Power Stations – Powering your moto-camping adventure

Free camping has become much easier with today’s battery technology. But how do you leverage that for moto-camping. While we aren’t planning on the full free camping experience, we often don’t have access to power. So we need a solution for powering our camp, and recharging all our electronics.

When I first started looking into this I found a lot of information about the various battery set-ups and the advantages and disadvantages of each. Then you needed a charging circuit and the use of a MPPT (maximum power point tracker) which generally gives you the ability to charge via a number of methods including solar. Then you need something to put the battery and controller in. The you need to have a range of outputs to consume the power, including USB outlets to charge devices, a 12v outlet, and potentially a 240v inverter. For a small set up this all starts to get messy very quickly. Then when you have all this figured out you then need to figure out where you’re going to put it.

Power stations.

A power station is a portable all encompassing one-piece unit that includes the battery, charge regulator to provide the ability to charge it via solar, 12v and 240v, and a range of output connections to provide power. They are available in a range of sizes from about 10ah to over 100ah. The main trade-off between them is size, weight, and cost. The bigger the battery, the more expensive, but importantly the heavier and physically bigger they are. And bigger isn’t always better… So matching the size of power station with your needs is important.

When we are out camping, the main things that we need powering is my cpap machine and a range of devices that need recharging including two helmet communications devices, two phones, and a camera. So our power needs are fairly modest. We don’t run a 12 volt LED lighting system as we rely on solar Luci lights and headlamps.

I stumbled onto the small Powertech power station a few months ago at Jaycar that provides about 12Ah for $270. It looks like the Powertech is a rebadged unit as I have seen the same thing in various places under a number of different brands. Theoretically this unit would provide enough power to run my cpap for a couple of nights without using power for other uses. At that price it was worth grabbing to see whether it will work for our needs and provide some insights into what we need if we were to replace it. I really didn’t do any research before purchasing this unit and since then I have found a number of other options out there.

I’ll cut straight to what I don’t like about it. This is only a very basic unit and it has no real display except for a basic power meter so there is no way to tell what is going in etc, but my biggest gripe is that it only recharges at a max of 2amps (about 25W) which means that it takes 7-8 hours to fully recharge the battery which for a small unit is longer than I’d like. It really needs a higher input capacity.

After doing more research there are quite a few other options out there. Below is a comparison of two other small power stations that I have looked at. There are quite a few other brands out there with similar offerings such as Kickass, Jackery, Outbax, and Yeti (to name a few) so its certainly worth looking around and finding the product that meets your needs. But it’s important to understand what features are important for your needs.

Powertech

  • capacity 12AH
  • charge 30W (2 amp)
  • size 195x171x90mm
  • weight 1.7kg
  • $270
  • link

iTech World

  • capacity 21Ah
  • charge 45W (3 amps at 15v)
  • size 230x140x150mm
  • weight 3kg
  • cost $450
  • link

Companion

  • capacity 40Ah
  • charge 5 amps
  • size 270x242x154mm
  • weight 6.5kg
  • cost $799
  • link

For me the biggest advantage of the little Powertech is its size, it has enough storage to be useful, and it takes up very little room. It’s a shame that it only has a basic power meter and no other information, however the low charging capability is a huge draw back and would be the main reason I’d look at replacing it. Therefore to use this it really needs to be hooked up and charged everyday to maintain enough power, which if you have the right charging setup shouldn’t be a problem.

Having my time over again and knowing what I now know I would be taking a closer look at the iTech World 21Ah unit as it has 75% more capacity, a charge rate that is 50% higher, and a screen that shows the amount of power going into the battery, the amount of power being used, and how much charge is in the battery. This without sacrificing the size and weigh too mcuh.

There are a range of videos out there on YouTube with comparisons of the various power stations and their benefits and limitations. I found this one really useful as he goes through various functions and the advantages and disadvantages of each. While we don’t have access to all these brands here … what to look for is universal.

Charging

When out on the road there is always the need these days of charging your various electronics whether that’s the power station for your camp or all your electronic devices. I have come up with a few options that allows me to charge devices straight from the bike when we are travelling or utilising solar power when we are camping.

Charging on the bike – I explored a number of options of how to plug the power station into the bike while we are on the move. The two main considerations were: adding a 12v accessory wire to the 7 pin trailer plug and then route a charging cable into the trailer or to externally mounting the unit; or wire up the top box with power to be able to charge the power station or other items while one the move in the top box.

I could not find a good option for the trailer so I wired up the topbox using a SAE chassis plug and some adapters I can charge the power station, or USB devices. A big advantage of the small size of the Powertech is that it won’t take up much room in the top box when charging. And now that I have power in the top box it wouldn’t be hard to add a light inside the top box for those dark nights when you are trying to find something.

SAE plugged into the topbox
Power station charging in topbox
USB outlets in topbox

My other charging option on the bike is the Quadlock phone holder with added waterproof USB mount mounted to the bars. This would have to be the best phone mounting system that I have used on a bike, locking the phone onto the mount very securely that won’t shake loose. A friend of mine was cycling in Europe and his bike went over the edge (luckily without him) and down the hill with bike cart-wheeling down the hill. When they recovered the bike the phone was still mounted solidly, although the screen had a few new cracks from its many impacts on the way down.

I have wired the Quadlock USB adapter straight to the battery so in addition to charging my phone I can also leave something plugged in (such as helmet comms) charging while the bike is turned off and we are off having lunch or coffee in a nearby cafe.


Solar charging – I have seen many mount solar panels to the roof of their motorcycle trailer but I really don’t want to affix anything to the trailer roof. Rather I will carry a small solar panel to charge the power station while we are camped.

Given that my power station can only charge at 2 amps I didn’t see the point of having a big solar panel so I opted for a thin 40 watt panel as I thought it would be easy to pack and carry in the trailer. In reality, it was a pain as I needed to keep it in the box or something to not damage it and it was never easily to tuck away in the trailer due to its size and shape and it always got in the road. So I hunted down a better option that was easier to manage in the trailer.

A consideration for replacing the solar panel is ‘over-paneling’ which is hooking up bigger or more solar panels than your unit can utilise to ensure that even in lower light when the output of panels drop, the maximum power can be supplied for faster recharging. For our application the physical size is a determining factor so we need to balance what we can fit with a higher capacity panel.

Enter the Kickass 50 watt foldable panel which provides 25% more power (providing some additional backup capacity), while it is bigger overall it folds down to a size and shape that is much easier to pack in the trailer, has a pair of fold out legs so you can chase the sun, and a pocket for the cable when you’re not using. It’s a really neat little unit that is really well made with study fabric to protect it when stored in the trailer. The only modification I made was to fit a connector compatible with my power station, and it works a treat.

cheap 40 watt ebay panel

Where the thin 40W panel didn’t really fit anywhere and ended up floating around on top of all my gear in the trailer, the Kickass panel can be easily and safely tucked away at the back of the trailer behind our tent, out of the way. This is a much better option and I am keen to see how it goes when we get out travelling.

I will report back on how it goes after our trip.

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