Solar power, gas generators, and car batteries are some of the few ways to generate electricity while camping. But while they can all be your camping power source, their efficiency, output power, operation costs, safety, and eco-friendliness differ.
Of the 3 camping power sources we stated above, gas/gasoline generators typically offer the highest maximum power output. But they are more expensive to run than the other two, and they are the least eco-friendly option. Car batteries offer limited output power. Once the charge they carry is depleted, they are done. But they attract little or no running costs, and they are pretty safe to use.
Of all 3, solar power is the most eco-friendly. It attracts no running costs, it is safe to use, and the output power is quite decent. However, you will have no power supply without the sun, except you connect a battery to the system.
Besides those 3 alternate ways of generating electricity, an RV camper may also generate electricity from the following sources:
- Portable Battery Packs
- Pedal Generator
- Wind/Water Turbine
- Thermoelectric Generator
Like the 3 methods we started with, these power sources do not offer the same electricity generation experience.
The portable batteries have limited output power. But they are easy to carry around, and they do not attract any extra running costs. Pedal generators are pretty effective and relatively inexpensive. But they require a lot of physical energy to run.
Wind turbines and water turbines incur no running costs, and they pose little or no risk to the environment. But in the absence of wind or water, they cannot produce electricity.
7 Ways to Generate Camping Electricity
To generate solar electricity, you need solar panels. Solar panels utilize energy from the sun in the form of photons to generate electricity. As the said photons hit solar cells, they bounce electrons off the loose atoms of the compounds in the solar cells. These electrons, in turn, move into a circuit and generate electricity.
When trying to get a solar electricity camping setup, ensure you opt for a waterproof product that is hardy enough to handle the harsh conditions outdoors. Also, please make sure the said product is lightweight, so you can move it around without breaking a sweat.
One of the positives of solar power camping setups is that they are noiseless. But apart from that, the energy is clean, and they are free to run.
The amount of power a PV panel can generate depends partly on the number of modules it has. So, while portable solar panels will be easier to pack for camping trips, you will get more power with larger solar panels. This is why the solar panels for RVs are typically larger than portable solar panels for camping. When you get a solar panel for your RV, you may choose to install it yourself or opt for professional installation.
One downside to using a solar power source is their reliance on the sun. The sun does not shine all the time, and when there is no sun, you cannot generate electricity from solar energy. The good news is there is a way around this pitfall.
In many cases, a solar electricity camping kit will come with a portable battery pack. The PV panel will charge the power pack when there is sunlight. Then, in the absence of the sun, the power stored by the power pack will be used to run your electronic devices. So, this way, there should always be power to keep your devices running day and night.
Talking about solar electricity camping kits, you could opt for a solar-powered generator. Solar-powered generators are basically like a complete hub for solar electricity generation while camping.
Another con of solar electricity is the high cost of getting solar panels/solar-powered generators. But this initial steep price is balanced out by the zero cost of operation.
Gas generators are one of the first options that come to mind when thinking of off-grid electricity. A gas generator uses a combustion engine and runs on gasoline or gas.
Due to the shortcomings of gas-powered generators, many campsites have banned their use. So, if you are thinking of using one, verify that your intended campsite allows it.
If you consider taking a gas-powered generator on your camping trip, you should check out the WEN 56225i 2250-Watt Gas Powered Portable Inverter Generator.
The main benefit of using a gasoline generator for electricity while camping is that it will generate more power than most other available options.
Compared to solar panels, a gasoline generator is very noisy. But apart from that, gas generators emit fumes, which do no good to the environment.
Unlike solar electricity camping setups, gas-powered generators are pretty expensive to run. They can consume as much as 0.75 gallons or more in one hour. Of course, fuel consumption depends on various factors like power output and load.
In many cases, the point of going camping is to enjoy the freshness of nature. But since gasoline generators emit fumes, it beats the point. Then again, a gasoline generator is powered by a non-renewable source of energy. So, they are not eco-friendly.
Another way to get electricity while on a camping trip is through your car battery. To access the power on your car battery, you will need a power inverter with a car adapter to connect to the cigarette lighter port. The reason for installing a power inverter is to convert the direct current from the car battery to an alternating current, which your devices can use.
Products such as the BESTEK 300W Power Inverter DC 12V to 110V AC Car Inverter with 4.2A Dual USB Car Adapter and the FOVAL 150W Car Power Inverter 12V DC to 110V AC Converter with 3.1A Dual USB Car Charger are two options you may consider if you intend to use your car battery.
In place of the car battery installed in your car, you could get a portable 12-volt power pack. These types already come with USB ports, 12v lithium-ion batteries, a power inverter, and various other outlets/ports. So, they are basically plug-and-play.
Some 12-volt power packs can also be used to jump-start your car batteries. These types also come with a power inverter. But they are typically heavy and not very portable, so you may not want to opt for them as a power source in camp.
Car batteries are pretty portable, especially one already installed in your car. Since you will be going camping in your car, the battery will come along with you.
The downside to using your car battery for power supply is that it can only charge a few small appliances. Plus, if you use it for too long, you may drain the battery till it does not have enough charge to start the car.
Portable Battery Packs
Portable battery packs are basically battery storage you can easily carry around while on a camping trip. These battery packs are powered by lithium-ion batteries, and they come with USB ports for charging your devices. They also have an inlet power port through which the battery is charged.
These portable power packs typically weigh just about two pounds or less. So, you can carry them around at will.
If you are considering getting portable battery storage, you should check out the Alxum USB Charging Station.
Portable battery banks come with batteries that have different capacities. Generally, the higher the battery capacity, the more charge the battery will store. The more charge the battery stores, the more devices it can charge and the longer it can charge the devices for.
Note that battery capacity is measured in Ah or mAh. So, look out for the value of this unit when verifying the battery capacity of portable power banks.
Some of the most powerful compact portable batteries for camping are rated around 26 Ah. However, you can get some with a rating as high as 100 Ah.
As the name hints, portable power banks are very easy to carry around. They are also noiseless, reliable, and inexpensive.
Battery banks are limited by the capacity of their battery. But if you want something that will last for many days while powering many devices, opt for one with a huge battery capacity.
Unlike other power generators, pedal generators do need fuel, heat, or electricity to run. Therefore, they are basically free to operate. However, if you consider the energy you will expend while pedaling one, they are pretty energy-intensive.
On the bright side, it is a way to keep fit while producing power for yourself.
Since these generators do not store power, you may have to connect portable power storage (a battery). This way, you would not have to pedal every time. Alternatively, look out for portable pedal generators that come with their own batteries.
Compared to other generators, pedal generators are relatively inexpensive. Also, they are quite effective, and you can charge multiple devices on them at once.
Pedal generators do not store power. So, you have to pedal them every time you need electricity, and pedaling can be a bit tiring.
Wind and water turbines work the same way. They utilize mechanical energy (kinetic energy) from a renewable energy source (water and wind) to generate electricity.
As wind or water collides with the blades of the turbine, they rotate. This rotation, in turn, drives the rotation of the coiled wire cylinder in the generator. As this cylinder rotates within the magnetic field inside the generator, electricity is produced.
Wind/Water turbines come with various power output ratings. But those commonly used for camping typically have a peak output of around 15 watts, and they come with 2 USB ports.
Besides solar camping setups, wind/water turbines are another clean energy source of electricity for camping. Like solar setups, they incur no operation cost, and they are also noiseless.
In the absence of wind or if the force of the water is insufficient, you may be unable to use the turbine. But since you will be outdoors, the chances of getting a good source of wind or water are pretty high.
Thermoelectric generators create electricity by utilizing the temperature difference between two points. Temperature differences between the charge carriers in a piece of material create a potential difference, creating voltage.
Compared to gas-powered generators, thermoelectric generators are pretty expensive. But that aside, they are the more efficient option of the two types of generators.
To use a thermoelectric generator while camping, you need a source of heat. Typically, coal and wood are used to generate the needed heat, and the emission from these materials pollute the environment.
Thermoelectric generators are pretty efficient. On average, you can get 5 to 12 watts from them.
The heat sources (wood and coal) are not quite eco-friendly. Then again, since the said heat sources are set on fire, thermoelectric generators may pose a fire hazard.
Best Solar Portable Power Supply for Camping
Many electronic devices these days have solar-powered alternatives. So, instead of relying on just one power source while you are out camping, you can actually get dual solar electricity sources or more.
The following are some of our recommendations for some of the best solar-powered camping supplies:
- FosPower Emergency Solar – Best Solar Flashlight
- Goal Zero Yeti 1400 Lithium Portable Power Station Solar Generator – Best Solar Generator
- All American Sun Oven – Best Solar Oven
- Midland ER310 Emergency Solar Powered Weather Radio – Best Solar Radio
- Dometic CFX3 Portable Solar Refrigerator – Best Solar Refrigerator
FosPower Emergency Solar
Beyond powering the FosPower Emergency Solar with solar energy, you can power it with AAA batteries, and you can hand crank it. But the cranking is not easy as you may have to go as fast as 130-150 RPM to power the device.
The FosPower Emergency Solar comes with a 2000-mAh power bank for charging cell phones and other small mobile devices. Then again, it features two types of lights: a 1-watt flashlight and a 4-LED reading light. So, you get to choose whichever suits your needs.
Goal Zero Yeti 1400 Lithium Portable Power Station Solar Generator
The Goal Zero Yeti 1400 Lithium Portable Power Station Generator took the top spot amongst the solar generators we reviewed rightly so because it offers the highest power production of any product on the list.
With this generator, you get up to 1425 watts of electricity. In other words, it can fully charge your laptop from 0-100% as many as 15 times. It can also charge your mobile devices for over 118 hours.
This power generator features multiple power outlets, including 4 USBs, AC outputs, and 12v outputs. This way, you can connect as many as 10 devices at the same time. However, the generator does not come with its own solar panel, which is a bit heavy.
All American Sun Oven
Reaching temperatures of up to 400℉, the All American Sun Oven offers a cooking experience uncommon amongst solar ovens. While the cooking space is limited, it is still more than what the average solar oven will offer you. However, it weighs around 31 pounds, which is a bit heavy.
Midland ER310 Emergency Solar Powered Weather Radio
The Midland ER310 Emergency Solar Powered Weather Radio is one of the best solar radios you can get for your camping trip. It offers multiple emergency features, including NOAA weather alerts & scans, an SOS flashlight, and an ultrasonic dog whistle.
Besides the emergency radio frequencies, you can also tune AM and FM frequencies with the Midland ER310 Emergency Solar Powered Weather Radio.
Beyond the features above, the Midland ER310 Emergency Solar Powered Weather Radio can be powered in more ways than one. You can recharge it using the solar panel, the hand crank, or through the USB port.
When fully charged, the 2600-mAh lithium-ion battery of the Midland ER310 Emergency Solar Powered Weather Radio can power the radio for as long as 32 hours. However, the signal can sometimes be spotty.
Dometic CFX3 Portable Solar Refrigerator
The Dometic CFX3 Portable Solar Refrigerator can go as cold as -7℉ – a level of coldness uncommon amongst solar refrigerators. But besides that, the frame is made of aluminum, so it is pretty durable and light.
The thorough insulation of the Dometic CFX3 Portable Solar Refrigerator promotes energy efficiency and top-notch refrigeration. Then it features a 3-stage battery protection system, which preserves the quality of the battery. This system switches to solar power or switches the refrigerator off when the battery is nearing excessive depletion.
You get to control the temperature of this solar refrigerator from your device using the CFX3 app. But sometimes, the app can be complicated to use.
If you have read this far, you may have noticed that each of the camping electricity options we discussed offers a different experience.
Solar electricity options and wind/water turbines offer eco-friendly electricity with free operating costs and no noise. The gas generator is pretty expensive to run, it is noisy, and it is not so eco-friendly. However, it offers a lot of power.
The portable battery pack and car battery options are noiseless and portable, but they are limited by the capacities of their batteries. Then pedal and thermoelectric generators are limited by the source of the energy that powers them.
Ultimately, you may have to combine two or more of the options we discussed for the best experience.
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