Dry camping (commonly called “boondocking”) is staying at a location without utility services such as 30 AMP electrical service or a city water hookup. While water poses its own challenges (see our separate article on water management when Dry Camping) it’s important to plan ahead for how you can minimize power usage and recharge the battery when dry camping.
The battery capacity of a travel trailer is like a car; it is not magical. In fact, the trailer actually has a car battery. You wouldn’t expect to be able to run your air conditioner, stereo, lights, and a plug in refrigerator in your car all day with the engine off, would you? If you have shore power, rock on. If not, you need to plan ahead to conserve power and recharge as needed.
What WILL work without either an electrical hookup or generator?
- Ceiling Fan
- Lights (LED lights are a very low draw on power)
- Water Pump
- TV (if hardwired like Outback/Sofitel/Tiki/Bingalow/Nomad/Escape)Cheaper “Modified Sine Wave” Inverter
- 12V Outlets (cigarette lighter plugs)
- USB Outlets
- Alde hot water system (using propane)
- Bixby’s tri-fuel Fridge – On propane, the tri-fuel fridge can run for days with a minimal power draw. Only use the “DC” setting while you are towing the trailer, otherwise it’s a HUGE draw on the battery (+/- 11 amps). The 12V setting uses about 1/4 the power of the DC setting.
- DC-powered Fridge – These do run without shore power, but will drain your battery quickly. Minimize refrigerator use when dry camping, or recharge often.
Now obviously the more you run any of these, the faster you will drain your battery. If your battery voltage drops much less than 11.5 V most of these will stop working.
What will NOT work?
- 110VAC outlets (sorry!)
- Air conditioning
If you really need 110VAC outlets while dry camping, you can get a small 300Watt power inverter for about $30 that will power small things, like a CPAP machine. These are not adequate for large power needs like curling irons, heaters, hair dryers, etc.
However: I would NOT recommend using the small power inverters for laptops, trying to charge lithium batteries for tools, or anything involving sound unless you pay the big bucks for a “True Sine Wave Inverter” which is more like $140-$200.
IF YOU WANT THE BEST OF BOTH WORLDS…. If you’re renting one of our fabulous teardrops, and you want to enjoy both the bells and the whistles that these trailers offer without power hookups, you might bring a generator or solar panel as a portable power source.
GENERATOR – will allow you to run the air conditioner, TV, blender, and what-have-you with the flexibility to recharge the battery as needed. All of the 110V AC outlets on the trailer will work if you have a generator (Yay!). We have a 2000 watt Yamaha that will run all day on its little tank of gas and is pretty quiet. With the generator you should be able to set the air conditioner to Low Cool with a medium setting. Anything more and you run the risk of overloading the generator, which is smart enough to stop powering the 110VAC but keep running. A “overload” light comes on and you just have to stop and restart the generator to reset it.
PORTABLE SOLAR PANELS – The ultimate silent ‘off the grid’ power source is a portable solar panel. The advantage to these portable models is that they can be positioned directly at the sun throughout the day for optimal energy collection. They set up in 5 minutes, and plug straight into the side of the trailer. The only disadvantages to the solar panels is that the 110V AC outlets will not work (easily solved with an inverter mentioned above), and it won’t provide enough power to run the air conditioner (but the ceiling fans are an awesome alternative). We have two sizes of portable solar panels available (80W & 160W).
IF YOU GET IN A PINCH –
- Hook up to your tow vehicle. As long as your tow vehicle has a 7-pin connector with an active 12V line, you can recharge the battery by plugging the trailer into your tow vehicle and running the engine for a bit. A half hour of running the motor will give the trailer battery a good boost.
- Be a parasite. Are you traveling with friends who have an RV? The little teardrop trailers can plug right into the side of your RV buddy with a power cord we provide. It’s a little parasitic, but it works in a pinch to give you the little bit of power you need. As long as the trailer is plugged in to an AC outlet on your ‘host’, all of the outlets in the trailer should work.