Planning a wild camping trip with your motorhome or campervan? Wondering if your van is set up ok to cope with a night staying off-grid without power or facilities?
I know exactly how you feel- it's exactly how we felt when we first started wild camping with our motorhome.
Wild Camping with a Motorhome, RV or campervan
Two years later, finding free overnight stops in the motorhome is our favourite way to travel. We prefer staying in quieter places, away from the crowds and noise.
We’ve made many (many!) mistakes when we’ve been wild camping- we forgot gas whilst we were wild camping in France, we lost all our fresh water in Germany and we’ve run out of power. You name it, we’ve probably done it! But it hasn't put us off- learning is part of the fun!
Still, to make your life easier and pass along our knowledge, we've put together a list of the 5 most ESSENTIAL items you need on your camper if you're thinking of wild camping… and the two which you probably don't. You're welcome.
Wild camping with a motorhome or campervan- essential kit and things to check
I'm going to start this post with a caveat; yes, you CAN of course wild camp in your motorhome, campervan, car or RV without ANY of the following items. You can literally get a van, chuck a mattress in the back and spend the night if that's what you choose.
But for this post, I'm going to assume you have a motorhome or campervan which is designed to be lived in. You're not really interested in ‘stealth camping' in the middle of a city, but you want to spend several nights (or more!) experiencing the joy and freedom of off-grid camping, whilst still being able to enjoy life in your motorhome.
Of course, everyone's requirements are different. A family with 4 kids are going to need a heck of a lot more power and waste facilities than a couple with a dog.
It's a balance, but it's totally possible.
Want to learn how to wild camp with a motorhome or campervan?
Here are a couple of posts to help you:
Motorhome and camper wild camping- the experiment!
A few months ago, we picked up a brand new motorhome and took it wild camping for the weekend. No prep, no prior planning. We hadn't even seen the motorhome before and had no idea what it had onboard.
It was an experiment. We knew we wanted to stay off-grid for at least 3 nights. We had no idea if the power/ waste tanks would cope and we had backup plans in case they didn't (ie- a campsite or two planned out in case we needed them!)
So we thought about what we REALLY needed/ wanted to carry onboard- and then we assessed afterwards what we needed, and what we didn't.
NOTE: Although the experiment was for only 3 nights, we decided to treat it as if we were on a longer trip. So we didn't just ‘put up with' the power dying on phones, or not being able to do something. We wanted to make it as realistic as possible.
Five essential things you need for motorhome wild camping
- Powerpack/ invertor
- Decent sized leisure battery/ solar panel
- Freshwater and empty waste tanks
- Gas heating if you’re using the van during winter and cooking
- Efficient lighting
Let's look at those in closer details below:
This was the only thing we actually bought before we collected the motorhome. Both of us use our laptops on a daily basis and you need proper power to be able to recharge the laptop batteries.
Make sure your powerpack is capable of being recharged by 12v and can charge a laptop if you have one- this one is good.
Decent sized leisure battery & solar panel
On our motorhome, we have two leisure batteries, as well as an engine battery. Because we spend so much time off-grid, we've found the extra battery really useful.
However, the new motorhome only had one leisure battery, with no space to add another. I was a little worried, but actually the battery system worked great. It made us realise that you don't need a second battery at all if the first one is good. Make sure you get a battery designed for leisure use, and get as big a size as you can- I think the one we had was 110.
Another thing to add along with the leisure battery is a solar panel. If you have a good solar panel, one battery should be fine (just be careful if it's raining/ very cloudy as things might not charge so quickly.
You can buy a solar panel cheaply from Amazon and fit it yourself, like this one. Make sure you add in a regulator and don't just wire it straight to the battery. If you're unsure, I recommend paying for someone to fit it for you so you know it's set up correctly.
Fresh water and empty waste tanks
We tend to buy bottled water for drinking (after almost poisoning ourselves one year!) but without fresh water in your tanks you're not going to be able to do much showering/ cleaning or washing up! Before you head off into the wilds, make sure you top up the water tanks (and toilet flush, if it's separate.)
Likewise, empty your toilet waste and grey waste tanks into APPROVED places before starting your wild camping adventures. This might mean having to stay at a campsite (in UK) or aire in Europe in order to use the facilities. Some places will allow you to use them if you pay a small fee.
Being frugal with your water/ waste will also help you be able to stay off-grid for longer.
Gas for fridge/ heating
If you're wild camping in the winter, whether in the UK or overseas, you'll probably need heating. If your camper heating uses electric, you are really going to struggle getting enough power to keep it running- which, frankly, doesn't sound like fun to me. An essential thing we look for when buying a new motorhome is heating which runs on gas. And a fridge which runs on gas/ electric or battery!
One of the best things we ever installed was a refillable motorhome gas system. It's been so easy to find and get gas throughout Europe.
This is another thing which can really muck up your power plans. We try and make as much of the lighting in the motorhome LED- and those which we can't we try not to use when off-grid camping. Be deliberate about your lighting and remember to turn them off when not in use (especially the outside one!!)
We also use extra lights, like these, which are battery powered and can light up the seating area quite nicely without any power drain at all.
Bonus tip- Security
One thing we use ALL THE TIME while free camping is our wireless security camera. Although this is by no means essential, it provides great peace of mind to know that the motorhome is safe while we're going for a walk or exploring somewhere.
It also comes in handy at campsites if we choose to leave our dog behind for a couple of hours- we can check up to see he's ok.
This is the system we use and highly recommend. We've used it all over Europe and it works great wherever there is a 3G signal.
Planning a motorhome trip? You might find these useful:
Things you DON'T necessarily need for motorhome wild camping
So, those are five things to look at to improve your motorhome wild camping experience. Now here are two which we THOUGHT we'd use a lot… but honestly haven't:
- Spare battery
We got a generator over much protesting from me. I didn't want to be THAT motorhome, with the genset going into the night and ruining both ours and everyone else's quiet evening. It seemed to defeat the point. But Mr WB was correct in saying it's a valuable safety feature- and it is.
Over 18 months, we've probably used our generator three times. Each has been when we've spent three or four days miles from anywhere (and anyone!) and we loved the solitude so much we decided to stay out for an extra day or two. Without the generator, we couldn't have done that- but normally we don't use one at all. This is similar to the one we carry, and it's great, but it's definitely not an essential.
We discussed this briefly above, but if your leisure battery is a decent size and you plan on driving at least a couple of hours every day, you probably won't need a second leisure battery. However, if you have the space and the weight allowance, a second battery certainly won't hurt, but again, you don't need to spend the money before you head off on your wild camping adventures!!
Do YOU take your motorhome or campervan off-grid? What are your best tips for wild camping? Share them below so we can all benefit.