Thursday, May 5, 2011


The lights that come with RV have two big issues for me, one they draw lots of power, abut 10 watts each and in the summer, they do give off heat.  Our camper has 4 single bulb fixtures and 10 double bulb fixtures.  I've been working over time to figure out a better solution.  Last year I got out voted by the misses that my solution wasn't working, so we had a compromise:  LED Bulbs everywhere except over the table.  It just wasn't bright enough to eat or play cards.

I've been working on the LED thing or a while.  The RV bulbs are essentially the same as the Malibu landscape lights. 

Here are the three different LED bulbs I've tried.  The single LED ones, the 3 large LED ones, and the latest, the 30 LED ones.  The 1 and the 3 work fine for just having some light when it's dark, but not for reading or really lighting things up to see what you are doing.

The 1 LED Light

The 3 LED Light

The 30 LED Light - I just got this off ebay for about $3 a light.  For brightness I'm super duper impressed.  I don't have the wattage specs handy right this second.  I will say, I'm very disappointed that the wires on the base don't fit well at all into the typical RV socket.  :(  They were completely branded as RV, but as you can see by comparison to the 1 LED bulb above, the base is very wrong.  These came directly from China so the shipping was about 2+ Weeks.

For a comparison, here are some shots of the different LED lights in the double bulb fixtures.

The 3 LED on the left and the 1 LED on the right.

The 30 LED on the left and the 3 LED on the right.

Here you can see all three lights for the comparison, in the foreground, the 30 LED is on the right

This weekend will be the first camping test of the 30 LED lights, by the looks of the weather forecast, they are going to be put to the test.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

What are we going to eat on this trip?

What are we going to eat on this trip?  That eternal question, almost as bad as "are we there yet?"

So, here is a condensed meal plan and food list for a weekend trip.  Quantities will vary depending on how many campers there are.  For a copy of the document, it's in google docs.

Weekend Camping Trip Meal Plan and Food List

Camping Menu
 Friday - Lunch
  (cold on the road)

 Friday - Dinner
  (foil packs)

 Saturday - Breakfast
 Saturday - Lunch
  - Grilled Cheese
  - Hot dogs

 Saturday - Dinner
  (Dutch Oven) 
  Chicken and dumplings
  Easy cobbler

 Sunday - Breakfast
 - Oatmeal
  - sausage / bacon

 Sunday - Lunch
 - Hot dogs

Camping Food List
 - munchies
   - Triscuits
   - Potato Chips
   - mixed nuts
 - Water - 5 gallons
 - Hot Dogs
 - Hot Dog buns
 - Burgers or Ground Beef
 - Burger buns
 - Bread
 - Lunch Meat - 1 lb smoked turkey
 - Eggs
 - Butter
 - Cheese
 - Yogourt
 - Pancake Mix, bottle only, water, shake
 - Dutch oven mix
 - Bisquick
 - Pie Filling, cherry, apple
 - Cake mix - 18 oz box
 - Peanut Butter
 - Jelly
 - Oat Meal (in the packets)
 - Soup - can
 - Cereal
 - Oil
 - Mrs. Dash's
 - Tea Bags
 - Coffee Grounds
 - Pasta
 - Mac & Cheese
 - Munchie Bars
 - Canned Veggies, mixed veggies
 - Foil packs - meat, potatoes, beer, onions, carrots, celery
 - Smores - Graham Crackers, Marsh Mellows, Chocolate
 - Kraft Singles for grilled cheese

  - Juice - 2 big bottles
  - Gatorade-G2 / Vitamin Water zero
  - Water - 5 gallon
  - Coke
  - Milk

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Spring Seasonal Prep Lists

Every spring it takes time to get everything ready for that first trip.  This year, spring hasn't been very kind to us, it's been filled with blizzards, so prep is behind schedule.  Our first trip this year will be before the school year ends, gotta get our trips in.

Here is a mind map view of our spring prep list.  We updated it a little from this spring's prep.  If you have any suggestions, we'd love to hear them, so drop up a line.  If you click on the image of the mind map, it will pull up a PDF version for you to use.  If you aren't timid about new software, download FreeMind and the mind map source file is available below.

Original FreeMind Mind Map File - (Download)

Here is one list for spring prep, it's a simple text file so it's easy for you do download, modify and print so you have something to work from.  If it makes sense to put it in a Google Doc so you can use it as a check list on your smart phone, let me know and that is simple enough to do.

RV - Spring Prep
- Check inside for cracks and leaks
- Check outside for cracks and leaks
- Put water heater plug back in
- undo the water heater by pass
- Drain anti-freeze from holding tanks
- Put the RV Battery back in
- Charge the RV Battery
- Wash water holding tank with bleach and hot water
- 1/4 cup of household bleach for each 15 gallon (run through the lines)
- rinse tanks and lines out with hot water
- wash outside of camper
- wax outside of camper and treat the roof
- Remove heater vents in floor and vacuum out
- Open windows to air out
- Check for rodents and such
- Vacuum the cushions
- Vacuum the bed areas
- Vacuum the floor
- Mop the floor
- Fill LP Tanks
- Check tire pressure and tread
- Grease the bearings if you have bearing buddies
- torque the wheel lug nuts
- check smoke and co2 detectors, replace batteries as needed.
- Check marker lights
- Check Signal lights
- Check inside lights
- Check Systems for functionality
- Stove burners - I like to get the stove going first to get the gas flowing through all the systems and it's easiest to see what is going on
- Oven
- hot water heater
- fridge on 120V power
- fridge on Propane
- HVAC - Heater
- HVAC - A/C
- Stereo
- Slide outs - check if lubrication is needed
- Check Water filter / replace if necessary
- Verify water hoses for external hookup
- Verify power chords for external hookup
- Verify water hoses for external hookup
- Outside sink / burner
- Check blue garden spray hose
- Check wash bin
- Check cutting board
- Check sink faucet
- Check fireside chairs for rips and tears
- Check awning lights for burnt out bulbs
- Fill black holding tank with deodorizer (after it has been washed out)
- Take all the dishes into the house and run them through the dishwasher
- Pull out all the linens and run them through the laundry

Other Resources

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Aero Dynamics and Gas Mileage

The last two years we've gotten between 9 mpg and 14  mpg depending on the speed and terrain.  I'm trying to find my notes about what worked when.  Though, all of this will change this year, last fall we put new tires on the truck and our base mileage has gone way down without the camper, last weekend it looked like it was at about 10 mpg for city and highway combined.  We'll baseline the milage this weekend and see where we are at without the camper.  Then the following weekend will be our first camping trip this season, which will be the baseline with the camper for looking at the details.

I'm very curious about adding a full size or even extra high cap to the back.  My friend gets better mileage on his truck when he has a cap compared to having nothing; all while not towing.  I'm thinking there may be some advantage here.  Going with a high one would also allow or better facilitate the option of putting a wind deflector as close to the camper as possible to improve the airflow; like they have on Semi's.

What we learned on our long trip in '09 was that Cruise Control isn't all that good for optimizing mileage, especially when on mixed terrain with moderate to crazy steep hills.  Cruise certainly can't be used too soon, you need to be at a good steady pace and on a relatively flat terrain for it to work.  The other thing we figured out, and I'm sure it's different based on other engines and transmissions, that you need to hit a sweet spot of 2300 - 2500 rpm and 65-70 mph in order to maximize fuel economy.  Trying to get Overdrive to kick in or a solid 4th gear with low rpms is the key to good mileage; it's a balance that depends on the terrain, the weather (carburation), and the days mood.

So, more data to come as we baseline everything for this season and then dig into how to make it all better.

Our typical trip is between 120 and 320 miles round trip.  So if we estimate the worst case towing mileage at 7 mpg that would be a cost of $68.57 and $182.86 for the trip.  If we estimate what we are shooting for in mileage to be 13 mpg then the cost would be $36.92 and $98.46.  So, going from 7 mpg to 13 mpg would be a savings of $31.65 for the shorter trip and $84.40 for the longer trip.  These numbers were calculated at $4.00 per gallon and don't account for any driving around without the camper on the trip or getting lost.  The savings could be tremendous, especially on a super long haul out west.  For our trips this saving would be quite a few smores and a whole weekends worth of expensive Ash Bore Beetle free firewood on the low side.

If we have 5 trips planned for this year, then the seasonal savings will be between $158.25 and $492.30, so if we do any projects to increase the mileage they will need to cost less than what we would save in gas and get us to the full 13 mpg.  I'm not certain it would be good business to look at a multi year pay back for any upgrades.... Except perhaps a programable computer chip that has multiple modes which would create a payback during normal driving conditions, which might also apply to other aero dynamic projects like a cap compared to our current tonneau cover.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Our Setup

To provide a perspective to our views and comments about power, turning, length, etc.  Here is what our setup is.

The Truck
K&N Filter and Intake
  * 2007 Dodge 1500 Sport - 5.7L Hemi
      * K&N Air Filter with high flow intake
      * Airaid vortex

Airaid Vortex

The Camper
  * 2007 Outback 28RS-DS (specs)
      This hitch weight on this one is heavier than most - 760 pounds.

As you can see in the picture, this was taken before we put in the Air Lift Suspension on the back end.  We went with the 5000 Lbs large ones, since they weren't all that much more than the smaller ones and I'm hoping they last longer.  It was a simple job to install them only took about an hour.  We got lucky, the Hemi had two holes in the back end that the valve stems fit right in.  We didn't go with the on-board air system, so we manually fill them when we hook up the camper, level things out and we're good to go.  It hasn't been any issue at all needing to adjust the bags while we're on a trip.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

RV Power Batteries

For now we have the battery that the dealer put in the camper, but I have some really cool ideas cooked up in my mind on how to improve things.

On one of our first trips out we went to a state park with two adults and three boys. It was early spring along the bay and none of the sights had electricity, so this would be a great test for the heater and the battery power system. It took a little training of everyone to get them to keep the lights off and the boys not to flush all the time. We went for a "if it's yellow let it mellow, if it's brown flush it down" approach to water and power management. The heater was on and not set to hot, just trying to keep the chill out. We had regular bulbs in all the lights.

Taking a light bulb time out - we progressed from two bulbs every where, to one bulb in some spots, to LED bulbs in other spots. I'll write more on this topic later.

The trip was from Friday afternoon to Sunday afternoon. The battery and water lasted through both nights and into Sunday. Not too shabby for a family of four plus one and no hyper power saving efforts.

Our battery is now about two years old and it isn't holding a charge anywhere near compared to the first trip. We've taken the battery out each winter and used a trickle charger on it. I'm suspecting last summer when we left the camper plugged into house power when it was parked cooked the battery. It's a weak and pure hypothesis, but I'm going with my gut on this one until I get time to research the charger that's built into the camper.

05-JULY-2011 - UPDATE

Well, this little experiment became a bust before our first trip this season.  The Napa battery completely puked and would hold a charge at all.  So it was yanked and replaced with the Interstate Battery. So much better, the battery lasts forever, and when we got back from the first trip and left the camper sit there, there was still at least a 2/3's charge at the end of the week, the Napa never lasted this long in the past.  Perhaps, it helped that any lights that were left on were only LED.  I so like them :D

The camper's charger is  WFCO Power Converter 89x5 Series.  The manual doesn't say a bloody thing about how it goes about charging the battery, just that it does.  I have no idea if it's a trickle charger, regular charger or super charger.  I do know that the converter works in three modes that sense the presence and voltage of the battery to determine how to provide output { 1) Absorption  2) Bulk  3) Float }

I found this great reference to what each of these modes does

Battery charging takes place in 3 basic stages: Bulk, Absorption, and Float.
Bulk Charge - The first stage of 3-stage battery charging. Current is sent to batteries at the maximum safe rate they will accept until voltage rises to near (80-90%) full charge level. Voltages at this stage typically range from 10.5 volts to 15 volts. There is no "correct" voltage for bulk charging, but there may be limits on the maximum current that the battery and/or wiring can take.
Absorption Charge: The 2nd stage of 3-stage battery charging. Voltage remains constant and current gradually tapers off as internal resistance increases during charging. It is during this stage that the charger puts out maximum voltage. Voltages at this stage are typically around 14.2 to 15.5 volts.
Float Charge: The 3rd stage of 3-stage battery charging. After batteries reach full charge, charging voltage is reduced to a lower level (typically 12.8 to 13.2) to reduce gassing and prolong battery life. This is often referred to as a maintenance or trickle charge, since it's main purpose is to keep an already charged battery from discharging. PWM, or "pulse width modulation" accomplishes the same thing. In PWM, the controller or charger senses tiny voltage drops in the battery and sends very short charging cycles (pulses) to the battery. This may occur several hundred times per minute. It is called "pulse width" because the width of the pulses may vary from a few microseconds to several seconds. Note that for long term float service, such as backup power systems that are seldom discharged, the float voltage should be around 13.02 to 13.20 volts.
Chargers: Most garage and consumer (automotive) type battery chargers are bulk charge only, and have little (if any) voltage regulation. They are fine for a quick boost to low batteries, but not to leave on for long periods. Among the regulated chargers, there are the voltage regulated ones, such as Iota Engineering and Todd, which keep a constant regulated voltage on the batteries. If these are set to the correct voltages for your batteries, they will keep the batteries charged without damage. These are sometimes called "taper charge" - as if that is a selling point. What taper charge really means is that as the battery gets charged up, the voltage goes up, so the amps out of the charger goes down. They charge OK, but a charger rated at 20 amps may only be supplying 5 amps when the batteries are 80% charged. To get around this, Statpower (and maybe others?) have come out with "smart", or multi-stage chargers. These use a variable voltage to keep the charging amps much more constant for faster charging.

One really cool thing I found on the vendor's web site was that the charger will support putting multiple batteries in parallel :D  And I'm pretty sure when I was out there getting the camper cleaned up for spring today, I noticed that there is a tray for a second battery, sweet!  Now I just need to get the cable to splice across to the second one and we'll be good to go.

I tried to call the manufacturer today, but they had already closed, so back to trying to remember to call them another day.

The Keystone manual recommends that if you are going to not use the camper for a while, that you should take the battery out, put it in the garage, not on the cement floor and put some sort of charger on it every 2-3 weeks. Once again, not sure which kind of charger and for how long...

The original battery is a Napa Stowaway - from what I can tell, this is one of the smallest batteries available, it doesn't even take up the entire battery holder in the camper.  It is a good bit smaller than my trolling motor battery, which by Interstate marine battery standards is about a medium size.

Here's the current upgrade plan. Move to two bigger batteries running in parallel. The one battery that came with the camper is smaller than my boat and trolling motor batteries. Pix and specs to follow... Some sort of quick disconnect and use my external battery charger and trickle charger to prep before a trip. No more leaving the batteries connected if we leave the camper connected to shore power. Might even hard wire a poet converter to the batteries to be able to power some of the 120v outlets.

Some of the specs

The original battery

  • Napa Stowaway
    • Model 8240
    • 525 Cold Cranking Amps
    • 650 Cranking Amps
    • 80 Amp Hours
    • 140 Reserve Capacity Minutes

The trolling motor battery
  • Interstate Batteries Deep Cycle Marine
    • Model - SRM-27
    • 600 Cold Cranking Amps
    • 750 Marine Cranking Amps
    • 160 Reserve Capacity Minutes
    • Hours at 5 amp load - 17 hours
    • Hours at 15 amp load - 5.2 hours
    • Hours at 25 amp load - 2.6 hours

Appliances in the camper

  • Water - as the water pump has to run, whenever you wash your hands, flush the toilet and use the sink (the order isn't specific, but you should wash your hands with HOT waster after you use the toilet)
  • Light Bulbs that the kids always leave on
  • Some portable electronic 12v chargers
  • Microwave - doesn't affect the batteries since it uses 120v only
  • Radio
  • No TV or VCR
  • The fridge runs on gas, so it won't count for this
  • Sometimes we use a 12v to 120v power converter to power / charge other items

Wednesday, March 23, 2011



A brief introduction. I've gotten kinda tired of searching and combing through forums to find out information about RV Camping and what works for people and what doesn't. I haven't yet found a culmination of the answers (unless it's selling a product / sponsored on some site for one tid bit). So I figured as, I work through figuring things out and researching, I'll post my findings and data for others to enjoy.

Some of the topics I've been working on.
All this information isn't very useful to you, unless you know our setup so you can understand our base-line and data.  All of the info we post will be data driven, no I feel, or I thinks; everything will be we made this change and here's what specifically happened.  If not, flame on and we'll fix it.