Boondocking For Newbies Part II -> Prepping Your RV
If you’ve read the first part of this series you’ll already have decided on a place to go and scouted out some potential campsites on Google Satellite. So, now we’re actually going to prep your RV for the trip.
The main thing to understand when you boondock is that you live entirely “off-grid” which means that whatever you bring with you in the RV is what you’ve got to live on! You need to have your RV (and yourselves) ready for that, plus once you get to your site you need to be able to monitor and conserve what you have to make it last. One of the biggest barriers that newbies go through is understanding RV battery and electrical systems. I won’t go through ALL the details of RV electrical (that could take 10,000 more words), but I’ll cover the basics here. Also, I’ll go through some basic prep work for other stuff too.
So here we go with Part II -> Prepping Your RV
Tank & Fuel Prep
Obviously the first thing to prep before you go into the boonies are your various RV tanks. Very simply the ones that should be empty should be emptied and the ones that should be full should be filled:
- Water tank full -> This will be what you’ll use for washing, flushing and drinking. Make sure you’ve filled it up to the brim. We also always carry a few extra empty jugs of water (we recently switched to two of these BPA-Free 6 Gallon containers), so we can get more water if needed on the road.
- Black/Grey tanks empty -> These are the tanks that you will be filling up as you do your various businesses. Make sure they are completely empty.
- Gas/Diesel tank at least 1/2 full -> Having gas in your rig ensures you can run your on-board generator (if you have one) and/or move a significant distance if you need to (e.g. to get away from weather or a natural disaster).
- Propane tank ready -> If your rig uses a propane refrigerator, range and/or furnace make sure you have enough propane for that. Propane lasts a reaaaaly long time if you’re just cooking and running the fridge with it, but the furnace can suck it away pretty fast. If your rig uses portable propane tanks, fill those up before you go, and if you’re planning on using your portable grill in the boonies bring propane/fuel for that too.
- Generator fuel -> If you’re bringing a portable generator make sure it’s filled and you have some extra fuel ready to supplement it.
Battery & Battery Monitor Prep
Most modern RVs come with house batteries (at least 1-2) and when you go boondocking they are you primary source of power. The types of batteries used are typically deep-cycle 12V lead-acid batteries which are designed to be drained and charged quite heavily many times over. Obviously you want to start your boondocking experience with fully charged house batteries (for example, a night hooked-up at an RV park will do that nicely). Then, once you get to your site you’ll need some way to monitor how your batteries are doing so that you don’t drain them too deep and kill them. So, some kind of battery monitor is essential too.
The typical rule of thumb with deep-cycle batteries is to drain them no more than 50%. You can definitely go lower, but you start to impact the overall life-cycle of your batteries so most folks stick with the 50% number. The way you tell how full (or drained) they are is by their “at rest” voltage. For most deep-cycle batteries around 12.7V is considered “fully charged” while around 12.1V is “50% discharged”. Ideally the way you’re supposed to measure this is to disconnect your batteries and let them sit around & “rest” for a few hours before taking a reading, but I rarely have time for that. In practice I find that just turning off as much as I can inside the RV (lights, fans, appliances etc. all off) and/or hitting the battery disconnect and waiting a few minutes before I go out to measure will get me close enough.
If you have a big Class A there will usually be some kind of monitor already included in your rig, but often times they are very crude (e.g. just some lights) so it’s really better to have a back-up. I suggest either a voltmeter or a battery monitor.
- Voltmeter-> If you’re just starting out and don’t really know if you’re going to get into this whole boondocking thing then a good-quality Digital Voltmeter or Multimeter will do the job. It’s not perfect (a hydrometer is technically more accurate), but it’s easy to use on all types of batteries and good enough for starters.
- Battery Monitor -> If you’re a geek and plan to boondock extensively then a good-quality battery monitor is IMHO essential. This will tell you the state of your batteries as well as exactly what is going in and out of them in real time. We have the Xantrex LinkLite, but Tri-Metric also make awesome monitors, as do other guys.
If you’ve never boondocked before I suggest playing around with your batteries before you get out into the boonies. Unhook you RV, practice measuring the voltages and living “off grid” so that you get a feel for how quickly your batteries drain. If you have a battery monitor turn stuff on and off inside your rig to see how much each piece draws from your batteries. Learn how to check battery water levels (if you have regular flooded lead-acid) and how to clean your battery terminals. Getting familiar with your batteries is essential for boondocking.
Once those batteries hit 50% discharge you either need to leave your boondocking site or have some way to charge them back up again. That leads to my next piece of prep.
Generator Or Solar Or Nothing??
Probably one of the biggest questions newbies ask is “do I need solar?” or “do I need a generator?”. Well, the main answer is that in all likelihood you need something. Your house batteries can only last so long before they hit that 50% level and need to be re-charged. If you have a small rig (e.g. travel trailer) with minimal draw and you are very power conscious (i.e. you only use a few lights at night, don’t use any electronics at all) you can probably last multiple days before your batteries draw too low. However if you have a big rig and want to run all your lights and electronics (computers, TV etc.) your batteries won’t last more than a day before needing to be recharged. Motorhomes with electric-only fridges and electric ranges suck even more power, and usually need twice/day battery recharging.
So, having some way to recharge your batteries will greatly extend your boondocking time.
The two main ways to recharge batteries are with generators and/or solar power:
- Generator ->
A generator is an easy, basic way to recharge batteries as well as fire up/run the AC stuff in your rig. Big Class A’s often have built-in generators but otherwise portable generators are an excellent alternative. The cheapest ones are the “industrial-type” and they will definitely work, but are bulky and really, really LOUD, so if you want to keep your (and your boondocking neighbors) sanity I suggest buying a quieter version (e.g. the Honda EU2000i is a popular RV choice). Be sure to buy a size big enough to power your most-needed stuff** and remember to fill-up the generator with gas before you go (bring some extra gas as back-up). You’ll typically need to run the generator a few hours a day to refill your batteries. Even if you decide to get solar down the line, having a generator as back-up (for cloudy days, treed sites etc.) is really handy.
- Solar Panels ->
Solar panels are awesome for boondocking, but they’re also a big $$ investment. In order to recharge your batteries you need quite a bit of power so those little rinky dink 50 watt panels that you see on Amazon won’t do it. A very general, loose rule of thumb is that you need around 100 watts of solar for every 100 amp hours of battery in your rig. So, if you have 400 amp hours of batteries you need at least 400 watts or solar. More is always better since solar days are shorter in winter and power generation reduces a lot on cloudy days. We have 600 watts on our roof and that serves us nicely, but we have buddies (like our current neighbors) who run 1400 watts. If you wanted to try out solar you could start off with a few hundred watts and go from there, but it’s still an investment since you need wiring, a solar charge controller, monitors etc. So, unless you’re absolutely certain that boondocking will be a significant part of your future, starting off with a generator may make more sense. We boondocked on our generator for a year before we invested in solar. We still use our generator on rare occasion (when it’s cloudy multiple days, or we’re boondocked in trees/shade), but our solar does most of the heavy lifting now.
**To figure out how much power (and thus how big a generator) your various items might need, look at their wattage rating which is usually listed on the back, on the power brick or in the user manual. It’s not exact and your stuff doesn’t constantly pull that much (usually it’s a max limit), but it’s a decent, rough guide. As an example Paul’s computer uses 90 watts, my computer uses 200 watts, while our microwave uses 850 watts and our electric heater sucks up to 1500 watts. That heater is a big sucker! If you want to run multiple things together you need to add their wattage together, plus you want to give yourself a bit of padding too (e.g. for start up surges and such).
RV Solar Part I -The Discovery Process
RV Solar Part II – The Equipment
RV Solar Part III – The Installation
RV Solar Part IV – Panel Tilting & Winter Solar Optimization
Inverter Or Nothing?
Your RV house batteries only put out 12V DC, so the thing you need to understand about this is that they’ll only power the things hooked up to 12V DC in your rig. This means (usually) your interior lights, your water pump, fans, furnace and whatever 12V outlets you have in your rig. Your AC outlets & stuff that plugs into those AC outlets (e.g. computers, vacuums, hair dryers, TV, satellite etc.) will NOT work unless you either:
- Run a generator (which is kind of like “plugging in” your RV) OR
- You’re able to plug these items into a 12V socket OR
- The outlets/items are connected to an inverter that is able to transform your battery DC current into 110/120V AC current.
So, if you want to use your AC stuff without firing up your generator every time, then you need to prepare for this.
For small things like phones, ipads etc. that use USB cables to charge you can get a cheap $10 12V Car Charger (we have 3 of these) that will plug directly into any 12V outlet and provide ready-to-use USB outlets. For medium-sized electronics (e.g. computers, TV etc.) you can get a medium-sized 300 watt Inverter and for big stuff (microwave etc.) you can buy larger 2000 watt Inverters*** that will power the bigger stuff in your rig. If you have big Class A an inverter will usually come pre-installed in your rig (typically as an integrated inverter/charger). If you have a 5th wheel or smaller rig you may not have an inverter and you’ll need to decide if you want to buy one.
For the complete newbie just starting out I suggest buying a few of the cheap $10 phone/pad chargers and try running with that for your first outing to see if you like boondocking. Just be aware that you won’t be able to use your other AC plug-type electronics without running a generator OR installing an inverter. This is another case where disconnecting your RV and playing around with it before you go into the boonies will teach you alot.
***If you decide to go for a bigger inverter you’ll need to get into electrical stuff in more detail. For example initial power draws and wire size/length become really important. Running BIG power-sucking stuff off your deep-cycle batteries for more than short periods of time gets tricky and is not really practical in the long run. So, for newbies plan to run smaller stuff off your RV batteries and use your generator for the bigger stuff (as needed). Also as you become a boondocking expert, you can look for niftier solutions (e.g. installing 12V TV’s that don’t need an inverter, or installing dense lithium batteries that can handle long, big draws), but that’s stuff to look at down the line.
Electrical Conservation Prep
Even if you have lots of batteries and solar power it’s always nice to plan for some electrical conservation. If you have a battery monitor installed you can click stuff on and off to see how much each piece uses and either find alternatives or plan not to use them. Air conditioners, for example, use a crazy amount of electricity and are not really practical to run while boondocking unless you plan to run a big generator all day. Likewise electric heaters suck an insane amount of electricity and are not practical either. You could just do without (and for your first time that’s totally acceptable), or you could make a few, key replacements.
- Lights -> Incandescent lights don’t draw a ton of energy, but they are a draw especially if you have a lot of them on all night. LED lights draw ~1/10 the electricity and are a really nice boondocking upgrade. If you’re just starting out replacing a few of your most-used lights with LED is a nifty power-saver.
- Heating -> Instead of an electric heater bring along extra blankets and extra clothing layers or buy a portable propane-powered heater.
- Cooking -> Instead of using your convection/microwave oven (which is a big sucker and requires a generator or big inverter) plan to cook stuff on your propane stove or a portable grill.
- Coffee -> Instead of an electric coffee pot (which requires a generator or inverter) consider a Stovetop Espresso Maker, French Press, an Aeropress Makeror a Manual Drip Filter.
NOTE/ NONE of these upgrades are essential for the first time out, but they’re a nice to have.
Boondocking Made Easy -> LED Lights
Temp and Weather prep
You need to think about weather before you go boondocking. Check the extended 10-day forecast for rain and extreme temps in the area you plan to be. Remember that temps at 1,000 feet elevation are not the same as temps at 8,000 feet elevation so take that into account when you pick your spot (Part I). Also a lot of ground, especially in the desert and forest gets soft and dangerously sticky in rain. Trust me, you do **not** want to be driving a big rig across dirt roads in those conditions.
Extreme temps will also make your boondocking experience uncomfortable. RV’s roast in hot temps and running the air conditioning all day on a generator is impractical. In cold temps you’ll chill really fast and your batteries start to lose their capacity (which means less usable power -> we found all this out the hard way a few years back when we boondocked in the Sierras in November) so that’s not great either. Also, running run your RV furnace all day will suck down batteries and propane. So, extreme temps in the boonies are just not fun.
Moderate temp swings and the occasional flutter of rain are fine. If it’s chilly we use our Mr. Buddy Propane Heater, if it’s warm we run our Fan-tastic Roof Vent, if it rains we stay put until the ground hardens back up enough to move. As you become more experienced with boondocking you may actively seek out more extreme temps (snow boondocking anyone?), but as a newbie it’s preferable to have good, dry, moderate weather for your first experience.
Lessons in Cold-Weather Dry-Camping = Our Sierra Nevada Week-end
Food & Cooking Prep
It’s nice to get to your boondocking site with enough food to last for a week or so. This will allow you to luxury to hang out at your site (if you so wish) without the need to think about shopping. Some folks will prepare ready-made meals which can just be re-heated once you’re at your site, but I’ve never seen any reason to do this. If your rig has a kitchen and/or you carry an outdoor grill you can make everything in the boonies that you make at “home”, so make cooking part of the experience!
Just be aware of power usages. Microwaves and electric cookers are energy suckers (and require a generator or big inverters to work) so either plan to use your propane cooktop or outdoor grill or have your inverter/generator ready if you’re making a lot of stuff off electricity.
As for groceries, if I’m able to do so beforehand I will sometimes try to re-pack some of my groceries (so that I get rid of excess garbage), but if not I just deal with it on-site. Even veggie washing can be done on-site with minimal waste if you capture the water and re-use it (e.g. for cleaning & toilet flushing).
This is true of any RV trip, but even more so if you’re going down a bumpy road. Make sure your surfaces are cleared of anything that can slide/crash/break, your drawers are closed, and your storage bins are locked. We put most of our stuff in drawers or securely on our couch.
I do have some table-top ornaments which are secured with Quake-Hold/Museum Putty, and picture frames on the walls secured with 3M Command Strips. Both have held for years of boondocking with no issues.
Easy RV Mod -> Decorating With Museum Putty & Command Strips
RV Leveling & Safety Prep
Very few boondocking sites are perfectly level, hard surfaces so we carry some extra items around which I consider pretty important.
- Leveling Blocks -> I like to have a level RV (our fridge prefers to be level too) and our jacks can only level so far, so we have 4 packs of Lynx Leveling Blocks which we use almost everywhere we go. We’ve had these for 5 years and they’re still going strong. Great for any type of rig.
- Jack Pads -> For a big rig I really recommend jack packs to prevent your jacks sinking in the ground. Even if the ground seems pretty firm, the jacks carry alot of weight on a small area, so having something to spread it out really helps. We use 8 pieces of pressure-treated 4×6 blocks of wood for this.
- Wood Planks -> A few wood planks can really help if your RV wheels get stuck**** in softer ground and need something firm for the tread to grip onto. They can be used for levelling too.
- Air Compressor -> By NO MEANS essential, but nice to have. If you’re ever in a situation where you need to let air out of your RV tires to get unstuck, then having a Portable Air Compressor (the linked one is 120V, but there are also 12V versions) to air back up afterwards is a really handy. Good site selection should prevent this ever being necessary, but it’s nice to have anyway. Also sometimes RV tires just lose a bit of air (especially with big temp swings) so it’s nice to have the option to air up without having to find a gas station.
****Note/ For those folks with big rig roadside assistance be aware that your policy likely only covers you “100 feet off of a maintained road”. So, you may not be able to rely on them to get you out of a stuck area if you go deeper into the boonies.
Supporting & Leveling The RV:
Our Top 5 Essential Boondocking Items
That’s honestly all I can think of for the “critical” stuff. There’s lots of obvious extra items you can bring into the boonies such as flashlights, outdoor chairs, glamping stuff, extra clothing etc. but don’t go too crazy your first time. My main prep advice is just to get your tanks ready, learn and know how to monitor and use your RV batteries (very important) and plan for good weather. Now you’re ready to go to the next boondocking step and actually take your rig into the wilds!! Coming soon….
CLICK HERE FOR PART III – GETTING YOUR RV INTO THE SITESPONSORED LINK:
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We LOooVE Comments, So Please Do
Karen Myer says
Thanks for the info, it will be very helpful when we start boondocking next year. We are in the “should we buy solar panels” stage right now. There is a lot to think about and research. I do have one question that I haven’t seen answered anywhere. When you are boondocking, how do you handle a few weeks worth of trash? I can’t imagine leaving it all inside, but I can’t see leaving it outside where the critters can find it either.
I’ll cover that in a future post, but basically we have an outdoor collapsible bin that we use. If we’re in an area with little to no wildlife (e.g. very dry desert) we’ll just leave that outside, but if not we’ll put it in one of our downstairs bins or in the car. We bag our daily trash securely and put it in there until we can make our way to a trash bin.
Rick Morgan says
Another great post… I might even try that Boondocking thing
I think you might be trying it right now 🙂
Pat & Bill Richards says
Another great post of information, thank you! My husband is soaking this all up and we are very happy to have this to refer to when we go full-time in 2016. We are hoping to do a fair bit of boon docking so this is wonderful of you to do this!
Soak away…hope it all makes sense 🙂
Travel with Kevin and Ruth says
Great article, only one comment I wanted to add.
The amount of solar panel wattage that you can get by with varies immensely. Your neighbor seems to “need” 1,400 watts. You guys have 600 watts and that serves you nicely. We are totally happy with our 240 watts, and we don’t even have them on tilt brackets. So everybody is totally different with regards to what makes them happy. We know people who do a lot of dry camping with only a single 80 watt panel and do just fine.
Very true. There’s a whole separate blog post here about figuring out solar power needs, which I didn’t really get into. Our neighbors are an all-electric coach (no propane at all) and need to be online working all day for their living, so their needs run high. We have propane fridge, propane oven and propane cooktop, but our big rig has a 4amp phantom power draw and we also need to be online most of the day. For our rig, an 80 watt panel wouldn’t even cover our phantom draw, and that’s with no extra use at all! I also have a van dweller friend (= almost zero phantom draw), who has 500 watts on his roof which just about satisfies his needs as a fulltime worker on the road, but even he runs short after multiple cloudy days. Folks with smaller rigs and and/or very low energy needs can run with much less, but those with bigger rigs and/or higher needs require much more.
So yes, everyone has different needs, and figuring out those needs is important for sizing your solar system.
Well.. we don’t actually “need” 1400w.. but it sure is nice to be abundant. We only have 800w on the roof however – which is designed to get us through with conservation with our all electric setup. The remaining 600w is a ground deploy system, that only comes out when parked for a while.
Like Nina says, it gives us the ability keep on working even on cloudier days, and do things like host outdoor movie nights with the projector, run the electric ice maker, bake a cheesecake and other fun stuff when the electrons are flowing 🙂
We actually did a full energy audit, and documented the process to help folks figure out what they actually need: http://www.technomadia.com/2014/12/solar-planning-conducting-an-rv-electrical-consumption-audit/
Because you’re right, it’s completely different for everyone and their needs and desires.
As you suggest, my first boon docking experience with a rig is in a campground with hookups, just not hooked up. Then I can safely evaluate my usage of water, waste, and battery, with the backup of campground facilities if needed. Thanks for the post.
Exactly! I think that’s the perfect way to start. Take a few days in a campground then just unhook and test things out. It’s a great way to learn all the systems before going into the boonies.
Good advice! easy to understand why it is hard to pull the plug, get bumping and covered with mud! Went skiing last weekend, the resort had a flat corner of the parking lot where they accomodated us three RVs. Its fun to discover what you don’t need. The neighbor only turned on the gen to hot wax everyones skis.
Using the generator to hot wax skis. That’s a new one for me LOL. Love it!
Thank you for this series about boondocking. We are JUST ABOUT to do so, for the FIRST time. We would have really screwed up without all of your know-how. In fact, we are in a holding pattern until we figure out just how much we don’t know. Thank you, thank you, thank you. It’s like you knew what we were about to do and saved us from ourselves!
Well, I’m glad my posts are helping you along. Of course one thing is a surety…there’s always something you don’t know, even for us LOL. Most of this stuff will become second nature after a few boondocks.
This is a great series (as are all your posts). Thank you so much for taking the time to write them. Each one is a treasure that I look forward to.
At the risk of sounding cranky (moi?), I would like to mention that the drone of a generator carries a loooong way, especially in a (formerly) quiet boondock location. Even the so-called “quiet” generators (Honda, Yamaha, etc.) have a drone that carries a long distance. I never like to listen to them, but it’s particularly bothersome after having gone to the trouble to get out to a distant boondock (plus I’m probably conserving mightily (and or have gone to the expense to add solar) so as not to have to disturb others with *my* generator noise.
I realize that people are not going to stop using generators just for me, but I’d just like boondockers to be aware that they are not a “no impact” option. With all the hype of the “quiet” generators, I have gotten the feeling (not from you specifically) that some folks might assume they can’t be heard by anyone else. But they are audible from a long distance. Even more annoying is when people start them up and then go off on a hike, leaving the “neighborhood” to listen to them. Grrrr.
If one does have to run one, I think it would be considerate not to do it early in the morning, or during “the golden hour” (evening), when it’s especially nice to sit outside and enjoy the wildlife, the tranquility of evening/sunset, etc. Those things are no longer an option when generator(s) are running.
Thanks for letting me “sound off” on this. And thank you again for your fantastic blog posts!
Oh dear, I see that my comment has a bunch of extra gobbeldygook/redundancy. UGH!! I could only see a small part of it in a window and therefore messed it up. Sorry to anyone trying to read it!
I think from now on I’ll type any reply in a separate window and then copy/paste it into the comment box. Geez.
(Feel free to edit – I don’t think I can).
Being considerate about generator noise is something I consider absolutely key. We’ve always considered our neighbors when we’ve run ours, and before we had solar we’d try to stick to non-intrusive hours. I’ve written a whole separate post about boondocking etiquette which covers much of this:
I could tell you were one of the considerate ones (and I can also tell you appreciate a quiet/nature-ful boondock). Thanks for making folks aware of boondocking etiquette. You rock!
And bringing up the topic again is a good thing. You can never talk about boondocking etiquette too many times 🙂 So thanks for that.
Barb L says
Like many others we weren’t sure if we would like boondocking enough to justify the cost of solar, so we started a special savings account for that purpose. For each night we boondocked we banked $10. So far we have paid for our 200 watt system that way, using components sourced primarily through Amazon.
What a great way to save up for a solar system. I love it!
Another great post with fantastic subject matter. We have done our share of boondocking and I have a question, we have cranked our main engine to recharge our batteries(we have 6) We have found that our 200amp alternator replenish our charging needs very fast compared to our generater. Is this wronge? Our gen is 10k. Thanks for the blog always!
What your doing is not really ideal. The engine alternator does deliver charge to your batteries and is fine for topping off *but* it’s not really meant as a regular charging option. To be properly charged Deep cycle RV batteries require 3-stage charging (bulk, absorption, float). Alternators are typically “dumb” chargers (one voltage only) and don’t have the ability to do this, so they can’t properly charge your batteries the way they require. Also using the alternator to charge a deeply discharged battery puts a lot of excess load on it which can cause it to overheat and (eventually) fail. It’s just not a great option on a regular basis.
Here’s another link for you:
The alternator can lend a hand in ‘maintaining’ the RV house batteries, but should never be considered capable of charging those house batteries or running a heavy electrical load.
Nina,I’ve read your blog many Years and have found a lot of information about boondocking.
This Week I stay in Borrego Springs. This is one of the best place I ever seen
As usual, my short aerial video .
WONDERFUL video Alex! I love the Drone flight.
Rick and Dawn says
Great post. As a matter of fact we just bought the Mr. Heater Buddy today to try it out after reading one of your prior posts. We boon docked last winter for about 2 months in Arizona after installing an additional 2 solar panels and totally enjoyed it. Our old Inverter fried on us last fall and we replaced it with the Magnum ME2012. After reading another one of your posts, wish we would have known about Modified Sine vs Pure Sine before we bought it.
Thanks again for oodles of information.
Rick and Dawn
Sounds like you guys are already well on your way to becoming seasoned boondockers. Our Mr.buddy heater has served us well over the years. Just remember to crack a window (have air flow) when you use it. Good boondocking to you!
I was always busting the plastic blocks and wooden planks with my fifth wheel, so I finally bit the bullet and bought a $35 4×6′ rubber horse stall mat. Used a jigsaw to carve it into 16 pieces of various lengths that can be stacked to form long ramps up to 6″ high. Will last forever!
Sweet mod. Nicely done.
Wow, Nina. Another fabulous post filled with essential and easy-to-access info. We’re set up for boondocking with solar (only 100 watts, might increase it), all LED lights, and the smallest Honda generator. I’m going to check out the propane heater you recommended. As you said, using heat is a huge energy sucker and will drain the batteries in no time.
Although we don’t do the way-off-the-beaten path kind of boondocking that you guys do, we spend a fair amount of time in Forest Service, BLM, and State and National Park campgrounds that don’t have electric or water hookups. We’ve been super comfortable with this setup for years (first in our Bigfoot TT, now in our Arctic Fox TT). Our lifestyle really doesn’t change much when we’re without hookups, except that I don’t get to take long showers. 🙂
Oh, and we run our generator for an hour or so just to bolster our batteries if needed. The microwave is a non-issue because we don’t cook with it anyway, and I time my showers so that I can use my hairdryer when the generator is running. No matter what, though, we never run the generator in the early morning, during the golden hour, or after 9:00 at night! I agree with everything Luna said about being conscious when using generators.
Great tips and feedback. Thanks for sharing. And yes, if it were me I’d increase the solar, but then again I’m of the mind you can rarely have too much solar 🙂
Regarding the heater, since you have a much smaller rig than us, you’ll probably be fine with the Smaller Mr.Buddy. Another option, which many people rave about are the Olympian Wave Catalytic Heaters. We’ve thought about upgrading to one of these for years since they are more efficient (and less smelly) than the Mr.Buddy’s, but we’ve just never made the switch.
You’re the best!! Thanks so much for the tip about the Olympian heater. We’ll check those out. You are incredibly generous with your time and knowledge, Nina.
Aaron jones says
This was perfect timing for us. We just got our 2 week trip to Colorado in June firmed up with 4 days dry camping in Rocky Mountain NP. (Moraine Campground)
I was just full of questions about every subject that you just covered. Now I know just what we need to take care of before the trip…electrical usage and batteries especially! Thank you again for sharing all your knowledge.
AJ and Beth
Excellent. You’ll have plenty of time to practice before you go. Hope you have an awesome trip!
Great post, Nina. Thanks for all the good information. We were just talking about all this today, trying to figure out what we would need to dip our toes into boondocking. By the way, did you sell your inverter yet?
Nope, we didn’t sell the old inverter yet and we’re still carrying it around. I was going to list it online, but just never got around to it. Interested?
Jodee Gravel says
Great, helpful information all in one spot – love it! Did not know that about why starting the rig to charge house batteries was not a good idea…..very easy to understand now. Thanks again.
Glad to have helped. I think using the alternator is fine every now and then, but it just shouldn’t be the main way to recharge your batteries. It’s just not meant for that.
Dan Bickham says
Can’t wait to do some more. Did 4 days at Mission 66 in Wyoming.not a problem.
Awesome! You’re on the way to becoming a seasoned boondocker.
Very useful information all around; thanks! Some may find this link helpful in defining their “solar needs”:
Yup that’s a great link and one I include in my linked “solar” series. AM Solar offer great learning resources.
We had the Olympian Catalytic heater and hated it we never felt warm with it at all….we got rid of it and then bought a one ceramic brick heater by Empire and love it.
A really informative article…
Interesting Jil. You’re one of the few negative reviews I’ve heard of the Wave. Thanks for adding your opinion though. It’s always good to have more input for these kinds of decisions.
When we first started RV’ing there were two camps…one who loved the wave and others who hated it…nothing in-between….…we found the Wave only warmed up objects…I believe it is radiant heat which we did not like…
Nina, Thanks for this post.
I notice you guys use some insulation on the windows when its really cold.
Does your rig have thermal double pane)windows?
I guess I’m trying to understand whether “4 season” double glass windows really make a difference. I’m in 20-40 degree weather now in NC and have thermals, but have never known anything else. I’m new to RVs.
Yes we have dual-pane windows. They definitely help, but they’re still big heat-loss areas. It’s just the nature of the “beast”.
Mike Fischer says
Thanks for the write-up! At Quartzsite two weeks ago we had our second boondocking experience in our coach. I mentioned to someone that we run our toaster oven off the inverter sometimes and they warned me about the high/fast power draw possibly causing issues, but didn’t get into specifics. I see you mention the same thing: “Running BIG power-sucking stuff off your deep-cycle batteries for more than short periods of time gets tricky and is not really practical in the long run.” Do you have any suggested reading on where I can learn more about this problem (and solutions)?
So, the issue here is something called Peukert’s law. What happens with lead-acid batteries is that they lose capacity at higher discharge rates. It doesn’t hurt the batteries per se, but it just means you don’t have nearly as much capacity as at lower discharge rates. So, for example, your 100AH battery may only give you half that much capacity (50AH) as you draw really big loads. This means you’ll drain that battery and end up at the magic 50% discharge point much quicker than you think. So, using heavy loads on these batteries over longer periods of time is not really ideal.
How big of a problem this is depends on the internal resistance & recovery rate of the batteries, and each battery chemistry is different. Flooded lead-acid have bigger losses than AGM which have bigger losses than Lithium (which have almost none!). Here’s another link:
I don’t see a problem with running heavy loads like a toaster on lead-acid batteries for short times, as long as your inverter is big enough to handle it and you’ve installed said inverter with big enough wiring to handle the current draw. You’ll see a big drop in your battery voltage when you turn your toaster on, which is also OK (just something to be aware of) and if you’re only using it for a short time you’ll be fine.
Where you run into problems is if you want to be running heavy loads for longer periods. Lead-acid batteries will lose capacity and just won’t be able to deliver that heavy a lead for that long. Make sense?
Mike Fischer says
Wow thanks, very helpful! Didn’t realize the high draw would “lose” some usable power. Will read up on the link you provided. Since our 1250W inverter (modified sine) came with the coach, I’m not sure what size wiring was used—I’ll see if I can find out. Looking forward to replacing with LiFePO4 batteries some day (and pure sine), but for now these 4 lead acids will have to do!
Mike Fischer says
OK, did a bunch of reading. The capacity vs. draw chart makes things quite clear. Interestingly (and excitingly), it looks like LiFePO4 batteries have a Peukert value of 1.0–1.1, while lead acid is stuck at 1.3-1.5, and since the scale is exponential, that’s a big difference. I guess that explains why folks like Chris and Cherie can briefly run air conditioners via their LiFePO4s! It’s all becoming clearer (or at least slightly less muddy). Thanks again…
Exactly! The Lithium batteries can handle those big, long draws a lot better. Barely any loss at all!
Debbie and I were talking about a sh*tty situation on our way back from camping today. This weekend was one of the few times we took another couple with us in our 5th wheel. Since we were in a state park, we did not worry about conserving anything. We noticed that our black tanks had 4 out of 4 lights lit at the end of the weekend, not that that meant the tank was full, but there was more in it than just the 2 of us had ever seen before.
We got to talking about how long would empty black tanks last in the boonies. How much waste does a human produce on average in a day and the water needed to keep the tanks functioning. And last, if you were to bring a blue boy or another more elaborate method of discharging your black tank in the wilderness, just what is a good rule of thumb for how long a given size of black tank would last. We think ours is around 45 gallons, but that is meaningless without knowing an average of how much we would put in it. I am sure your beast has a larger tank, but give me and Deb an insight as to how long a couple can last in the boonies without having to run and dump. Thanks, love the series…
Chuck & Debbie.
Based on my twelve years of fulltime boondocking: around 1.5 black gallons per person per day.
I assume that includes water to flush with. So, 3 gallons per day for a couple on average. A 40 gallon tank could get you 13 days possibly. Thanks for the info.
Chuck & Deb
I concur. We easily last 2 weeks easy and up to just over 3 weeks (with extra conservation) on our black tank which is 40 gallons. That’s for both of us together. In order to last 3 weeks there are extra measures you can take such as only flushing #2, and consciously reducing the amount of paper you use (e.g using disposable wipes that you place in the trash).
hector Lopez says
Love the pic of Polly in the wool hat 🙂
What a beautifully written and succinct recap of a dense topic. You go girl! See you down the road a bit.
Thanks Hector. See you soon!
Julie S says
Thank you for this informative series, Nina. Very helpful. My husband and I are in the final stages of deciding on a 5th wheel purchase(DRV Mobile Suites is our choice)and I am wondering how realistic it is to boondock with a refrigerator that only runs on electric. It seems most folks have fridges with a propane option (except Chris and Cherie who use their awesome solar setup)and I’m feeling a little bummed that we might not be able to do much boondocking if we decide we want to. Our target FT launch date is early 2017 – can’t wait!
PS: Thanks for your AWESOME website. I have learned so much!
You’ll still be able to do it, Julie but you’ll need to plan for more batteries and more battery recharge time…so that means more generator time or larger solar installation. The guys I know with residential fridges either run their generator twice/day or are getting very big installations -> 1200-1400 Watts or larger (one of my RV friends just got 1600 Watts on their fully electric coach). So, if you truly want to boondock in the DRV (which are gorgeous rigs) that’s how you plan for it.
Everything is doable 🙂
Dennis Dotson says
Thank you for all the information and thank you for putting it all in a succinct and clear format. I am a newbee wannabee and the information you provide is extremely valuable in us deciding on the next step in our lives.
Just a quick question on the power requirements of boondocking. It seems to me that especially in a big rig, you have plenty of room for additional batteries. Why not throw more batteries at the issue. I realize batteries are expensive and I realize that space is at a premium, but is there another issue that prevents additional batteries? Is the weight of the batteries a restriction? Are most rigs close to their limit on Gross Weight that would preclude additional batteries?
Size and weight are two issues. Lead-acid batteries take a lot of space and they are not light. One way to improve density is to go Lithium which is an option we’re seriously considering for our next upgrade…but that’s a whole other blog topic 🙂
Julie S says
PSS: What I really should say is DRV Mobile Suites is our preference. If you have made a choice then you really aren’t deciding anymore, DUH.
Great boondocking preparation lost, Nina. You’ve definitely covered the real important elements.
Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but it seemed as if you’re averce to boondocking in the snow? I thought that was just part of winter RVing fun! 😉 lol!
(I know, it’s not for everyone)
LOL….yeah I don’t think snow boondocking is in our future. I have a problem with that white stuff, unless it’s sand 🙂
I love the obscure questions you get asked! Here’s another, ‘RV Etiquette’ question. We bought a 17ft flagpole – just when leaving Quartzsite and Yuma (Timing was never my strongpoint!!) where their use was both common and practical. Then at Why BLM we were the only ones using one. Do you think it’s ‘not really on’ to spoil the nature by adorning our rig with such a blatant blot on the landscape? (even if it’s a Smiley Face flag! 😉 Though it has proved useful – easy to find our rig after a hike!
Ah yes Flag Poles. Some folks love ’em, some folks hate ’em. I don’t really see any issues using one since it’s just adorning your personal site and it’s not making any noise. I guess if it were a really obnoxiously large flag and happened to be right in the way of the only real view in the area then I might be a bit miffed, but I think you’re fine!
Soooo much great information in your boondocking series! We are picking up our Arctic Fox in Eastern Oregon at end of March. I wonder if you have some input regarding the any good spots between La Grande, Oregon and the Alabama Hills.
Nothing off-hand comes to mind, but I see several large national forests along that route (Umatilla, Malheur, Modoc etc.). So I recommend downloading the MVUM maps for those forests, calling the local field offices and starting to research details. Should be plenty of opportunity there.
By the way we’re probably coming your way this summer. Tentative jello plans call for us to be in the Wallowa’s in June.
thanks Nina … actually, we live in Cambria, CA (for now … I am retiring from my teaching job on July 1) and are driving up to La Grande to pick up our Arctic Fox trailer and go on a factory tour, then drive back to finish out the school year with my second graders. If you guys come out to the Central Coast in any of your jello plans let us know. Once school’s out, our plans are for travel to Oregon and Washington … hope to meet you and Paul sometime. You can see our ramblings at blanicswaypoints.
Gotcha. We’re actually considering a drive up the CA coast this spring, so may well be coming that way. I’ll post details on the blog soon.
Wow, this is just such GREAT information! I have bookmarked a bunch of your posts for future re-reading! We haven’t even bought a rig yet, but we are renting twice in the next 6 months to see what we like and don’t like. We can’t wait to get out there!
Awesome! Renting is a great way to try out the lifestyle and learn what you like (and don’t like) in a rig. Good travels to you!
Nina, we have 78 gallon grey & black tanks. Do you think a family of 3 with conservation could go 3 weeks? Thanks
Michael Hancock says
Paul & Nina, just got our 29-ft. travel trailer in January and we’re pulling it with a 2001 Ford Excursion 7.3L diesel. Our first boondocking experience is coming up and here’s my question: In addition to the house battery, could I install an AGM deep cycle battery under the bed and run a couple of 12volt outlets directly off of it to power our device chargers and an inverter to run my C-PAP at night. Then I could recharge the battery with a standard battery charger whenever we turned on the generator or had shore power. If you have time to respond, I would appreciate your wise counsel. I just discovered your many excellent resources online this week! Many thanks from Mike…
It could work, but you’ll likely need some kind of DC-to-DC converter (or small inverter, if you’re going to run it off AC) to ensure you get a constant voltage supply for your devices. The voltage of the battery will change as it discharges (it may start around 12.7V, but could then decrease to 11.5V for example) and I honestly don’t know how your devices will handle that. Adding a converter or small inverter should manage that for you.
Also just to be super safe, I would arrange for some way to vent the batteries, especially when charging. Sealed AGM don’t off-gas and are generally safe to use indoors, but there is always a (very) low probability that something could happen. Having the ability for them to vent is always safest.
Michael Hancock says
Thanks for your prompt and helpful reply. We will be sure to check out all of our options.