I also enjoy camping. I've got a good selection of LED torches, head lights and lanterns, but wanted something a little brighter.
Looking around there are solutions to buy, some even have remote controls!
BUT they are all pretty expensive. And I don't do expensive...
Step 1: Planning
A quick solution is the 12V sticky LED strip... But it's comparatively expensive and not as bright as I wanted. So I decided to use something else. I had some 1W LEDs left over from a fish tank light system I had already built so decided to use them.
100 ordered from eBay was less than £8
I ordered some LED strip Aluminium extrusion with cover, some 2.1mm DC connectors, a small tube of thermal adhesive and some small on/off switches and I was set.
Step 2: Size and Layout
I decided that around 300mm (12") sections would work. I actually bough 1 meter lengths of extrusion and cut them into 3.
LEDs Power / Voltage
The LEDs run at 1W at about 3.4V and draw approx 300ma at that voltage... but peak specs are 3.6V and 350ma
So to keep the wireing very simple, I decided to run 2 'strings' of 4 LEDs in series per strip.
This gives the LEDs about 3V each and they draw around 140-150ma at that voltage. This gives a lot of room to allow for voltage fluctuations in the supply (Car voltage sits at around 14V if the engine is running)
By running at a lover current, the heat generated is a lot less... and they are still plenty bright enough!
Each strip has 8 LEDs - in 2 lots of 4. there is a switched +12v supply to each set of 4, and a permanent +12v and 0V that runs from the input connector to the output connector. This means that each strip can be turned on and off seperatly.
I used the thermal cerment to fix the LEDs in place, making them very easy to work with.
I trimmed the legs of the LED's to avoid them touching the metal casing and then soldered them toghther using Cat5 twisted pair core for the wires.
The switch is fitted into an 8mm diameter hole in the plastic cover, and the ends that came with the alluminium extrusion had holes that were perfect for the 2-3" legnths of flexable wire that I used for the connectors.
Step 3: Testing
Before powering up, check the connections and LED orientation etc, use a multimeter to buzz out the strip if needed. when you are happy that there are no shorts and the LEDs are all connected up correctly, plug it in and switch it on.
Then do the same with the next one...
I've been testing with a UK mains 12V adapter, and when camping somewhere with power, I'll use that.
But I've also got a european mains adapter and made up a vehicle cigerette lighter plug (fitted with a 2A fast blow fuse). I've slao bought a few 10meter extension leads - allowing me to string these up where I want them.
I found a zip case that is for a comercial version of these that was perfect for them.
Step 4: The Results
Mounting them proved problematic - I added 2 small neodymium magnets inside the strips to allow me to mount to tent poles etc - which would have been great if the poles wen't external!
I ended up threading them through window tieback loops.
I made up 9 strips in all... there are just 4 in the gazeebo and its like daylight in there!
3 was also more than enough in the main tent (10 berth) - we ran with just one turned on most of the time.