Here at Horton Common, we provide fully serviced pitches. However, being a small caravan site with no toilet/shower facilities many of our guests also visit other small CS (Certificated Site) or CL (Certificated Location) caravan sites. Some of those sites will have no mains power hookup available, hence those caravan sites are ‘off-grid’. Several of our guests in the past have discussed with me their setups for when they visit off-grid sites. Therefore, I wanted to write a post to discuss how you would need to plan ahead to prepare your caravan or motorhome to go off-grid. However, going off-grid is more than just preparation. While off-grid you will have to change how you use the caravan/motorhome facilities. Otherwise, you may end up running out of your sources of energy pretty quickly.
Please bear in mind while reading this post in what I mean by ‘off-grid’. I’m going to presume you are visiting a location that is first a legal camping location. Secondly, you still have access to a mains water supply and a chemical disposal point (CDP). What this post is about is making sure your gas and source of electricity will be sufficient for your needs while off-grid. Part of the solution is proper preparation, and part of the solution is properly evaluating what you really ‘need’. Hence, going off-grid in most cases does involve compromises which you would not normally make when visiting a site with a mains power hookup point (EHU).
Introduction on How to Go Off-Grid in a Caravan or Motorhome
While I’m writing this post based on the feedback I’ve received from our guests on their off-grid camping experiences, I like to reference other sources of information. Hence, below I’ve included two videos from popular YouTubers Dan Trudgian and Andrew Ditton. They have both produced two excellent videos detailing how they prepare for going off-grid. Before you read my own content below I would very much encourage you to watch both of these videos.
Below I’m now going to add my own comments/feedback from our guests on how to prepare for going off-grid and how to conserve power/energy. Therefore, I’ll use two subheadings, how to produce/conserve electrical power and how to prepare for additional gas consumption. However, first I want to discuss the topic of energy consumption while off-grid camping more generally, and the impact of weather conditions.
Off-Grid Energy Consumption/Production and Weather Conditions
Something that both Dan and Andrew referenced in their videos above is how important it is you appreciate the impact of weather conditions while off-grid camping on energy consumption and production. Solar panels are great, but if you are off-grid camping during the autumn, winter or spring you will be producing far less electrical energy compared to the summer months.
With regards to gas consumption during the colder months, you will consume gas to heat the caravan/motorhome. During the warmer months, you will obviously not be consuming gas to heat the caravan. However, during the summer months, your fridges gas consumption will increase. Ventilated fridge vents can help to improve the efficiency of a fridge in hot conditions, however, it will still be consuming quite a bit of gas.
Producing and Conserving Power While Off-Grid
Lets first discuss electrical power when no mains power hookup (EHU) is available. Therefore, I’ll be discussing various topics such as leisure batteries, inverters, solar panels and generators. Those links go to my more in-depth posts on those topics. However, in this post, I’ll be discussing those topics specifically from the perspective of going off-grid.
Start By Evaluating Your Needs and Wants
So before you can ‘kit out’ your caravan, motorhome or campervan to go off-grid you have to evaluate your needs and wants. For instance, we’ll start with an easy one. You may ‘want’ the convenience of an electric caravan kettle, however, you don’t ‘need’ to have one. When off-grid a hob kettle heated either via gas or an external campfire is the only realistic option. Technically you could use an inverter to take power from the leisure battery to boil a kettle, and there are also 12V kettles. However, both options are extremely inefficient and hence will use up too much of your limited available power.
While off-grid you need to leave your electric kettle at home, even if its a ‘low power’ camping kettle. You will need to use a traditional stove camping kettle: Image – Amazon
The same goes for if you have a microwave in your caravan/motorhome. While off-grid just forget about being able to use it. A microwave uses too much power. To power any 230V device like a microwave or kettle you would need a powerful inverter. Not only does your leisure battery store a relatively small amount of power, but inverters are also not 100% efficient. Hence, while inverters are very useful for off-grid camping, in most instances they should only be used for low power devices, laptops, TV’s etc. If you are posh and have an air conditioner for your caravan/motorhome, again that’s just not going to be an option while off-grid. Depending on the type of vacuum cleaner you have and its power consumption, that may also need to stay at home.
There is another very power-hungry device that many of our guests have fitted to their caravan which I would also very strongly recommend not using, a motor mover. Many of our guests don’t reverse their caravans onto their pitches, they will use their motor mover. However, motor movers pull a huge amount of power from the leisure battery. Therefore, while off-grid again just like the microwave, forget its even fitted and take the time to practice your reversing skills.
When off-grid you need to avoid the temptation to use your motor mover. Its a very power-hungry device that can quickly drain your leisure battery: Image – Amazon
Swapping the Heating, Hot Water and Fridge from Electricity to Gas
Most of our guests run their heating and hot water from the pitch EHU. I know this by simply looking at our electrical bill. Well, when you are off-grid there is no EHU and you cannot run the heating/hot water from the leisure battery. Therefore, make sure you are familiar with the heating/hot water controls to set up them up to run on gas. Yes, the fridge can run off 12V power. However, that’s really only for when you are towing the caravan as power is provided by your tow car. Check the manual for your Alde or Truma system on how to change from 230V to gas.
The Size and Type of Leisure Battery
Now, if you only intend to very occasionally go off-grid camping I wouldn’t necessarily recommend changing your existing leisure battery. However, if you do intend to go off-grid camping frequently it may be something you should look into. In my post on leisure batteries, I discuss the different types and their pros and cons. For frequent off-grid camping, a gel or lithium-based leisure battery may be a more suitable option. These types of leisure battery can be discharged below 50% capacity without damage to the battery, which is not the case with many standard lead-acid based batteries.
If you do intend to go off-grid camping frequently opting for a gel or lithium-based leisure battery might be a good idea: Image – Amazon
In Andrews video above he has a double leisure battery setup run in parallel. Again, this is something I think you should only consider if you want to frequently go off-grid camping. Why? Well, leisure batteries are really, really heavy. A typical 100AH leisure battery weighs around 25-30kg. Hence, as many caravans have a payload limit around 150kg, another 30kg for an additional leisure battery will really eat into that payload allowance.
Fixed or Portable Solar Panels for Off-Grid Camping?
Ok, I’m not going to go into too much detail here on the different solar panel options, I’ve already done that in my specific solar panel post. However, there is a question that some of our guests have told me they have wrestled with, and that’s whether to choose a fixed or portable solar panel setup. In Dan’s video above he opted for the portable solar panel set up, where Andrew chose to go with the permanent panel on the top of his caravan. Both setups were producing around 100W of power (peak/max sun).
A typical example of a permanent/fixed solar panel kit for mounting to the roof of a caravan, motorhome or campervan: Image – Amazon
After discussing this topic with our guests that frequently go off-grid camping several of them actually chose to go for both. First, they have the permanent panel on the roof feeding in some power. Then when they need additional power, they get out their portable panel set up for a boost of energy. A permanent panel on the roof can be excellent for battery maintenance, especially during winter storage. However, our guests have told me while off-grid camping it often doesnt provide them with enough power, especially on cloudy days. There is only limited space on the roof due to the other vents and roof lights. Hence, having an accompanying portable solar panel set up to provide more power has its benefits.
Portable solar panel kits with a 300W peak output are available: Image – Amazon
Now, its important to remember everything is relative. How much solar power you will need to generate depends on lots of different factors. Do you have low power LED lighting or not? How many electrical devices do you want power/charge? Do you have a single or dual leisure battery setup? You don’t want to invest in more solar panels than you really need to. Therefore, you need to experiment on your first couple of off-grid camping trips to see if you are generating/storing enough power for your needs. I personally would start with a permanently fixed panel on the roof and then add a portable solar panel set up at a later date if required.
230V Inverters and Efficiency
As with the other topics above, I already have a detailed post on power inverters. This will just be a quick summary of what to consider when buying inverters for off-grid camping. In Andrews’s video above you will notice that he has two small 12V to 230V inverters. Not only is it a simpler set up to live with instead of a large/central inverter its also normally a more efficient setup. The conversion of 12V to 230V within the inverter requires energy, and the higher the amp output of the inverter the more energy that’s wasted. Its also not very efficient to use a large inverter to run low-power devices. Hence, having a couple of low output inverters around the caravan plugged into 12V sockets is normally the best option for many off-grid campers.
Its often a better option while off-grid to use multiple low-powered 12V to 230V inverters to power different devices than a single high-powered inverter: Image – Amazon
What about a Petrol Generator?
Besides considering a larger or second leisure battery or adding some solar panels into your setup there is potentially the option of using a petrol generator. However, please bear in mind, generators do produce noise. This will not only be annoying for you it may be annoying for other guests staying on the CS/CL. In fact, don’t presume you can even use a petrol generator. Our guests have told me they are banned on some sites due to the noise, essentially forcing you to use just your leisure battery/solar setup. Furthermore, as Andrew references in his video above, in many instances, a generator will be producing more power than you require. Hence, its a very expensive way to produce power while off-grid.
You could consider a small petrol generator while off-grid. However, they are pretty noisy, expensive to run and are an expensive purchase. For the same money you could get a pretty comprehensive double leisure battery/solar panel setup: Image – Amazon
Gas Consumption While Off-Grid
So its not going to surprise you to state you are going to be using more gas while off-grid. The heating system, hot water and fridge will all be increasing gas consumption above what would normally be expected while using a site with a mains EHU. Now, I have noticed a trend over recent years. Many of our guests now carry a single small gas bottle. They find carrying a second bottle adds unnecessary weight, as their gas consumption is so low when visiting sites with an EHU. If you are planning to go off-grid, even for just a short break, a single small gas bottle is unlikely to ‘cut it’. If you are only going to be off-grid camping occasionally, just having access to a second bottle is going to make a lot of sense. As obviously once you run out of gas you have a bottle at hand to change over. I have a post on how to change a gas bottle if you’re unsure.
When Should You Consider a Refillable Gas Bottle?
Another trend I have noticed with our guests over recent years is the growing uptake of refillable gas bottle upgrades. If you are curious about all the different refillable gas bottle options please click the link above. Now, most of our guests who I have spoken to who have opted for a refillable bottle it was not for off-grid camping but for touring around Europe. Now, if you don’t intend to go touring around Europe and you only wish to camp off-grid occasionally the investment in a refillable gas bottle may not make sense. While obviously the fill-up price for gas is much lower, the upfront cost for the bottle/bottles can be quite expensive. However, if you do use your caravan/motorhome very frequently and wish to go off-grid etc the savings on gas can be significant.
Expect to pay at least several hundred pounds for a refillable gas bottle. That’s obviously a significant investment. However, if you go off-grid frequently the savings on gas could be significant: Image – Amazon
Conclusions on How to Prepare for Off-Grid Camping
I really do think that before you start purchasing any additional equipment to get your caravan/motorhome set up for off-grid camping as stated above you need to consider your needs vs your wants. If you are used to using sites with a mains EHU then off-grid camping is likely to involve some noticeable adjustment and compromises. Focus first on meeting your needs while off-grid camping. Then if you have sufficient remaining payload allowance and the budget you can look to start addressing your wants. Hence, that could be adding additional leisure batteries/solar panels. First and foremost while off-grid you want to make sure you have a sufficient supply of gas. Gas is going to keep you warm, keep your fresh food cold, cook your food and provide you with hot water.
Thanks for reading, I hope you found my comments above/videos useful. I also hope at some point in the near future you consider coming to visit us here at Horton Common. While our site is not as cheap as some off-grid sites I still believe our hard standing fully serviced pitches are very reasonable. 🙂