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.