If you are going off grid for any number of days, you are going to need some form of power to help with lighting and any other camping appliances you run.
Whether it be a camping fridge, portable hot water system, 12v shower, or any other 12v device, access to a source of power will make your time off grid much more enjoyable.
There are a stack of different ways you can power your off grid campsite, but in this article, I have narrowed it down to the three most common, and most effective off grid power solutions for your consideration.
There isn’t a single best solution. Like most things, the best thing for you depends on a whole range of factors, including your budget, the type of camping you do, the type of vehicle you have, and what you are wanting power while you are away.
We aren’t going to get into the financial side of things in this article. For all these three options we will discuss, there are both cheap and more expensive versions depending on what kind of quality and capacity you are wanting.
Dual Battery System
A dual battery system is where you install an additional auxiliary battery into your vehicle, which charges while you drive.
Then when you stop, you connect your devices to the fully charged auxiliary battery, and there is no setup required.
The additional battery can be mounted inside your engine bay, if you have the desire and space to put it there.
But people with utes and dual cabs also mount them on the back tray, or sometimes even behind the seats inside the vehicle.
But there are some potential downsides to this, and you need to take some extra precautions to prevent these downsides from ruining your camping trip.
If you just connect your additional battery to your existing battery with simple wiring, they essentially become one big battery.
So if you drain your auxiliary battery, it will then start to take power from your main starter motor battery, and you won’t be able to start your car the next day.
This is easily fixed, though with a few little electronic components and some simple wiring.
There are different ways to do it, but in essence, you buy an ‘isolator’ that lets electrical current go to your second battery, but does not let your second battery drain any power from your first battery.
This way you can use as much power from your auxiliary battery as you want, with no fear that you will impact your second battery.
The other weakness of a dual battery system is that many newer car alternators do not produce sufficient voltage to fully charge a 12V battery, so your car system is likely to only keep charging your battery up to 80% of charge.
This can also be fixed with an additional electrical component called a DC to DC charger.
These are a lot more expensive than isolators (around $400 at least), but provide a very effective charging mechanism for your car batteries.
They can even have solar panels configured to feed power into your batteries during the day if you are stationary at a campsite.
Another potential downfall of dual battery systems is that the power will always be located around your vehicle.
In many cases, this may be just what you want, especially if you also have a fridge mounted nearby, but if you would benefit from being able to place your power bank further away from your car (for your camping shower, for example), then you will find this a bit limiting.
Dual battery systems seem to be well suited to those that spend a serious amount of time away and have a really established setup.
But if you are looking for something a bit more portable and flexible, you might want to consider a battery box or portable power pack.
As the name suggests, a battery box consists of a battery, placed inside a box. See the picture below. But not just any box. You place your heavy-duty battery inside of a hard plastic box and connect the power.
The box then provides you with a variety of 12v outputs (cigarette plugs and USB) and Anderson plug solar inputs for charging.
There is a huge variety of boxes available, all with different numbers of outputs and features, but at the end of the day, they all provide you a safe and secure housing for your battery, a convenient way to access the energy inside of it, and connect solar panels to keep it charged.
These are often found attached on the back of utes, and even inside of dual cabs. We personally have one that we just transport in the car while we drive and then pull out when we get to the site.
It is great in that it can power a whole bunch of lights or appliances, and we can position it wherever we want.
Battery boxes are great in that if your battery dies, or you decide you want a better battery, you can just buy yourself a new battery and place it inside the box and hook up the wires, and it is fully functional.
And likewise, if you decide you want a new battery box or the battery box breaks, it is very simple to take out your battery and place it into a new box.
Cheap battery boxes themselves are quite affordable (many for less than $100), so they are a cheap way to get started with mobile 12v power. A lithium battery box with inverter is the ultimate configuration currently available as you get the benefit of lightweight lithium batteries with the ability to plug in your 240v appliances. But a simple battery box will still add huge value to any off-grid situation.
Portable Power Station
A portable power station is very similar to a battery box in that it is very portable, and consists of a battery inside a casing, that lets you access the power through a range of 12v outputs.
It lets you put power back into the battery through a range of means. They range in price from around $300 – $1200.
However, a portable power station is a sealed, all-in-one unit. When you buy it, you get the casing and the battery all bundled together in a nice simple unit.
This can be useful for those who don’t want the hassle of having to buy separate things and connect and maintain them, but this convenience comes at a price.
Firstly, these tend to be more expensive than a battery plus battery box combination bought separately, you are not able to change the battery, or change the housing if you decide you want different capacity or features.
If the battery inside the portable power station dies, the unit becomes useless, and you have to dispose of it.
Despite this, they are very handy and super mobile, easy to use devices, and they offer a lot of value.
A battery box or portable power pack is likely to be a more versatile piece of equipment for many beginner campers, and that would be my recommendation.
If you can handle some very basic wiring, you could easily set yourself up with a feature-rich battery box that will give you more options over a longer period of time.
It is tempting to get your car wired up for additional batteries, and there are so many gadgets to choose from when doing so, and if you can afford the suspense of multiple different systems, then go for it.