I have a few observations on dry camping (known more romantically as boon docking) before I return to state parks and electrical hookups. Being of a totally non-techical ilk, many of my points are related to comfort and lifestyle. When I attempt technical explanations, reader be warned, it can be a bit of a convoluted mess, but I’ll do my best to keep it concise and accurate.
First, my hat’s off to all those boon dockers who are equipped and smart enough to handle the challenge. There are RV’ers out there who have installed additional house batteries, plenty of solar panels, and perhaps even a windmill here and there. They venture into the wilds with their little houses, secure in their self-sufficiency. Should the zombie apocalypse befall us, they will likely be among the last survivors, able to pick up their little houses and run like the wind to the next safe location of their choosing.
My set-up is fairly complete, but modest compared to what a serious dry camper would need. Basically, to truly do justice to living off-the-grid, you need to have plenty of house battery power and a reliable means to replenish those batteries. I have two 6-volt golf cart batteries–fairly typical for this size motor home–a 4000-kw on-board generator, and a 150-watt solar panel.
I am discovering that this set-up allows me to dry-camp just fine, but only if I keep those batteries juiced up. And there’s the rub. It means I must run the generator at least once a day to top the batteries off. And that’s noisy. And unpleasant for neighbors who may be in tents. And uses gas, which, to be fair, should be added to the cost of boon docking. I do like running it in the late afternoon/evening, though, since that is the only way I can use my microwave and air conditioner (if needed) when not plugged in to shore power.
If it is a wonderfully sunny day, I can count on the sunshine to help restore and maintain my batteries via the solar panel, a much more neighborly approach than the generator. But in hot weather, you have to balance the need for sunshine to replenish the batteries with the need for shade to ensure comfort. Also, in the greater scheme of things, 150 watts isn’t really all that much, so…
Let’s talk about the underrated side of this equation, power conservation. You have to be very conscious of your power usage when dry camping. I can run that generator for two hours, watch the display panel on my inverter or solar charger show the battery voltage of 13.5 or more, and then when I turn the generator off, it drops almost immediately down to 12.8 volts… and quickly drops from there, especially if I have anything drawing power.
In fact, even if everything is turned off overnight, the batteries can still drop from 12.5 at bedtime to 12.2 volts by morning since there is a certain amount of electrical draw going on behind the scenes. My refrigerator can be set for propane when boon docking, for example, but it still requires electricity for the display. And there are other technical critters nibbling away, unseen, at the power 24/7.
On cold nights, I can use my propane furnace, thinking that will be easy on the battery, but no, the blower takes a fair amount of electric power. If it is a really warm night after a really hot day, using my ceiling vent fan and a small portable fan will eat up a chunk of power overnight.
And forget having the TV on as constant background noise, which is how I tend to operate when hooked up to shore power. There is one thing that can help mitigate the TV power draw, though. If you are near a major metropolitan area and the station signals are strong, you can turn off the antenna power booster, if you have one, to conserve some electricity.
Since the TV is taking a backseat (probably a really good thing anyways), my portable transistor radio has been getting a great workout. I am enjoying listening to classic rock, a smattering of country, and whenever possible, NPR. Heck, when a good song comes on, poor Dawny has to watch me dance! I also have found the local news to be so much more palatable on the radio than on TV–refreshingly succinct, with far less sensationalism and silliness.
Without the distraction of the TV, my needlepoint project is getting more attention, as is my reading list. Speaking of reading, using an e-reader with a backlit page allows you to read with no lights on after dark.
Having a personal computer with a long battery life is also wonderful when dry camping. A point worth noting: If you plug your computer into the outlet when you are operating off of battery power, be aware that there is an inverter that turns the 12-volt battery power into the 120-volts needed for the outlets. Many (maybe most?) RV inverters are modified sine wave inverters, which can damage sensitive electronics. Therefore, I use my computer on its own battery and don’t plug it in to recharge (same with the cell phone) until I crank up the generator, since generator power (shore power, as well) provides pure sine wave power.
It is a cloudy, chilly morning here in southern Alabama and, as I type away with an eye on my battery voltage as reported on the inverter panel… Oh no! It has slipped yet another notch to 12.0 (that’s what I get for watching the morning news, despite what I said earlier). 12.0 technically shouldn’t set off loud alarm bells, just soft ones, since it shouldn’t fall much lower than that before recharging back to full. Plus I want to be sure to always have enough juice to roll in my awning, pull up my jacks, and make a quick getaway before the next apocalypse! Thank goodness the very act of driving is a highly efficient way to regenerate those house batteries before our next stop.