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.

Sunday, December 21, 2014


Boondocking is usually used to describe camping "off grid".  While technically you are "off grid" when stopping in a rest area or Walmart or Cracker Barrel parking lot, or any non-hookups camp site (like a primitive  Forest Service campground), the term normally conjures up visions of remote, unimproved campsites.  Boondocking requires greater care in conserving resources than is needed when camping in developed campgrounds that offer at least some services or amenities.  Many basic Forest Service campgrounds at least have toilets and community water faucets and often have a dump station nearby.  When you go completely "off grid" in dispersed camping areas offered by the Forest Service and the BLM you are totally dependent on the self contained features of your RV and on the resources you have brought with you.  That is truly boondocking!  If you fill up your holding tanks or run out of water you're going to have to make a trip to a facility where you can dump your tanks and purchase water.

The major requirement for successful boondocking is conservation of resources.  You will need to conserve,water, battery power, and fuel and minimize filling of holding tanks.  You may also need to conserve provisions since you'll probably be some distance from anyplace you can buy additional supplies.

There are many ways to conserve water, which also helps minimize filling of holding tanks.  Some common examples are reducing waste by saving the water you run while waiting for the shower to warm up and use it for other purposes, such as pre-rinsing dishes or pre-washing extra dirty hands.  You might also use it for washing camping equipment as needed in camp.  Another trick is to use paper towels or old newspapers to wipe dirty dishes instead of rinsing them.  At home you probably leave the water running while you're scrubbing your hands, washing your body in the shower, and brushing your teeth.  To save water, turn the water off except when you are actively using it.  Rinse off, then turn off the shower while you're soaping or shampooing, then turn it back on to rinse off the suds.  You'd be surprised how much water you'll save by simply turning it off when you're not actively using it.  If there are restrooms available anywhere near your primitive campsite, take advantage of them whenever you can to reduce filling of your black water tank.  Yes, I know some of the pit toilets in remote areas are really nasty, but tolerating a few minutes there can avoid long term exposure to really foul odors you will encounter in your RV if your black water tank overflows.  If you are germophobic, carry some hand sanitizer to clean the toilet seat as well as your hands.  Conserving water will automatically reduce filling of  holding tanks.  To make a little extra room in your gray water tank, drain off a bucket or two to put our your campfire each night.

Battery power will be another critical resource, especially in cold weather when you;'ll need it for your furnace.  Match your schedule to the rising and setting of the sun to reduce your dependence on artificial light and use lanterns or flashlights after dark whenever possible to minimize battery drain.  Replacing general power hungry incandescent bulbs with LEDs in as many fixtures as possible will reduce power consumption.  But be aware that LEDs may not be suitable for all locations.  You may need brighter light for reading and other work areas, but they are ideal for RV porch lights and general interior illumination.  Bright, good quality LEDs still tend to be somewhat expensive, about $10 per bulb, but inexpensive alternatives are showing up.  I recently purchased 20 LEDs made in China for about $20.  Turns out they are not bright enough to replace ALL the bulbs in my RV, but even replacing half of them will make a difference in battery drain.  I've seen a single 12-volt incandescent bulb completely drain an RV house battery in just an afternoon when it was inadvertently left on in a bathroom.  Using the LEDs for general lighting when you don't need concentrated light on a work area will save quite a bit of battery power.  Incandescent bulbs are essentially a dead short using a high resistance wire as a filament between the hot and ground sides.  The reason it glows is that it gets very hot.  You will use your furnace more on cool nights and unless it is a convection type furnace without a fan, the fan can run the batteries down.  It is ironic that when the batteries get low the fan tends to keep running after the burner has shut off, blowing cold air.

Conservation of fuel is another consideration.  Topping the list is propane, used for heating and cooking.  Minimize your needs by designing menus that require little cooking or cook on your campfire as much as you can.  Reduce heat loss to keep furnace consumption as low as possible by eliminating drafts in your RV, keeping doors and windows closed as much as you can, and using insulating bubble foil on all the windows.  Your furnace may blow cold air if you run out of propane or if your batteries get low.  Be sure to check both propane and battery gauges so you can identify the problem and take appropriate action.  Either motor fuel or propane may be used to power your on board generator, depending on the configuration.  Those that use motor fuel usually tap into to fuel tank higher than the engine fuel pump port to prevent you from using up ALL your gas running the generator.  You may be able to increase your propane supply by using an "Extend-a-stay" kit that allows you to attach an external tank to your motorhome.   Note:  Extend-a-stay kits will provide vaporize propane for appliances but NOT liquid propane for a propane powered generator. Since most travel trailers already have removable tanks, they only need bring along extra tanks to swap out.  Many travel trailers and some diesel powered motorhomes use propane powered generators.  In any case you'll want to minimize generator usage.  That doesn't mean avoiding it altogether because you will need it to run the A/C in hot weather and to recharge batteries in any weather.  But don't leave the generator running when it isn't needed.  And make sure to keep it properly tuned and adjusted.  A clogged air filter or worn spark plugs can significantly affect both performance and fuel economy.  And, of course, make sure you have enough fuel in or for your vehicle to get back to civilization.  Top off  your tanks as close to your destination as is practical.  If there is any chance you won't have enough fuel to get back, bring along an extra 5 gallon can or two of fuel.  If you are riding OHVs you may be able to commandeer fuel you brought for them to get you safely home.  On one occasion I even dumped a few gallons of pre-mix into the gas tank of my pickup truck when it ran out of gas before we reached a gas station on the way  home from the Mojave Desert one trip.

An often misunderstood requirement for successful boondocking is choosing a good location.    Certainly you CAN just drive out into the forest or desert but choosing an appropriate location will make your trip more comfortable and more fun.  Location can affect many aspects of camping.  For example, a shaded campsite can reduce A/C needs in hot weather and a sheltered location can reduce heating costs in cold weather.  Even more important is whether the campsite meets your camping and other recreational needs.  We developed a list of several good staging areas for our dirt bike outings in the Mojave Desert.  Each one was conveniently located to give access to a number of possible trails while providing sufficient space for our Desert Rat group, an unofficial organization of family oriented, recreational riders.  You will also want to consider environmental factors such as proximity to land fills or feed lots that could contribute unpleasant odors or being downwind of agricultural fields, gravel pits, or construction sites that may yield blowing dust.  If anyone in your party has specific allergies you may want to avoid locations where plants or chemicals that might trigger their symptoms are plentiful.  Access to the location is sometimes assumed or overlooked -- until you find yourself stuck or trapped and it is too late.  So seek locations that are easy to get in and out of.   You may encounter height, length,and weight restrictions on some roads or in some campgrounds so check things out before you find yourself someplace you can't get out of.  While there is a certain appeal to boondocking in pristine areas, using campsites that have been previously used often yields several advantages.  One is that they most likely have good access if they are often used.  You may also be able to easily find the most level spot by observing where previous visitors have parked.  Another benefit is that they often have existing fire pits, which reduces your level of effort in building a safe campfire and minimizes environmental impact on pristine natural resources.

While I've recently seen several claims in RV magazines that the majority of RVers (somwhere around 3/4 as a matter of fact) usually stay in developed, often full hookup campgrounds,  I personally find boondocking to be a more authentic form of camping.  Camping on a paved parking area with water, electricity, and sewer connections is convenient but, at least to me, it somehow lacks the adventure of camping in the open desert or remote forest.  Of course,  our affinity for dirt biking also pushes us toward dispersed camping areas since there are very few full hookup campgrounds with direct access to OHV trails.

Go off grid!

Saturday, December 20, 2014

RV Porch Lights

Most RVs come from the factory with at least one outside light near the entrance.  They are usually fixtures with a single incandescent bulb, but LEDs are becoming more popular.  Some may have integrated switches so you can turn them on as needed, like for finding the right key and the key hole in the dark and finding the step so you don't fall flat on your face!  If your RV doesn't have a convenient porch light, one can be added fairly easily.  You can usually mount the light at the same level as the bottom shelf of an inside cabinet.  This allows you to tap into power already supplied to the under cabinet lights and to hide the new wire you run to the outside for the porch light.  The bottom shelves of most RV cabinets are hollow. You gain access to the hollow space by prying up the top of the shelf inside the cabinet.  Take care not to damage the paneling, which is fairly thin and easily crunched.  Once you have the panel off you can see where to hook up the wiring for your new light.  You can drill a hole through the back of the hollow space inside the shelf all the way through the outside skin to run your wire.  Most porch lights are designed for surface installation.  You will want to run a strip of butyl tape ("dum dum" tape) around the outside edge of the fixture before you screw it to the outside wall.  A bead of Dap or silicone caulk where it contacts the wall will provide further protection once it is fully installed.  Also squirt some sealer into the hole around the wire.  This both prevents air and water intrusion and helps keep the wire from chafing on the rough edges of the hole.

RV porch lights are ideal candidates for conversion to LEDs.  You don't need a lot of focused light like you would on a work area for reading and having LEDS bulbs significantly reduces the battery drain if the light is left on for a long time.  A guest once left the light on in our RV bathroom (standard incandescent bulb) and the coach battery was dead in just a few hours.  I've used LED step lights for several years now, leaving them on day and night for days at a time without running down the batteries.

The porch lights on some RVs are controlled by a switch inside the RV.  This makes it convenient to turn off the lights at bedtime, especially in bad weather, but it leaves you in the dark when you approach the unit at night unless you leave the light on while you're away.  A really convenient and fairly inexpensive (under $20) solution to this problem is to install a battery operated, motion sensor LED security light near the door.  You can also get solar powered versions, but be aware that installing them in the shade of an awning (which may shade the solar panel even when the awning is rolled up) may reduce the effectiveness of the solar capability.  LEDs draw little power so you shouldn't have to change the batteries in a battery powered unit very often.  There are hard wired 12-volt versions, but they require running power from somewhere inside the vehicle whereas the battery powered lights can be easily mounted anywhere and are self contained so you don't have to drill any extra holes in the skin of the RV.  They don't have to be very bright or provide the kind of broad coverage you might want for other lights that you would use to illuminate the campsite or even the patio area for night time activities  They just need to give you enough light to find the right key and the key hole and to make it so you can see the step.  Once you have the door open you can always turn on the regular porch light if you need things brighter.  A motion sensor light is a very friendly "welcome home" when you approach your rig after dark and can provide a level of security by illuminating the area when someone else approaches.  Would-be burglars are often deterred by lighting that might reveal their activities and identity and send them seeking a more secluded target.  I found a suitable light on sale at Harbor Freight.  The bracket installed easily with 2 screws (provided) and the fixture can be quickly removed from the bracket to avoid losing it while traveling or having branches knock it off in close quarters.  Having that light turn on to greet us as we approach the door a night feels very friendly and is very convenient.  If you want to leave your standard porch light on while you're away, consider changing the incandescent bulb to an LED replacement which will draw considerably less current from your batteries.  An easy, convenient, and inexpensive way to add outside LED lighting is via "tap lights".  These fixtures are normally designed for use in closets and cabinets so you'll probably want to mount them so you can remove them in bad weather or while you're on the road.  I've even found some at my local Dollar Tree, making them VERY inexpensive.  They run on 3 AAA batteries, which last a long time with the LEDs.  If you're not worried about weather you can stick them to the side of your RV near your door with double-sticky tape that is usually included.  Substitute Velcro for the double-sticky tape if you want to make them removable.

You may find it useful to install outside lighting at other locations besides the entrance, and only a few RVs have secondary lighting as original equipment.   You can use the above procedure to install outside lights just about anywhere you find it useful.  Some typical places are on the front of trailers to assist in connecting up to the tow vehicle in the dark, near water fill and other utility locations, and near an outside shower.  Extra lights under the awning can make outdoor might time activities more practical.  12- volt lights for general camp ground illumination can usually be tapped into wiring for existing under cabinet lights as described in the first paragraph above making installation fairly simple.  Most RVs have at least one 120 volt outlet somewhere on the side of the rig so it is convenient to use under the awning.  You can usually run a light weight extension cord from this outlet to a string of patio lights attached to the awning or to other area lights, assuming you have 120 volt power from hookups, generator, or inverter.  I prefer to use 12 volt lighting rather than run 120 volt lighting from an inverter.  Incandescent bulbs, being essentially a dead short, draw a lot of current and could suck down batteries pretty quickly.

A few RVs have extra outside lighting but this is usually something that is left to the owner to install since individual needs can vary dramatically.   I added a couple of high intensity lights salvaged from an ambulance to my enclosed motorcycle trailer, one at the rear over the ramp door and one on the side under the awning so I have good illumination for after dark dirt bike repairs.  Such lights would not be necessary or appropriate for all users.  The biggest downside I've found with these lights is replacing the bubs.  They are very specialized, hard to find, and rather expensive but, fortunately, are very well made and designed for years of high stress use.  If you are inclined to cook on the outside BBQ you might find it useful to install an extra exterior light over the area where you will be cooking.  If you like to play games on the "patio" in the evenings you might benefit from various kinds of awning lights.  If you have an outside shower you might want a light there in case you need to rinse off after dark.  Extra porch lights along the side of your RV can provide additional campground illumination.  I have a 500-watt Halogen flood light I can mount on my RV ladder when I need to light up a lot of campground, but big lights like that often intrude on surrounding camp sites so be careful about using them.  My 40' Holiday Rambler had a pair of bright 120 volt lights on the curb side that did a good job of illuminating our campsite.  I added the sockets and bulbs from a pair of 12-volt, 55 watt halogen driving lights in the same housings so I didn't have to run the generator just to light up my campsite.

Installing wall mounted lights to illuminate outside cabinets is pretty much counter productive.  The light around the open door will just make it seem darker and harder to see inside the cabinet.  If you need to see inside cabinets at night and your cabinets are not lighted, it is really easy to install LED "tap" lights.  These are small, battery powered lights that attach with double sticky tape and are turned on and off by tapping the lens.  Or just use a flashlight.  Some of the higher end rigs have automatic lights in the outside cabinets like the ones in the closets.  Automatic lights can be added, but it may take some ingenuity to find a way to run the wiring and the switches can be temperamental.  Doors that are hinged on top sometimes use mercury switches, which can be difficult to find these days due to the environmental concerns about mercury poisoning.  Plunger type switches can be used on just about any door, but getting them properly adjusted can be tricky  If just one isn't adjusted right, the draw from an incandescent bulb can drain house batteries in surprisingly short time -- and you probably don't have any way to see if the light is on inside a cabinet.  Using LED replacement bulbs is one way to minimize current draw but LED replacements are still fairly expensive:  around $10 per bulb for good quality.  You can find less expensive LED bulbs on the Internet but reports and personal experience have shown they don't live up to expectations.  Users have reported early and frequent failures (one even said NONE of the bulbs in his shipment worked!) and insufficiently bright lighting.  All the ones I've tried worked, but I found that incandescent bulbs provided much brighter illumination.  I even bought a few of the more expensive LEDs and found that the blue-white light wasn't very appealing and they still failed to match regular bulbs for overall illumination.  However, the power consumption and the heat generation of LEDs are indeed far less than incandescent bulbs.  Using a combination may be the best solution:  LEDs where nominal illumination is adequate to save power and incandescents in work areas where you need good lighting to save your eyes.  A really easy solution to cabinet lighting, both indoors and outdoors, is an LED "tap light".  They typically run on 3 AAA batteries and attach easily with double-sticky tape.  Simply tap the lens to turn them on or off.

Light 'em up!