12-volt Accessories For Camping

September 1, 2003
Filed under Camping Gear, Generators & Power

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It’s one of the last places you would expect to be holding a bag of hot popcorn right out of the microwave. But here we are, sitting high on a lonely bluff overlooking the vastness of the Arizona desert, enjoying one of the comforts of home 20 miles from the nearest power grid.

We aren’t alone in bringing one of the conveniences of home with us on an outdoor outing. A boat-camping family on the shore of a remote island in the Gulf of Mexico is enjoying a similar experience, sipping fresh coffee brewed from a 10-cup electric coffee maker.

Meanwhile, the perishable foods they brought along for a four-day trip are kept near freezing in an electric refrigerator/freezer plugged into their boat’s electrical system. A few yards away a small solar panel is keeping flashlight batteries and the cell phone fully charged.

Welcome to the wide world of 12-volt accessories. A world where anyone with a car, pickup, boat, SUV or RV can take advantage of small appliances and power tools commonly used at home.

Thanks to miniaturized electronics — and a huge demand from long-haul truckers, pleasure boaters and convenience-minded outdoorsmen — all one needs these days to operate a host of electrical items normally associated with a 110-volt power source is a vehicle with a 12-volt battery.

These products can be found in many of the larger sporting goods stores or in the pages of outdoor, boating and camping mail-order catalogs. You can also find them by walking the aisles of truck stops and RV centers or by surfing the web.

To give you an idea of what is available, we did a little shopping of our own to find out what’s hot in 12-volt accessories. The offerings are expansive.

So, if you aren’t hooked up for your next camping trip — and the thought of leaving behind the basic conveniences of home is just a little too much — here’s a brief look at the wide range of products available to make your camping life a little less primitive.

Note the prices for the products are the suggested retail price in most instances. With a little comparative shopping you can find the products for less.


Looking for a way to simplify that cup of morning coffee without firing up the gas stove or rekindling that campfire? There are a number of 12-volt accessories that can put a cup of hot java in your hands without breaking a sweat.

RoadPro (800/233-7009; das-roadpro.com) offers everything from a single-cup beverage heater to the 10-cup Deluxe Coffee Maker ($50). The 12-volt Beverage Heater ($10) turns a single cup of cold water hot in short order. It’s the perfect item for whipping up that single cup of hot chocolate or instant coffee.

Vector Manufacturing (866/584-5504; vectormfg.com) offers similar products. For example, the Deluxe 5-Cup Coffee Maker ($25) has a drip-stop feature, allowing you to enjoy a cup before brewing is completed. It comes with a 6-foot power cord and draws 10-amps. Brewing a full pot of fresh coffee is handled by either the new “Quick Brew” Portable Coffee Maker ($35), which makes four cups, or the 10-Cup Deluxe Portable Coffee Maker ($50). The deluxe model has a drip-stop feature that allows you to pour that first cup of java without interrupting the brewing process. Both coffee makers come in black. White is available through the sister brand, MarinePro.

Another cool item from RoadPro to keep liquids hot is the 32-ounce Thermal Bottle ($40). This stainless steel-cased bottle plugs into any 12-volt accessory outlet to keep the contents hot for hours. Also included is a retractable handle and a carry strap.

Vector also offers a quart-size Stainless Steel Thermal Bottle ($28) for those who need to keep a bigger supply of soup, hot chocolate, or other beverages/liquids hot while in camp, on the road or on the water.

If you need to keep a soda frosty or a cup of coffee steaming while you’re driving along, the Beverage Cooler/Warmer ($20) is the ticket. RoadPro says the temperature range is 41 to 149 degrees.

Heating up soup or hot water is just as easy with Vector’s “Smart” Car Pot ($30), which heats 20 ounces of liquid in a matter of minutes. It includes a mounting bracket, which safely locks the unit into a vehicle and features an auto shut-off if the unit is empty or when input voltage is too high or too low. Another convenient travel item is the Heated Electro-Mug ($10), which plugs into the 12-volt accessory outlet or cigarette lighter to keep a single serving of coffee, soup, or other liquids hot while you drive.

One of the items that really makes your camp popular is a 12-volt blender. Vector’s Port-A-Blend Blender ($40) features a 12-foot power cord and a high-torque, high-speed motor that makes short work of crushing ice, blending drinks, or similar chores.

Not to be outdone, RoadPro offers a portable 12-volt Cordless Drink Maker ($69) that runs off rechargeable batteries, which are charged through the vehicle charger that comes with the unit. (A corded MarinePro model is also available.) The margarita mixer also includes a 110-volt charger so you can use it at home.


But man can’t live by drink alone. That’s where cooking appliances plug into the camp scene.

Cooking up a toasted cheese sandwich is quick and easy with a RoadPro Sandwich Maker ($25) or Portable Oven/Pizzeria ($40). The latter can also be used to heat individual-slices of pizza or cook frozen dinners. It heats/cooks from both top and bottom.

If your tastes favor cooked meals in compact style, RoadPro sells a Portable Saucepan/
Popcorn Popper ($35) and a Portable Frying Pan ($40). These compact units are good for steaming hotdogs, frying filets, making stews and the like.

Travl-Mates brand products (800/288-4545; nesco.com) such as the Pot’N’Pop 1-quart sauce pan/popcorn popper ($27) and 6.5-inch Port-A-Fry ($26) electric frying pan provide similar services. These electric appliances are small; so don’t plan on making a family-size meal with one plug-in.

The Xantrex (800/446-6180; xantrex.com) 12-volt Microwave Kit ($250), available from S. King Company (888/892-2547; skingcompany.com), includes a 550-watt microwave oven and a 700-watt inverter to convert 12-volt power to 120 volts. The inverter can also power any number of 110-volt appliances and accessories.

A more powerful version is the Koolatron (800/265-8456; koolatron.com) Microwave/
Inverter Kit ($300). A good source is wonderfulbuys.com (800/649-6518). This system has an 800-watt, .7 cu-ft microwave oven and a 1000-watt inverter that can run more powerful accessories and appliances.


Many campers just want the convenience of keeping beverages and foods cool or warm on an outing. That’s where the “cooler/warmer” accessory appliances fit the niche. There are numerous models and sizes in a wide price range.

On the mini side, the RoadPro Mini Cooler/Warmer ($50), Vector Thermoelectric Travel Cooler & Warmer ($40), and Power-To-Go (877/227-5832; teamproducts.com) Portable Thermoelectric Cooler/Warmer ($30) plug in to keep a six-pack cool or hot dogs and burgers warm.

Koolatron, a well-known brand in the RV refrigerator industry, with a reputation for quality, is also in the 12-volt mini cooler market. The Fun-Kool ($50), Travel Tote ($60), Kool Sport ($70) and Kargo Kooler ($130) keep sandwiches from getting soggy and drinks from getting warm. They are also great for keeping camera film from being adversely affected by summer’s high temperatures.

Vector’s Travel Oven ($25) is also a nifty little item to keep a small amount of precooked food warm or heat up soup or stew, while the outside case stays cool.

Those who have larger needs should look at the Coleman (800/835-3278; coleman.com) 16-quart Thermoelectric Cooler/ Warmer ($85). The largest of the line is the 40-Quart Cooler/ Warmer ($135), which includes an interior light and an automatic thermostat.

Igloo (800/364-5566; igloocoolers.com) offers both a 32-quart 3392 Cooler/Warmer ($120) and a 40-quart 6402 Cooler/Warmer ($130) model. The latter, which can chill down to 45 degrees below the outside temperature, can keep prepared foods heated up to 155 degrees. Koolatron’s 36-quart Kool Kaddy ($160) is also an excellent food preserver.


When it comes to refrigerators and freezers, there are numerous choices as well. For example, on the refrigerator side, the upright 40-quart Coleman Thermoelectric Cooler ($90) resembles a small refrigerator with a door that can open on either the left or right side and a multiposition shelf to keep items separated.

The 37-quart Arcti-Kool Freezer ($800) from Koolatron can keep its contents 86 degrees below the outside temperature. Low amp-draw, digital controls and a digital readout make this a premium refrigerator/freezer.

Another premium refrigerator/freezer for outdoor/camping use is the Portable Freezer Fridge imported from Australia by ARB USA (888/427-2872; arbusa.com). ARB freezer/fridges come in three sizes: 33-quarts MT35-AL ($800) is the smallest, the 42-quart MT45F ($900) the midsize, and the 63-quart model MT60F-AL ($1180) the largest. They can keep foods frozen below zero even in desert heat. ARB enlisted renowned refrigerator manufacturer Engel (888/272-9838; engelusa.com/engel) to build these units to special specs for off-road/outback use.

Speaking of Engel, the Engel 15 ($500) is the smallest cooler/ freezer available. Its 14-quart size can hold 21 12-ounce cans and it’ll take temps down to zero in no time, keeping food frozen or drinks chilled.

Engel offers larger coolers/freezers all the way up to the 64-quart Engel 65 ($1,200) that would be ideal for keeping larger quantities of food frozen during extended outings. Their larger units can operate off both 12-volt and household current, so their use is not hampered by location nor do they require an inverter for 110-volt operation.


There’s nothing wrong with looking good while camping in the wilds. Among the most popular of personal care products are items such as the 12-volt Curling Iron ($20) and Hair Dryer/Defroster ($20) from RoadPro. Note: The defroster is for windshields — not your partner.

You can also bring along the company’s Cordless/Rechargeable Electric Razor System ($60) and the large Heated Blanket ($60) that has a built-in thermostat for those frosty nights.


If your idea of entertainment isn’t listening to the crickets chirp, there are plenty of systems to accommodate your needs. Sylvania’s (800/968-3429; funai-corp.com/sylbrand.html) 13-inch TV/VCR Combo ($250) has front A/V inputs, earphone jack, wake/sleep timer and an illuminated remote control.

Panasonic’s (866/888-2929; panasonic.com) 9-inch TV/VCR Combo with FM Radio ($275) has an alarm clock as well as front A/V jacks, front and side firing speakers, index search, commercial skip and remote.

If DVDs are your thing, Video Traveler (888/550-3646; videoonthego.com) makes a 7-inch LCD Monitor/DVD System ($420) that can be mounted by strapping it between the seats in minutes. It’s compatible with Sony PlayStation, Nintendo 64, and Sega Dreamcast game systems and comes with dual headphones. Also available is a 10.4-inch LCD Monitor/DVD System ($880).

Lasonic (323/222-8880; lasonic.com) also offers its portable DVD Player, DVB-8092 ($120) for those on the go. It’s so small it can fit into your vehicle’s glove box, but comes with a remote control and all the quality video and sound features found on home systems.


There are hundreds of 12-volt cordless tools, but a couple stand out as being quite handy for campers. One is the new Reversible Double Clutch 1/2-inch Mini Impact Wrench Kit ($50) made by RoadPro. It provides up to 250 lb-ft of torque for removing lug nuts and just about any other nut in seconds. The kit includes a 12-foot power cord, sockets and convenient carrying case.

Another cool tool from RoadPro is the Cordless/Rechargeable 3/8-inch Drill/Driver Tool Kit ($70). The drill/driver can be recharged right from your vehicle’s cigarette/accessory plug so you always have drilling power close at hand.

Lights powered by 12-volts have been around for decades. The 3-Million Candlepower Spotlight/Power Station ($60) from RoadPro/MarinePro is pretty neat. What makes this handheld portable sun so cool is that it has a swivel base that serves as both a charger and as a battery pack for other 12-volt accessories. The battery is a lead-acid type so it can be recharged at any time, unlike NiCad-type batteries.

Another cool camp item is the XPower Powerpack 300 Plus ($150) from Xantrex. The Powerpack integrates a lead-acid battery and inverter to provide portable electricity and backup power anytime, anywhere. The 300 can do everything from running 110-volt accessories to jump-starting dead batteries. It even incorporates a fluorescent light and a 250-psi air compressor. It recharges in four hours when plugged into the lighter socket.

ARB offers a couple of convenient camp items as well. The RDCP Air Compressor ($195) is enclosed in its own tackle-box-sized carrying case and makes short work of inflating tires, rafts, air mattresses and the like. It inflates up to 105 psi.

Another useful item from ARB is the 12-volt Adventure Light ($50). This is a rugged wand-like fluorescent light with a 16-foot power cord. Two hanging points make it an ideal fixture around camp.


Campers who are relegated to 12-volt sources of power can greatly expand the types of electrical items that can be run if they use an inverter. An inverter, in very simple terms, turns 12-volt DC power into 110-volt AC power like that found in the home.

Derek Pettingale, director of recreation markets with major Canadian inverter manufacturer Xantrex, says the key to choosing an inverter for outdoor/travel applications is determining the electrical load to be placed on the unit. “Check out the specification tag on the appliance or accessory that you want to power and look for the ‘continuous watt rating’ number,” says Pettingale. “The inverter you choose must be able to supply more than that amount for the item to operate.” Pettingale says that for most camping/travel uses an inverter with a 300- to 400-watt rating would be able to power 110-volt blenders, laptops, small TVs, Game Boys, PlayStations, stereos and DVD players. Items that make heat (toasters, coffee makers, microwaves, etc.) require an inverter in the 500- to 600-watt range, which would need to be hard-wired into the vehicle.

Inverters come in two types: Sine Wave and Modified Sine Wave. Sine Wave inverters are more expensive and more closely emulate actual household current. If you are planning on running a high-end stereo, color TV, or a microwave, a Sine Wave inverter is the best power option for the best performance.

Modified Sine Wave inverters, such as the double-plug Xantrex Prowatt 300 ($70) and Vector’s 400-watt Maxx SST Digital Power Inverter ($45), can handle anything else — from computers and 27-inch TVs to lights and power tools. These are the best buy for the average outdoors-oriented user. A good inverter source is Visual Information Technologies (866/811-5008; vitmarine.com).

Inverters draw power from the vehicle’s battery, so it is wise to use an inline “battery isolator” to keep from killing the vehicle battery. Plug-in isolators are available from numerous sources, including the Battery Guard ($25) from RoadPro.

Solar power is also available. Brunton (800/443-4871; brunton.com), a leading manufacturer in outdoor adventure products, has several new solar power sources.

The Solaris 25 ($400) is a new, compact, lightweight, tri-fold solar array that uses its 25-watt output to power all sorts of 12-volt products. The unit can also be used to recharge Brunton’s new SOLO portable power devices. You can also link the Solaris 25s together to multiply power output.

The SolarRoll 14 ($400) is another new item. It’s a cloth-like flexible solar panel that can be draped across the hood of a vehicle or on top of a tent to capture the sun’s power. It produces 14 watts at peak, enough to run digital cameras and smaller electronic appliances.

If you need a much bigger and more diverse solar power source, the 17-pound Solo 2 ($950) is Brunton’s flagship product. This solar power plant can power a variety of electronics through 7.5-, 12-, or 110-volt outputs. It’ll run laptops, TVs, air pumps, and lights for hours with the potential for nearly unlimited power capacity.

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