It is completely safe to have electricity in your tent provided you follow a few, simple safety precautions. A 2018 report showed that there were 5000 cases of electrocution in the US. Just 200 of these were in the home. None were from people camping in tents.
We are assuming that by electricity we mean normal home 110V AC supply. We are going to look at the most common ways of getting electricity into your tent and what you need to do to ensure you are absolutely safe.
Once your electricity supply is safe you have 2 remaining sources of hazard:
- Trip hazards from trailing cables
- Using inappropriate appliances in tents
Common Ways of Getting Electricity Into Your Tent
There are 5common ways of getting AC electricity into your tent:
- Electric Hook Up – Connect to your campgrounds electricity network
- Inverter Generator – Gas powered generators.
- Solar Panels
- Camping battery and inverter
- Inverter linked to your car battery
Most family tents now include an electricity flap so that you can run a cable into your tent without needing to open a door or window. The flaps are usually placed so that cables will not need to run anywhere near your doors thereby minimizing trip hazards.
Electric Hook Ups Safety
Most national or state campgrounds will usually have some campsites which will have access to electric hook ups. These are usually provided to meet the needs of gas guzzling RVs but some campgrounds make their electric network available to tent campers too. KOA in particular, advertise premium tent campsites with hookup.
Most campgrounds that offer electric hookups provide 30 and 50Amp options. For tent camping, 30Amps is likely to be all you need.
As in your home, any electricity supply in your tent must include a ‘Ground Fault Current Interrupter (GFCI)‘. If you don’t know, a GFCI detects faults in your electricity supply and quickly shuts of the circuit.
By law, all campground 30Amp connections must include a GFCI. This will protect you from damage or currently leakage from any of your devices
We cover what you need to connect to a campground electricity supply in our article specifically on tent camping electric hookups.
If you do decide to opt for a 50Amp plug in, you need to be a little more careful. 50Amp circuits are design for larger ‘class A’ RVs and do not usually include Ground Current leakage protection. Every appliance has some level of minimal ground current leakage. Class A RVs have so many appliances that the cumulative current leakage could easily be enough to trip a single GFCI device.
If you are going to use a 50Amp hookup you need to have the right kit. Every outlet you use in your tent must have its own GFCI device. One option is to make use of extension cords with build in GFCI.
Inverter Generator Safety
Inverter Generator’s are very like traditional gas generators. The difference is largely in how they use some clever electronics to enable us to generator electricity much more efficiently and with far less noise than before. We talk about how an inverter generator works in our article, “Can I Use a Generator While Tent Camping”
Inverter Generators remain our favorite way to get electricity into our tents. We have experimented with solar but, for now, we think the simplicity of an inverter generator is perfect for both camping on campgrounds and off-track, wild camping expeditions.
As with an electric hookup, GFCIs are your biggest friend in ensuring electrical safety with an inverter generator. The really good news is that inverter generator AC outlets must include GFCIs. When buying it is worth checking that the AC outlets do have GFCIs – particularly if you are buying cheaper, imported products.
One thing to note – inverter-generators are gas powered. They produce carbon monoxide and other toxic gases. You must place the inverter-generator outside the tent. Cables from the generator come through the electricity port on your tent.
Once you have electricity in your tent, you can use a multi-outlet extension cord so you can power all your appliances. If you want to be doubly safe you can use an extension cord that includes GFCI too.
Solar Electricity Safety
Solar panels for camping create few problems. You can get very small panels that fit on your backpack and are intended for charging your portable devices while hiking.
For tents, there are a range of larger, usually folding panels that provide much more power. Tent panels are rated at anything from 30W to 120W or more. If you are hoping to power your normal home appliances you will need to buy the highest power panel you can afford.
Unlike hookups and generators, solar panels can only provide direct current (DC). Most portable panels will provide around 14.4V when in direct sunlight. At that voltage they will generate around 8 or 9 Amps. That is more than enough to power your camping fridge during daylight. Unfortunately, without other equipment, you cannot power any of your AC appliances using solar power.
We are working on a guide on how to setup solar power while camping. We’ll let you know when it is ready. The key point is that solar panels on their own are not much use in most cases. To use them to their best effect you need a few extra components to your rig. As a minimum:
- Deep cycle or leisure battery (200Amp Hour preferred)
- Solar Charge Controller
- Inverter (can be combined with the Solar Charge Controller)
A deep cycle battery provides storage for those times when the sun isn’t shining) like every night.
Most solar panels will come with some sort of charge controller. You connect your charge controller to your battery and then connect your solar panel to the charge controller.
Charge Controllers are essential to prevent any danger of over charging and damaging the battery.
So far so good. There is no risk of electrocution from a solar system. However, the last element is the inverter.
The role of the inverter is to take the 12V DC output from the battery and convert it to 110V AC power. A typical 3000W inverter will draw almost 30Amps ac at peak power. That sounds fine but the current draw between the battery and the inverter is almost 10 times more at around 250Amps.
110V and 30Amps is more than enough to kill or cause serious electrical shock so you need to take the same precautions as for electrical hookups or generators. Once again, your go to savior is the GFCI outlet.
Make sure your inverter includes GFCI on all AC outlets.
Without getting too technical, if you are pulling close to 3000W AC power through an inverter, it will be pulling close to 300Amps directly from the battery. That’s something like what your car draws when it is starting. Make sure you connect your inverter to the battery with high capacity cables.
3000W is a lot of power. Your normal camping power usage is likely to be around 100-150W. Our biggest power draw comes from our son wanting to use his hair dryer to dry his hair (jacket, pants, hat… just about anything really). That takes about 1500W. At that power usage you will only get 10-15mins from your battery anyway. Try to keep away from high power, home appliances.
To avoid trip and fume hazards your battery should be outside of the tent. You can pass AC power into the tent via the tent electricity flap as before. As always, if you want maximum safety, connect all of your appliances via a GFCI extension cord.
Last update on 2021-09-03 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API