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POWER at your Campsite – Chapter 1

November 17, 2010 by · 5 Comments 


For those of us that camp, there is always a need for portable power.

The needs range from the back-country backpacker with a hand held GPS, cell phone, flashlight and maybe a MP3 player to the couple with a big motor home or fifth wheel trailer sporting twin air conditioners.
(Photo Caption:  45 Watt Portable Solar Panel)

These power needs may range from a few flashlight batteries to a large generator.

Over the next few weeks I intend to explore some of the available power sources, what problems they may impose and how we as campers can be a little greener and more considerate of others that have differing visions of what camping should be all about.

Let’s start here:

Imagine a typical travel trailer spending a long weekend “off grid” in a campground without sewer, water or electrical hook-ups.  While the lack of these conveniences may not appeal to some campers, Nancy and I have found that many of the most scenic and beautiful camping locations only offer “dry” sites for RV’s.

Campers familiar with travel trailers know that they are typically capable of running “self-contained” with a LP gas supply, potable water storage, waste water holding tanks, refrigerator, water heater, stove, lighting, and water pump.  The majority of these seemingly independent systems need power from a battery so that each may function.  I often refer to the vehicle’s battery as the heart of the system since it is needed to run the fresh water pump, the control circuits for a water heater, LP gas refrigerator, the blower motor for a gas furnace, lighting and perhaps the vehicle’s slide-out room(s) and jacks.

What it all comes down to is if the 12-volt battery cannot provide electrical power the self-contained features no longer function as designed and we are, for all practical purposes, living in a box with a bed.

Amazingly, too many campers venturing into the world of self-contained camping overlook the importance and capacity of that one ubiquitous little device – the camper’s battery.

So,  just how do you overcome the limitations of how much power a battery can provide?

Well, you can always add additional batteries.  But, batteries are heavy and can quickly overload a trailer’s axle and tire capacity if too may are used.  They are also expensive and need replacement every 3-4 years adding to the growing concern of environmental pollution if not properly recycled.

Maybe a better approach is to off-load most of the power consuming devices to something more efficient and capable of recharging with a free energy source.

My guess is you probably already know what I am referring to – SOLAR ENERGY.

But, as anyone that investigates solar power quickly learns; it can be expensive and, depending on the amount of available sunlight, is not always dependable.

Let’s think small.

One of the major power consumers in a camper is lighting.  For example, our camper is equipped with over fifteen 20-watt halogen ceiling lights along with at least twenty incandescent lamps drawing 30 watts of power each.  While it would take an extremely foolish person to use all of these lights at once, or forget and leave several on when they are not needed, they consume considerably more power from a camper’s battery than necessary.  Over use of a camper’s lighting can quickly deplete a 12 volt battery and leave no available power for the dependent systems.   One option is to replace some, if not all, of the bulbs with LED lamps consuming 1/10 the power of conventional lamps.  But, at $10 to $20 a lamp the cost can add up quickly.

Nancy and I simply refrain from using any of the camper’s lights when “dry” camping.  Instead, we use an assortment of portable self-contained LED lights that can easily be recharged during the day by the sun.

Single LED Walkway or Garden Light

Have you ever noticed those solar yard or walkway lights near the exits in Wal-Mart or some other home store?  They usually cost between $3 and $6 each.  We have about a dozen of these lights and during the day put them outside in the sun.  Then, as darkness approaches, we use the lights at our entrance steps and inside the camper to illuminate our activities by placing them in homemade wooden holders – sort of like a candleholder.  Since they have a photocell that automatically turns them on at dark, we pop off the top of those we are not immediately using and take out the battery.  The batteries in these lights are typically AAA or AA size and may be used in other devices requiring the same size battery.  Thus, the walkway lights not only serve as illumination but as chargers for batteries used in other devices like flashlights.

20 LED Solar Shed Light - VERY BRIGHT!

If you need more illumination for reading or food preparation consider the solar shed lights or an assortment of multi-led lights sold by companies such as Harbor Freight, Northern Tool or on Amazon.

Multi-Voltage Small Battery Solar Charger

These are examples of suppliers of these higher power devices and are not intended to imply that other vendors cannot provide the same equipment.

If you want to expand your solar power system beyond that of inexpensive auxiliary lighting you will want to consider larger solar panels capable or recharging the camper’s 12 volt battery.  I will share some of the needed technical knowledge necessary for selecting solar panels for an RV in next week’s blog.

Until then, Happy Camping Trails to everyone!



5 Responses to “POWER at your Campsite – Chapter 1”
  1. Dan says:

    Add this to usage of the solar yard lights. Simply purchase PVC piping that will accomodate the diameter of the yard light stake in a length you find workable, angle cut one end to stake in the ground and put your yard light at the top, sort of like a “tiki” lamp. It puts the lights up at a safer level that won’t be tripped over and works well for illuminating the picnic table or lawn chairs.

  2. butterbean carpenter says:

    Howdy Professor 95,
    How come you don’t have the star rating?? I always have to give you 5*****s this way… Anyway I
    admire your projects and try to follow them.. Now, you’re into something I’m REALLY interested in..
    I think I’m gonna make me a RANDY file for ALL of your ‘stuff’… Thanx…

  3. Frances Ann Giron says:

    What great information. Can’t wait until next blog explaining how and where to obtain portable solar panels.

  4. RA Manseau says:

    woo hoo! this is great!

  5. RA Manseau says:

    Woo-hoo! This is great!

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