Best ways to charge devices from your camper van

Charging Methods for Your Camper Van

As a seasoned campervan owner, I’ve spent countless hours researching, experimenting, and refining the best ways to keep my beloved Vinnie powered up during our adventures. The importance of reliable charging methods in a transporter camper cannot be overstated. Whether you’re navigating winding roads, basking in the sun-soaked tranquility of a remote location, or nestled in a bustling campsite, the ability to charge your devices and systems is always super important.

In this article, we’ll delve into various charging methods, from the efficiency of charging while driving, the eco-friendly appeal of solar panels, the reliability of hook up charging, to the power of generators. We’ll also explore the convenience of power banks, portable chargers, and emergency-ready jump starters. Each method comes with its unique set of pros and cons, and understanding these can significantly enhance your camper van experience.

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Charging While Driving

Understanding the Alternator

The alternator is a key component in your camper’s charging system. It’s essentially a mini electrical generator that transforms the mechanical energy from your vehicle’s spinning engine into electrical energy. As the alternator rotates, it generates a Direct Current (DC) voltage, primarily to charge the vehicle’s battery. This process ensures that your camper has the power it needs for its electrical components, from lights to appliances, even while you’re driving.

Benefits of Charging While Driving

Charging while driving offers several advantages. Firstly, it’s a convenient method that doesn’t require any additional effort on your part – simply start your engine, and the alternator does the rest. This method is also efficient, as it makes use of the mechanical energy already being produced by your vehicle’s engine. Moreover, if you can keep your engine RPM up, your alternator will charge your battery at a faster rate. For instance, if you are driving on a motorway, you should be able to charge your car battery in about 30 minutes.

Potential Drawbacks

However, charging while driving isn’t without its potential drawbacks. One of the main concerns is that if your alternator is faulty, it can lead to battery failure. Also, short journeys may not provide sufficient time for the alternator to fully charge the battery. Furthermore, using high-current-draw accessories like the radio or lights while driving can drain the battery if the charging system is faulty. Lastly, the alternator’s ability to charge the battery depends on the engine’s RPM, which means that slow city driving might not generate enough charge.

Solar Panel Charging

We’ve reviewed the best solar panels for campervans before. Check out that article as it’s full of useful information about solar charging in vans (and it took us ages to write!).

Basics of Solar Charging

Solar panels work by absorbing sunlight with photovoltaic cells, generating direct current (DC) energy, and then converting it to usable alternating current (AC) energy with the help of an inverter. This energy can be used to power devices in your camper, making solar panels a great solution for charging while enjoying the great outdoors. The process is clean and sustainable, harnessing the power of the sun to generate electricity.

Pros and Cons of Solar Charging

Solar charging offers several benefits. It’s a renewable and environmentally friendly way to generate power. Plus, once you’ve installed your solar panels, the energy is free, which can lead to significant savings over time. Solar panels are also becoming more efficient and affordable, making them an increasingly popular choice for camper owners.

Best Practices for Solar Charging

To get the most out of your solar panels, there are a few best practices to follow. Regularly clean your panels to ensure they can absorb as much sunlight as possible. Monitor their performance to ensure they’re working efficiently. If you’re camping in one place for a while, try to position your camper so the panels get the most sunlight throughout the day. Also, consider using energy-efficient devices in your camper to make the most of the power your panels generate.

Hook Up Battery Charging

Understanding Hook Up Charging

Hook up charging, often found at campsites or similar facilities, allows you to connect your camper to a 230V mains power supply. This provides a reliable source of electricity to charge your leisure battery and power your camper’s appliances. It’s as simple as plugging into the campsite’s power supply, and you’re good to go.

Here are some products you’re going to need if you’re looking to hook up on campsites:

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Advantages of Hook Up Charging

Hook up charging offers several benefits. It provides a reliable power supply, which can be particularly useful in locations where solar power might be unreliable due to weather conditions. It allows you to charge your leisure battery and run higher-wattage devices such as kettles, fridges, and heaters. Plus, you don’t have to worry about running out of power in the middle of the night. It’s a convenient solution that can make your camping experience much more comfortable.

Potential Limitations

However, hook up charging does have some potential limitations. For one, not all campsites offer this service, so you’ll need to check in advance. Also, there may be a limit on the number of appliances you can use at one time due to the maximum ratings of the hook-ups. Additionally, the distance between your camper and the power supply could be a factor, as some campsites may have restrictions on cable lengths for safety reasons. Finally, while hook up charging can be a great convenience, it does come with a cost, as campsites will typically charge a fee for the service.

Using a Generator

Basics of Generator Use

A generator is a device that converts mechanical energy into electrical energy. It operates based on the principle of electromagnetic induction, which is the creation of an electric current by moving a wire next to a magnet. In the context of a camper, a generator can be used to charge the leisure battery and power appliances when other sources of power are unavailable or insufficient.

Pros and Cons of Using a Generator

Generators can be a cost-effective solution for power needs, especially in emergency situations or when other power sources are unavailable. They can provide a consistent supply of electricity, which can be particularly useful for running high-wattage devices. However, generators do have their drawbacks. They can be noisy, which might be a concern in a quiet camping area. They also require fuel to operate, which means you’ll need to carry enough fuel with you and store it safely. Moreover, generators produce exhaust gases, which can be a concern in terms of both environmental impact and the need for adequate ventilation.

Best Practices for Generator Use

When using a generator, safety should be your top priority. Always operate the generator outdoors in a well-ventilated area, away from doors, windows, and vents to prevent exhaust fumes from entering the camper. Never use a generator in wet conditions to avoid the risk of electrocution. Regular maintenance is also important to ensure the generator operates efficiently and safely. This includes checking the oil level before each use, regularly inspecting the air filter, and running the generator at least once a month to keep it in good working order. Finally, always follow the manufacturer’s instructions for use and maintenance.

Power Banks and Portable Chargers

Understanding Power Banks and Portable Chargers

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Power banks and portable chargers are essentially the same thing. They are portable batteries designed to recharge electronic gadgets when you don’t have access to a regular wall charger. These devices are small enough to fit in your hand and are covered by a protective case. They store energy and release it to recharge other devices when needed. Power banks are comprised of a special battery in a special case with a special circuit to control power flow. They allow you to store electrical energy and use it later to charge your devices on the go.

Advantages of Power Banks and Portable Chargers

Power banks and portable chargers come with several advantages. They are easily portable, affordable, reusable, and offer fast-charging capabilities. The primary benefit of these devices is their ability to provide stable power in times of need. They allow you to keep your devices powered when you suffer power cuts to ensure you are able to stay in touch and communicate. They are also quite convenient as they allow you to charge your phone on the move. Power banks prove more useful when you’re always online and need a constant power supply for your devices.

Choosing the Right Power Bank or Portable Charger

When choosing a power bank or portable charger, there are several factors to consider. First, choose a battery pack that’s large enough to charge your phone fully in one go. If you’ll carry it around all day, make sure it’s a comfortable size and shape. The portability of a power bank is directly related to its charging capacity. The more milliampere hours it has, the larger it will be. For laptops and power banks, you should choose a power bank with at least a 20,000mAh capacity. A good rule of thumb for travel is to buy a power bank with a stated capacity that’s 3-4 times that of your device’s battery.

Jump Starters

Understanding Jump Starters

Jump starters are portable devices that provide the power needed to start a vehicle when the battery is dead or too weak to do the job on its own. They work by delivering a high current for a short period of time to the dead battery, which gives it the boost it needs to start the vehicle’s engine. Jump starters are typically powered by a rechargeable lithium-ion battery and come in a variety of sizes and power capacities to suit different vehicle types. They are a must-have tool for any camper owner, as they can be a lifesaver in emergency situations when you’re far from any help.

Benefits of Having a Jump Starter

Having a jump starter in your camper comes with several benefits. The most obvious one is that it eliminates the need to find someone else to give you a jump start. This can be a huge advantage when you’re camping in remote areas where there might not be anyone else around. Jump starters are also compact and portable, making them easy to store and carry around in your camper. They can be used multiple times on a single charge, and many models also come with additional features like built-in flashlights, USB ports for charging other devices, and air compressors for inflating tires.

Choosing the Right Jump Starter

When choosing a jump starter, there are several factors to consider. First, you need to look at the power capacity of the jump starter, which is usually measured in peak amps or cranking amps. The higher these numbers, the more powerful the jump starter is. You should choose a model that has enough power to start your camper’s engine. Second, consider the size and weight of the jump starter. It should be compact and lightweight enough for easy storage and portability. Lastly, look for a jump starter with safety features like reverse polarity protection, which prevents damage if the cables are connected incorrectly, and overcharge protection, which prevents the jump starter’s battery from being overcharged.


In the world of camper van life, understanding how to keep your devices charged is crucial. From the convenience of charging while driving, harnessing the power of the sun with solar panels, to the reliability of hook up charging at campsites, each method has its unique benefits. Generators offer a consistent power supply, while power banks and portable chargers provide a handy solution for on-the-go charging. Jump starters are a must-have for emergencies, providing a lifeline when your vehicle’s battery fails. Choosing the right charging method depends on your specific needs and circumstances. By understanding the pros and cons of each, you can ensure that you’re never left without power on your adventures. Remember, the journey is all about enjoying the ride, and staying powered up makes it all the more enjoyable.


FAQ 1: How does the type of camper van affect the best charging method?
The type of camper van can significantly influence the best charging method. For instance, larger camper vans with more appliances and devices will require more robust charging solutions, such as generators or hook up charging. Smaller camper vans with fewer power demands might find solar panels or power banks sufficient. The type of trips you undertake also matters. For long, off-grid adventures, solar panels and a good-quality generator could be essential, while for weekend trips, a combination of driving charge and power banks might suffice.
FAQ 2: What are some common mistakes to avoid when charging devices in a camper van?
One common mistake is overloading the electrical system, which can lead to blown fuses or even damage to your devices. Always be aware of the power capacity of your charging method and the power requirements of your devices. Another mistake is neglecting to monitor battery levels. Regularly check your battery’s charge level to avoid completely draining it, which can shorten its lifespan.
FAQ 3: How can I maximize the efficiency of my charging methods in a camper van?
To maximize efficiency, consider using a combination of charging methods. For instance, use driving charge and solar power during the day, and switch to a generator or power bank at night. Also, consider investing in energy-efficient appliances and devices to reduce your overall power consumption. Regular maintenance of your charging systems, such as cleaning solar panels and servicing generators, can also enhance efficiency.
FAQ 4: What are some signs that my camper van’s battery needs to be replaced?
If your camper van’s battery is struggling to hold a charge or if you’re frequently experiencing power shortages despite proper charging, it might be time for a replacement. Other signs include swelling or leaking of the battery, a rotten egg smell (indicating a possible battery leak), or the age of the battery—if it’s more than 3-5 years old, it might be nearing the end of its lifespan.
FAQ 5: How does weather affect different charging methods in a camper van?
Weather can significantly impact certain charging methods. For instance, solar panels rely on sunlight, so their efficiency can be reduced on cloudy or rainy days. Cold weather can affect battery performance and might require you to charge more frequently. Generators can operate in most weather conditions, but they should be protected from extreme weather to prevent damage. Always consider the weather conditions when planning your power needs.
Joe Tannorella

Joe Tannorella

Joe grew up wanting to live the van life. In 2020 he and his wife bought their first VW Transporter campervan (called Vinnie) and have been enjoying it ever since. Together they write about their experiences of van life and provide useful information, reviews, and more via their writing on Camperbrain.


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