Vanlife Batteries: Top 5 + How to Calculate Power Needs
Vans are no longer just modes of transportation. With more and more people choosing to live in their vehicles, it’s safe to say that vans can serve as reliable — and portable — homes. And, despite what stereotypes may tell you, there’s no reason why you can’t enjoy your favorite luxuries while on the road.
From campervan air conditioning systems and LED light strips to microwaves and small refrigerators, there are plenty of amenities you can install directly in your van. Of course, to power these items, you’re going to need vanlife batteries. Let’s examine the different batteries available and how you can pick the best battery for van life.
Why Do I Need a Battery in My Van?
If you’re new to van life, you might be wondering why exactly you need to add thousands of dollars in batteries to your cost of van life. Well, a battery for your camper van lets you power items like the following:
- Heating and cooling systems
- Appliances (such as refrigerators)
Although a secondary power system isn’t 100% necessary (especially if you avoid using electricity to heat and cool your campervan), it would be difficult to stay in your van long-term without one. If you want to cook meals, store food, connect to the internet for hours on end, control internal temperatures and use lights, you’re going to need more power.
What Type of Battery is Best for Vanlife?
When you look at battery options, you’ll quickly realize that there are many types available. The best option for you will vary depending on your situation — some people will require high capacities, while those minimal power needs can make do with low capacity batteries.
In addition to checking the powering capabilities, you should ensure the battery is good for off-grid life. For example, if you’re going to be spending extensive time on the road, you’ll need a battery that can charge via solar power. Overall, there are three main types of batteries you may choose from:
Between these options, most van lifers agree that lithium-ion batteries offer the most benefits. However, it’s a good idea to review all three before making a conclusive decision. Here’s a closer look at each battery type.
Lithium-Ion Van Batteries
Lithium batteries are rechargeable batteries that use lithium in their electrolysis process. During the charging cycle, the charger passes current into the battery. The resulting electric charge ionizes lithium atoms, which produces lithium ions that move from the battery’s cathode to the anode. This creates a potential difference that allows the battery to store an electric charge. When the battery is plugged in, the lithium ions move from the anode to the cathode, resulting in a flow of electric current.
In comparison to other battery types, lithium-ion batteries are compact and light. They also have up to three times the voltage of regular batteries. Their lightweight nature, coupled with their high performance capabilities, makes them one of the most widely used rechargeable batteries out there. However, they’re also the most expensive.
Here are the top advantages of lithium-ion batteries:
- Low self-discharge rate (only lose 1.5-2% of their charge every month)
- High energy density (which provides long-lasting, strong performances)
- Low maintenance requirements
Here are the main downsides to lithium-ion batteries:
- Susceptible to problems if they’re overcharged
Who Should Get Lithium-Ion Batteries?
If you plan to regularly charge items in your vehicle, lithium-ion vanlife batteries are the way to go. When it comes to charging capacities, safety features and maintenance, these models simply cannot be beat. Thanks to the abundance of features, they’re well worth the price. The only people who may not benefit from them are those who live in their vans part-time and have limited powering needs.
The Best Lithium Batteries for Vanlife
Here are some popular lithium battery brands used by vanlifers:
The Battle Born 12V, 100Ah deep cycle lithium-ion battery, retailing at $874, is a high-performing battery commonly used for off-grid adventures. With a high voltage of 15.0V and a low voltage of 10.5V, it’s capable of powering most van devices. Top features include:
- Long lifespan (between 3,000 and 5,000 cycles)
- High charging and discharging temperatures
- Can be connected in series with other batteries to boost voltage output
- 10-year warranty
On the downside, Battle Born batteries are a bit bulky, which can add weight to your van.
Renogy is an American-based company offering high-quality lithium batteries for van conversion, including the Lithium-Iron Phosphate 12v 170 Ah. This product, which is available for $1,2780, can deliver a strong performance even in extreme temperatures (from -4 °F to 140 °F). Top features include:
- Strong power output (2176Wh) and continuous discharge current (125Ah)
- Built-in battery management system that protects against short-circuiting
- Lightweight (two times lighter than lead-acid batteries)
- Pouch battery cells (which make them more portable)
The biggest shortcoming of the Renogy lithium-ion battery is that it can’t be connected in series with similar batteries to boost the voltage output.
The Lion Safari UT 1300 is a 12V, 105Ah lithium iron phosphate battery manufactured by Lion Energy. Available at just under $1,000, it features 3,500+ lifecycles at 100% DOD. This means the battery’s capacity won’t drop even after being fully discharged for nearly ten years. Once this period elapses, the battery will continue operating at 80% of its rated capacity. Other stand-out features include:
- Lightweight (23 lbs)
- Long-lasting (can hold its charge for up to two years)
- Can charge and discharge in extreme weather conditions
- Lifetime warranty of at least 3,500 cycles
The only drawback to this battery is that, according to reviewers, it can take a long time to charge.
If you’re looking for a versatile battery that can run high amp draw devices, Relion’s dual-purpose lithium-ion batteries have you covered. These low maintenance, 12V, 100Ah batteries are designed to perform in all types of weather conditions. Top features include:
- Strong performance (up to 12.8V)
- Fast charging capabilities
- Suitable for both on-land and marine applications
- Safeguards (temperature thermal fuse, pressure relief valves, flame retardant additives)
In exchange for these benefits, you’ll have to pay a rather hefty cost of $1,080.
The Dakota Lithium 12V deep cycle battery can pack up to 100 amp-hours, which is more than enough to meet your on-the-road power demands. Its high energy storage capacity also makes it a great option for storing solar energy from your solar PV panels. Dakota currently retails this item at $899 and boasts the following features:
- Supplies double the power of traditional batteries
- Rapid charging cycle (charges up to 5x faster than traditional batteries)
- Can run at temperatures ranging from -20 °F to 120 °F
- Long lifespan (lasts four times longer than lead-acid batteries)
On the negative side, these batteries have shorter lifespans in comparison to other lithium-ion batteries.
AGM Van Batteries
AGM (Absorbent Glass Mat) batteries contain lead-acid and are designed to deliver powerful bursts of starting amps. Invented in the late 1970s, it gets its name from the glass mats packed around its ultra-thin lead plates. It works by passing electrolytes through the fiberglass mats, which allows the electrolyte to touch the lead plates without flooding the battery. Thus, no liquid will leak out of it.
While there are benefits to AGM vanlife batteries, they still pale in comparison to lithium-ion batteries. Not only are AGM batteries larger and bulkier, but they also have smaller life cycles, lower depths of discharge and lower efficiencies.
The pros of AGM van batteries include:
- Spill-proof (even if the battery is placed in a compromising position)
- Short charging time (can complete a charging cycle 5x faster than a traditional battery)
- Durable (not easily damaged by continuous vibrations or extreme temperatures)
The cons of AGM van batteries include:
- Low specific energy (can’t be used to power several devices at once)
- Negatively affected by overcharging and high voltages (which shortens their lifespan)
- Capacity gradually reduces over time
Who Should Get AGM Van Batteries?
As mentioned above, AGM vanlife batteries are not the top choice made by most vehicle owners. However, if you’re trying to save money and don’t have high powering needs, they may be a suitable option. Since the capacity will reduce after most uses, they’re best for those who live in their vans part-time and don’t intend to power items frequently.
Gel Van Batteries
Gel batteries are the newest addition to the rechargeable battery world. Unlike conventional batteries, they contain a thick gel rather than a liquid electrolyte. This gel is usually made of silica and hardens after setting, completely enveloping and isolating the negative and positive plates. This protects the plates from mechanical damage and short-circuiting.
Despite these modifications, gel batteries tend to have a lower output than AMG and lithium-ion batteries. On the bright side, they have a longer lifespan (thanks to the hardened silica gel). However, lithium-ion batteries still reign supreme due to their strong capacities and compact natures.
Here are a few perks of gel van batteries:
- Long lifespan (can last between 10 and 20 years)
- Can be installed in any position (as they’re maintenance-free and leak-proof)
- Resistant to vibrations
Here are a couple of drawbacks to gel van batteries:
- Slow charging cycles (that require you to be present during the charging process)
- Affected by high temperatures
Who Should Get Gel Van Batteries?
Similar to AGM batteries, gel van batteries are not the best choice and do not offer the same capabilities as lithium-ion batteries. However, they’re more affordable, which makes them popular among budget-friendly and part-time van lifers. They’re suitable for van owners who live in areas with moderate temperatures, need long-term, affordable solutions and are okay with slow charging times.
What Else Will You Need?: Van Battery-Powered System Components
Finding the best campervan battery for your needs is no easy feat. If you’ve gone through the options, studied the pros and cons and come to a decision, give yourself a pat on the back. Then, get ready for some more work, because the job isn’t quite done yet. Picking a vanlife battery is just the first step — you’ll also need to gather the following:
- Power source
- 12v inverter
The power source is used to charge your battery. It may consist of solar panels, an alternator, shore power or a combination of these items. You must connect it to the selected battery, which will then “hold” the stored charge from the source.
To use this electricity to power AC appliances and lights, your battery power needs to be converted from DC power to AC power. That’s where a 12v inverter comes in. This device will “translate” the battery power to 120 volts, which will then be accepted by all of your AC appliances. Otherwise, you can . The inverter also has to be wired in your van (you can learn more about wiring an inverter here).
Note: To use DC powered appliances like 12v van tv’s, air conditioners etc. you do not need to AC power.
Whether you’re using a lithium-ion, AGM or gel battery, you’re going to need a comprehensive campervan battery system to enjoy electricity. While most systems consist of these three components, the specific electrical system you’ll need to wire may vary depending on the selected power source.
What if I Don’t Want to Wire My Whole Van?: Battery Power Stations
Connecting a battery to a power source and inverter, and then wiring your entire van correctly takes time and effort. If you’re not interested in going through the whole built-in power set-up, consider getting a portable power station instead.
Put simply, a portable battery power station is a “plug and play” system that can be powered by a small battery charger and will reduce some of the difficulty of building a van. One end of the station holds the plug, which is connected directly to your solar panel or power source. Meanwhile, the other end features a power station where you can plug in your lighting and devices. The result is a quick powering solution that doesn’t require any installation or wiring.
Portable Battery Power Stations vs. Deep Cycle Van Batteries
Although portable battery power stations are meant to be temporary solutions, many van owners use them permanently. The main advantage of portable power stations is the easy campervan battery set-up — you don’t have to worry about wiring an electrical system, and you can enjoy power almost instantly.
On the downside, portable solutions have lower powering capabilities than deep cycle vanlife batteries. Moreover, the wires and battery station will be visible, which is not aesthetically pleasing. While both solutions will work, a deep cycle battery is best if you live in your van full-time or have high powering needs.
The Best Portable Van Battery Power Stations
Does a portable van battery power station sound appealing to you? Below, we’ve put together three of the most popular, trusted power stations. Each brand offers a variety of power capacities – however, we’ve focused on the 1,500Wh options (which is the most common power capacity for van lifers).
Goal Zero Yeti 1000x Power Station
The Goal Zero Yeti 100x stand-alone portable power station is designed for anyone who needs a lot of power during a camping trip. It has a hefty 983Wh capacity, which enables you to power lights, electronics and even your refrigerator. Despite its strong capabilities, it weights only 32 pounds, making it easy to store. It also features exit holes, which is helpful when connecting wires and cables to outlets. Top features include:
- 12 ports and two standard USB ports
- Two handles for effortless movement
- Two 120V outlets (capable of delivering 1500 W and 3000W outputs)
- Ability to charge from 0-100% in 8 hours and 32 minutes
Goal Zero lists this power station for $1,400.
Bluetti EB150 Power Station
The Bluetti EB150 portable power station is well-known for its exceptionally high output capacity, which can sufficiently meet the power requirements of a fully equipped van. Not only does it have a capacity of 1500Wh, but it can also deliver a maximum power output of 1000W and a surge power of 2000W. The entire station weighs just 35 pounds, which is easy to carry around. Top features include:
- Large LCD display (which shows remaining battery power and amount of input and output powers)
- 2 AC power ports and 4 USB ports
- 16-60V/10 A solar/DC port
- Handle for carrying the power station
While Bluetti discontinued the battery, you may be able to find it from other sellers. It costs around $1,600.
Jackery 1000 Power Station
The Jackery 1000 portable power station, is ideal for anyone who needs a reliable power source for an off-grid trip. It has a maximum output of 1,000W and a surge rate of 2,000W. The strong power capabilities are paired with a small size; the battery weighs just 22 pounds, making it one of the most lightweight power stations available. Top features include:
- LCD display (which shows the remaining charge levels)
- Solar PV charging cable
- 5 DC connections (including 2 USB-C ports, 2 USB ports and one 12V port)
- 3 AC outlets
Currently, Jackery retails this power station for $1,099.
How Much Battery Power Do I Need in My Van?
There’s no definitive answer when it comes to the amount of power you need to sufficiently meet your van’s requirements. This varies from van owner to van owner based on the number of lights/appliances you need to charge, as well as the individual power draw of each of those items. If you can avoid using electricity for things like heating, you’ll need a lot less power. To get a rough estimate, start by identifying all the devices you intend to power simultaneously. Then, for each appliance, calculate how much energy it will use in amp-hours.
Start by multiplying the watts by hours, then divide by the efficiency and battery voltage amounts. For example, say you plan to run a 250W bulb for ten hours with a 12V battery and an inverter that operates at 85% efficiency. You would calculate the following:
- 250W * 10 = 2,500 watt-hours
- 2,500 watt-hours / 0.85 (efficiency) = 2,941 watt-hours
- 2,941 / 12 = ~245 amp-hours
Calculate the amp-hours for all your devices, then add them together to get a total value. The final result will be the ideal battery capacity for your van.
So, What Battery Setup is Best for Your Van?
Finding the best van battery comes down to your needs. First, decide if you’re willing to wire a deep cycle battery system. If so, stick with a lithium-ion battery. If you’d rather go with a “plug and play” battery solution, you can’t go wrong with the Goal Zero, Bluetti, or Jackery portable power station. And don’t forget — you can always reach out with any questions!