Solar powered trail camera

Storms Ciara, Dennis and now Jorge have rather interrupted my early spring tasks and I’ve been trapped indoors as the wind howls and the rain hammers down. In between the weather I’ve been tree planting and rhododendron bashing but I’ve also had ample time to complete a solar powered supply for my trail cameras.

These trail cameras require a 12V supply. Standard alkaline batteries – eight 1.5V AA cells – are drained very quickly. It is strongly recommended that you use 1.5V lithium batteries. These deliver the higher power necessary to drive the LED flash and IR detector for much longer – for 9-12 months in my experience. Not only do these last a lot longer, they also work much better at low temperatures. However, this is not an inexpensive option. Non-rechargeable AA lithium cells cost a little under £1.50 each when purchased in reasonable numbers.

Which, at about £12.00 per camera, soon adds up.

And they still run out 🙁

Here comes the sun

I’m a big fan of solar power. It heats most of the hot water in the house and I use it on my ‘bee shed‘ for trickle-charging a 100Ah ‘leisure’ battery, providing power for the lighting.

Solar panels are improving all the time and prices are dropping significantly. It seemed logical that the combination of a small sealed lead acid battery coupled with a small solar panel would be able to provide year-round power for my trail cameras (which have an AUX port for a power supply).

I needed a solution that would be reasonably portable, waterproof and with sufficient power to drive the camera(s) even if the sun doesn’t appear for days.

If the sun doesn’t appear for days …

My amateur back-of-an-envelope calculations suggested a 7Ah battery would be sufficient, coupled with a 5W or 10W panel. These calculations were based on the measured power consumption of my trail cameras.

All of my trail cams are made by Browning, and any details provided below e.g. the size/type of connectors used, may be specific to these models (Recon Force Advantage, Spec Ops Advantage and the new Recon Force Edge). In particular note that these Browning models are 12V cameras, whereas many other makes need only a 6V supply.

Parts list

See notes section at the end of the page for an update to the parts list

Solar panel kit – 10W 12V monocrystalline solar panel, charge controller and connectors from Photonic Universe. They also sell through Amazon 1. You can buy the parts individually for about the same price.

Charge controller

Sealed lead acid rechargeable battery – 7Ah 12V. These are readily available new but you might be able to scrounge one from a defunct computer uninterruptible power supply, a mobility scooter or kid’s electric toy car.

MTM waterproof ‘ammo’ storage box – I used what I had available (50 calibre model), but the smaller model 30 calibre model would have been sufficient. Any waterproof box would do, but these have a convenient carry handle and are pretty robust.

Cable glands – these are available in a variety of sizes and most are too large for the relatively thin cables that connect the solar panel and the trail cam. I used PG7’s which are about the smallest I could easily find on Amazon.

Waterproof cable glands

Trail cam power supply cable – for Browning cameras you need a 2.1mm x 5.5mm male connector. Other cameras may well be different. You can buy the connectors separately for a few pence from electronic component shops, or pre-wired with male/female ends as extension leads in various lengths from eBay for a couple of pounds.

Male (top) and female (bottom) 2.1 mm x 5.5 mm DC connectors, pre-wired

Miscellaneous items – a few bits of scrounged closed cell foam, a couple of spade end connectors and some small zip ties.

Tools – soldering iron (not strictly necessary, but it helps to secure the spade end connectors and to tidy up the ends of wires), pliers, small screwdriver and a sharp knife. You may also need a multimeter to be certain of not frying your camera – see below.

Cable glands fitted and tightened down

In addition, you will need a drill bit of a size suitable for the cable glands. For the PG7’s I used this was a 12mm bit and a small amount of widening with a fine file. 


  • Securely fit the battery in the box. I used closed cell foam to pack it in tightly, preventing any lateral movement, but still leaving ample space above the battery for the wiring and charge controller.
  • Drill the side or end wall of the box for the cable glands. You’ll need at least two – one for the solar panel wire and one for the trail cam power cable. Make sure the fitted cable glands do not prevent securely locating the battery. Also ensure that the lid of the box does not foul the cable glands when opening/closing.
  • Make up a short battery cable with spade end connectors at one end and bare wire tails at the other. Connect the battery to the charge controller using the labelled connections (and consult the instructions if necessary). Positive to positive and negative to negative. It is important to connect the battery to the charge controller before you connect the solar panel. The battery should be protected with an inline fuse (1.25 – 2 times the rated current of the charge controller). The Photonic Universe kits include this.
  • Run the solar panel cable through a cable gland and connect to the input connectors on the charge controller. Ensure there’s sufficient slack cable inside the box to pack everything down neatly in due course. Tighten up the cable gland.
  • Run the power cable through a cable gland and attach to the power output connectors on the charge controller. Note carefully the positive and negative connections – see below. Tighten up the cable gland.
  • Check all connections are secure, tidy away the wiring – using zip ties where necessary – and place the solar panel outdoors in the sun. The PV (photovoltaic) charging and load (the battery in this case) lights should illuminate.
  • Close the lid, connect the camera and enjoy years of savings on battery replacements 🙂

All ready to go

As the photo above shows, there’s ample space in the 50 calibre MTM box and a smaller box would have been sufficient.

Be positive

The Browning cameras need the centre pin of the power cable to be positively charged.

Browning trail cam AUX power input showing positive centre pin.

Don’t mess this up or there’s a chance of frying the camera. If there’s any doubt, hook the ends of the power cable up to a small multimeter and confirm that the centre pin is positive. This is what I did. Better safe than sorry 🙁

When the camera is running from the internal batteries the remaining charge is shown in the bottom left of the screen.

Battery power – £12 of AA’s installed

When you plug in the external power cable this changes to indicate the presence of an AUX power supply.

External battery

The camera does not need any internal batteries to run, so these can be removed and used for a camera in heavy woodland or deep shade.

Batteries and battery cage

Replace the empty battery cage to help ensure the camera remains watertight.

In use

I built the first of these external solar powered batteries with long cables for both the solar panel and the camera power supply. In practice I usually co-locate the battery box and the solar panel a metre or two away from the camera in a location that gets a reasonable amount of light.

The solar panel needs to have a good ‘view’ of the sky, ideally directly south facing. With a sufficiently long power cable it is usually possible to secure the camera facing north (to avoid glare) to a tree with the power supply tucked away out of sight (to anything but the sky) nearby 2.

Solar powered trail camera in use

The panel’s aluminium frame could perhaps be usefully camouflaged but it’s surprising how quickly the passing wildlife learn to ignore it.

After just a few days in the field – in pretty terrible weather – the charge controller showed that the battery was fully topped up and the system has continued to work flawlessly ever since.

Safety notes

There are several posts online describing solar powered trail cameras which do not use a charge controller. These are generally 6V systems and smaller panels. Whatever the voltage, if a charge controller is not used it is important that there is a diode preventing battery drain at night when the panel is not working. Inexpensive charge controllers are about a tenner. They stop overcharging of the battery.

The charge controllers I use have one or more USB outputs which sometimes come in handy … but that’s for a future post.

Here’s something I found earlier … and a solar powered trail cam (top right).


After several months of faultless operation of the first of these battery boxes I’ve now built more and they now power all my trailcams. I’ve made several minor changes to the design …

5W solar panel and MTM Mini AC15 waterproof box

  1. I now use a 5W 12V solar panel. It’s half the size of the 10W panel but appears more than sufficient to charge a 7Ah battery on a camera taking up to 40 x 20 second videos per night. Note that I’ve yet to have one of these smaller panels running over a full winter.
  2. I’ve switched to a MTM Case-Gard Ammo Can Mini AC15 box. This is a much smaller waterproof case but still has room to house the battery and charge controller. You need to be careful in choosing the position for the cable gland.
  3. I now use a single cable gland to take all the wiring bundled together. It needs to be larger than the PG7 specified above. I use PG11 cable glands. To avoid water ingress I wrap the bundled cables with Nescofilm or parafilm before tightening it closed. There are probably better ways to achieve this.
  4. I now use a very short cable from the solar panel to the battery box and a 5m power cable to the camera. I zip-tie the solar panel loosely to the handle of the battery box which keeps it in place. There is now only one trailing cable to coil up and it’s rare I cannot find a sky-exposed location within 5 metres of the camera.

Small but perfectly formed

These work very well and power three different Browning trailcams includinghe new Recon Force Edge which has the useful ability to be set on a timer e.g. to only run from 8pm to 7am.

  1. Take care if buying through eBay as there are some crooks resellers there who hike identical kit prices by 50%.
  2. I’ll post more details on optimal solar panel orientation when I discuss my shed lighting sometime in the future.

18 thoughts on “Solar powered trail camera

  1. Mike Williams

    Hi. Browning seem to suggest that their connectors have some sort of special mechanism to lock the plug in place. You seem to have just used a standard plug. No problems? Thanks for the ideas about the solar set-up.

    1. David Post author

      Hi Mike

      I’ve only ever used plain vanilla 2.1mm x 5.5mm male plugs on leads bought for about £2 each from eBay – like these (the last type I purchased). The only issue I’ve had is the diameter of the plastic moulding around the metalwork. Sometimes they need to be trimmed back slightly to fit into the recess in the trailcam shell. Other than that, no issues at all. They’re running 24/7 on the (currently very wet) west coast of Scotland. In one case I’m running two off a single battery, taking 20+ videos a night. 5 metre leads give you a bit more flexibility in siting the camera and the solar panel.

      I’ve seen the wording Browning use about a “twist-lock plug” … all irrelevant. The hole through the trailcam shell is wider than it is high. I bet their plug has a similar shaped flange of some sort. After inserting it, if turned 90 degrees it will lock it in place. Unless you’re going to be filming dextrous and inquisitive monkeys you should be OK. Nothing I can think of in the UK has the dexterity to take the plug out and I’ve never had one become dislodged.

      More protectionism I’m afraid 🙁


  2. Mike Williams

    Hi David
    That’s brilliant and I suspected as much. Thank you so much for the quick response. I think I’ll give it a try! Hope it dries up a bit for you soon.
    All the best

  3. Vivienne

    Hi, love the setup, might look into making a solar powered setup too. My only question is have you noticed any difference in trigger speed/flash power compared to lithiums? I know lithiums are usually recommended as they keep a high voltage but was wondering if there was a significant difference when solar powered.

    1. David Post author


      I’m not aware of a difference though I’ve not tested it rigorously. At most my cameras take 30-40 x 20 second videos a night (usually when there are lots of mice about!) and this seems to have little or no impact on the remaining charge in the battery. The charge controller I use has a strip of 4 LEDs which indicate the charge level of the battery. I don’t think I’ve ever seen them drop below 2 and, frankly, have stopped bothering to check.

      I think there’s more difference between the cameras attached than between solar/lead acid or lithiums.

      As I note at the end … I’ve yet to run the box with the 5W panel through a winter so will update the page when I know it’s sufficient.


  4. Mike Williams

    Hi David

    Finally got around to completing my setup, carefully following your advice. Really pleased with how it turned out. Now to see what the results are like!

    Was up in Scotland a few weeks back but never quite made it to your neck of the woods. Next time, maybe!

    Cheers, Mike

    1. David Post author

      Excellent … good to know it worked. I’ve got several running 24/7 and, even in semi-shade, they’ve been very successful. The 5W panels do need more sun.

      The next mini-project is a ground spike with a tripod bush to mount the camera, rather than having a convenient tree. The majority of false triggering comes from the tree moving in my experience.

      Hope you get some good photos/videos.


  5. graham russell

    Hi I going to try and make one myself seems quite easy to do the only question I have is when I connect the trail camera lead to the camera where does the female end connect to sorry to seem a bit stupid but does it connect to the solar control panel ?

    1. David Post author

      Hello Graham

      The camera is attached to the ‘load’ connectors on the charge controller. If you look at the photo above there are 6 screw terminals – the two on the left go to the panel, the middle two to the battery and the pair on the right to the camera. If you purchase the solar panel kit I recommend it comes with easy instructions.


  6. graeme

    You have re kindled my thoughts. And I am finally getting round to solar powering my trail cameras.
    But what fuse size do you use to protect the camera. I suppose a quick blow but how many mA’s.

    1. David Post author

      Hello Graeme

      None of the ones I’ve built have a fuse to the camera and I’ve had no problems with any of them. It would probably be wise, but I’ve simply not got round to doing it. I do use the fuse supplied with the panel and charge controller on the positive line from the charge controller to the battery. I don’t know the amperage of this fuse but have recently bought some 3A blade fuses to replace them.

      My cameras are now all working 24/7 on solar charged batteries and I’m very pleased with them. I suspect that the 10W panels are probably more suitable once the day length shortens and for the level of usage my cameras get. The 5W panel is fine over the summer but we’ll see how they do over this winter.


      1. graeme

        Built my Solar charger, basically the same as yours.

        But I went for a bigger battery 12Ahr Lucas, mainly so the width of the battery was the same as the ammo box.

        The solar panel kit bought from ebay was a 20w with a 30A controller. However the one supplied only had a 10A controller. Perfectly OK though, but I got £5 refunded on price.

        I put an inline fuse to the camera and used a 200mA quick blow fuse. I do not want to burn out a £250 camera.

        Bit of a learning curve.
        1 – Solar panels (cheap ones) do not work under kitchen lights. Only gives out 2 volts despite the inbuilt led, saying all healthy.
        2 – Solar panels are not effective under dull clouds. Only gives out 5 volts.

        This should now save me a lot of money, if nobody steals it. I know it might be a silling but is there a camouflaged solar panel, as white surround is conspicious. Maybe brown sticky insulation tape. Could put in a tree now, but no good when leaves on the tree? Any thoughts or ideas.


        1. David Post author

          Hi Graeme

          Mine are on private property or very remote so I’ve not bothered making them inconspicuous. It’s the aluminium frame that catches the light. If you search YouTube there are some videos of people camouflaging cameras and panels using spray paint. I’d carefully mask the panel using cardboard and tape, then spray the edges with something like this Halfords paint.

          The small panels I’ve got could easily be mounted on a lightweight bracket and fitted in a tree, but shading would be an issue. I rely on a long wire to the camera and leave the panel and battery box somewhere with a good view of the sky.

          My current update is to design and build a ground spike with a suitable tripod bush mount to allow me to site the camera without having to rely on trees … watch this space.


  7. Paul G

    I’ve been using the 5W solar panel and 7AH lead acid battery recommended above for a few months now to power my Browning Recon Force Edge in the North East of Scotland. It was working great but now that the shorter days are here it struggled to provide enough charge during the day and the battery ended up discharged. I’ve charged the battery from a mains charger and now added a second 5W solar panel to give me 10W. I’d recommend a 10W system to anyone planning to use it during the winter.

    1. David Post author

      Hi Paul

      I’m also struggling with mine after three weeks of rain (admittedly coupled with a lot of wildlife activity). I’ll check my 10W panel system this week and see how it’s coping.

      Thanks for the update.

  8. Dave Fowler

    Have you any thoughts on or had any experience of providing options for 6V & 9V from a 12V battery using step down Buck converters attached to the solar controller load output within the ammo box configuration.
    Thinking this would add a bit of versatility to the power pack.
    Look forward to your thoughts on the matter.

    1. David Post author

      Hi Dave

      I’ve not looked specifically at this as all my cameras are 12V. However, I have a solar powered shed which has 12V leisure battery (110Ah) providing LED lighting etc. One of the things I’ve been exploring is running a Raspberry Pi-based weather station and temperature monitor off the same battery. This led me to explore efficient buck-converter type 5V outputs as many of the good-looking (but, it turns out, woefully inefficient) ones are designed for car or boat usage where the battery will regularly be getting fully charged. I discovered this post by Arik Yavilevich on “Efficient DC 12V to 5V conversion for low-power electronics”. The difference in efficiency is very marked, with some modules being only 30-50% efficient, in comparison to the best which exceed 80%. I’ve bought a couple of these but have yet to test them.

      Not quite what you asked about I’m afraid … but it’s as close as my thoughts have got so far.

      My cameras have been working well all winter with only the partially shaded ones running on 5W panels needing one boost charge during the four weeks spanning the winter solstice.


      1. Dave Fowler

        Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I as ever am probably looking to do more than necessary, but plan to look further into things.
        The issue of efficiency and reliability of some of the cheaper Buck converters is becoming more apparent as I look further into possibilities.
        I might just stay with the 6V battery for now which is what my Apeman camera input is.
        Will let you know if I have any success with my initial thoughts on a “system”.


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