TodayVan Life

What You Need to Know About Portable Solar Panels Before You Buy

The freedom of the open road. Waking up to the sound of a babbling brook. Watching the sunset over the mountains. Nomad life is magical…and sometimes kind of a pain in the ass. 

From finding ways to make money on the road to dealing with mental health during long-term travel, nomadic life comes with unique challenges that you never really expect until you hit the road. 

One of the biggest issues is keeping those everyday essentials charged. From phones to fairy lights to fans, power is essential.  

I get a ton of questions about electricity in my van and how solar panels work. In my rundown of the best non-toxic products for DIY camper van conversion, I talked about electrical and solar options that have worked for me. 

Recently, I’ve found one more option that makes life on the road oh-so-much easier: portable solar panels. 

Background FYI: While filming the Real Life Vanlife Show, we partnered up with Go! Power and got the chance to check out the 100 Watt DuraLite Portable Solar Panel Expansion. It’s the only portable solar panel I’ve tried so I’m just digging into the specs of this brand here.


How Do Portable Solar Panels Work? 

Just like your regular solar panel, portable solar panels work by converting sunlight into electricity. Using the power inverter along with the battery, you can have all of the modern conveniences while living off the grid. 


What Can A Portable Solar Panel Charge? 

When it comes to charging via USB, portable solar panels are as easy as you can get. With the portable panels, you can plug your phone, battery bank, tablet, or whatever you’ve got, directly into the kit. 

When it comes to powering lamps, fans, routers, laptops, and basically anything else that requires a socket, you’ll want to use the 700-watt inverter and at least 100ah of lithium or 200-ah of AGM/ lead-acid battery power.


What Are the Different Types of Solar Modules?

While you’ll see countless brands and models of portable solar, they can all be divided into three categories: 

  • Monocrystalline
  • Amorphous
  • Polycrystalline


What Kind of Solar Panels Are the Most Efficient? 

Monocrystalline is considered to be the gold standard amongst solar panels because it’s the most efficient. We’re talking about an efficiency rate in the 15 to 20 percent range. That’s a rate that amorphous and polycrystalline solar panels can’t touch. 

One reason why the Go Power DuraLite Portable Solar Panel worked well for the vanlife crew was the benefits of monocrystalline. This space-efficient option offers the most power per square foot (and when you’re living in a van every square inch matters!). 


Do Solar Panels Work During Rain?

Yep! The DuraLite Portable Solar Panel isn’t just a fair-weather friend. Monocrystalline solar panels are the most efficient in warm weather and they keep going during the rain as well. 


How Long Do Rigid Monocrystalline Solar Panels Last?

On average, these solar panels last from 25 to 30 years. When it comes to the DuraLite Portable Solar Panel, you get a two-year warranty that’ll ensure you don’t have a dud. 


How Big Are Portable Solar Panels?

Go Power’s new Duralite portable panel is super slim and light. At under 8 ½ pounds, the Duralite is 60% lighter than traditional portable kits! The sleek black case and thin design that’s less than 2” thick fits super easily behind my van’s front seat or in the upper cabinets, making it so simple to bring with me on all my nomadic adventures. 


Are Portable Solar Panels Worth It? 

When you are living in a van full-time, fixed solar panels on the roof are a must-have. On top of those, having portable solar panels is a major asset. 

As you guys know, I love to mix it up. From traveling around the US in different vans from Outdoorsy to renting vans abroad, when I’m away from Freebird, I need solutions on the fly. Enter portable solar panels to the rescue!

The DuraLite Portable Solar Panel is a dream for rentals because you don’t need to run wires or drill holes in the roof. 

If you’re into outdoor sports and find yourself hauling kayaks, surfboards, or other gear, roof panels might not work for you. Having the option to set portable solar panels next to the van when you’re parked is an easy fix. 

Even if you’ve got the roof space, parking in the sunniest spot isn’t always practical or possible. Not only are you going to be baking inside of the van, but sometimes the sunniest spot isn’t available even if you want it. When you have portable panels, you can park wherever you want then move the solar panels to where you need them. 

How Can I Expand my Solar System?

Another great use for the DuraLite Portable Solar Panel is to expand your existing DuraLite kit or plug it into your portable power station. This is cool because it is literally plug-and-play. You can expand for when you’re in one place or take it with you. This can be an excellent option if you have a van but also like to go camping, hiking, or just spend long days out.

In the process of upgrading your van? Give Go Power’s super sleek Duralite portable solar kit a go!

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