Installing Solar Panels on our campvervan

Having a lot of solar power on our campervan was a considerable priority for us; it would allow us not only to boondock wherever we wanted, but it would also provide enough power for us to share with our fellow outdoorsmen.

Making Solar Power Work

In our previous RV, Backpack (the OG), Nate completed the entire solar install himself, with little to no help from me.  It wasn’t perfect, but he did a great job on it.  More importantly, he learned a lot from that install.  This time, however, I wanted to be a part of it and help strategize the install.

The first build was a great learning experience for him; the second build was a perfect skill and team building exercise for both of us.  It helps that we have such vastly different strengths.  Putting together a spreadsheet of what wire sizes and lugs we needed would have never happened if it were just Nate working on the build.  Equally, I would have never actually started on the build without Nate because I would still be planning every zip tie.  We complement each other well.

As we planned our solar build, we knew that we wanted to pack as much solar on top of our van as would possibly fit. Our initial calculations told us that we could maybe fit 5 panels, totaling 825 watts of power. Well, tell me that I might be able to do something, and I’ll make sure it happens. Worse yet, some internet know-it-all told me it was not possible to fit that much solar on top of a Sprinter van. Hmph, riiiight. So therein was the rub. I was going to do it no matter what it took.

Total Project Cost: $4,686.31

Making Power from the Sun – Installing Solar Panels

When it came time to order the components of the solar build, I ordered all 5 panels, telling Nate “well, I guess we are going to make them fit!”  Turns out, fitting 5 solar panels on a Sprinter van was quite simple.  We even have room for a roof box, should we ever decide we need more storage space.

The solar panels themselves were actually the easiest part of the whole solar system (I still don’t truly know if that is the proper term, but it makes me giggle every time I say it).  We spent countless hours calculating, measuring, researching, and debating the best components and the best methods for making our solar array work well.  And since we did all of this work and research, we wanted to share it with you, wrapped up in a nice little kit that you can use to base your solar setup around.  

 Without further adieu, here are the technical specs of our solar panel array:

Everything that we used in this build is listed on our Solar Kit at kit.com, where you can see exactly what we bought and buy it all for your own build.  There are 2 kits, one of the major components and one of the wiring and lugs.  Disclaimer, these are affiliate links, so we get a small commission off of your purchase, but it does not change the price to you at all.

NOTE: The wires going into the Solar Controller are 4 Gauge, but should be THHN, NOT welding wire. We did do it with welding wire and it fit, but it was difficult to get into the solar controller. I strongly recommend getting THHN for those wires only. That would be approximately 8 feet of black (ground) and 2 feet of red (power). It is not included in this kit because it would need to be purchased by the foot from your local hardware store to avoid buying a whole spool of it.

The wiring diagram for our system is downloadable above, and be sure to watch the video above as well.  All of this paired together should give you a good understanding of how our solar system is set up, wired, and functions.

By all means, ask us any questions you may have along the way and we will do our absolute best to answer or find an answer for you.   

This solar system is set up to be shared, and we want to share it with our fellow outdoorsmen as much as possible.  So, if you ever see us hanging out at a trailhead or campsite, feel free to come over and power up your camera, cell phone, or whatever you need!  We have plenty to share 🙂

 

825 Watts of DIY Solar for our Camper Van Life makes working from the road possible for...