Tuesday, September 26, 2023


Generators: Less is more

By Dave Helgeson

When it comes to boondocking I subscribe to the “less is more” philosophy.

helgeson boondockingThe majority of boondockers own a generator for one reason: to keep their 12 volt batteries charged. Unfortunately, many don’t understand that bigger is not better when it comes to generators and battery charging. Most converter chargers in an RV can operate on 1,000 watts or less of 120 volt electricity (aka shore power). Owning and operating a larger generator can be a waste of space and fuel.

The advantages of a smaller generator:

  • Less fuel consumption means less fuel used and less spare fuel you need to carry
  • Takes up less space in your rig
  • Weighs less (less weight for you to carry around, less weight to haul down the road)
  • Less noise while running than a larger generator
  • Fewer exhaust fumes
  • Easier to pull start than a larger portable generator

Now, before you fill the comment box full of remarks that a 1,000 watt generator won’t power this or that, consider these potential statements and solutions:

  • 1,000 watts won’t run my electric coffee pot. Use the stove like your grandparents did.
  • 1,000 watts won’t run the wife’s hair dryer on high. No, but it will on the styling (low) setting.
  • 1,000 watts won’t power my refrigerator and converter at the same time. Manually switch your refrigerator to LP gas.
  • When my large battery bank is really low, the amp draw via my 3 or 4 stage charger blows the circuit breaker on my 1,000 watt generator. Try taking one or two batteries out of your bank (via a battery switch) for awhile and then bring them back online after the generator has had a chance to put some amps in the other batteries.
  • 1,000 watts won’t power my microwave oven. No, it won’t, but an inexpensive 2,000 watt inverter will. For the short time most people run their microwave (warming coffee, zapping a plate of nachos, etc.), having an inverter is more convenient than starting and running a generator for a minute or two. 
  • 1,000 watts won’t operate my air conditioner. No, it won’t, but RVers boondock by choice. If it is too hot to enjoy where you are camping, move to somewhere cooler.

Other helpful tips
Make sure the electric element on your water heater is turned off before starting your generator.

For items that need long term charging from a 120 volt AC source (cordless drills, laptops, etc) consider a small inverter for your tow vehicle or dinghy that plugs into the cigarette lighter. Charge these items up while you run into town for groceries, sightseeing, etc.

Running a dry washer from the truck mounted generator
I mounted my 1,000 watt generator in the back of my tow vehicle. It serves as a backup power source away from the RV. If my tow vehicle battery were to run low in the middle of nowhere (aka the boondocks) I can use it to charge up my starting battery. I can also use it to power my dry washer when prospecting away from the RV. Also, since it is bolted and locked in place I don’t have to worry about it being stolen.




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