PenUltimate Destinations

LED Lights and Solar Panel

It was time for our first REAL upgrade. While regular readers (thanks Pip) will know how much we love our Trackabout Camper Trailer, there is always room for upgrades. Small improvements and extra creature comforts that will make our time in the camper incrementally more easy / relaxing / enjoyable, are all part of the master plan.

While my magnetic beer bottle opener is a masterstroke, it barely rates as a modification! (See Canberra weekend story) The carpet in the trailer bed is also nice, but hardly a serious modification. This time, we were getting serious. Holes would be drilled, cable ties were called for, and the chances of getting burnt with a soldering iron (or dripping solder) were high!

It began a couple of weeks previously, with a visit to the Newcastle camping show, while Rach was away on a girls weekend camping trip of her own. The kids persuaded me to a) go to the show, and b) buy a 180w solar panel AND 5m LED strip light, while we were there. (Note – the show special made it significantly cheaper than those link prices!)

The first step was to connect an Anderson plug to replace the bulldog style clamps to connect the solar panel to the battery. There’s already an Anderson connection on the trailer for charging from the car, so the Anderson plug on the solar panels would mean a simple ‘plug n charge’ operation. After a little fiddling at home I got that all sorted.

Anderson plug connection for Solar Panel to Battery

Anderson plug connection for Solar Panel to Battery

The panel (180 watts) should hopefully provide us with enough power to be pretty much self sufficient as far as power goes. Obviously we’re reliant on the sun cooperating with us a bit here, but generally we will only have the Waeco 50 litre fridge / freezer and a few LED lights running on¬†the¬†battery, so the demands shouldn’t be TOO great.

Speaking of lights… the main purpose of our Burralow Creek weekend was to get some lights installed permanently inside the camper. Until now we’d been using a 12v fluoro lead light, with a cigarette plug attachment, both inside and outside the tent. And while it worked sufficiently and provided reasonable light, it was just one extra thing that needed to be attached and set up upon arrival at our campsite. We wanted a solution that could be ready to go at the flick of a switch, as soon as the canvas was unfolded.

The difficulty was going to be attaching those lights. The design on the Trackabout canvas is such that it surrounds almost all of the main bow of the tent, the obvious, highest place to have some lights. The solution we came up with was to use what gaps were there, and attach what lights we could, to the exposed pole.

Progress pic for roof lights. You can just see the LEDs, and cable ties not yet trimmed

You can see from the above photo what I mean. We managed to squeeze 6 LEDs into each gap – left, middle and right. Despite initial skepticism from some as to whether this would produce enough light, the proof was in the testing. Darkness fell, the switch was flicked, and there was light! It wasn’t enough to blind us, but probably the equivalent to our previous fluoro arrangement. Success! (Nobody was more surprised than I was that my soldering had held up so far!)

The LED strip could obviously be cut into smaller pieces – in this case you can cut every 5cm (or 3 LEDs) and then solder directly to a (tiny) terminal. This gives so much flexibility to have as much or little light in any place you like. Buoyed by this success, I also added a strip of about 15cm to the extender pole above our bed. This gives an absolutely brilliant light for reading (and has me thinking about installing some at home!). As the main switch box is on Rach’s side of the bed, I think I’ll add an inline switch to this one, so that I can turn off the lights at night if reading, without disturbing her.

Progress pic for switch box

Here’s the switch box that I made up. Obviously not completely attached and tidied up yet, but you get the idea. The box was just a blank box from Jaycar, and the 4 individual switches came from there too. Finally all wires in and out will be neatly routed and shrouded. Also future plans for this box are to build in a couple of cigarette lighter sockets, as well as at least 2 USB sockets for phone charging etc (anyone know where I can find a USB socket?!). We could use adapters for the USB, but I’m keen to have less stuff that can get lost / damaged, so figure a permanent USB connection would be very valuable!

That’s about where I’m up to for now. I’ve already made up the strips of LEDs to attach to the extender poles out over the kids beds (20cm each side), that just need to be attached next time we have the trailer open. I’m hoping that with this done, our interior lighting needs should be well and truly met! I’ll also put a strip under the trailer, and in the toolbox to provide some needed light there. Then it will be onto the kitchen area…

Oh, and the solar panel worked really well! I used the 12v soldering iron quite heavily, which draws a substantial amount of power. Over the course of the weekend which included a very overcast / rainy Sunday, the battery voltage was only slightly lower than when we started. Gotta be happy with that!

Solar Panel working hard to catch those early morning rays!

I think the modifying bug has bitten…

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2 thoughts on “LED Lights and Solar Panel

  1. Pingback: Burralow Creek Weekend « Have Camper? Youl travel!

  2. matt

    Great mods mate, i am currently doing the same thing to my camper. i have made a similar style switch box near the mattress. i have put a cut socket in my and i will just get a plug in USB adaptor to charge phone etc. my other switch panel i will put next to the kitchen somewhere…

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