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Old 02-07-2005, 12:00 AM   #1
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Thumbs up Dry Camping with an Airstream

We have been looking at RV's for the last 18 months, and I thought I had it narrowed down to a couple different super class C motorhomes on the Kodiak chassis. Wrong! We attended an RV/Camping show this weekend, and DW is very much in love with the Safari (25' or 28', really likes the special edition).

My question concerns the lack of a generator in the Airstream. How often do you stay in your Airstream without hookups? How well do the coach batteries power the unit and how long do they hold a charge?
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Old 02-07-2005, 12:11 AM   #2
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Quote:
Originally Posted by redeagle313
We have been looking at RV's for the last 18 months, and I thought I had it narrowed down to a couple different super class C motorhomes on the Kodiak chassis. Wrong! We attended an RV/Camping show this weekend, and DW is very much in love with the Safari (25' or 28', really likes the special edition).

My question concerns the lack of a generator in the Airstream. How often do you stay in your Airstream without hookups? How well do the coach batteries power the unit and how long do they hold a charge?
Dry camping is part of the fun of camping. You can get to many more interesting parts. We have dual batteries in our unit. We can easily get 3 nights and even more. I have never maxed it out. My dad used to hook up the tow vehicle and run it for a while to get a charge.

The problem that we always have is fresh water. We have 30 gals and can usually get a shower a day for the 3 of us if we are careful. The easy alternative for power is a Honda generator.
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Old 02-07-2005, 05:02 AM   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by redeagle313
My question concerns the lack of a generator in the Airstream. How often do you stay in your Airstream without hookups? How well do the coach batteries power the unit and how long do they hold a charge?
We camp out at Race tracks every so often, no problem going for the weekend on battery. We tend to run out of water or storage for grey water before the battery runs down. However I take alon my Honda 1000 generator to keep the charge up. It is small but does the trick.
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Old 02-07-2005, 06:38 AM   #4
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Have quite a bit of experience with generators outside of RV'ing, so here's my thoughts:

* If you are planning on running with mostly the 12VDC stuff and need the gen to charge the batts and maybe run a small AC gadget, the Honda EU1000 is great

* If you want to run more AC stuff, the EU2000 is the next option.

* If you want to run the A/C, you can use 2 EU2000's in parallel or a larger single gen. This is where it gets complicated. 2 EU200's plus cable kit to parallel will run about $2200. An Onan 3.5KW is about $3500. The Onans are available for propane (can run off of the trailer LP bottles).

The type of fuel your tow vehicle uses is part of the equation here IMHO. If your TV is gasoline, Honda is probably the right choice in that it is cheaper, more portable and can use fuel siphoned from the TV so you do not have to carry jerry cans of gas. If the TV is diesel, propane is attractive since you can use the trailer supply, and I would rather carry additional LP than gasoline in the back of the truck.

If AC is not a requirement, the Hondas are the only way to go (noise, weight and reliability). They are pretty pricy though. Going street price on the EU2000 is about $900-950 I believe.
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Old 02-07-2005, 07:04 AM   #5
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We have 3 solar panels, which keep the batteries fully charged with any full daylight. This enables us to Boondock indefinately, restricted only by the amount of water we can carry. It is amazing how little you need to get clean. Not using the shower, but using the sink and a wash cloth, we can be away from water for 8 days, that limited mainly by the need to empty the tanks. We spent 4 months in the desert, early last year, and managed very well, without power - I was carrying a 5500 watt generator that we only used 3 or 4 times.

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Old 02-07-2005, 10:36 AM   #6
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With no solar or generators, our dual battery 25' Safari, using the pump regularly, lights, heater and stereo, we were able to get 6 full days before we noticed that the batteries were starting to get low (about 25% charge left).

We also used the fantastic fans for a little bit (cold weather at night and warmer during the day in the U.P. of MI.).

Your results will vary though depending on loads placed. But with typica use, we got 6 days, might have been able to make it 7 full days-- maybe even 8 if we started to conserve power.
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Old 02-07-2005, 11:22 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Silvertwinkie
might have been able to make it 7 full days-- maybe even 8 if we started to conserve power.
Just remember to leave enough power to run the power jack. It's not fun when its time to go home and the jack just moans.

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Old 02-07-2005, 11:29 AM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jcanavera
Just remember to leave enough power to run the power jack. It's not fun when its time to go home and the jack just moans.

Jack
When you hook up the tow vehicle via the wiring harness, you have a fresh 12v battery to do those pesky little things should you drain the coach batteries fully.
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Old 02-07-2005, 01:05 PM   #9
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How much electricity is used is a highly personal thing, but as said, you can solve the problem with a portable generator. I'll just warn that I've seen two, maybe three, cases where Honda EU1000 owners ran into them overloading when they upgraded their converter to a 55-60A one, especially a three-stage one or the Charge Wizard on the InteliPower, which have bulk modes that charge the batteries at a higher rate, resulting in less generator run time. The EU2000 isn't much larger or more expensive than the EU1000, works a lot less hard when doing the same jobs, and can run a wider selection of appliances.

I don't know what battery(ies) are used in the CCD 25 and 28, whether they're 100 amp-hour Group 27 size or smaller Group 24 with 85AH. If you want long life from the batteries, you won't discharge them below 50%. And given that battery charging isn't linear, and it takes about as long to charge them from 80-100% as it does to charge from 20% to 80%, many boondockers shut off the generator at 80-85% charge to avoid excessive run times. So that leaves you with only about 1/3 of the batteries' capacity usable, or about 67AH out of 200. In warm weather (when AC isn't required), a Fantastic Vent run on low speed for 20 hours of non-charging time per day can take 40AH. In cool weather, with a 7.5A fan in the furnace running only 33% duty-cycle (on one minute for every two minutes off) can use 50AH in 20 hours of non-charging time. These are assuming you run the generator 4 hours every day.

A solar panel can be useful in the summer if you have to park in the sun. A 110W Siemens or 120W Kyocera panel can produce as much as 30AH during the summer. That will run a Fantastic Vent on medium for 12 hours or so, helping offset the solar heat gain in the trailer during daylight hours. They're less productive in Spring and Fall, but then you need to run the vent fan less during those times. They don't help as much with the furnace problem because their daily contribution is lower during parts of the year you need heating. More panels can add more, but you'll find the curved roof of the Airstream provides limited space for them, considering the area used for Fantastic Vents, skylights, and the air conditioner.

One of the advantages of the spot lighting in the Internationals is that you can probably find LED bulb replacements for them. LEDs are very directional, and while good for task lighting, aren't a good replacement for the incandescent bulbs in fixtures that provide overall illumination.

All this being said, if you're into dry-camping, I think it can be better to discharge your batteries deeper, to maybe 30-40%, and replace them as much as twice as often, than to try to add more batteries than the trailer was designed to carry, in order to not discharge them below 50%. One thing's for sure, and that's that you need a good amp-hour meter, such as the Xantrex Link 10. Using voltage or specific gravity to try to determine battery state of charge is less accurate, and much more work.

What you REALLY need to look at when considering these two trailers is the limited capacity of the black water tank on the 25. You'll want to start out with at least 2 gallons of water in it to keep the dreaded black mountain of stool from building up in the tank under the toilet, and probably want to stop using it a gallon or so before it gets to the top. The 18 gallon tank of the 25 would only give you about 14-15 usable. The 28 will give you twice that, even starting out with 3 gallons and stopping 2 gallons short of full.

Some might say that you'll generate three times as much grey water waste as black (considering showers), so even with the 25 International, your 39 gallon grey water tank will probably be full before the 18 gallon black tank. That may be true, however, there are still a few places in this country where it's legal to drain grey water on the ground, and there's always the option of one of those blue Tote-Tanks for hauling grey water to the dump site, rather than having to pull the whole trailer there. I'm sure some probably use them for black water, but I wouldn't want to. They can get nasty enough with just grey water. Whichever way you go, make sure to get the black tank flush option. Priceless!

I'm also glad to see Airstream reconsidered and replaced the combination black/grey tank on the 28 with separate tanks.

I might add I was surprised how much of the time we wound up in dry-camping situtations, off road, and not planned with the 34. Having self-sufficency capability (and a 4WD truck) is really nice.

Hope this helps,
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Old 02-07-2005, 05:09 PM   #10
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Wow! Maurice covered it all.
I might just add that if you get a Blue Tote Tank, consider getting a couple of 10 gallon tanks instead of a 16, 25 or 32 gallon model. These larger units have to be rolled because they're too heavy to lift. It's unrealistic to tow these long distances on gravel roads to the dump station with the cheap plastic wheels they have. I can easily lift a 10 gallon Tote or two into my truck and carry them to the dump station, usually on a daily basis. We try to do our black water work in the campground facilities, if provided. Most rustic campgrounds will have at least a pit privy. Paper plates will help reduce gray water usage.
I use 6 gallon Jerry cans for fresh water. Check out the attached photo for how I fill my water tank:
http://www.airforums.com/photo...cat/500/page/1
I also use a Honda EU-3000is with a wheel kit for recharging my battery. It will start a 13.5K BTU air conditioner. You'll need a twist lock adapter plug with this unit. I roll it into my P/U bed with an ATV ramp.
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Old 02-07-2005, 05:49 PM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Silvertwinkie
When you hook up the tow vehicle via the wiring harness, you have a fresh 12v battery to do those pesky little things should you drain the coach batteries fully.
Twink,
Well yes and no. The power for the jack still comes from the battery(ies) on the trailer. When you plug in to your tow vehicle you will be getting a charge to the trailer once the tow vehicle is running. From experience with other trailers and the Airstream, its not like you just plugged into a full power outlet. The charge in the trailer battery has to be raised to get enough the jack operating, and that in itself using the tow vehicle, can take a great deal of time.

Now I have in the past turned my car around and used jumper cables to get a lot of juice quickly but short of replacing the battery with a freshly charged one, its going to be a long treck before you bring a discharged battery back to life.

I've been there and I wish that fresh tow vehicle battery was in line. The only thing that fresh battery is operating is your exterior lights and brakes.

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Old 02-07-2005, 06:28 PM   #12
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That's a very good point Bob made about the tote-tanks... even a full 10 gallon one can weigh 85 pounds.

And I forgot to mention in the other thread the heavy jerry cans of water, that in addition to the tote tank(s), generators, fuel for them, and possibly an extra LP tank, for extended boondocking are things better carried in a truck bed than in a passenger compartment with you.

That jerry can stand sure looks like it makes filling a lot less work.

Just to clarify on the blackwater tank, you don't want to do only #1 elsewhere to save room for #2. It takes a LOT of liquid to wash the solids out of the black tank. That's what the black tank flush is also useful for... filling the black tank at least 2/3 full before dumping, if it isn't. Using the black tank flush after dumping helps get remaining solids out, and is good for adding the water you want in it before use.
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Old 02-07-2005, 10:45 PM   #13
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camping with no hookups

I agree with the post that spoke of camping with no hookups being fun. Actually the doing without is not what makes it fun but where you camp without them it what makes it fun. Camping on public lands and primative campsites are nearly always less crowded cleaner and quieter, not to mention less expensive. Making your electrical supply last is just part of the conservation that's necessary. That however can be part of the fun. It can be kept very simple or very complicated.
Personally a small generator and a small automotive battery charger is all we use. We have one battery, 25gallon fresh water and 21 gallon combination gray-black tank. We have stayed out 6 days on this. No showers of course but we wash and stayed clean none the less. Some people enjoy the gadgets, solar units even wind generators and that's all fine if you enjoy it and feel you need it. Agin it can be as simple or complicted as you like.--Pieman
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Old 02-08-2005, 02:30 AM   #14
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Post Thank you for all the information

Thanks for all the good ideas and suggestions. Your advice, garnered from all of your experiences, is very appreciated.
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Old 02-08-2005, 09:03 AM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jcanavera
Twink,
Well yes and no. The power for the jack still comes from the battery(ies) on the trailer. When you plug in to your tow vehicle you will be getting a charge to the trailer once the tow vehicle is running. From experience with other trailers and the Airstream, its not like you just plugged into a full power outlet. The charge in the trailer battery has to be raised to get enough the jack operating, and that in itself using the tow vehicle, can take a great deal of time.

Now I have in the past turned my car around and used jumper cables to get a lot of juice quickly but short of replacing the battery with a freshly charged one, its going to be a long treck before you bring a discharged battery back to life.

I've been there and I wish that fresh tow vehicle battery was in line. The only thing that fresh battery is operating is your exterior lights and brakes.

Jack
I beg to differ, I have used tow vehicle to jack unit with NO batteries in coach. The connection is a parrallel connection therefore you essentially have a third battery (or more) connected to the DC electrical bus.
I do recognize that the conductors are lacking but you can jack the trailer with just the tow vehicle connection.
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Old 02-08-2005, 09:28 AM   #16
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Having no batteries in the coach isn't the same as having two heavily discharged batteries in the coach. The trailer power wire on my F250 isn't going to be connected unless the engine is running and the alternator putting out charging voltage. There is already going to be significant current running through the 20 amp fuse and 12 gauge wiring to the trailer connector charging the heavily discharged batteries. Adding the trailer jack load to an already significant load (that wouldn't exist with no batteries in the coach) might blow the fuse in that line. I don't know for sure... just making the point that you can't compare no batteries to heavily discharged batteries.
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Old 02-08-2005, 12:00 PM   #17
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Maurice, thanks for the clarification. I have found with multiple tow vehicles and trailers, that the current draw via the tow vehicle wiring is hard pressed to provide significant charge and power for other needs. The hitch jack draws significant amperage and for all intents its just not available if the battery recharge is drawing significant current. Operating without batteries is a complete different situation and in that case the tow vehicle charging system can direct all its power to the hitch.

Before I learned the secret of using the master disconnect switch when storing the trailer I allowed the battery on my Safari to run down. Bottom line connecting to the tow vehicle provided little solace since the small amount of power available could only make the jack groan. I ended up pulling the battery out and taking it home for a quick recharge.

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Old 02-08-2005, 04:04 PM   #18
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Additional infor concerning this post

Quote:
Originally Posted by Mike Lewis
I agree with the post that spoke of camping with no hookups being fun. Actually the doing without is not what makes it fun but where you camp without them it what makes it fun. Camping on public lands and primative campsites are nearly always less crowded cleaner and quieter, not to mention less expensive. Making your electrical supply last is just part of the conservation that's necessary. That however can be part of the fun. It can be kept very simple or very complicated.
Personally a small generator and a small automotive battery charger is all we use. We have one battery, 25gallon fresh water and 21 gallon combination gray-black tank. We have stayed out 6 days on this. No showers of course but we wash and stayed clean none the less. Some people enjoy the gadgets, solar units even wind generators and that's all fine if you enjoy it and feel you need it. Agin it can be as simple or complicted as you like.--Pieman
RoadKingMoe --just pointed out something I didn't think anyone would notice. The tank capacities I mentioned are for a 16 ft. Bambi and my owner info states we own a 25' Classic. Actually both are correct. We have traded our Bambi and are leaving tomorrow to pick up our new classic. Didn't want anyone to think I was pulling your leg. Guess I was a little premature in changing my info.----Pieman
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Old 02-08-2005, 04:14 PM   #19
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Those small tank capacity numbers scared me to death... I thought, "WHAT have they done to the 25 Classic?"
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Old 02-08-2005, 04:26 PM   #20
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You know, I'll be real honest. After two coaches with the smaller tanks (19' Bambi and 25' Safari Six Sleeper), it really isn't all that bad.

We spent a total of about 8 days where we couldn't dump the black tank and it was not full, not anywhere near full on either 18 gal black tank coaches. Maybe a bit more than half. The grey tank was also barely half as I held the tank before purging the grey tank (state forrest allows it where we were).

So yes, the smaller black tanks can pose a problem for folks that must fill the bowl for each use, but the average camper should have no problem for about 10 days. Grey tank, about the same or longer.

The 25' Classic has center black tanks and as such has larger capacity--should last even longer, but again, if you are filling the bowl each use, you're gonna fill the larger black tank too, just might take a bit longer to do-- and you have more fresh water in which to fill the bowl.

Bottom line is that we found the smaller tanks on the 19' and 25' to be good for a 10 day boondock for 3 people. More than that, you'd want to conserve a bit, but by no means take away from the actual needs.
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