Off-grid and lovin' it

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EVERY NOW and then you just need to say stuff it, I’m go­ing camp­ing, right? I mean, I can’t be the only one that chucks a tantrum and heads bush for a few days to re­lax and un­wind. Now, my camper trailer is al­ready fairly self-suf­fi­cient these days (like most). It’s got a shower, wa­ter tank and fridge on board, which means I can hang around at my lo­cal haunt feed­ing the fish all my bait un­til I run out of tucker and wa­ter, and I drain the bat­ter­ies dead flat; then it’s back to re­al­ity I go for an­other round with civ­i­liza­tion. But geez I’ll tell you what, these re­cu­per­a­tion trips of mine seem to be get­ting shorter and shorter every time. So I reckon it’s about time I set my rig up to be a lit­tle more self-suf­fi­cient, and keep me out and about for the long haul. Now there are a few dif­fer­ent trains of thought on what it means to be fully self-suf­fi­cient, but in my mind if I can get off the beaten track for a few weeks with­out hav­ing to hike back into town for sup­plies, I’m on to a mas­sive win­ner. With that in mind, I’ll run you through my lat­est projects for get­ting off grid for a lit­tle longer next time.


Ok, so be­fore we dive into the deep end, I’ll run you through the over­all setup. The tow tug is a trusty old ’Cruiser, which is fit­ted with an aux­il­iary bat­tery sys­tem; noth­ing fancy, just a 100Ah bat­tery and Redarc bat­tery iso­la­tor so­le­noid. It pow­ers up a 40L En­gle fridge, which is per­ma­nently mounded in the cab. There are a few lights around the 4WD and a wa­ter tank, or should I say 40L jerry can setup on board, which is grav­ity fed so I’m not re­ly­ing on a 12V pump. The camper trailer is where all the lux­ury good­ies are. There’s plenty of light­ing around the place, a TV and DVD player, sound sys­tem, wa­ter pumps, elec­tric fan, and mas­sive 90L fridge, which I now run as a full-time freezer to keep me out and about for longer. There’s an 80L wa­ter tank on board too, which isn’t mas­sive by any means but it seems to last a good week or two be­tween top ups, de­pend­ing on how of­ten the shower gets used. Ob­vi­ously with two fridges run­ning full time, power is my big­gest con­cern. So, nat­u­rally it gets the full treat­ment first up.


Solar power is the way to go these days, right? I mean, it’s lit­er­ally free power in a world where car­a­van parks will hap­pily slug you $40 bucks a night for the priv­i­lege of a bloody power point! So, I thought I’d get a lit­tle bit fancy and in­stall a per­ma­nently mounted solar sys­tem to the roof of my 4WD and my camper trailer, purely be­cause I’m lazy and whack­ing a fold­able solar panel up every time I set up camp is just too much bloody work! Sure a 120W fold­able panel will help out, but I’ve got a fair few elec­tri­cal ac­ces­sories on board and I don’t want to be wor­ry­ing about power. Now, here’s some­thing you don’t hear every day – a lot of people will just bung a few ex­tra bat­ter­ies on board to help stretch the days be­tween power-ups, but I reckon adding more solar ca­pac­ity is a bet­ter op­tion. Sure, you still need plenty of bat­tery ca­pac­ity to keep the

fires burn­ing overnight and long pe­ri­ods of rain, but in the grand scheme of things adding ex­tra bat­ter­ies to the mix can ac­tu­ally make it harder for your av­er­age solar panel to keep it all topped up. In fact, it ac­tu­ally be­comes less ef­fi­cient! So for me, I went with a 500W solar sys­tem: that’s 3x100W pan­els on the camper’s roof, which looks af­ter that big freezer, plus a big 200W solar panel on the 4WD’s roof keeps the beer cold and the ego sky high. Some may say its overkill, but when you get a few mis­er­able cloudy days in a row you’ll see my logic – if there’s only enough sun­light for each solar cell to op­er­ate at 50 per cent of its max­i­mum po­ten­tial, I’d rather have ex­tra solar cells on board to help fill the quota! The whole sys­tem works a charm too. I mean, I haven’t seen the main bat­tery drop un­der 80 per cent charge overnight, and the bat­tery is re-charged by the crack of a spar­row fart in the morn­ing – you can’t beat that! Plus, if one of the sys­tems is strug­gling, I can con­nect the 4WD and camper to­gether via the An­der­son plug and it be­comes the solar sys­tem from hell!


You’ve only got to take a look at mod­ern phones or lap­top com­put­ers to see how far lithium bat­tery tech­nol­ogy has come over the last few


years. While the ini­tial cost of lithium bat­tery power for your camper trailer is enough to give you a heart at­tack, it ac­tu­ally works out to be a cost ef­fec­tive op­tion in the long run. Plus, they out­per­form your typ­i­cal AGM bat­tery in pretty much every way pos­si­ble. I’ve gone with a lithium bat­tery from In­staPower, which is a di­rect drop-in re­place­ment for your orig­i­nal AGM deep cy­cle bat­tery. In fact, it’s a lithium bat­tery en­cased in an AGM cover, plus it has its own spe­cialised lithium charger built in so there are no ad­di­tional costs to set it up. I can al­ready hear you ask­ing how the hell it’s worth just shy of two grand, right? Well, let’s look at the ad­van­tages. It only weighs 14kg, which is less than half the weight your av­er­age deep cy­cle bat­tery. The guys at In­staPower have done the sums and say this bat­tery will last 8-10 times longer than stan­dard lead acid bat­ter­ies too, which means it ac­tu­ally of­fers a lower cost per cy­cle. You can also com­pletely dis­charge it safely, and you won’t dam­age the bat­tery. That means you’ve got ac­cess to much more bat­tery

ca­pac­ity com­pared to the equiv­a­lent AGM or lead acid bat­tery, so it prac­ti­cally does the job of two bat­ter­ies! An­other ma­jor ben­e­fit of these bat­ter­ies is they have a much faster recharge rate, which makes it ideal to work in con­junc­tion with solar power.


Even with a nice and healthy sup­ply of beer, you won’t last long with­out fresh drink­ing wa­ter. So it kinda makes sense to make sure you’ve got plenty of qual­ity H2o on board, right? Now fill­ing the wa­ter tank up on the road is risky busi­ness; you just can’t guar­an­tee the qual­ity of the wa­ter. Tank wa­ter can wind up har­bour­ing all sorts of nas­ties over time, and if you want to fill up from a nat­u­ral wa­ter source like a fresh­wa­ter stream or dam, who knows what you’re get­ting. There could be chem­i­cals from nearby farms, or sed­i­ment or rust, and the big one for us campers – gi­a­r­dia! With that in mind I de­cided to in­stall a wa­ter pu­ri­fier to weed out any harm­ful bac­te­ria. Now, not all filters of­fer the same amount of fil­tra­tion, and the last thing you want is a wa­ter fil­ter that you can’t trust – af­ter all, a runny bum is never fun! So let’s break it down a lit­tle; all filters have a mi­cron rat­ing, which is de­signed to let you know how fine the fil­ter is and what it will block ef­fec­tively. For ex­am­ple, to re­duce the risk of gi­a­r­dia and crypto in your drink­ing wa­ter, your car­tridge needs to fil­ter down to 0.5 mi­cron min­i­mum. Most re­verse os­mo­sis sys­tems will get the job done in this re­gard. For my camper, I went with a 1 mi­cron sed­i­ment pre-fil­ter, to block the big­ger stuff, and a SeaGull Wa­ter Pu­ri­fier, which filters down to 0.1 mi­cron. The wa­ter taste great, and I’ve got the ultimate in peace of mind.

A 90L freezer on board pro­vides am­ple grub on those longer camp­ing stints

To avoid get­ting a flat bat­tery, re-wire your ve­hi­cle's ac­ces­sories (12V out­lets and ra­dio) to run off your aux­il­iary bat­tery Are your pan­els meet­ing your power de­mands? A good bat­tery mon­i­tor­ing sys­tem will let you know be­fore the beers go warm

A qual­ity wa­ter fil­ter gives you peace of mind that your drink­ing wa­ter is clean and safe to drink

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