One of the most challenging aspects of overlanding or living off-grid is finding a reliable power source for your rig. Most standard batteries are great for powering the vehicle itself but are easily strained when asked to power everything else.
But more options than ever are available to create a flexible, efficient power setup for adventure rigs. Two of the more well-known and progressive options involve the use of batteries: a dual-battery setup and a battery box.
However, the way in which the batteries are utilized differs greatly and has created an ongoing discussion about which is better. To help you decide which is best for your camper van setup, here are the benefits and disadvantages of each.
A battery box is a container that holds and protects a battery and has several power plugs for various purposes on the outside. The battery can also be easily removed for charging or replacement, and the box itself is portable, making it ideal for multiple vehicles or outdoor use.
- No modifications: Unlike dual battery setups, which tend to require upgrades to a vehicle’s electrical system, battery boxes are plug and play and portable enough to be carried inside the vehicle. This makes them a great option for people who use their rig for daily driving or want to sell it unmodified in the future.
- Flexible: Because they’re self-contained units, battery boxes can be used almost anywhere – in other vehicles, including boats, which increases their value for people with multiple modes of adventure transport. The ability to change batteries quickly also makes recharging simple.
- Weight and size: Batteries themselves are very heavy, and adding a large box to the mix only makes the problem worse. Battery boxes also take up valuable real estate inside a vehicle, which may put them impractical for people with limited space.
- Recharging: Unless they are connected to the vehicle’s power system, batteries need to be recharged after use. This not only creates the potential for downtime without power, but might also require carrying multiple batteries to keep up with demand.
A dual-battery setup uses the vehicle’s existing power grid and adds an additional battery. One powers everything a normal battery would (headlights, power windows/door locks), while the other acts as an auxiliary unit to power anything else.
- Longevity: Once batteries and wiring are installed, the system functions almost as if it were standard from the manufacturer. Batteries wear out over time, but other than typical routine replacement, there should be no need to move the batteries once installed.
- Convenience: The batteries are integrated into a vehicle’s existing electrical system and charge via the alternator, just like they would in a standard van or truck.
- Space: Although additional space is required to install a second battery, the overall footprint of a two-battery system is smaller than that of a battery box. Many larger trucks and SUVs already have enough extra room under the hood to install another battery, but the space required to install elsewhere in the vehicle is minimal.
- Startup costs: Many people opt to install a battery system themselves, but the time and skill required to do so tends to make professional installation the only option. Expect pricing to exceed $1,000.
- Vehicle modification: Modifications to a vehicle’s wiring system and alternator are required to install an extra battery and wire it into the vehicle properly. If a vehicle lacks the space needed to safely install an extra battery, structural modifications will be needed. This could make selling the vehicle more difficult.
While both have their selling points, a dual-battery configuration offers the most reliable and convenient power for an adventure rig. Although it requires a larger initial investment, a second battery pays off with the time and effort it saves.