Recommended 12 Volt Camping Setup
Option 1: Camping for a few days or up to a week. You love camping, escaping for the weekend and odd longer trip throughout the year when you can.
You don't get to go camping as often as you'd like, but when you do go you want it to be a relaxing time. The last thing you want is to be sitting there, enjoying the outdoors, only to hear an alarm going off somewhere telling you your batteries are flat.
If you even have an alarm. Worse still you go to open the fridge and everything is warm with no prior warning.
When you're heading away for a weekend or a week at a time, you need a decent set up that allows you to stay put in one spot and not have to worry about driving around just to keep your batteries topped up.
In the below recommendation, the setup is suitable for running a fridge up to 60L, LED lights for a few hours at night and charging your phones. Adding a couple of cups of coffee from your pod machine in the morning doesn't have a major impact on power consumption (approx 5ah per day)
The three items you will need are a battery, solar panel and solar controller (or DCDC charger). If you can't do without the coffee machine, you'll need to add a 2000w pure sine wave inverter to the list.
Your starter battery is not designed to be used to run a fridge, so a second deep cycle battery is a must. What type of battery will depend on how often you go camping, or whether you intend to run your fridge full time even when not camping (great for impromptu shopping trips, eating out for the day, or keeping a few coldies on hand).
Option2 : If you only camp the odd weekend, and maybe a longer trip once or twice a year, then a single AGM of 100-120ah will do fine. We recommend going with a good quality AGM in the rear of vehicle or calcium battery for engine bay installations, with a decent warranty. If you're looking to install in the engine bay, we recommend the Delkor 100ah, it is a calcium battery and is warranted for engine bay use. It can handle the higher temps better than most AGM's. Alternatively, the Full River 120ah AGM can sit comfortably in the canopy/rear of your fourbie, and will significantly outlast those eBay cheapies with 2-3 times the cycle life.
We recommend having battery storage for two days power consumption in case of really bad solar conditions ie. heavy cloud or very high temps or in the event of a component failure. Many campers use a lot more power than they plan to and expect solar to produce more than real world output so it's good to have a buffer. For larger power users having two batteries can be preferable for redundancy in your setup. If you want the option to put your feet up for a good 3 or more days, or if you want to use an inverter for a coffee machine or kettle, then more storage and solar is required.
If you're a serious camper (or fisherman), heading out every other weekend plus a few week or longer trips a year, or if you're wanting to run your fridge full time, then investing in a lithium battery is your best option. While the upfront cost is about double that of a good quality AGM, the AllSpark 150ah Lithium Battery has a cycle life 5-7 times that of an AGM, not to mention it is a quarter of the weight, has charging efficiency 20% better than AGM and is physically smaller in size. It can also be charge at higher current rates compared to AGM.
Given there is more safe usable power in lithium batteries (safely using 80% compared to 50% in AGM), a single 150ah will be sufficient. If you're planning on using an inverter, go for the AllSpark model with the BMS with 175/320A output specs. This has a higher output current and will easily run a 2000W inverter (needed for most coffee machines/kettles) from a single battery. Pretty much every other Lithium battery on the market has a 100A continuous output requiring two batteries in parallel or much large batteries to power a 2000w inverter. AllSpark Lithium can power a 2000w inverter from as small a size as our 100ah battery.
A DCDC charger will keep your auxiliary battery topped up while you are driving. It takes power from your alternator (and solar if you have fixed panels) and converts it to the correct charge profile. This ensures that by the time you get to your camp spot, your batteries will be fully charged rather than waiting to setup camp then expecting your solar start behind the 8 ball.
Which one you go for depends on what sort of battery you are charging, where you want it placed, and then your budget.
The Enerdrive EN3DC40+ DCDC, which is programmable current from 5A to 50A and voltage from 13.8V to 14.6V and can handle up to 600W of solar (using up to 20Voc panels, or 800W using 43Voc panels). It comes with an LCD screen, showing the amps and volts coming in from the solar and alternator, and what it is sending to the batteries. It also offer's charge profiles for all batteries (including lithium), so if you have AGM at the moment, but are thinking of switching to lithium in the future or planning to add another battery later on, then this would be your best option.
From here you get into the REDARC range, known for their exceptional quality and performance. The BCDC1225D will suit the AllSpark 100ah or 150ah Lithium, while the 1250D works for the two FullRiver or Delkor batteries connected in parallel. Alternatively you can go for the REDARC Manager 30 (for either the 100ah or 150ah lithium or the 2 x FullRiver/Delkor batteries). The Manager 30 is the only 4 in 1 unit on the market with charging from alternator, solar (MPPT), AC mains charger and battery monitor all in one. It has charge profiles for all battery types including Lithium.
Unless you're particularly savvy with 12v installations, DCDC chargers may need to be installed by an auto electrician or experienced 12v accessory installer. You're looking at around 3-5 hours labour (depending on where it is to be mounted), with an hourly rate of anywhere between $90 and $140 an hour. Ask questions when choosing an auto sparky, get a recommendation if you can, be sure they understand and install 12 volt power gear regularly.
You may travel most of the day and only rock up to camp late in the arvo/early evening. Your DCDC charger will ensure your batteries are topped up throughout the day, so when you arrive you are starting your camping break with full batteries, not run down and expecting your solar to start from well behind in the morning.
However, wanting to spend up to a week or so in one spot, solar is a must to keep your batteries topped up as your fridge, lights and other devices draw your batteries down each day (and night).
If you're running lights, charging your phone/tablet, and running a 60L fridge, you'll need about 250W of solar to get you through a week of sitting still with lead acid/calcium batteries or 200W if using lithium*. Have a larger fridge? 90L? Go for 350W if using a lead acid/calcium battery, or if using lithium battery you'll need 300W.
If you plan on using any mains powered appliances (what you plug into a power point at home), a cuppa or two from a coffee machine or kettle, add on another 50W for lead acid/calcium, or 40W for lithium. If you're needing to charge anything else (a drone, camera, tablets), going up another 20W for each battery will ensure your batteries will be fully topped up come night fall.
If you're looking for a fixed panel option, AllSpark lightweight flexible panels will keep your weight to a minimum, and can be mounted to your canopy or roof rack, otherwise glass panels will do the job, just keep in mind they are about 4 to 5 times the weight of flexible panels. Our flexible panels can also be purchased with a pre-fitted polycarbonate corflute backing panel and 3M VHB tape, making installation as simple as clean, peel and stick.
The AllSpark range of folding blankets and flexible panels use genuine premium grade SunPower Maxeon Gen III ultra performance cells, which produce power early in the morning and significantly later in the day than any other cell on the market giving you a higher total solar harvest each day and will outperform all other cells in higher temperatures or low light conditions. Be very careful of sellers that claim to use SunPower cells that have very cheap prices. They are guaranteed to be factory seconds/reject cells to make them cheap. Also anything over 150w per flexible panel is not recommended by SunPower and is coming from a manufacturer not authorised to manufacture panels using SunPower cells and not following the manufacturers recommendations.
The type/combination of portable vs fixed depends on your camping style also. While fixed means you don't have to worry about putting panels out, it also means you have to park in the sun.
All. The. Time.
Which is fine if you only camp on the beach or away from any trees but if you go bush, sometimes it is nice to have the option to park in the shade (or you may not even have the choice, depending on how the vegetation is where you are going).
Portable blankets also allow you to adjust the angle, which is especially important when chasing the sun throughout the day.
The AllSpark Flexible Panels can be joined together, meaning you can run multiple panels through the same controller/DCDC**.
So there you have it, the three things for a 12 volt system that won't let you down. We offer these items at discounts off the regular prices when purchased together in a package, and can organise cables and fuse protection should you need it. Contact us here to discuss your options if installing yourself, otherwise use the code:
"CAMPING" at the checkout for 10% off ANY COMBINATION of SOLAR, DCDC AND BATTERY plus INVERTER (optional)*.
* Lithium batteries have a higher charge efficiency, meaning they store more of the power produced from your panels, thus you need less solar.**
**See individual panel listings for how many panels can be connected together and instructions on how to do this safely