Friday, March 7, 2014

RV Solar Power

Solar Power for Camping, Hiking and Photo Gear

I live simply, and when camping do the same.  I'm not one to watch TV at night at home or while traveling. I tend to watch the night sky and do a bit of reading or art-making while camping. I do watch movies at home, but prefer the quiet of camping and my connection to the land and universe.  On a cold night I light a fire and enjoy friends and family at camp.

When dry camping, I like to keep my 12V house battery charged for lights and to run the water pump and toilet.  I bought a 50 watt and a 35 watt solar panel.  The 50 watt panel came with a kit that includes a 12V backup battery for traveling and to charge AC devices. I have not needed the 50 watt for my limited power needs in my Saturn.  All of my interior and exterior lights are LEDs so they use very little juice. I turn off the water pump when not in use.

travel trailer with solar panel hooked up to trickle charge
At Wahweap campground,  a 35 Watt Solar Panel is hooked up
to trickle charge my rig when dry camping.  It's often sunny out here
in the Southwest, so solar is the way to go.

Tow vehicle and Travel trailer set up for camp with solar panel hooked up
Boondocking in Utah, my solar panel has kept my 18 footer fully charged
for a week of camping.  When I unhook and go for a backcountry 4WD,
I disconnect the panel and take it with me, for emergency power.

Since taking this photo in the fall, I've removed the awning as it was torn, and had a lot of mold when unrolled.  I will replace it.

Fall color in the Mountains of Colorado, trees in full fall color and travel trailer camping
While dry camping (boon docking) in Colorado, I kept my battery charged
by solar trickle charge.

Solar Power for Hiking and Backpacking

I am a photographer, and carry lots of camera gear while hiking.  Digital cameras eat batteries for lunch, so it's important to be able to keep the batteries charged in the field.  On a recent 5 day backpack, I tested a few solutions to battery use. One solution was to carry 3 dedicated Nikon batteries for my D5100 (my lightest weight camera body); another idea was to use the Goal Zero to charge the AA batteries for use in my point and shoot over the 5 day trip.  Here are some suggestions to increase the battery power when recharging at home is not an option.

  • Try to limit the amount of "chimping", reviewing every photo. (any monkey can do that)
  • When shooting video, which requires the use of the LCD, don't review when finished recording
  • Weigh the difference between carrying extra batteries for your cameras, or re-charging in the field
What I learned was that for 5 days of photography, including video recording, I need an additional dedicated Nikon battery, which only weighs a few ounces.  But since I also carry and use an iPad, I like the Goal Zero system for charging batteries and devices in the field.
I bought the Goal Zero Solar Panel/Charger.  It charges 4 AA batteries using the sun in a short 2 hours.  Once charged I can use the device to charge up more AAs or directly charge my iPad or iPhone through the USB port located on the battery pack.  I don't mind the extra 1.2 lbs and can charge AA and AAA. 
The battery pack has inputs for the solar panels and USB devices.
It includes an LED light that runs for 120 hours.

The Goal Zero Guide 10 Plus Solar Kit, weighs just 1.2 lbs and sells for around $80. at Amazon
Here's how it works, hang the Goal Zero Panel on your daypack or camera bag, and hook up
 the battery pack. The panel will charge the battery pack in 2 hours.
Connect your USB device to the battery pack and charge
your iPhone, iPad or digital camera.

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  1. Having a solar panel seems to be very essential in camping and RV living. Yet, it doesn't mean that we can always the power coming from it. Well anyway, your tips in battery saving are very considerable in maximizing the life span of the battery. Thanks for sharing such an informative post, Kit! All the best to you!

    Douglas Berry @ Solar Energy Designs

    1. Hi Doug. I changed my system to a 100w panel and a 30 amp charge controller. The only time I have any trouble with that amount of solar giving me all the power I need is when its really cold and I turn my heater on. The draw through the night brings the battery down and sometimes I cannot use the heater. Other than that I'm golden.

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