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AGM Battery and DCDC Charger with MPPT Controller Review
Off-grid power is an important component of overland travel.
We all started somewhere, and that somewhere probably involved hauling bags of ice, a mediocre cooler, and carrying several dozen spare AA batteries in a ziplock bag (…” which of these are the good ones?”). And then you saw it — either at your campsite or on the Internet — you saw someone who pulled out their electric fridge, popped an ice-cold beverage, flipped a switch for some extra lighting, and voila.
Now here you are… ready to join the big leagues by incorporating an auxiliary electrical system into your vehicle to power your fridge, electronics, camp kitchen, or whatever. The world of 12V in-vehicle power is complex and a little intimidating, so buckle up, grab that ice-cold beverage, and let’s dig into how we solved our electrical woes with the help of KickAss Products USA.
I started with a different battery setup to power my fridge, but it was not a good fit for our travels. After only a few weeks of use, we knew we were in the market to do something else. I felt like I’d failed in my previous research, so we took extra time to evaluate the market and options before starting this build.
There are lots of options in most overland equipment, but the market for electrical systems is far narrower, with a few brands like Redarc and Renogy dominating the US market. In our research, we stumbled upon a variety of Australia-based brands that produced nice solutions, but most of those are not yet available in the US market.
Australia is home to some of the harshest overland climate and terrain, so buying an Aussie-origin product suggests it will hold up to the abuse of use within the United States. Until recently, Redarc was the primary Australian-born 12V electrical control products coming into the USA, but KickAss is changing that dynamic. Dubbed as “Outback-proof gear”, KickAss has opened distributorship in the USA for a selection of the products they offer. In Australia, the products are distributed through Australian Direct, and a browse of their website excites me for the products that they may soon start to market and distribute in the US.
Being relatively unfamiliar with the brand, I went to work researching who they are and their reputation. The company was founded by an Aussie named Klaeton Sheehan — watch a few of the KickAss YouTube videos and you’ll stumble upon his charismatic videos explaining the products they offer. Not only are the videos instructive, but the accents will have you walking around saying “Crikey”! Anyway, in the course of my research, it became clear that KickAss has a solid reputation and following, with offerings at a very reasonable price point.
A Quick Primer in Off-Road Power
I am by no means an expert in off-road auxiliary power setups, but I’ve done my fair share of research and will do my best to distill this into a quick summary of the components needed:
This is pretty self-explanatory. We all understand the concept of needing a battery to power something, so this isn’t the part that normally trips anyone up. Before we move on to how we put electricity into that battery and pull electricity out of it, we should quickly mention that there are several types of batteries on the market. The most common are AGM (absorbed glass mat) and lithium, though there are additional types (like gel). There are others out there who have done a better job than I could explain the pros and cons of the various types, but here are the main takeaways between AGM and lithium.
The technology in lithium is newer, so they cost more. They also weigh dramatically less than AGM. And, unlike AGM, they can be fully discharged to 0% without permanently damaging the battery. So a 100ah battery gives you a true 100ah of power. AGM on the other hand is time-tested and proven technology and is usually much cheaper. They are very dependable batteries, but weigh more and cannot be fully depleted without damaging the battery. As a crude rule, you generally don’t want to deplete an AGM battery more than halfway - so a 100ah lithium battery in theory has twice as much capacity as a 100ah AGM battery. However, the cost usually means you can still buy an AGM battery with twice the capacity of lithium for less.