The facts are, no two people are going to require the exact same amount of power, so it really comes down to individual needs. If you plan on taking solar panels for camping, then this blog aims to help you figure just how many and how big they need to be. Camping solar panels come in all shapes, sizes and outputs, so at Outback Equipment we stock best solar panels for camping, not to mention the biggest range of camping solar panels just so that you can be sure you’ve made the right choice.  

It comes down to what your travel plans are going to be. Do you plan on driving there? Camping there? Hiking or riding there? Firstly, try to narrow down exactly what it is that you’ll be packing and how you plan on camping. If you’re going for super lightweight hiking, then choose from the range of portable mini camping solar panels or if you’re decking out your dream 4x4 with camping solar panels then head to our fixed solar panel page.   

At a bare minimum the following devices to harness energy from the sun: 

Powering a fridge: 

Let’s assume that you will be travelling in a car, and you’ve decided to bring a fridge along with you for convenience. This is an appliance that will likely to be running 24 hours a day, so calculating the correct output needed to keep your fridge running is the most essential part. Camping solar panels have made it so much easier to travel to more remote places nowadays thanks to new and developing technology. However, it’s important to take into consideration outside influences on your camping fridge such as the operating temperature, how often you cook and open it and if it is insulated.  

A decent 12V camping fridge draws roughly 3amps per hour, so that’s between 30A/h and 45A/h in a day of use. Now depending on what time of year you will be travelling, which country and which season, the number of daylight hours increase and decrease from anywhere as low as 2 and as much as 15 hours of harnessing solar energy. Now consider the variables such as, dirty solar panels, cloudy weather or rain, soaring temperatures, other appliances, battery size and quality. 

Calculate energy consumption: 

Understanding electrical devices and how they work will help you calculate how much electricity needs to be produced to power appliances. Amps can be understood by defining them as the speed at which current flows into a device. To break it down simply, an 85W panel produces about 5 amps per hour in perfect sunny conditions meaning that you would need at least 7-hours to produce 35amps. This would just be enough to power your fridge all day. So, now that you know this, you can add on top of this more appliances such as lights or 12v USB outlet to charge a phone. To be on the safer side, considering all the variables, we recommend upgrading to at least a 120W / 150W camping solar panel for the essentials. You may even want to opt for a 200W or 250W camping solar panel to compensate for things like charging camera batteries, speakers and headphones. Once you get to this size, solar panels for camping are much bigger, so take this into consideration if you don’t have the space.  

Optimizing the energy from your camping solar panels: 

  • Remember that LED lighting if the most power efficient 

  • Buy a quality fridge with optimal compressor technology and heavy insulation  

  • Keep your fridge completely closed and latched when not in use 

  • Keep your fridge well ventilated in the space that it’s in, blocking the vent cause your fridge to work harder 

  • Don’t park your car in the sun 

Understanding how amps are drawn and produced will help you to decide on which auxiliary battery will do the trick. It also makes more sense that you only carry the size of camping solar panels you rather that going for the biggest ones you can physically buy or carry. Sometimes less is more. For example, if you are camping in a place where the temperature drops below 10 degrees at night, many campers switch their fridges off over night to save on power. A well-sealed and insulated fridge will keep food at safe temperature if it’s not opened. Therefore, it is obvious that learning how to use your energy usage rather than going for the over kill option is far more practical. 

Most campers will also come across the dilemma of how to charge a laptop whilst on the road and will conclude that they need to install and inverter in order to gain access to 240v power to do so. It is highly recommended, seeing as an inverter alone draws ALOT of power that this is impractical if you are only using an inverter to charge a laptop. Instead, it is suggested that you buy adapters to charge your laptop from a 12v or USB port to minimise the draw of amps over the hour. However, you may not always be able to find this adapter and will be forced to install an inverter if you want to so for this, we highly recommend going for a 200w camping solar panel. This would also require the upgrading of your solar regulator from PWM to an MPPT version.

Another example of calculating wattage in order to keep your auxiliary battery fully charged is: You need roughly 75 Amp hours (Ah) of charge to go back into your secondary battery in order to keep it running all your additional external devices such as your fridge, lights etc. Anything that is charging off your 12v system will be affected. Let’s assume you can get your camping solar panels in the sun for around 6 hours of direct sunlight. 

75 Amp hours  X  12 volts = 900 Watt hours 

900 Watt hours  ÷ 6 Daylight hours = 150 Watts of solar panel power

It is good practice to go leave a buffer of about 20% of amperage draw. So, add about 30 watts to that number so you should have 180 Watts. That’s the camping solar panel you need for a basic set up. 

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