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 and how long you want to boondock in the same site. Most full time boondockers have at least a small 2,000 watt generator. 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?
Air conditioning systems on an RV require a lot of electricity. Even though there are many boondockers who have enough solar and battery to run an AC unit, it takes an awful lot of solar and batteries to get it done. You should expect to pay at least $10,000.00 minimum to be able to run the AC unit on your RV for about 4 hours a day.
Otherwise, if you need to run air conditioning in your RV for at least 8 hours a day in the summer, you can buy a 3,500 to 4,000 watt portable generator for under $2,000.00. It will keep that AC unit running for as long as you can keep putting gas in it.
This is what most boondockers do. They buy a generator.
Technically, you can run a smaller 13,500 BTU air conditioner on a couple of deep cycle 6 volt batteries, with about 400 watts of solar. But it will only run for about 30-45 minutes at the most, and that’s assuming you have a large inverter (3,000 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 and hour and a half. 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.
Add a Soft-Start Device to Your AC Unit
If you were to add a soft-start device (see it on Amazon) to an AC unit, a small, 2,200 watt Honda generator could kick start a 13,500 or 15,000 BTU air conditioning system and keep it going. 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. However, a soft-start device allows the AC unit to start up slowly, thereby requiring much less power.
Do You Normally Consume a Lot of Electricity?
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.
Getting a generator makes sense 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, power awning, water pump, and other basic RV utilities. 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 under normal electrical demands. 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 to 4,000 watt generator.
How Big of a Generator Do I Need?
The most popular generator size that boondockers get is a 2,000 watt generator. The 2,200 watt Honda inverter-generator, and the 2,000 watt Yamaha inverter-generator, are good choices, 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.
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