It's time to discuss RV batteries - specifically, which ones are going to serve you best when you are camping off-grid. Power use and retention become hot topics anytime you are boondocking far away from a power source. It's so important, in fact, that choosing the right battery can make or break your boondocking experience. So, come along with us as we provide you with a breakdown of the best types of batteries, with specific product links, for off-grid camping.
To answer the question simply, lithium batteries are far and away the best choice for boondocking. Because they are lightweight, compact, and can be fully discharged without damaging the battery, these are the most flexible power sources for off-grid camping.
They are also more expensive than any other RV battery type. If you would rather save some bucks, a 6-volt deep-cycle lead-acid or AGM battery should work well for you. Just make sure to keep your lead-acid battery maintained and don't let it drain past 50% or you risk damaging the battery and needing to replace it.
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Okay, so that was the simple answer. But, as you probably already know, there is a lot more to discuss when it comes to the world of RV batteries. Let's start our deep dive now.
Types of RV Batteries
There are some choices to make when it comes to battery types, starting off with voltage:
6-Volt vs 12-Volt Batteries
Because they use a thicker plate, 6-volt batteries last longer than their 12-volt cousins. Many boondockers favor these types of batteries for their relatively low cost and long-lasting qualities.
Opting for a 6-volt golf cart battery is a popular option for those wanting a great affordable yet stout battery for boondocking. Plus, you can hook up multiple 6-volt batteries either in series or in parallel to give yourself more amp-hours (capacity) or more charge.
When it comes to 12-volt batteries,you will find that they are often cheaper than 6-volts. That's their main advantage, but they don't hold up to dry camping as well as the 6-volt alternative. That's because they don't hold a charge for as long, nor can they handle as many discharge and recharge cycles as the 6-volt. That makes them a great option for those who will mostly use hookups rather than dry campers.
Lead-Acid Deep Cycle RV Batteries
Most RV batteries fall into this category. Interestingly, their origins date back to 1859, making them the oldest type of rechargeable battery in the world. They are constructed of lead plates submerged in a water-based electrolyte solution. These batteries come in both 6- and 12-volt configurations.
We will discuss the differences between the two types farther down, but whichever way you go, make sure you are using a "deep-cycle" version. These deep-cycle batteries are able to discharge more fully than other versions of the lead-acid battery.
- The most affordable option
- Can hold a charge for a long time
- High-maintenance - you must keep your acid/water solution at a certain level
- Fumes can emanate from lead-acid batteries as you use them
- Cannot be drained lower than 50%
Many owners love these Trojan 6-Volt flooded batteries:
As far as 12-volts go, this Optima YellowTop battery is a good choice for those wanting a solid-yet-affordable battery for their RV:
Lithium batteries, like the ones you probably have in your phone and laptop, are great options for hardcore boondockers. That's because these relative newcomers offer some incredible advantages over the age-old lead/acid batteries.
They are smaller and lighter than conventional RV batteries, yet they require less maintenance and can discharge completely without damaging the battery. Lithium-ion batteries usually only come in 12-volt arrangements for RV use.
This Battle Born 12-Volt Lithium-Ion battery that makes a good RV battery.
- Most efficient RV battery choice today
- Can be used 100% without damaging battery life
- Lightweight and compact
- Much more expensive than lead-acid batteries
AGM (absorbent glass mat) batteries for RV's
AGM (absorbent glass mat) batteries are similar to lead-acid batteries. The main difference is that they use glass fibers woven into a mat instead of lead plates. This gives them better discharge properties than standard lead-acid units, but not by much. That small gain in discharge/recharge properties plus their higher price makes these AGM batteries a slightly less appealing option for many RV owners.
This GOAL ZERO Yeti Deep Cycle AGM battery is one of the most highly-rated AGM batteries for RV use:
- No fumes
- No maintenance required
- Better discharge properties than lead/acid
- Cheaper than lithium
- Not much more efficient than lead-acid
- Can be more expensive than standard lead-acid
So, Which is Best for You?
There really isn't a one-size-fits-all answer to the question. That's because everyone's needs and uses are different. However, my hope is that, now that we have shown you the properties of the main types of RV batteries, you should have a good idea of which will work the best for you. Still, let's talk about which battery is right for some specific uses.
Let's start with the most adventurous RVers out there: full-time boondockers. These are the folks who live out of their RV all or most of the year, and mostly stay off-grid. Many full-timers also use solar panels to keep their batteries charged, but still need to have a great set of durable batteries to get them through cloudy stretches.
If you plan on using your batteries this heavily, it makes sense to view them as an investment in order to get the best performance possible. It's clear, then, that lithium-ion batteries are the best choice for you hardy folks.
Okay, so maybe you don't plan on living off-grid for most of the year, but you still like to take some long, multi-week dry-camping trips. You still want to get good performance out of your batteries, but lithium-ions may not be the first choice for you, depending on your budget.
So, if money's not a problem for you, go ahead and get those lithium-ion batteries. But, if you don't want to break the bank, a nice set of 6-volt, deep-cycle lead-acid or AGM batteries should do a great job, as long as you are careful to maintain them and not drain them too far. In that case, think about investing in a device, like this Ampeak Smart Battery Charger, to keep up on your charge levels.
Infrequent, Short-Term Boondockers
Okay, so if you fall into this category, as I do, then you have some decisions to make. For example, I camp off-grid a handful of times each year, usually for 2 to 3 nights at a time. For me at least, an expensive lithium-ion battery would be overkill, sitting in my driveway unused for the majority of the year. Sure, you could go ahead and use one of those batteries, but it probably won't be worth the investment.
In fact, a standard 12-volt lead-acid or AGM battery should suffice. If you want to beef up your power supply, however, a 6-volt golf cart battery is a great option for your infrequent dry camping excursions.
RV Battery Maintenance - Is it Bad to Keep Your RV Plugged in all the Time?
After you find your battery setup, how should you care for them when not in use? Will keeping them plugged in all the time damage or over-charge them?
Like most things in life, the answer is not so simple. For example, if your RV uses a simple charging system, the constant charge from shore power could over-charge and damage your batteries. A smart battery charger, however, can fix this problem for you. These devices, like this one, will monitor your battery status and "float" them when they have reached a full charge. This maintains the battery charge at an optimal level, extending its life.
Or, you could opt for a solar charger that essentially does the same thing, except by drawing power from the sun instead of shore power. By the way, these devices are great for boondocking as well. In fact, I have personally invested in a solar charger for this reason; you can keep your battery topped-off without the need for plugging in or running a loud, polluting generator. For more on the topic of powering your RV without hookups, check out this great article.
So, it's pretty simple, right? Just make sure a smart charger is caring for your batteries and you're all set. Well, not quite so fast. If you use lead-acid batteries, you will still need to keep tabs on your batteries' water level. Note that lithium and AGM batteries do not require this sort of maintenance routine. But, if you have a lead-acid setup and allow the water level to get too low, it can cause significant damage to your batteries. Simply top-off with distilled water to the level stated in your owners' manual and you will be fine.
Now, Find Your Perfect Battery Setup
I sincerely hope that this article has helped you in your quest to find the right battery for your RV. I will admit, at first blush, this topic may seem boring. But for anyone who has ever experienced problems with their RV battery not holding a charge or providing enough power for their RV lifestyle, it immediately becomes very interesting and important.
If your RV battery holds up to frequent discharges and powers the basic elements of your RV, it can make boondocking very enjoyable instead of a constant headache. So, go out there and find the right battery for you!
What are your thoughts?
If you've been boondocking yourself, we'd love to hear your opinion on what worked best for you. Leave us a comment below so other RV'ers can learn from your experience too!