In September 2019, we did a crazy thing (or was it sane)? Kim and I bought an RV to live in full time with our toddler and cattle dog. We traded in 2,223 square feet, 3.42 acres, and a pool for 400 square feet on wheels.
For our maiden voyage, we drove to Utah to do a shakedown and learn what we needed to live our dream. Along the way, we did some incredible hikes:
- Grand Canyon Rim to Rim
- Yant Flat to Candy Cliffs
- Red Canyon Slot (Peekaboo Canyon)
- The Wave (Coyote Buttes North)
We pulled our trailer nearly 2,000 miles and learned a lot by trial and error along the way. One of our biggest unforeseen headaches was the RV battery.
When we bought our RV, our dealer emphasized that its battery was the single most important thing to maintain. I remember him saying, “If this battery’s bad, it’s going to lessen the life of everything that has a circuit board.”
One night, we dry camped on some BLM land outside of Page, AZ and it got cold, maybe freezing or a few degrees below that. We set the thermostat to 67° F and the heat kicked on a lot throughout the night.
As total noobs, we knew the heater used propane but didn’t realize it used 12-volt electricity from the battery to run a blower fan. By morning, we had almost drained our battery. Yikes!
We needed to find a way to keep our battery charged while RV’ing without hookups. The most obvious solution was to buy a fuel generator, but they are noisy, take up a lot of space, and require maintenance.
Our next thought was to get rooftop solar panels, but professional installations can be outlandishly expensive and we know zilch about electric. Buying panels and doing it ourselves would be difficult, time consuming, and potentially hazardous.
One day, I was farting around on the internet and stumbled on a portable suitcase solar panel made by Renogy. It had a built-in charge controller and came with alligator clips, so I wouldn’t need to get anything extra to connect it and charge our battery.
In theory, I could unzip the suitcase, fold out the panel’s arms, position it toward the sun, and we’d have power! I emailed Renogy and asked them if they’d send us one to review. They kindly obliged and provided excellent support along the way.
So far, the Renogy 100W Monocrystalline Foldable Solar Suitcase has worked great for us. For the winter months, we’ve been bouncing around the southwest and have had enough sunshine to stay charged while boondocking.
There are a lot of portable and suitcase-style solar panels on the market, but the one Renogy makes is the most affordable I could find. It’s sturdy, well-constructed, and easy to set up.
It doesn’t come with a paper manual in the box, but you can view or download it online.
At 27 lbs, it’s close to the same weight as my 2-year-old daughter. I can’t say she’s lightweight but we manage 😂
Every couple of weeks we like to dry camp with our RV. We’ve been using the Renogy panel to recharge our battery during the day.
The first time I set up the panel, I was a bit intimidated and I didn’t want to mess anything up. We were camped close to Canyon Lake in Arizona. Surprisingly, I had service so I called Renogy Support.
I seriously couldn’t believe how easy it was. I unzipped the cover, pulled the panel out, set up its legs, and pointed it toward the late afternoon sun.
Our RV has a Furrion solar port on it, so I used an adapter I found on Amazon to connect the panel to our battery. Later, I ditched this in favor of the included alligator clips because they seem to charge faster.
The technician walked me through the settings on the Voyager Charge Controller. All I had to do is select “wet” to tell the battery what kind of battery it was connected to and voila, the LCD panel showed the amperage. I was told this was a measurement of the current flowing into the battery 👍
For us, the best feature of the panel is its portability. It folds into a nice carrying case that protects it from the other gear in our RV’s pass-through storage.
Easy to Set Up
The aluminum stand is easy to set up and adjustable so you can position it to catch more sun rays. One thing I learned is that you want to match the tilt angle to your latitude +15° in the winter and -15° in the summer.
You don’t have to worry about damaging the panel or controller if it rains because it’s waterproof. When I found this out, I was on cloud nine.
At some point we’ll want to upgrade to a lithium battery. Luckily, we won’t have to get a new unit because it’s compatible with almost every type of battery.
Living in an RV has made us extra cautious about fires. I’m glad that Renogy uses a low-voltage system with overcharge protection and a negative-ground system to lower that risk.
As far as I can tell, Renogy makes the most affordable, flexible, and efficient solar panels around. Admittedly, we’re new to this so you have to give credit to Renogy for making a beginner-friendly package that works GREAT. This has enabled us to stay disconnected from hookups for longer and explore more!