There comes a time in every avid RVer’s adventures where they’ll go dry camping. Since you’re foregoing electrical hookups, you need to get your power source from somewhere, and that’s usually your RV battery. How long can you rely on your battery to keep your appliances running, your phone charged, and your portable TV on?
A 12-volt RV battery can last two to three days when dry camping depending on how much electricity you use at once. Conserving electricity might allow you to extend the amount of time you get per battery.
In this article, we’ll delve much deeper into how long you can expect your RV batteries to power your motorhome when dry camping. We’ll also provide some tips to squeeze even more time out of the batteries, so make sure you keep reading!
What Is Dry Camping?
What exactly does it mean to go dry camping anyway? Dry camping is sometimes referred to as boondocking, but both terms mean the same thing.
Usually, when you visit a campsite, you have access to some hookups. At the very least, you can use electrical hookups. At most campsites, water and sewer hookups are at your disposal as well.
Yet some campsites have none. Besides campsites, when you’re staying in a parking lot or another remote area, you’ll also have to forego electric, water, and sewer hookups.
This is dry camping in a nutshell.
You have several options when dry camping regarding where your electricity is sourced from. If your RV is equipped for it, you can use solar power. This will require the solar panels to have generated enough solar energy during the day to provide you power into the night.
If the day was cloudy or overcast, then the amount of solar energy you have available is negligible.
Using a generator is another option. However, generators are very loud. You could annoy your camping neighbors if you run your gen for too long, which means keeping it chugging along all night might not be a possibility.
Plus, you need an electricity source to plug the generator into or else it’s just a big heavy piece of machinery taking up valuable space in your RV.
That’s why many RVers rely on their battery for power when dry camping. Running the vehicle on battery power prevents you and your fellow passengers from having to spend your evening literally in the dark.
You can charge your phone, listen to music, and enjoy other electronics thanks to your RV battery. This enhances your experience so you almost forget you’re dry camping out in the middle of the woods.
How Long Will Your RV Batteries Last When Dry Camping?
If you use your RV batteries to boondock, how much time can you expect to get out of them?
If yours is a 12-volt battery–which many RV batteries are–then the standard amount of time is anywhere from 24 to 48 hours, sometimes up to 72 hours of dry camping power.
That’s assuming, of course, that the RV battery is a deep-cycle battery. A deep-cycle battery generates power in smaller quantities so it can last longer. When the battery discharges to around 50 percent, you should recharge it. Then the process repeats.
It’s the deep rate of discharge that has earned these batteries their name. The efficiency of deep-cycle batteries is measured in amp-hours. As you can guess, amp hours indicate how much current the battery can generate in 60 minutes.
If you don’t see the amp-hour information printed on your deep-cycle batteries or within their housing, that’s a sign that your RV batteries are starting batteries. You don’t want to try boondocking on starting batteries, as you won’t get nearly as much long-term power as you’re hoping for.
Besides the type of battery, how you use your battery will also influence how long it lasts. All your favorite appliances, fixtures, and electronics produce wattage in various amounts.
The more wattage the battery has to generate, the faster it drains. You might not even get 24 full hours out of it. That’s why, as an RV owner, you must know how much wattage you’re using for everything in the vehicle that you run.
Here’s a list of wattage for a 12-volt DC amp:
- Water pump – 4 amps
- Vent fan or variable speed ceiling fan – 4 amps
- TV antenna booster in a 12-volt outlet – 8 amps or fewer
- 12-volt TV – 5 amps or fewer
- Security system – 1 amp
- LP gas refrigerator – 2 amps or fewer
- Range hood, including kitchen light and fan – 3 amps or fewer
- Stereo or radio – 4 amps
- Power roof vent – 1.5 amps
- Porchlight – 1 amp
- Overhead light (one bulb) – 1 amp
- LP gas leak detector – 1 amp
- Furnace – 12 amps or fewer
- Fluorescent lighting – 2 amps or fewer
- Carbon monoxide detector – 1 amp
- Aisle lighting – 1 amp
For 120-volt AC amperage, here’s how much energy the following items require:
- Washer or dryer (not both at once) – 14 to 16 amps
- Handheld vacuum cleaner – 2 to 6 amps
- Toaster oven – 7 to 10 amps
- TV – 1.5 to 4 amps
- Space heater – 8 to 13 amps
- AC-mode fridge – 5 to 8 amps
- Convection oven microwave – 13 amps
- Regular microwave – 8 to 13 amps
- 120-volt light at 60 percent wattage – Less than 1 amp
- Clothing iron – 5 to 10 amps
- Hairdryer – 5 to 12 amps
- Electric skillet – 6 to 12 amps
- Electric water heater – 9 to 13 amps
- Electric fan – 1 amp
- Electric blanket – 0.5 to 1.5 amps
- Power drill – 2 to 6 amps
- Curling iron – less than 1 amp
- Crockpot – 1 to 2 amps
- Power converter – 1 to 8 amps
- Laptop – 2 to 3 amps
- Coffeemaker – 5 to 8 amps
- Blender – 5 to 6 amps
- Air conditioner – 12 to 16 amps
Do You Need More Than One RV Battery to Dry Camp?
Everyone has heard stories–probably on a blog or social media–about incredible campers who managed to boondock for weeks at a time. That’s an awfully lofty goal to emulate, but to start, you can certainly dry camp for two to three days.
Do you need more than one battery to do it? Not necessarily, but in the case of RV batteries, your mindset should always be the more, the merrier.
Let’s say your 12-volt battery is rated at 80-amp hours. Provided you don’t use too many appliances or electronics at once, you should easily get two days of power from the battery.
Continuing the example, you plan to dry camp for four days. By the time your RV battery needs to be recharged, you have no juice left. You also only have the one battery.
What happens now? Well, you have no hookups for electricity, so you just have to go without.
That’s why many RV owners bring at least a second battery with them as a sort of contingency plan. Some RVers even have three batteries available at a time.
Of course, deep-cycle batteries can be costly, with the high-quality ones retailing for close to $700. If you just don’t have the room in your budget right now for a second battery, and certainly not for a third one, that’s not your only option.
You can always rely on a combination of solar power and battery power to keep your RV electricity running when you go dry camping.
Tips for Extending Your Battery Life While Dry Camping
To maximize the amount of time you get out of your RV battery on your next dry camping expedition, be sure to follow these tips.
Use Energy-Efficient Appliances
That’s right, energy efficiency isn’t something you only have to worry about when you’re at home, but when camping in your motorhome as well. If your appliances are eco-friendly, they’ll naturally use less power compared to your power-sucking fridge, microwave, or oven.
You will pay more money initially on greener appliances, admittedly. The extended amount of time you can spend off the grid will allow you to recoup your expenses eventually.
Charge Your Devices Elsewhere If You Can
One of the top creature comforts that an RV battery can provide when boondocking is the freedom to charge your smartphone or tablet as needed. Recharging these devices can pull from your RV battery consistently though, draining it before you know it.
If your RV is the only available place to charge, then fine, there’s nothing you can really do. However, if you have other options for charging your phone at your disposal, you should use those instead. For instance, if yours is a travel trailer rather than an RV, you can plug in your phone charger in the towing vehicle.
Don’t underestimate the power of pocket phone chargers. They require foresight, as you must power them up before you head out on your adventures. When fully charged though, a pocket phone charger can fully recharge your smartphone or tablet two, even three times!
Switch to Distilled Water for the Batteries
RV batteries require water, and yes, the type of water you use matters. Tap water contains all nature of minerals, calcium among them. Over time, the calcium can accumulate within the batteries, which prevents them from working as intended.
Always top off the battery fluid levels using pure water such as distilled or filtered water.
Unplug Electronics When Not in Use
Energy conservation is key if you want a long-lasting RV battery for boondocking. When you’re not using electronics such as the TV or radio, don’t just turn them off, but remove their plug from the outlet as well.
Your water heater, furnace, and other large HVAC units like it should be powered down unless you need them. Don’t turn on more lights than necessary either. If you can, use only LEDs in your RV, as these lights last longer and require less power.
Use Propane for Your Fridge
Your RV fridge can be a big power suck. While it’s not quite as bad as your air conditioner, it’s up there in terms of items that use the most power. If your RV fridge has a propane setup, then use this instead of electricity.
Don’t Spend All Your Time in Your RV
One of the best ways to conserve your RV battery is to give it a break! Although you can enjoy more creature comforts when dry camping thanks to your RV battery, that doesn’t mean you and your fellow passengers should spend all your time indoors.
It’s one thing to stay inside the motorhome at night, as we’d absolutely advise that. During the day though, put your phone down, get outside, and experience nature the way it’s intended: with your own two eyes!
How to Have a Fun Dry Camping Experience
Dry camping can be a great time. There’s something wonderfully freeing about being off the grid, even if it is only for a few days. The following suggestions will increase your camping enjoyment.
Bring Plenty of Dry Food
You don’t want to suck too much power from your RV batteries by running kitchen appliances, so try to revolve your diet around dry food as much as you can. For dinner, you can prepare a hot meal using fresh ingredients. This will fill everyone up and prevent your passengers from getting cranky.
Plan a Waste Disposal Method
Even if you have a long-lasting RV battery, one of the biggest downsides of boondocking is that the waste that accumulates begins to stink badly. You can’t just leave the waste in your vehicle. Find a designated dumping station for your blackwater and graywater tanks (if your motorhome has a graywater tank) and then dispose of the waste.
Deodorize your RV and you’ll finally be able to breathe easier – quite literally, in this case!
Fill Your Water Tank Before You Go
With no water hookups around for miles, you must have potable water available in your RV. We’d advise you to fill up your water tank before your trip, but more than that, bring water bottles or jugs. Just watch the weight of this extra water, as it can be quite heavy.
Entertain Without Electricity
Today’s entertainment revolves around smartphones and video games, but it doesn’t have to. Now that you’re off the grid, you might begin feeling nostalgic, so bust out some card games or board games and enjoy a night of family togetherness without all the technology.
Your RV batteries can last for days when dry camping, but you must take care not to use too many appliances and electronics at once. Although dry camping does have its difficulties, it’s something that every RVer should get to experience. We hope the information in this article inspires you and your family or friends to try boondocking soon!