RV Survival Mods for Off-Road Living

Living off the grid is becoming more commonplace these days, with more than 18,000 families choosing to live off-grid in the U.S. alone. Toughing it out in the wilderness without modern comforts is no easy task, however, especially for those who want to live the nomadic lifestyle.

RV - Recreational Vehicle

If you’re living off the grid in an RV, taking proper precautions may save you from having to spend any nights without food, water, or shelter. There are several simple modifications that you can make to your camper to create a safer, more comfortable home.

Install a Water Filtration System

The most critical resource in any off-grid scenario is water. We can only survive about a week without water. Even after a couple of days, the effects of dehydration can set in, including:

  • A decrease in energy levels
  • Headaches or migraines
  • Confusion and dizziness
  • Drastic fluctuations in blood pressure
  • Stiff joints
  • Seizures

When you’re living off-road out of your RV, you never know when an emergency might strike. If you find yourself stranded and your water supply dwindling, it’s a good idea to have a failsafe in place so that you don’t run out of safe drinking water.

It’s a good idea to have an advanced water filtration system in place so that you can draw water from natural sources without worrying about contaminants.

You should look for a filter that’s both inexpensive and effective. It’s best to choose a bacteriostatic option, as this prevents potentially dangerous bacteria from reproducing when the filter is stored in water or wet.

Reusability is also an important consideration. If you’re planning to use your RV as your main residence, you may be using your filter for weeks, months, or years at a time. The most cost-effective option is to look for a reusable filter that can be used continuously.

If you have space, you may want to install a two-canister setup. This is more effective at removing contaminants and impurities from fresh water by using a separate sediment cartridge and carbon cartridge. Some RV owners even choose to set up a three-canister system using cartridges such as:

  • Deionization cartridges to remove trace minerals
  • Birm cartridges to remove iron and manganese
  • Phosphate cartridges to reduce lime and scale buildup
  • Activated alumina cartridges to remove fluoride and arsenic-5
  • Nitrate cartridges to remove traces of nitrates

If you plan on traveling off the grid, you may want to think about getting a desalinator. If you don’t have access to a fresh body of water, you can take salt water from a nearby lake or ocean and remove enough salt to make it safely drinkable. Desalinators typically use either multi-stage flash distillation or reverse osmosis to separate salt particles from water.

Add Solar Power

Solar technology has advanced in leaps and bounds in recent years, making it easier and cheaper than ever to install your own setup. Since 2010, the average price of solar PV panels has gone down by over 60% while the cost of a solar electric system has been slashed by around 50%.

Solar Panels - cheap, efficient power from the sun

Solar is one of the best energy options for those living off the grid, as it reduces dependency on shore power and generators. As long as there’s sunlight available, you can have access to a reliable power source.

When installing a new solar setup in your RV, the first thing you should do is conduct a power-consumption survey of your home. Doing this will help you to gauge just how much power you use during a given trip or over a certain time period. You can set up a kilowatt meter to measure daily power consumption and estimate how many watts you typically use.

Knowing your energy consumption will help you to decide how many batteries you need in your solar bank and the number of panels you’ll have to install to charge them all.

There are two main types of batteries that people use when installing a solar setup in their RV. Lead-acid batteries come in either wet-cell (flooded), gel or absorbed glass mat (AGM) form and require minimal maintenance.

Lithium-Ion Phosphate batteries are more expensive than their lead-acid counterparts, but they also last longer. Typically, you’ll get seven to ten years of use out of a lithium battery, while lead-acid batteries only hold up for around five years.

Regardless of which type of battery you use, you’ll have to install solar panels on the roof or sides of your RV to keep your bank charged. When it comes to panels, there are two types from which you can choose. Polycrystalline solar panels tend to be cheaper, but due to their manufacturing process, they’re not quite as efficient as monocrystalline solar panels. With the limited roof space on RV’s, it’s usually best to opt for high-efficiency monocrystalline panels.

Before you can use your batteries and solar panels to start drawing in energy, you need to install a charge controller to regulate the voltage and current to your bank.

Pulse width modulation (PWM) controllers offer a direct connection between the panels and the batteries to check charge, while a maximum power point tracking (MPPT) system uses more advanced technology to operate panels at the most efficient voltage and temperature. MPPTs tend to cost significantly more the PWMs but also offer greater efficiency.

Switch to a Tankless Water Heater

Most RVs come factory-built with storage tank water heater, but for an off-road nomad, this may not be the most efficient or cost-effective setup. Though it can take a significant initial investment, replacing your storage tank water heater with a tankless system offers a number of benefits.

A tankless heater is more energy efficient than a tank setup, making it a better choice for off-grid RV owners who have a limited daily energy supply. Tankless systems also tend to last longer and break down less frequently.

If you’re limited on space, a tankless water heater takes up less room than a setup with a hefty tank. Making the switch can mean more storage space for necessities such as nonperishable food, cooking equipment, medical supplies, and more.

Tankless water heaters can provide heating on-demand and are generally able to handle a capacity of anywhere between two to six gallons per minute depending on the model.

When faucets or showerheads are turned on, cold water travels through a pipe in contact with a heating element. The water is instantly warmed as it passes through, delivering a constant supply of hot water as needed.

You can find both electric and propane tankless water heaters. For those who live off-grid, a propane setup is often ideal, as it won’t draw power away from your battery bank. Propane heaters also tend to be less expensive and have a higher flow rate than electrical.

Carry a Camping Shower

Though most RVs come with a working shower installed, there’s no guarantee that you’ll always be able to use it. When fresh water is limited, you don’t want to be wasting your most valuable resource on bathing.

Instead, you can carry a mobile camping shower with you in case of emergencies. You can buy or create your own setup that uses no energy and water collected from natural sources such as a stream, lake, or even heavy rainfall.

Water is essential for life and cleanliness - both of which are important in a survival situation

Portable camping showers are generally fairly simple in design. A bag used for holding water is attached to a plastic or metal head with holes drilled through it. You fill the bag and set it in the sun, allowing it to warm up. Once ready, you can hang it above head-height and let the water trickle through the head slowly enough to give you time to clean off.

While the simplest showers are powered by gravity, you can find more advanced models available on the market. There are also rechargeable electric showers or those powered by a foot-pump.

Ditch the Carpeting

When living out in the wilderness, bugs and parasites can be a problem, even in the most perfectly sealed spaces. There are a number of potential pests that can enter your RV, including:

  • Fleas: Once fleas infest a home, they can multiply rapidly and take over every corner of the area. While fleas don’t carry many serious diseases these days, they can still cause rashes, irritation, and discomfort.
  • Ticks: As many outdoor enthusiasts know, ticks are all too common in tall grass and wooded areas. They can be difficult to detect, and if left unchecked, may transmit serious diseases such as Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, ehrlichiosis, and babesiosis.
  • Mites: There are many different species of mites, some of which affect pets and humans. The Sarcoptes Scabies mite is one of the most common, causing mange and sometimes open wounds.
  • Flies: While house flies and fruit flies pose no other threat to us than an inconvenience, species such as botflies are parasitic and could be harmful to you, your family, or your pet’s health if they lay larvae in your carpet. Though the occurrence of human botfly cases is rare in the U.S., dogs in the Northern Americas are at risk of infection.

One of the best ways to combat fleas, ticks, and other small pests is by removing the carpeting from your camper and replacing it with laminate. Carpets tend to trap nasty pests such as fleas, ticks, and mites in your home, especially if you have pets coming and going. They also offer the perfect place for pests to lay eggs, which can remain dormant for months.

Bare floor is easier to keep clean and sanitized

While spraying and vacuuming can help to mitigate the issue, many families find it virtually impossible to eliminate pests such as fleas once an infestation has taken hold. With particularly nasty cases, full fumigation may be necessary.

Laminate floors are much easier to clean than carpet. Instead of investing in and storing a vacuum, you can stick to a mop and broom. Additionally, laminates don’t offer any nooks or crannies in which small insects can hide, and they tend to hold up better to wear and tear over the years.

Boost Signals

For many people, living off-grid doesn’t mean ditching the daily grind. Living out of an RV doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to give up your dream career.

Staying connected via phone and Internet can help modern nomads to keep in touch with the world, whether they’re driving through the Rockies or deep in the Moab desert.

A working phone number and email can mean much more than posting the occasional update for friends and family. By ensuring that you have signal, you can keep working online to draw in an income and help fund your trip. There are plenty of jobs that are ideal for those living on the road, including:

  • Freelancing, whether that means writing, graphic design, or anything other professional venture
  • Consulting part-time in a field where you have expertise
  • Selling homemade goods online or to others you meet on the road
  • Virtually assisting someone at their job
  • Tutoring students via face chat or live chat
  • Professionally videoing/photographing your adventures

Whether you want to stay connected for work or pleasure, you can do so using a signal booster. A WiFi signal booster can help you to access fast internet speeds even when camping out in remote areas. These boosters work by amplifying existing WiFi signals nearby, extending network coverage.

If you want to watch your favorite shows off the grid, you can use a digital TV signal booster to extend the range of your RV antenna. You’ll be able to get more stations and a clearer picture when in remote areas.

Living off the Grid in an RV

While living off the grid can be a rewarding experience, it’s never easy—especially when you’re constantly on the move. If you’re planning on living the nomadic lifestyle off-grid in an RV camper, you should always be ready to spend days or even weeks without hookups to water or power.

There are plenty of simple modifications that you can make to your RV to ensure that you’re able to live in safety and comfort, even when you’re miles from civilization. Staying prepared can help you to avoid any mishaps on your journey and ensure that your off-road adventure goes smoothly.

RVs can be useful in survival, off-road and off-grid living situations

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