How To Choose Between Folding, Fixed And Blanket Solar Panels

How To Choose Between Folding, Fixed And Blanket Solar Panels

Solar vs Solar vs Solar. How do you choose?

Over the last decade there has been a large increase in the solar options available on the Australian market for those of us who choose to get out and enjoy this beautiful country. Whether it’s off to your favorite local camp ground that has the perfect quiet spot by the river, you enjoy travelling the Old Tele and tackling Palm Creek or seeing if you can make it over Big Red in the Simpson. Commonly, to all of these amazing spots it is getting away from the world we are all used to and not always having easy access to a reliable source of electricity.

An easy way to solve this is an auxiliary battery or two and having a way to recharge them when you are sitting back and enjoying this beautiful country.

What is the best way to recharge your batteries? The quiet, simple, cheap and reliable answer to this is solar. However, how do you pick from the hundreds of options on the market? We run you through the three options on the market and provide hints and tips to make your decision easier.


Comparing All Three Solar Panel Types:

To compare the solar panel options, the common factors people will compare include cost, size (physically speaking as opposed wattage), weight, setup time, daily power output and securability (how easy is it to steal).

Highest price per watt are solar blankets; as the newest and technically hardest to manufacture there is a price premium that relates to this product. As we are seeing in increase in popularity for these, we are already starting to see lower cost versions come to market.

The cheapest option per Watt is a fixed panel, though with the competitive nature of solar power in Australia, folding kits are not far behind per Watt. Keep in mind with a fixed solar panel, you are normally buying just the solar panel, you need to supply cables, connectors, solar regulators etc.

So finally, folding solar panel kits are normally the middle ground, with a lot of possible movement in their pricing due to the different cost of extra components that can be bundled with the kit. Though if you are looking for good value and an option that is ready for use straight away, this is the way to go.

So purely on a pricing basis you have multiple options from basic entry level kits to more complete options all the way up to the ultimate option in performance, space and weight saving.


Which Solar Panel is Right For You?

Like most things, it depends on your specific requirements, needs, space and budget. In our experience, the cheap solar blankets are not as efficient as they claim, so it is best to avoid the very low end of the market. We sell some budget friendly options that still yield good results.

A portable folding panel, while not as lightweight and compact as a blanket, will provide a portable option with a very high yield. The advantage of this panel is they are generally on an angled frame that can be adjusted for maximum sun exposure. Something that blankets struggle with. These rigid type panels are easy to clean and maintain, and should have a longer lifespan than a soft panel. The only negative, is they are far bulkier than a soft folding option.

Once you are looking to get away for longer periods and if you have higher power usage requirements per day (100+ Amps per day), then you are probably heading into the realm of requiring fixed panels, with a total system of 300+ Watts.

You always have the choice of using a combination of products in your solar setup in order to get the best from each solar option.

It is becoming more common to see combined solar setups which may include a fixed roof panel that is big enough in most situations, and a smaller portable solar blanket, or panel, that can be easily setup just in case a bit more power is required.


Solar Panels Compared:




Folding Panels

  • Fairly affordable
  • Portable, can be moved to chase the sun
  • Fairly easy to setup
  • Plug & play
  • Heavy
  • Bulky
  • Must be stationary to use
  • Some setup is required


Solar Blankets


  • Lightweight
  • Compact
  • Durable
  • Plug & play
  • Convenient
  • Easy to setup
  • Portable, can be moved to chase the sun
  • Can be expensive
  • Must be stationary to use


Fixed Panels


  • Value for money
  • Simple to use
  • Once installed, no setup is required
  • Can be used while on the move
  • Multiple panels can be installed on the roof of your vehicle
  • Vehicle must be parked in full sunlight for the best results
  • Takes up roof space that may be used for surfboards
  • Need to run cabling
Flexible Panels
  • Can be used on curved surfaces
  • Extremely lightweight
  • Very durable
  • Easy to install with no mounting frames required
  • Installation isn't as secure due to being attached with adhesive/tape
  • Can be easily scratched and damaged


Cell Types Compared:

Now this has been a discussion on different options on the Australian market for solar panels but these have all been for monocrystalline panels. Polycrystalline panels used to be a cheaper option, though they have fallen out of favour a number of years ago as the pricing became very similar and generally monocrystalline panels are the better option as far as output goes.

Caravan RV Camping offer a variety of monocrystalline solar panels, available as fixed, folding or blankets. Brands of solar panels available include Enerdrive, Dometic, Exotronic, SunmanSphere and Renogy.


Solar Panel Usage Tips:


  • Identify if you require a solar regulator or not. Most portable folding solar panels will come with a solar regulator, but you may already have one as part of your install. For example:

  • Look into portable solar panels with regulators such as the Sphere 200W Monocrystalline Solar Blanket

  • Adjust panel position throughout the day to capture the most sun.

  • Choose a lightweight folding soft panel  that has support legs for angled positioning to catch the most sun. The 235W Sunman eArc Portable Solar Blanket comes with support legs and an in-built regulator.

  • Where possible, use an MPPT solar regulator and check if the regulator is compatible with your battery type, especially for Lithium Batteries. 



  • Maintain your panels by keeping them clean.

  • Given the low cost per watt, buy as many panels as you can fit on your roof.

  • Purchase panels with MC4 connectors on the back, for example the Enerdrive 190W Fixed Solar Panel. This makes for easy parallel or series connection.

  • Use an MPPT solar regulator.

  • Position the solar regulator as close to the battery as possible to minimise voltage drop.

  • Bundles and installation kits are really handy when choosing fixed solar panels to ensure you make the most our of your solar panel. The Renogy 100W Solar Start Kit is a great example. 


Our Recommendations:

As always, everyone's requirements are different. We recommend a combination of a fixed panel on the roof of your vehicle, and a folding panel that can be deployed easily. This provides the best opportunity to capture the most solar available. You can park your vehicle in the shade and still have your portable panel with an extension cable out in the sun. For those wanting to travel light, solar blankets are a great option and have come down in price over the past few years.


Should you need any assistance in deciding on the type or size solar panel for your battery setup, give Caravan RV Camping a call on 1800 787 278.


DISCLAIMER* Please note, this advice is general in nature and we strongly recommend consulting the product manual and where relevant, a professional installer.

Comments (5)

Flexible panels

If flexible solar panels are sealed with silicone directly to your car roof or canopy can it cause them to get to hot and not function properly. is it better to have air flow under them to keep them cooler?
By: Tony on 08 June 2023 Response
Sealing flexible solar panels directly to your car roof or canopy with silicone can indeed cause them to get hot, potentially affecting their efficiency and overall performance. Without proper airflow, the heat generated by the solar panels can build up, leading to decreased efficiency and possibly even damage to the panels over time. Allowing for airflow underneath the panels can help dissipate heat more effectively, keeping the panels cooler and maximizing their energy production. This can be achieved by mounting the panels slightly above the surface, using spacers or brackets, to create a gap that allows air to flow underneath. Additionally, providing adequate ventilation around the panels can further help in keeping them cool. This could involve designing the installation in a way that promotes airflow, such as leaving gaps between individual panels or incorporating vents in the mounting system. In summary, while sealing solar panels directly to the surface may seem convenient, allowing for airflow underneath them is preferable to prevent overheating and optimize their performance in the long run. In some cases it can also void your warranty if there is not adequate ventilation

Alternative folding panels

Your comparison does not mention ETFE folding panels, they are lightweight, easy to erect and have far better efficiency than the mono style panels and far easier to use than the heavy folding blankets that are difficult to orient towards the sun.
By: Philip Welten on 08 June 2023 Response
Hi Phil, you will find a selection of these in the Solar Blanket Section, even though they are also classed as foldable panels. The Bluetti range of portable panels have the Ethylene tetrafluoroethylene lamination on them.

Appreciate it

By: Tristan Dawes on 08 June 2023

250 watt folding Solar panel

Gday guys I brought a folding 250 watt Solar panel. I have since bought a full length alloy canopy. Can I fit this to racks on top if I make the folding frame 1 solid piece with screws and brackets
By: Jonny Child on 08 June 2023 Response
Hi Jonny, while these panels aren't intended for permanent fixture there is no reason why you can't. It would be advised to ensure they are fully secured both at the folding join and around the entire edge. This is done so at your own risk though.

Solar blanket

Can you fix a solar blanket to the top of my van thinking of silicone something low so hard to see for a stealth campervan. Don't want a normal panel up on brackets any suggestions would be great
By: Peter Chapman on 08 June 2023 Response
Hi Peter, flexible solar panels can be installed directly to the roof of your van using a silicone adhesive. A solar 'blanket' is for portable solutions, check out the range of 'flexible' panels on our website:

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