This past April, we took a weekend camping trip to Ottawa Lake Campground near Eagle, Wisconsin.
It was kind of a last minute idea to go, and the only sites available did not have electrical hookups. I had just upgraded our camper to a two battery system, and we were only staying for two nights, so we figured we would be fine.
The weather was nice for Wisconsin in late April. It was around 60 during the day, but the lows got down into the 40’s. This meant that we got a chance to fire up the furnace in our camper each night.
In case you are unaware of how most RV furnaces work, they use propane as the heating source. The other element of the equation is that the fan in the furnace, which blows the hot air through the duct work and out the vents, runs off of the 12 volt battery system. This causes a pretty large draw on your battery when your furnace is running.
When we returned home, I checked our battery voltages. I was surprised to find that they were sitting at 11.9 volts. This means that our batteries were only at a 40% state of charge, which is lower than the recommend minimum 50% state of charge that you should let your batteries get down to.
It was at this time that I realized that solar power was a must. Especially since we plan on doing a lot of camping without hookups this winter, on our trip out West.
I did a lot of research when searching for what solar option we would go with. I decided that a portable “suitcase” style solar panel would be best for us.
A lot of factors were considered, including size, power, efficiency, and of course price.
We decided to go with This 120 Watt Foldable Solar Panel Suitcase for several reasons.
Most conventional solar panels have to be mounted permanently to the roof of your RV. This means an added cost of paying someone to do it, or the added time of doing it yourself. The other thing that I did not like about this, is that you have to screw brackets into your roof and seal them up, hoping that they don’t leak water later.
One more upside, is that you don’t have to hard wire this solar panel into your electrical system. All you have to do is unfold the panels, pull the legs out to prop it up, and clamp the alligator clamps to your battery terminals.
This Solar Panel kit comes with a charge controller already installed and mounted to it, so you don’t have to worry about your battery getting overcharged.
Another downside to traditional solar panels that are mounted to your roof, is having to park your rig in the sun to get the full benefits of solar power. This unit has a set of 10 foot cables on it. Which means you can park in the shade and set up your panels up to 10 feet away in the sun. This allows you to keep your RV cool and still harvest the free power from the sun.
Campsites without electricity are usually quite a bit cheaper than campsites with hookups. If you have the ability to keep your battery charged, you will be able to spend that money you saved on other fun activities.
Our camper does not have an outdoor stereo. On a recent trip to Mirror Lake State Park, I turned the radio on in our Suburban while we were hanging out outside cooking dinner. I guess I left the radio on for a little too long, and when I went to start the truck the next day, the battery was dead.
Not to worry though, we had our handy solar panels with us! All I had to do was set it up in the sun, hook the clamps to our truck battery, and wait. About 20 minutes later, the battery had enough juice to start the engine!
One important item to have if you plan on camping with solar panels and no electric hookups, is a battery voltage monitor.
I like this one, because it plugs right into our receptacle for our TV. It has two usb charging ports also, which is nice for charging your phone at the same time.
It is important to monitor your battery while camping to make sure that your voltage doesn’t get too low. If it does, it could shorten your battery’s life.
After our most recent 5 day camping trip, with no electrical hookups at all, I checked the state of charge of our batteries. They were resting at 12.4 volts. This means that our batteries were still at about 80% charged!
We will be putting this solar panel to more extreme tests in the future. But for now, we are very happy with the results!