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Solar Camping Essentials

solar camping essentials

Are your kids' idea of camping lining up in front of Best Buy to grab the first copy of the new Call of Duty? It can be hard to convince your family to give up their creature comforts and embrace the great outdoors, but there is a way to have the best of both worlds. The answer is…solar power!

When we think about solar, most of us picture solar panels on the roof, but thanks to innovations in portable solar power technology, you can harness the power of the sun wherever you are, including in the middle of nowhere.

That means you can go camping and power up your cooler, stove, or those phones and Nintendo consoles your kids can't live without. With some solar camping essentials, it might be the bargaining chip you've been waiting for!

What Can You Use Solar For When Camping?

You can use a portable solar generator and panels to power small camping fridges, lights, and smaller electronic devices like laptops and TVs. Fridges take the most power, so use them sparingly. It's a good idea to use LED lights as they have a lower power draw compared to other ones. Heating and cooling appliances can also drain your battery quite quickly, so take that into account. And hey, the whole idea of being outdoors is to enjoy the weather, good or bad.

Look for a generator that has more than one outlet if you want to plug in more than one appliance at any time. You can buy an extension, but that adds to the luggage you'll have to take along.

What Does a Solar Power Camping Setup Look Like?

There are a few different solar options you can try when you are going camping. If you like camping in a motorhome, you could mount rigid or flexible solar panels directly onto your vehicle. If you're more of the tent-and-backpack-Bear-Gryllis-kinda-camper, you can use a portable power station with foldable solar panels. Bear in mind that if you are going to go for a fixed solar installation on your van or motorhome, you'll have to park in a sunny area to access the maximum amount of power from the sun, and you might have to change the angle during the course of the day.

To create a basic camping solar power setup, you'll need the following:

  • Solar panels
  • Solar generator
  • Inverter

A solar generator kit comes with everything you need in a single plug-and-play package and removes a lot of the guesswork. You just need to buy your kit online and then position the solar panels when you get to your camping spot.

If you are going to assemble the whole thing from scratch, there's a little math involved because you'll need to figure out the number and size of the panels, the capacity of your generator, and the compatibility of all of the pieces you'll need to buy.

Solar Panels

Solar panels generate the electricity to power your solar generator. There are three different types of solar panels to choose from. The first type is the "classic" panel, which is made of crystalline silicon. These panels are available in two models: monocrystalline and polycrystalline. Monocrystalline panels are slightly more efficient and more expensive compared to polycrystalline panels.

The second type is amorphous silicon or thin-film panels, which are cheaper but less efficient than crystalline panels. They require more space to produce the same amount of energy, but they have the advantage of flexibility and foldability since they are made of a thin layer of photovoltaic material sprayed on flexible plastic. These panels are often referred to as flexible solar panels and are perfect for regular camping trips.

The third type, crystalline panels, is rigid and more fragile, requiring a glass layer for protection and being less maneuverable. It's not recommended for camping for those reasons.

Solar Generator

A solar generator is a device that uses solar panels to convert sunlight into electrical energy, which can then be stored in a battery or used to power electronic devices directly. It typically consists of solar panels, an inverter to convert the direct current (DC) generated by the panels into usable alternating current (AC) electricity, and a battery or power storage system to store the energy for later use.

If you are going to use a solar generator for camping, look for a deep-cycle model that can be discharged over and over again without reducing its efficiency. Discharging a generator below 20% isn't great for its lifespan, which is why you should look into taking foldable solar panels with you so you can keep the generator juiced up.

Inverter

You'll need an inverter to convert the power that your solar panels generate (DC power) into AC power that can power your devices. Lucky for you, any solar generator worth its salt includes a built-in inverter as well as a charge controller to make sure its battery doesn’t overcharge when those solar panels are pumping the juice into it.

Solar Kit Ideas For Camping

Not sure which solar kit is best for your needs? Here are a few recommendations:

Basic Setup

If you just want to keep your laptop and phones powered up while you are away, we can recommend the Jackery Explorer 500 kit. This kit is small enough to fit comfortably in the trunk of your car and comes with 500W of power and a 100W folding solar panel so you can recharge on the go. You should be able to comfortably keep small appliances like phones going and avoid a nasty mutiny from your unhappy teenagers. At just under $800, it's worth it.

Utility Setup

If you are a practical, no-frills, prepared-for-anything camper that wants a mid-range kit that can weather any literal or figurative storm the wilderness throws at you, you'll love the Bluetti AC200 MAX Nomad kit. It comes with 200 Watt solar panels and a 2,200W solar generator. According to Bluetti, that's enough to power a medium-sized fridge/freezer, power tools, a TV, an air conditioner, and, if you're so inclined, a vacuum cleaner to keep the sand out of the RV. At just under $2,500, it's the perfect addition to your camping setup.

All Bases Covered Setup

If you are heading for more rugged terrain and need a reliable, powerful setup that can keep your essentials going, you should opt for the EcoFlow Delta Pro 3 3,600 W Quad Kit. It comes with a 5-year warranty, four 200W 12V solar panels, and enough battery power to keep a van, food truck, or RV going. At just under $4,000, it's not cheap. But if you are going on an extended camping trip in an isolated part of the country where you can't access electricity all that easily, this kit comes complete with everything you need to sleep easily at night.

Ready to Power Up Your Camp? Why Solar Kits Are the Way To Go

If you've read this far, you're probably ready to start shopping for a solar power system for your next camping trip. This is usually where things get confusing. How many panels do you need to power your solar generator? What do you need to mount the kit? What kind of cabling do you need? How do you charge the battery at a wall outlet?

You can do the research and whip out your calculator and figure it out, but it's just easier (and cheaper) to buy a solar kit that has everything you need in a single package. Here's why solar kits are great for campers:

  • It's a complete setup in a box. Imagine getting to your campsite and discovering that you should have bought a cable or adapter or an extra panel to actually use that generator you've just dropped several thousand dollars on. With a solar kit, everything you need is in the box. 
  • It takes the guesswork out of solar. Again, you don't want to find out that you didn't buy the right panels for your generator when you're trying to power it up in the middle of the woods. You can put your calculator away because the kit comes with all of the compatible components you need to power your camper or campsite. And you'll know exactly how much your setup will cost from the start. 
  • You can save money. Kits are generally cheaper than buying the components separately, and hey, solar power is free! You can save money by avoiding power sites' fees, and you'll have a backup system if your utility provider ever goes down. 
  • It's cleaner and safer. Dragging a gas generator across the country isn't safe or eco-friendly. They are noisy, smelly, and really the last thing anyone wants to deal with when they are trying to enjoy a pristine campsite in the woods. Solar generators are safe to use, even in confined spaces like a van or tent.

If you love camping with the lights on, it's time to invest in a solar kit. And there's no better place to start your journey than with ShopSolar.com. It's right in the name! You can compare prices, learn everything you need about solar power, or speak to a helpful expert that can answer your questions and make recommendations. We'll even provide a free quote if you need one!

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Article by

Max Bair Marshall

Max is a co-founder of Shop Solar, a company that he established in 2018 to revolutionize the solar industry by simplifying the process and making it more simple and cost-effective. Under his strategic leadership, Shop Solar has grown into a comprehensive one-stop-shop, empowering over 40,000 customers to access top-quality solar and storage solutions, comprehensive information, intuitive tools, and professional installation services.

With a passion for innovation and sustainable energy, Max has successfully expanded the business's reach and impact, serving as a driving force in the company's growth and development. Today, as the leader of a dedicated team of 60+ professionals across North America, Max continues to set new standards of excellence in the renewable energy industry, with a mission to transform the way people access and utilize clean energy.

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