5 minute reading time
Are you looking to replace your batteries in your RV, Camper or Van? Building a new van? Or considering an upgrade to lithium? Here’s a simple guide to what type of battery you need, how to choose the right size battery bank, and how much solar power you would need to be self sufficient and go fully off grid.
What type of battery do I need for my RV?
RVs, Campers, and Vans have two types of batteries. One is a automotive/starter battery that is used to start the engine. The other is a deep cycle battery, also called a house battery, that is used to power your electronics. Your solar panels, if you have them, re-charge your deep cycle / house batteries but do not directly power your electronics. The house batteries are your power source, the rest of your electrical system either gets power to your batteries (charging) or pulls power out (discharging) to run your fridge, lights, etc.
Most RV and Vanlife electronics will operate with any deep cycle 12-volt marine battery. Most stock RVs come with lead acid batteries because they are cheap, and if you are doing a Van build or an RV build it might be tempting to buy a lead acid battery (also called AGM or SLA) because they are low cost and widely available at any auto parts store. But for the longest run time, most efficient use of solar power, longest lifespan, and greatest reliability and best piece of mind we recommend lithium iron phosphate (LiFePO4) batteries.
8 reasons to choose a lithium RV battery
- Dakota Lithium LiFePO4 batteries will provide double the usable power and run time of lead acid. More power and run time means more time on the road without having to plug in at night. Allows for boondocking or camping off grid with the confidence that your batteries will get your through the night (or with solar panels near indefinitely).
- Dakota Lithium batteries last 5X longer than AGM or lead acid batteries and will need to be replaced less often. Providing reliability and peace of mind, as well as greater lifetime value. All backed up by a best in class 11 year warranty.
- Dakota Lithium weighs 60% less than deep cycle lead acid batteries. Less weight means more maneuverability and speed and less wear and tear on your rig. And the batteries are light enough that you can easily install and service them yourself.
- Dakota’s lithium iron phosphate works down to negative 20 degrees Fahrenheit (-29 Celsius) meaning you can travel in all seasons. In addition, the DL+ 12V 135Ah battery and the DL+ 12V 280Ah batteries have internal heating for charging while camping in freezing temperatures.
- The self discharge rate of a Dakota Lithium battery is 1/4 that of a lead acid battery, only 1-2% a month. That means if you take a break between adventures your batteries will still have plenty of power the next time you hit the road.
- Dakota Lithium iron phosphate is optimized for solar energy with 50% more efficiency than a lead acid battery.
- You need less batteries when you use a Dakota Lithium. Lithium iron phosphate (LiFePO4) has a flat voltage curve. That means that the voltage does not drop as you use the battery. You get all the juice down to the last drop. Historically if you power your house electronics with a deep cycle lead acid battery you would only be able to use half of the capacity of the battery before the voltage is too low to run anything. That’s why your lights dim when your lead batteries are low. With Dakota Lithium you can use all of the power of the battery, meaning that a 100 Ah battery from Dakota Lithium is equal to 200 Ah in lead acid batteries.
- Dakota Lithium has an 11 year warranty. That means you can install your batteries once, instead of replacing heavy lead acid batteries every few years. Plus lifetime technical support, greater reliability, and the peace of mind that your electrical system is built to last.
What Size Battery Do I Need?
The drop in replacement battery for most RV house batteries is the Dakota Lithium 100Ah battery [See specs and buy here]. An RV house battery is technically a group 31 marine battery, also called a marine deep cycle battery. All of those terms describe the function of the battery, which is to provide steady power for a long time.
The size of the electronics you are powering determines the size of the battery you need. Physically a Dakota Lithium 12V 100Ah battery and a DL+ 12V 280Ah battery are the same size and will both fit in the compartment that holds your current house battery. The DL+ 12V 280Ah battery is the best choice for folks who are winter camping in freezing temperatures, while the Dakota Lithium 100Ah battery is the best choice for smaller RVs and campers.
The Best Battery for Your RV, Van, or Camper is Dakota Lithium
Here’s a simple guide to what lithium battery is the best for your vehicle.
Size of RV / Van | What Your Looking to Power | Recommended Battery | Recommended Off-Grid System
- 10′-14 ft | Lights, radio, electronics (laptop, cell phones, etc.), small fan | DL 100 Ah x 1 or DL+ 135Ah x 1| 12V 100Ah Off Grid Power System
- 10′-14 ft | Lights, radio, electric cooler, tools, fans, electronics | DL 100 Ah x 1 or DL+ 135Ah x 1| 12V 100Ah Off Grid Power System
- 15′-20 ft | Lights, radio, stove, electric cooler/small fridge, electronics, fans | 1x DL+ 135Ah or 2x DL 100 Ah or 1x DL 200 Ah or 1x DL+ 280 Ah | 12V 100Ah Off Grid Power System or 200Ah Zamp Solar Bundle
- 21′-30 ft | Lights, radio, stove, lg. electric cooler/small fridge, small tv, electronics, fans| 1x DL+ 280 Ah or 2x DL 100 Ah or 1x DL 200 Ah | 200Ah Zamp Solar Bundle
- 31′-40 ft | Lights, radio, stove, medium fridge, large TV, electronics, large fans | 1x DL+ 280 Ah or 2-4x DL 100 Ah or 2x DL 200 Ah
- 40’+ ft | Lights, radio, stove & oven, fridge, TV, electronics, air conditioning* | 2x DL+ 280 Ah, or 3-5x DL 200 Ah or 1x DL+ 560 Ah
Dakota Lithium Ambassador Valerie in front of the Dakota Lithium Overland Truck, boondocking on the beach in Baja, Mexico.
The Best RV Batteries for Winter Camping & Boondocking
Boondocking in winter brings a special joy. With less crowds then the summer, many of our nations parks are best experienced in the off season. From the Tetons in October, when the aspens are golden, to the Badlands in March when the early spring rains bring out the red and orange in the rock, to January in Moab when the sandstone arches are covered in snow.
Winter time does have challenges when boondocking. One is that many RV batteries perform poorly in the winter or do not charge at all, leaving you stranded. That’s why here at Dakota Lithium we focused on developing a battery that can perform in the coldest of conditions. A decade plus later we launched our even heat technology, which uses the energy from the charger to warm the cells to above freezing, allowing for safe and reliable charging in temperatures down to -20F. Here’s the best RV batteries for winter camping.
- Dakota Lithium Plus 12V 135Ah Battery. Discharge down to -40F, with optimal performance between -20F and +160F. Charge down to -20F. Plus, with both 135 Amp Hours of deep cycle energy and 1,000 cca of engine starting power the DL+ 135 is incredibly versatile, allowing you to jump start you RV, truck, or van engine off your house battery if needed. In a compact group 24 case, the DL+ 135 is the best choice for vehicles with a small battery compartment or that need to fit the most power they can into a tight space.
- Dakota Lithium Plus 12V 280Ah Battery. Same even heat technology allows for charging and discharging down to -20F and the dual purpose BMS allows for jump starting your main engine off of your house battery. The DL+ 280 is the best choice for vehicles that need a lot of power but are short on space. With 280 amp hours of Dakota Lithium capacity in a group 31 case this battery is equal to six traditional 100Ah deep cycle or marine batteries.
- Dakota Lithium Plus 12V 560Ah Battery. Same event heat technology, same ability to jump start your engine in a pinch. The DL+ 560 is the biggest single 12V battery Dakota Lithium makes and is the best choice for vehicles that will need to run AC in the summer and/or have larger electronics like a big flat screen TV.
What Size Solar Panels Do I Need?
Dakota Lithium batteries are the best choice if you are considering adding solar panels to your RV, Van, or trailer because they have the highest efficiency rating for solar power. That means you get more power from each solar panel, and can use more of the power you collect. A deep dive on solar power efficiency is here.
Here’s a size chart for what solar panels you need by size of RV & how many Dakota Lithium batteries you have.
- Size of RV | # of Batteries | Recommended Solar Panel Capacity | Recommended Off-Grid Power System
One thing to note, rooftop solar on RVs and vans tends to have multiple solar panels instead of a single big solar panel. This is because the roof top of a van or RV tend to have vents, like a kitchen vent, or an air conditioner, or a fan or roof vent that make it hard to install a single large panel. To better use the rooftop space consider connecting a number of smaller, 100 watt panels together. This will achieve a higher solar panel capacity. Multiple solar panels also offer redundancy. When there is one glass panel if it shatters you are out of power. Whereas with with multiple panels if one fails you still have solar capacity left.
What Electrical System Upgrades do You Recommend?
Living the dream unshackled from shore power is magical: you have the freedom to go anywhere, and live life on your own terms. Here’s a few upgrades we recommend to build your dream off-the-grid home on wheels.
- Our #1 recommendation for anyone looking to make the lithium upgrade is to make sure that you will be charging your batteries with a lithium compatible charger – it increases performance and saves you time. Dakota Lithium batteries like to be charged at 14.4 volts, which is higher than lead acid. This means that traditional chargers, for shore power, or from solar panels, will work but they will not full charge lithium batteries. For charging off shore power while at home or at RV parks each Dakota Lithium battery will come with a free wall charger that you can plug into any wall socket (or extension cord). For charging via solar panels see if your solar charge controller has a lithium setting (many new ones do) or use a solar charge controller like the Victron Smart Solar MPPT charge controller. Or charge your batteries using the electricity produced by your engine’s alternator using a Orion-Tr Smart DC-DC charger (more on this in a moment).
- If building a new van, truck, trailer, or RV you will need a way to plug in your household electronics. For that you will need an inverter, like the Victron Phoenix 1200 watt inverter (for small & mid sized RVs) or the Victron Multiplus (for large RVs and Skoolie’s). An inverter allows you to use 12V Dakota Lithium batteries to power household electronics that require 120V AC (the wall plug in your home). Rated at 1200 watts this professional grade Victron inverter takes DC power (the power that comes from batteries or solar panels) and transforms it into AC power. 1200 watts is the perfect size for small to mid sized boats, Sprinter or camper vans, RVs, job sites for charging power tools, or other off grid applications where you need plug and play power. 1200 watts is a good size to run a medium sized TV, stereo, small kitchen appliances, computers, or other home electronics. If your RV or trailer came with wall plugs then an inverter is already built into your system, and that is compatible with Dakota Lithium batteries.
- If you are looking to spend a lot of time on the road then we recommendation the Orion-Tr Smart DC-DC charger which allows you to charge your deep cycle Dakota Lithium batteries using the alternator in your van, boat, or RV’s engine. The Orion-Tr Smart DC-DC charger is a professional DC to DC adaptive 3-stage charger with built-in Bluetooth. For use in dual battery systems in vehicles or on boats where the alternator and the starter battery are used to charge the service battery (aka house or deep cycle battery). The unit can be monitored and programmed via Bluetooth and can be remotely controlled via a remote on/off switch. The Orion Tr-Smart charger can be used in 12V systems and is suitable for both lead acid and lithium batteries.
- For battery monitoring our favorite solution is the Victron Smart Shunt 500A/50MV Bluetooth Battery Monitor. It allows you to monitor the performance of your system using the Victron app on your phone. Provides real time data on the performance of your system, including how much energy has gone into your batteries from your solar panels and/or from your engine’s alternator, how much energy you are currently using, and how much power you have left in your batteries. Using a battery monitor provides piece of mind, helping you make decisions on when to camp and for how long. It also provides a overview of the performance of your electrical system, which can be helpful if you or a friend need to troubleshoot problems on the road.
Top 2 Bestselling RV Off Grid Power Systems
For Van builds, small campers, and tucks we recommend the 100Ah #VanLife Bundle. It includes all the electrical components to build a lithium friendly off grid system including a lithium specific charge controller so you can add solar panels of your choice in the future.
For mid-sized RVs, 3rd wheels, camper trailers, and folks living full time in their Van, Truck or Tiny Home we recommend the 200Ah Zamp Solar Bundle. It includes all the electrical components to build a solar powered off grid system including a lithium specific charge controller and easy to install 170 watts of Zamp Solar panels. This is our #1 best selling RV & Vanlife power system.
Live the dream! Live life on your own terms! #PoweredByDakotaLithium