As a society, we love our electricity. It’s difficult to do anything today without using some sort of electricity. If you’re planning to boondock in your RV, you’ll have to bring the power with you or create more of it while you’re there.
So, how long can you boondock before losing power? The answer is up to you. However, if you employ a few smart tricks and invest in the right gear, you can make it a lot longer than you think.
We recently caught up with Mike and Jennifer Wendland, RV enthusiasts and the creators of the popular RV Lifestyle blog, to learn their tips for conserving (and creating) power when boondocking. Check out their advice in the video above and read more tips below, including a few bonus tips from the Wendlands!
Try Doing Things the Old-Fashioned Way
You know, there wasn’t always an electric-powered gadget to do our jobs for us. There was a time when we had to do those jobs manually. Take a look at the things you use most in your RV and investigate how you can do them without power.
Coffee, for example, doesn’t have to be brewed in an electric coffee pot. All you really need to make coffee is boiled water. Invest in a simple coffee dripper. Use your propane stove to boil water (or do it over a campfire if you’re feeling really rustic). Then pour the water through the coffee dripper for the perfect cup of joe.
Toast bread using a toasting fork over a fire or a propane flame. Instead of packing your blender, a good, ol’ whisk will usually get the job done.
If your fridge runs on electricity, try packing your cold food into a heavy-duty cooler instead. Today’s coolers can keep food cold for a week or more. If your fridge runs on gas, this is a good tip to save on propane too.
Bonus Tip: Turn Off the Inverter When Not In Use
Many RVers think the inverter should be turned on and left on the whole time they’re traveling. Not the case! In fact, the inverter is one of the biggest power drains on the road. Instead, try leaving the inverter off unless you actually need to use it to power something such as a microwave or hairdryer.
For your main power source, rely on 12V power. It’s not nearly as draining and is fully capable of powering the interior LED lights.
Don’t Use Your Furnace
Your furnace may run on propane, but the fans that push the air through your RV run on electricity. So, it’s best to count your furnace out when you’re boondocking.
Instead, stock up on warm clothes and warm blankets, especially if you know it’ll be cold where you’re camping. Invest in a good sleeping bag with a low-temperature rating. Bring stocking caps, mittens, and thick socks to tide you over at night.
If you still think you need some extra warmth, buy a portable, propane-powered heater. These heaters work well heating small spaces like fish houses and tents, so they’ll work in your RV without getting too hot. They run on small, disposable propane bottles, which means they won’t take a bite out of your primary propane tanks.
But a word of caution: follow the safety instructions when using these gas heaters. Always crack a window to avoid gas buildup in your RV. Also, don’t allow small children or pets to get too close to them.
Bonus Tip: Consider Solar Power
With the addition of solar panels on the roof of your RV, you can use the power they contribute to top off batteries to ensure they’re constantly running on a full charge.
Stock Up On Batteries
Your RV probably came with one house battery. You can stick with just one battery, or multiply your battery bank for more power storage. With more batteries, you can camp for longer.
How many batteries you can carry depends on your rig and how much storage you have. Plus, batteries are heavy, so remember to take the extra weight into account when considering this option. It’s not uncommon for people who boondock regularly to carry more than one battery.
Also, invest in a sine wave inverter to go with your battery stash. House batteries won’t power your portable electronics. You’ll need the inverter to provide the clean, AC power that’s safe to power things like cell phones and laptops.
Another side tip about these small, portable electronics is when they’re plugged into the inverter to charge, don’t use them while they charge. Using them while they’re plugged in drains the power out of the batter really fast. Only charge them when you don’t plan to use them.
Bonus Tip: Consider Lithium-Ion Batteries
A lithium-ion battery can be more expensive than other options, but consider it an investment. They tend to last longer, charge faster, discharge more fully, and they’re able to operate in all environments. Some think the price tag is totally worth it. They really are the most efficient form of power management.
Learn to Love Your Flashlight
You’ll be surprised at how much power you’ll save by not using your lights. Read and work during the daylight hours. Adjust your sleeping schedule so that you go to bed early when it’s dark and wake up closer to sunrise.
Before you leave for your trip, ensure you have plenty of flashlights and disposable batteries. Use these when you need to move around at night instead of using your RV lights.
You can also buy small, battery-powered lights to stick here and there around the RV. Click these lights on instead of the dome lights. Be sure to put one by the door and outside by the steps so you won’t get hurt climbing in and out of the RV in the middle of the night.
Also, try doing your late-night cooking by campfire light instead of in your RV kitchen. It’s a great way to get your family outside and enjoying a beautiful night.
Bonus Tip: Use Solar-Powered Lights and Lanterns
There are numerous options available in the solar-powered light category. Having a few lanterns to set out when the sun starts to set can help illuminate your RV and campsite without pulling any power from your main source. Plus, the lanterns can be moved around providing light wherever you go. Most solar-powered lights will provide several hours of light with one charge.
Use Your Tow Vehicle When You Need a Charge
Our most-used electronic devices are usually our handheld devices like phones and tablets. So you’ll find that most of the power you use on a regular basis goes to charging these devices.
Take some of the stress off your house battery by charging these devices in your tow vehicle. If your tow vehicle doesn’t have multiple charging ports, invest in a multi-device car charger adapter. These will either plug into a cigarette lighter or into a USB charger.
During some downtime on your trip, fire up your vehicle and plug everything in that needs charging. You can also do this when you’re driving to and from adventure destinations. It’s a great way to keep everyone happy without having to use power from your RV’s batteries.
Bonus Tip: Use Solar-Powered Chargers
When hiking or venturing away from your RV and campsite, it’s imperative that your cell phone have a full charge. A simple, small solar-powered charger can be thrown in your backpack to be used when your phone battery starts to drop mid-trail.
Harness the Sun or Use a Generator
It’s worth repeating, when boondocking for longer periods of time––invest in an alternate form of power. Solar power can recharge your house batteries in as little as a day, depending on the size of the setup. Whether you travel frequently or seasonally, ask yourself whether an RV solar system is worth it to give you the freedom to camp off-grid.
If you’ve done any research on solar power, you know that you can go as elaborate as you want with your setup. There are plenty of small starter solar kits and chargers to help you transition. If you’re not in the market for a full solar set up yet, consider a small, portable one. Keep in mind, many new RV’s sold today come “solar-prepped,” which makes integrating solar power into your camping experience even easier.
This Nature Power Briefcase is the perfect, mini-solar setup. It’s two solar panels that you fold together to store easily inside your RV. It’s sturdy and specifically made for outdoor use. Since it’s portable, you can move it wherever you need to to get the most sun. It won’t charge up your batteries as fast as a larger system, but it gives you a great boost. Plus, it’s small enough to take with you to any campsite.
And, of course, you always have the option of bringing a portable generator with you to boondocking sites. Like with a solar setup, you can go as big as you want with generator power. If you’re planning a long stay in an area where there’s a limited amount of sunlight, a generator is an essential piece of hardware to keep you powered up.
Bonus Tip: Use LED Motion-Activated Lights
To really maximize your efforts in power management, place a few LED motion-activated lights throughout your RV. They simply turn on when they detect motion as you walk into the room, and turn themselves off once you leave. Run by a small battery, they can last for months. The best part? These LED lights don’t touch any of your power needs, not even the 12-volt, and they’re typically inexpensive while remaining effective and highly useful.
Do you have some of your own tips for saving power while boondocking? Drop them in the comments below!
We boondock a lot for 10+ days at a time – class A RV. Solar is the way to go! I leave my 2 – 80W panels in the coach, so can park in the shade and put panels in the sun via 100ft 12awg cable. I also switched to all LED lighting, 32″ LED TV (we watch 4 hrs movies late each evening) and use 2 6v golf cart batteries to power the coach. I feel I could get by with one 100W panel and MPPT controller which provides about 20% extra current from the panels. We also use a Mr Buddy portable propane heater if very cold (vs built-in furnace). Harbor freight had the best inexpensive inverter – 750/1500W Cen-Tek inverter (working 10 years, totally quiet & the fan rarely comes on). That brand is being phased out, get one if you can find it – don’t bother with the smaller versions. If overcast for a day or more (rare in SW USA), I actually run the engine to recharge the batteries quickly and quietly, rather than the noisy generator. Drip coffee – water heated on the stove also helps take the chill off in the morning. With all my boondocking, I’d never get an all electric house frigde over my gas/electric combo unit. Make it a hunt to find and eliminate as many power hogs as you can – I did 🙂
Excellent article with great tips! Most of our camping is off-grid. We have added two 6-volt deep cycle batteries, solar panels, a 600-watt inverter and an on-board propane generator to meet our power needs. I would like to offer the following additional basic comments:
1. Preparing an “Energy Budget” will greatly assist you in understanding the rate at which various RV features (lights, stereo, furnace/ventilation fans, etc.) consume battery power;
2. Using battery power for heating and cooling is very inefficient and will drain your batteries much quicker;
3. You will not be able to operate your microwave or air conditioner without either a generator or connection to shore power;
4. Inverters are great for operating some appliances such as TV’s, CPAP machines, lap tops, etc., but should be turned off when not in use since they consume a significant amount of battery power, even on standby.
Replace all incandescent lights with LEDs, inside and outside.
Install a DC to DC charger to charge your RV battery from your tow vehicle.
These were wonderful tips to have on hand. Thank you so much! Knew many, but learned more!
On older campers replace the inside incandescent lights with LED.
Put a switch on the radio/CD/DVD so you can really turn it off.
Turn off the water heater at night and other periods of no use, it runs more often then you might think and many newer ones have electronic sensors and igniters that drain power.
Good article. Another trick we’ve learned to conserve power is to shut off the 12V supply to all non-essential electronics in the RV. Entertainment systems, powered antennas, power steps, courtesy lights, etc. draw more power than you think. In our case having those items connected drains the trailer battery in about 3 days. Disconnect (I installed switched in the 12V lines) and the battery lasts 6-7 days.
When fellow campers need help you can share your generator power with extension cords. Sharing is caring.
A side note when using the generator… be mindful of the exhaust and the wind the worst thing is the smell accumulated inside
I am appalled that you would recomend a propane heater in an RV. Never use a source of carbon monoxide as heat in an enclosed environment period. The risks far outweigh the convenience of being warm.
I live in Texas where we recently had a severe winter storm which left our home without power for 79 hours in 10 – 15* temperatures. We would’ve probably froze to death if it weren’t for my RV and generator I purchased to power it last summer. We cranked it up, plugged into the RV and moved ourselves and our 3 dogs in for the duration. We moved our 2 chickens into the main house to help keep them from freezing too. It cost about $20 a day in gasoline for the geneeator and $10 a day in propane to keep us warm but it was worth it! Also ran an extension cord to the main house to plug in our modem so we had wifi too. The last day we were almost out of propane but I finally found some and refilled our tanks. Then I couldn’t find gasoline except for 1 store that had just had their power restored and all they had left was premium @ 3.29 / gallon. Luckily when I arrived back home, our power had just been restored.
Generators should not be used in ‘off the grid’ locations since they are so noisy. Most people camping or RVing in the wilderness are there to enjoy the solace, beauty, serenity and silence of Nature. GO SOLAR!!!
In 1979 we bought a brand new 23 foot Rancho El Rae travel trailer. Upon arriving home with our new trailer, we plugged in to spend a couple of nights in our rolling hotel. This was the only time we have ever used 110 volt power. Fast forward to 2021. Our original 1979 Rancho is still our RV of choice. Still using all original equipment..all cushions, refrigerator, water heater, furnace, toilet, bathtub, light fixtures etc. I did have to replace some water lines and water pump, but that’s it!
Your recommendations for boondocking have been our way of doing things since 1979. Our kids and grandkids have new fancy RVs with solar power, generators, coffee makers, curling irons, blow dryers, TVs video games and everything else that we try to escape from when we look for places with no cellphone service, streetlights etc. Two 12v batteries and a percolator, and we’re good for weeks!
A reminder to those that use a generator. Many people boondocks for the peace and quiet and having someone in the area running a generator is not what others want to hear or in some cases smell. Please be thoughtful of those around you.
All you have to do is slightly open your vents.
Agreed. Too risky and also not healthy
Hey Stephen, modern gas heaters do pretty well in terms of safety in tight spaces. Also, the article does note to always follow safety instructions and to crack a window. If you follow the manufacturer’s safety precautions and crack a window you should be just fine.
I agree. People say this, that and the other thing. Use propane, No, don’t use propane, use generator, No, don’t use generator, etc., etc. If you are boondocking, then you should be where there aren’t any people to bother with generator noise! !
Boondocking “off the grid” in a remote location, with maybe a neighbor a distance away, normally will not bother anyone… it’s the resorts or close-proximity sites that suffer. So a general “generators are bad” frame of mind may be misleading, depending on your boondocking location.
Brooks, you’re right, generators can be noisy. Check out our posts on solar installation and let us know your thoughts!https://blogcw.local/rv-basics/using-solar-power-rv/
I am currently dry camping in our 5th. I have 2 6v batteries in series to have a 12v system. I have a Renogy 100w solar suit case with 10ft cord with an additional 10ft if necessary. I set it up in the morning and follow the sun and it fully charges my batteries.It works great and. I don’t have to fire up my generator.
Great to hear you guys made it through, Jim. Sounds like a harrowing experience. Good thing you had your RV.
We love this simple act, Wayne. “Be good. Do good,” as we say at Good Sam. The RV community is like none other!
Excellent trick, Mark! That’s quite the improvement on battery life.
Excellent expert tips, Mike!
Excellent additions, Gary! Your pro tips are very helpful.