My experience Battery Camping

Discussion in 'Power - Site Power/Batteries/Generators/Solar' started by GreatBigAbyss, Aug 28, 2018.

  1. GreatBigAbyss

    GreatBigAbyss Active Member

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    So, we recently undertook a two week pop-up camping trip through some of the Canadian Rockies. We had 2 nights of powered camping, followed by 2 nights of battery camping, then a 3 hour drive, 3 more nights of battery camping, and finally, 3 nights of powered camping.

    When I bought the trailer, it had a group 24 battery and battery box, however the battery hadn't been maintained, and was completely dead. Before undertaking the trip, I took some time to prepare the camper, and I also purchased some equipment:

    A brand new Group 31 Lead Acid Battery (210 Reserve Capacity)
    A Group 31 Battery Box
    A NoCo Genius G3500 Smart Battery Charger
    A Voltage Monitor with 2 USB chargers
    LED Bulbs for exterior and interior house lights.
    A (borrowed) 25W Coleman Solar Panel with Charge Controller.

    Before we left, I installed the battery box and battery. The Group31 battery box was too large to fit in the stock location without modification, so I installed a piece of plywood (painted black) to lift the battery box over the metal lip on the front platform, allowing the battery to fit.
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    I then hooked the Noco Genius up to the battery and left it plugged in for the weeks leading up to our trip. The NOCO Genius battery charger is a smart battery charger, meaning you can leave it plugged into a battery indefinitely, and it won't overcharge. It is voltage sensing, meaning that when it senses the battery is full, it switches off, and when the battery self drains after some time, the charger will kick back on with a trickle charger. While the battery was on the trailer, with the charger connected, I had the battery fuse removed, to eliminate the parasitic draw that comes from various components in the trailer, such as the carbon monoxide alarm and propane detector.

    In the meantime, I replaced all the lightbulbs in and out of the camper with LED's purchased from Amazon.
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    I also installed the Voltmeter/USB charger. I taped a little Voltage chart next to the voltmeter. You can estimate the energy level of the battery by reading the voltage level. It's an approximation, but it works well enough. Note: You can't have any load on the battery when trying to read its level, or you will get an artificially low voltage reading. The same goes for when charging with solar. If you have a solar panel hooked up, you will read the voltage coming off the panel, rather than the true voltage of the battery.
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    This little voltage meter/USB charger allowed us to keep all our electronic devices (phones/tablets) fully charged when we at camp, without needing the trailer to be plugged in.

    Now, time for the actual trip:

    While driving to our first campsite, I didn't want the vehicle to overcharge the battery (battery was already full as the smart charger had been hooked up at home prior to leaving), so I left the fuse disconnected. When we were camping at our first site (powered), I also didn't want the trailer's converter overcharging the battery, so I also left the fuse disconnected. I did, however, plug in the Genius and let it trickle charge the battery as required.

    When we moved to our new site (unpowered), at that time I plugged the fuse back in so that the trailer was running off battery power. The battery started off at 12.7V (100%). That night we used our lights normally, ran the water pump a bunch, and we even ran the furnace. We also charged up our phones and tablets as needed. Something was always plugged into the little USB outlet charging, sometimes two at a time. Basically we weren't shy about electricity usage. When we woke up in the morning, the battery voltage read 12.4, or about 80%. I hooked up the little 25W Coleman Solar Panel, and let it do its thing throughout the day. Our site was quite shady, and we were gone most of the day, so it's not like I was turning it to constantly follow the sun. And yet, that little solar panel managed to bring the battery back up to 12.6V, or damn near 100%. One more night in the trailer with lights, pump, furnace, and phones charging, and come morning we were at 12.3V, or 70%.

    We broke camp, and hitched the trailer to the van, preparing for a 3 hour drive to our next site. We left the battery fuse connected, so that the TV could charge the battery as we drove. When we got to our next site (again, unpowered), and when I checked the battery's voltage (after giving it a couple of hours for the voltage levels to stabilize after being charged), the voltage was back up to 12.7V, or 100%. Wonderful. The next 3 days were pretty much as such: More lights, water pump, device charging, and furnace (it would get down to 4C at night) all night long. In the morning the battery would be at around 70%-80%, depending on furnace usage. Plugging in the solar panel the next morning and letting it do its thing would bring the battery back up to 12.6V by the time we got back to our campsite each evening.

    When we packed up and drove 10 hours to our next campsite, I left the fuse plugged in so that once again, the vehicle could charge the battery to 100%. We didn't need the battery anymore, but it is better for the battery's health to charge it fully and as soon as possible after using it. When we got to our next campsite (powered), I once again removed the fuse, so as to prevent overcharging by the trailer's converter. I plugged in the Genius smart charger one more time, just to make sure the battery was completely topped up and healthy.

    The battery remained disconnected from the trailer for the rest of the trip. Now that we are at home, I have the battery once again on the Genius battery charger, and will likely remove it and put it in the basement, still hooked up the charger for the entire winter.

    CONCLUSION

    If you are looking to battery camp, buy the biggest battery that you can afford. We bought a Group 31 Lead Acid battery. It cost us $120CAD. You also need to buy a good smart charger that you can leave plugged in. The NOCO Genius G3500 that I bought was $160CAD. You also need to take care that the trailer's converter doesn't overcharge the battery (that will boil off electrolyte, damaging the battery). You also don't want to deplete the battery past 50% before charging it (doing so could damage a lead acid battery).

    In my experience, with the equipment we had, and the battery we were using, we would go down to at worst, 70% battery reserve, and then charge it up to almost 100% the next day either by charging with the tow vehicle, or with the 25W solar panel. I feel that had we had a slightly larger panel (40W?), and some luck with the sun, we could have camped almost indefinitely at one site, without any charging from the tow vehicle.

    If you have a big enough battery (enough reserve capacity), and a good solar panel, I find you don't need to be worried about electricity usage. My battery never once even approached 50%, which is what I would call the 'danger zone' with regards to overall battery health and longevity. If you buy a good battery charger, and are diligent about when your battery is connected and when it is not (try to prevent over-charging), then you should get many, many trouble-free years out of your battery, making your investment last longer.

    I'm certainly not afraid to book unserviced sites anymore. My experience on this past trip is telling me that we can camp almost indefinitely at an unserviced site, and still use power normally.
     
    Last edited: Aug 28, 2018
    jmkay1, Kampus, KJ Knowles and 3 others like this.
  2. tenttrailer

    tenttrailer Art & Joyce - Columbus, O

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    That is about our experience. Except a few things. 1) We leave the brake breakawy switch connected to our battery just in case the trailer would decide to go down the road itself. 2) our solar panel is 80 watts.

    3) We do a lot of dry camping in fall and spring and the furnace runs 3-4 times an hour from about 7p to 10a We bought a second g31. Now we don't need the solar for anything 4 day or less. I use 11.9v as my must charge base line.
     
  3. joet

    joet Well-Known Member

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    We boondock. With a single GC12 battery and 200 watts of solar I don't watch battery volts as I have never ran out of power. The CG12 isn't that much bigger than a G31 (physical size) Don't know what a G31 weighs, the GC12 is 93 lbs.
    I discharge a little deeper than 11.9
     
  4. tenttrailer

    tenttrailer Art & Joyce - Columbus, O

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    The g31's weigh is about 58 lbs and are about 105 AH. 235 RC.

    If memory serves me right the gc12 is 150 AH.
     
  5. Toedtoes

    Toedtoes Well-Known Member

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    In the clipper, I have a group 31 Optima blue top AGM battery. I have never put a dent in the battery after a 10 day trip. I don't use the furnace, but use everything else.

    My maiden voyage with the FnR, I went 4 days without putting a dent in the interstate battery that came with it. When that battery dies, I will replace it with an AGM (probably a lifeline).

    I have no solar or generator.
     
  6. joet

    joet Well-Known Member

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    I would like to have 2 batteries, but don't have the room on the tongue .
    My advise to everyone is to get the biggest battery (s) that will fit
     
    roybraddy likes this.
  7. xvz12

    xvz12 Well-Known Member

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    Our pup originally had 2 20 lb propane bottles on it, with a single battery box sitting in front of them. We do all our cooking outside on Coleman stove & Blackstone griddle, so not a lot of demand for propane. I removed one of the bottles, relocated the other to the spot where the battery box originally sat, & mounted two battery boxes where the bottles originally sat. Currently, I have 2 g24 Optima blue top batteries, mainly because I already had them, but plan on moving to 2 T-105s once these die. I have 2 100 watt solar panels mounted on the roof in tilting mounts feeding them. So far, we've been out on 5 camp trips this summer (I mounted the solar panels this spring), & have yet to put a charger on the batteries, the panels /w controller are keeping thing nicely charged. Our power demands aren't high, we rarely run the furnace, all our lights are LED, we do have a 400 watt inverter to run a 22" monitor & media box to watch movies with in the evening. we charge a phone & 2 Kindle readers as well as a 10" fan that runs pretty much all night. Even camping i shady areas hasn't been a problem, so far anyways...lol.
     
  8. tenttrailer

    tenttrailer Art & Joyce - Columbus, O

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    Durning the summer. We can go 9 plus day with just g31. But the fall and spring with 30-40 days and nights in the 20, if running the furnace, which draws 6 amps it suckd up the battery.

    Many years ago at 2 am DW woke me up to let me know that heat stopped working. Got out of a good warm bed, put on cold shoes, went out side to a few inches of snow to hook up the jumper cables from the tv.

    Now I always have enough battey and heat when I go to bed. To be on the safe side, I bought a Honda generator years ago, 5-6 years ago went to led lights, have had a wave 8 heater for a long time. About 4 years ago got a portable solar panel.

    Now with the second g31 battery, we can heat for about 14 HR/day when outside temps in the high 20's, for 5 days using the furance. Without using the wav 8, solar or generator. I leave them at home.
     
  9. Rudy4536

    Rudy4536 Member

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    Thanks for the information,
    I'm just starting to figure out our battery draw. have a 50 watt solar we haven't used yet. all LED's...new battery this week. we have a lot to learn.
    Thanks again
     
  10. GreatBigAbyss

    GreatBigAbyss Active Member

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    So a slight update to this thread. We are now at the end of our 2nd season with our battery setup. This year we did five camping trips, and 3 of them were at unpowered sites. The first and last trip of the year were cold, therefore we used a lot of furnace at night, depleting the battery considerably. By the end of the first weekend, battery voltage was down to about 45%. We weren't shy about furnace usage, however. The wife and kids just couldn't get warmed up, so we ran the furnace during the day.

    The middle trip was in the middle of summer, and it was nice and hot. Since we weren't using the furnace, I didn't bother hooking up the solar panel, and we finished our 3 nights of long-weekend camping with about 75% battery left. That was just running lights, water pump, and charging phones/tablets etc.

    To make a long story short, the furnace is by far and away the largest draw of electricity in the trailer. By not using the furnace at all, I could probably camp for a week without recharging the battery before the battery hit the 50% number (which I consider 'empty'). Use the furnace much, though, and solar charging is definitely necessary to get through a long weekend.

    [​IMG]
     
  11. jmkay1

    jmkay1 2004 Fleetwood/Coleman Utah

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    I found very similar experience. I was nervous about buying 100watt solar as i don't always have the best sun light, but surprisingly always managed to help bring up the voltage on the battery enough. I'm actually very conservative on my power mainly by habit in my tent camping days. I'm always surprised how much battery I have left. I do occasionally use the furnace but only at night and only at 50 degrees. I do have two propane tanks now as I ran out of propane on one trip due to the furnace.
     
  12. MNTCamper

    MNTCamper Active Member

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    We can go 10 days on our group 31, but we don't use the furnace. We don't even worry about charging.
     

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