Carl Isner files a fresh report on the performance of the off-grid gear he’s been auditioning in his flat-bed Alaskan Camper; the good, the bad, and the new.
Carl keeps sending us off-grid updates on what’s he’s learned, products he’s auditioning, and how his Alaskan continues to exceed his expectations. Carl is one innovative truck camper we’ll be following into the future.
Carl Isner: Off-Grid Gear Report
by Carl Isner
After purchasing our Alaskan camper from the factory in Chehalis, Washington a little over a year ago, we have traveled and camped in a dozen states and had temperature fluctuations from +110 to -17 Fahrenheit.
The solid sides and convex roof make the camper excellent in inclement weather. And I believe the pop-up roof lift system of the Alaskan is the best on the market. In other words, the camper was an excellent base to make a custom camper capable of functioning on and off the grid. The camper is used every week of the year when I go to work, go on vacations, and on our time off. The camper does not rest, and neither do we.
The two 85 watt solar panels work very well most of the time, but we have discovered some expected limitations to this type of system. While in Yellowstone National Park for fall camping, we had a number of days of inclement weather in a row. Actually, it was gray, rainy, and snowing for a week straight. During the bad weather, the solar system could not keep up with our electrical needs and slowly we watched as our battery bank dwindled down to seventy five percent.
Another time we learned of the limitations of our solar system was during a cold spell this winter. The ambient temperature reached -17 Fahrenheit and the panels were covered with a heavy layer of packed snow. Not only is it a major pain to climb on the roof to clean the panels off but, during the winter, the angle of the sun is such that the amount of energy you bring in is far less than the rest of the year. I have considered tilting the panels manually and electrically, but I’m not convinced this would be a sturdy or dependable arrangement.
So what do I do when our solar system doesn’t perform? Plug into shore power in the hinterland? No! You pull out your trusty generator to charge up your batteries. The OutBack Power System we had installed does a wonderful job of taking the power into the system, monitoring the load, and converting it to pure sine 110 volt energy. Unfortunately, the OutBack Power System does not help in the charging of batteries.
My ignorance of electricity came to light when I tried to charge the battery bank by simply plugging in our little 1,000 watt Yamaha propane converted generator. Lo and behold, the most power we were able to obtain was a measly three amps. It took a person who is less ignorant in the electrical world from ExpeditionPortal.com to explain that we needed a smart battery charger and could safely charge at 30 amps or more with the same generator.
We now we have a smart batter charger and can bring our batteries from a measly 75% to full charge in just over three hours. Speaking of batteries, the NSB210FT Energy1 set that we have mounted under the settee has worked flawlessly. They stay warm in the cab in the winter and are continuously being kept in top shape by the OutBack Power System.
Olympian Wave Catalytic Heater / Mighty Kool Swamp Cooler
The heating of the camper is performed by a 14,000 BTU furnace and an Olympian Wave catalytic heater. A catalytic heater is by far one the nicest options you could have on any truck camper in the winter. It’s easy to start and draws no electricity while creating warmth 24 hours a day. Even our dog likes the catalytic heater and he lies in front of it at night when we are camping in the winter.
The cooling of the camper was originally to be done by a small under the seat air conditioning unit (see prior Carl Isner articles), but this unit is not as effective as we first believed. We use it mainly when traveling to keep the camper cool as we go down the road. That keeps the camper from being an oven when we stop for the night.