Must-Have Products for RV Life – Off the Grid

Lately we have been doing more and more boondocking and dry camping. Out here in the Wild, Wild, West, there is a lot of free camping (boondocking) to be had, but only if you require zero frills – not even a dumpster!

Alternatively, dry camping usually provides access to some facilities (ranging from a pit toilet to a flush toilet), water access (sometimes), and a dumpster, but is not free.

In either case, there are no water or electricity hookups available to you, so we wanted to share some products that have made our boondocking and dry camping lives a lot more pleasant.

Note, none of these are sponsored, and they are all things we genuinely enjoy using!

Many of our favorite boondocking products can fit into the Ram’s bed during travel.  Yes, we can tow with the tote there.  This is why we opted for the more secure Retrax Pro bed cover.

Generators

When we had Trudy (no solar), we used our generator for power for approximately 1-2 hours a day. We’ve found that with boondocking, people run the gamut – some people run their generators 24/7 and other people are offended at the sight of a generator. We try to use ours as little as possible but it provides some much needed juice for our laptops, converter (which charges the 12v house batteries) and to charge up the battery banks.

With the Fox, we don’t really have to run the generator since it has a 100/120w panel on the roof (we’re not yet sure exactly what size it is).  The panel has been getting great sunlight here in AZ (no surprise there), which means it pretty much keeps our 12v system charged up.  However, we need to use our generator if we need to charge anything that doesn’t use a USB port or cigarette lighter (i.e. laptop) or if we want to run the A/C or use an electric appliance (microwave, coffee pot, electric tea kettle, etc.).

Zamp solar controller showing the batteries are full after a day of sun and some generator time

Trudy had 50 amp service and an onboard 5500 watt Onan generator.  It was a beast – we could run both A/C units, the coffee pot, the microwave, and charge whatever we wanted at the same time. That also meant it drank fuel pretty quickly.  And since it was mounted to the chassis under the slide, it was pretty loud and the exhaust sometimes came into the RV (especially if the windows were open).

Like most fifth wheels, the Fox does not have an onboard generator.  The Fox only has 1 A/C unit so it has 30 amp service.  Tim had read great things about Honda and Yamaha inverter generators so we jumped on a set of like-new Honda EU2000i inverter generators when they popped up on Craigslist.

The Hondas, linked and chained

We have two generators that each put out up to 2000 watts.  The EU2000i Companion has one standard 15A outlet and a 30A outlet (which we plug the Fox into via an adapter) while the standard EU2000i has two 15a outlets.  The great thing about these generators is that they can be linked via a Honda parallel cable – which combines their power.  So if we want to run smaller appliances or charge devices, we only run one generator (and use way less fuel).  If we want to run the A/C or run many appliances together, we run both generators.  They also have an “Eco-Throttle” mode, which adjusts/lowers the generators’ throttle to match the electrical draw.  This also lowers the noise and fuel usage.  Another benefit: they’re far lighter individually than a single 3000 or 4000 watt generator!

 

Aqua-Tainers

We have two 7-gallon Aqua-Tainers (and may pick up more in the future). When we are boondocking, we don’t have access to water at the campsite. When we are dry camping, we usually do have access to water, but sometimes we are not allowed to fill the RV directly from the water and instead, the water can only be used to fill a container.

This is where the Aqua-Tainers come in! We take the container over to the water spigot and fill it up. If we know we are going to be boondocking, we fill these up ahead of time.

The challenge with these is that when full, they are very heavy and are difficult to lift it up to the fill spout of the RV.  Plus, the spout is meant to accept a hose, not a gravity fed valve like the Aqua-Tainer.  That means it may require some ingenuity to get the water from the Aqua-Tainer into your fresh water tank!

Last time we did this, Tim used our ladder to hold the tank up and a Camco Water Bandit + the short water hose that comes with the cheap Camco water filters + a Camco tank filler to get things connected.  This actually worked pretty well (the flex of the short water hose is key), but we’re considering drill pump + hose solution proposed by some fellow full-time RVers.

Filling the fresh water tank via Aqua-tainer while boondocking in Sedona

 

Aeropress

No electricity to run a coffee maker, but the coffee must still be made! Coffee is a must in our house, and our Aeropress serves us well when we don’t have electricity. The only thing I don’t like about it is that you have to make it one cup at a time, and it’s too much work because we always drink multiple cups. Tim disagrees with me here, but all that means is that he is usually the one that makes the coffee since he thinks it’s oh-so easy 😉 The coffee does taste better than it does from the coffee pot, I will admit that!

 

It’s not as complicated as it looks…

12V Outlets

Tim added 12 volt outlets (cigarette lighter and USB ports) in high-use areas of Trudy to make charging devices easier.  We had a panel near the desk that had a 12v cigarette lighter, 2 USB ports, a voltmeter and a toggle switch.  We also had a 4-port USB receptacle under the kitchen cabinets.  The 4-port receptacle was the quickest charging option in the RV!

It’s silly that many RVs have only a few USB or cigarette lighter ports (or none!) inside.  The Fox has a USB port near the TV and a cigarette lighter port in each bedroom, but that’s not enough!  We’ll be adding more to the Fox shortly.

Lectrofan

I blogged way back when about our love for the Dohm white noise machine. We used it in our bedroom for a noise buffer when we all slept in there – which was 6 months ago now! Even when we were sleeping in the living room, I used my Dohm to drown out the noises around us. I’m a very light sleeper.

Over the past few months, we’ve found ourselves boondocking and dry camping more often, which means no electricity. The downside of the Dohm is that it had a traditional 110v plug and only worked when we had electricity. Tim did some research and found the Lectrofan. It’s actually far louder than the Dohm (which I like), it has multiple fan noises, adjustable volume (the Dohm doesn’t), and best of all, it uses a USB plug. This means that even when we don’t have electricity (110v), I can plug the Lectrofan into a battery bank or a 12v USB outlet and Calla has white noise all night. Sure beats having to tiptoe around. Bonus of the Lectrofan is that it’s about half the size of the Dohm. We are Lectrofan converts.

Why didn’t I know about white noise machines in college when I had to sleep in a noisy dorm?!

 

External Battery Bank

When we first started dry camping for a night or two here and there, we had one small battery bank that we used to charge devices. It was actually most often used for my iPhone 6 (which had a terrible battery life). Once we bought the Lectrofans, we realized we’d need another battery bank to power it in the bedroom since there aren’t any 12v outlets.  Since we wanted to be able to boondock for days/weeks at a time, we bought the largest reasonably-priced one we could find.

It uses about 10% of it’s power on one night of powering the Lectrofan, so we could theoretically go 10 days or so without ever charging it.  The battery bank is also charged by USB, so we can hook it up to our 12v USB ports (or any outlet when running the generator).  We also use it to charge up our phones as needed. It has a digital display that shows you what percent it is charged.

Our big bad battery bank – a lifesaver!

We try to charge our battery banks every time we run our generator so they’re ready if we need them. The large battery bank above does take awhile to charge fully, though. We just leave it plugged in for as long as the generator is on and that is plenty to get us through a couple of nights. I now use the smaller one to power the Lectrofan on my nightstand and to charge my Apple Watch overnight while we figure out where we can add 12v outlets in the new RV.

 

Happy Campers Tank Treatment

When you’re living off the grid, your tanks don’t get emptied until you go to a dump station. This means your black tank (toilet waste) + gray tank (sinks + shower water) can get smelly…that is, unless you use Happy Campers! You put a scoop of this powder in your tanks when they only have a little bit of water in them, and it starts to organically decompose things in the tank, so it doesn’t smell.

When we bought Trudy, she smelled so badly like chemical flowers – you know what I mean, that fake, air freshener smell. Yuck. Turns out the previous owners liked to use floral scented tank treatments. We much prefer Happy Campers, because A. it works, B. it doesn’t have any chemicals (a lot of treatments include formaldehyde), and C. it doesn’t have a smell.

So much better than the smelly packet tank treatments

Blue Boy/Tote Tank

We are very careful with water use when we don’t have a sewer hookup or access to a dump station. We use paper plates to minimize dishes and take really, really quick showers (insert sad face here). However I do insist on showering every day, and there is gray water made from washing our hands, rinsing our vegetables, and all of the other daily activities that must go on!

When boondocking, the first thing that will catch up to you are your gray tanks. Unless you have 20 people living in your RV and using the bathroom, your blank tank will not fill up first, so we don’t worry about that. We do worry about our gray tanks (I say tanks now, because our new RV has 2 gray tanks) filling up when we have no access to a dump station for an extended period of time.

In comes the blue boy. This thing is so handy, and we’ve used it a lot during our 8 months on the road. You can dump your gray water into the blue boy to open up more space in your tanks.

We sprang for the larger (32 gallon), higher-quality four-wheeled model from Barker.  It has pneumatic tires (instead of crappy plastic wheels) and comes with everything you need to fill it and tow it via a hitch ball.

Now you can see why it’s called a Blue Boy
Now for a tangent on towing a tote tank:

Tim towed the tank with the Escape many times.  The dump station can be a few miles away at some parks, but it’s fine as long as you keep your speed down (like 10 MPH).  However, the first time Tim towed the tote tank with the Ram, disaster struck!  The tank’s tow handle came off of the hitch ball when Tim was driving down a hill… and actually passed Tim on the road.  It then smashed into the curb, ripping off the whole front wheel assembly, but somehow the tank itself didn’t actually break or crack.  Fortunately nobody else was around and no one was hurt!

RIP original tote tank (you can’t see it, but the front wheel assembly is busted and detached)

Tim was befuddled – there he was at the curb with a ~300 pound tank of gray water as the sun went down.  He called the park office for help.  They said they couldn’t help lift it and suggested that Tim call a friend or a tow truck (thanks for nothing, Lake Pleasant Regional Park in Phoenix).  He drug it completely out of the road and decided we’d come back in the morning.  We called Barker the next morning and they offered to send us a new tank for free (under warranty) as long as we cut out and send back the “date code stamp” from the tank.  Easy enough!

However, when we went to pick up the tote the next morning, it was gone!  Someone took it, and it wasn’t a park employee.  Barker gets an A+ for customer support – they still sent a replacement tote to us and only requested that we send back the broken front wheel assembly.  Thanks, Barker!

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There you have it – some of our must-haves for living off the grid. They certainly make our lives a lot more comfortable, and we hope that you find them useful, too!

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