The 8 Best Solar Generators for Van Life [Large & Small]

Let’s face it: we’ve all become so dependent on our phones, tablets, and laptops, that we can’t imagine life without them. Whether you’re a weekend…

best solar generator for campervans

Let’s face it: we’ve all become so dependent on our phones, tablets, and laptops, that we can’t imagine life without them.

Whether you’re a weekend warrior or a full-time van dweller, it’s important to be able to charge your devices on the go. Not only that, if your camper van conversion includes a 12-volt portable fridge, LED lights, and water pump, you’ll need a reliable source of power to keep things running smoothly.

If you’re worried about the prospect of installing a complicated electrical and solar system in your van, consider a portable solar generator, instead. These portable power stations are easy to use, can be charged in multiple ways, and come in a variety of sizes.

Depending on your budget and how much power you’ll need, there’s a portable solar generator out there that’ll be perfect for your van life adventures!

*This post may contain affiliate links. Please read our disclosure policy for more info.

Best Large Solar Generators

If you’re heading out on the road with an extravagant Sprinter conversion, you might want to consider a larger solar generator. We’ve found the best large solar generators that’ll keep the lights on, the fridge humming, and your blender blending!

Inergy Flex 1500 Portable Solar Generator
  • Power: 1,500 watts
  • Weight: 30 pounds
  • Price: $1,500

The Inergy Flex 1500 is one of the most portable and lightweight solar generators in its class, making it an ideal choice for van lifers who need plenty of power on the go.

Featuring a 1,500-watt pure sine wave inverter with 3,000-watt surge capacity, this best solar generator for van life can power pretty much everything you’ll need for your camper van.

The Inergy Flex 1500 provides 20A @ 13.8V of regulated DC power, so you can use the battery’s full capacity for running 12V devices like a portable refrigerator and a water pump. Best of all, you can add up to 96 flex batteries, making this solar generator super-powerful.

The Inergy Flex 1500 can be charged with solar panels, a wall socket, or your van’s cigarette lighter socket. You can even combine all three methods for really efficient charging!

Pros:

  • Modular – you can add flex batteries for even more power
  • Lightweight for the wattage
  • High capacity – you can power fans, fridges, microwaves, etc.
  • 24-month warranty

Cons:

  • AC outputs are too close together
  • Customers have reported sub-par customer service
Jackery Explorer 1500
$2,012.92

Power: 1,800 watts

Weight: 35.2 pounds

03/07/2024 11:46 am GMT

We’ve had really positive experiences using the Jackery Explorer 500. Still, if you need a portable solar generator with more power and a higher capacity for your van life adventures, the Jackery Explorer 1500 might be what you’re looking for!

With its generous 1,800 wattage and 1534 Wh capacity, this best solar generator for van life should meet the needs of most van dwellers. You can charge up to seven appliances simultaneously with the Explore 1500, and all charging ports are conveniently located on the front panel. There’s also a cool digital interface that makes it easy to keep track of the battery.

One of the best features of this portable solar generator for a campervan is just how quickly it can be charged. It only takes four hours to charge the Explorer 1500 either from a household wall outlet, or using solar. That said, to achieve maximum efficiency when charging via solar, Jackery recommends using 4x SolarSaga 100W panels under direct sun.

Pros:

  • Multiple ports, including 3 100V AC outlets
  • Charges really quickly
  • 2-year warranty
  • Awesome LCD display

Cons:

  • Relatively expensive
  • Lithium battery begins to lose efficiency after 500 charges

Although not the lightest nor the most compact portable solar generator in its class, the Bluetti EB240 Portable Power Station is one of the most popular choices among van dwellers.

This is the manufacturer’s largest power station, featuring 1,000 watts of continuous power, with a 1,200-watt surge capacity. The Bluetti EB240 has been designed with an intelligent cooling controller, so there’s no danger of the unit overheating when you need it most.

If you plan on spending time boondocking off-grid, this best solar generator for camping should be plenty powerful for your electrical needs. You can charge a laptop computer 34 times, a smartphone 255 times, and run a 700-watt microwave for almost 3 hours!

The Bluetti EB240 can be charged from a standard wall outlet, and you can also use a maximum of 500 watts of solar. The main downside to this portable solar generator for van life is the time out takes to charge – 9 hours using solar panels under perfect conditions, and 12 hours using a wall socket.

Pros:

  • 2-year warranty
  • High capacity and can charge a range of devices
  • Intelligent cooling controller

Cons:

  • Much heavier than similar solar generators
  • Slow to fully charge
Goal Zero Yeti 1000 Core Portable Power Station
$649.00

Power: 1,200 watts

Weight: 31.68 pounds

03/07/2024 02:46 pm GMT

There’s a reason why Goal Zero Yeti Portable Power Stations consistently rank among the best solar generators for van life. These power stations are available in a variety of different sizes and all deliver high quality, rugged construction, and efficient design.

The Yeti 1000 Core is simply ideal for those who want plenty of power during off-grid excursions. This solar powered generator for van life is compact, lightweight, and really packs a punch.

The Yeti 1000 Core allows you to charge a smartphone 82 times, a laptop computer 20 times, and run a van fridge for 18 hours. You can be sure to extend that run time with a low-draw 12V portable cooler.

This portable solar generator’s intelligent design means all charging ports are on the front of the unit, including a pair of AC outlets, a 12V socket, and several USB ports. The Yeti 1000 Core can be charged from a wall outlet in as little as 5 hours, and charges in around 4 hours using a 300W solar panel.

Pros:

  • All outlets are on the front of the unit
  • Large, bright LCD display
  • 1-year warranty
  • Replacement lithium batteries available

Cons:

  • Cables for solar charging not included
EcoFlow DELTA Portable Power Station

Power: 1,800 watts

Weight: 31 pounds

Price: $1,100-$1,300

Featuring an elegant design, with sturdy, high-grade aluminum casing, the EcoFlow Delta 1300 portable Power Station is a rugged choice for van lifers. Plus, it has a fantastic LED display that makes it really easy to keep track of your battery.

This best portable solar generator for camping and van life comes equipped with an amazing 13 output ports! There are 6 pure sine wave AC outlets, a 12V socket, and multiple USB ports. The downside is that the outlets are scattered around three sides of the unit, making it hard to access them if the power station is stored in a corner.

The EcoFlow Delta has an impressive 1,800 watts of AC power and 3,300 watts of surge capacity, making it ideal for use with appliances that need a big wattage boost to start. Incredibly, when plugged into a wall socket, the unit can charge to 80 percent capacity in an hour!

The biggest drawback with this portable power station is the battery’s 58 percent “round-trip efficiency.” The battery only outputs a little over half of the power that was stored, so the EcoFlow Delta might not be ideal for extended off-grid use.

Pros:

  • Good price for the power
  • Fantastic for AC charging
  • Charges really quickly from a household wall outlet
  • Not too heavy

Cons:

  • Outlets are located on three sides
  • Under-powered battery

Best Small Solar Generators for Van Life and Camping

For those with more modest needs, there are plenty of smaller solar generators for van life available. We’ve found the best small power stations that still pack a powerful enough punch to keep everything charged and ready. Digital nomads rejoice!

Goal Zero Yeti 500X Portable Power Station
$559.00

Power: 500 watts

Weight: 12.9 pounds

Dimensions: 14.4"L x 12.3"W x 9.1"H

03/07/2024 08:51 am GMT

This smaller Yeti Goal Zero 500 is a popular choice among van dwellers who want quality and efficiency, but don’t need loads of excess power. Costing around half as much as the Yeti 1000 Core, this unit is a fairly affordable option, too.

Featuring a 300-watt continuous, 600-watt surge pure sine wave inverter, the Yeti 500 can charge up to 7-10 devices simultaneously. There’s plenty of power here to charge your phone and laptop several times, as well as run a portable fridge for hours. Plus, the Yeti 500 has the classic Goal Zero front panel which makes it easy to keep track of how the battery is performing.

The Yeti 500 is available with either a lead-acid or lithium battery. The main benefit of the Lead-acid battery is the ability to daisy-chain multiple batteries for a longer run time.

This best small solar generator for van life charges in 5 hours from a wall outlet, 13 hours from a car’s DC socket, and in as little as 8 hours if you’re using Goal Zero’s monocrystalline solar panels. You can use other manufacturers’ panels, but you’ll need to buy an adaptor.

Pros:

  • Faster charge time than bigger units
  • Awesome LCD display on the front
  • lightweight and portable

Cons:

  • Comes with limited accessories
  • Only comes with a 6-month warranty
Renogy Phoenix 300

Power: 300 watts

Weight: 6.39 pounds

Price: $250-$300

Those who are looking for a simple and affordable solution for powering their devices might just find that the Renogy Phoenix 300 is the best solar generator for van life. This compact little power station might not look like much, but it really can deliver a punch. Best of all, it weighs less than 7 pounds, so you can carry it just about anywhere you want to go.

The lithium-ion battery at the core of the Phoenix 300 has more than 1,000 life cycles, which means it’ll be helping you out for quite some time. This solar generator features a total continuous output of 300 watts, and allocates sufficient power to each output, according to the port’s specifications.

Ports include a pair of 110V AC outlets and multiple fast-charging USB ports. The Renogy Phoenix 300 will charge a phone 21 times, a laptop computer 5 times, and it’ll keep a 12V cooler running for several hours.

You can charge the Phoenix 300 from a wall outlet, your van’s cigarette lighter socket, or with solar panels. Although the Phoenix only accepts up to a 50W maximum load, Renogy claims solar panels will charge the unit in as little as 8 hours.

Pros:

  • Super lightweight and portable
  • Very affordable
  • Has a built-in emergency light

Cons:

  • Takes a long time to charge the unit from a wall socket
  • Relatively small battery
ALLPOWERS Portable Power Station
$299.00

Power: 500 watts

Weight: 11.66 pounds

03/07/2024 03:16 pm GMT

The ALLPOWERS solar generator for van life is another compact and lightweight option. With a battery capacity of 666-watt hours and a 500-watt power rating, this portable solar generator is ideal for off-grid living.

You can power up to 9 devices at the same time on the ALLPOWERS Portable Power Station, with outlets including 2 DC sockets and 2 AC outlets. The generator also has 1,000-watt peak capacity, so you don’t have to worry about using appliances that need a power boost to get started.

We love this solar generator’s easy-to-read LCD display, and you can use an app for remote control of the unit from your phone, via Bluetooth. When you’re living off-grid, charging the battery couldn’t be easier. The unit can handle up to 100W/hour of solar input, which is regulated by the internal MPPT. You can also recharge the battery to 100 percent in just 3 hours by plugging into a household wall socket and Type-C USB simultaneously.

Pros:

  • Compact and lightweight – you can take it anywhere
  • Good price for the battery power
  • Can be fully charged really quickly

Cons:

  • Customer reviews often mention the operating instructions are terrible
  • Outlets aren’t all on one side

What Is a Portable Solar Generator for Van Life?

Man using the best solar generator for van life while camping

At this point, we should clear up the terminology a little. Using the name solar generator can be quite misleading – these units don’t actually generate anything, unlike a traditional fuel-powered generator.

A traditional generator produces power by burning fuel, whereas a portable solar generator stores electricity that’s been generated either by charging the unit with a wall outlet or DC socket, or by using solar panels.

So, a solar generator is really more of a battery than anything else, which is why a better name might be “portable power station.” Terminology aside, portable solar generators for van life are clean, sustainable, and easy to use.

Van lifers who’d rather not embark on designing and installing a complex electrical system in their camper vans can have everything they need in one convenient box:

  • A battery. This stores energy you’ve collected so you can power devices and appliances when you’re off-grid.
  • A battery charger. This allows you to charge the battery from a mains supply or solar panels.
  • A battery monitor. This allows you to keep tabs on your battery’s health and efficiency.
  • A charge controller. In most cases a Maximum Power Point Tracking (MPPT) controller is used to regulate the energy produced by solar panels, so the battery charges safely.
  • Cabling/wires. Everything is already connected.
  • An inverter. This will almost always be a pure sine wave inverter that allows you to power appliances that use AC power.

You should be aware that, in most cases, portable power stations don’t come with solar panels included. You’ll need to buy solar panels separately and each manufacturer will have recommendations on the best panels to use with their unit.

The Benefits of Using a Portable Solar Generator for Van Life

  • They don’t require elaborate setup. A portable solar generator for van life is a plug-and-play device that’s incredibly easy to use. You won’t need to spend time creating an elaborate electrical system when you’re building out your van.
  • They’re portable. Although some of the portable power stations on our list are quite heavy, most of them are fairly easy to carry around. That means you can take your solar generator down to the lake shore and work on your computer outside!
  • They’re environmentally friendly. What could be better than getting all the power you need for van life from the sun? Portable power stations can be charged with solar panels, making them as environmentally friendly as it gets.
  • They’re cost-efficient. Although you might have to invest a chunk of money up-front, once you have solar panels installed and you’re getting free power from the sun, you’ll appreciate how cost-efficient your portable power station really is.
  • There’s no smell/fumes. A traditional generator produces stinky fumes that can be annoying for you and your neighbors in the next campsite. The noise is no joke, either. You’ll worry about none of this with a solar generator.

The Drawbacks of Using a Portable Solar Generator for Van Life

  • They’re expensive. Depending on how much power you’ll need while camping, a portable solar generator can be quite expensive. It costs way less to install a DIY electrical system in your van, although it’s much more difficult.
  • You’ll have less power. No matter how powerful your portable power station may be, it’ll never come close to providing the power that a bank of deep-cycle leisure batteries will provide.
  • They can be slow to charge. Again, it all depends on which solar generator for van life you buy, and how you’ll be charging it. Some of the units on our list can be charged really quickly using a wall outlet, but things slow down once you’re relying on solar panels.
  • They’re not as easy to fix. When you design your own electrical system for your van, it’s often the case that batteries or parts can easily be replaced if a problem occurs. If something goes wrong with your solar generator, you might not be able to fix it yourself. In a worst case scenario, you’ll have to replace the whole unit.
  • They have a limited lifespan. The batteries in a portable power station don’t last forever. After as few as 500 full charges, lithium-ion batteries begin to decrease in storage efficiency and eventually die. On the other hand, some manufacturers, such as Goal Zero, do offer replacement batteries.

What To Look For in a Portable Solar Generator for Camping

If you’re going to be using a solar generator as your main source of power in your campervan, it’ll be essential to figure out just how much power you’ll need. For example, if you plan on spending time in campsites and RV parks, you’ll often have access to AC power, meaning you’ll have no problems recharging your battery.

On the other hand, those who seek adventure and solitude off-grid will need to make sure their solar setup is big enough and their power station is beefy enough.

If you want to get into the specifics of how much power you’ll need, our friends at Parked in Paradise have created a wonderful electricity calculator.

Power Capacity

When you’re starting your search for a portable power station for van life, be sure to keep an eye on the specs of each unit. First, figure out what exactly you need to charge, and compare it with the amp hours on the solar generator.

If you’ll mainly be using the unit to charge phones and tablets, a smaller power station like a Yeti 500 or Jackery Explorer 500 will do the job nicely.

However, if you want to microwave popcorn, power a large fridge, or run more than a couple of lights, you’ll want a more heavy-duty power station like the Inergy Apex with more amp hours and a higher-capacity inverter.

Surge capacity.

This is another really important consideration. Some appliances, such as camper van air conditioners and refrigerators need a lot of power to get started, before settling down to use less power. This can create a surge of current, and if your solar generator doesn’t have sufficient surge capacity, both the unit and the appliance can be damaged.

Make sure to check the surge demand of appliances you’ll be using, and choose a solar generator that’ll be able to handle it.

Weight.

Most of the solar generators on our list are fairly easy to move around, but the Bluetti, for example, might be tough for some people to carry. This can be a consideration if you’d like to be able to move your power station in and out of your van on a regular basis.

Where are the outlets located?

Some portable solar generators, such as the Goal Zero units, have all outlets conveniently located on the front panel. Others have outlets on the front, sides, and back. Depending on where you plan on putting your power station, it could get really annoying if you can’t easily access outlets without moving the unit.

Battery type.

Camper van solar generators usually come with a lithium battery, although some do use a lead-acid battery. 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.

Plus, lead-acid batteries can often be daisy-chained for more power, as with the Goal Zero Yeti 500.

How To Charge a Portable Solar Generator

In general, solar generators for van life can be charged in three ways: with solar panels, from a household outlet, or from your van’s cigarette lighter socket. In some cases, a portable generator can be “super-charged” by using more than one method simultaneously.

Solar panels charging the Inergy solar generator on a picnic table

Solar Panels

Using solar panels to charge your power station is definitely the most cost-effective and environmentally friendly way to create power for your van. It’s also the best way to generate power if you’re staying off-grid, so you’ll need to buy a power station with a high enough input capacity if you plan on staying out for long periods.

The Goal Zero Yeti is an excellent choice, and can be charged with up to 300W solar. Remember, though: conditions have to be perfect for maximum solar efficiency.

12-volt Cigarette Lighter Socket

Not all solar generators can be charged this way. But for those that can, this method works, in a pinch. It’ll take a long time to charge a battery this way, but if you’re going to be doing a lot of driving, it’s worth plugging in. One thing to remember, though: don’t charge your solar generator from the 12-volt socket while your van is idling as it can cause damage to the engine.

Household Outlet

This is the fastest way to charge your solar generator. Plugging in to a 110V AC outlet can charge some power stations in as little as an hour. It’s usually the case that you’ll be a blessing to plug in at RV parks and bigger campgrounds, so every now and then it can be worth pulling in for a night to get a good recharge.

Conclusion on the Best Solar Generator for Van Life

Whether you’re using it as your main source of power, or as a backup for extended wilderness excursions, a solar generator is a compact and efficient solution. Some people find that a small solar generator is ideal to power a bedside CPAP. Even the smallest solar generator will power a CPAP device for up to 8 hours.

Although you’ll need to invest some money upfront, a solar generator is really easy to use, and doesn’t require hours of installation. Deciding on the best solar generator really comes down to personal choice. Still, with so many options available, there’s a solar generator that’ll work for any kind of van dweller.

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6 Comments

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  13. Hello and thank you for this amazing post. Solved all of my queries within one post.
    BTW I liked Yeti 400. Wish me luck for my 1st van journey. I am kind of nervous.

  14. Carl Matt says:

    Hi, Thanks for sharing this great article, this is going to help my friend who’s thinking of getting a solar generator. I like the Jackery 500. I had their 300 model but I think 500 is more powerful and better for outside camping.

  15. Can any of these, in particular the smaller ones, but used to run a small heater intermittently some winter nights in a green house with no electricity hooked up to it?

    1. Kristin Hanes says:

      It depends on how many watts your heater takes and how many watts the solar generator is good for

  16. Jerry Rouillard says:

    I like the features of the Yeti, Goal Zero 500x, but I noted that you will need an adapter for other solar panels. Where do you get these adapters and what are they called?

    1. Kristin Hanes says:

      I bet Goal Zero has some! I feel like when I was using a Jackery 500, it came with the adaptor and a solar panel

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