Before you hit the road for your next big trip, read this guide to learn how to choose the best solar trickle charger for an RV.
Picture this: you’ve been traveling with your RV when you finally decide to settle in a spot for a few weeks. Either because you found the perfect camping spot or because its time to store your RV. While you were driving, you didn’t have to worry about the battery going dead. However, now that you’re idle, a trickle charger can ensure that your battery will still be charged once you decide to hit the road again.
The best solar trickle charger for an RV should produce enough amps to make up for the self-discharging that happens when batteries are on standby. For an RV battery, a trickle charger should have at least 15-20 watts of maximum power. At the same time, getting one that has a charge controller will prevent the battery from overcharging. Of course, at the end of the day any trickle charger must also be affordable.
The nice thing about solar trickle chargers is that they will keep your batteries topped up no matter where you are. No need for a power outlet, just access to sunlight. But with so many options on the market, which ones would be best for you and why?
What to Look For in Solar Trickle Chargers for RV
As mentioned above, you should investigate solar trickle chargers that have controllers in them. These devices will prevent the battery from overcharging. This is when a battery takes too much power, which can lead to a build-up of lead sulfate crystals. This is called sulphation and is the main reason for early battery failure. If this happens too much, the battery could be unusable.
The charge controller monitors the battery using pulse width modulation (PWM). This will help regulate the voltage so that the voltage doesn’t cross the safety limit of the battery. You can leave this setup connected forever, and no damage will be done to the battery.
On top of this, make sure to take advantage of the latest advances done to solar trickle chargers. For example, the latest brands include 3-piece SAE connectors. SAE stands for Society of Automotive Engineers and is an organization that sets the global standards for engineering industries.
Since SAE standards are recognized and used globally, their two-conductor DC connectors provide incredible versatility. In fact, most tools are forged to meet SAE sizes. Another benefit of a SAE connector is that they won’t run the risk of causing a short circuit even if the unexposed end gets in contact with metal.
3-piece connectors split up so that you can plug the different ends into different kinds of charging connectors. They also prevent you from reversing the polarities between the charger and the battery, potentially causing harm to both.
Best Solar Trickle Chargers for RV or Motorhome
See out top picks for your Recreational Vehicle:
The Sun ENERGISE solar battery charger is one of the most popular solar trickle chargers for RVs. Compared with our other top pics, its is one of the best all-around solar trickle chargers, generating up to 20% more power than the competitor. It features:
- Innovative MPPT charge controller to prevent your battery from overcharging
- 3-stage charging, designed to protect your battery
- An aluminum frame with tempered glass to maximize energy efficiency
- Adjustable mount brackets to optimize absorption of the sun’s rays
- Easy to install
- Portable, weighing just 6.2 lbs
- Waterproof & weather-resistant
Are you looking for a reliable off-grid battery system for your camper? The versatile Allto solar panel kit is an excellent choice. Compared to the others on our list, it offers the highest watts and is an excellent off-the-grid energy solution for smaller RVs. It is also one of the most energy efficient units listed. It features:
- A powerful 30-watt battery
- An advanced 10 MPPT charge controller
- Works with a wide range of batteries, including gel cell, wet cell, flooded, and lead-acid plus batteries.
- Innovative plug-and-play SAE battery clip capable
- Made of premium monocrystalline cells, designed to maximize the absorption of the sun’s rays
- Tempered glass and lightweight aluminum frame
Are you looking for premium protection for your battery during the off-season? The PulseTech Solar-24V Battery Charger and Desulfator is an excellent choice. It is the only system on our list to contain a desulfator, an innovative feature that can extent your battery’s life up to 5x longer than the others on this list. This desulfator is designed to protect your battery from harmful sulfates, minimize energy loss, and reduce the risk of battery failure while your vehicle is not in use for extended periods of time. It features:
- Patented pulse technology that removes damaging sulfates from the battery plates.
- Designed to extend battery life by up to 5x
- Features an O-Ring connection
- Works with AGM, flooded and VRLA lead-acid batteries
- A commercial-grade solar panel that is weatherproof
Instead of high-class technology at a high price, this one is simple and effective. It has none of the fancy bells and whistles of some of the chargers in this list but can charge any lead-acid battery that accepts its crocodile clips as leads.
In exchange for this low complexity, you are instead getting a fantastic deal. This battery is cheap and thus can fit most buyer's budget.
- Cheapest option in the market
- Waterproof and can be placed outdoors
- Light weight and easy to carry
- Limited connector options
- DC Maximum Output of 20 watts, enough to charge RV batteries
What Are Trickle Chargers?
Trickle chargers have been a registered invention for at least 70 years. For more on their history, click here. However, solar powered trickle chargers are a much more recent invention.
A trickle charger is a specific type of battery charger. It does not matter whether you are talking about an RV, a cell phone, or any device in between. A trickle charger runs on the same concept regardless.
For an RV there are three main reasons why you would want a trickle charger:
- Battery self-discharge – batteries naturally lose discharge overtime
- RV constant battery drain – your battery is powering all those utilities and electronics in your vehicle
- Battery life is shortened if overcharged, undercharged or left discharged- As a rule of thumb, you want to always keep deep cycle batteries charged above 50% to prevent battery sulphation.
Basically, when your RV sits idle, you want to make sure your battery remains properly charged. Even if it’s in storage for the winter. This will help prevent early battery failure due to sulphation.
It will also help ensure that you will not be stranded at your campsite for longer that you would wish for.
Many trickle chargers use solar these days. This means that you can plug them in and leave them alone for long periods to charge with no intervention from you. No need to worry about mapping campgrounds with outlets along your route. You can place the solar panel down and let nature take its course.
How Strong of a Trickle Charger Do I Need?
When it comes to RVs, it is important to have a minimum amount of power coming out of the solar panel, so that the battery takes and holds this charge.
You should expect to aim for at least 15 watts of power to begin charging an RV battery with any reasonable effect. Any less, and the battery will not pick up the charge effectively.
You do not want to go too much higher than 20 watts, though. If you go much higher, things get expensive very fast, and you do not get as much cost benefit out of the charger.
If you want to find out exactly how strong the charger should be, first you should work out how much power the battery can store in total. You can measure this in amps and it should be in the range of around 70-80 most of the time.
You should then find yourself a solar panel that can create enough amperage over a full day to replenish an empty battery. Or it should, at the very least, allow you to fill it to a level where you can use it to get somewhere safer.
Check out our guide to determine how much solar power you need for your RV.
How Long Do Trickle Chargers Last?
The answer to this question depends on the battery that you are using and if you are using a smart trickle charger. Some you can leave connected to your battery for months, replenishing the small amounts of power that it loses over time. For more information on smart use of trickle chargers, click here.
Other trickle chargers should not stay on a device for more than a couple days. Once the battery is full, you should remove a traditional charged battery that doesn’t have a controller from the RV. This prevents overcharging. In this guide we show how to measure the battery’s state of charge so you can check the level of charge on your battery.
Of course, the length that it lasts is determined by how much power the battery has lost. If it is empty, it can take a trickle charger up to 48 hours to fully charge.
The best way to know whether you should remove a trickle charger would be to consult your battery's manual. This should have all the information you need to know exactly how it will work.
Will My Solar Trickle Charger Work at Night?
The only real downside of solar battery trickle chargers is that they only work during daylight hours when they are exposed to sunlight. Fortunately, there is a way to remedy this shortcoming. You can supplement your trickle charger maintainer with a portable battery pack power bank. To learn more about how solar power from dusk to dawn works check out the bottom of our guide here.
If you are using your solar battery trickle charger with large equipment, such as an RV or boat, you may want to incorporate a power box into your system. These devices work like portable power banks, but they store much more energy.
If you are still wondering what the best solar panels for outdoor pursuits would be, click here.