Walkable Solar Panels: Our Top Picks for an Off-Grid Van Life

157 shares If your van life dreams involve traveling deep into the back country for extended off-grid adventures, walkable solar panels might be worth adding…

teragy solar walkable van solar panel

If your van life dreams involve traveling deep into the back country for extended off-grid adventures, walkable solar panels might be worth adding to your DIY van conversion.

For starters, you’ll have a sustainable way to power your van life essentials during your excursions. Not only that, a walkable solar panel is an awesome way to create a dual-use space on top of your home-on-wheels.

Sounds intriguing, right? Keep reading to find out more!

What Are Walkable Solar Panels?

walkable solar panel

In short, a walkable solar panel is exactly what it sounds like; a solar panel that can safely be walked on without causing damage to the solar cells within. If that sounds like a dream come true for off-grid van life, it’s because it most certainly is!

While more traditional rigid solar panels are still the most popular option for camper vans, new technology from companies like SunPower has allowed manufacturers to create sturdy and effective semi-rigid panels that can be walked on.

As you might imagine, solar panels like this open up a ton of possibilities for your van’s roof space. Not only can you create a lightweight and effective solar system up there, but it can also double up as a super cool roof deck.

Besides, being able to walk freely on your solar cells means you won’t have to worry when you’re trying to access vent fans, storage boxes, or whatever else is on the roof.

The Best Walkable Solar Panels for Camper Vans

Now that we’ve established what a walkable solar panel actually is, let’s take a look at the best options out there.

Custom Marine Products Walkable Solar Panel

woman walking on a campervan rooftop solar panel
Custom Marine Products Van Solar Panels

Michigan-based Custom Marine Products made a name for itself by developing solar systems for sailboats. However, the company also produces an awesome collection of solar panels for camper vans.

Custom Marine Products offers semi-rigid panels that are popular among the van life community, especially for those who want walkable solar roof racks and decks. As it happens, the manufacturer even wants you to know that you can dance on its panels!

There are tons of different sizes available, with the 150-watt panel proving to be the most popular option.

These marine-grade walkable solar panels are easy to install and have been specially designed to work well when partially shaded. Plus, they’re built using the highest-grade solar cells out there, resulting in up to a 25 percent efficiency rating.

There are two types of solar cells available, with the SunPower Maxeon cell technology panels offering the highest energy yield. The more affordable premium PERC solar cells are a little less efficient, but still super high quality.

Solbian Flexible Solar Panel

Solbian offers a range of fantastic flexible solar panels, any of which would work well for camper vans.

There are a few options to choose from, including the top-of-the-range SP series. This option features SunPower cells, which are currently the most effective solar cells available at 24 percent efficiency.

By going with the SP series, you’re looking at maximum power with a small footprint, making it ideal for a camper van roof. Plus, the SunPower cells perform really well in low light situations.

The SX series offers a more affordable solution by using conventional monocrystalline solar cells. These are then electrically connected using ultra-thin copper wires.

By installing Solbian flexible solar panels with strong adhesive, you’re able to create a permanent walkable solar panel for your camper van roof or deck surface. Best of all, you can opt for an innovative non-skid surface, so you won’t have to worry about slipping and falling off your van’s roof!

Tiny Watts Solar Roof Deck

couple on the campervan rooftop with a solar roof deck by Tiny Watts
Photo: Tiny Watts Solar Roof Deck

The Tiny Watts Solar Roof Deck has to be one of the best walkable solar panels we’ve ever seen. Seriously, this sleek and convenient solar panel doesn’t just look great — it also provides 500 watts of solar power for your 12-volt fridge, vent fan, lights, and more.

Constructed using military grade monocrystalline solar cells, the Tiny Watts panel is super strong, with a weight capacity of up to 500 pounds.

While it occupies 30 square feet of roof space, that should be compact enough for many camper vans. Plus, if you have a larger Sprinter van, you can double up for more power and more deck space!

What’s especially cool is that this solar panel installs just one inch above the factory roof, providing a clean, low-profile look. That makes the panel ideal for those who spend time stealth camping in cities.

Incidentally, Tiny Watts also produces an awesome 500 watt solar roof box that doubles as a walkable deck. Ideal for wet or dry storage, the roof box is gas strut-assisted and offers 25 cubic feet of storage.

RuggedFlex Solar Panel

a campervan showing a solar panel on the rooftop
Photo: RuggedFlex Solar Panel

If you’re looking for small, versatile, and lightweight solar panels, you should definitely consider these walkable panels from RuggedFlex.

These compact and frameless industrial strength solar panels are just 3mm thick, making them considerably lighter than regular panels. Plus, their semi-flexible construction makes them ideal for installing on a camper van roof.

What’s more, RuggedFlex solar panels are completely waterproof and will never crack or become discolored.

RuggedFlex solar panels use SunPower Maxeon cells, which offer the highest efficiency for maximum output. And the manufacturer advertises its solar panels as having a lifespan of up to 20 years.

One thing to bear in mind is that RuggedFlex panels aren’t fully walkable — you won’t be able to dance on them but you’ll be fine stepping on them without shoes.

On the bright side, these panels are comparatively very affordable, with the 98 watt panel costing less than $300 at the time of writing.

Teragy Nova Series Walkable Solar Panel

walkable solar panel on a campervan rooftop
Photo: Teragy Nova Series Walkable Solar Panel

The Teragy Nova Series Walkable Solar Panel has been specially designed for long-term off-grid living. The company conceived its walkable panel with DIY camper van builds in mind, so you know you’ll be getting something that’s tried and tested by van dwellers.

This semi-flexible solar panel provides a maximum of 225 watts of power output, thanks to its high-performing SunPower cells. And seeing as the Nova Series comes with a special ETFE coating, it’s extremely durable and long-lasting.

The Teragy Nova Series panel is relatively easy to install, seeing as it’s been designed to fit on a Mercedes Sprinter, Ram ProMaster, or Ford Transit. The manufacturer recommends building a support base first, then you’ll have room for up to four panels.

Aside from doubling as a sweet roof deck, that’d be a whopping 900 watts of solar power, meaning you could find yourself boondocking forever!

Merlin Trailblazer Series Flexible Solar Panel

a couple with their campervan parked outdoors showing a flexible solar panel
Photo: Merlin Trailblazer Series Flexible Solar Panel

Merlin Solar is an industry leader that’s revolutionized solar energy, making it suitable for many different applications. Thanks to the company’s innovations, it’s been able to create flexible and lightweight solar panels using high-performance mono-crystalline silicon technology.

The Merlin Trailblazer Series Flexible Solar Panel has been designed for camper vans, bus conversions, and RVs. There are tons of options to choose from, making this an ideal choice for van dwellers who want to spend extended time off-grid.

Depending on the size of your rig, you’ll have no problem finding a panel that’ll fit. Plus, you can even combine panels for a maximum of 3 kilowatts of power.

The Merlin Trailblazer series panels have been optimized to provide solar energy even on cloudy days. What’s more, installing these panels couldn’t be easier — all you have to do is peel and stick them to your van’s roof.

Walkable Solar Panel vs Other Types of Solar Panel

solar panel on the roof of a campervan during winter
Photo Courtesy: @kotionsiellamissatuulee

As we’ve seen, a walkable solar panel is always semi-flexible, meaning it can bend up to around 30 degrees. However, you should bear in mind that not all flexible solar panels can be walked on. In fact, you’ll need to make sure that you buy a panel that’s advertised as being safe to hang out on. That means it’s been constructed using special layers of protective material.

Flexible solar panels have tons of advantages, including their versatility, ease of install, and low profile. Still, disadvantages include a high price tag, shorter lifespan, and reduced efficiency.

A much more affordable alternative is to buy a thin-film panel, which is much more flexible. However, this type of panel has photovoltaic material printed on a thin, unproductive surface and is much less durable.

Traditional rigid panels are the most cost-effective solar solution for camper vans, and have tons of advantages. Aside from being cheaper, rigid panels last a whole lot longer than their flexible cousins. What’s more, they’re going to be much more efficient into the bargain.

On the downside, installing a rigid panel on your camper van often requires drilling into the roof unless you install a roof rack. Not only that, rigid panels are much heavier and tend to stick out rather prominently. With that in mind, these panels aren’t always ideal for stealth camping.

How to Choose Walkable Solar Panels

If you’ve made it this far, you’ll likely know whether or not a walkable solar panel setup is right for your camper van. Still, there’s a lot to think about before committing, so let’s take a look at what to consider before you take the plunge.

  • Budget. As with any major purchase, your budget will most likely play a big part in determining what you can afford. As we already mentioned, semi-flexible walkable panels are significantly more expensive than other types of solar panels, so you’ll need to be committed to the idea and be willing to drop some cash. With that said, remember that these panels are much easier to install, and you won’t need to pay someone to take care of getting them on your van’s roof.
  • Your power needs. It’s going to be really helpful if you have an idea of how much solar power you’ll need. That way, you can determine whether or not you can actually afford the panels you want. On the flip side, you may find that you can skip the huge panel and go with something smaller and more affordable.
  • Efficiency rating. This measures the panel’s capabilities in terms of transforming sunlight into power. While flexible panels are less efficient than the rigid variety, you should aim for something above 20 percent.
  • Voltage. Without getting too technical, you’ll need to make sure your charge controller is capable of handling the voltage produced by your solar panel. This becomes especially important when you wire multiple panels in series.
  • Warranty. Seeing as you’regoing to spend a good chunk of cash, it’s reasonable to expect a generous manufacturer warranty. After all, things can go wrong, and you’ll want to make sure you’re covered against any manufacturer defects.
  • Dimensions. Last, but not least, you should consider the physical space you’ve got to play with on your van’s roof. Make sure to take accurate measurements before committing, or else you could end up with a real headache!

Final Thoughts

We hope you’ve enjoyed our guide to the best walkable solar panels for van life. As we’ve seen, there are some awesome options available, not all of which will break the bank! Anyway, it seems like solar power technology is advancing at a rate of knots, so it’s likely prices will start to come down before too long.

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2 Comments

  1. My favorite place to wander when on the Northern half of my SNOBIRD life is Vancouver Island. There are milesNmiles of abandoned logging roads, where the trees have grown over the roads into an arch. This wreaks havoc with roof mounted accessories so a stronger, more durable panel sounds Ideal for my needs.

    As for SUNPOWER panels, I have used a couple of their older 250W panels. These are very high quality, but they put out very high voltage, measured at 47 v on my multimeter. This requires a better built solar charge controller. It is not the wattage rating that causes failures, but you need a higher rating for voltage. Cheap units labeled and supposedly rated for 50 volts, might go poof.
    BTDT

  2. Orion Van Gear sells multiple sizes of walkable solar panels with custom sizes that fit better on van roof racks. They also make modular aluminum deck panels so you can diy build a roof deck as big or small as you’d like. Then you can mount the walkable panels directly to their deck panels with rivnuts for a walkable solar deck! Definitely recommend you check them out!

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