The length of time your RV battery will last while boondocking depends on your energy usage and the amp hours of your battery (or bank of batteries).
On average, a single 100ah 12-volt battery will have enough power to run basic electrical devices like lights, fans, and the water pump for a day. By conserving energy use, upgrading your battery system, and using other forms of energy (propane, generator, etc.) when possible, you can extend how long your RV battery will last.
Of course, that’s a very general answer. So, let’s take a more detailed look to find out how long your battery will last boondocking, tips to conserve energy, and how to charge your battery when needed.
How Long Will a Battery Last Boondocking or Dry Camping?
Whether you’re boondocking, dry camping, dispersed camping, or any camping with no utilities, it’s important to have a reasonable estimation of how long your RV battery setup will last.
As previously mentioned, if you’re boondocking for a day and only using basic electrical equipment and appliances, an RV battery with 100 amp-hours (ah) of capacity (the typical RV battery size) should keep your RV running for 24 hours on one charge.
But, everybody’s energy usage is different. And if you want to get a better estimation of your energy usage before setting off on your camping trip, you can do so with a little math.
Begin by making a list of the devices you’ll use on a daily basis and how long you think you’ll use each one. Check for the number of amps each device consumes. This is sometimes printed on the device itself or in the owner’s manual. If they only display the watts for a specific device, convert it to amps by dividing watts/volts.
Important: If your device or appliance is 120v, you will need to multiply the amps by 10.
Let’s look at a quick example:
A 12v light bulb draws roughly 1.5 amps. If you use the light for 2 hours it will consume 3 amp hours of battery power.
Now, let’s look at another example using a 120v appliance:
A coffee pot uses 450W on 120-volt AC. So, take 450 / 120 = 3.75 amps. In other words, when using 120v AC power, the coffee pot uses 3.75 ah. Now, we simply need to convert the amps to 12-volts by multiplying by 10. So, 3.75*10=37.5 ah. Using your coffee pot for 1 hour per day will consume roughly 37.5 ah.
Now, add up all of the amp hours of the appliances and devices you plan to use to get an estimation of the total amp hours you will use per day. This will help you understand how long your deep-cycle battery (or battery bank) will last without charging.
Just keep in mind, if your RV or travel trailer uses lead-acid batteries, you can only discharge it to about 50% before having to recharge it (otherwise, you will cut its life short). In other words, a 100 ah battery will only give you roughly 50 amp-hours. Lithium-ion batteries, on the other hand, can completely discharge before recharging (though the BMS will typically stop the discharge at 80-90%).
Tip: Check out our guide to the best RV battery for boondocking to find the right battery for your needs!
Tips to Extend Battery Life When Boondocking
If you’re a frequent boondocker or dry camper, it can be essential to conserve energy and get as much life out of your RV batteries as possible.
Here are a few energy-saving tips to extend battery life when boondocking.
Use Lights Strategically
Lights, particularly those utilizing incandescent bulbs, consume a significant amount of energy. You can conserve valuable battery energy by only using lights when needed.
A few tips you can try are:
- If you’re a reader, try reading during the day as opposed to night.
- Plan your day around natural sunlight. Don’t stay up late when there is no sunlight and get up early with the sunrise.
- Use LED flashlights and lanterns when light is needed. Rechargeable batteries are used in flashlights, and they can last for weeks without being recharged. Lanterns may be used for reading, playing games, or other activities at night. Cheap solar-powered LED yard lights are an excellent method to illuminate the outside of your RV at night.
Switch Out Incandescent Bulbs to LED
Speaking of lights, a simple way of conserving electricity in an RV is to swap out the old incandescent bulbs for LED (or fluorescent bulbs) as both will use less energy from your house battery. Not only do they use less electricity, but the light produced is also brighter than incandescent light.
Use the Furnace Sparingly
While your RV furnace likely runs off propane, the unit’s fan can consume a lot of electrical energy. So, it’s important to run your propane furnace sparingly.
Tips for doing this include:
- Park in a location where the sun can warm your RV. This works well during the day in moderate temperature conditions (Spring and Fall).
- Bring extra blankets and sleeping bags to help stay warm at night.
- A portable propane heater, like the Mr. Heater Buddy, is an effective way to heat your motorhome without electricity. Of course, you’ll still need propane gas, but you should be able to provide enough heat for a few days of boondocking in moderate weather with just a small 1-pound propane tank. Just be sure to only use a heater designed for indoor use.
- When you do have to run your furnace, turn the thermostat down a few degrees.
- Add insulation to your RV’s floor, windows, and around the bottom exterior (RV skirting) to help hold in heat in winter.
Check out our guide on how to keep a camper warm in winter for more tips and tricks.
Use a Tablet or Phone Instead of a Laptop
Laptops can use up to 100 watts of power when charging. Compare that to only 10 watts for a tablet. If possible, leave the laptop at home and bring your tablet. Or better yet, if possible, leave both at home and completely unplug!
Limit Water Pump Use
While each model is different, a water pump draws about 5 amps when in use and continues to draw a small amount of power even when not in use. Try to use your water pump sparingly and turn it off when you’re not using it.
Upgrade to Lithium Batteries
You can get almost double the usable power by using a lithium-ion battery versus a lead-acid battery, as you can fully discharge it. Whereas a lead-acid battery should only be discharged to about 50% for maximum longevity.
How to Charge RV Battery When Boondocking
No matter how well you conserve battery energy, you’ll need to recharge your batteries if you boondock long enough.
So, how do you charge your boondocking RV battery?
Your two main options are:
- Solar Panels: A convenient and extremely efficient way to recharge RV batteries. This method simply uses the sun’s energy to quietly charge your batteries. Plus, it’s environmentally friendly. And it’s easier than you might think to get started using solar energy. Check out our guide on how to hook up solar panels to RV batteries for the exact step-by-step process.
- RV Generator: A generator, whether that be portable or your vehicle’s onboard generator, is another viable option to quickly recharge your RV battery while boondocking. If you don’t have a generator (or need to upgrade your current model) check out our guide to the best RV generators for reviews and comparisons of the top models on the market today. And then head over to our guide on how to charge an RV battery with a generator for some important information and tips.
And we should mention, if you’re set up for it, you may even be able to charge your RV battery from your vehicle alternator. This is typically an extremely slow process, but you can speed it up with a DC to DC power battery charger.
Lastly, you can always visit a campground or RV park with shore power between boondocking trips to plug in and recharge your batteries, drain your tanks, and refill your water supply.