The short answer is, “no”, you don’t need a generator for boondocking.
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.”
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. 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. Batteries are just not going to cut it.
A single 2,200 watt Honda generator can power a 13,500 BTU air conditioning system and run for about 8 hours on a single gallon of gas. They generally cost about $1,000.00 brand new as of this writing. If you plan to boondock in warm to hot climates, you will definitely need one.
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 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.
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. In fact, most such RVers don’t use generators.
Do You Plan To Boondock in the Same Site for a Long Time?
The advantage of boondocking is being to save money from having to rent space at an RV park, and not having to burn fuel driving or towing your RV too often.
That being said, boondockers want to make sure they’re well suited for two to three weeks at a free dry camping site. 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 their needs 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, and periods where outdoor temperatures will demand air conditioning use. In these cases, a mid-range generator (2,000 to 3,000 watts) is still a common purchase for boondockers with extensive solar and battery systems.
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 limitd to 30 amp service, but also have the ability to be chained together to produce 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?“