Boondocking for 3 months in the Arizona desert.

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We have now been Boondocking for 3 months in the Arizona desert. Boondocking is camping without electric or water hookups. I’ll tell you how we are doing and give you a few tips on what it takes to camp long-term off the grid.

We got to Quartzsite, AZ in early November and set up our site in LaPosa South BLM LTVA. One of the first things we started having problems with was battery power. After a few days we noticed our 2 deep cycle batteries were starting to show low on our display.

I had already replaced most of our light bulbs to high-efficiency LED bulbs, so I’m guessing the tv was draining us down too much. I would run our RV’s built-in generator every so often for cooking and to charge our laptops, tablets, phones, and  other electronics but I guess it wasn’t enough. For the next few days I ran the generator a lot to try getting the batteries fully charged again. After a few days of this and still having problems, I did some reading online about charging RV batteries from your generator. I learned that most RVs come with what is called a single stage converter charger. I’m not going to get into the technical aspects of it all, but with this type of battery charger built-in to the rv it would take about 20 hours of generator runtime to charge my batteries from being down to about 50% charge. Click here for a great website with a short video explaining the problem I had.

So after some research I upgraded our converter to a Progressive Dynamics 4 stage charger. This type of charger is much faster and conditions your batteries much better so they last longer. It was a bit intimidating to change out, But I had the old one out and new one in after a few hours. I could tell right away after running the generator the first time that my batteries were actually now charging rapidly.

I also ordered a solar panel to take advantage of all this sun in the Arizona desert. I have been looking at this Renogy 100 Watts 12 Volts Monocrystalline Foldable Solar Suitcase for some time now. I really like that its foldable and has a storage case for protection when travelling. It gets good reviews and is priced well, so I got it.

After installing the 4 stage converter/charger , a few days later my solar panels arrived. This little thing is great! Now, most days by noon my batteries are charged 100% full by solar.  Instead of running our generator when we need to charge our electronics, we use our built-in 12v power inverter that provides 120v power from our batteries. We try to do all our power inverter recharging in the early hours of the day so our solar panel has enough time to keep our battery system charged. We still have to be aware how we are using our power, but this problem has been solved. Most sunny days I even have enough solar that I can turn the tv and satellite dish on for a few hours and still have my batteries at 100% at dusk.

Another item we use all the time is a mophie Powerstation Duo  that I got as a gift from my daughter. This little thing is awesome. You can charge up to two devices at a time and  you get a good 4 charges out of it before it needs recharging it self. It recharges pretty fast and is nice and portable, about the size of a deck of playing cards. We use it al the time in the evening to charge our phones or tablets and then recharge the Mophie in the day via solar.

 

We have gotten pretty good at conserving water by using paper products as much as possible so we have less dishes to wash. We can go about one week in between dumping our waste water tanks and refilling the fresh water. Little tricks like washing dishes in a tub and then dumping that water down the toilet instead of down the drain.  Our “gray” tank gets full much faster then our “black” tank. Gray tanks hold the shower and sinks water and black tanks hold the toilet waste. So adding water that would go to our gray tank to the black is a simple trick of adding time before having to dump the tanks.

Our fridge, stove, furnace and hot water heater run on propane. Our propane tank (24 gal.) has been lasting us about 1 month between refills. We don’t use the heat much right now being in southern Arizona. The fridge uses very little so it’s mostly used for heating water for showers and dishes and for cooking. A trick on stretching your propane is to turn off your hot water heater earlier then it is set to auto turn off. Our water heater is plenty hot after 15-20 minutes of heating, but would run for about 30 min on auto and be way hotter than needed to shower. I thought of adding a digital thermometer to the water tank, but I think I got the timing down good enough to just watch the clock.

So, As you can probably see, Boondocking is a bit more complex than your normal camping with hookups, but after you get used to it you don’t even think about it. It’s a trade-off that I think is worth it for getting a camping spot with amazing views and as spacious of a campsite as you want.

If you do any boondocking camping and have some tips or tricks to share, or some favorite camping spots, let us know.

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