What options are there if you’re camping without access to electricity? How do you keep your campsite running? Check out these options!
While camping, you can get power through gas generators, solar generators, or by paying a little more for a campsite with electricity. Those who want to get even more experimental can try out options like wind generators, pedal generators, or even your car battery. In any situation, it’s a good idea to at least bring a backup method for charging your cell phone.
Most campgrounds can offer you access to electricity, but what if you want to try your hand at wilderness camping? Camping without easy access to power can seem like an intimidating prospect. After all, no one wants to be stuck in the woods with a dead cell phone and no way to reach out for help.
By the way, as an Amazon Associate, I earn when buying qualified products through links on my site.
If we take it one step at a time, this concept doesn’t have to be a scary one. There are several other ways to get the power you need for an enjoyable camping trip. Whether you just want to keep your phone charged or plan on bringing your favorite gadgets that use electricity, it’s completely possible to find a solution. Read on, and I’ll provide several options to keep the devices in your campsite running smoothly.
You might want to calculate how much power you need before you figure out how to get your electricity–see this table for details
How To Get Power While Camping
Camping is a fantastic way to get away from being constantly connected to the rest of the world. When we head out into the wilderness, we often choose to leave behind things like television, the internet, video games, and sometimes even our phones.
While it’s important to get away from those connections to enjoy the peace of nature, that doesn’t mean we walk away from electricity altogether. In most cases, we might still use a radio, camping fridge, or coffee maker. Our phones might even need a charge from time to time, just to make sure they are available in an emergency.
One item we may not always think about in terms of needing power is an air mattress. It’s easy to forget that air mattresses can be a hassle to blow up without electricity. Luckily, I talk about how you inflate an air mattress without electricity in my article on the subject here.
The question is, how do you get this power? Campers who spend a lot of time at campgrounds will find that there is often an option to pay more for a campsite that comes with electrical hookups. Although that is a simple solution, it may not be ideal for those who don’t want to spend extra money, or who typically prefer wilderness camping.
For those situations, I’ve compiled a list of several ways to get electricity while camping. Each comes with its benefits and downfalls, but there’s sure to be at least one that will work for every camping situation.
Find A Campsite With Electric Hookups
While opting for a campsite with an electrical hookup can be the easiest way to ensure you have enough power for your trip, it may not be the least expensive way. Camping sites that contain these hookups can often increase the cost of the trip by $10 – $20 per night.
For some, this may be a worthwhile investment. It means you’ll have a place to charge and power your devices without needing a generator or other alternative. Peace of mind is important for those who have enough to worry about, and sometimes trying to pedal your way to a full phone battery just isn’t viable.
That said, keep in mind that there won’t be many places to plug in unless you’re using the electricity at the site to power an RV. Often, the electrical hookups offered within campsites include just a couple of standard outlets, a 30A outlet, and a 50A outlet for your larger appliances. Because of that, you may want to bring a durable extension cord or an outlet extender to get more for your money.
Bring A Battery Bank (Solar Generator)
Although these battery banks are often referred to as solar generators, they don’t generate power like the other types of generators I’ve mentioned. Instead, these devices work as batteries to hold power that can be used to charge your devices. They’re called solar generators because you can hook up a solar panel to charge the battery.
Because they are batteries, solar generators can be plugged into your standard outlets at home for charging. Once they are fully charged, they will then be able to use solar power to keep the battery from running out as quickly as a standard battery might.
Popular Solar Generator Models
In recent years, the technology used for gathering solar energy has only been improving. As a result, solar panels and their corresponding solar generators (or battery banks) have only been getting better. Below are a few of the more popular solar generator models available today.
Not sure how much power you need in a generator? Make sure to continue reading below!
For convenience, these are all Amazon links, but occasionally you can find better deals elsewhere or direct from the company.
|EcoFlow Delta Pro
|Lion Safari ME
|EcoFlow River 600
|Jackery Explorer 300
Recharging Battery Banks
As I mentioned previously, solar generators function as battery banks. The main difference is that most battery banks only receive power from an outlet or through a car battery inverter. Meanwhile, solar battery banks can also connect to solar panels to charge.
It is worth keeping in mind that although these devices can use the sun to fill their power stores, doing so can often take longer than using a standard outlet. As an example, the Jackery Explorer power station I listed previously requires only 2.5 hours to fully charge while plugged into a wall outlet, but about 4 hours to charge in full sun.
Under ideal conditions, that really isn’t much longer of a wait. However, it’s worth keeping in mind that the conditions may not always be ideal for charging. Clouds, shady areas, and other variables can increase the time it takes for the battery to fully charge.
How To Recharge Your Battery Bank Using Solar Panels
To begin with, make sure you’re familiar with the input limitations on the battery bank you use or plan to use. Not all banks will be able to handle the same number of watts, and trying to connect the device to too many solar panels can become problematic. Having this information on hand can also help you to avoid purchasing more solar panels than you’ll need.
To summarize the below info, you’ll need:
- Enough solar panels to match the power of your solar generator
- MC-4 Branch Adapters to link up multiple solar panels
- Cables needed for charging
- MC-4 Extension Cable if your panels need to be separated from your generator (to get more sunlight)
- MC-4 Adapters can help connect differing brands of solar panels and solar generators
- Consider a Solar Charge Controller to enhance the lifespan of your battery
Get Your Solar Panels
Each bank will provide the ideal solar wattage in the user manual. As an example, smaller options like the Jackery Explorer 300 will typically only require a single 100W solar panel, while larger choices like the Yeti3000X may require up to 6 of those same panels.
Furthermore, generators the size of the Yeti3000x can use a combination of different wattages. So, instead of 6 100w panels, you can use 3 200w panels, or even a single 600w panel.
Get Your Cables
In either case, it’s important to be aware of the connections that you might need. Not all generators and panels will include the cables required for charging. Generally speaking, the cables you need are likely to be included if the generator and solar panels are from the same brand. While you’re shopping for a solar generator, you’re likely to find that the brand even provides recommended panels to make the process easier.
Connect Your Panels Together
When multiple solar panels are required, you’ll need to make sure you have an MC-4 branch adapter. This will connect those panels together so that they can cumulatively charge your battery bank. If you don’t already have these adapters on hand, they can be purchased pretty easily through sites like Amazon. See this picture for an example of a 4 to 1 branch adapter:
Use Solar Power Extension Cords As Necessary
Next, consider how far your generator is from the solar panels. Smaller generators can easily be moved closer to the panels, but large generators don’t typically offer that convenience. If you need a bit more distance, an MC-4 extension cable can ensure that your generator can get power from a greater distance. Here’s an example of an extension cable from Amazon:
Get Adapters for Your Panels AS NEEDED
Not all solar generator users will want to use the solar panels recommended for the device. Perhaps you have some solar panels already that you want to use with a new generator, or maybe you’ve found solar panels at a lower price that you’d prefer to use. While it might be a little trickier, you can use most solar generators with just about any solar panel – as long as those panels are the correct wattage. If this is the case for you, you’ll need to look into obtaining an MC-4 adapter in order to allow the generator to work with panels that aren’t made by the same brand.
Connect a Solar Charge Controller To Enhance Your Battery Lifespan
As from Renogy, a solar charge controller can extend your battery lifespan by making sure that your solar generator is not overcharged as well as other useful features.
The solar charge controller is connected between the solar generator and the solar panels.
Diagram showing example setup:
Just to help with visualization, here’s a quick simplified diagram of what your setup might look like:
There are two parts of the solar generator setup that are likely to need care whether they are in use or not. These include the generator/bank itself and the solar panels used to gather energy from sunlight.
To begin with, think carefully about where you want to store these items. Depending on which solar generator setup you choose, it’s possible you may have spent hundreds of dollars on it. Consequently, both parts of the device must be able to function well for as long as possible.
The ideal place to store these items is in a dry location in your home. Even if they are safely stored there, it will be important to dust them and remove any debris regularly. This is especially true if either the panels or the generator get wet. If you decide to store any part of the setup in your garage or shed, you may need to check on it more frequently to maintain cleanliness.
While they are in storage, the same factors will apply to the panels. That said, it’s more likely you’ll need to actually spend time maintaining and cleaning the panels while they are in use. Outside, they are far more likely to come into contact with water, dust, and other types of debris that may stick to the surface. To clean the panels, just use a cloth dampened with some warm water. If that doesn’t get the job done, you can add in a small amount of dish soap.
Getting The Most From Your Battery Life
Getting the most for your money is important, and taking good care of the battery in your solar battery bank will help you to do just that.
Most solar generators will use Lithium-Ion batteries that can be recharged multiple times throughout the life of the device. As with any new device, the user manual will contain all of the advice you need for keeping your generator in good shape.
According to the Yeti3000x user manual, the following are a few good tips for keeping a Lithium-Ion battery going strong:
- Charge the battery fully before using.
- Avoid trying to replace or fix the battery yourself.
- Keep the device out of sub-zero conditions.
- Connect the device to an outlet while in storage.
- Cycle the device if it isn’t recharging completely.
- Avoid getting the battery wet.
- Allow the generator to charge when it has reached 20% or less.
- Don’t leave the battery without use for long periods.
Also, remember to use a solar charge controller to prevent overcharging.
Although most solar generators may use Lithium-Ion, some take a different route. Options like the Lion Safari ME and the EcoFlow Delta Pro use Lithium Iron Phosphate batteries. The care of these batteries isn’t too different from Lithium-Ion batteries, but there are a few things worth considering when caring for devices that use these batteries.
The user manual for the EcoFlow Delta Pro provides these battery-care tips:
- Keep the battery and device away from water.
- Every 3 months, use the battery until it has lowered to 30%, then allow it to recharge until it is back at 60%.
- Remove damaged batteries and dispose of them carefully.
- Any batteries you dispose of should be fully discharged.
Use A Gas Generator
Gas generators are considered to be a reliable alternative to an electrical hookup. As long as you have enough gas on hand to power the device, you’re likely to have a device that can power whatever you need day or night—assuming of course that the capabilities of your generator match what is necessary for your gear.
Although they are typically very reliable, there are some downfalls to using a generator. These devices can be quite expensive, heavy, and very loud. Consequently, they aren’t always ideal to use at a campground. Some campgrounds may even ban them because they are so disruptive to the peace in the area.
If you plan on using a generator instead of an electrical hookup, it’s best to choose wilderness camping over campground camping. That way, you can be farther away from others and therefore less likely to cause a disturbance. In addition, your experience will be much more solitary.
Many campers prefer options like the Predator 3500 (Amazon), as the device has a lot to offer in a relatively compact setup. However, it is worth knowing that generators like this one can get pretty expensive.
Inverter Generators Vs. Standard Generators
If you’ve never shopped for a generator before, you may not be certain which type is the best for you. In short, I can say that inverter generators are considered to be highly superior when it comes to camping.
When compared to a standard gas-powered generators, inverter generators are quieter, lighter, and provide much cleaner power (which is necessary for electronics).
Gas inverter generators throttle the engine use so it’s not running at full capacity at all times like a standard generator might. They also pass energy generated through a rectifier to clean up the power. Also, gas inverter generators can be designed with a closed-frame that insulates the noise significantly. (see here for more details)
No one wants to listen to a loud generator while trying to enjoy nature, and inverter generators help get you closer to that dream.
The only thing that may make some campers hesitant to choose an inverter generator over a standard one is the initial price. Inverter generators are often more expensive up front, but can be more efficient in burning guel. Consequently, these generators work to save money over time. On the other hand, standard generators may be less costly to purchase, but you will have to spend more on fuel for the device.
Because inverter generators are so quiet, they can be an ideal option for providing power to your RV. When choosing an inverter generator for your RV, it’s essential to know whether you have a 30 Amp RV or a 50 Amp RV. For those who want a generator that will work well for a 30 Amp RV, our article here has several reliable options to choose from.
Portable Power Banks
These banks are essentially large batteries that you can charge at home before heading out into the woods. Because they are so small, you cannot rely on these devices to power all of your devices. However, they are a great way to provide excess power to smaller devices like phones, portable gaming systems, and rechargeable flashlights.
I’ve really loved our Anker Powercore Select 20000 (you can find it here on Amazon) 5-7 extra charges for your devices. In other words, you’ll be able to charge your phone up to seven times while you’re on the trip. Even if you don’t think you’ll need extra charges for your phone, it’s always good to have a backup like this. You never know what can happen in the woods that may leave you without electricity for longer than intended.
Using Your Car Battery
Frequent car campers might find themselves wondering why they would be looking for other sources of power when they already have a battery right there in their vehicle? It’s a fair question. After all, car batteries are known to be reliable and heavy-duty. Why wouldn’t they be able to charge up your devices and keep your lights on?
Charging Devices With The Cigarette Lighter
The easiest way to obtain power from your vehicle is through using the cigarette lighter plug in. Although newer vehicles may offer a USB outlet directly, the lighter plugin shouldn’t be forgotten. In older vehicles – or for non-USB devices – this plugin can be incredibly useful. Just keep in mind that it isn’t the ideal solution for bigger items.
Some of the things you can charge/power using the cigarette lighter plugin include:
- GPS devices.
- Cell phones.
- DVD players.
- Some cooking appliances.
To get the most from the plugin, you’ll need a 12v power inverter. There are a variety of these inverters, which can provide you standard 120v AC outlets you’d find in your house, and sometimes they include multiple USB ports. According to the BatteriesPlus blog, you may also need to choose between a pure sine wave converter and a modern converter. Generally speaking, pure sine wave converters are better for more sensitive electronics.
Remember, it’s more efficient to connect battery powered devices like smartphones directly into the cigarette lighter with a 12v USB adapter rather than using a power inverter with a AC to DC USB adapter.
When you’re planning to use your cigarette lighter plugin to provide power for your devices, make sure to consider the continuous power requirements for the inverter you choose. That way, you can avoid the risk of causing damage to the inverter – or simply not getting the power you need for your devices.
Hooking Up Directly To The Car Battery
If you’d rather use the car battery more directly, it is certainly possible. This process can take a bit more effort and technical knowledge but doing so can provide you with another option for charging your devices when electricity isn’t available.
Before getting started, you’ll have to decide whether you would rather spend money to purchase an inverter or make one yourself. Although buying an inverter is the more expensive option, it’s also more convenient. Inverters like the Ryobi One+ are designed to hook up to your car battery directly with alligator clamps or through the DC 12V port and transfer the power into two 120v outlets, two USB ports, and a USB-C port.
One of the benefits you can get from creating a DIY inverter involves a higher level of control over how many different kinds of outlets you have. The process requires more effort, but you can save a few hundred dollars by designing an inverter yourself. You can find more details about this process on the Instructables website here.
Monitoring Your Battery Use
Those who choose to purchase an inverter like the Ryobi One+ won’t have to worry about having another method on hand to check their car battery levels. The device allows you to keep track of your remaining battery power using the screen.
However, those who are using a DIY method will have to check their car battery power manually. Luckily, there are many ways to do this that don’t include spending too much time or money.
Those methods include using a voltmeter or Power Probe. These are both tools you can pick up online and in most auto parts stores. Essentially, they both connect to the car battery using leads attached to the corresponding terminals. When this process is completed, the car battery should be no lower than 12.4 volts.
That said, the Power Probe does offer another method for determining the remaining power in the car battery. This method simply involves revving the vehicle up while the Probe is attached to the engine. It’s worth noting that determining the power this way involves two people. When completed, the goal you want to hit for this method is at least 9.6 volts.
Using Chemical Battery Banks
Chemical battery banks (think boat or car batteries) are an option typically suited to those who have more technical knowledge. According to ScienceDirect.com, a chemical battery bank involves the combination of individual batteries to store electrochemical energy.
Basically, instead of using a power bank, one can combine multiple batteries to store and use more power. One of the options campers often use for this process is a boat battery, since they are capable of using up more power than other options before needing to be recharged.
If you’re interested in creating your own chemical battery bank, this video located at Instructables.com can help to give you an idea about how to get started. From there, it’s just a matter of figuring out the process for combining larger batteries if you choose to.
Other Power Generator Options
If you don’t plan on charging many items – or don’t need to worry about your devices charging quickly – then you might decide to get creative with your charging options.
There’s nothing wrong with trying out some new methods for charging your necessities, but keep in mind that the efficiency of options like pedal generators, portable solar panels, and thermoelectric generators can vary according to the device and the conditions around you.
For campers who are curious to try out items like these anyway, I’ve put together a list of some alternatives to the devices most people use for power.
Portable Solar Panels
Solar energy isn’t quite perfected, but it can still be harnessed as an alternative to electric hookups. This is especially true while you’re camping, hiking, or backpacking since many are unlikely to need high levels of electricity anyway.
Aside from the larger solar generators, solar panels can also be used to provide power to basics like a camping fridge and lights or to charge a phone. Depending on what is needed, these panels can range from larger suitcase-style panels all the way to panels that can fit in your pocket.
For those who need higher levels of power, the Renogy 100W is a choice that can easily be used to provide power for RV campers or those who will be staying at the same spot for several days. It is a larger setup, better used as a home base for providing power to tools around the campsite or for charging other batteries.
Smaller options are better suited to those who intend to be on the move more frequently. Options like the Ryno Tuff 21w can be attached to your backpack, creating an easy way to obtain power for your other devices. It doesn’t come with the same amount of power as the Renogy, but it can be a potential option for charging phones, GPS devices, and other small pieces of equipment.
As one of the smallest options, the Qi Solar Bank can aid in keeping your phone charged. Working as a small power bank, this device can charge many different phone types. On hot days, you can even use it to power a small fan.
These days, internal rechargeable batteries have all but replaced disposable batteries. While rechargeable batteries are excellent for reducing waste and limiting the number of items you need to bring on a camping trip, they aren’t perfect. Campers who stay multiple days in places where they cannot get access to electricity can have a serious problem on their hands if those batteries run out of power too soon.
For the most part, those camping in these situations may bring things like power banks and generators to keep their items running. There’s nothing wrong with those choices, but it’s essential to know all of the options available. Camping gear like flashlights, headlamps, lanterns and fans can all require standard batteries. For those interested in more intense survival tactics, there’s even a portable water filter available that runs on a pair of AA batteries.
Pedal generators run on the power of the human body. As you move the pedals, power is generated that can be used to power a number of different devices. Pedal Generators like the Power Box 50 offer a 12v outlet that can be converted to recharge the battery of phones, laptops, and even rechargeable external batteries.
In most cases, generators like these are ideal for emergencies where you have no other way to power smaller devices. It can take a lot of time and work to create enough energy to get a full charge, so it may not be the most efficient option. However, devices like these may be interesting to try out if you’re a big fan of exercise and want to generate power at the same time.
They are lightweight, with the Power Box I previously mentioned coming in at just 7lbs. As a result, they can be useful to bring as a backup for camping trips.
It seems like power can be generated from just about any kind of energy these days. For those who aren’t already familiar, thermoelectric generators create power using the heat of a fire or stove. When you have no other options – but can build a small fire – these little generators can be a useful way to add a charge to your smaller devices.
There are a variety of different options out there when it comes to thermoelectric generators. Some may use the power of boiling water, while others can obtain power from fire more directly. For example, thermoelectric generators like the BioLite Burning CampStove 2 include their own container to make a fire in. While small, this container is large enough that you can use it to cook a meal while generating power for small devices at the same time.
If you don’t need a device to cook food with, or would prefer the lightest possible option, the Ajirangi Thermoelectric Generator weighs only 350 grams. This little device can be used on a stove or carefully placed where it can pick up the heat of a fire. Just keep in mind that you will need to be careful to avoid letting the fire get too close to the electronics.
Both water and wind turbines can be used to power smaller devices and recharge phones. Unlike pedal and thermoelectric generators, these generators can typically be set up and left alone for the most part. Just make sure to check on them every now and then to make sure they’re working correctly.
Water turbines like the WaterLily are placed in areas of running water. The water moving through the turbine allows it to create energy for your devices. The benefit of this is that you won’t need to worry about weather conditions or the time of day. If you opt for this route, it is vital to make sure your camp is close enough to the water that you can keep an eye on the device.
Similarly, wind turbines rely on the movement of the wind to generate power. Consequently, you can easily place a wind turbine right in your campsite to keep things running smoothly. The only issue with wind turbines is that you can’t always guarantee there will be enough wind to provide consistent power.
How Much Power Do I Need While Camping?
Before deciding which of the options I’ve listed in this article is best for you, it’s important to know just how much power you’re going to need while you’re out in the woods.
To determine this, you can start by making a list of the items you typically bring that use electricity. Make sure to include items like your phone as well as any items you use that may have rechargeable batteries. Once you feel your list is complete, you can use the table in the next section to figure out how much power you’ll need for your trip.
Power Use Of Common Items
|Average Power Usage
|Portable AC Unit (5,000BTU)
|Depends on the bulb.
|Depends on the battery.
|Varies with unit size.
|Xbox One S
|Depends on the size of the TV.
|Portable Coffee Maker
While some might think that bringing your Xbox (or other gaming consoles) on a camping trip is a bit extravagant, it’s important to remember that camping is about having fun. If playing your favorite games outdoors is part of that fun for you, then there’s no reason not to do it! For more information on how to provide power to an Xbox while camping, take a look at our article on the topic here.