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My Simple Bug-Out Camper Solar Lighting Solution

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Rev. Timothy B. Spencer

Simple and Inexpensive Solar Lighting Solution

The below does not simply espouse
theoretical ideas, but actually details a fully tested and fully
functional lighting solution for our family’s “bug out” camper.

The Problem:

We realized a need for a self-contained, non-grid dependent lighting solution for our camping/bug out camper.

Solution found::

A battery charged by an efficient solar panel and using LED light bulbs and also one two bulb fluorescent fixture.

How we did it:

Materials Used:

A used, but good quality, 12 Volt Automotive Battery (free, from a scrapped farm truck)
A new solar panel from an automatic deer/cattle feeder ($11.00 )
Three toggle switches, one on-off-on and two on-off ($9.00 )
Automotive Wire ($20.00 approximately)
Two used ambulance dome light fixtures ($10.00 )
one used/junk halogen flood light fixture (free)
One new Steel handi-box ($1.79)
One new Blank box cover ($0.59
One new Plastic Automotive Battery Box ($16.00 )
One old flush mount round tail lamp

Putting it all together:

First, we mounted the battery box on the tongue of trailer and put the
battery in it.  From the Negative Post of the battery, we ran #10
wire to the frame for a ground.
Secondly, we mounted the solar panel on the roof of the camper, running
the red wire to the battery positive post and the black wire to ground.
(at this point the battery is charging @ 1.2 amps, 12.9VDC)
We then mounted the switch box to control all of the lights from inside the camper.
We then proceeded to mount the lamps,
As an extra, but not at all necessary to the system, we added a 13 amp
120VAC to 12VDC transformer to the system so that we could use the
lighting even if we were plugged into AC Power from the grid or a

The image
here is one of two dome lamps on the interior of the camper
trailer.  We used an 1156 18 count 5050-SMD Red bulb in each
fixture.  The reason we used the
red color is to preserve our night vision and let still allow us to see
to navigate on the inside of the camper. 
Each bulb draws only 0.375 amps.
image shows our exterior flood lamp.  We found an old flood lamp
fixture that was trash.  We ripped the guts out of it, installed an
BA15S bulb base to accommodate an 1156 24 count 5050-SMD White bulb and
also a scrap piece of reflective aluminum behind the bulb.  The
result was a flood lamp that draws only 0.455 amps, yet casts light more than 250′ behind the trailer.
the back of the camper we used the original pick up truck (now trailer)
body’s back-up lamp sockets (BA15S) to put in two 1156 CREE 5 watt LEDs.  With both lamps on this only draws just over 4/5ths of an amp yet produces near blinding blue-white light behind the trailer.

the interior of the camper we have also installed a two-tube (8 watt
each) fluorescent fixture that operates on an independent self-contained
switch.  This lamp does draw 1.3 amps, so it is only for short
term use when the camper is not connected to an AC power source.


the camper’s hook-up lamp, we use an 1157 18 count 5050 SMD white bulb
behind a blue lens (just the color we happened to have laying
around).  The low power side of the bulb comes on with the rear
flood lamp, the high side of the bulb is activated by a separate
weather-proof switch at the front of the trailer.  The low side of
the bulb draws 0.125 amps and high side of the bulb draws only 0.33
Our thinking behind this configuration is that with the low side on,
people can see the trailer tongue and not walk into it at night (very
painful, I’ve done it).  The high side of the bulb allows enough
light to do about anything in front of the trailer short of reading a


is an image of the solar cell that we use to keep the lighting battery
fully charged at all times.  With conservative use of lighting this
cell keeps the battery near fully charged at all times.  In full
sun, this high efficiency cell produces enough power to keep the battery
charged.  (Please pardon the mildew, the camper needs a bath in a

How we have tested the system:

Last summer we conducted a test on the system by turning on all of the
lights on the camper, less the fluorescent lamps, all night, every
night, for seven days.  The end result was that the lamps never
dimmed nor did the battery ever loose more than 10% of it’s charge in
total.  Additionally, we have used the camper at two separate
events with no problems whatsoever.

Extras we have added to the system:

We added a cigarette lighter female plug for charging cell phones. 
It can also be used for running a laptop or tablet for short periods of
time. We also added a 12 volt weather radio and low power GMRS
transmitter/receiver combo. In standby mode, this radio only uses .08

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