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Do I Need a Generator for Boondocking?

Do I Need a Generator for Boondocking?


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
Onan 5500 Watt Generator built into an ATC Toy Hauler

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.

camping generators

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.


what is the best type of generator

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7 thoughts on “Do I Need a Generator for Boondocking?”

  1. I have. 8750 watt generator. Two deep cycle batteries. A 2000 watt inverter and a 5000 watt inverter. But want to installl solar. How do I set all this up to go the longest

    • Two inverters at 2,000 and 5,000 watts each, suggests you plan to run a lot of appliances from your batteries. You want enough solar going into your batteries such by sun down, your batteries are topped off for the night. Sounds like 800 watts should be a good ballpark for you. If you have a family of 3 or more, then err on the higher side of that figure.

      1. Look for monocrystalline panels. These have higher outputs than polycrystalline.
      2. 24 volt panels work more efficiently than 12 volt panels. 24 volt panels are simply double the physical size of a 12 volt panels. Just about any solar panel designed for RV use is a 12 volt panel. Meanwhile, panels designed for residential use, are typically 24 volt panels. You can still use a 24 volt panel on an RV. That’s what I have. You just need a good solar charge controller to work with it.
      3. Get a solar charge controller made by Victron Energy. Any RVer serious about solar has a Victron controller. These can be configured to work with any panel and battery. Meanwhile, most cheap controllers that come with a solar kit, are non-configurable. They are intended to work with 12 volt panels, and will always charge a battery at 14.4 volts. There are many battery brands that require charging at different voltages.
      4. Do not get flexible or semi-flexible panels. These panels are designed to sit flat on the roof, and as a result, they get very hot. Heat will greatly reduce the life of a panel. Get rigid panels, and mount them with about 1 inch of space between the panel and the roof. This will help keep the panel cool, and maximize output.
      5. Panels can be wired in sequence or parallel. Parallel is best. If mounted in series, then it creates a lot of inefficiencies. Basically, if a panel is covered in shade, then all the other panels wired behind it can’t work either. But if wired in parallel, then each panel is independent.
      6. If panels are mounted on the roof, then they produce less output. But if you stand panels on the ground, and have them tilted 90 degrees against the sun, they produce peak output. The decision is yours on whether you want the convenience of leaving them on the roof, or having to manage panels on the ground. If you have panels on the ground, you will likely require fewer panels. Having panels on the ground also means being able to park your RV under the shade, while panels are out in the sun.
      7. Make sure when mounting panels on the roof, to get bolts screwed into the crossbeams of your RV. The wind forces from driving down the road, the bumps and rattles, can rip panels right off the roof.
      8. Keep your inverters wired as physically close to your batteries as possible. This will minimize voltage loss. Use the thickest copper wire you can find. Go to auto parts stores, and look for at least 0 gauge wire when connecting batteries together, and connect them to your inverters. Napa usually has this gauge of wire. If you can get 2-ought (00) wire, or 3-ought, (000) that’s even better. You will need heavy duty brass ring connectors for these wire. Which also means, you will need a large crimp tool to fasten these connectors. You can use standard grounded extension cord to connect your inverter to inside your RV.
      9. If you’re not comfortable with doing all this, look up “BoonDoctor”. He’s a guy who boondocks full time, and runs a mobile RV solar/battery service. He drives across the country installing solar & battery systems into RVs. He sells the larger residential grade panels and is a Victron Energy distributor. He installed my solar system. If you hire him, he will put you on his schedule. Since he drives out to clients all over the country, he has to work you into his route, so it may take a few months before he gets to you.

      There are solar wholesalers who sell larger residential-grade panels. These are better. They convert sunlight at about 22% efficiency, compared to about 18% for RV grade panels. Get rigid panels, do not get flexible or semi-flexible. The flexible kind are design to sit flat against the roof, and as such, they get very hot and head will degrade performance. Rigid panels are designed to sit about an inch or two above the roof to let air pass underneath. Most rigid panels do not come with mounting hardware, unless you buy them as a kit. Amazon sells lots of these kits.

      Almost all RV grade panels are 12 volt panels. Residential grade are 24 volt panels. 24 volt panels are simply double the physical size of a 12 volt panel. But, 24 volt panels work more efficiently. A good solar charge controller will handle either one. Victron Energy is the best brand in the business. I have their 100/50 MPPT controller. It can be programmed to accept either panel, and will work with just about any brand of battery. Any RVer serious about solar, has a controller made by Victron.

      If you want to buy all the equipment yourself, you can buy solar kits off of Amazon. These will be cheaper Chinese made panels.

      Look for a solar panel kit that DOES NOT come with a solar charge controller. This is because these are cheap controllers that are not battery adjustable. They are all fixed to charge a battery at 14.4 volts. Most 12 volt batteries are built to accept a bulk rate charge of 14.4 volts. However some brands, including Interstate Batteries, require bulk rate charging at around 15.2 volts. Hence, if the battery does not get that charge voltage, it suffers damage and loses its ability to hold charge. Interestingly, Interstate golf cart batteries is what many RVers use, and many of them are charging at the wrong voltage.

  2. 0 gauge wire??? That seems like extreme overkill. Unless you are planning on drawing literally thousands of watts of power, you can certainly run multiple feet of 8 ga, and in many cases even 10 ga wire, and get plenty of output from any battery setup to your devices unless you are doing a very long cable run. I can see a scenario where you’d use 4 ga but 0 ga? That’s difficult stuff to work with. Also you are paying at least $3-4 a foot for 0ga wire.

  3. I installed an Easy Start 364 on my 13,500 btu/hr air conditioner and am able to start and run my air conditioner (only by itself) on a Harbor Freight Predator 2000, which has a long term load capability of only 1600 watts. Amazing.

  4. You quoted ” Interstate golf cart batteries is what many RVers use, and many of them are charging at the wrong voltage.” I have that setup on my RV. What voltage is appropriate to set a controller for max for two of these ( Costco) Interstate 6 volt golf cart batteries in series ? They seem to be fully charged at 6.35 volts each individually . And what is the lowest voltage to take them to ( in series) ? Thank you

    • I believe it’s 7.65 volts per battery on bulk charge mode, or 15.3 volts assuming you have two batteries on series. I believe most other brands of 6 volt GC batteries want the standard 7.2 volts (14.4 for two batteries). Interstate is a weird cat, and is why so many non-adjustable charge controllers and converters don’t work well with Interstate. The lowest I would draw a pair of 6 volt GC batteries is down to about 11.8 volts if I want to maximize battery life. But with Costco’s no-questions-asked warranty, just work them down until the lights won’t come on anymore, and exchange the batteries every year.


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