generating solar power are between 10AM and 2PM (for the reel geeks out there it’s actually +/- 2 hours of solar noon, so the actual best time for solar generation really depends on how far east or west you are in a time zone). Unfortunately, this in not always the most convenient time to break out your solar panel if you’re on the move. So, our advice is to break out your solar panel as soon as you get to camp as the amount of solar irradiance (read: solar power available from the sun) will slowly decrease as the day moves on and the sun’s angle gets lower. Conversely, the amount of solar power available will increase prior to solar noon, so don’t forget about charging in the morning or even moving your panel before going to bed to capture prime power generating hours in the AM.
It’s not about where the sun is, it’s about where the sun is going. It’s easy to set up your panel in full sunlight, only to come back a couple of hours later to realize that the sun has gone behind a tree or the panel has lost light due to the earth’s rotation (or the sun has moved across the sky for the flat earth crowd 😉). To avoid this, pick a location that is going to stay in the sun for a long period of time and orient the panel accordingly. While this can be a bit tricky, apps like Sun Seeker will give you the exact path of the sun across the sky, letting you easily determine what areas will be shade free for the longest periods of time. These apps can also be a great tool for showing where the sun will rise in the morning, allowing you to position your panel accordingly before turning in.
Think beyond the tent
Sure, your tent is a convenient place to hang a solar panel (all those things to clip to!), but that doesn’t mean it’s the only place. Perhaps this is only personal preference, but I try to avoid setting my set up in direct sun or anywhere that will get direct sun in the morning. What can I say, I like sleeping cold. So, if I’ve chosen a shady spot for my tent, I’ll find literally anywhere else to set up my panel, whether that’s propped against my pack, laid out on the ground or even hung from a piece of sagebrush. One of the biggest benefits of our panels is that you can hang it almost anywhere.
Make hay, er, power while the sun’s shining
Most importantly, don’t burn daylight. If you have a moment to charge in the middle of the day when you’re backpacking or taking an elk nap, break that panel out. It literally only takes seconds and the amount of power you’ll be able to generate at noon versus 6PM will be significantly greater. Not to mention you never know what the weather will be doing by the time you get to camp or if your camp will even be in the sun. Imagine it like a road trip where you don’t know how far the next gas station will be: sure, you could risk it, but you may as well top off your tank while you can.
Secure your panel
Lastly, don’t forget that our solar panels are so light they can blow away in the wind. Seriously, that's not a marketing gimmick, they've been lost before. There’s also the chance with our larger panels that fold horizontally that the panel folds on itself, reducing the amount of power that it can generate. So, it’s important to secure all of the corners, not just the top points where the panel is hung from.
While the technology in our panels is impressive, the science behind using them isn’t, well, rocket science. Point it at the sun, charge your device and keep these points in mind on your next adventure. Got more tips or thoughts? We always love to hear them so feel free to drop us a line here.