How to Have Electricity When Camping

Published on 03/13/2023 · 13 min readFrom charging your phone to powering a small mini-fridge, there are tons of options when it comes to electricity for camping! Check out this guide to learn more!
Hunter Reed, Camping Expert
By Camping Expert Hunter Reed

My Yeti Power Bank charging some things in my truck during a camping trip! Photo by Hunter Reed

There are a lot of reasons campers might want electricity while camping. These reasons range from the safety of keeping your phone and GPS device charged to medical needs, such as electrically powered medical devices, or comfort and entertainment gadgets like cameras, mini-fridges, etc. Power banks, power stations, solar panels, and gas generators are the main sources of electricity while camping. Usually, some combination of these four options will provide you with all the power you need until you get home.

I started working remotely about three years ago while my lease was ending. Having loved camping since I was young, I decided to move into my Toyota Tacoma for a few months while working remotely. The only problem was that I had been adamantly against having electricity on camping trips ever since I was young. I thought it was supposed to be time to unplug, so I didn’t need electricity. But suddenly, I needed to power my laptop and phone consistently while camping out of my truck for several months. So I dove into research, made some purchases, and made my system work just well enough that I could get my work done but not well enough that I would slip into the trap of watching Netflix before crawling into my sleeping bag.

During the several-month period, I have had a few stints of working remotely from my campsite and meeting some new friends who work remotely and live out of their vehicle setup.

If you’re not familiar with the different means of electricity while camping, it can certainly seem overwhelming at first. I know it did for me! But hopefully, this guide will help break it down and give you a better understanding of what exactly you need to power your specific lifestyle while camping.

Why Have Electricity While Camping?

Photo by Frank Holleman

Camping is a great way to unplug from the hustle and bustle of modern society and connect with nature. However, that doesn't mean you must completely forego modern conveniences like electricity. A camper might want electricity for several reasons, from the ability to recharge a phone, speaker, headlamp, or GPS device to power a laptop for remote workers. In some cases, campers might even need electricity for a medical need, such as to power a CPAP machine or insulin pump.

There are a few different options for how you can have electricity while camping in a way that fits your specific power needs. This article will discuss some of the best options for bringing electricity to your camping setup.

What to Consider When Thinking About Electricity for Camping

When thinking about purchasing a device or system that will allow you to have electricity while camping, here are the main questions to think about:

What Are Your Power Requirements?

What type of devices will you need to use or charge? You won't need an intensive power setup if you only intend to use your phone and a Kindle. However, if you are a photographer, you might need to transfer all the images you take during the day to your computer and charge your camera batteries in the evening. Keeping a computer and camera charged would require more power than if you just needed to charge a phone and Kindle.

To figure out what you need, list all the devices you plan to bring, including their power needs in terms of voltage, amperage, and wattage. Doing this will help you determine how much power you need to generate or store.

How Long Is the Camping Trip?

Next, think about how long you will be camping. Power requirements for a weekend trip might include charging your phone, a headlamp, and a speaker. Whereas power requirements for a several-week trip might be keeping these things charged, as well as a laptop, camera, GPS device, and more.

What Type of Camping Are You Doing?

The type of camping you're doing will also influence your electricity needs. For example, if you're camping in a campground with electrical hookups, you may not need to bring any additional power sources. However, you'll need to plan for alternative power sources if you're camping in a remote location without access to electrical outlets.

If you are car camping, the weight and portability of your power source might not be as important, but if you are backpacking, weight and portability will be a huge consideration.

What Is Your Budget?

Lastly, take into consideration your budget. Portable power sources can range from relatively inexpensive to quite expensive, so it's important to consider what you can afford and what features are most important to you.

Different Electricity Options While Camping

A small Nomad 10 Solar panel for charging phones, headlamps, and smaller items. Photo by Hunter Reed

Portable Power Banks

Portable power banks are small, lightweight devices that you can use to charge smartphones, tablets, and other electronic devices. They are rechargeable, so they can be used multiple times and come in various sizes and capacities. Personally, I have a few of these as they are not terribly expensive and are a useful backup for charging my phone or headlamp on a short trip. Unfortunately, portable power banks will not provide enough power for larger devices like cameras or computers.

An example of a portable power bank would be the Goal Zero Flip 24 Portable Phone charger. It has a USB plug and is small enough (8 x 6 x 2 inches and only 4.6 ounces) to throw in a daypack or a backpacking bag. Benefits:

  • Lightweight
  • Reusable
  • Versatile

Be Aware:

  • Will not provide enough power for larger devices

Portable Power Stations

Power stations are a step above power banks. While they are similar to power banks, they are larger, have a larger power capacity, and are equipped with more outlets, USB ports, and other connectors to power various devices.

I use something similar to the Yeti 150 Power Station. It has two USB ports, two USB-C ports, a classic AC outlet, and a cigarette lighter plug. It is incredibly fast to charge devices, and I can recharge the station through either a classic outlet, a solar panel, or a car charger (DC outlet). Unfortunately, though it's relatively portable, it’s far too heavy to bring on a backpacking trip or anything similar. Benefits:

  • Fast
  • Reusable
  • Can charge many different types of devices and accommodate many types of plugs
  • Relatively large power capacity
  • Can charge multiple devices at one time

Be Aware:

  • Will not provide enough power for larger devices such as an air conditioner or fridge
  • Too heavy to bring on a backpacking trip.

Solar Panels

Solar panels are a popular choice for camping, especially for those going on longer trips, as they provide renewable energy without the need for fuel or batteries. They can be used to power a range of devices, from lights to smartphones to laptops, depending on the size and capacity of the panel. However, they can be expensive and may not work well in areas with limited sunlight. Benefits:

  • Renewable and eco-friendly
  • Can be used for a wide range of devices
  • A lot of options when it comes to sizing and efficiency

Be Aware:

  • Can get expensive quickly
  • Will not work well in areas with limited sunlight

Gas Generators

Gas generators are a reliable source of power for camping, as they can be used to power a range of devices, including larger devices such as cooking appliances and even air conditioning units. They are also easy to find and relatively affordable. However, they can be heavy, noisy, and require fuel to operate. They are not the most environmentally sustainable option, and your camping neighbors will hate you for using them because of the noise. Benefits:

  • Reliable
  • Can power a variety of range of devices, even larger devices
  • Affordable

Be Aware:

  • Heavy
  • Noisy
  • Requires fuel

Features to Consider When Shopping for a Means of Electricity to Use While Camping

Taking a zoom call from the back of my truck while on a camping trip! Photo by Hunter Reed

By considering these features, you can choose the type of electricity that best suits your camping needs.

Power Output

The power output is the amount of energy that the device can provide. This is important because different devices require different amounts of power. Make sure the power output of your chosen electricity source is sufficient for your needs. As mentioned above, if you make a list of the devices you’ll need to charge while you're camping, it should give you a good idea of the power output you’ll need for your adventures.

Portability and Ease of Use

The portability of the device is important because you want something easy to carry and transport. Therefore, consider the device's weight, size, and ease of use before purchasing it. If you’re backpacking, this is especially important. Similarly, consider the ease of use of the product.

There are many reasons I would personally never use a gas generator, even while car camping, noise being one of them. However, one of the main reasons is because of how bulky they are and how annoying I find them to set up and transport, even from the car to the campsite. Larger solar panels can also get annoying to set up and take down since some of them are a bit heavier and bulkier, but I don’t find them as cumbersome as gas generators.

Rechargeability

Rechargeable devices, such as portable power banks or power stations, are more convenient and environmentally friendly than gas generators. When you run out of fuel for a gas generator, you’ll need to get more, but for power banks, you can easily recharge them via a solar panel or car charging port. Consider the recharge time and the method of recharging (solar, AC wall outlet, etc.) when choosing an electricity source.

Durability

Durability is another important consideration when your gear is used for outdoor activities. If you are camping in rough terrain or inclement weather, you will want something that can handle the elements. Look for devices that are designed to withstand harsh conditions. I find that Goal Zero is a really durable brand, which is why that's what I recommend. I have been harsh on everything I own from them, and it all still works just as well as day one.

Compatibility

Ensure the device you choose is compatible with the devices you need to power.

If you are camping for a long duration and need to charge a laptop, you’ll want to make sure you have a power station or power bank that is compatible with the type of plug the laptop uses.

Fuel Source

Lastly, consider the fuel source that your method of electricity uses. Most power stations or banks can be recharged by solar panels, which is a great method for camping. However, if solar is your only means of recharging devices (straight solar, no power bank or station), that might be a little less reliable since the sun isn’t always out to power solar panels. If you go with a gas generator, you’ll need to factor in bringing enough fuel to power your devices for the duration of your trip.

How Do I Find the Best Choice for Me?

My large solar panel, which charges my power bank. Photo by Hunter Reed

All these options might seem a little overwhelming, but don’t worry, once you start looking around, it’s pretty easy to narrow down exactly what will be sufficient for your electricity needs while camping. To make it even easier, below are three examples of Curated customers I’ve helped who wanted electricity while camping. Each customer represents a “persona” of common campers looking for electricity during their trip. For each customer, I will give some background info, some features they should look for, and a recommended setup.

Renee: Minimalist Adventurer

Renee is a car camper and backpacker. She doesn’t use a lot of electronics while camping but likes to keep her phone, speaker, headlamp, and Garmin InReach charged. She lives in Montana and only camps during the spring, summer, and fall. She’s not looking to spend a ton of money since she doesn’t need much electricity to power these items. Renee also always charges her things ahead of time, so she is really just looking for some backup power, just in case. Features Renee should look for:

  • Compact, portable
  • Low power output
  • Not expensive

Recommended Setup: Goal Zero Flip 24 and possibly a Goal Zero Nomad 5 Portable Solar Charger. A small battery pack like the Flip 24 would allow her to charge these small devices for a short time. In addition, the portable solar panel would be a great option for recharging her Flip 24 during the day if the battery got low. The whole thing would cost around $80 and weigh around 1lb.

Emily: Videographer Working Remotely

Emily is primarily a car camper who goes on long trips frequently. She works remotely and sometimes needs to answer emails while on a camping trip. Emily’s really into videography, so she brings her camera and drone pretty much everywhere. Features Emily should look for:

  • High power output
  • Rechargeable while camping
  • Multiple charging ports for her devices
  • Compatible with charging a laptop and a camera battery

Recommended Setup: Goal Zero Yeti 150 Power Station with a Boulder 100 Solar Panel. The power station will work for charging her computer, camera, and drone. During the day, when Emily is out adventuring, she can leave her solar panel out and recharge her power station via solar power. The solar panel and power station are compatible together and will provide enough power for these larger devices to be consistently charged.

Dave: Luxury Car Camper

Dave is an older gentleman who has done his fair share of backpacking and now wants to be comfortable when he’s off the grid. He tent camps sometimes but usually prefers to sleep in the camper topper on his truck. Dave has a few gadgets he likes to bring, such as a small air conditioner unit, and when camping with his wife, he brings a mini-fridge instead of a cooler to keep their food fresher. Dave is retired and doesn’t mind spending more money to be comfortable when he’s outside. Features Dave should look for:

  • Ability to power small appliances such as a mini-fridge or air conditioner
  • Multiple outlets for his multiple gadgets

Recommended Setup: Westinghouse 2200 Watt Inverter Generator. This is a gas generator that will be able to power his air conditioner and refrigerator so that he can comfortably enjoy the outdoors.

Conclusion

Photo by Tommy Lisbin

As you can see, there are a lot of options when it comes to electricity while camping.

Portable power banks, power stations, solar panels, and generators offer different benefits and downfalls. By carefully evaluating your power needs and considering factors like capacity, output, and portability, you can choose the best option for your next camping trip. Usually, the best answer for power needs while camping is some combination of these methods.

If you’re unsure about compatibility, exactly what you need, or have any other camping-related questions, reach out to a Camping and Hiking Expert here on Curated. We’d be happy to help walk you through the process of finding the perfect setup for your exact needs!

Curated experts can help

Have a question about the article you just read or want personal recommendations? Connect with a Curated expert and get free recommendations for whatever you’re looking for!
Written by:
Hunter Reed, Camping Expert
5.0
Hunter Reed
Camping Expert
10 Reviews
99 Customers helped

Read next

New and Noteworthy