We took our annual Spring pilgrimage up to Banff and Jasper parks in Alberta.

Since we just installed a Victron battery monitoring system, we decided to track electricity use carefully on this trip, and also tracked propane and water use carefully.  This data may be helpful for planning your battery and tank sizes for your conversion.

Also some tips on finding campsites in the winter when most campgrounds are closed.

For those who have not been to Banff/Jasper Parks, its just an outstanding destination.  We go at least twice a year.  There is simply no better place in the world to see great mountain scenery.  The only caution I would add is that it gets to be a zoo in the summer — best to go in the off season.

Parks Canada 150th Anniversary Free Park Pass

For 2017, Parks Canada is offering a free year long pass to all Canada National Parks . As long as its in your windshield, there is no fee to enter any of the Canada parks for this year. Its celebrates their 150th anniversary.

One caution is that places like Banff in the mid summer are going to be more of a zoo this summer than usual — go off season this year if you can.

Banff Tunnel Mountain Campground


Another winter trip

Tracking Electricity, Propane and Water Use

Since we just had our new battery monitor installed, I kept track of consumables more accurately for this trip.  Hopefully this helps people doing conversions plan how big their tanks/batteries need to be.

We spent a total of 4 nights in the van plus one at a motel.

Our van is the 136 WB high roof, propane for heat and cooking, house battery is two 6 volt golf batteries in series — about 200 amp-hrs capacity.

Night temperatures for the 4 nights were: 30F, 19F, 28F, and 22F.

We drove every day, so the battery started at 100% SOC each night.

Propane usage:
Total propane usage was 9.9 lbs, or half of our 20 lb tank. This averages out to 2.5 lbs per might, or 0.58 gallons per night.  The propane is used for space heating and for cooking.

Our van is pretty well insulated, and we have insulated plugs for the windows.

We keep the van at about 65F until bed time, and then down to about 50F for the night.

Electrical Usage:
State of Charge each of the 4 mornings were: 85%, 81%, 84.8%, and 84.5%
Amp-hrs used each night: ?, 45 AH, 37 AH, 38 AH

The battery monitor is set to 200 amp-hrs for our two golf cart batteries. Somehow the Amp-hr readings don’t exactly line up with the SOC readings, but pretty close.

Our electrical demands are: Fridge (Norcold 751), furnace blower, lights, charging devices, and DVD player.

I was a bit surprised at the low electricity consumption — we could have made all 4 nights with no charging from van or solar and still been above 30% SOC.

Water usage:
We used a total of 8.4 gallons over the 4 days (of our 18 gallon tank).

Surprising how little water used. We use water for cooking and washing, and water for the big dog. We do have a composting toilet, so no water for flushing.

Total Energy (four nights):
Total energy supplied by battery: 1.9 KWH

Total energy supplied by propane: 65.1 KWH

Note how the energy used in propane is 34 times the electric energy use.  This gives some idea how hard it is to do a van that is fully electric — especially in the winter.

Note that this trip was basically sight seeing with most of the days spent driving. If you were at a campground all day, the usage would be quite a bit higher.

The newly installed  battery monitor is a Victron and it appeared to work well. It gives SOC, amp-hrs used since 100% SOC, voltage, hours of use left… Very compact and easy to use.  Cost was $164.

Finding Campgrounds Open in Winter

Finding a good place to camp in the winter in northern states can be a problem, as most of the campgrounds are closed until late Spring. One thing we found helpful on this trip was to use the AllStays app. They have a filter you can apply that only shows campgrounds that are open year round.  Turning this filter on zeros you down to only campgrounds that are actually open in the winter.

AllStays also has also has a lot of campgrounds — we found this really nice campground/Fishing Access along the Missouri River south of Great Falls — it was not listed anywhere else that we could find and no road signs off the freeway pointing to it. Lots of Canada Geese and a couple Trumpeter Swans.

Missouri River Pelican Point Campground/Fishing Access

Other Winter Tips

Winter camping and winter trips can be challenging.  On this trip, even though it was “Spring” the entire Icefields Highway from Lake Louise to Jasper was closed for avalanche work for a full four days.  Even on campgrounds that are open in the winter, the plowing usually does not include plowing individual camping spot locations, so you have to be prepared to get into a space that may have fairly deep snow.

On other winter trips, we have managed to get stuck and were thankful for having chains and a tow cable.  You should be prepared for being stuck out in the middle of nowhere for a couple days if you get stuck in a blizzard.

I carry this stuff for winter trips:

We actually carry most of this stuff year round.

If I was doing the conversion over, I’d think about some simple way to keep the fresh water tank and the plumbing to the sink (including the pump) above freezing even when the van is not heated.  Maybe locate the fresh water tank, pump, and sink all in the same cabinet and insulate it so it could be heated with a small electric heater that could work off the battery.

Update 5/20/18: This is what we added recently to address fresh water tank freeze protection…

The composting toilet that we use is very compatible with winter camping — no worries of toilet tanks freezing.



March 19, 2017

6 Responses

  1. Gary,
    I just wanted to let you know that we are back in business with the battery charge. It just took a short trickle to get it back to 14.4 and it has stayed there during the days of grey and dreariness. For some reason, it needs an occasional boost. I will be interested to see if the change in latitude has any effect when we head to Texas in January.
    I hope your holidays are lovely.
    Thank you again for the input.

  2. Thank you Gary, I appreciate your conscientious feedback.

    I am sort of rabid about shoveling off the panels in the winter. We use a small telescoping foam snow removing tool from Home Depot. Handy.

    We have a Blue Sky Solar Boost 2512iX with a Blue Sky IPN Remote. (Not the Pro-Remote that can change the factory settings of the controller. According to the manual, the factory settings are as follows: Acceptance-14.4V and Float – 13.2. From the speed of the flashing light on the controller and the remote it appears to be Floating and registering 13.2V. During the summer, it floats at 14.4V.
    I think I may trickle it overnight. I read somewhere it was advisable to use a trickle charge when the sun was not the primary source of charge.

    I will also follow your suggestion of taking out the fuse from the fridge. It’s turned off but there may be a phantom lurking when the circuit is open.

    I am amazed at the increasing number of vans in town. Certainly the MBs are multiplying like rabbits in the prosperous parts of town but there are more PMs all the time. We are going to Texas for a friend’s 80th birthday. Our way home will include the gulf coast, Arizona and New Mexico for some hiking and I hope Sandhill Crane viewing at the Bosque del Apache in NM. The trip will be perhaps 2 months. I’ve recently retired from the hospital and this will be a long adventure.

    Again, thank you for your helpful thoughts.

  3. Good morning, Gary;
    We have a 2015 PM 136″wb with 300W of solar panels and 2 AGM house batteries. It is driven off and on through the winter and it does not fit in the garage, so it gets what little solar gain that is offered.
    My question is, do you occasionally trickle charge your batteries in the winter when the sun is at 22º of altitude, as it will be on December 5th? We are in Bozeman as well and during the winters our solar input seems to max out at 13.2V. Is this enough to maintain the batteries or should we trickle charge to increase to 14.4V. I looked on the PM Forum for this subject but can’t quite phrase the question successfully to get the desired thread.
    Your Banff trip looked fabulous. During our build, we read your blog regularly for ideas and advise. Thank you for such succinct descriptions and well thought plans.
    Thank you for any thoughts on this subject.

    1. Hi Nancy,
      Nice looking van.

      I only charge with solar. I do disconnect the fridge, so there is essentially no load on the battery other than self discharge.
      The only time I have gotten in trouble with this is when I let snow accumulate on the PV panel. I thought enough sun would get through the snow to charge, but not so, and I just about totaled my first set of batteries this way.

      If you look at PVWatts, in Bozeman with a flat 300 watt PV panel, the worst month is Dec where you get an average 460 watt-hours a day (38 amp-hrs) into the battery — seems like this should be fine?

      I wonder if you are only getting 13.2 volts because the charge controller has determined that your batteries are fully charged and is just floating them at 13.2?
      I’ll check and see what my charge controller is doing tomorrow and post another note.

      We just got back from Banff. Some really cold nights (-8F and -6F), but beautiful clear weather, and very few people. Nice that we are only one long day away from Banff.

      Maybe will see you around town!


    2. So, at 12:30 today on my van…

      Battery monitor says battery is 100% full.
      Charge controller is on “Float”
      Charging current is 1 amp
      Voltage to battery (from charge controller) is 14.0 volts.

      So, your 13.2 volts does seem (maybe) a bit low.
      If you have a volt meter, check the voltage coming into the charge controller from the PV panels and see if its that low — I’m guessing that it will be higher and that your charge controller is dropping it down to 13.2.

      You might see if there are any adjustments on the charge controller that would allow you to raise the voltage a bit. Also, make sure that if the charge controller can be set for different battery types that it is set for AGM.

      If your batteries are not getting quite up to full charge with your current setup, I’m not sure that’s such a bad thing. Being a bit shy of full charge is much better than being overcharged.

      But, If you feel more comfortable putting the batteries on a trickle charger, nothing wrong with that as long as the trickle charger does not overcharge them.


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