Camping off the grid

By camping “off the grid” I just mean camping where there are no electricity, water or sewer hookups. Pretty much what you’d expect in any of BC’s provincial parks (BC Parks). We don’t go to the traditional RV parks with full hookups very often, for reasons I will get into later. We spend anywhere from 5 – 10 days at a time out there usually. Once I’m fully retired I expect we’ll be out for longer, likely in the desert in the American southwest. Most of our trips are not in the warmer summer months, usually spring/autumn and no winter camping yet.

The first thing that happens when you go out in these conditions is your battery goes dead, likely in 2-3 days depending on usage and how much battery capacity you have. Years ago with my truck and camper I’d go on autumn trips and spend 2 nights with no hookups, then we’d go to a full hookup park for 1 night. The built in battery charger could easily take up to 24 hours to bring the batteries up to full charge again – more on the built in charging systems later. Fresh water and holding tanks were never the limiting factor, most RV’s I have had were good for about a week – the biggest factor determining that was how many showers you had (and we like our showers!). Many of the BC and Pacific Northwest provincial/state parks we frequent have great shower facilities, so that helps a lot.

Buying a small gas generator was our first step in improving our ability to camp without hookups. But with generator hour restrictions factored in, it did not help nearly as much as you’d expect! And besides that we never wanted to be one of those campers that ran their generator all day. The question is why didn’t it help as much as you’d think? We didn’t really know, because we had no idea how much power we were using, how much we were charging nor could we accurately gauge the conditions of our batteries. I say batteries in plural because if you only have one battery it’s going to be challenging no matter what… unless your rig is quite small. A system to monitor your batteries is the solution. There’s a lot of good ones out there, I started out with this bayite monitor from Amazon. Now I have two of them, one to monitor the discharging and one to monitor the discharging. The difference between the accumulated power withdrawn and the accumulated power put in (charged) tells you the net amount withdrawn in watt hours, then compare that to your battery capacity. OK yes this starts getting complicated, something like this Renogy battery monitor is what I might get now and is much easier to use. This Victron monitor is also popular. The bottom line is you need to know how much power you are using, and what the exact state of your batteries are. And if you want your lead acid batteries to have a long life don’t discharge them below 50% of their capacity.

Built in generator

Now that I had a generator and battery monitors I found out something very important that was definitely not obvious. The built in charger is really not very good. It explained why it would take nearly 24 hours to recharge my batteries. That just won’t work when you only want to run your generators for a few hours a day – your batteries keep getting lower every day. Buying this 25 amp battery charger from Canadian Tire changed everything. The built in charger I found would only charge at about 4 – 8 amps vs this one charging at 25 amps. Now I could replenish my batteries fully every day in the few hours I would run the generator. The thing about this charger is I had to run a separate extension cord from the generator to the portable charger, open the battery compartment and manually hook everything up. So now I have upgraded to this Samlex 30 amp charger and permanently wired it in so it comes on automatically. You can really tell the difference when either of these chargers is hooked up as the generator goes from a slow idle when hooked to the built in charger, to a much higher and noisier rpm. So when you walk by an RV with a generator hooked up and just idling slowly you know their batteries are not going to get fully charged anytime soon.

This was the solution to our slow battery charging. A real quality battery charger! I you only have 1 lead acid battery this will charge your battery faster than recommended which is not good either. Installed in the trailer’s pass through storage, which also meant wiring in another 120V power outlet from the generator. This charger does not come on when using shore power. And yes I did recycle an old ground wire!

The next step is to go solar powered! I currently have 3 portable 50watt solar cells and if they are in the full sun can easily fully replenish my batteries each day with no generator runtime, yay! The problem here in BC / Pacific Northwest is getting that sunshine directly on them for any length of time. It’s not just the lack of sunshine in the shoulder seasons when I’m out, the trees here are more of a problem. If I was a snowbird down in the desert that would not be a problem at all. The next step for me is to get multiple panels permanently installed on the roof, the extra cells will help to compensate for the tree shading during the day. There’s so much information online about solar cells and I’m certainly not the expert. Count on me updating everyone as I get more solar installed and more experience using it, I would really love to almost never use the generators (Yes I have one small portable and a larger built in generator in my fifth wheel)

And one last thing about batteries we don’t really practice conservation in any serious way, we just want to relax and enjoy ourselves. Having said that we really don’t use a lot of power…. and of course there are the LED lights which save tons of power and you can read about here.

Most of this post has been about battery power, once that is no longer an issue we can move on to the next ones, that is fresh water and holding tanks. For fresh water you can read here about the filter system I installed. It doesn’t mean we can stay longer it just means we can use water from sources we’re not familiar with more safely – like the campground water supply. To allow us to stay longer I have a 6 gallon water jug that I can carry over the tap, fill up with water and replenish the trailer’s water tank. Once we get low I can do this once a day, I doubt we even use 6 gallons per day. For the sewer I also have a portable holding tank that I can drain some of our holding tanks into. I almost never drain the black tank this way that is just so gross, when the black tank fills up for us it is time to move on. But if I have a shower or fill up the kitchen holding tank I can drain either of those tanks into the portable holding tank and then take it over to the campground’s washroom and dump it down their toilet.

Replenish your fresh water with this without moving your trailer. There are lots of bigger and better ways that people do this, like water storage in your truck bed.
Empty your holding tanks without moving your trailer with this. This is a 6 gallon version, there are way bigger ones with wheels etc. I really hate using it on the black tank, when that’s full it’s time for me to move on…

I think that covers our off the grid camping, if I think of anything else I’ll update this. Of course bring enough groceries and clothes for the time you’re away!

Pics to get:

generators (small one)

solar cells

battery monitors

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