It’s America’s best-selling lightweight teardrop travel trailer, and it can go just about anywhere. Imagine having gutsy solar power in your R-Pod, allowing you to spend peaceful, unhurried off-grid weeks in the wilderness. It’s a beautiful idea, right? Well, it’s achievable – with a custom solar system sporting the best solar panels for your R-Pod.
R-Pods are well equipped for campsite getaways, but they’re not fully geared for boondocking adventures, and they’re tight on space for retrofit equipment. To experience life off-grid in your R-Pod, you need solar power. Finding the best solar panels for your R-Pod is a good place to start.
Here’s what we’ll look at:
- Why R-Pods need solar power
- Types of Solar Panels for R-Pods
- Challenges facing R-Pod solar installations
- How to conduct an R-Pod energy audit
- Best R-Pod solar panel Buyer’s Guide
- Configuring a hybrid R-Pod energy solution
Equipping an RV with a solar system is no simple task, and a teardrop-shaped R-Pod presents several unique challenges. This post will investigate the obstacles facing solar installation on an R-Pod, and offer the best solutions to get your R-Pod solar-powered and boondocking fit!
Why Do R-Pods Need Solar Power?
Your R-Pod makes an excellent backcountry travel trailer with its high ground clearance and lightweight maneuverability. However, the R-Pod’s standard power equipment isn’t geared for extended off-grid camping. You will need a suitable solar system to give you a genuine off-grid boondocking experience.
Alongside propane, R-Pod trailers are equipped to run appliances off AC (alternating current) and DC (direct current) power.
- Shore power connectors allow 120V AC to run power-hungry appliances via an extension cord from the campsite’s 120V pedestal to your R-Pod.
- A 12V battery (or two) fitted to the R-Pod provides DC power to charge and run smaller gadgets like lights, fans, phones, camera batteries, and tablets.
- Large appliances in the R-Pod, such as the refrigerator, can run on DC power, but a large battery storage capacity is necessary.
- Typically, a factory-fitted battery charger/converter charges the 12V battery using 120V AC shore power or 120V from a portable gas generator.
- A propane bottle supplies gas to the refrigerator, water heater, cooker, and furnace.
If you’re happy to only camp at sites with shore power, your R-Pod has all the necessary equipment to make your holiday comfortable.
A two-way electric/propane refrigerator, water heater, and microwave oven are standard in most R-Pods. A cooker and furnace, water pump, toilet and shower, and a flat-screen TV are also common fitments in many R-Pod models, giving their owners a relatively luxurious camping experience.
However, if you want to camp off-grid without regularly using a gasoline generator, your stock-standard R-Pod power supply will be insufficient to see you happy for more than a day or two.
The only way you’re going to be able to power all your appliances for an extended period (a week or more) is to install a suitably specified solar system.
The solar panels will play a pivotal role in enabling your R-Pod’s solar system to provide the power for your must-have appliances and gadgets.
The good news is that R-Pods now come solar-ready from the factory, which means they’ve got the necessary roof and side ports to accommodate an aftermarket solar system.
Testimony to the value of solar power in an RV, the manufacturer of the R-Pod, Forest River, also offers a ‘solar package’ for the R-Pod. But we’ll get to that a little later in this post.
Types of Solar Panels for R-Pods
Solar panels for RVs (including R-Pods) are manufactured in several power-delivery and design formats, giving off-grid campers a wide spectrum of choices. Build-quality and aftersales support from solar panel manufacturers also vary widely. Buying solar panels from reputable suppliers is advisable.
Two standard types of RV solar panels can be fitted to your R-Pod – monocrystalline and polycrystalline. These two types of solar panels range in photovoltaic energy output from 20 Watts to 400 Watts.
- Monocrystalline Solar Panels: Using refined silicone, this solar panel has a higher efficiency rating than the polycrystalline type. More solar energy can therefore be produced in a smaller surface area.
- Monocrystalline solar panels cost more than polycrystalline solar panels.
- Polycrystalline Solar Panels: Using older solar technology and less visually appealing than a monocrystalline solar panel, this type of solar panel is still competitive in terms of photovoltaic efficiency and is less expensive than its monocrystalline counterpart.
- Polycrystalline solar panels are slightly larger than equivalently specified monocrystalline panels.
Watch this monocrystalline vs. polycrystalline video to see how close they really are –
Monocrystalline solar panels are available in rigid and flexible iterations.
- Rigid solar panels are made with glass in an aluminum frame and are heavier than flexible solar panels but are more durable.
- Once mounted on an R-Pod roof, rigid solar panels are elevated from the roof surface, making cooling easier.
- Flexible solar panels are thinner, lighter, more portable, and easier to mount than rigid solar panels.
- Flexible solar panels are designed to be mounted on curved surfaces but require DIY adaptation to ensure cooling before mounting on an R-Pod roof.
Portable monocrystalline solar panels are popular RV accessories because they can be easily moved to capture direct sunlight throughout the day.
- Rooftop solar panels may spend much of the time in the shade when you’re boondocking, making portable solar panels a must!
Portable solar panels are made from rigid and flexible materials. Various foldout designs are available online, including:
- Rigid Suitcase solar panels
- Flexible Blanket solar panels
With a clear understanding of the various available options, it’s time to hone in on how to equip your R-Pod with the best solar panel configuration.
Which Solar Panels are Best for My R-Pod?
The best solar panels for your R-Pod will allow you to maximize the surface area on the vehicle for solar power generation. These could include a mix of rigid and flexible solar panels, both fixed and portable.
Solar panels improve in efficiency year on year, and right now, Amazon.com has a wide selection. Browse online and get all the features and benefits for each model and informative customer reviews.
Best Solar Panels for your R-Pod
Best Premium Rigid Solar Panel
Rich Solar 170W monocrystalline solar panel
You can fit two of these panels on the larger R-pod models. They’re pumping out 70 Watts more than the standard 100-Watt RV panel, and they’re highly efficient in low light, cloudy conditions. They’re under $200, plus they come with a 25-year warranty!
Best Budget Rigid Solar Panel
HQST 100W monocrystalline solar panel
With a 21.8% claimed efficiency rate, this panel is a bargain at under $100. The manufacturer estimates 500Wh power delivery in sunny weather! The warranty is a conservative but reassuring three years.
Best Premium Flexible Solar Panel
SunPower 110W Flexible Solar Panel
The hottest flexible panel on the market right now, with an efficiency rating of 25%. The panels can flex as much as 30 degrees to conform to curved R-Pod surfaces. With a five-year power warranty, they’re a safe bet for R-Pod owners – a lightweight, portable, easily mountable solar panel solution that packs a heavy punch.
Best Budget Flexible Solar Panel
Renogy 175W Flexible Solar Panel
Weighing in at 70% lighter than a 100W rigid panel, this flexible solar panel is a dry camping winner – high power output, portability, and a small footprint! It isn’t the cheapest flexible panel out there, but it’s a quality product giving you more power in a smaller footprint. And, Renogy is a US company with a solid reputation for aftersales service.
Best Polycrystalline Solar Panel
HQST 100W Polycrystalline Solar Panel
Highly durable and relatively light, this 100 Watt panel is a marginally cheaper option than a monocrystalline solar panel. The efficiency rating is very similar to a mono counterpart, and the amazon reviews are positive, with an average 4.5-star rating. HQST is strong in aftersales service.
Best Portable Foldout Solar Suitcase
Renogy 100W Monocrystalline Foldout Portable Solar Suitcase
It weighs 26 pounds, so it’s sturdy. It comes with a kickstand and a 20 Amp Voyager charge controller included in the competitive price of around $198!
The combination of brand power, ruggedness, kit form, and portability make this solar suitcase a solid bet for smaller R-Pod owners.
Best Portable Foldout Solar Blanket
ROCKPALS SP003 100W Foldout Portable Solar Panel
This foldout solar panel blanket is designed to work with solar generators. Equipped with two USB charging ports for phones and tablets, it weighs just over five pounds and packs away very neatly. It rates well on Amazon and comes in at a reasonable $216.
Best RV Solar Panel Starter Kit
Renogy 100W Monocrystalline Solar Panel Kit with MPPT Charge Controller
If you’re looking to get your R-Pod solar-powered with minimal fuss, this starter kit may be the answer. You get a 100 Watt solar panel, 20 Amp Rover MPPT charge controller, mounting brackets, and 20 feet of cabling. With Renogy consultants on hand to help, you’re bound for boondocking simplicity! The kit sells for around $200.
Challenges Facing R-Pod Solar Panel Installation
R-Pods are compact and teardrop in profile. Open, flat roof space is limited, which restricts solar panel fitment. Securing solar panels on the fiberglass R-Pod roof using screws or bolts may cause leaks. The Zamp solar connector on the ‘solar ready’ R-Pod is proprietary to Zamp solar products.
It’s all about the R-Pod roof. Or is it? R-Pod roofs are made from a single piece of fiberglass. While much of the roof is flat, it curves front and rear, depending on the R-Pod model.
- The curved roof sections of the R-Pod don’t allow for the fitment of rigid solar panels.
A possible option to overcome this shortage of roof space:
- To maximize the roof area of your R-Pod for solar power generation, use rigid solar panels (monocrystalline or polycrystalline) on flat surfaces and flexible solar panels on the curved sections of the roof.
How do I securely fit solar panels on my R-Pod roof without causing leaks?
The easy answer is – Don’t Drill, Stick!
Use VHB (Very High Bonding) Tape from 3M or Eternabond to mount your solar panels on the roof of your R-Pod.
Note: Solar panels become less efficient the hotter they get. It is important to allow air to flow below a roof-mounted solar panel to keep it as cool as possible.
Mounting flexible solar panels on the roof of your R-Pod:
- Watch this first –
- Then this –
R-Pods now come with a ‘solar ready’ cable hole in the roof and the necessary wiring to connect a roof-mounted Zamp solar panel to a Zamp solar charge controller.
Whether you opt for Zamp solar panels or not, the factory-made cable hole in the R-Pod roof will allow you to easily run your choice of cables from the rooftop solar panels to your customized interior solar management system (you won’t need a drill at all!).
Another potential snag lies with the R-Pod’s Zamp Solar battery charging port, located on the side of the trailer to accommodate a portable solar panel.
What’s the problem? Zamp Solar flipped the polarities of the cabling (known as ‘reverse polarity) in the R-Pod’s charging port, rendering any other solar panel running conventional positive/negative wiring inoperable on the R-Pod!
The catch is, if you don’t purchase the Zamp Solar portable charging kit from Forest River, your R-Pods charging port will be useless!
There is an easy fix!
If you opt for a different brand of portable solar panel, buy a Tecmate Optimate Cable (Amazon.com) to repolarize the cables. Simple!
Watch this video to learn how –
With awareness of the challenges facing customized solar panel installations on R-Pods, you can focus on choosing the best products for your unique off-grid requirements. But first, it’s best to do some math!
How to Conduct an R-Pod Energy Audit
An energy audit will determine how many watt-hours (Wh) your R-Pod’s appliances use in 24 hours. Add the watts per appliance and multiply by the time spent using each. The battery bank in your R-Pod will supply this power, while the solar panels keep the batteries charged during daylight.
If this sounds mystifying, watch this video on how to calculate your solar energy requirements in your R-Pod:
The upshot is this – Your battery bank is your off-grid/dry camping power station. Choosing the best batteries for your power requirements is essential.
A lithium iron phosphate battery is the most efficient for an RV solar system. They’re pricey, but cheaper lithium-ion, AGM, and lead-acid batteries are available to serve the conservative RV solar power consumer.
Once you’ve determined your optimum battery bank capacity, you can then select solar panels with sufficient energy output to charge your batteries, along with a suitably specified MPPT solar charge controller to manage the voltage flowing from your solar panels to your battery bank.
The final step in the solar system setup is choosing a pure sine wave inverter to convert DC power from the battery to AC power to run your 120V appliances.
How To Configure a Hybrid R-Pod Energy System
Getting the most out of your R-Pod’s solar system will require a hybrid approach – a mix of different types of solar panels solar, car charging while you drive, and propane. Solar power is a complex science – don’t be shy to ask for advice from experts.
Create an R-Pod solar panel orchestra – use a combination of mounted panels and an array of portable panels. Consider using flexible SunPower panels as portable solar panels. They stack quickly and safely under an R-Pod mattress, and at less than an inch thick, you could camp with four pointing directly at the sun!
Solar generators are a good way to provide your R-Pod with an extra battery bank. Your existing solar panels can charge the battery in the generator, as can your car while you’re driving, giving you another source of battery power.
Watch this small RV hybrid solution –
Ultimately, dry camping success is all about the wise use of energy. Don’t run heavy-draw appliances like big fridges, microwaves, and hairdryers off battery power.
Invest in a small 12V camping fridge, dry your hair in the sun, and watch a bonfire instead of a flat-screen TV at night!
All told, you want to be in peaceful solitude away from the campsite crowds. By customizing your solar power system using fixed and portable solar panels with an MPPT charge controller, you will be able to spend lots of quiet time in nature without shore power!