Why Generator-Free Dry Camping is Smart
Having an RV generator to keep your electricity on while dry camping is an amazing thing. This one simple upgrade allows you to do all kinds of things you wouldn’t be able to do when running purely on battery power. You can keep cool with the air conditioning, heat up leftovers in the microwave, or even make coffee using your favorite coffee machine rather than boiling water on the stove.
All that said, running the generator does require fuel, and running it adds pollution to the environment. On top of that, you don’t want to put too many hours on your RV generator and kill it off prematurely. For these reasons, it’s a good idea to find ways to cut back on your generator usage, especially if you plan to do a lot of dry camping.
Top 5 Ways to Minimize RV Generator Usage
Fortunately, there are ways to go about this. Below we’ve listed our top 5 tips that will allow you to run your RV generator less often while still staying nice and comfortable in your home-on-wheels.
1. Keep the fridge cold
Keeping your food cold is important. That said, running the fridge can eat through your power in no time. This is especially true if you’re running your fridge on electricity, but even the propane option will run your battery down.
For this reason, it’s a good idea to find ways to keep the fridge as cold as possible in order to prevent it from kicking on too often. Adding frozen ice packs or a bag of ice to the refrigerator can really help stretch the amount of time your fridge stays cold between run cycles.
Additionally, keeping the refrigerator door closed will ensure the cold air stays inside, keeping the fridge cold, preventing the fridge from kicking on as often, and cutting back on how often your RV generator runs.
2. Keep the A/C from running
Keeping an RV cool during the warm months can be extremely difficult. The ability to run the RV generator in order to run the air conditioner does help, but that doesn’t mean you want to run those things all the time.
In order to stay as cool as possible without the use of the A/C or generator, make sure you park your RV in as much shade as possible. This will reduce the temperature of the RV by more than you might think, meaning less air conditioner usage and less RV generator usage.
Other ways to cut back on how often the A/C needs to come on include:
- Putting Reflectix in the windows in order to reflect sunlight away from the rig.
- Running vent fans with windows open in order to push out hot stuffy air and pull in fresh air from outside.
- Putting out your awning to create extra shade.
- Avoiding any indoors cooking and heading out to the grill instead.
3. Use propane appliances
The ability to use the microwave, coffee maker, and other electric appliances is convenient, and there isn’t anything wrong with using them once in a while. That said, these things are huge electricity hogs, meaning they will require the generator to be running the whole time they’re in use.
For this reason, we recommend limiting your electric appliance usage and turning instead to propane appliances or an outdoor grill. Most RVs come equipped with a propane stove and many include a propane oven, so this should be pretty easy to do.
Simply save the Instant Pot recipes for later and plan for stovetop meals—or if it’s really hot, bring meats and veggies that can be thrown on the grill in order to keep the indoors cool as mentioned above.
4. Invest in a Mr. Buddy Heater
Speaking of propane appliances, most people think their propane furnace is the perfect way to keep warm while camping without an electric hookup. While this option does work, it should be noted that it will eat through your battery more quickly than you might imagine. This is because the furnace uses a fan to push hot air through the ductwork.
If you will need to run a heater while dry camping, you might consider investing in a Mr. Buddy propane heater instead of running the RV furnace. These heaters are more efficient than the big furnaces. They use less propane, don’t require electricity, and a single heater will heat most average-sized RVs.
The only downside is that a nearby window must be cracked when this heater is running in order to ensure there is enough ventilation.
See also: The Dangers Of Using Propane Heaters (And What Precautions You Should Take)
5. Turn to RV solar power
Our final piece of advice is to look into some sort of solar setup. While it is possible to create a setup that will run the whole rig, even just a panel or two along with some extra batteries can go a long way.
In fact, if you play your cards right, you might even find that you rarely run the RV generator and can camp in comfort with only your solar panels, your battery bank, and the great outdoors.
This article should help you get a better idea of what a solar setup can do for you, and this article will help you begin the search for the perfect setup.
Also check out this video on the cost of an RV solar installation from You, Me & The RV:
Using these tips should help you save your RV generator hours as well as fuel. This will make boondocking an even more budget-friendly and eco-friendly experience, and will help make your dry camping trips comfortable and less noisy.
You may also like these 5 Reasons You Should Use Solar Power Instead Of A Generator
Chelsea Gonzales is a full-time RVer, freelance writer, and roadschooling mama who loves sharing her expertise about RVing with kids, roadschooling, and full-time RVing. The entrepreneurial and free-spirited author is also artistic director of the Aistear Mobile Irish Dance Academy, and currently travels with her family in a 27-foot travel trailer. Chelsea’s informational articles about full-time RVing, raising children on the road, camping, and destination features appear on her blog, Wonder Wherever We Wander. throughout the RV LIFE network, and in RV industry media outlets such as Outdoorsy, Coach-Net, and RV Share.
David McRaney says
Not a bad article. The only thing I would disagree with is the idea that using it could lead to “premature death”. Owners seem to be have a misconception that by not using it they are saving it and not lowering its value. After working with gen sets in Afghanistan I learned its not the overuse but usually the under maintenance that leads to generator death. That and failing to run it with a load regularly and that’s one of my biggest concerns as I start looking for a “new” used rig.
Mark W says
I agree completely with what you’re saying… telling people “not to exercise and run their generators is seriously bad advice. You only need to contact Cummins Onan and ask them…. they will tell you that you need to average 2 hours per month for each month you have your generator… and get it serviced regularly…. once per year or at least once every two years….( minimum)….,I try and get mine serviced every year…… it’s cheap compared to being stuck out in the middle of nowhere and no power…..No one said RVing is cheap!
Yes, I have solar panels as well and they are great, but, when you need extra power, the generator may be exactly what is necessary.
One more thing…. generators can easily last 2,000 hours or more….if you really think about it… that’s a very long time….do the math. It’s not a maturing bonds, go ahead and use your generator.
Marilyn Thomas says
I wanted to print out this article — it was going to take 12 pages. Would you please make a way to print out the information without all the ads???
Florida Ranger says
You are very correct, using a generator without a load is the worst thing you can do for any type generator. My experience comes from running a generator rental company for 24 yrs.
Richard Hubert says
Not mentioned above is that virtually all RVs with Onan generators SHOULD be run every few weeks in order to prevent fuel gelling and clogging of the carb.
I have a good solar system, along with 400Ah of Lithium batteries, so I love to use it whenever possible. However/and/or/but – even if you have the best solar & battery system you will still need a generator when RVing (unless you only stay in RV parks with full hookups all the time – in which case you do not even need solar.
But for RVers like us – who very often stay in CGs and places with no shore power – having a good solar system is fantastic – until you hit days of rain or you end up parking under trees. THEN will be thankful for your generator to keep the batteries charged.
One of the great things about RV living is that most rigs are equipped with many different systems which offer you tons of flexibility in this lifestyle. 12v electric, 120v AC electric, propane, shore power, solar power, generators, powerful battery systems, appliances which operate on a variety of power sources (ie – refrigerator), etc. All these features offer you far more flexibility than even most stick & bricks houses do.
Steve Hericks says
Your comment is curious….”Onan generators SHOULD be run every few weeks in order to prevent fuel gelling and clogging of the carb”. Firstly, the gelling of DIESEL fuel occurs because dissolved wax crystalizes but this only occurs at very low temperatures (below 15F). ‘Clogging of the carb’….Diesel engines do not have carburetors. Carburetors are used on GASOLINE engines. They do clog from infrequent use due to evaporation of volatile portions of gasoline, leaving behind the solids (aka ‘varnish’) but this takes considerable time (months).
There are two reasons for any engine to be run frequently; 1) to circulate the lubricating oil to keep the seals flexible and coat metal parts. 2) There are several ways water vapor can get inside the engine. An engine crankcase is ventilated and temperature swings of the day-night cycle move air in and out of the engine, warm, moist daytime air condenses inside the engine at night. The same thing happens inside a partially filled fuel tank where the water collects on the bottom and is the first to be ingested. Engine exhaust is a good part water vapor and depending on the length and angle of an exhaust stack, condensation after shutdown occurs and can run back into the engine. After many cycles, significant water accumulates in places. Running the engine periodically will heat it to the point where liquid water vaporizes and is expelled .
Glenn Schulz says
Number one on the list if you haven’t done it already should be to replace all of the interior lighting to LED lighting. My LED lighting reduced my current draw by 90% from the halogen and fluorescent bulbs I was running.
PJ Gillespie says
Having said that about all the ways to avoid over-using your generator, let me tell you that we bought a Honda 3000 15 years ago and do A LOT of dry camping. Full time this past summer in a remote camping spot. That generator is still on its original battery and has never once caused us a problem. (Watch – I shouldn’t have said that).
John Cox says
Todays RV industry has completely missed the boat when it comes to dry camping and the electrical systems required. Before COVID I went to an RV show and from an upper deck you could see the tops of all the campers. Not a single one had a solar panel. Only the most expensive RV’s offer DC to AC inverters but most are now only beginning to offer LiFeFO4 (Lithium) batteries. Using AC power while dry camping comes down to 3 things. Adding a properly sized inverter, add enough battery storage capacity to power the inverter for the amount of time it is needed, then add a way to recharge those batteries (solar, vehicle alternator, shore power, generator etc.). If you are in one location for days on end, then solar is the way, driving between dry camping locations, a vehicle alternator would do the trick (make sure you have a high output or a 2nd dedicated alternator). Stopping at a campground to dump your tanks and refill your water supply, campground AC would do the trick. Last resort, tie in a generator to your system to recharge the batteries only when needed. For more idea’s on how this is accomplished, look at how the electrical systems of Expedition style RV’s are designed.
Get rid of the generator! Go SOLAR !
Or GO HOME. !
NO ONE CAME TO THE PUBLIC LANDS TO LISTEN TO A FRIGGIN GENERATOR!!!
Doug Shirley says
You must camp out in the desert where there are no trees. Solar does not work very well in the shade & does not work at all at night.
I am a genny noise hater as well however if the beast, a quiet variety, is used with some thought it is not bad.
The trick is to run it at times when it is needed for multiple big power draws as well as battery bank charging. First thing in the morning for breakfast needs. A short run lunchtime. Finally at dinnertime.
The rest of the time whatever minor needs there are can be handled by a lovely silent inverter.
Peter Kay says
Great suggestions all. Solar power is a great option and sunlight is free. However, for the person with little knowledge on that subject, it can be very costly to have it done. Love to have Lithium batteries and solar panels but he last inquiry was in the $5000 range for just 2 panels. That buys a lot of gas or diesel
If you use solar you can’t park in the shade.
3 other downsides to those portable heaters.
1. Because they are no vented the moisture produced fogs up all the windows unless you’re in the desert.
2. No thermostat. It just keeps running so you end up either to hot or too cold when turning it on and off.
3. Unless you hook it up too a 20 lbs tank those little 1 lb throw always like shown in your photo are expensive.
Just thought of a
4. You had mentioned running a generator is bad for the environment. So are those 1 lb throwaway propane bottles. Pollution created when they are manufactured. Then thrown away, often illegally. While boondocking I’ve seen so many of these rusting away under the trees or scrub brush.
Steve Hericks says
Running your refrigerator ‘colder’ will not make it run less often, it will likely run more often. The greater the temperature between inside and outside, the faster the heat gain (lower efficiency) will be. This is a fundamental thermodynamic principle. IF you could increase the ‘dead-band’ (temperature difference between starting and stopping the compressor) of the thermostat (which you can’t), you might make the refrigerator run less often but the heat loss would still be increased. The potential ‘gain’ in running less often is to reduce the frequency of incurring a ‘starting load’ on the compressor (which is higher than the running load but relatively small compared with the total run cycle energy). Users are not smarter than designers. The designers of refrigerators design the most efficient controls for a unit under normal conditions and departing from ‘norms’ of operation will only make it less efficient.
The big takeaway for energy consumption in RV fridges is that an ‘absorption fridge’ (2 way or 3 way), regardless of age, consumes 8x-10x the power of a compressor refrigerator. IF you run your RV refrigerator on electricity, it consumes A LOT of electricity and there is no way around that. Run it on propane if you want to avoid running your generator.
Robert Chrvala says
Don’t put gas cans in front of you water heater
I Will Go along with Dont put gas Cans by the Exsaust for the WATER HEATER you might need a New RV or more.
Sue Johnson says
Thanks for the good advice. We just purchased our first camper and have no idea what we are doing. Lol
** Newbie question **
What do you mean by
“On top of that, you don’t want to put too many hours on your RV generator and kill it off prematurely. “?
How long does a generator last?
Ron M says
A Mr. Heater Buddy will run you out of RV. They have new ones out with a thermostat on them. Highly recommended and saves propane too. Keep in mind of the tent camper. Try to park away from them as they don’t have insulated walls and don’t want to hear a generator all day.
Another way to utilize your propane refrigerator efficiently is to use a battery operated air circulating fan in the lower part of the refrigerator to circulate the cool air more evenly. An example of one is here: https://www.amazon.com/Beech-Lane-Fridge-Durable-Construction/dp/B08CWVYLQD/ref=sr_1_5?crid=34X120OMTARVW&dchild=1&keywords=battery+operated+rv+refrigerator+fan&qid=1610371424&sprefix=battery+operates+RV+%2Caps%2C229&sr=8-5
Lawrence Leach says
Solar is useless in the winter. Which is when I need it. The sun is only up a few hours and the angle of the sun makes my 200 w panels put a watt for a few hours only.
Douglas S says
No mention of using an inverter?
Use an inverter for those AC needs that don’t involve heat or cooling. Phone battery chargers & things like TVs don’t require much power.
Schedule genny run time at mealtimes when you want to run the microwave, the coffee maker, toaster, anything else that is a power hog & recharge the battery bank while at it.
As everyone has mentioned you must run your genny if you want it to last a long time. But you left out that having a good battery bank lets you run the micro, coffee pot and toaster as much as you need without running the genny. We moved to LiFePo4 battery’s a couple years back and they make all the difference. Today I see $369 drop in name brand Lithium batteries, cheaper than AGM’s today. We never run the genny to cook with the micro, (Except for if we use the convection part) coffee pot or toaster.
Increase the wires size from your converter to your batteries. Most of the time, that wire size is woefully inadequate which causes voltage drop and your generator time will be longer than it needs to be.