With so many people looking to get out and explore the country, off-grid camping and boondocking is becoming increasingly common. It’s easy to see why; secluded campsites in the middle of nowhere, no phone reception, no one else around for miles and it doesn’t cost you anything. If you’re looking to get into free camping one of the most common upgrades people do is upgrading from a single battery to a dual battery system.
Keeping your start battery healthy
While you can free camp for a short time with just your start battery, it’s not going to do any favours for your battery’s health. Known as starting batteries, the primary purpose of the battery in your engine is to start your engine, so when you discharge this battery too low you run the risk of your car not starting, which if you’re in the middle of nowhere, can be pretty disastrous. While batteries are made to be discharged by typical starting demands, draining your battery too low is going to damage your battery in the long run. Batteries only have a certain number of life cycles, so continuously draining your start battery too low is going to reduce this lifespan, meaning you’ll be replacing your engine battery more frequently.
Start batteries are designed for delivering a very high current for a few seconds without using a lot of Amp hours, they’re not designed to be deeply discharged. For example, running a fridge from your start battery, at even 1 amp, will consume 24 Amp hours from the battery every day. If your start battery only has a 40Ah one day running this fridge will pull it well below 50% capacity. While a deep cycle battery, which is designed for supplying a relatively low current over a long period of time, may be able to sustain this, your start battery will struggle and become damaged over time.
A vehicle cranking or starting battery is designed solely to start the engine, with reserve capacity to power a few ancillary functions when the engine is off including the cars computer, radio, clock etc. Running 12V accessories from your start battery is a quick way to drain it even further.
This means that if you’re happy to rely on a cooler and torches for camping, you will be fine. However, if you want to take it to the next level and enjoy the comforts provided by 12 volt lighting, a powered fridge, constant source of charging for personal electronics like phones, drones, speakers, LED camp lights etc. you need the power of a second battery to ensure you won't be left stranded with a dead start battery.
In the simplest form, having a second battery means that you can run all your 12V accessories from this battery, whilst sparing your starting battery from being discharged too low. You’ll want to choose a deep cycle battery when looking at an auxiliary battery. Deep cycle batteries are designed to be discharged down to 50%, 40% or even 20% for lithium batteries. This means you can run your accessories for longer without reducing the battery’s lifespan.
Incorporating a battery charger
While you can just have a second battery on its own, you may run into trouble when you’re looking to recharge it. This is where a DC to DC charger comes in. Having a DC to DC charger in between your starting and second battery allows you to recharge your second battery from the vehicle’s alternator while you’re driving. This allows you to recharge your battery on the way to your destination, giving you plenty of power to run all your 12V gadgets and keep phones, camera and drones charged to capture the adventure.
REDARC’s DC-DC dual battery chargers can be installed close to your second battery, whether it’s under the hood, in your truck or RV, allowing plenty of flexibility to fit into your camping setup. They can also be connected to fixed and portable solar panels or solar blankets. for extra changing during the daylight hours. So, if you’re planning to be parked up for a longer period, you won’t have to worry about any flat batteries. The secret formula for choosing a second battery and solar capacity for long term free camping is, you need a battery big enough to supply all your needs when the sun is not shining and a panel big enough to replace all that and a bit more when the sun is shining. To learn more about choosing the right solar solution for your setup, check out setting up solar for beginners.
To keep your batteries charged and for added peace of mind in case of start battery failure, REDARC’s jump start dual battery kit means you’ll never be stuck with a flat battery, no matter how remote you go. Having a smart start battery isolator as well as a BCDC in-vehicle battery charger means that you can run all your 12v accessories including fridges and inverters while having the capability to jump start your starter battery at the touch of a button.
To find out the best DC-DC dual battery charger to suit your travel power needs and vehicle type, check out our vehicle selector tool or learn how our ambassadors use 12V power to get off grid in our NO LIMITS series.