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Boondocking Tips for Beginners: Power Needs

Photo by LarisaBlinova via iStock

In the first of a series of articles on boondocking for beginners, we’ll cover a crucially important issue: power.

Whereas camping in an established campground often provides the convenience of shore power, boondocking offers no such benefit. That means you have to bring your power with you.

Fortunately, there are many different ways to generate, store, and distribute power for your trip. Let’s get to a few power-related boondocking tips for beginners!

Why Boondocking?

RV on the beach

Photo by LeoPatrizi via iStock

While a lack of shore power might be considered a downside of boondocking, the upside is that you’re unencumbered by where campgrounds are. Instead, you can find BLM land, forest service land, and other public lands where dispersed camping affords you the ability to camp for the weekend without having people right next to you.

Now, this doesn’t mean that you can boondock anywhere. You’ll need to plan ahead and find locations where dispersed camping is allowed. But in places like Wyoming, where I live, there is no lack of public land where you can boondock.

Boondocking Tips for Beginners: Power Options

Batteries Only

RV at night

Photo by Suriyapong Thongsawang via iStock

Perhaps the simplest option for boondocking is to rely on the batteries in your RV or trailer for the duration of your stay.

The obvious caveat with this is that at some point, the batteries will run out of juice…you just have to hope it’s not in the middle of the night as the furnace is running!

If you’re relying on batteries alone, one of the best boondocking tips for beginners to consider is upgrading the AGM batteries in your rig to lithium-ion batteries. Why? It’s simple…

benefits of lithium batteries

For starters, lithium-ion batteries like the Briter Products one shown above, have a much better depth of discharge than AGM batteries. Typical AGM batteries have a depth of discharge of about 50 percent. Compare that with a depth of discharge of 80-90 percent for lithium-ion batteries.

As a consequence, you get more capacity in lithium-ion batteries, meaning you can get the same amount of power as AGM batteries, but with fewer lithium-ion batteries. In turn, this means you have less space taken up by the batteries in your rig and less weight to tow around.

Additionally, lithium-ion batteries can be run all the way down to zero and can be fully recharged in just a couple of hours of driving. So, if by the end of your boondocking weekend the batteries are out of juice, they will be topped off after a couple of hours on the road home.

briter products top view

Another benefit of lithium-ion batteries is that they have a much longer lifespan than their AGM counterparts. In fact, the Briter Products lithium-ion batteries I mentioned a moment ago have a 5,000-cycle lifespan. That should be worth quite a few years of work!

But don’t think that you’ll need to replace these batteries after a few years. They have a five-year warranty, and even after the warranty period is up, the batteries are fully serviceable and can be reset. This means that a Briter Products battery will likely last longer than you have your RV or camper.

Add in an LCD display on the battery where you can easily check the charge status plus the ability to check the charge status on your phone, and you have the makings of the ideal battery for boondocking. These batteries are also optimized for solar power, which we’ll discuss next.

Boondocking Tips: Batteries and Solar Panels are a Great Combination

woman installing solar panel

Photo by adamkaz via iStock

The obvious benefit of having solar panels for your boondocking trips is that you have an easy, clean, and abundant source of power to keep your batteries topped off.

You can get solar panels in all sorts of shapes and sizes. They can be mounted on the roof of your rig or can be standalone panels that you deploy next to your rig. Heck, there’s even solar blankets that you can lay on the ground.

Additionally, there are all sorts of power options when it comes to solar panels. You can get a basic panel that will keep the batteries topped off and allow you to run things like the lights in your rig and the water pump but little else. On the other hand, there are high-wattage systems that come with inverters and battery banks that enable you to use appliances like the microwave and air conditioning, watch TV, and charge your electronic devices.

Boondocking Tips for Beginners: Power Needs

Obviously, the solar system you elect to install (if you install one at all) will depend on your needs. If you don’t need to watch TV and run your coffee pot, a simple 12V system will do the trick. But if you need more power, a 400W solar panel like the one pictured above from Briter Products, will give you the capacity you need to run appliances.

Batteries and a Generator

Girl with Gas can

Photo by adamkaz via iStock

A third power option for boondocking power is to pair batteries with a generator.

In some cases, your rig might have an onboard generator. If not, you’ll need to buy a generator based on two factors – your electricity needs and the size of your motorhome or camper.

The primary question regarding your electricity needs is whether you will want to run the air conditioning. If you do, you’ll need a bigger generator.

For example, if you want to run the air conditioning, you’ll need anywhere from 2,000-4,000 watts of power. If you have a small travel trailer, a 2,000-watt generator should be ample power to run the air conditioning (or multiple appliances if the air conditioning is off). But if you have a bigger rig, like a fifth-wheel, you should consider investing in two 2,000-watt generators and using them in parallel to get 4,000 watts.

Gemerator

Photo by sshepard via iStock

Of course, a generator will also charge up the batteries in your rig, so if you’re concerned about running out of power, having a generator can be a huge advantage.

A list of boondocking tips wouldn’t be complete without this warming: the problem with generators is that they aren’t exactly quiet. They also require a fair amount of maintenance and fuel.

While I have a generator for emergencies, when I boondock, I almost always rely on my solar power system for my power needs. I like that it’s clean energy, I like that I don’t have to run out in the middle of the night to add fuel, and I like that it doesn’t make noise! The power setup you choose for your boondocking trips should fit your specific needs and wants though.

With that, you have a few insights into boondocking tips for beginners regarding power options. Since this is a basic introduction, be sure to do your due diligence when selecting the right power options for your situation. Stay tuned for more articles in this series on other boondocking topics!

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