First camping trip without power - please advise





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  1. #1
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    Exclamation First camping trip without power - please advise

    Hi all,

    We have experienced a wonderful 7 days in the Kruger: Tsendze Rustic Bush Camp (no power) this past week. It was our family's first attempt at camping without power.

    I will need some advice from the seasoned campers out there.

    First my setup:
    - Towing vehicle with power running to the trailer to charge the trailer batteries during driving (works very well).
    - Offroad trailer fitted with
    - 2 x 105AH Deep Cycle batteries
    - CTEK 250Dual charger (for Solar panel && vehicle charging on the go)
    - 1 x 125W Solbian Solar Panel (new technology, semi-rigid, mono-crystalline)
    - Proper installation with sufficient thick cabling and connectors

    We use the power for:
    - 80L National Luna Fridge/Freezer
    - LED lights
    - Charging phones/tablets and camera batteries

    This was a 7day camp in one spot trip, thus the charge-while-driving only works going there and coming back. I cannot put the fridge/freezer in the car (does not fit & not removable).

    PROBLEMS EXPERIENCED:
    Firstly I configured the Luna as a Fridge (-5degC) and this worked well, for 3 days the single solar panel worked charging the batteries and keeping the fridge running. After 3 days the frozen stuff in the coolbox started defrosting and we switched around ... the Luna became a Freezer (-15degC) and we bought ice to go into the coolbox which then acted as the fridge. This is when things went south. We hit a 43degC day and by the time we got back to camp we noticed the batteries running low. I know that the CTEK 250D charger has a temperature sensor to ensure the batteries does not overheat. I think that it must have "cut out" due to the extreme temperatures and stopped charging ... We never really recovered after that. I monitored closely to ensure the charger does not "cut-out" again and that the panel stays as north-facing as possible. unfortunately 2 heavily overcast days did not allow sufficient charging to bring the batteries up to acceptable levels. The batteries dropped down to 11v and moved up to 11.8v by late afternoon. It was not all bad as the heat wave did not last and over the last 2 cool days the frozen meat stuff actually stayed cold and we did not have any major disaster.

    8) OK, please shout with some pearls of wisdom (if you managed to wade through this very long write-up). Anything will be appreciated and obviously taken with sufficient pinches of salt Essentially we will be camping again in December in Sodwana for 14 days ... and I want to have fun on the beach and not worry too much about the power problems.

    I realise that maybe it would have been better to run the Luna as a freezer right from the word go.

    Is it realistic to expect a National Luna 80L to keep the contents down at -10degC while it is 40+ outside? a 50deg swing is huge!

    Thanks for any advice/encouragement/etc.

    For those of you that would like to see some of our photos taken on this trip, have a look at our facebook album: https://www.facebook.com/mariettedub...8119341&type=1
    Johan du Buson
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  2. #2
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    For the morning.

    Thank you for the post. There are many lessons to be learned there.
    Cheers

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  3. #3
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    I like your set-up with fridges enough battery power and solar panels when stationary.
    A small trick doing the business is this:
    When driving (and charging from the alternator) I put the temperature of the freezer at absolute minimum, meaning max freezing. Then when arriving at destination reduce it so that it keeps the stuff frozen (say -5deg).

    If you stay longer at a site you should calculate the power the solar array is delivering and compare it with the power requirements of the fridge / freezer and try to balance it out.
    Remember when the trailer batteries are discharged to abut 30% you will need some 140AH of charging to get them full again. The Ctek 250 D delivers a max of 20 Amps (ideally) meaning a full 7 hours of driving to fill the battery bank.

    These are theoretical values and in practice probably slightly worse, so you will not be able to fully charge the batteries once you run them down too much.

    In my case the solar array delivers enough to get the fridge/ freezer going throughout the day (on a sunny day that is) but at night I draw from the batteries which is missing the next day and would need additional panel(s).
    I have therefore accepted that after 3-4 days stationary I have to run a long stretch or find a plug to charge from.

    And it's worse in summer when the fridge works harder.
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  4. #4
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    Thanks Kalahari Safari,

    My solar panel is rated at 8A, thus to fill the batteries will take 140/8=17.5h am I calculating correctly? Obviously ideal conditions and not losses.

    Have you ever experienced the situation of the CTEK "cutting out" due to heat?

    Cheers,
    Johan
    Johan du Buson
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  6. #6
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    Camping without power?

    All I read is batteries, chargers, solar panels, freezers!

    Maybe change the Topic wording a bit.

  7. #7
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    I hate it when that happens, I have done so many trips where I run out of power and you don't know until you have run out.
    That 125W panel is not enough then in the conditions you describe.

    I have had enough with struggling by now and the school fees just keeps adding up, so much so that I now got 425W worth of panels when on a trip where I am stationary for long periods, charging 2x 105Ah batteries via 2 different charge controllers.

    I have not run out of power recently.......
    If Force is not the solution, not enough of it was applied....

  8. #8
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    I don't understand why people want a freezer to run at way below zero. Keeping food frozen at very low temperatures is done to preserve them for a long time. This is not necessary for camping and if you keep your freezer at zero degrees, frozen stuff will not defrost and you don't need that much battery power. Even if it does defrost, meat will be OK to eat for days afterwards if vacuum packed.

    I have used this approach for years now and it works for me. Another advantage is that you do not need a cooler box, as I can put my beers in the freezer for a while and they don't freeze (quickly at least) at zero degrees.
    camelman
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    I found that creating some ventilation around the fridge helped a lot, especially in hot conditions. If your fridge fits tightly into a compartment inside the trailer, think of ways to allow it more airflow. Its cooling will be more efficient and it will use less power.

    An additional layer of insulation like a padded protective bag to fit the fridge in makes another little difference, again, especially when it is hot outside.

    Try keep the fridge closed as much as possible. If you can reduce opening it to twice a day, it will use a lot less power than if the kids dig in it every half hour to find a cold drink.

    Try to open and close it quickly, don't stand around discussing whether you want the ribs or the chops to braai while the lid is open.

    Don't put warm things into the fridge when you have a shortage of power.

    My fridge normally lives in the back of the Landy, and I have made reflective silver shades to fit in the windows around it when we park out in the hot sun. It keeps the air around the fridge a lot cooler and make it more efficient. Perhaps the same can be done around the trailer compartment?

  10. #10
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    Photojoe, I would suggest another panel - CTek 250 is rated to 250W and the better management of the fridge / freezer i.e. freezing on 220 a couple of days before you leave. When frozen it will last a long time, even when the temp is adjusted upwards.

    I am running 249W at the moment, and even with a 90L NL and a 80L Waeco just managed, and have I now replaced the standard batteries with 100aH LC units.

    All depends on how much you still want to spend.
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  11. #11
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    Jy is gelukkig om twee batterye asook die C- tec charger te hê. Jy kan die een battery op koppel in die voertuig terwyl jy ry en dan behoort hy vinnig vol te laai met die C TEC terwyl die ander een op die son paneel aangaan.

    Volgende dag ruil jy weer om en dan doen dieselfde. Beplan vooruit en vries soliede blokke ys wat jy vroegoggend uit die vrieskas uithaal saam met dag se kos en gebruik die soliede ys om die koelboks koel te hou asook die koeldrank en ander.

    As die vrieskas hardloop op die sonpaneel en die battery en die vrieskas is laag gestel, sal jy heel waarskynlik nie nodig hê om saans die vrieskas te laat loop nie. Die groot probleem is ventilasie en te veel oopmaak van die vrieskas.

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  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by DJR View Post

    Try keep the fridge closed as much as possible. If you can reduce opening it to twice a day, it will use a lot less power than if the kids dig in it every half hour to find a cold drink.

    Try to open and close it quickly, don't stand around discussing whether you want the ribs or the chops to braai while the lid is open.
    This is probably the best advice yet!

    Proper managementy of the power at your disposal. Those fridges are not meant to be opened more than say 5 times a day. And when you do, you have to be quick with whatever you're doing there.

    But an extra panel will improve your situation a lot. I make do with 160W solar panels and so far it has serve me well.
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  13. #13
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    Not that much experience but M2CW:
    1. Did you start off with the 2 batteries fully charged at home with a 220V charger? Remember the CTEK only charges at max 20A, while driving that 20A gets divided between the 2 batteries plus the fridge is running off the batteries.
    2. Did you properly freez the things needing freezing before leaving on your trip or did you expect the NL to bring down the tempriture while on 12V? We once whent camping for a weekend, people who whent with us stopped at Makro the Friday afternoon along the way to get all their supplies and filled up their fridge with meet, drinks etc. Needless to say their battery didn't see the Saturday morning.
    3. As already said above keep opening the fridge to a minimum. Not always that practical for the shorter openings to get beer, but for other opening you can do some planning so that you don't have to dig, pack the meet you will eat first at the top etc to minimize time the lid is open.
    4. Swopping your fridge and freezer setup when you realised you were in trouble was a mistake, dropping the temp from -5 to -15 with already flat batteries is a big no, no. If you started your trip with the NL on -15 and later switched to -5 it probably would have worked out better but still not ideal, sticking to -5 would have been your best bet. If starting off with properly frozen meet, -5 will easily keep it frozen enough for 7 days plus and you can also keep your drinks in the fridge without it freezing.

    The problems you had is the reason why I'm not at all a fan of a fridge in a trailer, if your fridge is in the vehicle the battery gets a topup when ever you go for a drive and you always have drinks etc at hand.
    Because you can't hitch the trailer each time you go for a drive, obviously you have to compensate with solar, IMHO no matter what you do, a single 120W solar pannel won't be enough to keep that setup you have running without some alternative charging by alternator or 220V.
    I think you'll need another pannel taking you to 200 or 250 watt capacity, together with the increased solar capasity and better management of your fridge, power use, planning etc you should do fine for 14 days.

  14. #14
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    As mentioned, don't open your fridge too often, I only open mine twice a day (to take meat out) and use a cooler with ice for the beers and other drinks when ice is available. I've never run out of power, the longest I've been stationary with absolutely no driving was 4 days. Always try and leave home with fully charged batteries and a cold fridge.

    Also try and charge the phones and other gadgets from the car when driving, maybe fit your inverter to the car and use it while driving to charge the gadgets and camera batteries.

    PS -Nice photos. Looks like you had a good time!
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  15. #15
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    Why do you run the fridge below 0°C ?

    Meat will stay fresh if refrigerated for up to 2 weeks. On many of the hiking trails (where it is allowed) we braai every night and carry vacuum packed steaks inside our rucksacks.

    The colder you run the fridge, the more the compressor needs to run, and the more energy it uses.

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  16. #16
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    In my opinion a 180w solar setup will be your minimum requirement. The 250 should do the trick.
    Pieter

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    I just want to chip in here, Tsendze is awesome. We didn't see much game, but the peace and quiet!

    We had 2 80 W solar panels and they held out nicely, but the fridge was only a 40L Engel.

    Good Times!!
    Regards,

    William

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  18. #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by J Snyman View Post
    Why do you run the fridge below 0°C ?

    Meat will stay fresh if refrigerated for up to 2 weeks. On many of the hiking trails (where it is allowed) we braai every night and carry vacuum packed steaks inside our rucksacks.

    The colder you run the fridge, the more the compressor needs to run, and the more energy it uses.

    Johan 8)
    Don't know if that is strictly true. The first time we went to Mabua, we had the fridge on zero, this after deep freezing the meat before loading it in the fridge. We were careful and did not open the fridge often, we ended up with a bloody wet fridge and the battery cut out kicking in. Subsequent trips we kept it at -15 and everything stays frozen and I think overall helps to keep things cool. No cutting off from the battery.

    The big difference in our behaviour was to keep the fridge as full as possible, when we take stuff out we put water bottles, beer and so on in to limit the air space.
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  19. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by Stranger View Post
    Don't know if that is strictly true. The first time we went to Mabua, we had the fridge on zero, this after deep freezing the meat before loading it in the fridge. We were careful and did not open the fridge often, we ended up with a bloody wet fridge and the battery cut out kicking in. Subsequent trips we kept it at -15 and everything stays frozen and I think overall helps to keep things cool. No cutting off from the battery.

    The big difference in our behaviour was to keep the fridge as full as possible, when we take stuff out we put water bottles, beer and so on in to limit the air space.
    I totally agree with JSnyman. Are you are saying it takes less battery power to keep a fridge at -15 than at ?0 It is good to have one of those external thermometers with probe inside the fridge. NL makes nice ones. This will show you temperature movements when you open the fridge or put stuff in and you can regulate the temp better.
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  20. #20
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    I run 2 identical fridge/freezers in my vehicle and each runs off its own battery. On longer trips we use the one as a fridge and the other one as a freezer and we keep both units as full as possible. The unit running as a freezer is always heavier on battery juice than the other one when I run them at -10°C and +5°C.

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