I’d like to talk about two issues common to vehicle camping, power production and toileting. First, let's talk about power production. There is nothing that trashes a quiet evening or morning in the woods more than the harsh noise of a generator. These machines are completely unnecessary to camping and to providing the power we find so handy. In fact, the idea of submitting this article to the newsletter came about from my experience at the 2016 Backcountry Horsemen of California, Los Padres Unit, Rendezvous. There was at least one person who simply ran their generator all day and into the evening. A couple of days ago I camped at a lovely Meadow High in the Rockies. A neighbor camper ran his generator through the evening, watching a movie I suppose. For me, and for many other folks, listening to generators in camp is as much fun as having a neighbor with a set of drums in his yard playing all day, and night.
Now, I know a bit about generators, having lived in the “Valley of the Generators” north of Truckee for many years. My home, and each of the 10 or so homes in our isolated off-grid valley were powered by generators. These usually ran for 4-5 hours in the evening and 2-3 hours in the morning. My closest neighbor was especially annoying, he lived about 600 feet away and was known as quite the producer and consumer of meth, He had a fine unmuffled diesel generator which he ran all night while cooking his meth and watching movies. It is a sad thing when one must keep one's windows closed on warm summer nights due to a generator chugging away all night.
So, if not a generator what? As a camper once told me, “I must be able to operate my microwave!” That be campin! I find a dutch oven on the stovetop fills in quite nicely for a microwave. Heat the oven on a burner, while heating the lid on another burner, put in the needed food, and set the hot lid on the oven, this system bakes biscuits nicely, heats those fine Trader Joe’s prepared meals (don’t use the plastic tub in your dutch oven & use a paper dutch oven liner to help keep it clean) and more!.
However there is another way to provide power. Something a few of us in the Valley of the Generator eventually figured out. Solar Power. it works and it works well. Photovoltaic, sunlight to electricity. A great thing to have, but, just how?
A quick easy primer on solar power, if you explore the internet, you can find enough engineering data to fog one’s eyeballs. Instead of giving yourself a headache, just think of water, and buckets, and hoses.
A solar panel is just a hose, your storage batteries are just buckets. You get to choose how big your hose is, you get to choose how big your bucket is. Your choices are limited by need, space, and cost. One 100 watt panel is a small hose, with that, you want a small bucket. You don’t try to fill a bucket with a fire hose, and you don’t try to fill a swimming pool with a garden hose. Fit your “hose” to your “bucket”.
Glass photo-voltaic panels are cumbersome and heavy, using them on RV and Camper roofs is less than optimal as they add weight up high, they are heavy, prone to breakage, and worst of all, holes have to be drilled into the roof. Which appeals to me as much as drilling holes in the bottom of my boat. There are the folks that set their panels on racks at camp, keeping the weight off the roof, but, they cannot generate power while traveling, and are subject to theft. So, what to do? How about; Roll on, adhesive-backed solar panels. I got mine from Amazon, 16 feet long, 18” wide, 135 watts, and lightweight. Mine has been on my camper for ten years now with no problems. I have room on my camper roof for two, I have one, feeding one standard marine/RV battery. URL: http://www.amazon.com/Uni-Solar-PVL-136-inches-Flexible-Easiest/dp/B00HOU6A12/ref=sr_1_36?ie=UTF8&qid=1429107352&sr=8-36&keywords=RV+solar+panels
I run my lights, my gas fridge which has a fan, the inverter (more on that in a bit) that can run my computer or radio. I use a 12v outlet to power my APAP machine all night.
The Backcountry Horsemen of California state office and storage trailer operates off an 18’ panel, powering two marine RV batteries hooked to a power inverter. I installed that in 2015.
In my home north of Truckee, I installed 500 watts of generation, feeding 2 L16 golf cart batteries. I started with 4 but, I found that “bucket” was too big, my batteries would not reach “float” voltage, which prevents your inverter from working. 2 batteries with 500 watts gave me all the power I could use, except in the two months of mid-November to mid-January with their short days. I could run my dishwasher, but not an electric clothes dryer at 220v. Keep in mind that photovoltaics create electricity from light, not heat. It makes no difference how hot or cold it is, just how many hours of light you get. Rooftop solar panels are not aimed optimally at the sun so your power production is reduced compared to a tilted array, but, with sufficient panel size, that is not a problem.
So, those are two extremes, you can figure how much power you need. You can determine your power needs, either a frequent low draw, like lights, or an infrequent large draw like a microwave. You can generate so much power that the microwave does not affect the “water level in your bucket” but that is overkill. You can generate enough power to run your AC, 3500 or more watts, that would be a big system and will set you back real dollars. You can generate a little power that nearly ‘empties your bucket”, but if your other power needs are not onerous that may be enough. If you have a TV, take it out and shoot holes in it, you are camping.
(Air conditioners; some folks believe they are necessary. A couple of answers to the problem: 1. don’t camp where you need one, drive higher into the hills. 2. Park in the shade 3. Do as we did on the Old Spanish Trail ride where the first 3 weeks were commonly 100 degrees and more. Put your chair on the shady side, sit and visit with your friends until it is cool enough to sleep.)
If you have a living quarters trailer, you have lots of room for lots of panels you can use the 18 footer 200 watt panels, you can have a big hose, remove that generator and put your batteries in the compartment and have a big bucket! A smaller camper or a poptop like mine can take one or two 16 footers.
A word on inverters, they convert your 12 or 24-volt battery electricity to a facsimile of 120 volts (stepwave DC to be exact, but for our purposes, not important). Some units have them hardwired in with normal electric outlets. Some, like mine are stand-alone, connect them with alligator clips to your battery, or cigarette lighter type plugs. plug your 120v appliance into them. They used to be very expensive, about a dollar a watt, you need about 1500 watts output for a microwave, that was expensive. Today, they come in all sizes and are very affordable. Harbor Freight has them at good prices. URL for Harbor Freight Inverters; https://www.harborfreight.com/search?q=inverters
When I was a child on our ranch we used a two hole outhouse. I spent my younger years deathly afraid the wood would break and I would plummet into the hole. And what was with the two holes anyway? Whose bright idea was it to share that particular experience?
I reckon we all find it horrendous to find human waste and TP scattered along trails or on the verge of campsites. Which brings me to our current project, eliminating the negatives of elimination while camping. If you have a fine trailer/camper with a fine flushable toilet, this may not interest you, although you still have to dump it, one of life’s less pleasurable activities.
Some folks have a portapotty. we had one on our sailboat. It had one rule, you use it, you dump it. Needless to say it was never used. Yes, I know, that brought up #1 or #2 questions (potty humor), but, that is not our topic today. I recommend tossing your portapotty out with your TV.
This leaves two other possibilities, the first I prefer over toilets, Better ergonomics and nothing to dispose of post-activity, take a shovel keep a roll of TP, Coleman biodegradable handiwipes and matches, in a 1-quart plastic bag (When packing in, take that with you). take a hike, dig a shallow hole, 7 inches deep, as we want the subsurface microbes to go to work. Do your duty, burn the TP (there is disagreement on this, Leave No Trace teaches not burning, they suggest packing the used TP out, I like to burn, although the handiwipes won’t burn. Do this without burning down the forest, as has happened, don’t do this in tall dry grass or pine needles or duff, etc. I am waiting patiently for opaque ziplock bags, packing out used TP seems like a better idea with opaque ziplocks). Pee or pour water on any TP, that kills possible fire and helps it decompose. Then fill the hole with the removed dirt, walk around on it so no one knows what went on at that spot. Do that operation a minimum of 200 feet from a stream, camp, or trail, I recommend twice that distance. I recently read that taking the number of people hiking the Pacific Crest Trail each year, times the days required to hike it, results in over 200,000 defecations within 200 feet of the trail each season. This is a big problem if not done exactly right.
The second is the wagbag system. I bought ours at Walmart. It consists of a tripod toilet seat and a pack of wag bags for your deposition. These bags have what is called Poo Powder which turns the deposited material inert, the bags are sealable and can be tossed out with the garbage (probably not the recycle bin). I place ours in the horse trailer at camp, which gives a roomy private restroom, also a good place to take your solar shower. URL, https://www.emergencykits.com/emergency-supplies/sanitation/go-anywhere-portable-toilet-the-pett/?sku=EP-D119PET&gclid=EAIaIQobChMIgd30oPeO6gIVCr7ACh2Iyg-_EAQYAiABEgJoZ_D_BwE
You can also set the unit out in the woods, or in a potty shelter.
I hope this was helpful.