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Old 12-24-2014, 03:59 PM   #1
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Solar or generator? Ten day vacation.

We are planning a family trip to Glacier National Park, there are no hook ups in the park. We like to use the frig but would be willing to do just cooler and not have to worry about the battery bank. However, should we choose which have been more popular the small Honda say EU1000/2000 or portable solar panels? I don't see us installing a full set of panels on the roof side as I usually don't stay put too many days in a row to justify that install. However I could see bringing the generator to the house if we lose power or the boat on those vacations where we want to top off the battery bank. Thoughts about portable solar packs? Have you used them to keep the frig running? Thanks much!

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Old 12-24-2014, 04:38 PM   #2
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Re: Solar or generator? Ten day vacation.

"Easy," as you just go buy one (presuming you don't count whatever you had to do to earn the money to pay for it), but since it is gasoline or propane powered you need to carry it outside the rig, plus have a way to carry fuel safely. Also I cringe as I think of yet one more generator in a public park, rumbling away. Yes, the Hondas are quiet compared to a construction generator, but I still hate to listen to them when I'm camping in the woods. They are not silence, birds, and wind in the trees. My personal opinion is that if one is in a campground without hookups, then the proper etiquette is to get by without power, or find a way to generate it that doesn't bother others.

A month or so ago, I was in a primitive campground in the Sierras, and the people in the next site had a "quiet" Honda generator running. At least if they were using it for medical equipment or something I could have understood. But no, they were inside watching football. "Oh, is it bothering you?" Ha, no, I love heading out to the woods to listen to your gasoline powered engine on the picnic table 10' away. Keeps that pesky peace and quiet at bay

I can't speak to portable solar setups, as I've only "done" the full blown install type. There will be some system creep no doubt as there are then other things to think about such as controller, batteries, monitor, etc. Maybe less so with a smaller portable setup.

Both the panels and the generator are things that you'll need to think about potentially being stolen. That would maybe dampen my enthusiasm for certain locations/hikes/etc. Location dependent of course.

For myself, for a 10-day trip (that isn't going to be repeated every month), I'd buy a good cooler. In fact I did buy a 6-day Ultimate Extreme cooler this summer and I am VERY impressed with the amount of time it keeps ice. Six actual days and that's not at 40 ambient, either. So much so that I re-considered my plan to install solar/12-volt refrigerator. But that's for a rig I'm using constantly. For a relatively infrequent 10-day trip I would almost certainly choose the cooler. Simple, cheap, nothing to break, nothing to maintain before and after trips (well, wipe it out and prop open the lid). No "system creep." No theft potential to speak of. You can leave home with huge, home-made ice blocks, and then only buy ice once while out. And enjoy the silence

I guess you can tell what I would choose


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Old 12-24-2014, 04:53 PM   #3
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Re: Solar or generator? Ten day vacation.

Great suggestion, as we were sitting down discussing the options for our pending trip I'd have to agree with what you stated. Generator, NO. We are probably going down the road of using a real good cooler and enjoying the piece and quite woods. Infact there is a location of the park that doesn't allow generators. That is probably where we will end up, closer to the lake.
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Old 12-24-2014, 05:11 PM   #4
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Re: Solar or generator? Ten day vacation.

There are no sites at Glacier where I would run a generator even if it were legal to do so (I have no idea if it is or isn't). Unfortunately not much sunlight there where I've stayed either. Not sure if it's any different in winter, never been in winter. I would strategically plan some drives now and then or idle for an hour a day to charge things up. That is, unless you have a diesel which is louder than a generator.

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Old 12-24-2014, 06:43 PM   #5
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Re: Solar or generator? Ten day vacation.

Two summers ago we did a month long trip in our SMB. We ran the standard (small) frig non-stop and almost never plugged in... Maybe twice in the month. We have 330ah of batteries and just charged from driving. We drove at least an hour or two almost every day and that kept up the batteries fine. The longest we camped without driving much is two days at a time (Grand Canyon and Glacier). If you can, I'd invest in a good battery bank with enough amp hours to keep you going for a while.
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Old 12-24-2014, 07:04 PM   #6
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Re: Solar or generator? Ten day vacation.

If you are traveling to Glacier, make sure you have a good house battery - a new battery will take more abuse than an old one. It is a long haul to the Park regardless of where you are. The battery will charge as you drive. The Park is huge. Once you get there you will spend much of your time driving in or around the park.

The Park is spectacular. You did not say what part of the Park you are staying in but take the time to see the south west area, hike the trail at the pass and see all of the east side. There are campgrounds around and in the Park. The Eats Black Bones campground is operated by the local tribe. If anyone charges you for the night be sure to get a receipt from them. The off road route on the west side of the Park will get you to the US border but it is mostly washboard and not very scenic.

Keep the fridge filled with liquids, meat and vegis - use them to create a small mass inside. You can also freeze various shapes of plastic containers with water in them. Set the fridge to the low temp setting while you are driving. When you are parked you can reduce demand on the battery by moving the knob to a warmer setting. If it is freezing at night you can turn the fridge off. You might also consider replacing all of the interior lights with LEDs.

Buy a battery monitor at an RV store. Watch it closely and manage the demand on your battery accordingly.
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Old 12-24-2014, 08:03 PM   #7
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Re: Solar or generator? Ten day vacation.

We did two & a half weeks recently in Glacier, Yellowstone & the Tetons. With solar on the roof & daily driving we never got even close to running out of juice. I do have the largest alternator Ford gives as an option on my van. Things are far enough away in Glacier that a decent drive is required to get there. I would think that would keep your batteries charged enough.
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Old 12-26-2014, 10:37 AM   #8
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Re: Solar or generator? Ten day vacation.

I have a 175 watt panel on the roof of The Van. On a sunny day, It seems to provide enough juice to about stay even with the reefer usage when I'm parked. But I've never stayed in one spot for more than 3 days. I have the small Norcold reefer and a Lifeline 4D house battery.

Even the "quiet" Honda generators produce that dreadful unmodulated hummmmmmmm that's the bain of any peaceful campground. Please, no more generators!

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Old 12-26-2014, 08:25 PM   #9
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Re: Solar or generator? Ten day vacation.

Ok, reservations are made and we have decided to go the cooler route. We already have one of those 6 day extreme coolers. I'll be bringing a utility trailer and will mount it. So now comes the fun part,

Any suggestions on places to explore via a hike or drive. I am going to have my senior parenys with me so I am planning two real solid hikes for the wife and I. Maybe a couple of driving explorations, a family hike or two and some fun on the lake.

Thoughts, suggestions, etc.
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Old 12-26-2014, 08:55 PM   #10
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Re: Solar or generator? Ten day vacation.

Solar depends on the load and how much overcast or shade you'll be subjected to. I installed a larger alternator and that helps to boost house levels when needed but like a generator, my engine makes noise... a lot more than a generator. With a large enough battery bank, I've been able to use my microwave for limited time and still have enough battery power to last the night for a fan or heater w/o the need to start up. I can heat certain foods on battery power only and carry those quick heating foods for just that reason.

Like others have posted I tend to be on the move more than sit in any one spot for long lengths of time. In the backcountry I don't have an issue with running the engine from time to time but never if others are within the hearing range of my camp. To me a generator just takes up too much room and is one reason I installed a propane top. I do feel it's nice to cook inside w/o having to run the engine because the microwave pulls so much. I'm sure it all depends on where and how you camp. A large battery bank is sure nice.

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