Camping out in the great outdoors is one of life’s simple pleasures. But getting away from it all also means missing out on some of those basic luxuries we take for granted. Things like access to a fully-charged cell phone or the ability to listen to music. Thanks to solar power for camping, going off the grid no longer means leaving behind some of the best modern-day conveniences.
Gone are the days of lugging a heavy gas-powered generator to the campsite, along with a gas can full of a volatile fluid. The advancements in solar energy and solar panels have rendered the previous options obsolete. What’s even better, many simple objects are now built with solar energy in mind, incorporating solar panels in the unit themselves. Let’s take a look at the best solar-run camping items to make your off-the-grid experience fun, easy, and more enjoyable overall.
Solar Powered Lanterns
Light is not only a convenience, it is also a critical safety need when it comes to surviving in the wilderness. Instead of bringing a bag full of heavy D cells, there are now amazing lanterns that come equipped with small solar panels for recharging.
These sun-powered lights don’t need a giant solar panel to function properly. They are relatively low-cost, too. All you need to do is leave the lantern with its solar panels outside during the day so it can recharge. Many have batteries large enough to store the power they need to run for up to 24 hours.
Look for: Lanterns that are waterproof or at the least water-resistant. If you are tight on space, there are some products that will collapse into a small transportable footprint.
In the same vein as lanterns, flashlights run on solar has many of the same features. The difference is, these are more convenient to take out of the tent and onto the trail. Many come with multiple charging options, from solar to USB charging and even a hand-crank option. Although the solar option is the easiest and most convenient, having a variety of options might be important to you.
Look for: Solar flashlights that have optional brightness settings. There might be times when having a low beam on, thus saving on battery power, is all you need. And, if it’s important to you, some units can act as a USB charging backup battery for your phone.
Solar Stoves and Cookers
Back in the day, my family would always bring a propane bottle to fire up our two-burner stovetop. The convenience of having a stovetop was great, but the bulk of transporting the unit and the fuel meant we could never take it with us on a backpack camping trip. Now, with solar cookers, there’s no need for bulk!
Basically, solar cookers harness the sun's rays and direct them onto a small cylinder, or cooking tube, that heats up and cooks whatever is inside. Most will fold up nicely and fit into a convenient carrying case for easy transport. While in use, they can heat your cooking tube up to 550°F (290°C) which will cook foods or boil water fairly quickly. There are different sizes available; from the solo camper cooker all the way up to large units that will handle 4 to 5 meals in one go. There are even some that have the option of running the cooker from your car’s 12v accessory port. So, if you prefer to not cook everything over the campfire, a solar cooker might be perfect for you.
Look for: The proper size solar cooker is important. Sometimes food can take as long as an hour to cook. If you have several people waiting for hours to eat, the cooker will not seem like a smart option! Make sure you can prepare and cook everyone’s meal together so everyone can eat together.
Having an ice chest on hand to keep your cold foodstuff cold is certainly a welcome convenience. The problem is, ice melts, the interior temperature drops and food can spoil. Thankfully, there is now ice chest aka coolers that are powered by solar energy. Believe it or not, there are some that will even produce ice out in the boondocks!
Solar-powered coolers typically come with a power bank that can be recharged by the panels. Other power options are plugging it into a standard socket or using a vehicle accessory outlet. You can also select the cooling temperature, depending on your needs. And, as mentioned earlier, if you need to create ice, that is an option on some units.
Look for: Adjustable temperature capabilities. There is nothing worse than trying to simply keep your food cold and from spoiling, only to find it frozen solid when you are ready to use it.
Enjoying the sounds of nature is all part of the camping experience, but there’s no reason you can’t also add your own soundtrack. A fun way to liven up your excursion into the wilderness is to bring along a solar-powered speaker. You won’t be blasting tunes loud enough for a “Rave in the Trees” but you will be able to fill your campsite with music. Most will use Bluetooth technology to connect to a phone as its music source.
Look for: A solar-powered speaker that can play loud enough for your tastes and that won’t go dead in 30 minutes. You will need to test out your options in person so you can choose the speaker that not only sounds the best for your ears but will also be lightweight enough to bring along without any added weight or inconvenience.
A durable bag of water left out in the sun will heat up, even without solar technology and innovation. But heating water this way will only make your water so warm and will only stay warm for short periods of time—and might take hours of sunlight for the water to reach a comfortable temperature.
Solar showers are made to heat water more quickly and to keep the water warmer for longer periods of time. All you need to do is find a sunny spot to place or hang your solar shower and the sun does the rest. Some come with a temperature gauge, but you can also simply place your hand on the side of the bag to gauge the temperature yourself.
There’s not a lot of “technology” when it comes to solar showers either. Besides the outer bag being made out of material designed to heat up your water better, there is no water pump. You will need to elevate and hang the bag and let gravity create your water flow for you. If you need some extra spraying power for, say, hosing sand off of your surfboard, there are some units that come with a foot pump to add air pressure to your shower.
Most of these solar showers will have a few handy extras, too, be it a small mirror for shaving, pockets included to store soap or shampoo, and even a loop for hanging a washcloth. As for the privacy of a shower curtain, you are on your own.
Look for: A solar shower that not only heats the water but is also insulated to retain that heat for extended periods. There is nothing worse than expecting nice warm water and getting a cold splash of reality instead!
Solar Powered Battery Packs
Battery packs are practically a necessity when it comes to camping as almost everyone understands the importance of keeping their cell phones charged and at the ready. The thing is, with longer camping trips, battery packs will run out of charging capability. So, how do you recharge the batteries used to recharge your phone? By going solar, of course.
Again, there are many available options for solar-recharging battery packs. Some come with one solar panel while others might utilize 4 to 5 panels. The battery capacity ranges from 3500mAh up to 20,000mAh and even higher. Understand that the larger the battery capacity typically means the larger the battery, therefore adding weight to your pack. Keep in mind, too, that larger battery capacities will require longer solar charging times.
Look for: Batteries that can be recharged via solar and USB/standard power outlet is crucial, especially with larger batteries. Odds are you won’t be burning through all the stored power in your large battery every day, so starting with a full charge and then topping off with the solar panel charging would be ideal.
Basically, a power station is a larger version of the smaller rechargeable battery pack. Most come with USB outputs for charging phones and electronic devices and some even provide a standard power outlet or two.
As for solar generators, they are few and far between. Most can be recharged via a standard outlet or your 12v car outlet even if they come with solar charging capabilities. A portable power station will handle your needs without the use of fuel that would be needed with a gas-powered generator.
If you were to spend the money needed to invest in all of the above items, you might find the financial hit to be too large to swallow. All of these gadgets are “cool” and “fun” but are they worth it? There’s another option that could, in the long run, cost you a lot less than going out and individually buying brand-new solar-powered “everything!” The simplest solution is to get a solar generator.
solar generators will provide you with outlets for plugging in just about any household item you would need on your camping trip. With a solar generator, you wouldn’t need to bring a rechargeable power pack for your phones, you could simply bring the adapter and cable, creating less bulk in packing for your camping trip. An electric skillet for cooking can replace the solar cooker. You can even ditch the solar-powered speaker and bring a rechargeable one that uses USB for recharging or one that simply plugs into an outlet. In other words, a solar generator can basically replace all the items mentioned above! You can power all of your most popular camping devices making your camping trip even easier and more fun.
Basically, a solar generator works as a large solar power bank. It will recharge during the day and be ready for use day and night. These units will utilize camping solar panel technology to get charged, giving you an endless supply of energy. And the best part is, that the energy supply is free. Sunlight costs nothing to use.
These units come in a variety of battery storage sizes and solar panel configurations, so it is important to spend time researching your options. Solo camping or needing to provide power for a family of four are two completely different scenarios that require different portable power station options.
Look for: A solar generator that has solar panel recharging capability. Also, seriously consider your camping needs on your camping trip. If you’re looking to simply recharge your phone periodically, you may not need a full solar generator. We ever talked about some opinions to charge your phone while camping. If you are looking at charging multiple items, plugging in LED lights at night, and possibly running a small speaker during the day, this might be a suitable option.
Solar Power for Camping Has Come A Long Way
As you can see, there are a lot of different products that have all “gone solar” and that is outstanding for the camping consumer. Whether you end up investing in all-new solar gear and gadgets or you simply add a solar generator as a staple of your camping gear, modern-day conveniences can now be an integral part of your camping experiences.