Want to escape crowded campgrounds with those growling RV
generators and get off the beaten path? We’ve got
your plan all mapped out. The self-sufficiency travel
advice and products on the following pages will allow you
to make your tent, camper or RV more comfortable, safe and
energy efficient while you travel.
My husband, Shawn Schreiner, and I are full-time back roads
and backwoods wanderers: We live and work on the go in our
20-foot-long RV, traveling from place to place as our whims
and work dictate, so being as independent as possible is
always part of our strategy. Today’s compact
renewable energy technologies and hand-powered gadgets
liberate travelers like us from the electrical umbilical
cord without sacrificing all of our creature comforts.
We’ve selected 20 travel tools and products that are
solar- or human-powered, low maintenance, portable and
durable. These 20 nifty products let you go off-road and off-grid camping in your tent, camper or RV.
One of the benefits of having a home on the road is
boondocking, which is free camping away from commercial
campgrounds and energy hookups. Being completely energy
independent with a photovoltaic (PV) system gives you the
freedom to park your camper or RV almost anywhere, with the
A small PV system easily can supply enough power to run a
few lights, a water pump and a few other small electric
gizmos. PV systems are quiet, lightweight and require
almost no attention — just keep the solar panels
clean, and they’ll keep on producing power. Panels
can be mounted flat on the RV’s roof or set into a
tilting mount, which improves the power output by as much
as 10 percent to 20 percent.
The average RV user with some basic 12-volt appliances
consumes about 40 to 50 amp-hours of power per day. PV
panels, which cost between $300 and $500, can produce about
20 to 35 amp-hours per day for you, depending on how many
hours of sunlight the panels receive. They can be wired
directly to charge a battery and power your 12-volt lights
and pump, or you can add an inverter, which transforms DC
energy to AC electricity, to power your small standard
For more than two decades, RV Solar Electric, Inc. has customized PV
systems for recreational vehicles. Their years of
experience led to the publication of the RVer's Guide to
Solar Battery Charging, a popular manual that addresses
hard-to-answer questions about RV solar systems.
Put things that go bump in the night in the spotlight with
the rugged, watertight Solaris Solar
Lantern. Equivalent to a 40-watt light bulb,
it’s bright enough to cook and read by. A
full-spectrum compact-fluorescent bulb helps this lamp keep
its cool, making it safe for use inside tents and campers.
Charging the battery with the small, flexible solar panel
(included) gives the lamp up to six hours of run time.
About $150, from Real Goods.
LEDs (light-emitting diodes that don’t burn out) in
the Everlite Solar Spotlight provide an
intense, cool light source, perfect for reading or
emergency lighting. The lamp needs only three hours of
sunlight to power it for 12 hours. Use the solar panel to
charge a cell phone, PDA (personal digital assistant) and
other hand-held devices (adapters available). A nifty zip
travel case keeps everything organized. About $100 to $120,
at Real Goods.
Just because you’re traveling doesn’t mean you
have to tune out. And with Coleman’s Freeplay
Radio, you’ll have music and news whenever
and wherever you go. A small solar panel mounted onto the
top of this compact AM/FM radio charges the battery inside.
Or if you’re low on sunshine, give the handcrank a
spin to re-energize the radio (30 seconds of crank-time
yields about 30 minutes of play-time). About $40, from
You’ll welcome the security of the SideWinder
cell-phone charger. This pocket-sized generator
gives you unlimited talk time when your batteries need a
recharge. Two minutes of winding regenerates your cell
phone to give you six minutes of talk time and about 30
minutes of standby. About $25, from Real Goods.
Throw these rugged, weatherproof flashlights in your pack
or glove box — and never be left in the dark. We love
the SolarVerter, a solar-powered
flashlight that has red emergency flashers mounted at one
end. It comes with mounting hardware for bicycles. A
water-resistant body also makes it a perfect companion for
kayaks and canoes. About $25, from Lehman’s.
Coleman’s sturdy Freeplay Flashlight gives you the option of low or high beams, and a handcrank
means you can have light whenever and wherever you need it.
One minute of winding gives up to 12 minutes of
“shine time.” About $35.
You can try cooking on your engine block, but using the sun
is much more fun — not to mention economical and
fuel-efficient. Unfold the Global Sun
Oven’s reflectors and angle the glass front
toward the sun to quickly heat this solar wonder. A
temperature gauge mounted in the corner helps you keep an
eye on the level. Our pasta e fagioli boiled and bubbled
within 45 minutes at temperatures between 250 and 300
degrees. You’ll need to reserve room in your vehicle
or RV to store this 2-cubic-foot, 21 pound oven, but
it’s worth it. About $250, from Real Goods.
For folks who’d rather crank it up than plug it in,
the Vortex Handcrank Blender saves the
day. A two-speed gearing system lets you chop, froth and
blend with ease. We tested the tough, stainless steel blade
on ice, and it cut with razorlike efficiency. The base
cleverly nests in the blender for quick storage. A C-clamp
(included) helps keep everything from quaking when
you’re cranking away. About $70, from GSI Outdoors.
Mess kits just got a whole lot neater with these
stainless steel cooking sets from Coleman
and GSI Outdoors. Both come with a nifty mesh sack. We
loved the sturdy, quick-grip handles on GSI’s kit,
and the lids, which do dual duty as fry pans. Coleman’s kit gets our kudos for
containment: Three (a cup, bowl and fry pan) nest in one.
The kit also contains a wind screen to shield the flame on
your portable camp stove. Coleman Solo Cook Kit, about $30. GSI Outdoors stainless steel mess
kit, about $20. Coleman’s
eXponent Xpert camp stove puts an end to cold cans of trail beans. Brew and
bubble your favorite dish over the hardy flame that will
burn at up to 12,000 Btu (British thermal unit, a precise
measure of heat energy). After you’ve downed your
grub, pack this wee stove in your pocket. Available for
about $75. (Use with Peak1 Powermax recyclable cartridges,
with a 60 percent butane/40 percent propane fuel mix.)
This compact-yet-heavy-duty handcrank German coffee
mill gives you fresh grounds for four
cups of java in less than two minutes flat. About $55, from
Lehman’s. Use those grounds to prepare the tastiest
brew in this perfectly packable, absolutely indestructible
Glacier Stainless Steel JavaPress.
And for those who like to slowly savor their morning coffee
or tea, the locking lid and double-walled thermal design
keep drinks piping hot. About $35, from GSI Outdoors. (For
truly great travel coffee, we recommend Mother’s
Blend, an organic, Fair Trade, shade-grown coffee.)
Sunbathing gains a whole new meaning when you take your
ablutions with a solar shower. Fill the dark-colored bag
with water, set it in the sun for a few hours and then wash
under a spray of deliciously warm water.
Stearns’ 5.5 gallon Air Power
SunShower comes with a foot pump to give your
shower an extra pressure oomph for about $40. Real Goods
sells a 4-gallon Super Solar Shower model
(without the pressure pump), for $15. Water heats from 60
degrees to 108 degrees in about 3 hours.
Restore your dingy dungarees and tainted t-shirts to their
former glory with the Wonder Clean Pressure
Handwasher, a mini laundromat on legs. Add a few
quarts of warm water and a couple tablespoons of detergent
to the polymer tub, seal the lid securely and spin for a
couple of minutes. Pressure, created by the warm water,
builds within the tub and helps push spots and soil right
out. About $45, from Lehman’s.
Without a doubt, the most odious — not to mention
odoriferous! — of camping activities is emptying the
blackwater tank in your RV. Replacing your chemical flush
toilet with a compact composting toilet will put an end to
this hated task, and save water. The Luggable Loo
portable potty is another option for dealing with
“waste” (about $13, at most outdoor outfitters
stores). On the road, use it with disposable waste
bags, filled with an odor- and liquid-absorbing
gel (about $30 for 12, from Lehman’s). When
you’re parked, turn your loo into a compost
collector. Just cover your deposits with peat moss, and
when the bucket’s full, incorporate the contents into
a compost bin or bury them.
Sun-Mar’s Ecolet toilets are
specifically designed for marine and RV use; choose from
the nonelectric system or the 12-volt evaporative heater
and fan to dissipate excess liquid and any odors. About
$900, from Sun-Mar.
Put an end to Montezuma’s Revenge, and quench your
thirst safely with a Katadyn ceramic water
filter. It removes bacteria, Giardia and
Cryptosporidium. The 8-ounce Mini slips into a coat pocket
or waist pack for easy transport and provides up to a half
quart of clean drinking water per minute of pumping. About
$90, at most outdoor outfitters stores.
RV Solar Sources
These companies offer “RV kits” usually
consisting of a photovoltaic (PV) panel or two and a charge
controller, which prevents your RV batteries from
overcharging. As with any PV system, call the supplier to
discuss your particular power needs.
Alternative Energy Store
Backwoods Solar Electric Systems
Northern Arizona Wind & Sun
RV Solar Electric, Inc.
Sierra Solar Systems
Grass Valley, Calif.