One of the topics I see the most confusion on in the van dwelling space is solar panels.

Electricity can be intimidating, even to experienced vandwellers, so picking out the best solar panels for your van isn’t something to be taken lightly.

I built out my own camper van and have firsthand experience selecting and putting together a full van solar system. I traveled to dozens of states in it and know what the important (and not so important) things to look for in solar panels are.

Below I laid out the different types of panels to consider, the pros and cons of each, and offered my recommendation for the best van solar panels in each category.

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I Ranked The Top Panels Below Using My 3-Point Ranking System

With van solar panels, efficiency, reliability, and durability are critical. Many times you’re working with just a few dozen square feet in total roof space, and not even all of it can be devoted to solar panels. 

For the most part, you’re only going to be able to fit up to 500W of solar panels.

That means every panel you use needs to be near the top of the efficiency scale. The key differentiating factors beyond that are reliability and durability. 

I’ll level with you–most solar panels today are made from near-identical components. Picking out the very best comes down to my personal experiences with the products and the proven track record of different solar panel manufacturers.


Overall Best: Renogy 100W Flexible Monocrystalline Solar Panel (Best Flexible Solar Panel & My Top Choice)

Best Van Solar Panels
Features
Our rating
Features
  • 32 degree (advertised as 248 degrees) flexibility offers greater mounting possibilities
  • Easy to use as both permanently mounted with tape/glue or as portable solar panels
  • Four-pound weight makes them easy for anyone to work with
  • IP68 rated junction box protects against water, wind, and snow
Our Rating
Our #1 Van Solar Panel
5 out of 5

If you’re looking for a fantastic solar panel that gives you reliable power as you travel in your badass camper van, this is the one you want.

It’s the one I would get and you should, too. 

Here’s why. 

The Renogy 100W flexible solar panel is one of the best available on the market. It provides a working current of 5.29A with an overall efficiency of 21%. 

That’s really good for flexible solar panels, especially given the company’s reputation for quality workmanship. It also offers 32 degrees of flexibility, slightly more than the vast majority of panels on the market.

They’re made from a composite of laminated ETFE and EVA, plus the individual solar cells. This allows them more flex without dropping the power output in a noticeable way.

That’s a lot of technical talk, but what that means for you is that it can bend a little bit more than the competition and still provide an excellent working lifespan of up to 25 years (with only a slight drop in overall efficiency). 

That allows you to install it on more surfaces–even the sometimes awkward spaces you have to work with on the roof of a van.

And not to worry if you aren’t that “handsy.” The installation process is as simple as it gets.

To install it, all you have to do is tape or glue it down and connect it. 

It’s that simple.

Renogy solar panels

I’ve personally used Renogy charge controllers and Renogy batteries before. They were easy to set up, reliable, and worked without any issues.

While the Renogy Flexible Solar Panel certainly isn’t the cheapest option out there, it does offer the best mix of sizing, flexibility, and overall build quality for someone looking to power their camper van.

And I’m not the only one who thinks so–it has nearly 50 reviews and 4.9 average rating–both of which are solid. 

If I was building out a van today, these are the solar panels I would use.

Specifications:

  • Voltage: 12 Volt
  • Wattage: 100 Watt
  • Optimum Working Current: 5.29A
  • Efficiency: 21%
  • Dimensions: 48 X 21.6 X 0.08
  • Weight: 4 lbs

Pros 

  • 32 degree (advertised as 248 degrees) flexibility offers greater mounting possibilities
  • Easy to use as both permanently mounted with tape/glue or as portable solar panels
  • Four-pound weight makes them easy for anyone to work with
  • IP68 rated junction box protects against water, wind, and snow
  • Renogy offers one of the largest ecosystems of solar goods and equipment, making finding just the right part or accessory easy

Cons

  • More expensive than comparably powerful flexible solar panels


Our #2: ALLPOWERS 50W/100W Monocrystalline Flexible Solar Panel (What I Used On My Road Trip)

Best Van Solar Panels
Features
Our rating
Features
  • 30% flex allows for creative mounting
  • Can be taped or even glued down onto your van roof
  • High-efficiency design works well for van uses
  • Lowest cost flexible option on my list
Our Rating
4.8 out of 5

So I’m terrible at taking pictures because I’m one of those “I want to be in the moment” people, and then, well, I regret not taking more pictures. 

This, however, is one of those rare pictures I actually took of my setup (using the Allpowers solar panel).

ALLPOWERS 50W/100W Monocrystalline Flexible Solar Panel

Needless to say, I think quite highly of AllPowers solar panels. From powering my stove to my fridge and everything in between, my road trip was made possible in many ways because of these guys. 

Not to be over the top here, but there is a reason I chose this one to travel through dozens of states.

They’re extremely flexible, as easy as it gets to install, efficient, and durable to last the duration of my road trip. 

They have a 30-degree flex and a waterproof junction box, and use standard MC4 connectors that fit seamlessly with virtually any solar system on the market.

If I love them so much and used them for my own personal road trip, you’re probably wondering why I ranked them #2 here. 

While I loved the ALLPOWER panels, I wanted to make clear my current view.

Compared to Renogy at #1, they’re just slightly less effective–specifically, they are a bit heavier, larger, and less flexible.

Will they get the job done and then some? Yes. If I could do it over again, which one would I get? I would get Renogy. 

You can’t go wrong either way, though.

Specifications:

  • Voltage: 12 Volt
  • Wattage: 100W
  • Optimum Working Current: 5.56A
  • Efficiency: 23.5%
  • Dimensions: 50.2 X 20 X 0.09
  • Weight: 4.7 lbs

Pros 

  • 30% flex allows for creative mounting
  • Can be taped or even glued down onto your van roof
  • High-efficiency design works well for van uses
  • Lowest cost flexible option on my list

Cons

  • Heavier, larger, and slightly less flexible than our #1 option


Our #3: Renogy 200W Monocrystalline Foldable Solar Suitcase with Charge Controller (Best Portable Van Solar Panels)

Best Van Solar Panels
Features
Our rating
Features
  • Folding design makes it easy to deploy and stow away
  • Adjustable stand allows you to position the angle of the panels for maximum productivity
  • Truly turnkey system, including cables, charge controller, and panels
  • Cost-competitive with top-ranked flexible panel options
Our Rating
4.6 out of 5

If you’re looking for a portable solar panel system, the Renogy 200W foldable solar suitcase is the one I recommend. It includes everything you need to get your van solar up and running.

The 200W model uses two linked 100W monocrystalline solar panels that fold out and deploy with a handy adjustable stand.

Renogy 200W Monocrystalline Foldable Solar Suitcase with Charge Controller

It’s one of my favorite features, making it possible to angle the panels just right to maximize their sun exposure.

It includes the solar panels themselves, a 15-foot waterproof MC4 connector set, and an integrated 20A Renogy Voyager PWM charge controller. 

The charge controller itself represents a significant cost saving over purchasing the system piece by piece.

It’s compatible with all the most popular solar battery banks, giving you a plug-and-play solution that doesn’t require any mounting, installation, or even the need to park your van in the sun.

If you’re looking for a low-profile and easy-to-stow van solar panel system, I highly recommend the Renogy 200W Foldable Solar Suitcase. 

There are a few comparable models on the market, and, in my opinion, this Renogy model represents the best mix of affordability, quality, and compatibility.

Specifications:

  • Voltage: 12 Volt
  • Wattage: 200 Watt
  • Optimum Working Current: 10.5 A
  • Efficiency:
  • Dimensions: 35.6 x 25.9 x 3.1
  • Weight: 35.9 lbs

Pros 

  • Folding design makes it easy to deploy and stow away
  • Adjustable stand allows you to position the angle of the panels for maximum productivity
  • Truly turnkey system, including cables, charge controller, and panels
  • Cost-competitive with top-ranked flexible panel options
  • Integrated charge controller helps minimize internal van solar equipment

Cons

  • Integrated charge controller is PWM, not MPPT


Our #4: Renogy 100W Monocrystalline Solar Panel (Best Budget Option)

Best Van Solar Panels
Features
Our rating
Features
  • Most cost-effective option
  • Highly durable and corrosion-resistant construction
  • Junction box rated at IP65 and overall unit offers high wind and snow resistance
  • Compact design fits the same number of solar cells into a smaller footprint, perfect for van applications
Our Rating
4.5 out of 5

The Renogy compact monocrystalline solar panel is a 100W rigid panel designed specifically with vans, RVs, and tiny homes in mind. 

It’s several inches narrower than the vast majority of 100W solar panels on the market, making it easier to fit on the roof of a van. It uses monocrystalline solar cells and offers a 21% efficiency rating. 

That isn’t the highest efficiency I’ve seen, but it’s just a few percent lower and available at a surprisingly low price.

On a watt-for-watt basis, it’s the most cost-effective option I recommend. 

There are some downsides to these savings though. As a rigid panel, you’ll need to attach a mounting rack to the roof of your van and connect the solar panels to that rack.

If this isn’t a problem, then these are a great option. For most people, however, I recommend a more flexible option. Trust me, you’ll thank me later.

Specifications:

  • Voltage: 12 Volt
  • Wattage: 100 Watt
  • Optimum Working Current: 5.38A
  • Efficiency: 21%
  • Dimensions: 42.4 X 20.0 X 1.4 
  • Weight: 14.3 lbs

Pros 

  • Most cost-effective option
  • Highly durable and corrosion-resistant construction
  • Junction box rated at IP65 and overall unit offers high wind and snow resistance
  • Compact design fits the same number of solar cells into a smaller footprint, perfect for van applications
  • Bypass diodes reduce power drop from partial shading
  • Designed with pre-drilled holes for a more straightforward mounting process
  • Multiple mounting options available, including sun-tracking angled mounts

Cons

  • Rigid panel design is harder to install and heavier on your van roof
  • Slightly lower cell efficiency than top-rated flexible solar panels
  • Harder-to-fit non-flexible panel around other obstructions on van roof (i.e. fans, racks, etc.)
  • Raises the total height of your van by several inches


Installing Solar Panels on Your Van (& Why It Shouldn’t Scare You)

Installing solar panels on your van is one of the most exciting, but also most nerve-wracking parts of building out a van. I’ve already covered the process of installing a tiny house solar system, so here I’ll focus entirely on the actual mounting/adhesive process.

Bolt-On Rigid Solar Panels 

The most basic and labor-intensive method of mounting solar panels is to use rigid solar panels physically bolted to a rack. 

The upsides to this method are that rigid panels are generally the cheapest and most durable option.

The downsides are that you need a roof rack or similar mounting point on your van and that you have to permanently mount them. They’re harder to install, require the most tools, and are generally more annoying to work with.

Attaching Flexible Solar Panels to Your Van Roof 

Flexible solar panels are rapidly becoming the go-to option for the modern vandweller. They’re lightweight, low-profile, and can mount easily onto just about any surface.

They attach using a bonding agent such as mounting tape or adhesives and add almost no height to your van’s roof.

For the vast majority of vandwellers, I recommend you go with flexible solar panels mounted this way.

How Many Solar Panels Will You Need? (My Recommendation)

Picking solar panels for a van isn’t the same as an off-grid home or even a tiny house. When it comes down to it, you only have space for a few solar panels. 

Given the rapidly dropping price of solar panels I highly recommend you go with as many as your van will support. In most cases, this will equal out to about 300 watts.

Looking for a fully plug-and-play van solar solution? Check out my article on the best off-grid solar panel kits. Many can be used for van dwelling also.

Van Solar Panel Buying Guide – Comparing The Different Options

As the solar panel market matures, it’s increasingly becoming commoditized, but there are still some specific features you should consider between different types of panels

Flexible Solar Panels vs. Rigid Solar Panels vs. Portable Solar Panels

By far the most important choice you’ll have to make is the type of panel. Flexible and rigid solar panels are both (mostly) permanently mounted options that attach to the roof of your van and provide power constantly while in the sun.

Rigid panels are the cheapest option, but they can be a real pain to work with. You’ll have to install a rack on your van, and they seriously cut into stealth. That said, they’re noticeably cheaper than the other options.

Flexible panels install easier, using just permanent bonding adhesives or double-sided mounting tape such as the popular 3M VHB tape. They have near-identical efficiency rates to rigid panels, but they do have one downside: Price. 

You’ll spend noticeably more on flexible panels than comparable rigid panels.

Check out my full category review to learn more about flexible solar panels and see my top picks.

Portable panels are rapidly becoming one of the better options for vandwellers. They’re designed to pack away when not in use, usually in a suitcase format, and can deploy in seconds wherever you park. 

The upside to this is that you can park your van in the shade while your solar panels are still producing power. The downside is that you won’t be able to charge while driving or when parked in a regular parking lot.

Monocrystalline vs Polycrystalline Solar Panels (Hint: It’s The First One)

This used to be a real point of contention, but now the answer is easy: Monocrystalline panels. They’re more efficient and prices have dropped to the point where they’re virtually identical to polycrystalline panels.

Van Solar Panel Wattage (& What You Should Choose For Your Van)

The most important number to look at when comparing solar panels is the wattage. It tells you how much power the panel will produce under optimal conditions per hour.

The vast majority of solar panels for vans are 100-watt panels, but you can pick out higher or 

lower wattage panels if you have specific square footage to fill or are looking to add redundancy into your van solar panel system.

You can pick up panels with as few as 10W or as many as 500W, though smaller panels are generally a lot more expensive on a per watt basis.

Final Thoughts

The space constraints of a van limit your choices for solar panels, but in a way that allows you to cut right to the heart of the choice. Overall I recommend the Renogy 100W flexible solar panel

For most vandwellers it’s going to be the best option. If you’re looking to go full stealth, the Renogy Foldable Solar Suitcase is a great alternative.
Want to learn more about vandwelling, van campers, and what vanlife is really all about? Check out my Campervan Conversion Guide. It covers the build process, pros and cons of vanlife, and a ton of other useful topics.

Josh Davidson

Josh is a freelance writer and avid outdoorsman. He graduated from the University of Georgia with a B.A. in Political Science and has done his best since to live location-independent. He's been a firm supporter of the tiny movement, new homesteaders, and sustainable alternative living and used his knowledge of these topics to convert a 1999 Dodge Ram van to explore as much of Wild America as he could reach.

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