Solar powered accessories for camping, walking, hiking and travelling

Solar powered camping

Camping is great fun. I've done a lot of it, but rarely in "proper" camp sites, with a bar, showers, toilet block, cafe, and all the rest of it.

The type of camping I've mostly done is the middle-of-nowhere, roughing-it kind of outdoor life. And nothing can compare. I spent 10 weeks camping all over outer Mongolia, for example - from the Gobi desert, via the central-Mongolian grasslands, up to the northern Taiga forest, near Lake Hovsgol.

Camping in a place where you can see and hear not a single trace of humanity is a very special experience. No roads, no buildings, no fences, no domesticated animals, and no people. Most of Mongolia is like that, open and public land, with wild horses, camels, deer, and many other animals.

Spectacular as the experience was, digging a hole in the ground to go to the toilet, washing (and swimming) in rivers and lakes to get clean, going to bed when the sun sets, and cooking on a gas camping stove can get a bit tiresome.

Our camping experience was in 2000. Taking devices such as camping lights which needed batteries wasn't much of an option - as well as being environmentally dodgy, there was no chance of charging batteries (no electricity for weeks) and throw-away batteries would have been both expensive and wasteful. So we had a torch, a camping stove, and that was that.

Technology has moved on significantly since then, and there are some fantastic solar-powered camping kits which allow you to use the natural solar energy to have a warm shower, to cook, or to light up your evenings.

This article looks at some of those products, how they work, and which ones are more trouble than they are worth. Solar powered camping has a great future!

Solar powered cookers / ovens

Solar cookers and ovens have fantastic potential, not only for houses and villages, but for campers, trekkers, hikers, walkers, and travellers, too.

Solar ovens work by concentrating the sun's energy on to a pot or pan containing food or water (for more detail about how they work, and the different types of solar cooker available, see this article for the complete low-down).

Are they worth buying now? I think it depends on what type of travelling you are doing. While really light-weight solar cookers for travellers are on the market at the moment, they are still very new and rather expensive.

So right now, if you are walking, trekking and carrying your own gear, they are probably not the best investment, as every ounce of weight counts if you are carrying it a long way on your back!

If you are doing more static camping, and will take your gear somewhere and camp in the same place for a while, or can shove all your stuff in a car, then they are definitely worth a look.

Some friends of ours also have one they use on daytrips to the beach, as it is non-polluting and much better to use on the shoreline.

Solar powered camping - with showers!

These are fantastic bits of kit, and not at all high-tech.

They are large plastic water bags, and work by absorbing the sun's energy and then insulating it and the ever-warmer water inside. The side you leave facing upwards is black, which helps absorb the energy effectively.

The most basic type are pretty much just the bag. You can get others with all sorts of bells and whistles; the next step up from the bag includes a hose and shower head, and usually a hook so you can hang it on a tree or something similar to have an actual shower. The really fancy ones come with screens round them, stands, and all sorts.

These aren't just useful for showers, either. The water can be used for washing up, washing off swimming gear, anything for which warm water is useful. It will save a packet on gas cylinders for a camping stove, and pay for itself very quickly.

We bought a couple of the cheapest solar powered camping shower bags a few years ago, and they have been brilliant. We often use them when we are surfing - put it on the beach before you go in, and when you come out of the Atlantic (which isn't as warm as it might be in England...) you can rinse off salt and sand in warm water. My sisters and brother have also borrowed them for camping and music festivals, and been equally impressed.

We've recently bought two tougher ones, as the cheap ones had started to wear out.

Two important tips for using these - firstly, check the temperature of the water before you pour it over yourself or anyone else. If they have been in fierce sunlight, they can get very hot and might well need some cold water added. Secondly, if the sunlight isn't strong, put the bag on something black, which helps it heat up and stops the heat disappearing down into the ground.

Solar powered camping lights and flashlights / torches

Many conventional camping lights use batteries. That makes them expensive to run, and wasteful - disposable batteries aren't exactly good environmental news.

Others still use the Swallows and Amazons type oil or kerosene lantern. I've never liked those, as they seem a real fire risk, as do candle or gas powered camping lights. The fuel is also an extra thing to have to buy and carry.

Solar powered campings light and torches are therefore seriously useful, in my opinion, and I can't see much of a downside.

Solar powered camping lights work by having a solar panel connected to re-chargable solar batteries. This means they absorb sunlight during the day, and can then be turned on when it is dark. A good system will give about an hour's light per hour of direct sunlight absorbed, which means that a good day's sunlight will last more than one evening, even if it is cloudy the next day.

Camping lights powered by solar energy can be in the form of lanterns, small stand-alone lights, torches, or to be hung from a tree or camping pole.

In terms of what you should look for, LED lights are a must, as they have much longer lives and are less damaging. Pretty much all the camping lights available will have low-acid batteries, too, but check as this is an important feature for longer-life and environmentally-friendly lights.

Solar powered radios

Solar powered radios work in the same way as solar powered camping lights, in that they have re-chargable batteries which are charged by a solar panel when placed in direct sunlight.

Radios are great for using with solar power, because they aren't heavy on electricity use.

Solar-powered radios are good for more than travelling - I bought my mother one as a birthday present last year which she uses when she's gardening or enjoying the great outdoors.They are also useful for emergencies, such as when there is a power cut, or in the car in case of a breakdown.

The technology seems pretty stable, and a solar-powered radio isn't particularly expensive.

Some solar-powered camping radios also have a torch, and some can be wound up as well as using solar powered batteries.

Solar powered backpacks with built-in solar battery chargers

For the well-heeled camper or traveller with an enviromental conscience but a love of his mobile phone, laptop, and ipod, there is now a backpack with built-in chargers for all the electronic gadgetry.

I don't own one of these, and to be honest, don't quite see the point. And the price tag is pretty hefty, as well! Solar powered camping for yuppies, perhaps?

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35 comments

packerpack profile image

packerpack 7 years ago from India, Calcutta

A very intelligent Hub I must say. You have made sure to address a very good point and have also ensured that you get full opportunity to use amazon capsules. I liked it!


LondonGirl profile image

LondonGirl 7 years ago from London Author

thanks, glad you enjoyed it.


hafeezrm profile image

hafeezrm 7 years ago from Pakistan

Solar power heated water gadget should have a great future.  Two years before I went to Saudi Arabia for annual pilgrimage.  As many as 3 million people were staying in the tent city, Mina. Everyone was looking for a cup of tea in the morning.  You cannot imagine rush at a tea stall and the manner in which a person carries 10 cups over a torn-card board box to take to his family. A solar power would solve the problem. 


Teresa McGurk profile image

Teresa McGurk 7 years ago from The Other Bangor

Brilliant ideas. That nifty shower stall is cool, too, and quite cheap. How different would your camping experience have been in 2000 if you had had a nice shower every morning?


Pete Maida profile image

Pete Maida 7 years ago

That is excellent. It would be good to have those thngs in preparation for a major disaster. I'll be looking into this more. Thanks for the info. By the way; you have must have quite a spirit for adventure to go to the Gobi desert.


BrianS profile image

BrianS 7 years ago from Castelnaudary, France

Mixed feelings about this one, it really makes camping sound like a good idea but then I am in the gite business and offer self catering accommodation. Oh well credit where credit is due, its a great hub and some really neat products.


Kushal Poddar profile image

Kushal Poddar 7 years ago from Kolkata,India

This is interesting.


JamaGenee profile image

JamaGenee 7 years ago from Central Oklahoma

Although they weren't yet called "solar powered", I had two of the shower bags 10 years ago.  Wish I'd had the shower enclosure too, instead of a regular shower curtain hung on a rope between a couple of trees. 

The other items you write about make perfect sense - well, all but the solar backpack for electronic gadgets.  Isn't the idea of camping to unplug?


cindyvine profile image

cindyvine 7 years ago from Kyiv, Ukraine

I've just today ordered some of the solar powered chargers for ipods and cellphones and digital cameras for my brother off a Chinese online shopping site all our Chinese teachers use. The thing to look at apparently is MAH and that has to be over 1000 MAH for iut to be any good. have managed to get solar chargers with 2600 MAH which takes 8 hours to charge fully, then just an hour to charge a cellphone or an ipod for the grand price of RMB42 each, which equates to about 4 pounds or $6 each!


Camping Dan profile image

Camping Dan 7 years ago

I camp a lot too in those out of the way places. Lighting up those areas at night for cooking and walking around can get expensive with batteries or fuel. Solar is a nice alternative.


LondonGirl profile image

LondonGirl 7 years ago from London Author

hafeezrm - the Haj would be absolutely ideal for solar power, lots of lovely sunshine!

Teresa - I think it would have had to be evening, to give the water a change to warm up, but it would've been lovely! We swam in Lake Hovsgol, and it was only about 5 degrees C, damn chilly (-:


LondonGirl profile image

LondonGirl 7 years ago from London Author

Pete - I think such devices are also very useful in case of emergencies, power cuts, and so forth. The Gobi Desert was great fun, I'm very glad we went.

Brian, not trying to steal your business, honest (-:


LondonGirl profile image

LondonGirl 7 years ago from London Author

Glad you enjoyed the article, Kushal.

JG, I completely agree. Not much point camping in the back of beyond with a mobile, laptop and ipod, you might as well stay at home.


LondonGirl profile image

LondonGirl 7 years ago from London Author

Cindy and Dan - I agree, these gadgets are fantastic, both to reduce weight and to minimise cost, as well as the environmental advantages.


Lissie profile image

Lissie 7 years ago from New Zealand

The only trouble with the solar shower in Australia is that it has a tendency to boil! A lot of people arrange the roof racks on the 4WD to hang them at the right height - the trouble of course is finding the water to put in them - I guess you don't have that problem in the UK !


Lgali profile image

Lgali 7 years ago

very useful hub Thanks


LondonGirl profile image

LondonGirl 7 years ago from London Author

Hi Lissie - you do have to be careful with the temperature, although that's not such an issue in England. And we don't tend to run out of water, either (-:

Glad you enjoyed it, Lgali.


Singular Investor profile image

Singular Investor 7 years ago from Oxford

Very interesting stuff !


Sandyspider profile image

Sandyspider 7 years ago from Wisconsin, USA

I'm a camper. The solared powered shower looks interesting.


camping table 7 years ago

Neat products and very informative. The shower is cool too!


LondonGirl profile image

LondonGirl 7 years ago from London Author

The solar shower is brilliant, we've never regretted buying and using ours.


Bucks here profile image

Bucks here 7 years ago from South Africa

Nice setup you have here, gives good ideas


LondonGirl profile image

LondonGirl 7 years ago from London Author

Thanks, glad you found it useful.


James Gilbert profile image

James Gilbert 7 years ago

Very interesting. It's amazing how they're incorporating technologies into items that already seem pretty complete. My girlfriend and I are going camping in Newfoundland, Canada next week but I think we'll stick to the old school methods for now. I'll just jump into the river for a dip, using non-harmful soap of course! Still that flashlight is pretty tempting...


AllMomNeeds2know profile image

AllMomNeeds2know 7 years ago

Great hub. I think we'll try some of these next time we go camping!


lxxy profile image

lxxy 6 years ago from Beneath, Between, Beyond

Ohh, how I would like to find Mongolia.

Thanks for putting together a nice kit for pain free camping.


scheng1 6 years ago

I guess you have to pray for sunny days!


Coolmon2009 profile image

Coolmon2009 6 years ago from Texas, USA

Nice Hub - I Like solar gadgets; makes me wanna go camping again


Martin V 6 years ago

great Hub! very useful!


couponalbum profile image

couponalbum 6 years ago from Sunnyvale, CA

Nice hub!


Joel T. 6 years ago

I own a couple of solar shower bags(Texsport 5-gallon – Seattle Sports 2.5-gallon – Stearns 2.5-gallon) and they all mention that the clear side should be exposed up to direct sunlight although it wouldn’t have been my first guess. Just seems to make more sense to expose the black side up. According to your article the black side should be facing upward so I guess some brands work that way. In any case, it’s always a good idea to read the instructions before using ;)


Luxury Camping 6 years ago

Love that shower!


GoSolar! Outdoors 5 years ago

That is a good start if you want to go solar camping!


mr williams profile image

mr williams 5 years ago from Norfolk, Virginia

Great hub. Got an upcoming camping trip soon. Interesting info


helene.bliss 5 years ago

Great hub! This is really helpful especially to those who love to go on camping and hiking. Now, I'm thinking to have one too!

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