How solar generators can keep your gadgets running while camping

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Most of us would find it hard to be without our devices, even when we are enjoying the great outdoors. Whether we are on a quick hike or camping in the wilderness, who among us wouldn’t want to have their phone charged to take photos or make an important call in an emergency?

The good news is that this is totally possible, even if you’re miles away from the nearest power outlet. A solar generator – essentially a portable power station connected to solar panels – can charge your devices and soak up excess energy from the sun.

“Ultimately, it’s convenient, on-the-go power that allows us to live life on the go, whether you’re camping or off-grid or taking a long vacation,” said Shawn Budiak, vice president, divisional merchandising manager, Batteries Plus.

Here’s what you need to know about how solar generators can be part of your next camping trip.

Solar Generator and Camping

If you’ve never heard of a portable power station, it’s essentially a large battery that you can bring with you and use to power your electronics. These portable batteries are considered “solar generators” when they are paired with portable solar panels, which in turn can top up the power station to keep your electricity supply going.

It has lots of uses when you’re camping. You can plug in your phone to keep it charged, or power up your laptop if you find yourself working away in the woods. Or you can install some LED lights to illuminate the camp or an oscillating fan to keep insects away.

“It’s not only comfort, but depending on where you’re camping, it’s also peace of mind,” Budiak said.

Choosing the Best Solar Generator for Your Camping Needs

The best solar generator for you depends entirely on what you specifically want to get out of it. Here are some technical specifications that may help you decide.

battery capacity

There is huge battery range. Solar generators can offer a minimum of 300 watt-hours and a maximum of 1,500 watt-hours or more.

Budiak said, for example, 300Wh can handle about 25 cellphone charges, run a fan for a few hours or run an LED light for a few days. As you move up to 600Wh and beyond, all those capacities increase accordingly, but the generators get larger and heavier.

“It just became a portability issue,” Budiak said. He recommends thinking about what you really want to use it for, and getting the right amount of power so you’re not burdened with extra weight.

solar capacity

There are many options here, too. 100-watt solar panels are pretty common, but they can go up to 300 watts. “The beauty is there are so many options these days,” Budiak said.

But again there’s a trade-off between power and portability. A larger panel will run the generator faster, but will be heavier. Under the right conditions in peak sunlight, a 100-watt panel will take about three hours to fully charge a 300Wh generator, Budiak said.

Keep in mind that, unless you’re really meticulous about the timing of your solar charging, you won’t get the perfect 3 hours of sunlight every day. So consider that in most scenarios your panels may take longer to charge than the power station.

Production

Battery capacity isn’t the only thing you should consider. Power output is also a thing, and while larger batteries have higher output, there are still some limitations. And if you want to run energy-intensive equipment, you’ll need a lot of power – especially to turn things on.

For example, if you want to plug in a coffee maker, it might draw an initial surge of 1,200 watts when it starts up, but then drop back down to 500 watts when it’s running. In that case, a 600-watt solar generator would likely be able to handle the device, since the running wattage is fairly low despite the brief startup surge.

Budiak suggests thinking about the types of devices you want to plug into your generator. Make sure the model you buy has a power output high enough to draw power from those electronics. Also, think about what kind of output ports you want: for example, a mix of USB and standard A/C outlets.

Charging Speed

In extreme conditions, a solar panel might be able to charge a generator in the same amount of time as a wall outlet, Budiak said. But most of the time, you won’t be so lucky as to charge your panels during peak sunlight. In that case, “charging from an outlet will always be faster,” Budiak said.

Also keep in mind that you probably won’t always drain your generator’s battery to zero. So if you only need to charge from 60% to 100%, it will take less time to charge.

live long

How long will your battery last? “Longevity will depend on how you use it and how often,” Budiak said.

Many solar generators come with a two-year warranty, but they usually last much longer. Budiak said a solar generator that is used intermittently for campouts and kept fully charged during storage could last more than five years.

weight

As you’ve probably realized by now, these things can be heavy. Make sure you’re not buying more than the battery capacity, which will translate into an unnecessarily heavy solar generator.

Budiak said smaller models can weigh as little as 10 pounds, while larger models can weigh 40 pounds or more. Think about whether you can (or want to) carry that much weight to your campout.

How much does a solar generator cost?

Portable power stations typically cost about $1 per watt-hour, Budiak said. This means that, for example, a 300Wh generator can cost around $300. The price may be slightly lower in models with higher wattage. Expect to pay a few hundred dollars more for portable solar panels.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long does it take for a solar generator to charge?

This depends on how big your power station and solar panels are. Many portable solar panels are around 100 watts. With these, under optimal conditions, a 600Wh generator will take about six hours to charge.

How do I maintain a solar generator?

Keeping the battery fully charged after each use can extend battery life. Also, try to store it in a dry place that is neither too cold nor too hot.

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