Like the name says, these are hard core, they’re really built to take everything bush camping can throw at them. They’re also not cheap, so are they worth the comparatively high price tag? The answer is a definitive ‘yes’.

[See update to this review following three months in the bush] Following the failure of our veteran solar panels while out bush camping in hill country, we made the decision to invest in a system that would be able to cope with all the battering, dirt and dust, pulling and hauling that portable solar units inevitably endure. There are basically three types of portable solar units used for camping, and each has it’s advantages and disadvantages:

  • Solid ‘briefcase type’ panels – these usually come in an foldable aluminium case which you would think should provide adequate protection. The Achilles heel of these type of units though is the cable which connects them through to the regulator/battery. This can be compromised if it’s not carefully kept away from the folding legs of the unit, which can over time chafe away at the cable and short the entire unit out (and even set the regulator on fire!) – which is exactly what happened to our previous unit. Cheaper panels will come with flimsy regulators and poor connections. These may be adequate for weekend trips to the caravan park, but are liable to let you down when you need them most – out in the bush. They’re also heavy (again, especially cheaper models) and take up a lot of space.
  • Solar blankets – these very thin and flexible units would seem to have many advantages over the solid panels above, particularly that they’re much lighter and take up a lot less space. However, in the field, they do have one major disadvantage in that they’re awkward to position. Most people will drape them over their vehicle, but that means that the vehicle itself will need to be in direct sunlight, and if you’re using the power generated to run a fridge… well it sort of defeats the whole point of the exercise as the vehicle and the fridge inside it, are inevitably going to get hotter. You can place them on the ground but that’s less than ideal, as solar panels are more effective when placed at an angle, and in Australian conditions they’re also going to get very dirty, very quickly. And again, the cheaper versions, from many mainstream retailers, are equipped with the same type of flimsy regulators and poor connections. We bought a solar blanket while on the road (the best we could find in a regional town) and it lasted less than two days before failing.
  • Foldable solar mats – these are in some ways a compromise between the two types above. They’re considerably lighter than the solid briefcase type and can be easier to position than the very thin blankets. The HardKorr 200W system which we bought are of this type.
Hardkorr solar panels

The key feature of the HardKorr set is that they’re designed to be tough. HardKorr claim that they’re “made with certified A-grade monocrystalline solar cells with solid copper cell backing, extra-thick 1680D canvas and our exclusive Crocskin® cell armour.” They do feel like a quality product and even more importantly, they really perform well in the bush. On a recent trip to Lightning Ridge where we were camping on a clay pan and the dust was pretty abominable, they never skipped a beat. They were relatively easy to move around and position, as they come with their own flexible legs under each section of the mat. In addition, they were easy to clean when we got back to base.

Hardkorr solar panels
Hardkorr solar mat – it’s tough!

They come with their own case, which is also rugged and well-made. Like the mats themselves it’s made from 1680D Ballistic Nylon.

This heavyweight polyurethane-coated synthetic canvas was originally designed by DuPont Corporation for use by the United States military, and got the name ‘ballistic’ because it was most commonly found in anti-fragmentation ballistic jackets, before the invention of Kevlar. Nowadays it is primarily used to protect high-wear areas on products such as motorcycle gear and luggage.

– HardKorr

With the panels inside their case, in addition to the supplied cables and regulator, they still take up less space in the back of the wagon than our previous solid panels. They also weigh quite a lot less.


We found the performance of the HardKorr units to be absolutely first class. They were able to bring our 120AH ArkPak battery back up to full charge from 75% in just a couple of hours. Even with a completely overcast sky they effortlessly gave us enough power to run an 80L fridge-freezer, run lights, charge phones, laptops, and water pumps.

Reliable solar power is absolutely essential when bush camping. You could pay less for inferior panels, but you may find yourself in a remote area without the power you need to store your food and run your kit. Much better to set yourself up with a system you know will work on the road and which will meet the stringent requirements of camping off-road.

We’ll be reporting on the performance of the Hardkorr Solar Mat as we travel. It’ll be an essential part of our kit, even when we get a set of static, solid panels, fixed to our new rig. The flexibility of a 200w solar mat will enable us to position these where we want them, right in line with the maximum sunshine, while keeping our rig – and most importantly our fridge – cool in the shade.

[See update to this review following three months in the bush]

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