No water or electricity? How primitive is it?

Saturday’s post about dry camping was unintentionally misleading. And we promptly received feedback from some of you faithful readers about this. It seems I may have provided an overly stark description of the conditions when dry camping. But, in fact, there isn’t much primitive to it. After all, we are living in a fully self-contained and very capable recreational vehicle. We aren’t roughing it, even these past seven days. As Debbie reminded me at supper this evening, even dry camping in our Airstream is still pretty luxurious.

In the interest of fair and balanced reporting, I’m going to detail better what I meant when I talked Saturday about our week of dry camping. Here’s an excerpt from Saturday’s post:
“This has been easy camping, although not far different from what we usually would do. We can’t use the microwave. We use a small portable inverter to convert 12vdc to 110vac for someone’s curling iron and to recharge the laptop. And we can watch television if we want, again using the same 150 watt inverter. Everything else is battery-powered. After completing five and starting the sixth day we have remaining 10 gallons fresh water (we have used 29 gallons). We have 1/2 tank each in black water and rinse water. Our batteries are fully charged. It seems we could go at least another two days at the current rate of water usage.”

Okay, so what did I leave out? Actually, I left a lot to the imagination. I ignored a pretty basic rule of writing, where the writer remembers who is reading the story. A couple of you told us we sound as though we might not have water enough to provide bathing and cooking, for example. And some of you wondered what does the battery power provide, different from when we are connected to electricity? We can see how yesterday’s post left out some really important details. The problem is this: we forget we aren’t writing to ourselves. Said another way, I understand exactly what I meant but I am not writing well if I don’t help all of you understand what I want you to hear.

I’m going to take another pass at describing the end of our week of dry camping starting first about our water consumption. At the end of the week we had used an average of five gallons daily of fresh water for drinking, cooking, cleaning up, and flushing our toilet. We would have used more but sometimes would use the campground’s very nice washroom and showers. Our water consumption would probably have increased by at least two gallons daily if we had not used the campground’s washroom and showers. We would have used all 39 gallons of our fresh water tank in this week. We would then have pulled the trailer to a nearby drinking water faucet, connected our hose to the threaded faucet and refilled our 39 gallon fresh water tank.

The amount of the trailer’s stored fresh water we consume pretty directly impacts the rate at which we fill the toilet’s waste tank, called the black tank, and the shower’s and sinks’ waste tank, called the rinse water tank. The black tank will hold 18 gallons and the rinse tank will hold 39 gallons. Since we start with both waste tanks empty and only have 39 gallons of fresh water, we won’t fill both waste tanks at once. In fact, at the end of over 5 days we had poured some part of almost 30 gallons of fresh water between the black and rinse water tanks. Since their combined capacity is 57 gallons, we had filled the two waste tanks only by one-half.

Our electronic tank monitoring system displays for us the water level in the three water tanks, the fresh water and the two waste tanks. It warned us we had only one-fourth of the fresh water available (almost 10 gallons) and we had filled the two waste tanks approximately 1/2 full each. If the fresh water tank reading is accurate (we think it is, since I calibrated these not long ago) then the readings for the other two tanks make sense. The numbers work out. Sometimes things are like they seem, and it is good.

It appears we would have run out of fresh water before the waste tanks filled up. We could, in short order, hitch up the trailer to our truck and tow the trailer the several hundred feet to the water hydrant to refill the tank. Some people carry 7 gallon fresh water jugs and others carry a larger water bag (sort of like an inflatable bed or water bed) to bring a resupply of fresh water to their trailer. We haven’t had much experience dry camping and, so far, haven’t minded moving the trailer to the water source.

But if our waste tanks filled first we would tow our trailer to the dump station, empty our tanks, and return to the campsite for another five days. Some of the people in the state park carried with them a portable blue rolling tank to help manage their waste tanks. They can empty the trailer’s black or rinse water tank into these portable “honey pots” and tow the honey pot to the campground’s dump station. They can empty the honey pot, rinse the connections, and their camper will go another three or four or five days before they repeat this aromatic chore.

Okay, now a brief description of the electric side of things. We have friends who are very experienced solar charged battery managers. They contend they can use their trailer’s batteries to power anything they want pretty much all they want to. And their batteries will hold up to all this use. We haven’t enjoyed this much battery power. Our system is apparently more modest, with two heavy duty 6 volt batteries wired in series to provide the 12 volts our trailer needs. What needs this power?

Our Airstream uses battery power in several different ways. Perhaps two of the most important are the trailer’s gas detector and the refrigerator automatic control. The water heater uses battery power for its ignition and automatic controls. Our tank monitoring system needs battery power if we are going to be able to determine how much fresh water we have or how much space we have in our waste tanks. The trailer’s water pump is battery-powered, and delivers a wonderful brisk water pressure to our faucets and shower head. My ham radio uses battery power so I can listen and transmit on the amateur radio bands. Our laptops, phone, and camera batteries use the trailer’s battery power to recharge them. Did I mention I am listening to our FM stereo radio while I’m typing this? Yes, it uses the trailer’s battery power too.

Would you have guessed the trailer’s batteries can do all this? Oh! What about the trailer’s interior lighting? We have four reading lights we can aim for best reading illumination. Two are at the sofa and two are above the head of our bed. We have a dozen bright ceiling lights we use whenever we lose something under the table or on the floor somewhere, or when we are cleaning the inside of or Airstream. We have two downlights shining down onto the sofa area to help with reading or working on the laptop like I’m doing now. We have eleven lights inside our four overhead storage bins to help find stuff there and to help provide indirect lighting into our Airstream’s interior.

Our washroom has two light bulbs in its fixture, and the vanity has three bright light bulbs so someone can do the detailed work she doesn’t really need but likes to keep up. Our clothes closets each have a light fixture. And our two cargo compartments (our basements, sort of) each have a light fixture. We have downlights for the kitchen’s work surface, shining down onto our dinette, and in the range hood to illuminate the stove’s cooking surface. Our refrigerator has an interior light. And we have a light fixture outside, above our door.

A lot of lights, isn’t it? And these are all powered from the trailer’s two batteries. If we are dry camping, how long will the batteries last, with all these things drawing power from them? Not all these appliances and lights are on at the same time. Some evenings we will use only one or two lights at a time. The batteries will last anywhere from a few hours to a day or so, unless we can recharge the batteries periodically. If we cannot plug into electricity to power our trailer’s battery charger, then we have two other ways to recharge our batteries. One is the really nifty portable 1000 watt Yamaha generator we have and have needed once in four years.

The other way we can keep our batteries charged is with our two big solar panels mounted on top of our Airstream’s roof. These have kept our batteries recharged perfectly for the past week, and the solar panels do this without charging us a thing no matter how much electricity we use. The sun can shine brightly or it can shine through clouds, and the solar panels still provide a charge on our batteries. So we are never really without electricity, as long as we have either an electrical outlet, or solar power, or our generator.

But if all these battery-powered systems happened to not work, then what? We have candles, a portable battery powered lantern, and flashlights. We can draw water directly from the fresh water tank, using a small bucket we carry. And we can buy a cooler to help our food stay cold if the fridge stops working. We’ll have to eat the ice cream before it melts. And there’s the beer and wine we can drink, too.

You might see, after this explanation, we have back-ups for our back-ups, and if all those fail, we have a back-up plan. If we don’t have electrical power, we can charge the batteries with solar power. If the solar panels don’t work because of rain or too much shade from trees, we can use the generator to charge the batteries. And if the generator also won’t work and we can’t move the trailer to a sunny spot or somewhere with electricity, then we’ll just have to eat the ice cream before it melts. And if we run out of water, we’ll have to drink orange juice, and milk, and beer, or go find some water somewhere.

How did we ever get by when we were tent camping? We plan ahead. We’re versatile and flexible and creative. And things haven’t been very primitive. Like Debbie said, even dry camping in our Airstream is still luxurious.

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3 responses to “No water or electricity? How primitive is it?

  1. Well written!! I’m still a little confused on the inverter. Does it use the unit’s battery power and convert it to 110v? Did this come with your Airstream, or are you using an aftermarket system? If using the TV for very long, or your HAM radio, could you run out of battery capacity? The obivous answer is yes, so you must use conservation in your entertainment power usage. I am surprised the inverter would power a hair dryer!

    I like the back-up to the back-ups. Ol’ Wally knew what he was doing!!

    Our batteries are shot, and must be replaced, but we don’t have the space capacity for taller batteries due to the front bed cargo storage, so will probably get the highest capacity we can in the available space. The solar panels intrigue me, and once we can retire, I want to explore options.

    This is an excellent presentation of dry camping to those of us who have never experienced it in an RV. I have read about small windmills that could also provide power. And having the small generator is not only logical, it’s the smart thing to do, if one has space.

    Well done, Jim!!!!!

    • Barry,
      We have not run out of battery but have seen the voltage dip down a bit after an evening of usage. You’re correct, the solution is in conservation of the battery capacity. But the television uses very little battery power. The ham radio, when I am transmitting at 100 watts, uses a lot of battery power. And no, our inverter (110 volts ac, 150 watts) will not power our hair dryer but does power Deb’s curling iron.

      Thanks for your comments,
      Jim

  2. Perhaps it is just of mix of words and definitions, but we consider what you do as boondocking. We camp in our motorhome in many locations where there are no hook-ups available and we use the resources we have on board. We found this to be helpful in describing the different types of camping: http://www.picnicplacemat.com/Dry-Camping.html

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