› Power inverter

What’s a power inverter? Do you need one camping?

A power inverter converts 12 volt power input to a 240 volt output. This allows you to run or charge low wattage appliances using a car or camper battery.  It also means you don’t need separate car chargers for everything you want to plug in.

Most travellers we met on our trip around Oz had some form of inverter. It is one of our essentials whenever we go camping. Having an inverter gave us the freedom to free camp for much longer periods.

What wattage / capacity should you get?

The capacity rating of an inverter relates to how much power it can convert at a time. So, the higher wattage inverter, the more powerful appliance you can plug in.

We had a 300 watt unit, which covered our basic power charging needs. If you go for a “can” inverter (usually around 100-120 watts), you are pretty limited with what you can charge. Even the most basic laptop would probably draw too much power for a can inverter. 

To find out how much power an appliance draws, look on the product itself or the charger supplied with it.

Our power inverterOur 300 watt power inverter

We used our power inverter for:

  • Charging or using our laptop
  • Charging our mobile phones*
  • Charging my Kindle book reader*
  • Charging our SLR camera and video camera batteries
  • Charging Kumar’s drill battery
  • Cutting Kumar and James’ hair with hair clippers (30 W)
  • Grinding our coffee beans with our grinder (180 W) – sometimes we had to start the car to give it enough input power, depending on how charged our camper battery was.

* Eventually we bought a universal USB / cigarette lighter charger that we could use with any USB power lead, like those for our phones. This freed up the inverter for charging other stuff.

Also, some people told us you could buy generic 12-volt laptop chargers from a specialty 12 volt shop. If you had one of these, you could charge your laptop without an inverter too. We haven’t tried this though.

Two types of inverter

Pure sine wave – $$$

  • More expensive but behaves more like normal 240V.
  • Sends the power in a smooth wave.
  • Generally all 240V appliances are designed for this and work better as a result.

Modified sine wave – $

  • Most common type, much cheaper.
  • Sends power in a stepped wave.
  • Fine for charging, but might cause damage to some power chargers with long term use, especially laptops.

We have a modified sine wave inverter, which has been fine. But since coming home, we’ve had trouble with our laptop charger overheating, which might be from all the 12 volt charging on our trip. But who knows – a new lead might be cheaper than the extra cost of a pure sine wave inverter!

Get into good charging habits

We generally kept our power inverter in the car and charged everything while driving. This saved the camper battery for our everyday power needs (mainly lighting) – which meant we could camp unpowered for ages.

When we needed to charge a few things at once, we used to plug a power-board into the inverter. Then we’d plug each item into the power-board so they could all charge at the same time.

A note about power

Treat your inverter as something to run or charge small appliances. After all, it still draws power from your battery. The more you draw, the faster you drain your battery. If you really need to use a microwave (1000w), or kettle (2200w), or other high-powered stuff – consider a generator.

Could you go without?

If you bought individual 12 volt chargers for all your essentials, including your laptop – then you might be able to live without a power inverter. But for $80-100, I think it’s worth the convenience and flexibility it gives you.

Plus, I’m a coffee addict, and grinding our own beans guaranteed me a delicious coffee…and saved me hundreds of dollars!

› Power inverters