Boondocking is an RVers dream! You get to stay in one place for a long period of time, and you don’t have to worry about plugging into electric or water sources. But the question that everyone asks is “how long will my battery last?”
This article gives tips on how to make your battery last longer when boondocking.
Table of Contents
What is Boondocking?
Boondocking is the act of spending time in remote places without hookups to electricity or water. This can be done at any free camping location, but boondocking often refers specifically to US properties that are managed by the Bureau of Land Management or the US Forest Service.
The best part about these lands is that you don’t need a permit to camp for more than 14 days and they’re located in some beautiful spots.
But there’s a problem with boondocking: your camper must run on electric power! Although many people say it’s easy to generate power with generators and solar panels, most RVers just aren’t ready to take on this task yet. So we’re left with an important question: how long will my battery last?
What Is Rv Battery and How Does it Work?
RV battery is the same as an automotive battery called a deep cycle or leisure battery. It has thicker plates for extra durability, but it requires special care when being charged.
But if you are looking into buying a solar panel or other special types of charger then this article could help give you some extra knowledge!
How to Charge an RV Battery with Solar Power?
If you live in a warm climate where you don’t have to worry about freezing temperatures then these battery-powered chargers could be a good option: SunForce Solar Battery Trickle Charger
How Long Will My Batteries Last?
Your battery life will depend on how you use it and how much power you pull from it each day. The more you drain your batteries, the less life they have. To prolong their life cycle try to avoid depleting them below 50% as much as possible.
If you store your RV for a long period of time then make sure that your batteries are at least half-charged before storing and check up on them during storage to make sure they don’t lose too much charge.
What is the Difference Between Deep Cycle and Starting Batteries?
Starting or car batteries (also known as SLI – starting, lighting, ignition) are not designed to be discharged all the way down like deep cycle batteries are. They are made to give quick bursts of energy and they should only be discharged down to 20%-30% of their capacity.
Using a starting battery in an application where it is drained more than 30% will decrease its life quickly and could even ruin it! This is why you shouldn’t use your car’s battery for an RV application, due to the fact that cars and RVs require very different charging systems.
How Long Will Your RV Battery Last while Boondocking?
How long your battery will last while boondocking depends on a variety of factors. First, you should look at the equipment that is actually running from your battery bank to gauge how much power each one is using.
You can use a digital multimeter or load testers with an amp probe to check this. Also, make sure everything else that may be hooked up to your batteries (like solar panels) is turned off.
If you have a grid-tie inverter it will turn itself off when nothing is plugged into it, which means no batteries will be drained if appliances are left on overnight but something like an RV microwave oven may still be drawing power from the batteries during the day even though nothing appears to be turned on and we recommend unplugging anything that’s not being used to prevent this from happening.
We use a Trace SW series inverter/charger with our solar set up and it has the capacity to run all our appliances at one time so we don’t even have to turn anything on or off, plus it keeps charging the batteries while we’re boondocking.
The only thing we do is make sure everything is turned off when leaving for more than an hour or two. We also disconnect any unused DC appliances like the water pump, TV, small freezer, etc., during this time which will save you some electricity too!
Trace SW Series Inverter/Charger
If you have a pure sine wave inverter then you will need to monitor your battery voltage or load test them to see when they are getting low and only use the inverter when it’s necessary because you don’t want them to get drained down too far or you could be in for some problems.
We always recommend using a true sine wave inverter and we like Samlex America especially because their products are made in the USA and built like tanks but there are other good brands out there that will work well also. We wrote an article on why we think everyone should have a pure sine wave inverter if you’re interested in learning more about this subject.
Every time your RV battery is fully charged, its voltage rises until it reaches a specific voltage (normally around 14.8 volts) and then it holds that level for a few hours before gradually dropping off until it reaches 13.2-13.4 volts which is where the battery stops receiving a charge from the alternator/charger depending on if your system is 12 volt or 24 volts, plus solar panels also help keep batteries fully charged when boondocking too!
The length of time you can expect your RV battery to last while boondocking will depend on how much you’re using them, how long it takes them to recharge, what type of batteries they are, temperature conditions, and other factors – but generally speaking most RVs should be able to go at least 2-3 days without hookups if everything is turned off that’s not being used and you haven’t tried to drain the batteries down too far while boondocking.
How do I know if My Batteries Need to Be Charged?
There are certain signs that indicate your batteries need to be charged:
- If you notice that the water in your battery cells is low then it’s time for a recharge. You should always keep an eye on your water levels and add distilled water each time they seem too low. If you don’t, the acid level inside of your battery will go down over time and this could damage them!
For gel cell batteries you should avoid getting any liquid into their cells because they aren’t sealed like flooded-cell batteries are; doing so could cause them to break or cause other problems.
- For wet lead-acid types of batteries (flooded cell) you should top off the water levels to make sure that they don’t go too low. You can use any kind of distilled or deionized water for this but try not to overfill them! A good general rule is to fill them up until there’s about 1/2″ (12mm) of water above the plates in each cell.
For gel cell batteries you should only add distilled water because adding regular tap water could damage your battery cells. If you want some more info on this topic it may be worth reading our post on the best RV battery maintenance tips.
- When your batteries are below 12.4 V, if they stay discharged for a long time, if they are hot, etc then there are big chances that they need to be charged. It’s a good idea to charge them as soon as possible if this happens.
- If your batteries seem really weak, you should try charging them first and see if it makes a difference or not. If it does then there was probably some drain on them which you may have been able to avoid by using the right appliance for the job!
- To test your batteries run a DC ammeter between the two terminals on your battery bank (make sure nothing else is hooked up). Then use some load testers with an amp probe to check how many amps each piece of equipment is pulling from your batteries at once (if you can’t find any load testers then just buy one for around $20 instead). If you have a digital multimeter then you can have it read DC amps while your equipment is turned on.
If the reading is above the number of amps that each appliance says it should pull, this could indicate that there’s something wrong with your battery bank which may need to be addressed soon.
What Happens If You Leave Your Batteries in the State of Discharge?
Ideally, every night when you go to bed you should take out an ammeter and put it across your batteries. If they are below 12.4 volts then turn on some appliances or use an inverter until their voltage comes back up!
Then after you do this make sure to disconnect the meter again before the next morning, otherwise your batteries will never charge and will eventually go dead from being discharged all the time.
Unfortunately, it can be difficult to remember to do this every day, which is why most people leave their batteries connected without an ammeter hooked up, so they can keep an eye on their voltage levels. If they start dropping below 12.4 volts they turn something on until it goes back up.
This is fine if you have a pure sine wave inverter that turns itself off when there’s nothing plugged into it! A grid-tie inverter won’t do this, which means that even though your batteries may stop putting out power.
Because the voltages are too low for them to work properly, the grid-tie inverter will keep sending electricity from batteries to whatever it’s connected to. This is why you need a pure sine wave inverter for your RV’s battery charging needs!
What Can You Do to Avoid This?
Try not to use too much power in one day and check your batteries every morning before going out and unplugging anything that may be causing them to drain, like an inverter or solar charge controller.
You should also turn off all appliances and lights when you’re not using them and only use an inverter when it will be powering something important (as opposed to just using it as a regular household outlet).
If you unplug appliances at night they won’t work as well during the day if their voltage drops too low so try not to leave stuff plugged in overnight if possible because this would be a drain on your batteries.
If you’re looking for a fun and unique way to explore the country, consider buying an RV. You can find one that will provide you with all of the amenities like power, heating, and air conditioning while also allowing you to experience life on the road in your very own home!
But before making any final decisions about which type or size of the motorhome is best for your needs, it’s important to know how long your battery will last when boondocking.
In order to get a better understanding of this process, we’ll discuss what makes batteries work as well as possible ways that they can be charged- no matter where you are.
I`m a current Law Enforcement Officer working within the Counterterrorism Bureau in New York State. I have been Camping for over 20 years. My styles of camping include tent, car, truck, van, and RV travel trailer. I have a YouTube channel where I teach all types of camping with an entertaining method: https://youtube.com/@TheSmallsRVAdventures