Solar panels are essential for bush campers

Let’s face it; nowadays it is difficult to camp for longer than a day without having electricity available. Most modern day campers travel with a fridge or a freezer, or both. On top of keeping our food fresh, we all have cell phones, laptops, iPads, tablets, cameras and a variety of electronic equipment that needs to be charged regularly.

If you have a dual battery system it is no problem to charge any of these while your vehicle is running. When you get to a campsite with an electricity point, you also don’t have a problem. Your problem starts when you are out in the bush for longer than two days. That is when you need a solar panel.

Where to put it

Some overlanders fix their solar panels to their roof-racks. This is most probably the ideal place as it is out of the way and always operational, provided there is sunshine. You can also stow it away and just connect it to your system when you need it. The advantage of having your solar panel loose is that you can camp in the shade and move your solar panel around to follow the sun. If you carefully manage your power consumption, you could run your freezer almost indefinitely if you have the right solar panel and enough sunshine.

With a good regulator working in tandem with the alternator, a solar panel can even help keep your auxiliary battery better charged than the alternator on its own (credit stones here). As it is an electricity source independent of your vehicle, you could also use your solar panel to charge your starter battery if it ran flat.

What to buy

Consider your needs carefully before you buy a solar panel. The more powerful panels are bulky and fragile and need to be carefully mounted out of harm’s way. The more robust panels are normally less powerful.

A good solar panel regulator integrates with your dual battery system in such a way that the solar panel operates in tandem with the vehicle’s alternator, without requiring you to remember or do anything.

There are quite a few brands that manufacture solar panels and many retailers that sell them. Go to one that offers you expert advice and good after sales service. This is a long term investment to your camping gear and essential if you like bush camping. Therefore you should go for the best.

7 thoughts on “Solar panels are essential for bush campers”

  1. H
    Hi Leon. I am interested in a system.Will you know of a place in Pretoria
    where I can ask for one

    1. Hans, sorry for getting back to you now. I bought my solar panel in Europe. I’ve just arrived in South Africa and as such am not familiar with suppliers here. However, I would strongly recommend to stay away from cheap J imports and spend the extra money on a good quality solar panel.

    1. Try Solsquare in the northern industrial area or phone +264 (61) 211 675. Cymot, Safari Centre, LA Sport and similar dealers should also be able to help, but PLEASE, get more than one quote!

  2. Solar panels have evolved and polycrystalline flexible solar panels are now available that are much more robust than the standard ones, and with day-4 technology, produces 10% more power than the standard ones.
    Also, you don’t need clear sunshine, your solar panel will work almost just as good in complete overcast days.
    Make sure you get a good charge controller. It’s worth spending the extra money on them.
    With a good quality extension cable, you can move your solar panel up to 10m away from your car without too much voltage drop.
    I live in a cold country with mostly overcast days, and my 130W flexible panel is more than capable of charging my 110Ah leisure battery continuously while running 50l Luna weekender fridge, charging laptops, mobile phones, tablets and batteries for torches and camp lanterns.
    To date, I’ve yet to have a charge of less than 100% on my auxiliary battery.

  3. I fully support your comments on solar power in the bush. Based on experience over many years, one should, however, be cautious to buy a solar panel based on consumption requirements alone i.e. if you need 60w, do not settle for a 60w panel only. You have to make provision for those less sunny days as well as the fact that you get on average not more than approximately 10hrs of charging time in a sunny day. In addition to extra watts, make provision for extra amps on your solar regulator also, ’cause chances are good that your requirements will increase over time (due to more gadgets needing electrical power).

Let us know about your experience