One of the great joys of camping is experiencing the outdoors – fresh air, beautiful scenery, peace and quiet. But there are advantages to modern civilization, too, and not all of them have to be left behind. Cooking, lighting and powering cell phones, GPS units and other devices all require some kind of power.
Most power sources are gas or electric, though liquid fuels like ‘Coleman fuel’ or white gas, kerosene and unleaded gasoline are used as well. If you drive an RV to the campsite, you may be able to power a number of things off the RV, either by connecting to large batteries, or using it as a generator. But most sources will require a self-contained source.
In times past, kerosene was a popular choice for both cooking and lighting. But the unpleasant smell made it less than ideal. Today, most lighting is electric. Coleman-style lamps are everywhere, even though Coleman is far from the only manufacturer. Being copied is the price of producing a successful design.
Solar powered lighting is becoming more common. Most campsites, at least during non-winter months, have ample sunshine anywhere outside heavily tree-shaded areas. Photo-voltaic cells are used to absorb all that free energy, storing it up for later use. They convert that radiant energy into electrical power, typically storing it in rechargeable batteries.
The efficiency of contemporary solar cells is so high that lamps can now be used for up to 12 hours, and some have mechanisms for powering other devices as well. One type, the Everlite (http://www.newlite.com), can supply power to recharge cell phones, Blackberries, iPods, GPS units and other devices.
One way solar powered lamps accomplish that amazing task is by using bulbs that use electricity very efficiently – such as LEDs. The older generation will remember LED clocks and watches from the 1970s. Those clocks had red numbers, made from a series of dots or lines composed of Light Emitting Diodes.
Back then, they required substantial power, but they’ve been vastly improved. LEDs (no longer just red) can now produce very bright, natural spectrum light with a minimum of power. LED bulbs used in the home (not solar powered), for example, can last 10 years or more, while consuming much less electricity to illuminate them.
One of the drawbacks of traditional electric Coleman lamps is the need for heavy batteries – either the large, rectangular (and massive) 6 volt type or several D-sized. With modern fluorescent or LED-type lamps that’s no longer necessary. The power requirements are much lower.
An alternative to electrical lamps is the still-popular propane or kerosene. Either can be used as a means of producing light, and they are cost-effective and produce adequate light. But refilling propane devices is less convenient and kerosene still has that unpleasant smell. For those who prefer them, however, they are available and usually at lower cost than solar powered or LED lamps.
Whichever method you prefer, always pack at least two lighting sources – a Coleman-style table lamp with a handle that can be hung on a branch or set down and a flashlight. You’ll use both frequently.