Keeping Your RV GPS Powered with Solar

The Joys of RVing

There was the time I was boondocking out in the Utah desert and woke up to a herd of wild horses grazing right outside my camper. Or when I met the nicest couple from Minnesota at an RV park in the Florida Keys, and we ended up parking next to each other for weeks, sharing campfire stories and fresh catch fish dinners.

But it’s not all desert sunsets and newfound friends. RV life can also be frustrating at times. Like when the power goes out and you don’t have any way to recharge your devices. Or when you take a wrong turn and your GPS loses signal right when you need it most. Nothing takes the wind out of your sails faster than getting lost out there in the middle of nowhere.

Believe me, I’ve learned these lessons the hard way. But over the years I’ve figured out some solutions that have made my journeys much smoother. And that’s what I want to share with you today – how to keep your RV GPS powered up using solar so you never end up spinning your wheels without a navigational lifeline.

The Importance of GPS in an RV

When you’re living that nomadic life in a home on wheels, a good GPS is absolutely essential. I know some old-school RVers will say they get by just fine with paper maps and road atlases. But let me tell you, technology has come a long way since the days of unfolding dusty old maps that are 20 years out of date.

A quality RV GPS these days is extremely accurate, easy to update, and gives you turn-by-turn directions to ensure you never miss a turn. It can mean the difference between cruising confidently to your next destination or accidentally ending up in a dodgy neighborhood in the middle of the night.

Many newer motorhomes and campers come pre-installed with advanced GPS systems built right into the dash. Those are nice for convenience, but I still prefer my trusty handheld GPS device. I can take it in the truck when I’m off exploring new areas. And if anything goes haywire with my RV’s electrical system, my handheld keeps working.

But the catch is most handheld GPS units need to be recharged regularly, just like your smartphone. Nothing is more annoying than getting lost when your GPS blinks out because you forgot to plug it in the night before.

Keeping Your GPS Powered

The simplest option is to plug your GPS unit into your RV’s 12-volt power outlet and let it charge when you’re driving. But what about when you’re stationary for days or weeks? Letting your GPS run down every couple of days renders it pretty useless.

Some RVs have solar panels installed on the roof that channel energy into your house batteries. If you have this setup, you can easily connect your GPS to one of the 12-volt outlets and it will stay charged.

But if solar isn’t already part of your RV, there are still ways to harness the power of the sun for your navigation needs. Here are some effective options I’ve used over the years:

Portable Solar Panels

These are solar panels that fold or roll up for easy transport. Then when you’re camped somewhere with sunlight, you can lay the panels outside and plug your GPS directly into the built-in USB port. Decent quality panels range anywhere from 10 watts to over 100 watts.

I used a 30-watt Renogy panel for years that worked great. It kept my GPS charged for a few cloudy days even. The downside is you have to remember to put the panel out in the sun if you’re stationary for more than a day. And the larger panels can be a bit unwieldy.

Pro Tip: Get an extension cable so you can place the panel in the sun while keeping your GPS in the shade inside your RV.

Portable Solar Chargers

A solar charger is essentially a backup battery pack that recharges via solar panels. You leave the unit in sunlight during the day, then can plug devices into its USB port(s) as needed.

Some popular picks are the Anker PowerCore Solar charger, with a 10,000 mAh capacity, and the BEARTWO battery pack, which goes up to 24,000 mAh. Charging your GPS off one of these solar batteries is an “set it and forget it” way to go. Just make sure the solar charger is getting sun during the day.

Downsides are capacity can be limited on smaller units, and they’re another device you’ll need to keep charged. But very handy for off-grid power in a pinch.

All-in-One Solar Kits

These kits include one or more solar panels, charge controllers, cables and all the fixings to set up a complete portable solar charging system. It takes a bit more effort than a plug-and-play panel or charger, but you get way more versatility.

A great midrange kit is the Renogy 100W Solar Starter Kit. It comes with a 100W solar panel, charge controller, adapter and cables to charge all types of batteries. You can mount the panel on your roof or lay it outside your RV and charge your GPS directly from the battery.

For max power, upgrade to the WindyNation 200W Complete Solar Kit. This includes an adjustable stand to angle the panels toward the sun. And you get the capability to run higher draw devices like RV refrigerators for hours. A top shelf setup, but you’ll pay for it.

Key Considerations for Solar Charging Your GPS

Setting up any solar charging system takes a bit of knowledge. Here are some key factors to keep in mind:

Your Power Needs

Consider what devices you’ll want to charge and their individual power needs. Most handheld GPS units require very little power – just a few watts per day. So a smaller 10 to 30W solar panel or charger is plenty for keeping it powered.

Hours of Sunlight

The more direct sunlight your panels get, the faster your devices will charge. So if you’re camped in the desert or southwestern U.S., smaller panels should do the trick. But if it’s often cloudy or rainy where you RV, go bigger to make the most of the sunlight you do get.


If you move locations frequently, prioritize smaller, lightweight solar panels or chargers. The rigid panels give you more bang for your buck, but flexible panels are much easier to store.


Consider if you want a solar solution just for your GPS, or if you may want to add more devices later like cabin lights or a portable fridge. Going bigger with a 200W kit leaves room to expand without buying all new gear later.

Mounting Options

For permanent roof mounting, gel solar panels can handle bumps and vibrations better while driving. But for a portable kit, crystalline panels are just fine. And make sure your charge controller is designed for RV use for the best performance.

Now let’s talk about which GPS models are best suited for off-grid power and RV life in general. Based on personal experience through much trial and error, here are my top picks:

Garmin RV 770

Garmin makes some of the best navigators purpose-built for RVs. The RV 770 model has a large 7-inch display and preloaded campgrounds/parks.

But the real advantage is the energy-saving design. It uses less power than a typical mobile phone, so you can go weeks between charges if needed. And it has a battery save mode to eke out even more standby time.

With the RV 770’s frugal energy demands, even a small solar panel or charger will keep it kicking. It’s pricey but worth it.

Rand McNally OverDryve 8 Pro

Rand McNally built their OverDryve GPS line specifically with RVers and truckers in mind. The 8 Pro model has excellent RV-friendly routing to avoid low clearances, as well as warnings for steep grades and weight-restricted roads.

The display removes for easy portability, and the battery lasts up to 16 hours in use. Combine that efficiency with solar charging, and you’ll have power to spare.

Garmin DezlCam LMTHD

I have a major soft spot for Garmin’s Dezl line. It doesn’t have quite as many RV-specific features as the RV model. But the navigation and lane guidance are excellent.

The Dezl OTR700 model is optimized for saving power. It also has built-in dash cam capabilities. Extra handy for recording crazy road situations to laugh about later around the campfire (or use as evidence with your insurance company).

Having an RV GPS you can rely on is truly a game-changer for stress-free travel and boondocking. The key is keeping the thing charged even when you’re off the grid. Whether you want a plug-and-play solar panel for occasional use or a full-blown solar kit for maximum energy independence.

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