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Thursday, June 25, 2015

Transition to the boondocking lifestyle with low-cost solar task lights

Many RVers that are new to boondocking shudder at the expense of putting in a solar charging system. They love getting away to the back country, enjoy the solitude and quiet, but find it hard to cough up the big bucks. Here's a thought on how you may be able to still enjoy your boondocking and while you save up your shekels for an alternative power system.

Every boondocker is different in terms of what they use their power for. Some have laptops or other e-devices that they "just gotta have." Others can't do without a bit of television. Some find it important to fire up the furnace (and associated electric fan) to take the chill off. But there is a common denominator – most everybody needs to run the lights at night.

Yes, you can install LED lighting – that will cut some of the electrical "cost" in terms of how much battery power you chew up between dusk and dawn. But here's another approach you might like: Portable, solar charging work lights. These little critters charge up in the sun by day, and can be lugged around anywhere you need light – inside or outside the RV.

They aren't big – standing only about 7" in height, with a "lamp" area about 3" in diameter. But as a 'task light' you can sit the device down where you need it, then point the light where the light is required. Great for reading, cooking, caring for 'personal needs' by night. And at about $16 each, they're pretty easy on the pocketbook. 

Now, we've had "experience" with some budget solar lights, those you see folks lining the garden path or the border of the sidewalk with. Those $1 cheapies are just that – they last a couple months, maybe a couple of weeks, and they're done for. We were concerned that this might be the same here, but customer reviews of this particular light are favorable, and the design itself was originally put together to help folks in impoverished lands have lighting that didn't require batteries or liquid fuels to run, so some thoughtfulness was put into this product.

According to users, running time on these lights works out like this: Brilliant light for the first three or four hours of operation. Dimming down from then on, but still usable after seven hours of operation, after a full charge by day. A "glow in the dark" power switch makes it easy to flip the light on or off, and of course, without continuous use, the battery storage on these should make your light last longer.

Pick up a couple, or a few, try them out. See how you like boondocking, then consider making the jump to solar panels up roof-top. This may be a way to help make the transition.

Russ and Tiña are "on air" with weekly podcasts at

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Ever "lost" your RV while boondocking?

Boondocking out in the middle of nowhere has definite attractions: Solitude. Quiet. Beautiful scenery. Lower costs. Of course there are a few caveats – you'll have to be a little more self-reliant than those who chose to park in a developed "RV resort." Sometimes the self-reliance skill-set includes a developed sense of direction.

Witness an experience that we had more than once when boondocking out in the Arizona desert. We were on BLM land and had the "perfect" spot – great views of the nearby hills and far enough away from most other folks to feel almost secluded. It was great – until the first time we came "home" after dark – and couldn't find the rig. There were multiple roads and trails in the area, and each one looked like the last one. And since there were other RVers dispersed through the area, and you know, it's like every fifth-wheel looks like every other fifth-wheel, at least in the dark, we got a bit spooked. After a lot of fussing about, we finally did find the rig again, with a sigh of relief.

We can only reason that had we been camping in a wooded area, the problem would likely have been compounded. So what's to do?

We can hear a lot of, "Use your GPS, silly!" coming out. And we do have a GPS. But depending on your GPS' abilities and mapping software, that may or may not be of help. For us, our GPS didn't display anything other than the main road running through the BLM area – trails and side roads, nada. While we could "spot" our camp site on the GPS, it would only give us a general idea of where we wanted to be, but no specifics on just how to get there.

Now there are some GPS units that have a "breadcrumb" system. When setting out from your site and heading back to the main road, spot your site, and turn on the "breadcrumb" system. This sets up a file in your GPS unit that takes into account distance, direction, and turns. When it's time to come back, call up your breadcrumb trail file and your GPS will give you a steer – even if it doesn't have a specific road in its permanent memory.

What if your GPS (like ours) doesn't have a breadcrumb option? There's a relatively inexpensive GPS device called the Breadcrumbs II Personal Locator. At less than $60, the device is designed with us 'Boomers' in mind who may be getting so debilitated that we need help finding our car in the parking lot. Which sad to say for us, may be a useful thing. Anyhow, it's a personal GPS device that "remembers" your steps (of up to three different locations) and gives you a compass like "steer" arrow to follow back. It's a small thing, hangs around your neck on a lanyard, and weighs a few ounces.

We talked to the folks who market the locator, and they tell us that it will also guide you if you're driving off the beaten path. Just set your 'come back to this" point, and head out. Recall your "home" point when you need to get back, and get a clear set of directions for getting there. Disclaimer time: We've not tried it, but we think it's worth a further investigation. Here's a link.

There are also some apps for smart-phones that claim to do a similar job. If you've tried any of these, please let us know. Write russ at rvtravel dot com.

Get an "earful" of Russ and Tiña's weekly podcast at

photos: "Hansel," public domain image; personal locator,