Maybe you’ve seen solar panels at nearby campsites from time to time and it sparked your curiosity? Or you’re newer to RVing and you’ve heard about solar power for RVs, but wonder why? We love solar power with our RV (what I call “RV solar”) and I’m going to share more about why–but first, a little background . . .
Loving off-grid camping. I’m writing this post today reclined on my 15-year-old green canvas Coleman camp chair. I sit in the dappled shade of a stand of Aspens overlooking a broad sun-filled, green meadow that is surrounded by large rising pine-topped hills. We would definitely call them mountains in Minnesota. Here in Western Colorado, I’m not so sure. But at near 10,000 feet maybe so. My feet are propped up on my wife’s matching Coleman camp chair. I think she’s ok with me using both chairs, since she’s happily rocking in our red hammock near by.
Our 180 degree view of this meadow includes no other people. No, wait. I see a silver SUV a half-mile down valley at the National Forest welcome map. Must be planning their day. I think about the countless camping weekends we’ve spent in state park campgrounds or private campgrounds, with our
RV travel trailer carefully parked on the designated pad of our reserved campsite 50 feet from neighboring RVs on either side of us. Many, many great memories at those campsites. And often we had more privacy than that. But compared to this spot, today? Fuhgedabowdit!
You see we are camping off-grid today, for free, in the White River National Forest. Something that is becoming a habit for us, since moving to Colorado last year. As much as I loved paying $20+ per nite for a Minnesota State Park campsite after a $9 reservation fee 2 months in advance, it’s hard to beat free, off-grid sites like this!
You no doubt can see where this is going. Off-grid RV camping can be simply fantastic. But to enjoy this type of camping, you need a place to go, the will to go, and the equipment to make it possible.
But I don’t live in the mountains. You may be thinking, “But I don’t live by a National Forest in the heart of the Rockies, so what good is off-grid camping for me?” Good question. For one thing, off-grid camping can include simply choosing a beautiful, more private (and cheaper) campsite without hookups. Being prepared to camp off-grid opens up more potential campsites when you’re making reservations.
Yet free (or low cost), off-grid camping opportunities may be closer than you think. We used to have tunnel vision when it came to camping opportunities. If it wasn’t a state or federal park or private campground, we didn’t consider it. We simply were oblivious to the fact that other state or federal forests also permit camping. Granted, rules vary across states and agencies. A state forest in Minnesota may only allow camping in designated sites versus the camp-where-you-want approach in White River National Forest. You’ll want to check the rules, but either way, you’ll likely lose the crowds, spend way less, and you’ll need to be set for off-grid camping.
What you need. Now, truth be told, you don’t absolutely have to have RV solar to camp for a weekend off-grid. What you absolutely have to have is a battery system that is healthy and sized to power the equipment or loads that you will use while unplugged. Like a generator, an RV solar system simply helps you recharge your battery system so you have the power you need. But unlike a generator, an RV solar system is clean, low maintenance and best of all, QUIET!
How big of a battery system do I need? This the most important question to ask when off-grid camping. There is a lot to this topic, so we’ll just hit some high-level points now (more detail in later posts). The answer is the same as you’ll hear from any good lawyer: IT DEPENDS!
But it really does. Some key questions to think about are: What loads do you want to power in your RV each day? How many days will you typically camp off-grid? What part of the country and time of year will you camp off-grid? Will you have a back-up generator as well? The point is that everyone has different circumstances and goals when camping off-grid. A 55 foot motor coach will often have different power requirements than a 10′ pop-up. And someone boondocking for 2 weeks in the Utah desert will have different expectations than a weekend camper in the forests of Maine. This is why going into your RV dealer and buying one of those pre-packaged solar kits sitting on a shelf is not the best plan. One size does not fit all when it comes to battery systems and RV solar, and that’s why you should talk to an expert for help in sizing your RV Solar system. Give us a call at SolarPanelStore.com and we’d be happy to help.
Do I need RV solar? Now we finally come back to solar for RVs. You probably know that solar panels come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. How do you decide what size panels you need? Or how many? Or what type? Again, we help our customers through those choices everyday. But the key concept is that your daily electricity use and your battery system’s capacity drives the size and components of your solar system. You’ll want enough watts of solar panel to fill up your batteries in a day’s charge.
Remember how I said that you may not need solar for weekend RV camping? It’s true. If you’ve oversized your battery bank, you can often make it through a weekend. Often, but not always. You see, for many of us, our batteries are not in perfect health. Or maybe we only have a single 12 volt battery, because that’s what the RV dealer sent home with us. Or we forgot to charge the batteries fully after the last camping trip. Or we didn’t keep them on a trickle charger all winter. When batteries aren’t maintained properly, or are undersized, their capacity decreases.
Also, its not uncommon for our electricity use to go up over time or in different seasons. If you run your propane furnace during an early fall night, you use more energy, which drain syour batteries more quickly (the furnace fan uses electricty). Or you add a TV/DVD player or a coffee pot to your rig. Those loads add up fast and soon you exceed your battery capacity.
Insurance policy. RV solar to the rescue! With solar on your rig, you fill those batteries during the day, so they are ready for your loads. For healthy batteries, solar keeps them topped off as they should be. For older or compromised batteries, the solar recharge gets you through the night.
Let me share one more example to illustrate RV solar’s usefulness. It’s the middle of the night in our travel trailer. Our family is awakened from deep sleep by a piercing alert going off. A fire? Nope. While at least one of our 3 young kids cries, I determine that our propane detector signals an alert when it senses a failing battery. Not fun. Episodes like that led me to search for a solution. For us, it was a folding portable 130 watt solar panel kit made by SolarLand.It has become our family’s RV power insurance policy. Whether we’re only off-grid for the weekend or a week. We always set it up, plug it in, and know we’ll have the power we need each day.
RV Solar makes it possible. So why not just skip this hassle and always camp at sites with full electric hookups? That’s an option. But in our state park days, we usually found the prettiest, most private, and enjoyable campsites were the ones without hookups. The tenters have the beauty and the big rigs have convenience. RV solar has helped us enjoy the best of both worlds at the campground. And now with the amazing, private and free spots we’ve only begun to find on BLM and National Forest lands, we’re thankful that RV solar makes them possible. That’s why we’re loving RV solar!