While many campers enjoy a ‘back to basics’ approach to camping, there are plenty who prefer the creature comforts of a few electrical appliances during their holidays.
There are two main ways you can power electrical devices on the campsite. The first is to use a leisure battery, which is like a car battery and provides a 12V supply, and the second is an electric hook-up, which provides a 230V supply as you would find at home.
Find out more about charging leisure batteries.
Your own power pack
A leisure battery is a great way to provide electricity when you are away from a mains connection. You can use it to power a range of 12V devices, from lights to toilet flushes and from televisions to caravan movers. However, the appliances must be designed to run on a 12V supply.
Most caravans, motorhomes and folding campers will have a leisure battery installed.
Hooking up to the mains
Most commercial and Club campsites will offer electric hook-ups on some or all of their pitches.
These provide a 230V supply, which can power most of the appliances you might use at home. However, campsites tend to have restricted supplies (they are generally rated at 16A or 10A, sometimes as low as 5A on campsites abroad), so you need to be careful what you use to avoid ‘tripping out’ the system. It's worth noting that even 16 amps is barely more than a single household wall electrical socket, and this is needed for everything, including water and space heating, microwave, kettle etc., so consider how much you would want to plug into a single socket at home.
Tripping the electrical supply can make you unpopular on site. The least you will need to do is contact the site manager to ask him to reset the system. In some cases you will also have stopped the electricity supply to your neighbours’ pitches and on a cold winter’s night this will not go down well…
Use electricity with care
Make no mistake about it. Electricity can be dangerous, especially in the damp conditions of a tent or in the open air. Even a 12V battery can give you a nasty shock if used incorrectly. Used in the right way however, campers can benefit from mains electricity and, if they take the right precautions, they can do it safely. You must use a purpose-built lead designed for bringing electricity to your unit. These leads will have special weather-proof plugs made to connect to the sites hook-up.
When you connect to the hook-up point, plug your cable into your unit first and then into the site’s bollard. That way you avoid carrying a ‘live’ lead to your unit.
The Club recommends you use a cable length of 25m, because the layout of pitches means you can sometimes be pitched a fair distance from the hook-up bollard. However, if you’re closer to the bollard, you should still uncoil the full length of your cable, to avoid it overheating in use. Avoid using extension cables. If you need to, always use weather-proof connectors and keep the connection off the ground – to avoid water getting inside.
Many family tents now include a small zipped flap where the cable can enter the tent, so cables don’t need to cross the entrance.
Making life safer
Most caravans, motorhomes and folding campers have electrical equipment fitted by design. If you are bringing electricity into a tent you will need to buy a special hook-up lead with two or more damp-proof sockets, each of which will take ordinary 13A plug, as you would use at home.
Find out more about using electricity in your tent.
Residual Current Devices (RCDs)
One of the reasons for using a properly-designed electrical connection to your unit is that a Residual Current Device (RCD) safety device will be wired into the circuit. This is designed to cut off the supply immediately in the case of a leakage of current to earth. Such a leakage can occur when someone touches an appliance that is damp. Particularly if the person is standing on damp ground, which can easily happen in a tent.
Keep it all dry
Tents, and particularly the floors of tents, can be damp and moisture and electricity do not mix. The socket end of the cable will usually have some means of fixing it well above level ground. Often special clips will enable it to be fixed to a frame tent pole off the ground. Arranging to mount it off the ground in other tents, especially those with flexible poles, can be more difficult. The equipment you plug in must also be placed safely. Don’t use electrical equipment on the tent floor as leaks or condensation could lead to dampness.
How much power
You’ll also need to think about the equipment you want to use on site. At home you’ll probably have plenty of sockets and it’s rare to overload them, but a campsite socket can be easily overloaded. If you are using an electric kettle it really ought to be a small camping one. Heaters should be low powered and ideally designed for camp life, and don’t try to run your heater and kettle together – you could overload your pitch socket causing it to cut out and you may even cut out other sockets on the campsite.
Find out more about appliances and the current they draw here.
Small petrol-powered generators are easily available today and for just a few hundred pounds you can bring your own power station – albeit a small one – to your camping pitch.
However, most generators are noisy and there is no better way of annoying your fellow campers on a quiet summer’s evening than to start up your generator so you can watch Coronation Street. For that reason, many campsites ban generators or limit their use to certain hours of the day.
Gaining in popularity with campers is solar power – or more accurately photo-voltaic power. A solar panel can charge a 12V battery and keep it charged on those long bright summer days. The panels can be fitted to the roof of a caravan or motorhome and there are plenty of portable panels designed for camping use.
Increasingly today you can buy camping equipment with small built-in solar chargers. Torches are available, which if left in bright light all day will light your way when darkness comes. And those little garden lamps with in-built solar panels make an ideal beacon to guide you back to your tent.