As a lifelong environmentalist, I’ve been looking for ways to decarbonize and reduce the size of my environmental footprint all of my life. One part of my philosophy is that innovation requires people willing to adopt nascent technology to encourage and fund the next technological advances.
We installed solar photovoltaic panels on our home back in 2009, and we’ve watched the cost of the panels, inverters, and batteries plummet since then. Now, utility-scale solar power is some of the least expensive on the planet and residential solar technology is ubiquitous. That inexpensive solar technology has produced a boom in portable systems that can electrify camping trips and other remote power needs and then serve as backup power for outages at home when not in remote use. In just the last few years, there’s been an explosion of small companies feeding this rapidly-growing niche. That has boosted reliability and reduced prices even further.
At one point, I realized that a portable solar generator could power an electric cooler and induction hotplate, making our camping trips a little greener, safer, and more convenient all at once. Once we had this setup, we found that it could be used in many other situations, like using electric power tools or lighting our video projects in remote locations, far from grid power.
Looking for an eco-friendly gift for your outdoor-loving loved one? Here’s a rundown of our system and a few of our observations from using it in various situations. Remember, if you decide to purchase something using the links on our site, we may receive a commission. Thanks for supporting us!
These portable solar panels are incorporated into a sturdy, folding case with built-in handles and integrated kickstands that allow them to stand up on their own without any extra support. They are truly plug-and-play. We set these up in a sunny spot facing the sun (roughly south by southwest in the afternoon), plugged them into our portable power station, and immediately saw power flowing to the battery. The panels themselves are made of high-quality, monocrystalline photovoltaic cells that are wired in parallel, which means that a little bit of shade on one part of the panel won’t seriously affect the ability of the rest of the cells to work. This is a big plus when camping near trees, with the shade constantly shifting as the sun moves. At 16 lbs, it’s not featherweight, but it’s still easy enough to handle around camp. A couple of hours after I first set it up, I noticed that the sun had moved, so I simply picked it up and scooted it out of the shade. It’s too big for backpacking but works well at base camp in conjunction with a portable power station. Folded up, it’s a thin package that stows nicely upright between bags or against the rear seat of an SUV. You can find the Bluetti PV200 Solar Panel here.
The heart of our system is this compact, lightweight power station, which includes a battery, inverter, and charge controller all in one box. Its lithium iron phosphate battery can be recharged from a 120V AC wall outlet, 12V DC car outlet, or by up to 200 watts of solar panels. Its various outputs include several 120V AC, USB-A, USB-C, and 12V DC outlets to power things like lights, electric coolers, small appliances, or power tools up to 800W. We found it perfect for running our electric cooler and induction hot plate with plenty of charge left to top up our phones, laptops, cameras, and camp lights. See the full review here.
Even the best non-electric coolers can only keep things cold for about a day or so. After that, your food drowns in the lukewarm meltwater and the mayo becomes iffy for consumption. Never again. Enter this portable electric refrigerator/freezer that sips electricity while keeping things cold without a single cube of ice. It features two separate compartments, one of which can be designated as a freezer or refrigerator, depending on your needs (we all scream for ice cream!). It comes with a 12V DC cord for plugging into your car’s or power station’s outlets and a standard, 2-prong AC cord for plugging into the wall at home or in your hotel room. This means you can load the cooler the night before a big road trip and keep it plugged in and cold at home before loading and plugging it into the car. Once at camp, we plugged our BODEGAcooler into the BLUETTI Portable Power Station. Unlike a refrigerator, it’s so quiet that you’ll never even notice it’s running. Features include: high, medium, and low settings to control power usage, a sturdy, wheeled design with a retractable metal handle, integrated interior LED lights, a removable cutting board stowed in the cooler lid, and even a handy bottle opener. While I’m still a little befuddled by its Bluetooth connectivity and associated app, it’s there if you ever feel the need to control the unit from your phone. An optional removable lithium-ion battery is helpful if you don’t have a portable power station. A big perk when you’re not camping? Again, forget the ice and plug it in to hold up to 52 beverage cans for your next party at home.
I’ve never been a big fan of traveling with gas-burning camping stoves. To me, the prefilled, non-recyclable canisters are wasteful, and liquid fuel is dangerous and unhealthy. This single-pot induction cooktop is a great replacement. We plugged it into the portable power station and used it on medium setting, which was plenty to heat water and cook simple meals. It had better ratings than some of its competitors and we’ve used it back at home as an hors d'oeuvres warmer and extra burner during the holidays.
Have you modified your outdoor activities to become less carbon intensive? What’s worked for you? Let us know in the comments below and subscribe so you don’t miss a thing!