The short answer is, “no”, you don’t need a generator for boondocking. However, the long answer is, “it depends on how much electricity you need, how long you want to boondock in the same site, and how much battery bank and solar you have.” Most boondockers do have a generator for those moments when the sun goes away. But on the other hand, tent campers are a great example of boondocking without generators.
Do I Need a Generator for Boondocking?
The question for needing a generator while boondocking in an RV often comes down to a couple of considerations…
- How many solar panels do you currently have, and how many amp hours do you have in your battery bank,
- How often will you rely on air conditioning in the summer.
Do You Need Air Conditioning?
Typically, air conditioning systems on an RV require a lot of electricity, so much so that you can’t really run them on battery power. Technically, you can run an 13,500 BTU air conditioner on a couple of deep cycle 6 volt batteries, but only for about an hour at the most, and assuming you have a large inverter (3,500 watts or higher). If you had a couple of 12 volt lithium batteries with 200 amp hours, you could run the same air conditioner for two to three hours. So, if you’re boondocking in the high point of summer, and the sun is heating up your RV, you might need six to eight hours of air conditioning to keep cool. Solar and batteries are just not going to cut it.
A small, 2,200 watt Honda generator cannot generate enough power to start up a 13,500 or 15,000 BTU air conditioning system. Roof-mounted AC units designed for RVs typically require between 3,200 to 3,500 watts to start up, and about 1,200 to 1,700 watts to maintain running. You will typically need a single 3,500 watt generator just to run one AC unit. If your RV has two AC units, you’ll need a single 5,000+ watt generator to get them both running.
Do You Normally Consume a Lot of Electricity?
Larger RVs will offer more 120v AC outlets and will therefore allow for greater electrical use. Boondockers with kids will generally demand more electricity for toys, video games, and to recharge devices. Those with a lot of cooking appliances and gadgets will want more electricity too. Couples who both use C-PAP devices will consume more electricity.
In these cases, a typical battery bank consisting of two deep cycle batteries will deplete fast when you also factor in overhead lighting, vent fants, heating and cooling, water pump, and other basic RV utilities. As long as you’re not running air conditioning units, a 2,000 to 2,200 watt generator is enough to run these things and keep your RV batteries charged.
By contrast, a solitary boondocker, that is just someone by him or herself, full timing in a small trailer, pickup camper, or van, can get by very comfortably without a generator, assuming he or she moves to comfortable climates throughout the year.
Do You Plan To Boondock in the Same Site for a Long Time?
Being able to remain stationary in the same site for as long as possible is where you save all the money in boondocking. So, you want to make sure you have adequate electricity to keep you there comfortably. In many cases, having 600 watts of solar power can keep most battery banks topped off. But when you go several days with cloud cover, or consume a lot of electricity at night, you’ll want that generator to bridge those power gaps.
Can I Just Get Bigger Batteries and More Solar Instead?
Of course. Many boondockers opt to extend their battery banks to four 6 volt deep cycle batteries, and will get at least 1,000 watts of solar panels (about 6-7 panels). But boondockers who go this route are generally those who’ve had a couple years of RVing under their belt and have a pretty good idea of what their needs are and what their RV is capable of doing.
If you’re pretty sure that going big into solar and big into battery banks is what you want, then don’t hesitate. Just be sure to do a lot of reading, watch a lot of YouTube videos, and don’t be afraid to ask an expert in person.
But keep in mind that the more people you have living in your RV, the more electricity you’re going to consume. Moreover, you’re also going to go through periods where there is poor sunshine. A small 2,000 to 2,200 watt generator is good for giving you power to run appliances in these times. If you think you will need to run your air conditioning unit, move up to a 3,500 watt generator.
How Big of a Generator Do I Need?
The most popular generator size that boondockers get is the 2,200 watt Honda inverter-generator. The 2,000 watt Yamaha inverter-generator is a good choice, as well as the Champion 2,000 watt inverter-generator. Inverter-generators in the 2,000 watt range are limited to 30 amp service, but also have the ability to be chained together to produce double the wattage at 50 amps. Most boondockers opt to start with just one inverter-generator and then decide later to buy a second.
Make sure to get an “inverter-generator” and not just a, “generator”. Inverter-generators are designed for recreational use, have standard 120v AC plugs (three prong plugs), and run quietly. By contrast, generators are typically contractor grade and are noisy as all heck!
For more reading on this subject, see our in-depth article, “How Big of a Generator Do I Need?”
How Do I Connect a Generator to My RV?
Your RV should have a 30 or 50 amp port where you can hook up to the electrical pedestal at an RV park. The same port is used on a generator. You can use the same cable on a generator that you would use at an RV park.
Almost all portable generators have 30 amp ports. Very few, however, have 50 amp ports. Hence, if your RV has only a 50 amp port, you will need to buy a 30 to 50 amp adapter, which you can find at almost all Wal-Mart stores.