After losing a fixed solar panel on our Reconn R2 somewhere between Albany and Perth (you can read about that here – Where’s my solar panel gone?), we needed to get some extra solar capacity happening, and the Kings Solar Blanket popped up online. Now, we’ve only ever bought a couple of very small items from 4WD Supacentre, and are well and truly familiar with the reputation that they have.
The gear you buy is extremely cheap, and whilst there are a lot of happy customers, there is no shortage of unhappy ones. Regardless, I’d been wanting to test a solar blanket for a while, and after seeing my brothers Kings 200W Solar Blanket in use for some time, decided to give it a whirl, as a backup panel in addition to our existing setup.
We also have a 180W eBay folding solar panel which has been pretty good, but its heavy, awkward to set up and doesn’t quite fit in our Reconn R2 storage hatch properly, which makes it even more annoying.
Ordering the Kings Solar blanket
Like a couple of previous orders with 4WD Supacentre, delivery was reasonably quick, although it did come in two individual deliveries as we opted to get the 10 metre extension cable (which is extremely important, so you have more options for using the solar blanket. The cable it comes with will work if you are in full sun, but if you need to move the blanket around a bit, you can be at the end of the run pretty quickly.
Testing the Solar blanket
I’d read so many reviews from people who purchased the Kings Solar blanket only to have it not work at all, or only put out a very minor amount of its capacity. I’m all too familiar with the cheaper solar panels being falsely advertised on eBay, and was not expecting the full 200W from our new blanket.
The regulator that comes with these is well known to be average at best, and most people ditch them and replace them with something that does a better job at converting the suns rays into usable power. My intention was to keep the regulator with us in case we needed it (as we also purchased an Itech 120X as a backup battery which had no other way of being charged), but primarily using it through our Enerdrive DCDC in the Reconn R2.
I set some tests up at home, and managed to get about 110W out of the blanket, but it became very obvious that to maximise the generation you had to face it directly at the sun, which is pretty hard to do. I tested our 180W folding panel at the same stage, and consistently got higher generation, despite it being a smaller rated panel. Both tests were done through our Enerdrive DCDC, minutes apart on a cloudless day.
Our electrical setup
Our electrical system is basically split between the Dmax and Reconn R2, and they run as separate units (with the ability to connect together and change things around as required).
Inside the camper, we run an 82L Evakool fridge freezer, and have been using it entirely as a freezer, set at around -15 degrees. The camper also runs lights, a water pump, phone chargers and the occasional inverter for laptop use. Its all charged from our Enerdrive DCDC unit, which has a 120W fixed panel on the roof (it was 240W until the other panel came off!) with a solar input on the back of the camper for unregulated panels (which is where we plug the blanket, or portable panel in as needed).
For storage, we only have 240aH of battery capacity, which is enough for about a day and a half of use with no charge going in, and then we are at 50% capacity. The DCDC pumps 35 amps (about 500W) in when we are driving along, which helps hugely. Without the regular driving, or portable panels, we’d be in trouble quite quickly.
I purchased an Itech lithium battery before leaving too, as they came on sale for very cheap, and I wanted some additional redundancy should we have a couple of cloudy days when we were parked up and unable to move.
The Dmax runs a 200W fixed panel through a Projecta DCDC, feeding a 150aH Bosch AGM and it runs our inverter for laptop and camera charging, drone batteries and the 85L Bushman upright fridge. I had very little concerns about the Dmax system knowing it would be driven at least every couple of days, and the 200W panel easily kills any consumption we use (unless you get cloudy days in a row).
Interestingly, I also worked out I could use the 400W Enerdrive inverter in the Dmax to power our camper trailer 240V battery charger, to charge the batteries. It wouldn’t do 25 amps, but it hummed along happily at 12 amps. Inefficient, yep, but if you did it on a cloudy day prior to taking the Dmax for a drive it worked pretty well.
Using the Kings solar blanket up north
For the first part of our trip, I kept the Kings Solar Blanket as a backup only. We were lucky with the weather, and power draw from our appliances and I only got our folding panel out at camp sites we were at for more than a couple of days.
Eventually, I tired of using the portable panel, and started using the Kings solar blanket. It was easier to get out, plug in and despite delivering a bit less than the folding portable panel, it easily allowed the DCDC to fully charge the batteries by the end of the day.
Solar blankets vs portable folding panels
We’ve done a comprehensive post comparing solar blankets to folding panels, and the conclusion is simple; they both have their pro’s and con’s, and suit different arrangements. After using both on and off for 6 weeks, I’m really not sold on one more than another; it will really depend on how you plan on using it, and how much solar you need. If you had to set up 4 blankets, you’d get over it real fast.
What do we like about the Kings Solar Blanket?
Its compact and less fragile
Like all solar blankets, these are quite compact. They are surprisingly heavy, but they fold up into a much more user friendly size than a 200W portable folding panel would. This means you can tuck it down the side of seats, or up against the roof of your vehicle, on top of other gear.
I like the fact that it doesn’t have sharp edges, or glass that you could crack or shatter. I don’t have to worry about a camp chair leg smashing it to bits, or the corners of the panels putting a hole in anything that it rubs on (like portable panels can easily do).
The folding blanket from Kings was about the same price that we paid for a cheap solid, portable panel from eBay. Compared to other brands they are insanely cheap, and we know how many people will buy a product on price alone. I think the quality control is hit and miss, but Supacentre is big enough now that you can return it if it doesn’t work, and you just accept that if it fails after a year or two then the cost is on you.
However, one unexpected benefit for me was that I could comfortably leave the blanket out at a free camp, knowing that if someone decided they needed it more than me, I wouldn’t be too concerned. There is zero chance I’d be leaving an expensive solar blanket out at a camp site for the day, when we go off and explore.
What’s not good about the kings solar blanket?
Like always, there’s going to be downsides of every product, and some of these things are not specifically related to the fact that its a kings product, but that its a solar blanket
Hard to face the sun
In 6 weeks, I never found a better option for facing the solar blanket towards the sun. I just kept it laid down on the floor, but that has its own set of downsides. For starters, you’d often end up with sand and dirt on the panel, or a leaf would blow down and sit on it, and kill its efficiency. Our kids had to be told a number of times not to run over it when they were playing, whereas they’d never run over a folding solar panel.
The Kings solar blanket also has a small tab that you use when its packed up, which has a habit of blowing over the blanket. It blocks about 10cm x 10cm, and that’s enough to basically kill the generation completely. When you set it up, its important to ensure this tab is tucked under the blanket.
The Kings solar blanket comes with tabs that you could use to hang it, but at best for us we’d achieve a vertical position, which is almost no better than being on the floor. I wasn’t prepared to rest it on my vehicle, as the paintwork would cop a hiding, and because it has no stands and folds so easily, its extremely difficult to prop up against anything.
I have seen some folding solar panels that come with stands so you can point them at 30 degrees or so, which would be far more user friendly.
Every time you buy the cheapest option on the market, you know that there’s a chance its not going to work properly, or for long, or at all. You only have to look at the Kings Solar Blanket Reviews online to see how many have arrived not working, or that don’t generate anywhere near what they are supposed to.
Of course, people don’t jump online and rave about products; they only do it when theres an issue, so you’ll always see this one sided perspective. The quality of these is obviously good enough for people to buy them, but I do wonder how many will still be working in 10 years time! Perhaps even the good quality units don’t even last that long; I don’t really know.
Power output is not as advertised
I mentioned above that we were never able to get more than about 100W from the kings solar panel. Its not terrible, but its a far cry from the 200W that is advertised. I suspect if you ran it through their regulator you’d get even worse, which is pretty poor.
That said, its super common for panels to be incorrectly advertised, and if you see a panel that is stating more than 160W per m2, its probably a lie.
Solar blanket review after several months
We’ve used the blanket quite a lot now over the last few months. If we just need a bit of power, I rather get it out than the folding panels which are much heavier and harder to deal with. The Kings Solar Blanket has worked each time, but I can already see a bubble forming on the edge of the blanket, and am quite confident that it isn’t going to lead a long life.
I’ll keep updating this post as time goes on.
Would we recommend a Kings Solar Blanket?
I’m reasonably happy with our Kings solar blanket. I don’t usually encourage buying the cheapest product on the market, and I’m not going to stand on the cliffs and shout praise. However, it serves its purpose for us and I guess you can’t really ask for more than that. For us, its a backup system, and its not a critical part of our 12V arrangement. If it was, I’d be a bit more concerned about it.
Would we get another one? Sure, if it wasn’t something we had to depend on. Lets see how this one goes longer term.
Do you have a Kings Solar Blanket? What are your thoughts on it?