Wecome To RVs and OHVs

This blog is all about RVs (recreational vehicles) and OHVs (Off Highway Vehicles), camping, and survival
and how they work together to provide wholesome family fun and great learning opportunities.
Many posts are intended to familiarize novice campers and RVers with RV systems and basic camping and survival
skills. But even experienced RVers and campers will enjoy the anecdotes and may even benefit from a new
perspective. Comments, questions, and suggestions are encouraged.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

RV Insurance

Like any other motor vehicle, RVs must have liability insurance to be driven on public roads.  However, as always, comprehensive and collision coverage is normally optional unless it is required by a lien holder.

You might  be able to add your RV to your  automobile policy, but unless they are already well known for covering RVs, chances are you won't get the best deal or the best coverage.  The time I tried to add my RV to a very good automobile policy they quoted me a premium that was more than double what I'd been paying for RV coverage previously -- and the coverage they offered was limited.

Companies that specialize or at least provide some focus on RV policies understand that RVs are different than cars and often, if not always, offer coverage that specifically targets the special features of RVs (such as awnings, roof air conditioners, etc).

The folks at reviews.com have done a very good job at exploring and recommending RV insurance.  Check out their report at www.reviews.com/rv-insurance.  If you still want to look at other companies or just want to confirm that you're making the right choice, listed below are some things to consider.

What should you look for in an RV policy?  First of all, you will want to make sure you are dealing with a reputable company that is stable enough to pay claims if you have any.  If you don't recognize the name of the company, try looking it up on the Internet or check the Better Business Bureau where the company is located.   You will want to confirm financial stability and their claims history and  customer satisfaction.   A significant factor in considering any insurance policy is always the premiums.  However, low premiums, attractive as they may be, might be deceptive.  Make sure  you know and are comfortable with the coverage you get.  Unusually low premiums are usually connected with unusually low risk (e.g., low coverage).   You could soon find any premium savings eaten up when you discover something  you thought was covered isn't.  Better RV policies will include coverage to replace a damaged awning or a roof A/C if you happen to drive under a low hanging obstacle and damage it.  Such coverages are usually excluded when an RV is added to an ordinary automobile policy.

Liability insurance is usually required by state law before you can operate your vehicle on public roads.   Most companies are familiar with the minimum legal requirements and won't offer any coverage less that that required by law.  However, for  your own protection, make sure the coverages are, at the very least, adequate for your jurisdiction.  Depending on your personal financial situation you may want to increase liability coverage.  Doing so will, of course, increase your premium, but, in the event you are in an "at fault" accident you will have higher coverages to protect your personal assets should the other party sue you for damages.  There is nothing that requires them to accept what your insurance will pay as payment full.  If you have a policy with low limits, it will help keep  your premiums low, but you may find yourself facing a court judgement forcing you to pay for damages not covered by  the limits of  your insurance policy.

Should I buy collision and comprehensive coverage?  This decision is usually based on financial considerations.  While is is always nice to be fully covered if anything happens to your RV, only you can decide if the cost of full coverage is justified.  Just like other vehicles, the value of RVs decline as they get older so there often comes a time when collision and comprehensive coverage aren't worth the extra premiums.  Collision and comprehensive are usually required by the lien holder whenever your RV is financed, regardless of the age or value.  They want to be sure their collateral won't disappear if you have an accident.

RV comprehensive coverage usually includes RV specific features or adjusted limits to accommodate the higher value of RV components and contents.  As previously mentioned, awnings and roof A/Cs are usually among the extras included in a good RV comprehensive policy.  Another thing to look for is higher coverage for contents.  RVs are very likely to have contents that greatly exceed the normal content limits for ordinary cars.  Think about what you have in  your RV (appliance, entertainment systems, personal belongings, recreational equipment, electronics, etc) that you don't carry around in your ordinary car and look for a policy that will cover those items if they are lost, damaged, destroyed, or stolen.

One popular  feature among RV policies is being able to delcare the vehicle non-operational and pay a lower premium while it is in strorage during the off season.   Such policies usually require you to have full coverage and the comprehensive part of the coverage remains in full force while the vehicle is in storage, but the liability and collision features may be suspended.  If you take advantage of this option, be sure to notify your insurance company before  you get your RV out of storage for a new season so your all your coverage is in force before  you drive it again.

Unlike motorized RVs, towable RVs usually don't require liability insurance, although it could be required by a lien holder.   If your RV is paid for, all coverage is optional for a towable but you still need liability insurance on the tow vehicle.   Again, you must decide whether the cost of the insurance is worth it to you.  Basically, the more valuable your RV, the better it is to have it fully insured.  Personally, I have never carried any kind of insurance on my towable RVs.  They have all been older units whose value didn't justify the cost of the insurance.  Over many years I have saved enough in premiums to pay to replace any of my towables.  But had one been involved in an accident early in the process, that might not have been the case.

Be sure!

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Boat Wiring

In some ways wiring on boats is similar to wiring on  RVs, but there are also some very important differences.   One that is often overlooked is the need to use Marine Grade wire in all marine applications.

Marine grade wire.  The high humidity and, often, exposure to salt air, demands the wire itself be specially designed for the marine environment.  Marine wiring will  typically have more, smaller copper strands than automotive wiring of the same gauge.  It will also be tinned.  Using ordinary copper wiring on a boat is asking for trouble.  I had to completely rewire our 24 sailboat because some previous owner had wired it with zip cord!  I understand that zip cord is readily available, inexpensive, and easy to work with, but it corrodes way too easily to last very long in a marine environment.  Virtually all  the connections were badly corroded and crumbling.  Fortunately, it didn't cause a fire, but virtually none of the fixtures were functional.

Like RVs, boats may have two or more wiring systems.   Power boats will have a wiring system for the engine, including instruments and controls.  Small pleasure boats may have a low-voltage (usually 12 or 24 volts) DC system for lights and some communications equipment.  Larger boats sometimes us a 48 volt DC system and may have an onboard generator or batteries and an inverter to power 120 volt AC systems to support residential style lights, outlets, and appliances.  The 120 volt wiring systems will normally conform to stringent marine codes that are typically an enhancement of residential wiring codes.  Older DC systems will probably use red conductors for positive and black conductors for negative lines.  Because of the potential confusion between black for negative DC and black for hot AC lines, newer systems use a yellow conductor for negative DC lines.  Of course the electricity doesn't care what color the insulation is so any color wire will carry the current, but the electrician who works on it (whether is is  you or someone who comes after you) will care so try to adhere to the normal conventions.

Because boats are often made of wood or fiberglass it is mandatory that every fixture has a ground wire  and that the ground connections are clean and secure.  A loose or corroded connection will cause performance problems such as dim, intermittent or flickering lights.  They might also cause arcing which could cause a fire or, if fuel fumes are present, even an explosion!

For convenience and a good appearance when running wiring, use multi-conductor cable rather than running 2 or more individual lines.  The additional insulation surrounding the combined conductors also provides extra protection against abrasions that could cause a short giving an extra measure of safety and longevity.

For added safety and protection against moisture, use heat shrink tubing on all joints.  It can even be used on wire nuts to help seal them.   In many automotive and even RV applications you can get away with just twisting wires together and wrapping the joint with electrical tape.  In a marine environment is is better to solder the joints and secure them with heat shrink tubing.

120 volt AC systems on a boat must always be protected by Equipment Leakage Circuit Interrupters and Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters.  It doesn't matter whether the power is coming from a shore cable or from on onboard source, such as a generator or battery banks and inverter.   Any failure in the electrical system can put both the people on the boat and any nearby swimmers at risk for their lives!  While people on the boat may experience a fatal or non-fatal shock, swimmers could receive a paralyzing dose of electricity and drown due to involuntary loss of muscle control.   Even on the soundest boats, water sometimes puddles and creates hazards we don't normally face on land or in RVs.  It would always be a good idea to enlist the services or at least seek the advice of a qualified marine electrician when installing or modifying 120 volt electrical components on your boat.

Shore power cords for boats differ from shore power cords for RVs.  They have water-proof, twist lock connectors.  The twist lock connectors are required to prevent accidental disconnects from movement of the boat while docked.  The water-proof requirement is pretty much self-explanatory for something plugged into a receptacle on a dock floating on the water.

Power  up!

Friday, May 25, 2018

Outdoor Activities -- Healthy, Fun, and Endless

One of the criticisms of today's lifestyle (at least in so-called "civilized" countries) is the lack of physical activity and exercise.  The very fact that we have fitness centers attests to the lack of normal physical activity.  A hundred years ago, when Western society consisted mostly of farmers, people got plenty of physical exercise every day.  It was part of their normal routine and something they had to do just to survive.  As we entered the industrial age we began shifting more and more physical labor to machines.  While no one would complain about having to not work as hard or to  have more free time, we are paying the price in terms of things like increasing obesity and a couch potato attitude and behavior resulting in an unhealthy, sedentary lifestyle for many people.

Some people turn to gym memberships for physical exercise.   If that works for you, more power to you.  Many people sign up for memberships and then don't use them.  Someone described a gym membership as a PE class you pay to skip!  If you enjoy working out and can do it consistently it can indeed provide many health benefits.  Unfortunately, for a lot of people it isn't fun enough or interesting enough to keep them keep them motivated.  In just about any endeavor, having someone to share it makes it more appealing and easier to stick with.   Outdoor recreational activities usually provide enough fun and social interaction to generate long-lasting motivation.

Outdoor recreation provides a variety of activities that include physical exercise, mental stimulation, and even spiritual experiences.  RVing, camping, dirt biking, boating, bicycling, hiking, hunting, and fishing all give us a chance to escape the numbing daily grind, get outside, and get some good physical exercise to boot.  Given the plethora of available outdoor opportunities, there is something for everyone.  You might be surprised how much physical effort it takes to ride motorized toys like dirt bikes and jet skis and how many calories you can burn.  I usually find that I have to take my belt up a notch or two after just a couple of days of riding my dirt bike. 

In my family we have found that RVing and camping are perfect companions for many outdoor recreational pursuits.   While RVing and camping by themselves are fun and rewarding, when coupled with additional fun things to do (like dirt biking, hiking, boating, fishing, etc) they provide a solid foundation of enjoyable and productive diversions from our normal, often rather sedentary, lives.  With so many white collar jobs where you spend all day at a desk or sitting in front of a computer and even many blue collar jobs being assisted by robots and other machines, it is all too easy to slip into a pattern of minimal physical activity.

Sometimes interest in some kind of sport (hiking, swimming, dirt biking) gives you a motivation to improve and maintain your fitness so you are better prepared and can more enjoy what you do.  If you can only get away once a month for your favorite outdoor playtime, you may need to add some daily exercise so you are strong enough and agile enough to participate in your chosen sport.  Having a reason for hitting the gym makes it easier to find or make the time to do it and stick with it.

Often during the first day of riding my dirt bike after not being able to get out for a while I would feel like I either need to do a lot less or a lot more riding.  Given those two options I would certainly like to do a lot more riding!   Usually by the second day I get my second wind and thoroughly enjoy the strenuous workout I get riding my dirt bike on challenging trails.  It has been said and I've quoted it often in this blog, "You don't stop riding because you get old; you get old because you stop riding."  To me that is a pretty darn good incentive to get out and ride (or hike or sail) as often as I can.

RVing, camping, and related activities are a terrific way to escape our modern, sedentary lifestyle.  Outdoor recreation such as hiking, mountain biking, hunting, fishing, OHV riding, boating and, in winter, snowmobiling, skiing, and snowboarding, all provide outstanding physical exercise.  You would be surprised how much effort it takes even to operate motorized equipment such as OHVs, jetskis and snowmobiles.  Sailing probably takes a lot more labor that driving a power boat, but they both get you out into the sunshine and either kind of boating often encourages swimming, which is an excellent, non-impact physical exercise. 

Get out!


Monday, May 21, 2018

How We Got Into Sailing -- Free Sailboat!

Yeah, you heard me right!  We got a sailboat for free!  It was nearly 50 years old -- a 1970 MacGregor Venture 24.  It came with 2 sets of sails, a working outboard motor, and the original trailer.  It has a swing keel so it trailers easily.  I couldn't believe it when I came across the ad on our local craigslist.   But I figured it didn't cost anything to respond to the ad and, you know the saying, "nothing ventured, nothing gained".  I was pleasantly surprised when I got a fast response from the "seller".  He said the response to the ad had "exploded" (imagine that!) and since he couldn't meet with all the interested parties individually he scheduled a Saturday morning for us all  to come look it over.  The deal was if there were still more than one interested party, whomever emailed him first on Sunday would get the boat.  Out of hundreds of inquiries he received about 10 or so interested parties actually showed up for the showing.  My wife and I made a point of getting there early and it paid off because we got to meet the owner and his wife and chat with them a little bit before the other folks showed up.

OK, so why was he giving away a good sailboat for freeDefinitely a good question and one we  very much wanted answered.  Turns out HE got the boat for free off craigslist a little over a year before and had just another free sailboat -- a 36 footer!  The previous owner of the Venture 24 was getting older and had injured  his back so he couldn't sail anymore.  The boat needed a little work and he hadn't been able to find a buyer and his own kids were not interested in having it.  So he advertised it for free on craigslist and the gentleman I got it from was the only one who responded.  He re-did all the standing rigging and purchased a good set of used sails to augment the well-used set that came with the boat.  Then, when he got a 36' sailboat for free, he and his wife decided to "pay it forward" by giving away the 24' Venture.   He got his second free sailboat from an acquaintance at work who was tired of paying registration, insurance and moorage fees on a boat he never used.  Since the 36 footer is better suited to the couple's goal of eventually being able to live and travel on a sailboat, they jumped at the chance to upgrade.

After looking over the boat and determining it was solid (but could use some TLC), we decided we wanted to be first in that email line on Sunday morning.  With that in mind I began sending emails about 11:30 pm (not knowing  how long it would take to reach the owner) and kept resending about every 5 minutes until well after midnight.   You can imagine how thrilled we were to get a call Sunday morning telling us we  had been selected as the recipients of the Venture 24!

As I mentioned above, it  defintely needed some TLC -- the once beautiful teak trim was all weathered an ugly concrete gray and the gelcoat on the topside was crazed from nearly 50 years in the elements.  With a little research on the Internet I discovered the faded teak could be restored to very near its original color by cleaning it with oxalic acid, then rubbing it down with teak oil and re-varnishing it.  I was amazed at  how quickly and beautifully it cleaned up!  We decided to paint the entire boat inside and out, which was kind of a fun winter project, letting us enjoy and get familiar with our boat even though it was too cold outside for sailing.  We chose a semi-gloss, exterior acrylic latex paint for the interior and oil-based Topside and Bottom paint for the exterior.   As anyone who has ever done any painting knows, preparation is not only the key to success, but about 80% of the effort.   Cleaning, sanding, wiping down, and masking each section took much longer than the actual painting, but when we were done we were very pleased.

Although the fiberglass hull and all  the other major components (mast, boom, rudder, keel, and rigging) were all solid, the wiring was in sad shape.  I discovered someone had run a lot of the lighting using ordinary zip cord.  Marine wiring is quite specialized -- in order to withstand the rigors of a constantly moist environment.  Marine wiring consists of many more smaller, tinned copper strands than ordinary automotive wiring of the same guage.  Of course that makes it harder to find and more expensive, but seeing what happened to the zip wire quickly convinced me to use only marine rated wire when I re-wired the boat.  The little 12-volt power panel was such a convoluted tangle of wires that I completely stripped it down and started over.  None of the existing navigation lights were functional so I replaced them with modern LED versions that will use very little power and will last for thousands of hours.  I replaced all the interior lights with LED fixtures too, then added a 30 Watt solar panel to charge the battery.

There is a saying that "A boat is a hole in the water into which you throw money!" and I can see how easily that could  happen.  I soon learned that in addition to special wiring and special paints that are both more expensive than their more common equivalents, there are hundreds and hundreds of very appealing options for boaters, ranging from basic shoes and clothing to exotic electronics for communication, navigation, depth finding and even fish finding.  I guess I can be glad I have a sailboat.  At least I won't be paying high prices for marine fuel or high cost of maintenance and repairs on complicated engines.

I learned several interesting facts about our little Venture 24.   They have a reputation for being almost unsinkable (but so was the Titanic!).  It is said you can heel one over until the top of the mast is in the water and it will right itself, due to the 500 lb swing keel hanging out the bottom.   I was surprised to learn it will sleep 5 people!  It doesn't have built in sanitation like a larger vessel would  have but it does have a nice little stainless steel kitchen sink and a porta-potti.  The galley has a shelf designed to hold a campstove and the dinette makes down into one of  the beds.  The walnut grained Formica table was very badly faded when we got it.  I was getting quite discouraged when I searched for remedies online only the learn the Formica would probably have to be replaced or painted.  Then my wife suggested I try the SC-1 detail spray I use religiously on my dirt bikes, and Wa-lah!  Success!  While ordinary furniture polish would temporarily restore the color, it quickly faded again as it dried.  But the SC-1 restored it to a near new color that lasts and lasts.   The little 24' boat will make a really nice base for extended weekend outings, proving both recreational activities and weatherproof accommodations.

 As much as we love dirt biking, I have to admit there are some summer days that are just too hot and too dry to enjoy riding the trails.   Being able to head out on the water and be able to dive right off the boat to cool off is a fun and welcome alternative.  One of the the things a really like about skippering a sailboat instead of a power boat is the choice of adventure.  If you like just relaxing, set a course downwind.  You can "ghost" along and since the wind is pushing you, you hardly feel any breeze at all as it carries you along at almost the same speed.  But if you want more excitement, turn around and sail back into the wind.  Now a sailboat can't really sail directly into the wind.  In fact, if the bow is pointed directly into the wind the boat is said to be "in irons" and it won't go anywhere, unless you count being pushed backwards!  Sailing into the wind means tacking back and forth across the wind at an angle.  When you do this the wind fills the sail and turns it into an airfoil (like an airplane wing) and the "lift " pushes the boat along.  When doing this the boat will often heel over 15° or so and you can really feel the speed and the wind in your face.  It isn't unusual to heel over so far water is coming over the rail into the boat!  However, it is said as long as the water coming over the rail is white and not green, you're OK.   Wind can generate a surprising amount of power and speed.  Remember, wind was essentially the only way to move large vessels on the water for thousands of years.  I've even seen sailboats tow water skiers!  When I lived in Marina Del Rey near Los Angeles, California some years ago, there was a guy with a little 10-12' sailing catamaran who would take it out and tow water skiers with it when most of the power boats were seeking shelter during small craft warnings.

By the way, there are other ways to find free boats.  In fact there is an entire web site devoted to Free Boats.  You can also find cheap boats on ebay where at least one charity offers boats for sale that have been donated to them, allowing them to auction them off at ridiculously low prices.  However, as always, caveat emptor -- buyer beware!  Many free boats will need a lot of work or may have some hidden legal incumberances such as past-due moorage or storage fees.  Be sure you are prepared to handle what ever work is needed -- either by doing it yourself or having the budget to pay a professional to do it for you. 

Sail away!

Monday, May 14, 2018

Sanitation for Boaters

Some larger cabin cruiser and sailboats have sanitation facilities similar to those on RVs:  fresh water supply tanks and  holding tanks for waste.  Smaller "day cruisers" might have a porta-potti.  Human powered crafts (row boats, canoes, kayaks) and personal water craft don't have any sanitation facilities and you have to stop somewhere when you need to go.

The process for using, maintaining and dumping the holding tanks on larger vessels is very similar to that for RVs with one exception:  RV normally use gravity to transfer the waste from the holding tanks to the dump station.  The holding tanks on boats usually have to be pumped.   A well equipped marina will have facilities to pump boat holding tanks.  If you take your boat out of the water after each outing and trailer it home,  you might be able to dump the holding tanks in any standard RV dump station.

Handling the porta-pottis on smaller crafts is pretty much the same as for tent campers.  Carry the holding tank out of the boat and dump it into a toilet or approved dump station.   As always, be sure to rinse it thoroughly and add the proper amount of chemicals so it will be ready to use next time you go out.  Re-fill the clean water reservoir on the porta-potti each time  you dump it too.

Sail on!

Friday, March 23, 2018

OHV Tips for Riding Hills

Most of the off road trails you will ride on or in your OHV will include hills you will have to negotiate.   Climbing, descending, or crossing hills (slopes)  requires specific skills that are different from what you need for traveling on level ground.

Climbing hills.  For climbing hills with any type of OHV, the first thing you need to do is determine if the hill you are facing is within the capabilities of you and your machine.  If not, find a way around or turn around and go back.  Next, most people will try to get a little run at the hill, but be sure not to go so fast that you are uncomfortable or being to lose control.  Sooner or later you are likely to encounter a hill you cannot get over the top of.  When that happens, you need to know how to safely get back down.   How you do that will depend on what kind of OHV you are operating.  For a dirt bike, shut off the engine, put the transmission in 1st gear.  Then get off the bike and gently turn the front wheel, release the clutch to let the bike roll until it is approximately cross ways from you original hill climbing direction.  Then turn the wheel downhill, carefully remount the bike, and ride back down the  hill.  You may want to release the clutch and let the engine start and you can then use engine braking to help control the speed of your descent.  If you are riding an ATV you will want to set the parking brake, dismount, and drag the front of of the ATV around until it is angled downhill.  Then remount, release the brake, and ride down the hill.  As with a dirt bike, let the engine start and use engine braking to help control your downhill speed.  Side-by-sides are incredibly difficult to turn around when climbing a hill so it is usually best to simply back down slowly, carefully watching behind you (over your shoulder or via mirrors).

Descending hills.  A common problem for all OHVs when descending hills is going to fast as gravity pulls you and your ride down the slope.  The first defense is to downshift to increase engine braking to reduce speed.  Then use your brakes judiciously.  Overuse of the front brake on dirt bikes or ATVs may cause the machine to flip over the  handlebars so use the front brake sparingly if at all.  Once you reach the bottom of the hill and begin to level out you can use both brakes to continue to slow down or stop as desired.

Crossing Hills.  Crossing hills on a dirt bike is fairly straightforward, as long as you keep the bike balanced and keep enough forward momentum.  You don't want to stop where you can't put your foot down to stabilize your bike!  If you encounter a problem crossing a hill that requires you to slow or stop, lean uphill and put that foot down for stabilization.  Crossing hills with ATVs and side-by-sides is generally not a good idea.  You might be able to do it if the slope isn't too steep, but all too often, by the time you can make that determination, it is too late and your machine is already starting to roll over.  Sometimes you can help keep an ATV stable crossing a slope by leaning uphill to help counter the pull of gravity that is trying to make it roll over.  Since you can't shift your weight in a side-by-side to assist crossing  hills, it is better not to try it at all!

Have a hill of a time  -- and stay safe!

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Using Electronic Devices When Camping

Wait a minute!  Aren't camping and other outdoor activities a way to escape our dependence on electronic devices?  Absolutely!  Yet there may be times, if we are carefully selective, when electronic devices may actually enhance our fun.

Our modern world is highly dependent on electronic devices.  We rely on our computers, cell phones, GPSs and (at least for teens) hand-held video games.  While we often go camping to escape some of the electronic tethers that tend to control our lives,  there are also times we will want or even need to use them.  All of these are marvelous inventions that provide wonderful capabilities, but they also require support, most importantly power and often cell tower or Internet access.  Both electrical power and cell tower or Internet access are often scare in a camping environment.  If you are car camping or in an RV you should have ready access to 12-volt battery power.  Many RVs also have 120-volt generators. Inverters can convert 12 volt DC power from the battery in your car or RV to 120 volt power to run electronic gadgets.  If you take your portable devices with you out on the trails, you may need to bring along some kind of auxiliary battery or charger to recharge them.  Solar chargers are especially well-suited for camping and other off road endeavors.

One of the most useful devices for campers is a GPS system or a cell phone with GPS.  Being able to get turn-by-turn directions to where you’re going saves a lot of unintended detours and can avoid a lot of bad roads, traffic, and construction.  Some GPS systems are even appropriate for off-road use, tracking your exact route and allowing you to reverse the route to get back to camp should you get disoriented or encounter poor visibility that would prevent you from using landmarks to find your way back.  

CB radios and FMRS/GMRS walkie talkies can provide excellent short-range communications between vehicles in a convoy or between riders or hikers out on a trail.   FMRS radios do not require a license.  GMRS radios have some higher output channels that give you greater range but do required an FCC license.  Some of the FMRS/GMRS channels overlap CB channels so you can use your CB base station in camp to monitor communications among members of your group out on the trail.  That might be particularly important if someone needs assistance, such as mechanical problems or a medical emergency.

Laptops, tablets, and smart phones give us highly portable computer power we can use almost anywhere we go.  If you happen to be within range of a cell tower, you may even be able to access the Internet from your phone or tablet.  That can be helpful if you need help with an emergency repair or just to look up some bit of information relevant to your situation.

Portable electronic devices depend on reliable battery power.  Hand-held CBs and walkie talkies may have rechargeable or replaceable batteries.  You can usually remove rechargeable battery packs and replace them with ordinary batteries in a  pinch.  Always carry a good supply of replacement batteries for all your hand-held devices.  Cell phones and GPSs usually have only rechargeable batteries so you will need a way to recharge them in camp.  Many such devices these days use a USB charge cable that can be connected to a computer or 12-volt or 120-volt charger.  12-volt chargers plug into the cigarette lighter or 12-volt power receptacle on your vehicle or battery power pack.  You can purchase pocket-sized auxiliary batter packs with USB connectors to recharge most GPSs, cell phones, etc if you need or want to carry extra power with you out on the trail.  In camp you can use the 12-volt charger plugged into your vehicle.  We have noticed that our cell phones charge faster using the 120-volt wall charger than with the 12-volt car charger so we usually use a small inverter plugged into the cigarette lighter to power the wall charger to charge our portable devices.   One advantage to the car chargers are that they are fairly inexpensive.  You can even get them at Dollar Tree, along with standard sync cables for Android phones (Lighting cables for iPhones are harder to find and more expensive).  Be aware that although the car chargers may look the same they may not always act the same and deliver the same performance as the OEM chargers from your phone manufacturer.  In some cases, using an unapproved charger may even void your warranty!  However, in my experience, the only problems I have encountered have more to do with reliability and longevity.  I have also discovered that all 12-volt chargers usually take longer to charge my phone than a wall charger.  So we usually use a small inverter that plugs into the cigarette lighter in the car and then run the wall charger off that instead of using a 12-volt charger. 

Using high-quality replaceable batteries will usually give you the best performance and they will usually last longer than cheaper batteries.  Alkaline batteries are usually better than standard batteries and newer lithium ion batteries can deliver even better performance, but in each case you pay for what you get.  Because my backup batteries often sit around in my camp kit or motorhome for some time before getting used I tend to avoid buying high priced batteries that may be dead by the time I need them.  instead, I stock up on inexpensive batteries at Dollar Tree or get them on coupon sales at Harbor Freight so I always have plenty on hand.

Portable power packs (rechargeable batteries) can be used to power or recharge cell phones and other small hand-held devices on the go.  A attractive alternative that provides free power (one you pay for the charger!) is a solar battery charger.  These use solar panels to charge your batteries using only sunlight.  The only problems I’ve found with them are that 1) they tend to be a little pricey and 2) the are usually somewhat awkward to carry conveninently when hiking or trail riding.  However, both the cost and the effort to bring them along may be well worth it to be able to recharge your devices in remote areas.

Because our excursions away from camp are usually measured in hours, not days, I don’t usually carry spare batteries with me out on the trail.  I just check them before each outing and replace any that are getting low before we take off.  If you are going to be back-packing or engaging in some other activity where you will be away from your base camp for more than a few hours you may want to carry spare batteries for your flashlights, lanterns, and your electronic devices.  Solar LED lanterns are becoming a viable option for remote camping.  Some even have USB  ports to charge your cell phones or other small electronic devices.  They are kind of the best of both worlds:  efficient portable light that can be recharged for free anywhere you have sunlight.  I wouldn’t recommend them for spelunking or cave diving!   Just remember to take them out of your tent and put them out in the sun every day to recharge.  LEDs low power demand means you get the most out of each charge.  I've seen an LED lantern still bright for months after being left on in the barn all night.  Do that with an ordinary incandescant type light and the battery would have been long dead way before morning!


Charge!