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Old 09-04-2009   #1
the fort, Colorado
Paddling Since: 2001
Join Date: May 2006
Posts: 672
Solar camp lights - anyone tried this?

Not for a river trip but rather for our hunting camp this fall. I want to get rid of those damn noisy generators that always seem to be running at night. Anyone tried to light up camp with lights run by batteries that were charged by a solar panel or two during the day? If so, how does it work? How about cloudy days? How many lights, backup batteries, how many and what kind of panel, etc.?

I know someone on this board has done this. Let me know how it worked out for you.

By the waterside I will lay my head.
Listen to the river sing sweet songs to rock my soul.
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Old 09-04-2009   #2
Redpaddle's Avatar
Newport, Oregon
Paddling Since: 1989
Join Date: Jan 2007
Posts: 206
Yeah, those lawn path lighting things are pretty low wattage. Coleman lanterns are damn bright and not too loud. I think solar would end up being insufficient or pricey....

"Paddle silently, boof loudly"
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Old 09-04-2009   #3
islandertek's Avatar
Rocky Mountain Hooliganz, Rocky Mountain High
Paddling Since: 2007
Join Date: Apr 2008
Posts: 364
I Like them 4 campsite camping!!

My wife and I actually bought a set from either Lowes, Home Depot, Target or Sears??? I can't remember which one but it was definitely one of those stores. We paid $100.00 for a set of 10 solar lights. We use them when we take the kids on car/campsite camping excursions (not backpacking in which the kids also do). They are awesome to have!! We just set up a perimeter around camp & tent area and it works great!! It's no fuel burning/battery bright lantern, but it does illuminate quite well and you have more than just a few lanterns. You don't need a flash light to get back to your tent, that's for sure!! It's not obnoxious to other campers as well, so it still respects other's space without being too bright.

The solar lights and a camp fire is plenty of light!! We were given the idea from some other campers and have done it ever since!! I thought it was definitely worth the $100 investment!! It doesn't take long for them to charge either and it will go all night long. They last forever!! I've had mine for 5 years so far, and they still work great!! Good luck!!


Dream as if you'll live forever; Live as if you'll die today - James Dean
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Old 09-04-2009   #4
kclowe's Avatar
Aurora, Colorado
Paddling Since: 2000
Join Date: May 2004
Posts: 453
I bought some cheap ones at Walmart and they work great. You need at least 4 to get enough light for cooking, etc... I take off the top part and put them on my dash during the week to charge (with the little lightbulb in the vent). Love em'.

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Old 09-05-2009   #5
Chip's Avatar
SE, Wyoming
Paddling Since: 1986
Join Date: Apr 2007
Posts: 1,098
c. 2001, I built a solar charging rig for a Grand Canyon trip: Solarex 10 watt thinfilm PV mounted on stainless steel, four 6-volt gel cell batteries in series/parallel for 12 volts, in an ammo case with grommet seals on the wires so it could be charged on the river. Worked fine.

The weak part was the camp lights, as there weren't any really good LED hang-up lanterns available. And the group I was with decided going solar was too revolutionary, and opted for the usual propane stuff.

What I'd do now is get some LED lanterns (Brunton makes nice ones), a small solar panel, and a compatible battery charger. Charge the batteries (AA or larger) during the day and load 'em in the lanterns. Compact, flexible. No wires strung all over hell.
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Old 09-05-2009   #6
spankey's Avatar
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Paddling Since: 2003
Join Date: Jul 2008
Posts: 81
First off LED(Light Emitting Diodes) draw less power for the light output than a regular filament light bulb. Second you need to figure your load, that is the amount amps(current or I) your light source uses. Power(watts P) is equal to the voltage times the amps P=I*E or the I= P/E or E=P/I. if your light uses 500ma (500 milliamps) per hour and you run it for two hours then you need to recharge your battery for enough time at the rate of ma per hour to get back the 1000ma(1 amp = 1000ma) that you used. Your solar cell might produce 200ma, so it should take at least 5 hours to replace the 1000ma you used last night. The more solar cells the more Juice(current,amps) . Third, the battery needs to be a rechargeable battery. batteries are rated at AH ( Amp Hours) . A battery that is 12 volts at 3 AH will supply 12 volts at 1 amp for three hours or 12 volts at 3 amps for an hour or 12 volts at 10 ma for 300 hours. If you light uses 500ma then it would run for 6 hours because 6 * 500ma = 3 AMPS.
hEY i DON'T KNOW IT ALL BUT fricken caps key, but this should help you get started figuring out what battery, lights and charger to get. the little crank flashlights are great because every time you need it the batteries aren't dead...a few cranks and you are good to go, especially in an emergency. All the above are examples intended to be rearranged to give you an idea of how all the stuff works. Hope this helps someone
"I hope others think more of me than I think of myself" SL
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Old 09-05-2009   #7
Land of Lovin, Colorado
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spankey, now my head hurts, ouch
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Old 09-06-2009   #8
Chip's Avatar
SE, Wyoming
Paddling Since: 1986
Join Date: Apr 2007
Posts: 1,098
Here are a couple pix of the solar rig I built for river trips.

The ammo box has two holes for wires (can be used for charging or output, depending on connections) with rubber grommets: splashproof and also pretty waterproof, although it'd probably leak if dunked in a hole and maytagged. Four 6-volt sealed gel cells. DC 3-outlet panel with an automotive fuse (hidden).

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The diagrams on the lid are for different wiring arrangements to yield 6 or 12 volts (I can't remember that shit either, Spanky).

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Here's a bunch of stuff: the battery box, and (L to R) a Brunton LED lantern that takes 4 AA cells, AC adapter for the battery charger, a primitive LED light with fabric reflector, AccuCell battery charger, DC plugs and cords, and a Solarex 10 watt panel that has a max output of 16 volts. The charger is rated for a 12-16 volt input, so they're compatible.

My original idea (c. 2001) was to run wires from the battery and use the socket- type LEDs. But battery lanterns are now so much better that I just use the AccuCell charger plugged into the solar panel or a car outlet to charge NiMH batteries, and leave the heavy battery box home.

Most LED lanterns last long enough that you can charge NiMH batteries at home and take extra sets, rather than paying $100 for an unbreakable solar panel.

I did have fun playing with this stuff.
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Old 09-09-2009   #9
spankey's Avatar
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Paddling Since: 2003
Join Date: Jul 2008
Posts: 81
River Dog is da Man

Hey Chip. I like seeing drawings and such like the diagrams on the lid for reference. What a great box design and a lot of great engineering. That's what makes this site what it is, people like you Chip.

And to those that get confused with what all that amp stuff , take it slow , write it out and align in on the page then look at the comparison. Then look up the specs on the lights, batteries or solar cell you are interested in and plug them into the little fomulae and it will start making sense. If not just private email me specs and I'll go through the specs for you let you know what you need.
"I hope others think more of me than I think of myself" SL
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Old 09-09-2009   #10
Chip's Avatar
SE, Wyoming
Paddling Since: 1986
Join Date: Apr 2007
Posts: 1,098
Two more solar camping devices:

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Got some neat little AA chargers (PV panel and battery holder) from Solar World (BATTERY CHARGERS, POWER PAKS & MORE) and built them into boxes. The yellow one is a drillcase with the drillholders shaved off and a loop on the bottom that rides on top of a backpack- it can get rained or snowed on but not dunked.

The other is an inexpensive transparent plastic drybox. I stuck the solar charger under the lid (no need to cut a hole), then added foil tape to keep things inside somewhat cool. Here's the inside:

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There's a teeny red light that tells you it's charging– handy to see that you've got good contact. The box is useful for storing spare batteries and camp lights. Used it on the Escalante (UT) and other streams to charge batteries enroute. I strapped it up front on my Pack Cat and kept sunscreen and maps inside.

Since the chargers are wired in series, you need jumpers (the brass things) when you charge fewer than 4 batteries. I did tests at home to see how long it takes to recharge. With LED headlamps and lanterns, I could get 3-4 nights of use and recharge in one clear day.

Now that there are good headlamps and lanterns that take AA cells, I'd go with this sort of thing rather than the heavy ammo box with gel cells.

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