RV Life and being independent…OR – How independent are you REALLY in your RV Camper?

It was a cold, early winter evening in southeast Idaho. The outside temperature was about 10oF and was anticipated to fall below zero by dawn – still many hours in the future. It is nights like these where, as an experienced winter RV’er, I know I need to keep the furnace running frequently to ensure the camper’s underbelly does not freeze up as I live in my camper all winter and maintain it as if it were the middle of summer. That is to say, I run all my systems including water and plumbing all winter and it takes a strong furnace and underbelly heat to keep things flowing.

Then it happened…

A Power Failure – forcing me to do a “quick assessment” of how independent I can be in my RV camper – especially in the dead of winter

Winters are long here in SE Idaho. A power failure can add “adventure” that is not necessarily welcome! How Independent are you REALLY in your RV Camper? That is… how long can you go without shore power?

The entire neighborhood was dark. My development is a mix of cabins and RV campers (a mix of motorhomes and towable trailers.)

I know that for my neighbors in cabins, a power failure meant no refrigeration, no light (other than flashlights) and most importantly NO HEAT. A long power failure would definitely force my cabin-dweller neighbors to abandon their homes (as would be the case for many home-owners in the area.) They could probably make the night, but likely not an additional night without the restoration of electric power.

As a new resident of this region, I was unsure as to how common power failures are and how long they last. There was no “weather” occurring in the region, so the failure could not be blamed upon a storm.

RV Life and Independence…

So, here we are, low outside temperatures, about 10 hours of darkness before dawn – and not much anticipated temperature relief even with the rising of the sun. After all, this is the Teton Valley of southeast Idaho. Elevations exceed 6000 ft. in the valley, and the surrounding mountains reach in excess of 13000 ft. Certainly one of the most amazing places to spend time – especially in winter – but not a real hospitable place when the power is out!

I knew the outlook for my neighbors in their cabins, but what about me in my RV Camper? I took a quick assessment of my situation and here’s what I discovered:

Winter RV Camping – a unique experience, but if you remove “shore power” – how long can you realistically expect to survive? What systems will still operate in your RV Camper?

Heat – the MOST basic necessity for surviving winter in an RV Camper

Heating a RV Camper – My furnace runs on 12 volt power, so, I have heat as long as my campers batteries hold up AND as long as I have propane. Since I’m here for the winter, I have a 120 gallon propane tank sitting outside my camper. When it’s full, I can get at least 6 weeks of propane from it and probably more if I am careful with its use. As to the batteries, I have solar panels that can recharge them, and if it’s too cloudy or the limited winter sun isn’t enough to power the panels, I have a generator to do the job.

My generator will run for approx. 6 hours on a full (one gallon) tank of gasoline and I always carry a spare 2.5 gallons. (Don’t forget to use fuel extender to keep gasoline from going bad that you are storing.) So, if I ran the generator non-stop, I’ve got enough gasoline on-hand for about a full day. Since there’s often some sun every day, the solar panels can carry the burden of keeping my batteries charged. Of course, the generator could run indefinitely as long as there’s access to gasoline. This is the generator I purchased – and why I chose to go with it.

Refrigeration – next to heat, it’s vital to have

We all know that residential refrigerators require “household current” (110v electric) to operate. RV’s have the distinct advantage of running on propane (and 12v) or 110v electric. This means when a power failure occurs, your RV fridge will continue to work as long as you have propane AND some battery power.

As detailed earlier, most RV’ers who have solar power, a generator, and a good supply of propane can have refrigeration for quite a while (weeks or longer.)

Let there be LIGHT(s)

Your lighting in virtually all RV’s runs on the 12v (battery) system. So… as long as the batteries have some power in them, there will be light. Even a power failure in the middle of winter can’t prevent you from seeing your way around inside your camper.

The weak winter sun will still power solar panels if needed while living in your RV Camper.


For now, I’m relying upon a connection to city water. I have water filtration inside my camper (I have an article coming soon with some recommendations of what to consider and what to avoid), but my camper also has a freshwater tank. In the case of my camper, I can store 82 gallons of freshwater. I also have Sawyer water filtration that can filter river or lake water if necessary.

Corona Virus (COVID-19) and Independence with an RV

With heat, refrigeration and light, one can be quite independent in an RV Camper for quite some time. As I write this, the coronavirus is threatening to impact the lives of many Americans. If the power grid were to fail, everything considered I’d certainly rather be in an RV camper than in a standard home for the reasons detailed earlier. As you can see, maintaining a basic lifestyle can be maintained in an RV for quite some time.

Closing thoughts on Independence in an RV

RV life certainly has its challenges. Purchasing a well constructed, real four-season camper is a great start along with necessary tools including solar panels, a generator, and additional propane storage.

Whether its a garden variety power failure that lasts a short time or something far more serious, having solar panels, a generator, and additional propane storage will enable you to survive and thrive on your own for an extended period of time in your own RV camper.

Hey thanks for visiting! There’s lots of additional info on this site – please feel free to take some time and review some of my posts.

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2 thoughts on “RV Life and being independent…OR – How independent are you REALLY in your RV Camper?”

  1. Welcome back! Looks like you had an amazing time out there this winter. I’m looking forward to hearing more about your experiences in JH. I find all of your information invaluable. I currently coach in Pa, and do the occasional excursion to New England with our 5er. It’s not a full season, but does the job for small trips. My retirement plan is to mimic your experience to one degree or another. We do get out west once a year, this season it’s summit county. Again, thanks for everything you provide!

    • Jason,

      Thanks for your kind words. Its been a good season at JHMR, but between an early spring and the spreading virus, things may come to an end quickly. I’m likely to head to Cheyenne for the summer to work RV sales, but I may ‘hide out’ for a few weeks until the virus peaks and things begin to return to normal.



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