Photo by welcomia via iStock
You’ve got your overlanding rig all set up with an improved suspension, killer tires, better lighting, and all the other needed mods to make it the ideal adventure mobile. Now you need to get your solar setup dialed in so you have reliable power on the road.
Sure, your vehicle will supply all the power you need while it’s running, but if you’re like me, you have so many accessories that draw power that you might find yourself in a dead battery situation if you don’t have a good solar system to power your stuff while your vehicle is off.
So, let’s explore five products you need for a smart solar setup for your rig.
Smart Solar Setup: A Battery Management System
A battery management system is an enormously smart investment because they charge and maintain your batteries for you.
Systems like REDARC’s Manager30 work with all sorts of batteries, including AGM, lithium, gel, calcium, lithium iron phosphate, and lead acid. It also has AC, DC, and solar inputs to give you a host of power options.
But for me, the biggest benefit of a battery management system is that your batteries are always fully charged. When I head out on an overlanding adventure, I want the peace of mind knowing that I’ve got all the juice I can get. And with a system like this, I not only get a full charge of my auxiliary batteries from my truck’s alternator, but it also gives me 110-volt AC shore mains charging power too. See this bad boy in action in the video below:
On top of all that, the Manager30 is an MPPT solar regulator and it has a remote battery monitor. It’s also a battery isolator and has a remote battery monitor. So, at the end of the day, you get a six-in-one device that helps you get the most out of your solar system for your overlanding rig.
You’ll Need Good Batteries, Too
Part of my overlanding setup is my Turtleback Expedition Trailer. Originally it came with AGM batteries, but as I outlined in this post, I’m switching those out for lithium batteries from Briter Products.
There are many advantages of going with lithium batteries for your overlanding setup, not the least of which is their depth of discharge and their lifespan.
For example, a typical AGM battery is good for a depth of discharge of about 50 percent. Compare that to a depth of discharge in the range of 80-90 percent for lithium batteries. My Briter Products batteries have a 5,000-cycle lifespan, too, which means it’s going to be a while before I have to replace them.
Of course, lithium batteries are also smaller and lighter, and as we all know, saving space and weight when you’re on an overlanding adventure is a must. So that’s just another bonus!
Now, some folks will point to the higher price of lithium batteries as being a negative. However, when you consider their longer lifespan, lithium batteries probably don’t end up being any more expensive than a long trail of AGM batteries you’d need to pick up to get the same service life. So while lithium batteries are more expensive up front, they are an investment for the long-term so the price really balances out over time.
Smart Solar Setup: Outfit Your Rig With Solar Panels
Photo by EKH-Pictures via iStock
There are three basic types of solar panels: thin-film, polycrystalline, and monocrystalline.
Thin-film solar panels are highly portable and flexible. But in exchange for that portability and flexibility, you get reduced efficiency and performance. Polycrystalline solar panels are another budget-friendly option, but they too have a lower level of performance and efficiency.
At the top of the heap are monocrystalline solar panels. These panels give you the best performance and the highest efficiency. But, as you might have guessed, this type of solar panel is the most expensive.
Whether you have solar panels mounted on your vehicle or trailer or you have deployable panels you sit on the ground, you’ll need to determine which type of solar panel best fits your budget and your needs and wants for performance and efficiency.
Think About Connectors
Many solar setups come with kits that give you all the connectors you need to get going. But these connectors vary from one company to the next, so if you’re thinking you can easily plug-and-play with multiple components from multiple companies, you might be in for a letdown.
In solar power systems, there are four primary types of connections:
- Anderson Power Pole
- Delphi Weather Pack
From a security standpoint, the Delphi and MC4 connectors are the best options. However, SAE connectors are the simplest and most common.
Smart Solar Setup: Have a Backup System in Place
I’ve got a solar power system on my Turtleback Trailer and obviously have the battery power produced by my truck. But when you’re overlanding, it’s important to have a backup system in place just in case. For me, that’s my Cascadia 4×4 Hood Solar Panel.
Now, at just 30 watts, this thing isn’t going to power all my trailer components for days on end. However, it’s an ideal safety net for getting my truck’s batteries some juice if they were to run down. In fact, this panel can juice up the battery enough to turn my truck over in about 30 minutes.
Another benefit of having a hood-mounted solar panel is that it can collect the sun’s rays as I drive. I don’t have to deploy any panels or hook up any wires – it’s doing its job as I travel from one point to the next.
Panels like this are incredibly easy to install as well. It took me just a couple of hours thanks to the detailed installation instructions and the plug-and-play MPPT solar charge controller that I got with the solar panel.
And once it was installed, it looked like it was installed from the factory – it’s a seamless fit that looks awesome and gives me the peace of mind of knowing that I have backup power if I need it.