Van Life Electrical Systems – A Complete Guide and Wiring Diagram

 

Building a mobile Off Grid Electrical system for a van, truck or motorhome is one of the most exciting and challenging parts of any vehicle conversion project.  In this post we’re sharing how we built our Van Life electrical system to ensure that we could live and work off grid full time in our campervan as we drive around the world, and how you can do it too.

This article focuses on the equipment that is needed to build an off grid electrical system for van life.  We’ve included an interactive universal wiring diagram and materials list so you can see exactly what is involved in building the system.

Building a vehicle electrical system for off grid living can be dangerous! It is essential that you thoroughly research and prepare sufficiently in order to build a safe and reliable system. That said, with care and the correct approach installations can be carried out by previously inexperienced people.

van life electrical system guide

Look Inside Our How To Guide 

 

In addition to this article we’ve put together a Complete Guide to Vehicle Off Grid Electrical Systems to help you succeed at building your Off Grid System! The guide also includes a Full Universal Wiring Diagram and a Step-by-Step Tutorial.  This guide is a vital time-saving resource and will help a great deal in providing you with the knowledge required and the confidence to build your own electrical system.

Now let’s look at the required equipment.

 

Van Electrical System Wiring Diagram - Complete
Full Size Printable Wiring DiagramDC Fuse PanelThe King of ToiletsThis Maxxfan12V DC SocketsOff Grid Fridge Options12v Hub Quick Charge Power Station12v Water Pump12v Water & Gas SolenoidsVan Sink Options12V LED Stip Light (Warm White)Sirocco II Wall Mounted FanOnboard HeaterNinja Bullet BlenderUniversal Power Socket BoardUniversal Power Socket (wall mount)AC Junction BoxGround / EarthAC BreakerHD AC Power CablePSW Inverter12v Fuse BlockDC BreakerPositive BusbarNegative BusbarHigh Amp Kill SwitchBattery Terminal Fuse BlockBattery Monitor ShuntBattery Monitor Shunt GaugeGround / EarthBattle Born Battery LiFePO4DC BreakerVictron 100 | 30 Solar Charge ControllerDC BreakerRoof Entry GlandMC4 Solar Branch ConnectorsSolar CableHigh Quality Monocrystalline Solar PanelDC BreakerDC BreakerDC BreakerSterling Power Battery to Battery ChargerOnboard Air Compressor (optional)High Output AlternatorVehicle Starting BatteryGlobal Smart ChargerGround / EarthAC BreakerAC Breaker HousingAC HookupAC Hookup Cable

Full Size Printable Wiring Diagram

The King of Toilets

The King Available Here on Amazon

We compared your pooping options for vehicle dwelling here

This Maxxfan

Available on Amazon Here
Get this model, rather than the automatic one

Off Grid Fridge Options

12v Hub Quick Charge Power Station

Charges your devices more efficiently than via the inverter
Wall mountable
Available on Amazon Here

12v Water & Gas Solenoids

Check out our Free Guides to Van Life Water Systems & Propane Systems

12V LED Stip Light (Warm White)

Sirocco II Wall Mounted Fan

Onboard Heater

Check out Vehicle Heater Options Here
Or go with the the one we have the Webasto Air Top (it's Good)

Ninja Bullet Blender

Universal Power Socket Board

Universal Power Socket (wall mount)

Ground / Earth

HD AC Power Cable

High Amp Kill Switch

Battery Terminal Fuse Block

Battery Monitor Shunt

Battery Monitor Shunt Gauge

Ground / Earth

Battle Born Battery LiFePO4

Available on Amazon Here or directly via Battle Born Batteries with 5% OFF with the code kombi5off

Victron 100 | 30 Solar Charge Controller

Roof Entry Gland

MC4 Solar Branch Connectors

High Quality Monocrystalline Solar Panel

100W Each

41.6x20.7x1.38 in

Weight: 14.3 lbs

Available on Amazon Here

Sterling Power Battery to Battery Charger

Onboard Air Compressor (optional)

High Output Alternator

Vehicle Starting Battery

Available inside your vehicle duh....and also here on Amazon 😆

Global Smart Charger

Ground / Earth

AC Breaker Housing

This van electrical wiring diagram is interactive, it contains all of the major components that you might find in typical adventure van electrical system.  Click on the items find more information about the products and their current prices.

Click here to Download a Full Printable Wiring Diagram & Step-by-Step Tutorial to build your off grid electrical system

 

 

 


DISCLOSURE:

This post contains affiliate links, which means that if you click a product link and buy anything from the merchant, we will receive a commission.
The price you pay remains the same with or without the affiliate link


Vehicle Dwelling Battery Systems

 

What Size Batteries Do you Need For Van Life?

 

There are a few steps of theory that you need to take before you can jump into the fun part of connecting all the equipment together.  The first step in designing a van electrical system is to first calculate how much power you will need to run your off grid life.

To do this you will need to work out what devices you will have in your vehicle and how much power they draw.

For reference here is a typical small form factor campervan power usage

 

Power Usage For Average Campervan

 

In this example we calculated the power usage both in summer and winter as we use our equipment differently depending on the season and thus the power usage is different. We will build the system for whichever value is highest, in this case, summer van life.

In our calculations we’ve also taken into account the number of days autonomy we want to help us plan for off grid sustainability and also how much of our battery bank we want to use, we’ve selected 80% because we’re building this system for use with the latest Lithium Ion Phosphate Technology and although they can use 100% of the capacity, 80% would ensure a longer lifespan, so we’re going with 80%

This example is telling us that we need almost 400Ah of Batteries. WHAT?!  Don’t worry, we have a very high power requirements because we live and work full time off grid and on the move. We need to ensure we have 100% power availability even when there is no sun, that is why we have built our system for multiple days of autonomy without a charge. Most people will not need as much power as we do.

 

This Power Calculation Tool is included for free with our Complete Electrical System Guide & Tutorial

Click here to download our power calculation tool to help you calculate your power requirements

(as well as how much solar you need to sustain your power usage.)

 

What is The Best Battery For Off Grid Living?

 

 

Best battery for vanlife
A game-changing moment in our Van Life evolution

 

In our Guide to Off Grid Electrical Systems we discuss all the available options in more detail, but for simplicity the best battery option for van life is either AGM or Lithium Ion Phosphate

 

Renogy

200Ah AGM

Battle Born Batteries
100Ah Lithium
Actual Usable Capacity100Ah100Ah
Cost Up Front$360$950
Number of Cycles6003000+
Cost Per Cycle0.60c0.32c
Dimensions20.5 x 9.4 x 9.4 (inches)12.75 x 9 x 6.9 (inches)
Weight129lbs (58.5kg)31lbs (14kg)
Battery ProtectionnoneIntegrated BMS
NotesBetter at low temperature performanceBetter at…well, everything else

 

When you stack up Lithium vs AGM you can really see that Lithium is a clear winner and that is even before you take into account that a Lithium battery bank can be charged significantly faster than AGM, which makes a huge difference when you are living in a vehicle

 

Purchase From Battle Born Batteries – Discount Code: Kombi5Off to save $50

 

When should you choose AGM over Lithium?

Check availability and price on Amazon

AGM batteries on average tend to have better performance and resistance to low temperatures, so if you must install your batteries outside of your vehicle and you will be frequently chasing icy conditions then AGM might still be the best option for you.  However some Lithium batteries can still be used below freezing, check the spec sheet on the battery for more information.

AGM also has a lower barrier to entry so it’s a good option if vehicle dwelling is only temporary for you and you don’t think that you can recoup the larger investment into Lithium batteries.

We have heavily tested both technologies we would really encourage you to invest in Lithium Ion Phosphate as we are confident that you would not regret the decision.

 

What about Lithium Battery Safety?

 

Lithium batteries are the clear winner Lithium batteries have had some bad press over the years; however Lithium Ion Phosphate chemistry(LiFePO4) is safer, much more stable and resistant to ‘thermal run-away’.

Still, we were concerned so we did a lot of research into all the lithium battery suppliers, and we chose Battle Born Batteries because of their build quality and the safety features of their Battery Management System.  This BMS would ensure that our battery bank couldn’t be over charge or over discharged and also if the temperature was ever outside of the required parameters, the battery would shutdown itself to protect us. If you want to know more about why we chose these batteries, watch the video at the top of the page.

 

1 Year Later…

How Do Battle Born Batteries Hold Up?

 

Wondering how our 4 x 100Ah Battle Born Batteries held up after a year plus of heavy daily use?  Well, they are amazing!  They perform way better than we were expecting and function exactly as they did when they were new, just as advertised. The difference in usability, and fast recharge has been a game changer in how we live and work off grid and on the move.  Upgrading to Battle Born Batteries was a step forward and we’re never looking back 🤓

 

READER EXCLUSIVE OFFER

We asked Battle Born Batteries if they could hook you guys up with a discount and they have!

Use code kombi5off to get a further 5% off your purchase directly from the Battle Born Batteries Website.

 

Battle Born Batteries

 

BATTERY FUSES

 

Whichever battery you install, you must ensure that you use a high amp fuse to protect the cabling and the entire system.  The best solution bolts directly onto the battery terminal. It’s not cheap, but it wont blow unless it needs to and if it does you will be glad you have it!  We installed a 100A Cube Fuse on the Positive terminal on each of our Batteries.

 

Battery Fuse

Check availability and price on Amazon

Why only 100A? Our battery bank and cabling is capable of putting out more than 100A safely.  We have 4 x 100Ah Battle Born Batteries wired in parallel, which means we draw up to 400A continuous or 800A burst. That is A LOT of current and our particular system should never need to supply this load.  The fuse’s job is to protect the cabling and the components in the system.  We’re happy to limit the current coming from any one battery with 100A terminal fuses as any higher than this would indicate a fault situation and overload our cabling.  You will need to decide on the correct fuse sizes for your specific set up. As a general rule if you have multiple batteries and the batteries are wired in parallel then your terminal fuse sizes for each battery will become smaller.

 

What are Busbars and Why You Need Them

 

Busbars are a power distribution block which can bee used to join multiple cables.  You’ll have at least 2, one for the positive and one for the negative side of the circuit.  The main battery cables and cables from the primary charging devices (solar etc, discussed below) all terminate on the busbar and it should be able to handle the maximum expected current for your system.

Prices and Availability on Amazon

 

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12v Electrical System Safety – Battery Kill Switch, Breakers & Fuses

 

Installing a Battery Kill Switch between your awesome off grid electrical system and the battery is essential.  Being able to rapidly turn off all the power with one switch is an essential safety feature if anything unforeseen were to go wrong in the future. It’s also nice to have for when your vehicle is in storage.

 

Check availability and prices on Amazon 


12V DC Breakers are used for each of the positive connections for the main charging components in the system (solar, shore, alternator etc ). Breakers have 3 main benefits to your camper electrical system. First, they protect other components of your system if a fault condition occurs and an over current is produced. Second, they can be reset rather than replaced (as is the case with a fuse) if a short happens. And third they allow you to easily isolate a section of the system for maintenance or if monitoring or when storing your vehicle.  This is surprisingly useful!

There are some cheaper DC breakers on the market but when you see the build quality and what is inside them we opted for High Quality DC Breakers that mount nicely on a standard DIN rail. We like having all of the breakers in one location on a DIN rail rather than in different locations (i.e inline, or surface mounted breakers). When it comes to protecting your investment in your off grid electrical system don’t mess with cheap breaker.

 

We opted for standard DIN Rail Mounted Breakers in the Kombi Life build. Langir and Midnite Solar both offer excellent quality DC breakers which mount on a standard DIN rail as pictured.

 

There is a difference between AC breakers and DC breakers – and you must use the correct breaker for the correct type of circuit.  We’re not going into the difference here, but if you want to geek out and see inside these breakers and why they are different then watch this video about breakers here
All the correct breakers for AC and DC are linked in this article for you but if you find that you need to source different AC breakers for your system then we have linked all of the part numbers here so you can find them easily.  These AC breaker work for both 120v – 230v

The alternative to DIN Rail mounted Breakers is to use surface mounted breakers.  Blue Sea Systems offer a good quality surface mounted breaker.  If you prefer to use surface mounted breakers then you will need an extra ring terminal for each side of the breaker

 

For the remainder of this article we will be continuing with DIN Rail mounted breakers. Why? Because we believe that they are better quality and they are also more affordable than good quality surface mounted breakers, so that what we used, the exception being for the Inverter positive cable where we recommend a cube-style terminal fuse block due to the heavy gauge (large size) of the cabling needed for the inverter.

Finally you’ll need a 12v Fused Distribution Panel so you can run a fuse protected positive wire to each of the 12v appliances and loads in your system. Avoid the temptation to use multiple appliances on the same fuse as it makes troubleshooting more difficult.  If you do, make sure the wires can handle the projected load of all appliances turned on simultaneously (more about load calculations in our book.)

 

Click to view price on Amazon

What Is The Best Way To Ground a Circuit?

 

Some fuse panels (like this one pictured) have an incorporated ground busbar for the negative side of the the circuit.  When designing your system you can decide to bring both the positive and negative side of the circuit back to the fuse panel if you wish.  The downside of this is that there over the whole system there will be a lot of extra cable which adds weight and cost.  To circumvent this issue, in automotive applications it is common to run only the positive side back to the fuse panel and to ground appliances to the nearest solid metal fixing on the vehicle. This turns the entire vehicle chassis into a negative busbar.

Using the vehicle chassis as a negative busbar can present some issues when troubleshooting as grounds are located all over the place.  So as we discussed in Season 2 of our Van Build Series, in our installation we decided to create small load negative busbars with a solid permanent fixing to the chassis in strategic locations near appliances.  This enables us to reduce the cable length for the negative cables, whilst still being able to easily troubleshoot in the future.

We go into more details about how to select the correct sized fuse and wire gauge for each part of your system in our Guide to Off Grid Electrical Systems

 

Campervan-Solar-Electrical-Systems
Learn To Build An Off Grid Electrical System, Look Inside This Guide

 

HARDWARE NEEDED FOR BATTERY INSTALLATION

 

 

 

ProductDescriptionQuantityLink to Item
Battle Born BatterySave up for it
(it’s worth it!)
1+Amazon
Battery Terminal Fuse Block & Fuse1 per battery1+Amazon
Kill SwitchHeavy Duty1Amazon
Busbar3/8″ size1 pairAmazon
Cable with lugs
(Battery to Kill Switch)
2/0 AWG

1 ft Red

5/16″ to 3/8″

1Amazon
Cable with lugs
(Battery to negative bus bar )
2/0 AWG

1 ft Black
5/16″ to 3/8″

1Amazon
Cable with lugs
Negative bus bar to Ground)
2/0 AWG

1 ft Black
3/8″ to 3/8″

1Amazon
Cable with lugs
(Kill Switch to Busbar)
2/0 AWG

1 ft Red
3/8″ to 3/8″

1Amazon
12v Fuse PanelFor appliances1Amazon
Cable with lugs busbar to Fuse Panel via breakerAWG 8

4 ft Red

1Amazon
#10 Ring TerminalFor Fuse panel connection1Amazon
Breaker For Fuse Panel40A1Amazon

 

Check Prices and Availability Of All Items On Amazon

 

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12v Appliances for Vehicle Dwelling

 

12v-dc-loads for van life
DC Fuse PanelKing of Off Grid ToiletsMaxxfan12V DC SocketsOff Grid Fridge Options12v Hub Quick Charge Power Station12V Pump12v Water & Gas SolenoidsVan Sink Options12V LED Stip Light (Warm White)Sirocco II Wall Mounted FanOnboard Heater

King of Off Grid Toilets

The King Available Here on Amazon

We compared your pooping options for vehicle dwelling here

Maxxfan

Available on Amazon Here
Get this model, rather than the automatic one

Off Grid Fridge Options

12v Hub Quick Charge Power Station

Charges your devices more efficiently than via the inverter
Wall mountable
Available on Amazon Here

12v Water & Gas Solenoids

Check out our Free Guides to Van Life Water Systems & Propane Systems

12V LED Stip Light (Warm White)

Sirocco II Wall Mounted Fan

Onboard Heater

Check out Vehicle Heater Options Here
Or go with the the one we have the Webasto Air Top (it's Good)

This is an interactive Image – Click on the Items for More Information

 

The majority of the loads on your system should be 12v DC.  This is the most efficient way to use the power in your system as it’s already DC power and requires no inversion.

As shown in the power calculations we did earlier, the fridge is one of heaviest draws in the vehicle so selecting an economical fridge for van life is important.  The same can be said for selecting the best heater for vehicle dwelling.  We have a Webasto Gasoline heater which works great (and so it should for the price!) it has a constant electrical draw whilst in use but there are some heating options for van life that require no electrical power.

You’ll want to make sure you run heavier gauge wire to a number of 12v Power sockets and USB ports around your vehicle.  A 12v power socket is likely to more future proof than a USB socket so that is what we installed. These are rated to 120w which is what you need.  You can then install whatever the current charging tech is.  We use these 12v Quick Charge Ports in our sockets. They are high quality.

We do all of the charging for our devices via a Quick Charge USB hub.  This one is wall mounted, and capable of much higher simultaneous current across the ports (quicker charging).

We liked it so much we bought another one 😁
Price and availability on Amazon

 

If you’re installing a fan on the roof we recommend this Maxxfan rather than a fantastic fan which many people decide to install.  The main reason is because this fan van can be used in the rain and wont break if you leave it up whilst driving.  This particular model is manual opening, which cuts down on the complexity and cost, which we like.  The roof fan plays a big part in keeping down condensation (which leads to mold) and really is a must have for a van, especially one with standing room.

If you’re visiting hot places you should also consider installing a quality wall mounted fan, as you’ll need that constant breeze on you for hot and humid environments.

Power Saving Tip: Use USB powered mini fans at close range whilst sleeping for an ultra quiet, ultra low-power-draw fan.  When combined with a rechargeable battery pack these mini fans can go anywhere and are also really useful for hammocking or for starting campfires… no seriously, just try it!

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Selecting the Correct Inverter for AC 120v & 230v

 

You will likely have some devices that require AC power and cannot be run on DC.  For this you will need an inverter.

As stated in the video, Modified Sine Wave Inverters are cheaper and should absolutely be avoided!

You must get a quality Pure Sine Wave Inverter but what size?

To calculate the size of the invert you need you should work out what the power consumption is of all of your AC electrical devices at the same time. In theory that gives you the minimum size inverter you need, in practice you can reduce this by ensuring that you don’t run all of your devices at the same time.

 

AC Device

Power Draw

in Watts

Laptop 1150w
Laptop 265w
Ninja Bullet Blender600w
Van microwave600w
Induction Cooker1800w

Example power consumption of typical van life AC appliances
(Important: power usage varies between devices, check yours for exact numbers)

 

For most people, like us, a 1000W PSW inverter will be enough. We can run our laptops, charge an electric razor and make a smoothie all at the same time. Heck, we can even run some power tools.

If you have a high power microwave or an induction cooker then a 2000W inverter will be necessary.  Of course larger inverters are available if you planning on running huge AC units or van electric furnaces or maybe welding out the back of your rig 😉  But most people don’t need to go this big.

 

CHOOSE YOUR INVERTER SIZE

Inverter Section

(Best Value Pure Sign Wave Inverters)

MakeInverter SizeOutput VoltageLink to ItemDC Fuse SizeCable Size
Samlex300w120v or 230VAmazon40AAWG #8
Samlex600w120V or 230VAmazon80AAWG #6
AIMS1000w120V or 230VAmazon125AAWG #1/0
Samlex1500w120VAmazon200AAWG #1/0
Samlex2000w120VAmazon250AAWG #2/0
AIMS3000w120V or 230VAmazon375AAWG #4/0

 

Is an Inverter Charger Really A Good Idea for Van Life?

 

An inverter charger does the job of both the inverter and a shore-power smart charger so that you can charge whilst hooked up to the grid. 
The advantage is that you only have to install one device and that might save you some space and look tidier. Some also have a transfer switch which will allow you to automatically switch compatible appliances (e.g. fridges & furnaces) over automatically between on-grid and on-board AC.

They are a little pricey though and the biggest down side for us is that it’s a single point of failure.  There is some advantage to creating a modular system with each device doing a dedicated job, we think it’s better for nomads and overlanders so that is what we did.

If you like the combo option (many do), then here are the best options available for your budget.

 

CHOOSE YOUR INVERTER CHARGER 

 

MakeInverter SizeQualityLink to Item
Renogy1000W – 3000WBudgetAmazon
AIMS1250WValueAmazon
Victron Energy2000W – 3000WHigh EndAmazon

 

On-board AC Accessories

 

From the invert we connect into a AC Junction Box so we can connect to various AC sockets around the vehicle, we find that to be more convenient. If you have a high load it is advisable to split the load over the inverter output sockets. As our loads are not high, we have it plugged into one inverter outlet with the other one as a spare.

We keep all of our AC wiring separate in the system and the breakers housed in a separate mini power breaker enclosure.  Unlike our DC breakers, we don’t want to accidentally get fingers getting into the AC Live wires.

 

If you don’t want to wire in power sockets you can keep it simple and connect directly to a multi-power socket.  We have the international kind which accepts any type of plug top.  Recommended for our international traveling friends.

For convenience you may wish to install sockets at designated locations around your vehicle.

 

 

If you will be traveling to international locations, or have the chance of using international appliances, we recommend installing a Universal Type Power Socket

 

HARDWARE NEEDED FOR INVERTER SET UP

 

 

ProductDescriptionQuantityLink to Item
AIMS 1000W InverterPure Sine Wave1Amazon
Inverter Remote ControlOptional1Amazon
Cable1/0 AWG Red & Black (Pair) 3/8 Lug 2ft1Amazon
BreakerAC Side 16A1Amazon
Battery Terminal Fuse Block & Fuse125A
(based on 1000W inverter)
1Amazon
AC Junction BoxFor splitting to multiple sockets1Amazon
Universal AC Power Socketwith USB ports1+Amazon
AC Breaker HousingImportant1Amazon
Heavy Duty AC CableOptional
(for the inverter output socket)
1Amazon

 

Check Prices and Availability Of All Items On Amazon

Mobile Power Expansion Pack

(for Weekend Warriors and Part-Time Nomads)

 

Whilst we’re talking about designing the ‘ultimate mobile off grid power system’, let us not forget the key word in this phrase, “mobile”!
Taking advantage of Lithium technology is a must for weekend warriors and part-time nomads.  However, nobody said all that investment needs to stay in the van!

There is a huge advantage to being able to move this Lithium powered silent generator in and out of your vehicle as your lifestyle demands.  If you think you could benefit from having part of your power system portable, so you can bring power to the beach, camping, or on-site with your work, then perhaps a Silent Generator could be what you need.

Entry level silent generators for under $500 do exist, the high-end all-in-one options get pricey.

Top of the range silent generator. Prepare yourself for the price on Amazon

 

Jump Back to Top 


 

12v Battery Charging Systems For Van Life

 

A Van Tour of our Off Grid Electrical System


How you get power back into your 12v battery system is arguable more important than how you drain it.  There are a variety of ways to recharge you batter bank, the best option for you will depend on your lifestyle. Do you spend a lot of time driving? Will you have regular access to power hook-ups? Will your solar harvest be limited by your geographical location?

The best, most complete and most versatile solution is to tackle the task of recharging your battery bank from 3 angles On Grid, Off Grid & On The Move!

 

campervan-off-grid-charging-solar

 

Solar & Recharging Your Batteries Whilst Off Grid

(and living the dream!)

Solar Panels are smart option for almost every campervan, but particularly so if spend multiple days off grid and you have a constant drain on your system, like a fridge for example.

 

Calculating How Much Solar You Need for Van Life

 

There are 3 approaches to calculating how much solar you will need for Van Life.

Option 1 – The Minimalist

If you have very small power requirements and a small battery bank, then you can install a single panel for the purpose of maintaining your battery (keeping it topped up).

Option 2 – The Maximalist

If you have a large batter bank, a mid to small sized rig and high power requirements you are likely to be limited by the size of your roof, so the best option for you is to install as many panels as you can fit, according to your vehicle’s roof real-estate. Either way, it’s still worthwhile doing the calculations so you can understand how feasible off grid living is with your power system.

Option 3 – The Realist

Many people will fit between options 1 and 2 and will want to keep costs down by only installing enough solar panels to meet the power needs of their lifestyle. This is how much average power you can expect to gain from a solar panel.

 

Solar Panel

Array Size

Daily Average Harvest 

(in Ah)

100W25a
175W44a
200W50a
300W75a
500W125a

From the table above we see that we harvest on average 1 Ah per 4W of solar.

 

Keep in mind that these figures are approximate as the real values are significantly impacted by geographical location, season and shading.  These are average figures taking into account that we harvest more solar power in the summer than in the winter.

To calculate the size of Solar Array that you need, you must take the power consumption that you calculated earlier then work out how many amps you need to harvest to meet your daily power usage.

 

 

82.55 Ah X 4W/Ah = 330W of solar

  • If you spend a lot of time at high latitudes, or will be off grid winter camping in Dec / Jan then increase this by approximately 25%
  • If you spend a lot of time chasing the sun and expect to have access to clear sunny skies you can reduce this by up to 25%

DOWNLOAD YOUR POWER CALCULATION & SOLAR ARRAY SIZING TOOL HERE

 

Real Life Situation

The values here show how much solar you need on average to maintain your daily power consumption whilst camping off grid and not moving.  Keep in mind that if you have frequent access to the other 2 charging options (discussed below) then you can reduce your Solar Panel Array size further.

 

Rigid Solar Panels vs Flexible Solar Panels for Van Life

What type of panels are best for Van Life?

Flexible solar panels have the advantage of being more stealthy and lightweight. They do not last as long or perform as well as rigid panels.

Rigid solar panels are heavier but have the advantage of providing shade inside the vehicle, can be tilted for increased versatility, they last longer and perform better.

CHOOSE YOUR FLEXIBLE SOLAR PANELS

 

MakePanel SizeLink to Item
Renogy50W – 160WAmazon
WindyNation100W – 600WAmazon

 

CHOOSE YOUR RIGID SOLAR PANELS
(we recommend ridged panels for overlanding)

 

MakePanel SizeLink to Item
Renogy100W – 600WAmazon
Newpowa150W – 200WAmazon

 

Solar Charge Controller

 

You’ll need a solar charge controller to get the energy from the solar panels into your battery bank in the most efficient way.  We use a Victron Energy Solar Charge Controller.  It does a fantastic job and also lets us see our historical solar harvest on our smartphone via their app.  Great for Off Grid geeks like us 🤓

 

campervan-solar-charge-controller

 

CHOOSE YOUR SOLAR CHARGE CONTROLLER

 

Total Solar Array 
Power Output
Solar Charge Controller
(click to see on Amazon)
DC Breaker Size
(Click to see on Amazon)
0 – 220W75|1520a
221 – 440W100|3040a
441 – 700W100|5060a
701 – 1000W150|7080a

 

HARDWARE NEEDED FOR SOLAR SET UP

 

ProductDescriptionQuantityLink to Item
DC Breakerone each side of charge controller2Amazon
Roof Entry GlandWaterproof1Amazon
Branch ConnectorOptional – 1 x Required for each 2 panels in Parallel1+Amazon
8 AWG Solar Cable15 – 30ft1 pairAmazon
Cable Lugs & Heat Shrink8AWG 3/8″ ring for busbar2Amazon
High Quality Monocrystalline

Solar Panel

100W Each

41.6×20.7×1.38 in

Weight: 14.3 lbs

2Amazon
Solar Charge ControllerVictron MPPT 100|301Amazon

Check Prices and Availability Of All Items On Amazon

When Solar is not enough and you don’t want to drive anywhere, you only option is this guy

Unlimited power is available on Amazon

 

Jump Back to Top 

 

 

Recharging Your Batteries Whilst Driving

 

 

The major benefit of being able to recharge whilst driving is that you can reduce the overall size of your battery bank and you are more independent if you are unable to recharge from solar due to bad weather.

Providing your alternator has enough spare power after running your vehicle’s primary systems (wipers etc) and engine, then you can harness the excess power from your alternator to recharge your battery bank whilst the engine is running.  Budget options for this do exist but they are not ideal and will fail to get you 100% SOC (State of Charge) and are really only viable for the most budget conscious van lifers.

We installed a Sterling Power Batter-to-Batter Charger which does a fantastic job of providing the exact charge profile required by any battery chemistry so that batteries are recharged as quickly and efficiently as possible. In fact the B2B can recharge the batteries between 5 – 20 times faster than a standalone alternator.
It doesn’t affect the primary engine battery and helps the alternator last longer by not over working it.  It’s a great piece of kit.

If you have a modern vehicle with a power saving alternator, you need a device like this B2B otherwise your alternator will not put out sufficient voltage to charge your battery bank.

Still think you can get away with the cheaper VSR option?  Watch this handy video first to be sure

 

VSR vs Battery to Battery Chargers

 

CHOOSE YOUR BATTERY TO BATTERY CHARGER

 

To select the correct size Battery to Batter charger you need to work out how much spare power your alternator has after running the vehicle (“hey google”). Then you need to check your battery spec sheet to see what the maximum charge rate is.

For Battle Born Batteries, the recommended maximum charge rate is 50A for each battery wired in parallel. For AGM it’s 20% of the battery capacity.

We chose the 30A model because our alternator is tiny.  60A or 70A is the best option for most people.

 

Total Solar Array 
Power Output
Solar Charge Controller
(click to see on Amazon)
DC Breaker Size
(Click to see on Amazon)
30AAmazon40A
60AAmazon63A
70AAmazon80A Surface or 80A DIN

 

HARDWARE NEEDED FOR ALTERNATOR CHARGING

 

ProductDescriptionQuantityLink to Item
DC Breakerone each side of Batter to Battery Charger2Amazon
CableRed & Black

AWG 6

1Amazon
Sterling Power
Batter to Battery
Charger
60A1Amazon
Cable Lugs & Heat Shrink6 AWG 3/8″ rings for busbar2Amazon

Check Prices and Availability Of All Items On Amazon

 

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Shore Power Hook Up For Camperevans

(On-Grid Charging)

Sterling Power Global Smart Charger on Amazon

  • 5 years warranty
  • Power Factor Corrected – 0.99pfc – 91% efficient
  • 3 Output – 40A 12V. Input – 90V – 270VAC input / 48Hz – 70Hz – GLOBAL INPUT
  • 11 Pre-programmable settings – AGM, Gel, flooded, sealed, LiFePO4
  • You can also customize your charging profile if you wish.

 

You need a dedicated smart charger if you want to spend time hooked up to the grid. It’s a nice option tot have because sometimes you don’t want to have to drive and the weather isn’t good enough charge you battery bank from the solar alone.  It’s also useful to be able to hook up to a friend or relatives place when you are visiting, top up the batteries and stop worrying about parking under that tree!

Sizing your shore power is similar to sizing your alternator Battery to Battery charger.  50% of the battery capacity for Lithium Ion Phosphate and 20% for AGM. Be sure to double check the numbers on your battery spec sheet for your specific battery.

Sterling Power again make a fantastic unit with not only the correct multi-stage charging profile for any battery type, but also it accepts either 120V  or 230V, which is especially useful for us international overlanders!

We opted for the 40A model as it was the largest amperage with the smallest physical footprint.  If you have the space and your battery bank can handle it, get the 60A model for faster charging times.

 

CHOOSE YOUR BATTERY SMART CHARGER

 

Sterling ProCharge Ultra  Link to ItemDC Breaker Size
(Click to see on Amazon)
10AAmazon15A
20AAmazon25A
30AAmazon32A
40AAmazon50A
50AAmazon60A
60AAmazon63A

 

HARDWARE NEEDED FOR SMART CHARGER

 

 

ProductDescriptionQuantityLink to Item
BreakerDC Side1Amazon
BreakerAC Side1Amazon
Cable3 ft Red,
3 ft Black
6 AGW
1Amazon
Cable

(Hook up to Smart Charger)

(you can remove the ends, they’re not needed)

12 ft
3 core,
12 AGW
1Amazon
Cable Lugs & Heat Shrink6 AWG

3/8″ for busbar

2Amazon
AC Breaker HousingImportant
(can be shared with inverter)
1Amazon
AC Hook-Up SocketFor the outside of he vehicle1North America

European Option

AC Hook-up CableFor Campsites1North America 

European Option

Sterling Power ProCharge Ultra

Global Smart Charger1Amazon

 

Check Prices & Availability Of All Items On Amazon

 

STEALTH CAMPING SMART CHARGER OPTION

 

If you don’t want to have hook up ports on the side of your vehicle but you still want the option of ‘shore power’ then we can personally recommend the NOCO Genius 26000.

It can remain wired to your battery and you can simply run an extension chord through the window and plug the unit in when you need power. It does the same job and is more portable than an installed Smart Charger. It’s not as convenient however, nor as powerful.

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How to Properly Monitor You Off Grid Electrical System


The more you have invested in your off grid mobile power system, the more important it is to accurately track you State of Charge (SOC) so that you don’t over-work your system and you get a good return on your investment from your batteries.

As mentioned in the video, a standard voltmeter is a terribly inaccurate way of monitoring your SOC.  For Lithium Batteries, reading the SOC with voltmeter does not work the same way and its rather complicated to read.

For serious Off Grid folk and to protect your investment it is necessary to get a Battery Shunt, to measure each amp that enters and leaves your system.

We installed the Victron Energy Battery Monitor and we enjoy the statistics that we see on our phone from the App.  This device plays a big and important role in how we manage living and working off grid and on the move.

 

Van Power System Guide Van Power System Guide

 

HARDWARE NEEDED FOR BATTERY MONITOR

 

ProductDescriptionQuantityLink to Item
Negative Busbar3/8″ size
(If you haven’t already got one)
1Amazon
Victron Power Battery MonitorBMV-7121Amazon
Cable with lugs
Negative bus bar to Ground
2/0 AWG

1 ft Black
3/8″ to 3/8″

1Amazon

 

Check Prices and Availability Of All Items On Amazon

 

Jump Back to Top 

 


 

Complete Electrical System Materials List

 

1 – BATTERY BANK PARTS LIST

 

 

 

ProductDescriptionQuantityLink to Item
Battle Born BatterySave up for it
(it’s worth it!)
1+Amazon
Battery Terminal Fuse Block & Fuse1 per battery1+Amazon
Kill SwitchHeavy Duty1Amazon
Busbar3/8″ size1 pairAmazon
Cable with lugs
(Battery to Kill Switch)
2/0 AWG

1 ft Red

5/16″ to 3/8″

1Amazon
Cable with lugs
(Battery to negative bus bar )
2/0 AWG

1 ft Black
5/16″ to 3/8″

1Amazon
Cable with lugs
Negative bus bar to Ground)
2/0 AWG

1 ft Black
3/8″ to 3/8″

1Amazon
Cable with lugs
(Kill Switch to Busbar)
2/0 AWG

1 ft Red
3/8″ to 3/8″

1Amazon
12v Fuse PanelFor appliances1Amazon
Cable with lugs busbar to Fuse Panel via breakerAWG 8

4 ft Red

1Amazon
#10 Ring TerminalFor Fuse panel connection1Amazon
Breaker For Fuse Panel40A1Amazon

Add All To Your Amazon Shopping List

 

2 – INVERTER PARTS LIST

 

 

ProductDescriptionQuantityLink to Item
AIMS1000W InverterPure Sine Wave1Amazon
Inverter Remote ControlOptional1Amazon
Cable1/0 AWG Red & Black (Pair) 3/8 Lug 2ft1Amazon
BreakerAC Side 16A1Amazon
Battery Terminal Fuse Block & Fuse125A
(based on 1000W inverter)
1Amazon
AC Junction BoxFor splitting to multiple sockets1Amazon
Universal AC Power Socketwith USB ports1+Amazon
AC Breaker HousingImportant1Amazon
Heavy Duty AC CableOptional1Amazon

 

Add All To Your Amazon Shopping List

 

3 – SOLAR PARTS LIST

OFF GRID CHARGING

 

ProductDescriptionQuantityLink to Item
DC Breakerone each side of charge controller2Amazon
Roof Entry GlandWaterproof1Amazon
Branch ConnectorOptional – 1 x Required for each 2 panels in Parallel1+Amazon
8 AWG Solar Cable15 – 30ft1 pairAmazon
Cable Lugs & Heat Shrink8AWG 3/8″ ring for busbar2Amazon
High Quality Monocrystalline

Solar Panel

100W Each

41.6×20.7×1.38 in

Weight: 14.3 lbs

2Amazon
Solar Charge ControllerVictron MPPT 100|301Amazon

Add All To Your Amazon Shopping List

 

4- ALTERNATOR CHARGING PARTS LIST

ON THE MOVE CHARGING

 

ProductDescriptionQuantityLink to Item
DC Breakerone each side of Batter to Battery Charger2Amazon
CableRed & Black

AWG 6

1Amazon
Sterling Power
Batter to Battery
Charger
60A1Amazon
Cable Lugs & Heat Shrink6 AWG 3/8″ rings for busbar2Amazon

Add All Items To Your Amazon Shopping List

5 – AC HOOKUP PARTS LIST

ON GRID CHARGING

 

ProductDescriptionQuantityLink to Item
BreakerDC Side1Amazon
BreakerAC Side1Amazon
Cable3 ft Red,
3 ft Black
6 AGW
1Amazon
Cable

(Hook up to Smart Charger)

(you can remove the ends, they’re not needed)

12 ft
3 core,
12 AGW
1Amazon
Cable Lugs & Heat Shrink6 AWG

3/8″ for busbar

2Amazon
AC Breaker HousingImportant
(can be shared with inverter)
1Amazon
AC Hook-Up SocketFor the outside of he vehicle1Amazon

European Option

AC Hook-up CableFor Campsites1Amazon

European Option

Sterling Power ProCharge Ultra

Global Smart Charger1Amazon

 

Click To Add To Your Amazon Shopping List

 

6 – BATTERY MONITORING PARTS LIST

 

ProductDescriptionQuantityLink to Item
Negative Busbar3/8″ size
If you haven’t already got one
1Amazon
Victron Power Battery MonitorBMV-7121Amazon
Cable with lugs
Negative bus bar to Ground
2/0 AWG

1 ft Black
3/8″ to 3/8″

1Amazon

 

Add All To Your Amazon Shopping List

 

 

7 – ADDITIONAL HARDWARE REQUIRED FOR ELECTRICAL SYSTEM


Wire lengths to be adjusted to for your vehicle

 

ProductDescriptionQuantityLink to Item
Heat Shrink KitFor protection after crimping1Amazon
Fuse KitVarious Sizes1Amazon
14 AWG RedPositive Loads100ftAmazon
14 AWG BlackNegative Loads100ftAmazon
12 AWG Red12v Sockets Positive25ftAmazon
12 AWG Black12v Socket Negative25ftAmazon
16 AWG DuplexFor Low loads & LED Lighting100ftAmazon
DIN RailFor DC Breakers1Amazon
Terminals Variety PackFor various applications1Amazon
Cable TrunkingFor larger Cable Looms1Amazon
Flexible Conduit
(Spit Loom)20ft 1/2″
To protect Wiring Looms1Amazon
Flexible Conduit
(Spit Loom)20ft 1″
To protect Wiring Looms1Amazon
Flexible Conduit
(Spit Loom)20ft 3/8″
To protect Wiring Looms1Amazon
Cable Clamp KitTo secure Wiring Looms to Vehicle1Amazon
Zip Tie KitVarious Sizes1Amazon
Rubber Grommet KitVarious Sizes
Protects cables passing through metal
1Amazon
Negative Bus barFor smaller loads1+Amazon
Anti Vibration Rubber MountsTo protect sensitive Electrical Components
(charge controllers etc)
20 packAmazon

 

Add All To Your Amazon Shopping List

 

8 – 12V Loads / Appliances

Choose the ones you’ll need

 

ProductDescriptionQuantityLink to Item
MaxFann5100K1Amazon
12v FridgeAlso works on 110V and LPG
Fridge Selection
1Amazon
12v Water PumpShurflo 3 GPM1Amazon
Campervan
Stove & Oven
17″ high, 20 1/4″ wide, 19″ deep.1Amazon
Wall Mounted FanSirocco IIAmazon
Off Grid

Composting Toilet

Nature Head1Amazon
12v SocketHigh Power2Amazon
12v Socket Quick Charge PortFast Charge2Amazon

12v Charging Station

Wall Mounted
Fast Charge Multiple Devices
1Amazon

Induction Stove

2 Burner
(if not cooking on propane)
1Amazon

600W Microwave

Small For Van Life1Amazon

Blender

Ninja Bullet1Amazon

USB Powered Mini Fan

Low Voltage / Low Power & Portable1Amazon

ACUVA UV Water Filtration System

See our Water System Guide Here1Amazon

Tiny House Heater

Choose your fuel1Propane Powered
Gasoline Powered
Diesel Powered
Electric Powered

12v LED Strip Light

Customizable length1Amazon

12v Compressor

High Output ARB for airing up after off-roading1Amazon

12v Dimmer

For LED Lights1Amazon

LED Light Recessed
(Warm White)

If you don’t want to use Strip lights4 packAmazon

 

9 – Required Tools

Good connections are essential. For safety reasons use the proper tools for the job.

 

 

ProductDescriptionQuantityBuy Link
Wire Crimp ToolDouble Crimp & Ratcheting (ensures proper connections)1Amazon
Wire Stripping ToolCuts and strips 10 – 22 AWG1Amazon
Heavy Duty Cable CuttersFor cutting up to 4/0 AWG1Amazon
Heavy Duty Crimping Tool

12 – 2/0 AWG

Require if making your own cable lugs`1Amazon
Hot Air Gun Variable TemperatureFor Heat shrink and other projects1Amazon
Portable Label MakerFor a professional installation (optional)1Amazon
12 Trouble Shooting Lightfor fast troubleshooting1Amazon
Multimeter with Non-Contact Ammetervery useful for troubleshooting and checking charge and current flow1Amazon
Off Grid Soldering IronButane powered (doesn’t need electricity)1Amazon


Jump Back to Top 

 

 

DOWNLOAD YOUR WIRING DIAGRAM

 

 

Campervan-Electrical System Wiring Diagram

 

Download your Wiring Diagram & Comprehensive Step-by-Step Build Tutorial 

 

Van-Electrical-System-Complete-Guide-and-Tutorial

We’ve spent hundred of hours researching this subject and have condensed all the information into this essential time-saving package.

This guide provides you with everything you need to build you own Off Grid Electrical System –

Get your Complete Guide Package Here

 

 

 

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