... you are in the right place. Questions tend to recur so here is some information for you, based on my own experiences lighting a 30-person camp.Power sources
You need to figure out a power source.
- Generator: Gives as much power as you need, works with any plug-in AC light, but will have to run all night if you want lights. Probably necessary if you want to light a large camp; definitely required if you are running a sound system.
- Deep cycle marine battery: These are big 12V batteries with capacity of about 100 Amp-hours, which is 1200 Watt-hours, of which maybe 800 Wh is reliable (they are not supposed to be depleted all the way). Suppose you need lights for 8 hours * 6 nights = 50 hours or so. A 100Ah battery will let you run up to 16 W of lights (about three 20ft plug-in christmas light strangs) for those 50 hours (16W * 50hrs = 800 Watt hours). If you have a means of recharging the battery halfway through the week, you can double the amount of lights, and so on. If you recharge every day from a generator, you can run 100W of lights each night for 8 hours, which is a lot! You can connect special 12V lights directly to the battery, but normally you need to buy a power inverter, which connects to the battery and gives you standard AC plugs, and then you use ordinary plug-in lights. If you want to charge a deep cycle battery from a generator, make sure your charger is appropriately sized. There will be a current rating, e.g. 20 Amps, which would fill a 100Ah battery in about 5 hours. Tiny chargers might take days to fill a big battery.
- Standard-cell batteries. You can buy lights and lanterns that run AA, C, D cell batteries. A good simple choice for small camps.
- Solar power: there are some integrated lights with their own solar panels which can work in some circumstances. Solar panels can also be used to charge 12V batteries, but not a lot. A 10W panel ($50 to $100 last I checked) gives you 10Wh per hour of sunlight, meaning every hour it's on stores enough energy for one hour of 10W light per night. Good for stretching a battery a bit, but not for replenishing a big deep cycle battery.Types of lights:
- LED xmas lights, like this
. Make sure you get LED lights, not the old incandescent kind. These draw about 5W per 20ft, but incandescent might be 10 or 20 times that amount. Xmas lights are easy to work with and durable and cheap. They're often not "super bright", unless you have a high concentration in a small area. They're good for doing low-intensity perimeter "find your camp in the dark" / "chill out" lighting.
You can buy plug-in lights which need AC power, which comes from a generator and/or from a battery+power inverter. You can also buy battery powered lights which run on standard cells like AA's, like this
. One 20 ft strand should last 2 or 3 nights on a set of 3 AA's. If you have a small camp, a few strands of battery-powered LED strings is probably the easiest choice.
-Solar LED xmas lights
. Like above, but they include their own solar panel and integrated charger. No batteries, no plugs. They will charge all day and give you light all night. Quality can be highly variable, and some people have good results, but in my personal experience having tried a few I would not recommend these as a primary lighting source -- they are significantly less bright than plug-in or standard-cell-battery lights. They're good for things like lighting entrances and hazards and perimeters, in a decorative sense, but not for, say, eating dinner underneath.
- Lanterns. LED lanterns
, or kerosene lanterns
. (Are kerosene lanterns allowed at Burning Man? I don't actually know.) Lanterns are a great choice to provide bright light for those short time periods when you need it. They are designed to be bright and to throw light in a wide space. A good way to complement dimmer choices like Christmas lights. Solar-rechargeable lanterns exist but won't be as bright.
. Like lanterns, they can be switched on to give you brightness when you need it, and switched off to conserve battery power. You can get some that run on AC, so would work well with a generator or battery/inverter system, or you can get battery-powered ones. Again look for LEDs to save power. These are uncommon in my experience, but no reason they wouldn't work.
- Ordinary lights and lamps. If you have a generator or battery/inverter system, you can plug in any old lamp if you want. Just make sure you use LED or compact fluorescent bulbs and be careful you don't break them. CFL bulbs tend to be in the 10 to 20W range -- quite a bit for one lamp. Incandescent use a lot of power -- you'd need a generator to run any appreciable number of them.
- LED strips (tape)
. A relatively new product, popular for art cars and decorating stages and such. A 5m strand of RGB LEDs draws between 5 and 30W depending on the mode and brightness. My camp made chandeliers out of these which we switch on when we want high brightness, and they look awesome. They can be run directly from a 12V power source, but more likely you would use a power supply with an AC plug and run it from a battery+inverter or generator. These lights are very bright and colourful and can change colour and do rainbow fades and such. If you have circuit skills, you can rig up custom controllers and do cool things like e.g. sync them with music. But out of the box, with included controller and power supply, they're still a lot of fun. (If you order some, make sure it includes controller and power supply. In some cases they're sold seperately.) They come on a reel and like being coiled, but they don't like shearing and twisting.
Here are some complete lighting systems I would recommend.
Large camps: Generator + a fuckton of lights, why not. Xmas light perimeter, LED tape chandeliers, coloured floodlights, go nuts.
Mid-sized camp: Generator + charger to refill batteries during the day, large battery+inverter at night, plug-in xmas lights throughout camp all night and lanterns or chandeliers or floodlights for high-use areas (turned on and off when needed).
Mid-sized camp, no generator: Big battery + small number of xmas lights throughout camp on all night; standard-cell-battery-powered lanterns in high-use areas when needed. Maybe add solar charger to stretch the battery and give you more lights, or arrange with neighbors to have the battery recharged so you can have more lights at night.
Small camp: Standard-cell-battery-powered LED strands on all night, standard-cell-battery-powered lanterns when needed. Swapping batteries on the LED strands will be annoying work, so don't plan to have too many of them.
Happy to answer questions in this thread, and to hear anyone else's advice or experiences.