Introduction: Camping Lighting/Sound System

Picture of Camping Lighting/Sound System

A simple yet elegant lighting system used for when camping and you are short on propane lanterns. I also have an inverter and a speaker system hooked up, for camping "necessities".

All is powered off a deep cycle 12 volt battery I got cheap at Costco.

The battery lasted almost the entire 3 night camping trip, pretty impressive considering we ran the speaker all day long, and the lights burned into the wee hours.

Step 1: Run Taught Support Wire Between Trees

Picture of Run Taught Support Wire Between Trees

I happened to have a decent sized spool of steel wire laying around, so I cut it in half, then tied 2 ends to a length of twine and wrapped it around one tree. I then took the remaining 2 ends of the wire and wrapped them around some nails I had implanted into a tree on the other side of the campsite. I tied them around a couple pieces of firewood to provide tension on the lines. I wrapped one of the nails in a couple layers of electrical tape to prevent voltage leaking into the tree.

Step 2: Wire It Up

Picture of Wire It Up

I initially hooked up the jumper cables directly to the steel wire, but I found out it offered WAY too much resistance to run anything past a couple of feet. I needed some copper to run along the steel support wire to provide a better path. I had a spool of wire on me that happened to reach most of the way, so I sliced it in half, and peeled back the insulation in about 10 spots per run to attach to the steel. For the remaining length, I had a piece of lumex about 7 feet long to make the remainder.

So the run was battery>Jumper cables>Lumex>copper wire & steel support

I also wrapped one of the jumper cable ends in electrical tape to prevent shorting (I have yet to install all this into a box with a fused distribution block)

Step 3: Attach Lights

Picture of Attach Lights

I used MR16 bulbs for this project because
A) they are 12 volt, so no need to run this through an inefficient inverter
B) they are sealed bulbs and will cool fine in the open air.
C) they are cheap and I had a bunch on hand

I had a variety of bulb strengths in the chain, but I didn't pay it much attention. Everything was wired in parallel, all running off the 2 wires strung out between the trees.

To attach the lights, I first soldered a small bump of solder onto the ends of the electrodes, so the copper wire would have something to hang onto.

I had about 5 feet of copper cable left, so I cut little bits of it and twisted them tight so I could use them to tie the lights on. The pictures explain best I think. I checked the whole system for shorts carefully, as if there was one, I'd have a giant resistance heater... and that would probably cause some sort of meltdown.

Step 4: Sound/Utility Power

Picture of Sound/Utility Power

With the lighting system done, I knew I needed some music to set the mood, so I removed the amp from the truck and hooked a switch onto it and a length of lumex cable. This had its own fuses so I didn't worry about it much. The battery I bought had 2 screw terminals that I used to wire it up. We hooked an IPod into the RCA inputs, and I already had a 1/4" cable hooked up to the bridged output of the amp. I won't go much into the design of the speaker I used, but it served the purpose well. It has 4 small (2"-3") drivers on the front, and 3 tweeters. The large circle you can see on the back has no active components, but is a passive radiator that is driven by the movement of the 4 in the front, so long as the speaker is well sealed (hence the piece of wood on top with silicone around it).

I also have a 400 watt inverter hooked up, to power a blender and several battery chargers (IPod and camera) It also has a voltage display, so this provided a "level" of the battery for the weekend.

I had anticipated a few problems, so I had brought a box full of tools to work with. With enough preparation at home, you could skip the extensive toolkit, but always plan for the unexpected.

I will someday build all this into a single box with battery selector and external jacks for power/audio in/out, but for now, this mess of wires makes camping a little brighter.


shadowopal (author)2010-06-24

NICE! I'm actually looking to do a battery setup that will power my guitar soundboard for outdoor events with no outlets. Thanks for this start. It's sad to see people bashing you for your information. This is useful for many purposes and not just ruining camper's lives. But, some people can't think outside themselves.

Gimpy (author)shadowopal2010-06-24

I'm rebuilding the speaker side of things, probably this weekend. A new battery just came in (deep cycle gel type) and I'll be building the speaker as a single unit, probably with an ipod dock, A2DP receiver, and a few input jacks. I'll post here when I do. This battery was a big wet lead acid type, and doesn't like being turned around, etc... I've done some damage to it for sure (but I still have it). For powering various electronics, there are good DC-DC converters now that weren't around 5 years ago, and that makes projects like this easier. I'll be using those for ipod connections etc when I re-build. Good luck with your setup. For guitar effects pedals, I seem to remember them all taking similar voltage, so you may be able to get away with just plugging them all into a battery, but it might be worth it to put little voltage regulators, not sure. Ask around,

PCfreak (author)Gimpy2013-07-21

be sure to post the speaker rebuild, id love to see it

streetpunk99 (author)2011-05-08

do you have to use a deep cycle battery, could you use a regular auto battery?

chippy (author)2010-11-03

Dang you camp in style!
If someone is considering this consider using a class D amplifier (aka "digital" ) as they are much more efficient (use less battery) than tradition designs. Also when selecting you speakers consider the sensitivity rating. Typically in the 80-97 dB range, a 3db increase in sensitivity is equivalent to a doubling of perceived sound output for the same amount of power!
For a lightweight option consider a battery powered amp (such as the one offered by partsexpress), running off AA batteries it fits in your hand and will power a speaker with 15 watts for about a day.
To go further consider a transducer/exciter that you attach to a piece of foam core/ poster board. Not high fi and not much bass but backpackable! (yeah, I have been thinking about this for awhile)

player2756 (author)2010-09-19

This is very cool. I love halogens and how they are 12v. Just a suggestion though, get a old track light and connect the halogens with actual connectors. Much safer, and cleaner.

shadowopal (author)2010-06-24

Yeah. I'm putting an inverter into the mix and plugging the pedal into that. It's a Digitech Vocal 300 for my mic. I wish they would have built a battery option into it. But, no. So, I have to figure it out. And I have very BASIC knowledge of wiring and such. so, it's slow going unfortunately. But, thanks again for the start here.

Gimpy (author)shadowopal2010-06-24

The input of the pedal is going to be DC, almost without doubt. What pedal is it? PM me, I bet it can be made to work without the inverter. Check out You don't even need the first bit, with the transformers and rectifier if you are building off a battery.

kendo (author)2008-10-17

All you need now is attach solar cells to recharge the battery during the day so you can camp a lot longer.

twocvbloke (author)2008-08-29

If you used bright LED MR16 bulbs, your batteries would last far longer than with actual Halogen bulbs... :)

gilbert2048 (author)2008-08-23

Brilliant idea would like to set up my own light string just abit more water resistant

hypercube33 (author)2008-07-09

I'm almost forced to follow suit for lighting, but I plan to do a much more elegant method that will only light up my tent and my cooking area, when i want it to. I'd rather not fark around with gas lanterns that burn a different gas than my stove, or go out and buy more stuff that I need (all I need are the lights, @ $4/ea vs $40 for a camp lanturn, plus gas) The battery powered lights for camping look like shat anyway!

Yerboogieman (author)2008-02-02

just dont ground the amp to the battery

CAbeachguy (author)2007-07-14

RE:Bob thebuilder. I've gone to Burning Man for 11 years straight. BM is ALL about sustainability (and creating a community) and making SURE that the 'scape is the same when you leave as when you arrived. Yet, people bring up gas/diesel generators and all sorts of other means (solar, propane etc.) to allow them to power anything from a boom box to a PA the middle of the desert. We DON'T want to stay in the city (at least for that long weekend), we want to get out where things are wilder, whether it is a dust-storm, 110 degree heat, monsoon rains or whatever. I'm guessing that all Gimpy wanted to do was get AWAY from the city for a weekend as well; yet he wanted a minor few of the creature comforts of modern life, like lighting and music. WTF is so wrong with that, or the creative way he went about? Bob...Don't ever show up at Burning Man or we'll roast you over the VERY high powered nitrogen/diesel/propane spit we take up there to cook with. Lay off Gimpy and go back to your TV; or where all is as you want it.....

PR22 (author)2007-07-05

You guys like to get away from civilization, he likes lights and music. So what? Camping is about doing something you enjoy. He enjoys doing his thing, you enjoy doing your thing. That shouldn't be a problem. He shouldn't do something that makes the trip less enjoyable for him because if you were the one camping it would be more enjoyable for you. You aren't him, He isn't you. Leave him the heck alone already.

jj327405 (author)2006-08-12

i dont know why everyone is giving you so much hell over this, i personally like the idea and when i go camping i take along with my huge tent, a tv, vcr, fridge, toilet, coffee maker, almost the whole house but SO THE HELL WHAT, i like to be comfortable and i like to be outdoors and if thats what i like why should someone rag me for it, and i was just camping last week at a campground and every tent camper there had tv's, microwaves, and i even saw one with a milk crate sitting on the outside of the tent window with an air conditioner on it, but anyway your idea was good and it gave me NUMEROUS ideas to work on. Thanks

Metrokillah (author)jj3274052007-03-12

bobthebuilder has responded with uncalled for aggression and should possibly get himself out to the woods for a wee walk to calm down, but the description of jj327405's idea of camping makes me cringe. The above post describes a vulgar display of conspicuous consumption that is a true enemy to nature AND the development of creative intelligence. An attempt is made to support this position, gauging personal ethical rights by implementing everyone else and saying they are all doing it (ie the A.C. on milk crate and such). That is no way to support or prove anything, It only proliferates the mindless consumer society where no one is personally accountable for their actions, only a mass of immoral sheep pointing at everyone else and saying, "But they're doing it too!" (if sheep could talk). It confuses me that you find any happiness in transporting the contents of your house to the woods and sitting in front of the tv. I wonder do you stare transfixed to nature programs whilst in the wilds? Or do you sit proudly in the comfort of your tent watching fly-on-the-wall docusoaps showing poor saps going about their daily work in the city? I like sport, but could happily do without the screaming fans while deep in the outback. switch it off.. you'll probably sleep more soundly and your kids, should you have any, will thank you when their older. The instructable is well described and has very nice pics but does describe a basic lighting contraption and amp/speaker system better suited for a workshop or out-building rather than a tranquil forest.

static (author)2007-03-05

Sheesh! I suspect bobthebuilder may one of those campers who's RV generator who we have to listen to most of the day , so thy can enjoy the comfort of AC, so why don't they stay at their AC home? wires wrapped around a tree are as temporary, and no more destructive than a campsite cloths line is, bob is digging for something to bellyache about here. Long distance anonymous threats are,IMO the act of a "punk", and there are old punks as well as young ones Another mentioned LEDs, they have their place,but may be a bit wimpy in the application. Anyway the man was using what he had on hand. I suspect the first campsite battery power "light string" appeared when someone took a construction site string camping. Gimpy's instructable was his independent implementation of something old, but it' there to give other's an idea to build one. The first I have seen on the web, so great job Gimpy. s.

ElectrodeMike (author)2007-01-17

Stop Picking on Gimpy, His ideas Awsome. I alwayse yused to take crap camping He has revolutionised camping and all you mocking him should zap yourselves

lemonie (author)2006-12-09

You're lugging a large 12v battery with you? LED lighting would be less weight (& current), but perhaps a 'colder' light. Then again you could use headlights (assuming you drive there)

Ian01 (author)2006-08-08

You took your soldering iron with you?

cpf (author)Ian012006-09-10

Dont travel without it!

Net (author)2006-08-13

Creative idea. It did exactly what you wanted it to do. Nice job. "The greatest feeling in the world is being right" Expressing your own opinion is fine, but for you rude commenters of this guys' use of his creation shows just how selfish and uncaring to other humans you really are. Try speaking your opinion with respect next time.

darksinder (author)2006-08-12

Very nice setup for being thrown together with what you had along, I like it! As for the proper camping lecture, bobthebuilder is the only prick that I see here.

tnraven (author)2006-08-11

My god bobthebuilder. Get over it. For starters, trees are alot more resilient than humans. If you were to hammer a nail into a human, and not puncture any vital organs, yes, they'd be fine. They'd heal. So will the tree. Get a life.

wperry1 (author)2006-08-11

Im all about back-country camping with minimal amenities. That's my preferred method of camping but car camping is a whole different animal. When I go car camping I usually bring something for light and a small boombox to play softly while sitting around the campfire and I have never had a neighboring camper complain. It's surprising how well the outdoors eats up low volume music. it seems to me that the ligting system here would actually create far less light pollution than those ever-popular propane lanterns, I stopped even bringing minen a while back because it is too damn bright and I find that I am annoyed when one of my camp neigbors leaves one on late into the evening.

geeklabs (author)2006-08-11

the point of this site is to read and learn, and to re-apply the knowledge. forget all this elitist opinion and bickering. i learned a thing or two from this gig, and may re-apply it to decorate my living room, or even my backyard.

traviscs2k (author)2006-08-09

enough is enough.

gonzofu (author)2006-08-07

Hey, I don't mind how you camp, if you bring lights or a stereo. Usually when I car camp I let the car stereo run for a little bit.

But don't drive nails into trees. You shouldn't be out there if you can't tie a <a href="">tautline hitch</a>. Seriously. Or get a friggin' bungie cord.

Gimpy (author)gonzofu2006-08-09

I admit, I didn't think too hard about the tree, please read my reply below. Next time, no nails, I promise.

Gimpy (author)2006-08-09

"What an immature, uneducated, thoughtless little prick you are. If you want noise music and light, STAY IN THE CITY." What closed minded, bleeding heart you are. As I've said, I do enjoy the minimalist camping. I hope to go out later this August in a boat to a completely disconnected location. I've DONE it, I LIKE it, but this was NOT THAT TRIP. We wanted to stay up late and listen to Pink Floyd. We like camping, nature, etc, but wanted a couple amenities of home at our site. Again, we were away from other campers (most of whom were in RVs with microwaves and TVs anyways) and we turned our speaker off (or at leased down to a minimum) at around 10PM. Please don’t preach you’re version of camping as the only and best way to do it. Ok, I admit, I might have used a truckers knot to tighten the line (and I did use twine on the other side of the span... if I wrapped steel wire around it, then there would be a short circuit) But the stainless steel nails I used were easier. Sorry, but I don't believe that the tree suffered from it. I pulled the nails when I left, including some I found on there when I got there. If I did permanent damage, please, enlighten me. “I fervently hope someone with my liberal, understanding and forgiving attitude comes across you in the woods the next time.......” So do I, they sound like my kind of people. I’ll blend them a smoothie. If my setup is disturbing their site directly, I’ll make any changes necessary. Of course if they start preaching about how I’m not camping “the right way”, my friends and I will kick your elitist butt off our site, laugh about it, then forget, and mellow out to “The dark side of the moon”

Saga (author)2006-08-07

Yeah this would be great for Burning Man, Reggae on the River, places where the camping areas are like lively little towns at night (Shakedown Street comes to mind). I am going to a music festival this weekend and am trying to figure out how to rig up my bicycle to spin an alternator to recharge a battery so I don't have to constantly run a generator to power lights or other power hungry junk.

slacy (author)2006-08-05

It's not camping if there's electricity involved.

kd1s (author)slacy2006-08-06

Oh phoey! Actually when I think about it my more enjoyable camping experiences have been with no water or electricity at the site, and a good 5-10 minute hike to the bathroom.

Eric Stanton (author)2006-08-05

I go camping to get away from all the noise of the city etc. You bring all this get up with you out to the woods when you really should just party at home or in your garage and let the little woodland not have to listen to your music. This is why I took up backpacking so I can get away from this crap but it seems to be getting harder and harder to do... *sigh this isn't camping!!!

kd1s (author)Eric Stanton2006-08-06

I agree. Light isn't such a bad thing but the noise would be. Sometimes the sound of nature is what one wants.

gerardburpo (author)Eric Stanton2006-08-05

So let me get this straight: if you are goind to enjoy nature, you shouldn't listen to music or provide yourself with light? That seems a little close-minded to me. Everyone camps in a different way, but I guess like a lot of outdoor activities, there are those who are elitists about it and believe their way is the only way. Personally, I like to camp in an ultra-light fashion, carrying none of the amenities of urban areas besides maybe a book or two, but that doesn't mean I walk around acting better than other people who don't do it just like me. And your comment that "it seems to be getting harder and harder" to camp without being around other campers' noise is nonsense. I've never have a problem getting away from other campsites. You must be going to crowded roadside sites or something.

Gimpy (author)Eric Stanton2006-08-05

I totaly go out to the woods to get away from city life. I love the woods, nature and all that stuff. I totaly enjoy the nature stuff, without any amenities. But this wasn't that trip... We had 3 camp sites, decently far away from any other campers. Mostly it was so we could pack up at night and not stumble in the darkness. We went on day hikes swimming in the lakes and whatnot, so I DO apreciate what you are saying. But I like to spoil myself every once and a while. It's a good thing

Personally when I go camping, it is all about bringing nothing, an instrument and a notebook are the most unnessacary items I take along, and I love it that way. However you should respect peoples opinions, sure that is a different kind of camping but is none the less.

wikityler (author)2006-08-06

A good idea would be to make short (1") jumper leads with a gator clip at each end. You could use them for the connection between the buld and cable.

dar303 (author)2006-08-06

I like it! I don't see this setup deep in the woods disturbing the silence but at the camping area at some music-festival or raveparty!

ArmChairQB (author)2006-08-05

You chould try one of those tiny panels that comes with a VW to maintain the battery to help keep you Battery topped off during the day .. doubt if it would be enough to fully recharge during the day..They are not weather proof.

TheCheese9921 (author)2006-08-05

yea but what if it rains

Gimpy (author)TheCheese99212006-08-05

12 volt power systems are suprisingly resilient to the rain. It did start to drizzle a bit, so we draped a tarp over the battery/inverter/speaker to protect it. In theory it would be fine in a downpour.

theRIAA (author)2006-08-05

cool lights, you could probly use electrical cord, put a little slice in each wire, and just insert the bulb terminal into the cord, then secure it with lectrical tape. that might work better

theRIAA (author)theRIAA2006-08-05

oh yea, what watt bulb did you use and did they work ok?

Gimpy (author)theRIAA2006-08-05

I do plan on doing it again with better wires... I used various bulbs from 20-50 watts, and it all seemed good. I doubt any of them were at full power, do to the high resistance in the wires. Next time, a quick stop at home depot will solve any problems.

singlespeed (author)2006-08-05

Elegant? I must be missing something. All this is going to do is piss off the campers around you. This might be a good backyard setup if you fix the wiring, but don't bring it camping.

Gimpy (author)singlespeed2006-08-05

The wiring was a bit sketchy, and needed a bit of work, but it was the best I could do with the stuff I brought. As for other campers, the only two in range came over to say how much they liked it, then asked us if we had any tabaco or weed... We didn't, so they left. Aparent;y they came over another time, but I really didn't notice.

bowakowa (author)2006-08-05

camping or not, I found it informative, and that to me is the point of posting. seems to me you were in a private camping spot anyway or there would have been ac like at campgrounds. Nice informative photos, too. I would love to see this setup run on alternergy(just coined that phrase myself).

About This Instructable




Bio: I work as an IT administrator in Vancouver, BC. I really enjoy getting out and and enjoying the planet, as it's full of many ...
More by Gimpy:Camping Lighting/Sound System
Add instructable to: