Camping used to mean really roughing it. Heavy cotton and wool sleeping bags, canvas tents, wet and cold boots, and dried food were the mainstays of early outdoor adventurers. Then the first revolution in outdoor equipment occurred: Self-inflating sleeping pads for comfort and warmth; geodesic dome tents that set up in minutes and are actually rain and bug proof; waterproof, breathable clothing; lightweight, super comfortable hiking boots; and backpacks that form-fit your torso all became popular.
Millions of people discovered — or rediscovered — the great outdoors. Technology allowed them to camp more comfortably with more conveniences.
Now the 12-volt DC power revolution has ushered in the next level of camping comfort. The broad selection of high-tech equipment, just waiting to make your next outing more enjoyable, safer, and, well, less “rough,” is astounding. The products highlighted here are just a few samples of what’s available. Check out the manufacturers’ Websites for the full menu.
LET THERE BE LIGHT
By the time you get packed up, drive all day and find a campsite, chances are you’ll need light. We found handy products that will make setting up a tent in the dark and finding the outhouse much easier. Some plug directly into a cigarette lighter socket, otherwise known as a power point. Others are portable and recharge from a 12-volt system, 110-volt AC, or even the sun.
For reading the map to reach your destination, Koolatron, Hella and Liteco make an assortment of map lights that plug into any power point or portable 12-volt system. Once in camp, Koolatron, Vector, Road Pro, Mag Instruments, and Pelican offer Krypton, LED and incandescent lights that are extremely bright. Some boast a run time of over 100 hours on a single charge.
Lighting products that especially attracted our attention: Pelican’s new StealthLite uses Nickel Metal Hydride rechargeable batteries and is waterproof! Road Pro and Vector have models that can be set to illuminate the campsite, and the Vector Sport Spot Twin Beam even has an auxiliary 12-volt power outlet. The full-size Coleman Retro Rechargeable Lantern fluorescent tube stays as cool as it looks. Maglite’s rechargeable flashlight is one of the brightest we’ve seen.
Food might be your next concern, or maybe just a cold one. Thanks to the 12-volt revolution, transporting perishable goods has become much easier now, too. There are three types of portable refrigerators that work on 12 volts:
Compressor: Requires 110-volt AC or 12-volt DC; works like a home unit; very fast; can freeze foods; consumes a moderate amount of energy; does not need to be level. Check out the Norcold, Dometic and Engel models.
Absorption: Works on LP gas, 110-volt AC or 12-volt DC; can freeze foods; consumes a lot of energy on 12-volt; most common type found in RVs; needs to be level. A good example is the Dometic RC4000.
Thermoelectric: Works on 110-volt AC or 12-volt DC; cools food and beverages to about 40 degrees Fahrenheit below ambient air temperature; cannot freeze food; consumes the least amount of power; some models can also warm food. Coleman, Koolatron and Vector offer an assortment of sizes and designs. Some of Vector’s units have self-contained, rechargeable battery packs, and one even includes an AM/FM radio and MP3 jack.
COOKIN’ WITH JUICE
There are also blenders, coffee pots, ovens and microwaves that run on straight 12-volt, or via an inverter that converts 12-volt DC to 110-volt AC.
Two of our favorites from this category are Vector’s Electro-Mug that uses 12-volt power to keep that cup of coffee warm on the road and its 12-volt Travel Oven with a one-quart capacity.
TUNES AND MORE
The Vector Tough Brite Storm Tracker includes AM/FM radio, UHF/VHF black and white TV, seven-channel NOAA weather with Automatic Storm Alert, and a halogen spotlight. If it runs low on power, a hand-crank dynamo can give you another 15 minutes of power for two minutes of cranking.
The Xantrex Powerpack/Radio features a 20-amp-hour, AGM-sealed battery, a 400-watt inverter for running 110-volt AC products, an AM/FM radio with digital clock, built-in jumper cables, a 250 PSI air compressor for inflating tires and toys, and a three-digit display for easy battery monitoring.
There is much more to 12-volt camping than lighting up your tent or playing your favorite tunes. Several companies including Hella and Vector make small fans to keep you cool, night or day.
TurboKOOL has introduced a 12-volt or solar-powered RV evaporative air (swamp) cooler that fits any 14×14-inch RV roof vent. Zodi makes a Tent Warmer and an Instant Hot Shower. Both plug into 12 volts and use disposable bottles of propane. Coleman’s new Inflate-All pump can inflate anything from airbeds to car tires. Vector’s 12-volt vacuum will make clean up a snap.
Nowadays, we’re all a little concerned about security, whether at home or camped in the backcountry. Miltronics has developed the Campers Alert, a 12-volt DC or battery-powered wireless detection system. Whenever anyone approaches your campsite or vehicle, the Campers Alert warns you of the activity via the beeper-size battery-operated receiver. The unit can also trigger a loud alarm or a flashing light.
Obviously, all of this convenience has a price. You must have a reliable source of 12-volt power. The first choice for a 12-volt source is your car battery, but caution must be used not to strand yourself while in the process of lighting camp or keeping the potato salad cold.
If you happen to be in a campground where 110-volt power is available, then it’s easy to keep all of your 12-volt gear running at full speed. A Battery Minder from VDC Electronics will keep a car battery fully charged. For heavy duty electrical loads, a compact charger from Vector for your car battery is a good choice.
While you’re driving or plugged into 110-volt, there are a number of rechargeable 12-volt storage systems like the Brunton Solo 2 and Koolatron’s Power Pac that can run your refrigerators, lights, fans, and computers for hours, and recharge from your vehicle’s alternator the next time you move.
If your camper or RV has one or more deep-cycle batteries, inverters like those made by Xantrex and Vector will allow you to use 110-volt AC appliances. The Xantrex PROsine 2.0 is capable of 2000 watts of 110-volt power, and also doubles as a 100-amp battery charger if you’re plugged in. Smaller inverters that produce 70 watts can plug directly into a 12-volt outlet to power cell phones and computers.
If you’re not plugged in, solar power is a rapidly growing alternative. Many companies now offer very efficient, compact solar chargers. Unlike the older, heavy, somewhat fragile solar panels, new ones are thin enough to roll up and hang on your tent or backpack. On a sunny day, they can keep a refrigerator running and charge up your car battery or power pack for use later.
The VDC Solar Battery Minder will keep your starting battery topped up. The 17-ounce Brunton SolarRoll 14 flexible solar panel can produce up to 14 watts of power, enough juice to run a satellite phone, digital camera and other electronic appliances. Two or more SolarRolls can be linked together. Uni-Solar’s Uni-Pac folds up into a compact case.
So you’ve seen a sampling of 12-volt products that can make your camping trips more fun than ever, now pack up the SUV, truck, car or van and head for the mountains or the beach. Take the comforts of home with you.
12-VOLT GADGET SOURCES
Casco Products Corp.
Mag Instruments, Inc.
Miltronics Manufacturing, Inc.
Road Pro Products Limited
VDC Electronics, Inc.
Vector Manufacturing Co.
Xantrex Technology, Inc.
Zodi Outback Gear