Generators and Boondocking. 101.

Boondocking, a lifestyle choice for a few, and a great way to save on camping fees for many. But when left to your own devices, quite literally in this case, how will you power them?

Everything from phones, kitchen appliances, to heaters and ACs requires electric power and while in some cases you may substitute some crucial utilities with, for example, a campfire, having a reliable power source is a necessity. Especially when boondocking for longer periods of time, or with a family.

And that’s what we’ll be discussing today folks. How to camp off the grid, what to consider when doing so and how this may impact your choice of a portable generator.

Power Generation and Boondocking

Boondocking (opens in a new tab), sometimes (but not strictly synonymously) dry camping, is the practice of camping anywhere but the established camping facilities – Most commonly in the wild – known as dispersed camping (opens in a new tab), in parking lots or in specialized dry camping camp sites.

The practice is most commonly adopted by travelers to avoid camping fees, or those who get stuck in the middle of nowhere on a road trip. It is, however, also considered a lifestyle choice, by a select group of people.

These boondockers live off the grid for up to months or years and rely completely on what their trailer or RV has to offer.

But to the meat of the topic, how do people manage their electricity in these situations?

Batteries, Panels, Generators

If you’re restricted to a family vehicle and just need to park your car overnight, a power bank or two, or even your car battery, should do the trick.

However, when boondocking for several consecutive days, you will find that you need more power than you may have anticipated at first, more so if you boondock in a trailer, or an RV. What then?

You are left with just two meaningful solutions – solar panels and portable generators. Even though we have dedicated an entire article to comparing the two, I will repeat some of the key points which apply to boondocking.

  • Solar panels which achieve wattages comparable to portable generators are too big to fit most RVs.
  • Solar panels do not work optimally without direct sunlight.
  • Solar panels are expensive and require large batteries to store their accumulated energy.

This, of course, does not mean that solar panels are useless. Make sure to utilize them if you already have them, as they will save you a lot of money. However, generators are a more practical, versatile choice. Therefore, we will focus solely on them and leave solar panels to their respective specialists (opens in a new tab).

Everything You Need to Know About Portable Generators and Boondocking

Now that we have settled on the basics of boondocking and how they favor the use of portable generators, how do you choose one? That will of course depend on your specific circumstances.

We will break down the topic into several key points. Once answered, these will help establish which generator is the best for you.

It is important to point out that these are broad generalizations. Make sure to check out our leisure generator section, where you can filter RV-Ready, inverter generators and chose your target wattage and price. You can also rank by various specs, such as power, noise, price, etc.

If you plan to hook up your generator to an RV circuit, make sure that it is RV-Ready!

Inverter or Not?

Picture of the WEN 56203i inverter generator

The WEN 56203i is a popular inverter generator.

One of the very first questions you should ask yourself is whether to go for an inverter generator.

In summary, even though they are less powerful and more expensive, they provide a clean sinewave, with a low THD, and can be used to power delicate electronics, such as phones or computers, directly.

In general, they are also less noisy. However, their wattages and sometimes their runtimes lag behind similarly priced classic generators.

Wattage, Amps

Power requirements, more precisely wattage and amps, are the main factor in determining which generator you’ll be buying. If unsure, use our free wattage calculator and aim for generators whose power covers your wattage requirements at a 50-75% load. Make sure to never overload, and if possible, avoid underloading your generator as well.

Noise

Whether you boondock in a parking lot, or in a forest, you want to make sure to keep your noise levels at a minimum. Your neighbors – be it humans, or wildlife, would not appreciate an ever-present 100-dB humming and you sure won’t either, if you wish to run your AC or heater during the night.

From my own experience, I suggest you aim below 70 dB. The lower, the better.

Runtime

Runtimes vary, but in general, if you are planning to use a heater or an AC, you want your generator to last at least through your solid, 8-hour sleep, which most of our listed leisure generators do.

However, note the load at which the runtime is listed, since runtimes vary by load, and compare it to your expected load.

Space

Even though this point may seem redundant, many users find out only after their purchase that they have trouble finding storage space in their vehicle for the purchased generator. Generator sizes scale with their power, but similarly powered models can still drastically vary in size. This is especially true when comparing classic and inverter generators.

Therefore, once you have narrowed down your generator choices, be sure to check their sizes before you commit to their purchase.

Weather

Remember that your generator must NEVER be used inside your vehicle. Therefore, you must consider that while it is standing out in the open, it may encounter bad weather. Prepare accordingly by selecting a proper spot and protecting your unit from the elements.

Security

Since you will be using your generator outside, make sure to adequately secure it. Especially when boondocking in parking lots or free campsites, your generator can be targeted by thieves.

It is crucial to protect it sufficiently, with a proper lock and other measures, which we have covered in our article on theft prevention.

Environmental Concerns

When traveling with a generator, always make sure that you can use it in your destination. The necessary certification varies by state, some require EPA, others the stricter CARB certification. If unsure, simply pick a generator that has both.

All devices must be equipped with a spark arrestor to prevent possible fire hazard. If in the wild, check the USDA Forest Service (opens in a new tab), or whichever may apply in the area, for potential generator bans.

Final Words

In summary, generators are the best possible choice of a power source for boondockers, since they are easily transportable and reliable. We recommend going for some of the RV Ready generators in our recreational generator category.

When choosing your device, you must decide if you need an inverter generator, calculate your required wattage and amps, estimate an adequate runtime, which we recommend keeping above 8 hours and aim for the least noisy device possible, 70 dB and lower.

In addition, according to your circumstances, you should choose a generator with dimensions that will fit your available space and prepare yourself for eventual risk factors, such as bad weather, or theft.

Lastly, I urge you to strictly follow the law when boondocking and be mindful of your surroundings.

How do you take care of your power needs when boondocking? Let us know in the comments below!

Paul

Paul

Manager & Editor of generatorbible.com. Early retired from the OPE industry, living in South Carolina. He now mostly spends his time traveling and taking care of his wife and grand-children.

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