Does Solar Powered Gear Power Inside a Tent?


Camping is of my favorite outdoor experiences, right up there with backpacking to somewhere out of the way. When these your two favorite outdoor activities, it’s easy to see why portable solar powered gear would be attractive. When you’re dozens or even a hundred miles from the nearest plug-in, having the ability to charge the digital camera and/or phone is a life-saver.

This brings up the question: how good does the weather have to be? Will things you leave inside a tent charge or will need to carry everything with you all the time?

Solar chargers will work inside most modern tents thought not as well as when left in the open sunlight. The color of the tent and thickness of material are the two biggest factors that affect how quickly solar gear powers inside a tent.

One notable exception is canvas tents. If your tent is made of a thick canvas material that doesn’t let any sunlight in then obviously the chargers won’t work.

But for most tents that most of us use for camping or hiking now, the situation is actually much easier.

solar laptop charging while camping
Yeah, that’ll work.

Can Solar Chargers Work Inside Tents?

The short answer yes. Solar panels work, and thus solar chargers work in the majority of tents, with canvas tents being the notable exception.

This is important because sometimes you ant to explore the area, check out local trails, go fishing, or otherwise enjoy the area without having to haul your gear around or keep it out in the wide open. While the realistic protection from burglary via a tent is nominal at best – some go with the attitude that it’s best to keep an honest man honest.

Why Do Solar Chargers Work in Tents?

Because solar panels are meant to convert as many types of light as possible into energy. Portable solar panels also are designed for hikers, backpackers, campers – which means the panels won’t always be in optimal condition. They have to work despite shade, cover, suboptimal conditions, and more.

Since most tents are made to be light with thin fabric, sunlight and light gets through. That light makes it through that hits a panel will be turned into energy.

Is charging solar powered gear from inside a tent efficient? No. Not most of the time and generally not unless you optimize it with the perfect tent, but a little bit of charge while away is better than none.

How Can I Make My Solar Charger Work Better in My Tent?

Make sure the portable panels are laid out in a way to capture most of the light coming in. If you’ll be away for a while, make sure to position them in the direction where the sun will be the majority of the time. This still won’t be the same as having the panels out in the open, but it will get you a lot more than if you just toss your gear in the corner.

open mesh tents in sunlight
The open mesh with sunlight coming directly through is crucial to get the most out of charging up solar gear n in an actual tent.

The other major part of it is the type of tent that you have. Some colors are darker and don’t let in as much light. Some fabrics are lighter/thinner and let in more light. Obviously charging your portable solar gear in these tents is going to be better in the second type.

If this is a major concern for what type of tent you want before your next outing, then this next section should explain everything.

What Tents Are Best for Letting Sunlight In?

The best color tents in this case are generally duller or darker colors that bring in more light versus deflecting it away. However, this isn’t quite as important as how thick/thin the material is. The thinner the material, the more light it lets in, the more energy that your solar panel is going to pick up.

This means a very light material like light blue can still be fine as long as it is lighter as opposed to really thick. However with colors like yellow it’s best to find another option. Oh, and it deflects more light, too 🙂

Mesh

Many designs for tents involve a dome design that is very heavy on mesh, and a rain fly can be tossed over the top. If this is the design of your tent, then as far as charging solar backpacks, batteries, or phone chargers – you should be good to go.

These keep out the bugs and that’s about it. So if the skies are sunny for as far as the eyes can see, then you might be able to keep the rain tarps off and let everything charge at almost full capacity.

That’s because of the sheer amount of sun going through. If the rain tarp is on, then it goes back to thickness of material as well as color of the tarp to determine how much charging actually takes place in the tent.

Nylon Vs Polyester Vs Blend

This type of material generally doesn’t matter when it comes to charging solar outdoor gear, more the design of the tent, the amount of mesh, and the color of the tent. Considering all of these can be made thin or thick, that will determine whether a tent design works or not.


Recommended Tents

For individuals or couplesClostnature Lightweight Backpacking Tent

This is an outstanding tent that is built for the lightweight backpackers and that means a great design, very light weight, and a mesh-heavy top which makes charging your solar gear a breeze.

I’ve used this one on couple off trail exploratory hikes myself and have been extremely happy with it. Might be time to break it on out again soon.

For familiesCampros 9-Person Family Tent

My best buddy from college used this tent to take his family out camping and swears by it. He’s always been a bit picky when it comes to favorite outdoor gear, so his recommendation means a lot to me. The reviews on Amazon seem to support his point of view so I’m happy to recommend it.

These are two tents that are very high quality while having the mesh ceiling design that you want if charging your solar-powered gear while away is a big priority.


Is the Tent UV-Light Reflecting?

This is generally a good thing when it comes to tents because too much UV can be bad for your health. Watch that skin and keep healthy. However, UV light is also the type that charges solar gear which means a solid UV deflective tent is also going to allow slower charging of your gear in the tent.

It will still work, because non-UV light sources can charge solar gear, as well. Once again, not as effectively, but it still works.

It’s also worth noting that over time even strong UV coating tends to wear off after enough use. Cleanings, harsh weather, and just sheer amount of time being used will all partially contribute to this.

Skip the Canvas Tents

While I have a love for a good canvas tent, when it comes to charging up solar gear this is just a no-go. If you want to set up a semi-permanent camp with wood stove, platform, and live like a wild person in the middle of nowhere, great. If you want a tent that allows charging of solar gear while you’re gone…not so much.

For the purposes of solar gear, just skip the canvas tent if you need charging to take place inside the actual tent. You’re bound to be disappointed if that’s a main priority.

Solar Powered Gear Charging in Tents: The Verdict

The truth is that nothing is going to beat direct sunlight for letting the solar panels work and do their thing. But as our experiments looking at LED lights and even incandescent light bulbs working on charging modern portable solar panels that come with most charging devices.

The four biggest factors in determining how well your outdoor portable solar gear charges inside of a tent come down to:

  • The color of the tent
  • The material and design of the tent
  • Whether there’s a strong UV-coating or not
  • How much open mesh is in the design

These factors will determine which tents are going to work for charging electronics inside the tent and which will not. While this won’t be the main priority for most people, it is important for enough of us that it should be a consideration when making those purchases.

While most non-canvas tents still allow charging during the day inside the tent to some degree or another, some designs are clearly better than the others. The good news is that your solar charges will work inside a tent. Just don’t expect miracles.

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Shane

Hi, I'm Shane! I've always felt a passion for two worlds: one in technology and one for the great oudoors away from it. The amazing advances in solar power in my lifetime have really opened up the possibilities, and both my brother and I are deeply passionate about where solar power meets outdoor gear!

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