Dry camping – also known as boondocking – is the best of both worlds when you’re an RVer. You’re off the grid, away from crowds and noise and stress. You’re out in nature. But you’re doing it with some creature comforts including a warm, soft bed and electricity. Perfect!
Of course, if you want that electricity for cooking, running lights, and a few other perks, you’ll need a good boondocking battery setup.
Best RV Battery for Boondocking
As with most RV equipment, the best RV battery for dry camping will depend on a few variables. The best RV battery for boondocking may be different for someone else than it will be for you.
Best RV Battery for Dry Camping
To determine the best RV battery setup for you, you’ll need to know how many amps each of your appliances use while they’re plugged in. It might be a good idea to keep a record before a long trip. Small appliances like lights and music won’t be too much of a drain, but if you’re using a microwave or electric kettle or coffeepot you’ll need a lot more amp hours. Don’t forget to factor in a heater or air conditioner if you plan to use those. You’ll want to be sure to switch on the generator when using high amp consuming appliances, and to switch your fridge to propane once you’ve set up camp. You might also want to swap your lights for LED lights, use 12-Volt TV or DVD players, and nab some solar chargers for things like your computer.
Different types of RV Batteries
6-Volt batteries last longer than 12-Volt ones do and many dry campers prefer them both because of that and because they are relatively inexpensive. You can also hook up several in series to give yourself even more amp-hours.
12-Volt batteries are usually even cheaper than 6-Volt batteries, but as mentioned above they don’t last as long and they can’t be discharged and recharged as often. 12-Volt batteries are fine for people who will generally use hookups but they’re not the best option for long boondocking trips.
Lead-Acid Deep Cycle RV Batteries
This is the most common RV battery, made of lead plates submerged in an electrolyte solution that is a combination of sulfuric acid and water. They come in 6- and 12-Volt sizes. The size of the lead plates and the amount of electrolyte solution determines the charge a battery can store. Be sure you’re using a deep-cycle battery for your RV, as they can discharge more fully than other lead-acid batteries.
You likely already have lithium-ion batteries in your phone and laptop. They’re newer than lead-acid batteries and are smaller and lighter. They’re not as high-maintenance and they can lose their charge completely without damaging the battery like lead-acid batteries. They almost always come in 12-Volt arrangements for RVs. Lithium-Ion batteries are, however, much more expensive than lead-acid batteries.
AGM (Absorbent Glass Mat) Batteries
AGM batteries are not much different from lead-acid batteries, but they use glass fibers in a mat rather than lead plates. They discharge better than lead-acid batteries, but most owners don’t find the advantage to be worth the higher price. They don’t, however, require any maintenance while lead-acid batteries do.
Once I have my battery setup, can I keep them plugged in all the time or will that make them less effective?
If you want to be sure the constant charging from shore power doesn’t damage your batteries, be sure you have a smart battery charger. This device monitors the status of your battery and keeps the charge at an optimal level which prolongs its life. A solar charger does almost the same thing. Either one will ensure your battery doesn’t over-charge, which can damage it.
How do I maintain my battery setup?
If you’re using lead-acid batteries, you’ll need to make sure the water level stays constant. If the level gets too low, it will damage your batteries. You’ll want some distilled water on-hand to keep the water level with what your owner’s manual dictates. You do not need to do this with lithium and AGM batteries.
Best RV Battery for Full-time Boondockers?
If you’re just going off-grid for a weekend or for a shorter trip, your best RV battery setup may be a less expensive battery. However, if you’re a full-time boondocker, you’ll likely want to invest in your battery since you’ll be counting on it more and using it for extended periods of time.
Along with their battery setup, many full-time boondockers also opt for solar panels to provide power. Those are a great idea, but you will still want that battery in case of long stretches of bad weather.
Lithium-ion batteries are the best RV batteries for boondocking. Because they’re expensive, they may not be every RVer’s first choice, but for those of you living off-grid most of the time, they will be worth the extra money. They are lighter, require very little maintenance, are much less likely to get damaged, and are a good, reliable battery for full-time boondocking.
One of the best RV batteries for full-time boondockers is this one:
This 29-lb battery gets great reviews, and their “Battery Management System” protects the battery from the most common causes of failure like temperature volatility and ground faults. They can be charged and recharged repeatedly, and they charge quickly. They’re renewable and sustainable as well. They come with a 10-year warranty.
If you won’t be dry camping most of the year, but still want a reliable, well-performing battery, you have a few options.
Lithium-ion batteries are still the gold standard, and if you’re able to afford them they are a great choice that will hold up well.
However, if you don’t want to spend quite that much, a set of 6-Volt deep-cycle lead-acid or AGM batteries will work well also. Depending on the battery you choose, you may need to stay on top of maintenance, checking the water level and not draining them too far, but you may find that the little bit of extra work on your part is worth the cheaper price.
One of the best RV batteries for long-term boondockers is this one:
This battery gets great reviews and has a float service lifespan of 8-10 years. It doesn’t have any silica gels or other contaminants. Perhaps best of all, it’s maintenance-free, and you shouldn’t have to add water (unlike many 6-Volts) or check electrolyte gravity during its float service life.
For people heading out on a weekend trip, a lithium-ion battery is likely way more than you need. It just wouldn’t be practical to invest that much in a battery you won’t use often. A 12-Volt lead-acid or AGM battery should be enough to suit your needs. You could also use a 6-Volt golf cart battery to give yourself some extra power if you feel you need it.
One of the best RV batteries for short-term boondockers is this one:
This is a long-lasting 12-Volt RV battery that will fit boats, other small vehicles, and is great for short camping trips. It works great in bad weather and comes with 120 minutes of reserve power.
With a little research beforehand, you can be sure that you’ll have the best battery setup for your next boondocking trip – whether it’s for a weekend or for the rest of the year.
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