10 Best Campervan Batteries for Off-Grid Van Life

best campervan batteries for off grid van life

Choosing the best batteries for your campervan or RV can be a tough decision – especially if you plan on extended off-grid adventures. You’ll need to build in enough battery capacity to reliably power all of your appliances and electronics, the battery capacity needs to correlate to your solar panel production (if you have solar), and you’ll likely want to keep budget and space concerns in mind as well.

There are so many options available: lithium iron phosphate batteries (not to be confused with plain old lithium-ion), AGM batteries, flooded lead acid batteries, gel batteries, various voltages, and dozens of amp hour ratings. In this article, we’ll explain some of the basics and then get into a list of 10 of the best campervan battery options.

Also, don’t miss the end of this article where we break down the basics of campervan battery types and capacities. For now, let’s dive right into the list of the best campervan battery options available today.

The 10 best campervan batteries for off-grid van life:

1. Battle Born LiFePO4 Batteries

Battle Born is one of the most popular options in the vanlife world, but they don’t come cheap. They offer several different capacities of 12V batteries and some kits as well. Their heated battery kits come with batteries as well as wiring and the heating technology, which allows the batteries to be charged in any weather.

This is important since as we’ve mentioned, lithium batteries don’t charge well in cold temperatures. Battle Born batteries have built-in battery management systems to ensure that they don’t get overcharged and that the temperature remains stable. All of their batteries are backed by a 10-year warranty.

More info: battlebornbatteries.com

2. Renogy LiFePO4 Batteries

Renogy is another popular brand among vanlifers, and they make solar panels as well as batteries, unlike Battle Born who solely makes batteries and battery accessories.

Renogy makes Smart LiFePO4 batteries that can auto-balance the charge levels between batteries connected in parallel, although their batteries are not designed to be connected in series. Renogy offers a 5-year prorated warranty on their batteries.

More info: renogy.com

3. Dakota Lithium LiFePO4 Batteries

Dakota Lithium batteries are especially popular among the fishing community, although they market their batteries to campervan and RV owners as well.

Their LiFePO4 batteries can perform at temperatures of -20 degrees F (although it’s unlikely that they would charge at those temps) and are backed by an 11-year warranty. They also offer US-based lifetime customer support.

More info: dakotalithium.com

4. Mighty Max LiFePO4 Batteries

Mighty Max Batteries makes a series of LiFePO4 batteries that are less expensive per amp hour than the previous options on this list, but they are only protected by a 2-year warranty. The batteries have a built-in battery management system that protects against overcharging and short circuiting.

More info: mightymaxbattery.com

5. VMAX Tanks LiFePO4 Batteries

VMAX makes LiFePO4 batteries in a variety of different voltages and capacities. Their batteries are protected by a one-year warranty that can be extended for up to five years depending on the use type.

More info: vmaxtanks.com

6. Lion Energy LiFePO4 Batteries

Lion Energy’s Safari lithium batteries are super lightweight, with a 105Ah battery weighing just 23 pounds while most comparable batteries weigh around 30 pounds (flooded lead acid batteries with a similar capacity weigh approximately double that).

These batteries are quite expensive, but they are designed to hold a charge for up to 2 years and they are backed by a limited lifetime warranty. 

More info: lionenergy.com

7. Big Battery LiFePO4 Batteries

These batteries have built-in LED screens to display the current voltage of the battery at any given time, and they are different from most batteries we’ve mentioned so far in that they don’t have standard terminals on the top.

These battery packs are cheaper per amp hour than many of the others on this list, and they are protected by a 10-year warranty.

More info: bigbattery.com

8. Goal Zero Power Stations

If assembling your own battery bank, inverter, and charge controller sounds too intimidating, you can always opt for an all-in-one power station like the ones Goal Zero makes.

These can be charged with solar panels, your vehicle’s alternator, or shore power, and like a standalone battery, they can be charged and discharged at the same time. 

More info: goalzero.com

9. LightHarvest Power Stations

Similar to Goal Zero power stations, these all-in-one units include everything but the solar panels. The 2.4kWh model has two regular outlets, 4 USB outlets, and a 12V accessory outlet. It is protected by a 2-year warranty.

More info: lightharvestsolar.com

10. DIY LiFePO4 Batteries

 

You can also opt to build your own 12V LiFePO4 batteries for much cheaper. 3.2V cells are available for purchase on Amazon and from other online retailers, and you can wire 4 of them in series to increase the voltage to 12.8V, which, as we mentioned above, is the actual nominal voltage of 12V batteries.

You will also need to purchase and install your own battery management system, which usually runs about $100. This does require some technical know-how, but it can be vastly cheaper than purchasing pre-made batteries. Undertake this type of project at your own risk.

Choosing a Campervan Battery Type and Capacity

Regardless of the specific type, it’s critical to choose deep-cycle batteries for your campervan. This means that they are designed to handle regular discharges of power that are both rapid and highly demanding (lots of power in a short amount of time), and then they can charge back up quickly afterwards.

In a campervan, this is necessary because you will likely be using the battery bank for power-hungry appliances like a fridge, a cooktop, a microwave, an air conditioner, a fan, and so forth, depending on how fancy you get with your build. So, let’s look at some of the available deep-cycle battery types:

Flooded Lead Acid Batteries

Flooded lead acid batteries (also called wet cell batteries) have been around for a long time and are commonly used in a variety of applications because they are cheap and easily available, but they are not the ideal battery for a campervan. They contain plates of lead that are immersed in a liquid electrolyte, and the charging process results in off-gassing, which can be poisonous.

They also require regular maintenance – you have to add water to them regularly to replenish the electrolyte that has burned off, or the batteries will be permanently damaged. They also work best when charged in stages, which translates to a slower-than-ideal charge rate.

So, technically you CAN put this type of battery in a campervan, but I wouldn’t. You would need to install the batteries in a compartment that is completely sealed off from the interior of your van so you don’t poison yourself. The battery compartment must be vented to the outside, and easily accessible so that you can regularly check the batteries and add water.

Lead acid batteries must be mounted flat and upright to keep the liquid contained, although they are still prone to spills – never a good thing in a moving vehicle. 

Gel Batteries

Gel batteries are a type of lead acid batteries, but instead of liquid, the electrolyte is gel and the battery housing is sealed since there’s no need to add water. This eliminates the spilling and maintenance concerns, and they don’t off-gas so they don’t need to be ventilated. They can also be mounted in any orientation, since there’s no liquid to spill out.

These are definitely an upgrade over flooded lead acid batteries, but they are already nearly obsolete since AGM batteries have higher energy density and faster charge times.

AGM Batteries

Absorbed Glass Mat (AGM) batteries are the latest and greatest iteration of lead acid batteries, although that’s relative since they were invented in the 1970s. These have all but replaced gel batteries, since they can hold more power and charge much faster. All of the liquid electrolyte is absorbed into fiberglass mats, which means there are no spills and no off-gassing.

However, AGM batteries should only really be discharged 50% at most in order to preserve their cycle lifespans. So, the more you discharge the batteries below 50% of their capacity, the fewer total charge/discharge cycles you’ll get out of them. In practical terms, this means that you will need twice as many AGM batteries as their capacity rating would indicate in order to achieve that amount of usable capacity.

That means more space is required and the costs can be misleading since you ultimately have to buy two batteries to get the actual capacity of one. AGMs generally have a lifespan of 3-5 years with daily charging and discharging.

But, one of the benefits of AGMs is that they are not as sensitive to temperature as lithium batteries. They can charge below freezing temperatures, although they will be slightly less efficient.

They are also much cheaper than lithium batteries, so they can be a good option if you only plan to use your campervan intermittently throughout the year or if you don’t want the financial commitment of lithiums right off the bat.

Lithium Batteries

Lithium-ion batteries use lithium cobalt dioxide (LiCoO2) as a cathode, which have very high energy density but carry the risk of thermal runaway – remember when phone batteries were banned from checked airline baggage because of the risk of fire and explosion? The same principle applies for lithium-ion RV batteries, which is why newer, safer lithium iron phosphate (LiFePO4) batteries were developed. 

LiFePO4 batteries are (reassuringly) not combustible, and they are more chemically and thermally stable. They are also made of non-toxic material, while LiCoO2 is hazardous and therefore more difficult to safely dispose of. Additionally, LiFePO4 batteries have longer lifespans, offering nearly double the amount of functional charge/discharge cycles of lithium-ion batteries.

They are also cheaper, lighter, and have a longer shelf life than older lithium batteries.

These are considered the gold standard of campervan batteries, although they don’t come cheap. However, basic calculations reveal that they are actually cheaper per charge/discharge cycle than the next-best AGM batteries.

This is due to the fact that lithium iron phosphate batteries can be discharged 80-90% rather than just 50%, so you’ll need to buy fewer batteries to achieve the goal usable capacity. Additionally, they last way longer – around 10 years to AGMs’ 3-5 years. So, you may pay roughly $800 for a 12-volt 100-amp-hour LiFePO4 battery and only $200 for a 12-volt 100-amp-hour AGM battery.

But, when you figure that you have to buy nearly two AGMs for every LiFePO4 to get the same capacity and then, assuming you’ve gotten the best-case-scenario of 5 years out of your AGMs, you double that number to reach the 10-year lifespan of the lithium iron phosphate battery.

Well, you’ve now spent about the same amount of money at the end of the decade, but you had less space in your campervan the whole time and you had to go through the hassle of replacing your batteries, using four AGMs total versus one LiFePO4.

Battery Capacity for a Campervan

Deep-cycle batteries are different from your phone battery which conveniently tells you, in percentage format, how much juice you have left until the thing dies. Deep-cycle batteries are rated with specific voltages and amp hour capacities.

Most campervan owners opt to use 12-volt (technically 12.8V nominal voltage but commonly just called 12V) batteries for simplicity’s sake, since many off-grid appliances are designed for 12V and most solar panels and inverters are 12V. It can be done with batteries of different voltages, but that’s another story. 

Anyways, the amount of charge in a battery is indicated by the voltage, and it doesn’t just conveniently run from full at 12V to 0V at empty. Rather, it goes something like this (it varies some depending on the type of battery):

via – rvtechlibrary.com

Ampere hours, or amp hours (abbreviated Ah), refer to the amount of power the battery can supply for a certain time period. So, a 100Ah battery could supply 10 amps for 10 hours, or 20 amps for 5 hours, or 100 amps for 1 hour.

But, remember the recommended discharge percentages from above: 5

0% for AGMs or 80-90% for LiFePO4s. So really, for an AGM, that’s more like 10 amps for 5 hours, 20 amps for 2.5 hours, or 100 amps for 30 minutes.

To appropriately size your system, you’ll need to estimate how many amp hours per day you’ll use with the appliances and devices in your campervan, decide which type of battery you’ll use, determine the usable amp hours of the battery, and add enough solar panels (if you’re doing a solar energy system) to keep the batteries adequately charged.

For reference, a 100-watt solar panel produces about 30 amp hours on an average sunny day.

Closing Thoughts

My boyfriend and I have three 100Ah AGM batteries in our bus conversion, which we honestly chose because they were cheap and we didn’t really know what we were doing. Now, after three years on the road and countless campfire conversations with other vanlifers and hours of research, we hope to soon upgrade to some LiFePO4 batteries.

Our AGMs are starting to show their age after three years, and especially after the accidental thrashing we gave them before we had solar panels on the bus (long story). Now, we understand all the hype around LiFePO4 batteries and if we were to do another build, we would certainly choose some of the standalone batteries from this list or make our own.

 

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