If you’re heading out on a weekend camping trip, are an RVer, or live in a campervan full-time, you’ll need a way to power your devices.
Whether that’s a laptop computer, a few smartphones, or a 12-volt refrigerator, electricity these days is a lifeblood. A solar generator for van life, or a portable power station, is a great way to get some juice while off-the-grid.
The best solar generators for RVs and van life are quieter than gas-powered generators, don’t stink, and don’t require you to lug around a bunch of fuel. They’re also easy!
You don’t have to set up an entire solar system in your campervan or RV. Just charge up that solar generator using solar panels, your car’s cigarette lighter, or a household power outlet and you’re good to go.
There are portable power stations for RVs to fit all types of budgets and needs. Some work perfectly for smaller devices, like a laptop, and others are powerful enough to charge a fridge.
The type of solar generator you choose for your campervan or RV will have a lot to do with your personal usage and needs.
Quick Chart: The best solar generators for van life and RVing
Before we talk about the nitty gritty about solar generators for van life and RVing, here’s a quick chart of our top picks:
|Jackery Explorer 500||12||500||Buy|
There are several companies on the market making high-quality solar generators for RVs and van life. Here are our top picks for the best solar generators for sale:
Weight: 30 pounds
The Inergy Flex 1500 is the company’s latest solar generator, replacing the Apex and the Kodiak.
This portable and lightweight solar generator for RVing and van life is the lightest on the market for its power of 1,500 watts.
The Inergy Flex has a pure sine wave inverter with a 3,000-watt surge capacity. Amazingly, you can make this solar generator even more powerful by adding on up to 96 flex batteries – so it can really fit any scenario you can think of.
It also provides 20A @ 13.8V of regulated DC power, allowing you to use the full capacity of your battery with traditional 12V devices like portable refrigerators, water pumps, and other DC appliances.
This Inergy Flex 1500 solar generator can be charged using solar panels, a wall socket or your car’s cigarette lighter, or all three at the same time, which is amazing.
- High capacity – can charge smartphones, laptops, fridges, microwaves, blenders, Instapots, power tools, etc
- Only 30 pounds
- Can be beefed up even more using extra Flex batteries
- 24-month warranty
- Can charge three ways at once (wall outlet, solar panels, 12-volt plug)
- Lightest for the wattage
- No reviews yet as its a new product
Jackery Explorer 500 solar generator (Lithium)
Power: 500 watts
Weight: 12 pounds
The Jackery Explorer 500 is a 500 watt-hour portable power station than can charge a smartphone 40+ times, laptops 3-6 times, TVs over 3 hours, and mini-fridges for 8 hours. This device has a high-powered, built-in flashlight on the front, making it perfect for camping trips.
We also love the variety of ports which can charge up to 5 devices at a time.
This portable solar generator is super lightweight, coming in at just a little over 12 pounds! You can easily carry it into your tent or down by the river to do some work.
You can charge the Jackery Explorer 500 with solar panels or plugged into a wall outlet, and takes 6-8 hours to charge fully. We did notice its much faster charging with the wall outlet than solar panels.
Recommended solar panel:
- Very light, only 12.45 pounds
- 500-watt pure sine wave inverter than can handle a 1,00o watt surge
- High-powered flashlight on the front of the unit
- Rugged, with splash-proof exterior
- 2-year warranty
- The lithium battery can only be charged 500 times
Yeti Goal Zero 400 (Lithium or Lead-Acid)
Power: 400 watts
Weight: 29 pounds
Many van lifers love this portable Yeti Goal Zero 400. Coming in at 29 pounds, it packs enough punch to charge a smartphone over 20 times, a headlamp over 70 times, a laptop 3-5 times, or a small fridge for 7 hours. Campers also report this device can charge CPAP all night, no problem.
A variety of ports on the Yeti 400 can charge up to 7 devices at once, with a 300 watt continuous, 600-watt surge pure sine wave inverter. You can easily keep track of your power station’s capacity with a bright LCD display right on the front.
Need more power out of your portable solar generator? If you buy the lead-acid version, you can string other lead-acid batteries to the unit for a longer run-time.
According to Goal Zero, the Yeti 400 charges in five hours from a wall socket, 13 hours connected to your car’s cigarette lighter, and 8 hours from Goal Zero’s monocrystalline solar panels.
The Yeti 400 has one input port from which you can attach a solar panel. Yeti recommends using either a 50-watt or 100-watt solar panel to charge the Yeti 400 portable power station in 1 to 2 days.
Here are the recommended solar panels. (other brands can be used, but you may have to purchase an adaptor)
Pros of the Yeti 400:
- Lightweight and portable, at only 29 pounds
- 180-day warranty for battery cells and 1-year warranty for Goal Zero products
- LCD display to monitor your power bank’s usage
- Faster charge time than larger units
Cons of the Yeti 400:
- The 12-volt charger is sold separately
- Battery has a capacity of only 33 amp hours, which some say is quite low
To learn more about the Yeti 400, check out this YouTube video:
Yeti Goal Zero 1400 (Lithium)
Power: 1400 watts
Weight: 43 pounds
If you love Yeti products but want a more powerful portable solar generator than the Yeti 400, the next on the list is the Goal Zero Yeti 1400 lithium. This solar generator has three times the capacity of the Goal Zero 400 with 1425 watt-hours.
This portable power bank for RVing and van life can charge a smartphone 70+ times, a headlamp 230+ times, a laptop 23+ times or a portable fridge for over 23 hours.
Like the Inergy Flex, this solar generator for RVing has a 1500 watt inverter with surge capacity up to 3000 watts. However, it weighs a lot more than the Flex.
The Yeti 1400 solar generator can either be charged in a wall outlet or with solar panels, but cannot be charged in your car’s cigarette lighter. It could damage the unit.
One major benefit of this device is it comes with an app, where you can monitor usage, turn on and off, and even control individual ports right from your smartphone.
If you want to move this generator around a lot, be prepared to lift 43 pounds.
Recommended solar panels:
- High capacity, and can charge a variety of devices, from smartphones, to power tools, to medical devices to microwaves
- Comes with an app so you can control the unit from afar
- Bright LCD display to accurately monitor your device’s usage
- 1-year warranty
- CANNOT BE CHARGED USING 12 VOLT CIGARETTE LIGHTER (could damage the unit)
- Takes a super long time to charge. 25 hours plugged into the wall and up to several days with solar panels
- Heavy, weighs 43 pounds
Power: 500 watts
Weight: 15 pounds
Suaoki is another solid brand of portable solar generator for van life. If the 500-watts isn’t right for you, check out some of their other offerings.
The Suaoki 500 can charge a MacBook air over 6 hours, a minicooler over 9 hours, and an iPhone over 42 times.
You can charge this pure sine wave solar generator for RVing and van life three different ways – solar, an AC outlet and your cigarette lighter.
Reviewers like that it’s cheaper than the Yeti 400 with more power, yet slightly heavier.
One person said it powered their CPAP for 7 nights in a row, which is great for camping.
Some people have had a hard time contacting the company when they ran into issues with this solar generator for RVing.
Recommended solar panels:
- More wattage for the price than Yeti
- Holds its charge well
- Three ways to charge the solar generator – wall outlet, cigarette lighter and solar panel
- No phone support, but people have gotten through with emailing
- Lack of warranty
What is a solar generator for RVing?
A solar generator for van life or RVing is basically a box that has all the components of a full electrical system. There’s a battery, inverter, charge controller, battery monitors and wires.
A solar generator takes power from the sun (using solar panels) and converts it to electricity you can plug right into. Keep in mind that you don’t need solar panels to charge a solar generator.
Most can also be charged with your car’s 12-volt electrical system (cigarette lighter) or a wall outlet in a house or RV park.
The best portable power stations for RVing and van life come in a variety of sizes depending on exactly what you need to charge.
A solar powered generator is a battery, an inverter and an solar controller in one simple box.
For example, a fully-charged Yeti Goal Zero 400 can charge a smartphone 20+ times, and keep a portable fridge running for 7 hours.
The larger Inergy Flex charges a smartphone for over 100 hours, a laptop for over 20 hours, a fridge for over 33 hours, and an electric blanket for 14 hours.
A portable solar generator is great for people who like a way to charge devices on a camping trip or for van lifers who don’t want to install a complicated electrical system.
They are also great for RVers who need to use a bedside CPAP. Even the smallest portable solar generator can power a CPAP device for up to 8 hours.
TIP: Calling these devices generators can be misleading. The device, on its own, does not generate power. It takes power from the sun, a wall outlet, or a car’s cigarette lighter to charge it’s own battery, then it serves as a portable power bank to charge your devices. A better term would be a portable battery bank and inverter.
The benefits of a portable solar generator for RVing and campervans
- Environmentally-friendly. A portable solar generator for van life and RVing can be fully-charged using the sun, which makes it extremely environmentally-friendly. No need to use expensive fossil fuels, like gasoline or diesel, to run this portable power station.
- Saves money. Buying enough gasoline to power a generator can take a lot of money, especially with gas prices going up these days. A solar generator for an RV may seem like a lot of money upfront, but you’ll save in the long run.
- Very quiet. We’ve all heard those noisy gasoline-powered generators in campgrounds. Solar-powered generators for an RV make zero noise, so are the perfect campground companion.
- Smell and fume free. Who wants to sit in the middle of a beautiful forest and smell fumes from gasoline? Solar-powered generators for van life and RVing have zero stink.
- Portable. Want to go sit on a rock with a view and get some work done on your computer? A portable solar generator can be light enough to carry to an ideal spot.
- Doesn’t require an elaborate setup. Some people spend a considerable amount of time building out an electrical system for a campervan. A portable power station requires no setup. It comes completely self-contained and ready to power your devices.
- You can use them indoors. Solar-powered generators are great to use indoors as they don’t have any fumes like a gas-powered generator. You can safely use one to power your computer or fridge right inside your vehicle or tent.
The negatives of using a solar powered generator for RVing
- Slow to charge. Charging up your solar generator for van life and RVing can take a significant amount of time. For example, the larger Yeti 1400 takes days to recharge using solar panels and 18 hours plugged into a household power outlet. However, the Inergy Flex claims it charges in just five hours, so pick the one that’s right for you.
- More expensive. A portable solar generator is built for convenience rather than for price. A DIY solar setup in a campervan is much cheaper but harder to install.
- Not as easy to fix. If one thing goes wrong in your portable solar generator, it’s much harder to fix. You might even have to replace the entire thing. If you set up your own electrical system and the battery goes out, all you have to do is replace the battery rather than the entire unit.
- Less power. The battery housed inside a solar generator for RVing doesn’t pack as much punch as a battery bank of deep-cycle leisure batteries. Some say the deep-cycle battery bank has eight to ten times the power as a solar generator.
Tips on picking the best solar generator for van life and RVing
There are a few things to keep in mind before picking a portable solar generator for your campervan or RV’s power needs. Here, we’ll show you what to think about.
- The type of battery. Solar generators for camping come with two types of batteries. Some use a lithium battery, while others use lead-acid. Lithium batteries are lighter, smaller, more efficient and more expensive. Lead batteries are much heavier, can’t go below a 50% charge, achieve fewer charges overall than a lithium battery, but are cheaper and easier to replace. Which battery you go with largely depends on your budget. There’s also more of a fire hazard with lithium-ion batteries.
- The weight. Portable power stations can vary widely in terms of weight. Some are only 12 pounds, so can easily be lifted and moved around, but others pack up to 100 pounds and come with their own special cart for moving.
- The power capacity. It’s important to read the specs carefully when picking your portable power station. First, figure out what exactly you need to charge, and compare it with the amp hours on the solar generator. If you just need to charge a laptop and a few phones, you can get away with a smaller power station like a Yeti 400 or Jackery Explorer 500. But if you want to run a blender, power a fridge constantly, or run a bunch of lights, you want a more heavy-duty power station like the Inergy Apex with more amp hours and a higher-capacity inverter.
- Does it come with an LCD display? If you’re concerned about how much juice is left in your portable power bank, you might want to pick one that comes with an LCD display. Some solar generators for Rving and van life also come with an app so you can monitor right from your smartphone.
How to charge your portable solar generator when camping in your RV or van
Solar generators for van life and Rving can typically be charged three ways: with solar panels, a household outlet, or a 12-volt plug, like your car’s cigarette lighter.
Solar panels are the most eco-friendly and off-grid way to charge your portable solar generator when camping, but can also take the longest depending on the size of your power bank and the number and power of solar panels you use.
For example, solar panels come in a wide range of watts, from 28 to 200. Be sure to check the number of inputs your generator has to figure out how many solar panels it can take at once.
A household outlet, or 110AC power, will charge your solar generator the fastest if you have access to one. If you’re living in a campervan, you can find 110AC power outlets at certain campgrounds and RV parks.
12-volt cigarette lighter
This is the least efficient way to charge your solar generator when you’re camping, but it works! If you’re on a long road trip, you can try plugging your generator into your car’s cigarette lighter. Beware, though, some generators can’t be charged this way, so be sure you read the owner’s manual on whichever solar-powered generator you choose.
PLEASE NOTE: Solar generators do not come with solar panels. We’ll add some solar panel suggestions that can go with each solar generator below.
Conclusion on the best portable solar generators for van life and RVing
A solar generator for van life and RVing is a great way to get some extra power when you don’t feel like setting up an electrical system with individual components.
Most portable power stations can be charged three ways, which makes them handy for a variety of circumstances.
For smaller devices like smartphones and laptops, we’d recommend the Yeti Goal Zero 400 power station, but for larger needs, like to run a portable fridge, blender, power tools, etc., we’d highly recommend the Inergy Flex.
This really depends on your needs and the price you’re willing the pay. In our opinion, the best powerful solar generator is the Inergy Flex. It has a 1,500-watt pure sine wave inverter and is only 30 pounds. This makes it the lightest and most powerful device out there.
A solar generator is basically a battery, an inverter and a solar controller in one unit. These sun-powered generators charge everything from small electronics to a larger mini-fridge. You can charge all your electronics without using a gas generator or installing a complicated solar system in your RV or campervan.
If you’re looking for a solar generator for camping, RVing or van life, it will range between $500-$2,000. This depends on how many watt-hours and the type of battery. Lithium-ion batteries are more expensive, while lead-acid batteries are cheaper.
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Kristin Hanes is a journalist who founded The Wayward Home as a place to learn about alternative living. She currently lives on a sailboat and in a Chevy Astro van, and has written articles about alternative living published in Good Housekeeping, Business Insider, Marie Claire and SF Gate. Read more about Kristin here.