Camping skills: How to use electricity in your tent
For some people, electricity in the tent defeats the point of camping, while others want all the comforts of home, including electrical appliances, especially in early and late in the season when it gets colder and darker.
You can’t just rock up on the campsite with all your equipment from home and expect to plug it straight in. Integrated plugs, leads and sockets designed for camping are needed.
Our guide tells you everything you need to know about using electricity safely on site.
1. First consider what would you use it for and whether you really need it. The possibilities for using 230V electricity in a tent are endless – heating, lighting, kettles, keeping food cool, charging devices, even watching TV – but none of them are exactly essential.
There are battery or gas alternatives for all of them, except TV and who wants to watch telly when they’re camping? Well, quite a few people actually and who are we to judge them? Electricity is convenient, efficient and safe and generally gives you better results, so why not?
2. Once you’ve decided that you do want to get hooked-up, buy a camping electric lead from your local outdoor store. Prices range from about £30 to £50. At one end, these will have a weather-proof plug (usually blue) that connects to the pitch’s hook-up box.
At the other end is a damp-proof box containing either a single or multiple 13amp sockets and, often, a couple of USB ports. It will also incorporate an RCD safety mechanism, designed to cut off the supply in case of an emergency. As a safety check, test the circuit breakers regularly.
3. IP (Ingress/International Protection) ratings are about protecting sockets from water penetration – or little fingers. IP44 is the minimum rating to consider.
4. Water and electricity quite obviously don’t mix so always keep the socket box off the floor of the tent and away from the edges. You can buy specialised stands for this or simply put it on a table or upturned crate. Electrical equipment should also be kept off the ground.
5. Even small amounts of damp could result in result in the system tripping, causing a fire or even electrocution. If the conditions get damp inside the tent through condensation or ingress, stop using the electricity immediately, unplug the appliances and replace the covers over the sockets.
6. The same rules apply when you leave the tent or go to bed. Never leave appliances running in an unoccupied tent.
7. If your tent has a cable entry point, feed the wire through it rather than taking the cable in through the front door where it would be a trip hazard.
8. Use low-wattage equipment specially designed for camping and avoid using normal domestic appliances in your tent. They’re not designed for outdoor use and you could overload the system and cause a power cut.
9. In a similar vein, don’t overload your socket box. Use only one appliance per socket and adaptors are a definite no-no.
10. Different campsites are able to provide a different size of electrical supply, ranging from 5A to 16A. But generally the hook-up supply on a campsite is much less than the mains supply to a house, and this will restrict the number of appliances you can use at one time.
It’s wise to check in advance so you know what kind of appliances will be safe to use. A small camping kettle for example can be used on most sites but domestic kettles aren’t advisable.
11. You also need to consider the combination of appliances you are using. A kettle may use 8.3 amps and a fan heater 4.2 amps. Use these together and you will trip a 10A supply, making you extremely unpopular on the campsite!
12. If there are any problems with your electricity supply, report it to the site management.
13. The blue plug and socket that is standard in the UK is widely used on European campsites, but not all. Many still use a two-pin connection, and you’ll need an adaptor to connect from your existing lead to the old style connections. These are widely available from UK camping shops. In addition, a mains tester is worth taking to check the mains polarity. If the tester shows reversed polarity, you’ll need another adaptor to correct it before using British appliances.
14. If you’re camping off-grid, you could power up with a solar panel or your own generator, but, with the latter, consider the noise disturbing wildlife and the enjoyment of walkers and other campers within earshot.
- Test the circuit breaker and use a mains tester before use
- Be ready to stop using electrical appliances if the inside of your tent is getting wet
- Remember that trailing cables can be a trip hazard
- Never leave electrical equipment switched on or plugged in when you leave the tent unoccupied
- Always fully uncoil the cable when in use to prevent heat build-up
- Keep your hook-up equipment off the ground
- Do not use domestic cables, plugs or appliances
- Don’t overload your sockets
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