The government might be fussing about the viability of solar power, but campers are well aware of the benefits the sun can bring when out bush and off grid. And if you have a solar panel (or two) on board, there’s a slew of awesome gear you can power with just a basic setup.
What You Need for a Solar Power Camping Setup:
The most basic solar panel camping setup involves four things:
- Solar panels or a solar blanket. Solar blankets are more portable and recommended for frequent campers, while folding solar panels are a more affordable choice if you just go camping on long weekends a few times a year.
- A solar regulator. This will prevent your battery from overcharging.
- A deep cycle battery. This will store the power produced by your solar panels.
- A battery box This will protect your battery from damage and provides multiple power outlets for several devices.
- An inverter. You’ll need this if you’re going to be powering 240V appliances such as laptops.
This self-sufficient solar panel camping setup will help you power most of your appliances for your camping trip and is both compact and efficient. Another handy thing to keep on hand can be 12V sockets (like what you find in your car’s cigarette lighter), which can help you run 12V appliances such as car fridges, radios, mobile phones and more – but they’re not essential for your setup.
How to Choose Portable Solar Panels for Camping:
Choosing the right solar panel for your camping experience will depend on your budget, camping frequency, and how much space you have to haul your gear. The truth is that no two people will demand the same amount of power, so it all boils down to personal preferences. If you're going camping with solar panels, this blog will help you figure out how many you'll need and how big they should be. Camping solar panels come in a variety of forms, sizes, and outputs, therefore at Outback Equipment, we carry the best solar panels for camping, as well as the largest selection of camping solar panels, so you can be confident that you've made the right decision.
It all boils down to what your trip plans are. Do you intend to drive there? Is it possible to camp there? Is it better to hike or ride there? First and foremost, attempt to limit down exactly what you'll be taking and how you intend to camp. Choose from our choice of portable tiny camping solar panels if you're aiming for superlight trekking, or head to our fixed solar panel page if you're decking out your dream 4x4 with camping solar panels.
There are different forms of solar panels including:
- Thin film amorphous.
Mono-crystalline panels are your top-of-the-line panels, being more efficient than a poly-crystalline panel of the same size and able to gather more solar power. However, they are more fragile and harder to store, as their glass is laminated in order to adequately protect them. In general, mono- and poly-crystalline panels are better suited to people who spend a lot of time on the road camping, as they usually require a roof-top mount.
Then you have amorphous panels. These need a greater surface area than mono- and poly-crystalline panels to gather solar power, but the beauty of amorphous panels is that they can be rolled or folded for compact storage when not in use, making them more suitable for short-term campers.
No matter what type of solar panel you choose, you’ll find there’s a 150W solar panel that’s suitable for your next trip. Now, you have your solar panel camping setup. But what about our first question: what can a 150W solar panel power?
Keep the cool drinks coming for your entire trip by looking for solar panels for camping fridges. A 150W solar panel will do the trick for most campers, though your camping fridge will use up approximately 60% of your stored solar power. Be sure to check all the specifications on your model to make sure it’s compatible with your portable solar panels for camping.
Assume you'll be travelling by vehicle and have decided to bring a refrigerator with you for convenience's sake. Because this is an appliance that will most likely operate 24 hours a day, determining the correct output required to keep your fridge operating is the most important step. Thanks to new and emerging technologies, camping solar panels have made it much easier to travel to more isolated locations. Outside factors on your camping fridge, such as the operating temperature, how often you cook and open it, and if it is insulated, must all be considered.
A good 12V camping fridge draws about 3 amps per hour, which translates to between 30 and 45 amps per hour over the course of a day. Now, depending on the time of year you'll be travelling, the place you'll be visiting, and the season, the amount of daylight hours varies from as few as 2 to as many as 15 hours of solar energy harvesting. Consider the following variables: filthy solar panels, foggy or rainy weather, soaring temps, other appliances, battery size and quality.
Calculate your energy usage:
Understanding how electrical gadgets work will assist you in calculating how much electricity is required to power appliances. Amps are the rate at which current flows into a device and can be defined as such. To put it another way, an 85W panel produces roughly 5 amps per hour in ideal sunny conditions, so you'd need at least 7 hours to generate 35 amps. This would be sufficient to run your refrigerator for the entire day. Now that you know this, you can add more gadgets to the mix, such as lighting or a 12v USB outlet for charging your phone. We recommend upgrading to at least a 120W / 150W camping solar panel for the essentials to be on the safe side, given all the variables. To compensate for things like charging camera batteries, speakers, and headphones, you might want to go for a 200W or 250W camping solar panel. Solar panels for camping are much larger after you reach this size, so keep that in mind if you don't have the space.
HOT TIPS - Getting the most out of your camping solar panels:
- Keep in mind that LED lighting is the most energy-efficient option.
- Purchase a high-quality refrigerator with advanced compressor technology and thick insulation.
- When not in use, keep your fridge completely closed and locked.
- Blocking the vent causes your fridge to work more, so keep it well ventilated in the space it's in.
- Parking your car in the sun is not a good idea.
- Knowing how amps are drawn and produced can assist you in determining which supplementary battery will suffice. It also makes more sense to bring only the size of camping solar panels you can physically carry rather than the largest ones you can buy or carry. When it comes to design, sometimes less is more. If you're camping in an area where the temperature dips below 10 degrees at night, for example, many campers turn off their refrigerators overnight to save energy. If you don't open your fridge, it will keep your food at a safe temperature. As a result, understanding how to manage your energy rather than opting for the overkill option is clearly the more practical alternative.
- Most campers will face the problem of how to charge a laptop while on the road, and will come to the conclusion that they will need to instal an inverter to have access to 240v power. It is strongly suggested, as an inverter uses a significant amount of power, making it unfeasible to use an inverter alone to charge a laptop. Instead, buy adapters to charge your laptop from a 12v or USB connection to reduce the amount of amps drawn over an hour. However, you may not always be able to obtain this adaptor and will be forced to instal an inverter if you don't want to, so a 200w camping solar panel is highly recommended. This will also necessitate changing your solar regulator from PWM to MPPT mode.
- Another way to calculate watts to maintain your auxiliary battery fully charged is: You'll need about 75 amp hours (Ah) of charge to keep your secondary battery operating all of your additional external equipment like your refrigerator and lights.
Anything that uses your 12v system to charge will be affected. Assume you can get your camping solar panels in the sun for at least 6 hours.
Amp hours = watts divided by volts.
900 Watt Hours = 75 Amp Hours X 12 Volts
150 Watts of solar panel power = 900 Watt hours x 6 daylight hours
It's a good idea to leave a buffer of roughly 20% of the amperage draw. So, add 30 watts to that number, for a total of 180 watts. For a simple setup, with plenty of power to spare we suggest a 180 watt camping solar panel.
A 150W solar panel will easily power most of your camp lights, torches and their rechargeable batteries, especially if those lights and torches are LED. These draw very little power from your solar panel battery and are known to be longer-lasting than incandescent bulbs.
Portable solar panels for camping can be handy when you need to cool a space, and plenty of camping fans operate using a simple solar panel camping setup. A 150w solar panel will easily keep a lithium powered battery camping fan charged. If you are travelling around in a van or a vehicle that has a fixed surface that can have something mounted to it, you really can't go past the Sirocco fan. This 12v fan is famous for its minimal power draw and still be able to operate at maximum output. Ideal for caravans and campervans the Sirocco fan is the perfect addition to any road trip, especially when you don't have the largest 12v power system.
Where would we be without our smartphones? Portable solar panels can keep your smartphone battery full, although they can’t help you check your Facebook when you’re at a campsite with no signal…
Perfect for inflating your 4WD or mountain bike tyres if you’re in a tricky spot, air compressors can be run via your solar panel camping setup. Aircompressers do tend to pull more a little more power when in use so be sure to hook it up to the secondary battery if you have the choice. Some air compressor models can be powered by a 150W solar panel and a decent deep cycle battery which can get the job done in just a few minutes.
Want to take your drone out camping with you to capture some muddy 4x4 action or get some sweeping landscape shots that make you go “how’s the serenity?”. Your 150W solar panel will keep plenty of juice in your drone’s rechargeable battery – as always, just check your drone’s specifications but the average drone battery will only draw around the same amps as a phone charger.
Ready to say goodbye to powered sites and enjoy a few more home comforts no matter where in the country you’re camping? Check out our full range of solar power gear, tents, and plenty more camping essentials, and get yourself set up for a grand new adventure.