LIVE OFF THE GRID FOR LONGER
Nothing will bring your free camping holiday to an end quicker than running out
of power, or running out of water. In this day and age, you can’t go long in the bush without both, so you need to ensure you can, firstly, carry as much water and store as much power as possible, and secondly, make sure that supply goes the distance! There are countless tips and tricks you can use to get the most out of your power and water supplies – what we’ve done is put the most
effective into one, easy to follow list! We’ve talked to free camping expert,
Graeme Groves, from Northern RV Services and there’s not much these guys don’t know about water and power management in vans! Even the
simplest tips will get you longer in the bush – together, these 20 tips could easily result in an extra week off the grid. Read on to find out how!
MAKE YOUR WATER SUPPLIES LAST!
We’ve seen countless innovative water saving ideas on the road – ranging from simple rules for re-using water through to expansive filtration setups you’d usually find on houses or top of the line yachts! When it comes to saving water, it all boils down to having a plan, and a little bit of sacrifice.
WATER-SAVING SHOWERS & TAPS – ARE THEY WORTH IT?
Most new free camping vans on the market will come with the latest low flow shower heads and flow reducers on taps, however you only need to go back seven or so years to find a generation of vans without this technology.
Installing a low flow shower head can reduce water consumption by 40% – that alone can get you an extra three days or more of showering bliss – it’s certainly worth the investment!
CATCHING RAIN WATER
We get a lot of readers writing in, asking if it’s safe to catch rain water running off their awning and van. The short answer is yes – but be wary drinking it. Gutter attachments are available for your awning, the best of which is the Rain Saver Gutter. Collecting this rain water in buckets is certainly making hay while the sun shines… so to speak!
EXPERT ADVICE: ADDING EXTRA WATER STORAGE
Graeme Groves – Northern RV Services
“The easiest method is to just add another tank in line with your existing water tank. You should always check your caravan’s carrying capacity and location of installing another tank as each litre of water weighs approximately one kilo in weight. Position is also important as where the tank is mounted can alter the stability of the van when travelling.”
“Another great free camping idea is to plumb a separate tank for drinking water only, using a separate pump and tap through a filter system giving you clean fresh drinking water. You can fill this tank from home and only fill your main tanks when you get closer to your destination, saving on fuel and ensuring you have good quality drinking water. Separating your water makes it easier to ration over your scheduled days of travel”.
THE BENEFITS OF A RIVER PUMPING SYSTEM
Graeme Groves – Northern RV Services
Running a dedicated drinking water tank opens up an opportunity to collect water from alternate water sources like freshwater creeks and rivers. Most creek and river water can be filtered well enough to be used for general water usage, including showers, washing up and cleaning. Park up next to a running creek and you could live off that water supply for weeks! However, check with local regulations to ensure you can legally extract water from that source.
River pumping systems like the ones sold by Northern RV Services can easily be packed up and stored in your tunnel boot or A-frame toolbox, and are super simple to use and install.
THE MOST EFFECTIVE UPGRADE
Most free campers would know the benefits of LED lights by now, but a lot of the older vans still have the fluorescent, or halogen bulbs and these types of globes use up to 90% more power than the new LED globes. Changing your lighting to LEDs can save you enormous amounts of your precious battery power. If you haven’t upgraded to LED lighting yet – you should!
BEATING THE HEAT
Hot conditions don’t just zap the energy out of us – they also zap the energy out of your 12V system. Your fridge works harder, your batteries don’t enjoy it, and even solar panels need good air circulation to be their most productive. So step one to saving power is to find a good shady campsite. Have the back side of the your van constantly in the shade to help your fridge, while adding extra shade and insulation to your battery and wiring hub will allow it to work as efficiently as possible.
The added bonus of being in the shade is that you’ll be using your air con less, and fans won’t be necessary. The only thing that could pose an issue camping in shade is solar panel efficiency – get yourself some portable panels and you’ll have no problems.
The simplest way to save on power is to cook outside. Your options are endless here – the best obviously being cooking on fire, while you have simple inside options like thermal cooking, should your campsite not allow fires.
DO WHAT YOU CAN AT DUSK
There’s nothing stopping you doing your chores and cooking BEFORE happy hour. The less you have to do after night, the less you’ll need to turn the lights on – it’s that simple!
OLD SCHOOL ENTERTAINMENT
“Watching TV, listening to music and using tablets and the like have become much easier tasks while free camping, however they are huge power wasters. I’m an ‘old school’ kind of guy – when the stars are high, I’m outside, around a fire enjoying the simple things in life. It’s that experience we all crave, and I reckon it can be lost in the age of technology! So get out and enjoy the great outdoors – you’ll save power and experience a whole new side to bush camping.”
4 MISTAKES VANNERS MAKE THAT WASTE POWER
Graeme Groves – Northern RV Services
- Using the wrong size wiring, not installing a shunt (transfers the flowing current into voltage signal) – both result in voltage drop.
- Not hard-mounting solar panels mounted correctly. There should be air flow under the panels for them to operate at full capacity.
- Not enough batteries is a common mistake and discharging batteries to below 50% capacity all the time will reduce the life of the battery.
- Finding a nice shady spot by the river and expecting your solar panels to still operate in the shade. If you insist in parking in the shade there are 160W folding panels that you can put out in the sun to replenish your batteries
COMMON MYTHS ABOUT POWER CONSUMPTION
You can use your 3 way fridge on 12V when it’s not connected to the vehicle when its running. You can even flatten your vehicle battery when parked if you do not have a cut off installed or disconnect the power from the car if stationary for some period.
A 2kVa generator will run all air conditioners. This is not true. This depends on start-up and most larger air cons require at least a 2.4kVa or larger.
A car battery can be used to power a caravan. Car batteries are designed for short bursts of power and must be located in a vented area. Always use a battery designed for caravans.
WE ASKED: Allan ‘Overthetop’ McGrath uses a simple bucket and plunger ‘washing machine’ to save on water. What are your water saving tips?
“We don’t even use the plunger. Half fill the bucket, add detergent and clothes, put it back into its holder on the roof rack and let the corrugations do the rest. We also use the water for a ‘bath’ before doing the washing.” – Westprint
“Not washing your caravan every week…we were staying at Yamba for two weeks recently and the number of nomads that were doing that. It was surprising to say the least!” – Bruce-Julie Williams
“Get a 750mL Coke bottle or 2L milk bottle , drill about eight holes (1.8mm) ideally at 45° in the lids, half fill with hot water and top up with cold. Tip the leftover water in the sink for dish washing – we can survive easily on 10 litres a day or less and shower every day.” – Peter Gray
“Use wet paper towel to wipe dishes then a dry one to finish off or use tiny amount of water for dish washing. Body wash alternate days. Catch the cold water while waiting for the hot water and use it to wash dishes or clothes. Take vacuum sealed rice and pasta so you don’t have to use water to cook it.” – Lorraine Paterson
“We stand a 20 litre watertight jar in the shower, add dirty clothes, water and wool mix. It agitates as we travel. Just wring out and hang up – it’s that easy!” – Lynda Watson
“Use wool wash instead of laundry detergent and you won’t need to rinse. A great water saver. I do it all the time.” – Venice Williamson
“On rainy days we drop one side of our annex and fill our water containers” – Kay Williams
“A couple on our last trip had two different coloured 500ml spray bottles. One had water and detergent and the other water only. It worked really well for dishes…I’ll be trying it next trip!” – Westprint