This article is about camping, van life, traveling through the Baja peninsula, and living with technology off the grid, with a BLUETTI generator that doesn’t use a drop of gas. Now, I grew up car camping and backpacking with my dad and brother, roughing it out in nature. And I loved it.
But, as technology improves and makes spending time in the great outdoors more convenient, I’m wary – isn’t that why we get out in nature, to get away from devices and technology? Generally, in my case, the answer is “yes.” Though when my partner and I decided to road trip from San Francisco to Baja, Mexico, in January in a 2003 Chevy Astro van converted into a camper, in winter, the idea of having more comfort (namely warmth) was appealing. Van life here we come! (Read why van life is leading the way to efficiency here.)
The Promise of Portable Power
The folks at BLUETTI were kind enough to send me a portable power station (BLUETTI AC200P) with accompanying solar panels (BLUETTI PV350), perfect for off-the-grid vanlife. No assembly required upon unboxing, aside from figuring out which cord goes where when it comes to the power station’s various methods of charging. That’s a huge pro for the AC200P: when the power station runs out of juice, there are many ways to recharge. Seven ways to be exact: AC, solar, car (especially useful on the road), generator, lead battery, dual AC, AC plus solar.
I did some preliminary testing of the power station before we were out in the Baja boonies. I tested several of the recharge methods and they all worked great. The first use of the charger was (surprise) to charge our cell phones using the wireless charging pads – a very handy feature. We worked some long, long days in the garage getting the ol’ Astro Van (whom we named Pinto, as he’s the approximate color of a pinto bean) ready for the road trip. Being able to set our phones on the charging pads to charge while we worked was a great convenience and they charged up pretty quickly, too. Once on the road, the charging pads were rarely not in use.
On the Road
The first con I noticed: this power station (and the solar panels, actually) are heavy. Since we knew we’d be off-grid for stretches of time, we wanted something with a lot of power and long battery life for this trip: the BLUETTI AC200P has a 2,000Wh capacity and a “LiFePO4 Battery,” which means over 3,500 recharges up to 80%. Though these features makes this power station quite a beast. It’s compact and didn’t take up much space in the van, but the weight was such that getting it in and out to charge, or to use away from the van became cumbersome. If we had not been changing locations nearly every night and we were setting up for a period of time in one spot, the AC200P’s weight would not have been as much of an issue. So, due to the nature of our road trip, we probably would have opted for something lighter if we were to do it again.
We had a Dometic cooler (read that review here) that required electricity to stay cold, so that zapped a lot of the AC200P’s energy each day. We turned the cooler off at night to save power, since it was cool enough. Even so, we found ourselves scrambling to keep the AC200P station powered up. Because we moved on to a new spot almost every day, we often didn’t give the solar panels enough time to charge up the station. The panels worked well to recharge the station, and had we been stationary for longer each day, the set up would be great.
Some notes on the BLUETTI PV350 solar panels: while they were heavy, they were compact, sturdy, well made, and the way they fold up into a portable case pretty ingenious. They worked well once set up in the sun (though I managed to miss that they have a convenient kickstand – d’oh!). They withstood being lugged in and out of the van daily, not to mention the sand they inevitably were exposed to on this Baja beach journey.
The power station has a LOT of convenient input types (AC and DC outlets, USB ports, the wireless charging pads, and more). Aside from the electric cooler (electric cooler? Who am I??), we used the BLUETTI AC200P power station for heating water in an electric kettle in the morning for coffee, we had some string lights inside the van going at night, and used it to charge a couple miscellaneous electronics like a speaker. Once or twice on particularly cold nights, we used the AC200P to blast a small, electric space heater to take the chill off, but we all know how much electricity it takes to produce heat, so we didn’t leave the heater on long.
We learned a lot on Pinto’s maiden voyage. The BLUETTI AC200P power station and BLUETTI PV350 solar panels are an excellent set up for being off the grid, if you’re mostly staying put somewhere. Albeit heavy, the power station has a pretty long life, all things considered, and its various and plentiful recharging methods are a godsend. While a little heavy and bulky, the sturdy, portable solar panels are a great addition to the set up, as they give you the freedom to recharge from almost anywhere. We’re looking forward to our next van life adventure!
BLUETTI provided the AC200 Power Station and PV350 Solar Panels free of charge to CleanTechnica for the purpose of writing this product review.
Check out CleanTechnica’s part two of why van life and camping are leading the way to efficiency here.
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Source: Clean Technica