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Camping Power and Fuel Options

BY JO SIMON

December 5, 2020

Camping in general is tending to become more power hungry, but fortunately some of the technologically advanced products on the market are becoming more lightweight, compact, efficient and economical to buy as well.

Your power and fuel options for your camping setup will obviously really vary depending on your camping and technological requirements and whether you are camping off grid or on a powered site.

Here are the main power and fuel options for camping:

Batteries and Rechargeable Power Banks

Small Portable Power Banks

Portable power banks are excellent for charging smaller USB-charged electronic devices such as phones, tablets, speakers, camp lights, torches and other gadgets.

The challenge with these devices is to keep them charged when on the road in the absence of mains electricity. Starting your trip with a fully charged power bank will give you a head start, but once on the road they will need recharging.

While on the road, some portable power banks can be charged with a compatible solar panel. Others can really only be charged from your car battery, larger battery chargers, auxiliary / deep cycle batteries or mains electricity.

To be of any real use at the campsite for charging lights and smaller devices, you should look at power banks with a battery capacity of at least 20,000 mAh, and have two to three of them on hand. 

Large Power Banks and Deep Cycle Batteries

Unless you have access to mains electricity, once you decide to add bigger and more energy hungry items to your camping gear, such as a compressor camp fridge, your power requirements are going to skyrocket, and you will definitely need a larger battery and a power source.

There are so many different products and solutions out there on the market, and your choice will really depend on:

  • What type of camping you will be doing – long stay, short stay, touring or all three
  • How many people you have in your camping group
  • The power requirements of your particular camping setup
  • The types of energy hungry activities you will be doing while camping
  • Your budget – including the cost of any professional help you might need to set it all up
  • The type of car you have
  • Whether your car will be able to carry these items and still keep within it's payload limit, as these larger batteries can be extremely heavy

Setting up these types of batteries is a bit of a science, which might be best left to the experts. At the very least, thoroughly read the instructions and do your research.

Most importantly though, completely flattening these types of batteries can really reduce their useful life. Essentially, they should be kept at a minimum charge of at least 50% of the full charge, which will be a consideration when choosing your battery size.

As batteries will self-discharge over time, keep them in optimal condition when not in use with a full monthly charge, or alternatively permanently store them on a trickle charge, say attached to a solar panel. If it does discharge, fully recharge as soon as possible to minimise the damage.

Disposable Batteries

The common household disposable battery can power a number of items around the campsite, most commonly torches, lanterns, head torches and other forms of lighting. While they might be convenient in some ways, we try to limit their use to small, energy efficient, single or double battery operated torches and headlamps for the following reasons:

  • They generally end up in landfill and are not great for our environment, especially if they are not disposed of properly.
  • If used often you will find over time the cost of batteries for lighting can really add up, especially for the larger energy intensive lanterns that can require up to 6 D cell batteries.
  • Searching for new batteries and replacing drained ones in the dark isn't much fun, nor is putting up with dim or no lighting until the morning.

Rechargeable Batteries

Rechargeable batteries can be recharged up to 1000 times and are kinder to the environment than the disposable equivalents, but in our opinion they have the following disadvantages.

  • Recharging drained batteries takes time and can be problematic if you don't have a good source of power.
  • They are very expensive to purchase.
  • In our experience anyway, the charge they hold doesn't last as long as their disposable equivalents, and so you will be changing and recharging them even more often than disposable batteries.
  • D cell rechargeable batteries required to power many of the large camping lanterns are not commonly available.

Mains electricity

Many established camp grounds offer powered sites for your lighting, refrigeration, rechargeable batteries and other items which will save you the cost and hassle of establishing an alternative power setup for these items. A heavy reliance on these sites will, however, significantly limit your camping options in terms of where you can camp and how far off the beaten track you can go. In addition, they tend to be more popular and may not be as easy to book as unpowered sites.

If you have established a good camping setup that is not dependent of mains electricity, you can avoid the need for two separate setups (one for powered and one for unpowered sites) and the temptation to bring along electric lights, toasters, kettles, extension cords and double adapters which can be bulky to transport and time consuming to pack and set up.

If you do choose a powered site, we definitely recommend using it only for your refrigeration, USB-charged lights, electronic devices and smaller battery chargers.

Gas - Propane, Butane and LPgas

Gas is generally used at the campsite to power cooking stoves and gas lanterns.

Gas for camping mainly comes in the form of refillable LP gas cylinders and disposable propane and butane canisters. For safety and environmental reasons, the refillable canisters need to be disposed of responsibly.

Some of the gas stoves on the market can operate on a disposable propane bottle, and are also sold with a 3/8″ hose to fit a refillable LP gas cylinder, giving you more flexibility if you want a stove that can run on LP gas but don’t always want to take the heavy and bulky cylinder. Other stoves will only operate on one form of gas.

Stoves fuelled by LP gas and propane will burn at temperatures as low as -42°C, whereas butane fuelled stoves will only burn at temperatures above -1°C. So if you tend to camp in colder conditions, you may find butane gas unreliable. Butane also burns about 10% more efficiently than propane and LP gas.

Though refillable LP gas cylinders are much better for the environment than disposable butane or propane cannisters, they can be quite bulky and difficult to pack, particular in cars with smaller rear cargo spaces. The disposable cannisters, on the other hand, can fill smaller spaces, but for example, you will use at least 15 butane cannisters compared to a 4 kg LP gas cylinder and they will all just go to waste, and most likely landfill.

For further reading

Category: Camping Setup

Trailer-Free Camping Setup Inspirations

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