Mello Mike’s Truck Camper Musings and News II

Truck Camper Adventure is proud to present Mello Mike’s Truck Camper Musings and News—a Truck Camper Adventure Editorial of sorts—about truck camper life and happenings in the truck and truck camper industries. This is a regular feature here at Truck Camper Adventure.

1. Don’t forget about the fuse: If you recall in my last installment, I complained about the lousy performance of our rig’s alternator charge circuit while on the road. Duh! There was a good reason for that—the 30 amp fuse going to our camper’s battery separator had blown. Well, at least we’re getting a decent charge now during long road trips. I’m still planning to upgrade though. A dedicated charge circuit with heavy-duty 2 gauge wire and a 300 amp Solenoid will perform better than the 10 gauge wire and battery separator used in our existing charge circuit.

2. Dueling Solar Charge Controllers: If you’ve been following us on Instagram, you know that we’ve been using our Zamp 160 watt portable array quite a bit to supplement our camper’s main 240 watt rooftop system during the winter. We’ve been keeping a close eye on the efficiency and performance of the two systems, and we’re not entirely happy. The two charge controllers work well together the first two or three hours each day, but during the rest of the day they appear to be “dueling” with each other and degrading the total charge going to our two AGM batteries. In late morning we typically see 3 amps of charging from the main rooftop system and 7 amps of charging from the portable system for a total of 10 amps of charging, which is fine in the winter. But early in the afternoon the main charge controller erroneously shows a full charge, shutting down the main controller and reducing the total charge from the portable array from 8 or 9 amps to around 4 amps the rest of the day (being able to monitor the total charge using my Xantrex LinkLite Battery Monitor has been a huge benefit). Apparently, the portable charge controller appears to be tricking the main controller into thinking that the battery bank is full when it isn’t. The final solution, as I see it, is to remove the portable charge controller from the portable array and connect the portable array to the main charge controller instead. I’ll probably be performing this mod later this spring.

3. Arizona State Trust Land: If you like to boondock in Arizona, don’t forget about the limitless opportunities found on Arizona State Trust Land. It isn’t public land, but you can still hike, camp, and explore on it. The state manages a total of 9.3 million acres in prime locations throughout the state and we’ve taken advantage of it. Unfortunately, Arizona limits camping to 14 days per year. The state also requires a permit to camp, hike, hunt, or travel on Trust Land, but the cost is minimal, only $20 a year. To access the Arizona State Trust Land Portal to learn more and to apply for a permit, click here.

4. Cordless Vacuum: Keeping our truck camper clean is a daily chore while full-timing. Having a cordless, hand-held vacuum like the Shark Cordless Pet Perfect II SV760WM has made this task easier. We use ours to clean small carpets and the comforter in the camper and the carpets and upholstery in the truck. We always leave it plugged-in to the inverter so that it charges automatically whenever the inverter is turned on. It also charges fairly fast, which is always a bonus when you’re living off-grid.

5. Going Lithium: We’ve been pretty happy with our two 6 volt Lifeline AGM batteries, but we can also see the benefits of going with lithium. Sure, lithium batteries are expensive, but they’re also smaller, weigh less, are temperature resistant, provide more usable capacity (80 percent rather than 50 percent), provide a higher output current and voltage, charge faster because they have a lower internal resistance, and are more efficient. They also last longer (a 250 percent improvement over AGMs), come with longer warranties, require less maintenance, and don’t require regular full charges. Through our partnership with AM Solar, we’re going to give them a try soon and report our findings here, so stay tuned.

6. Pick up after Fido: Hey! We love dogs as much as anyone—we currently travel with a 12-year-old Pug—but please pick up after your dog when camping in public areas. We recently boondocked at Telephone Cove on Lake Mohave and we were appalled at the amount of dog waste along the shoreline and camping areas. We spent a good 20 minutes cleaning up our camp site after we arrived. Also, please keep your dogs on a leash in public camping areas. Doing this avoids nasty surprises with others who also have dogs.

7. Burning Wood Pallets: Folks, don’t do it! I know pallets are a cheap, readily available source of wood for campfires, but they leave a large pile of nails behind each time you burn one. I saw firsthand how bad this problem can get while boondocking at Bulldog Canyon near Apache Junction recently. There were several spots around our campsite where inconsiderate campers had burned piles of wood pallets. Nails were everywhere. We had to carefully navigate our way around these piles of nails to ensure our tires weren’t punctured when we pulled in and out of our campsite.

8. Solar Power Backup: Being self-sufficient has always been our modus operandi. That’s one reason why we like solar power so much. Here in the Arizona we get lots of sun—about 295 days worth. What do we do during the other 70 days of the year? Our solar-powered truck camper does fine if it’s only a day or two. But any longer than that will cause the state of charge of our batteries to fall below 50 percent, which is a bad thing for wet cell and AGM batteries. This has happened to us a few times during the winter. Because of this, we’ll soon be getting a 2,000 watt generator to use as a backup source for charging. To make storing and transporting our generator easier and pain-free, we recently picked up a Torklift Lock and Load Maximum Security Cargo Tray, which we plan on mounting to our front hitch. Look for an evaluation and review on this pretty cool product in the coming weeks.

9. Fresh Water Fill Nozzle: We’ve had to fill our 39 gallon fresh water tank countless times while full-timing in our truck camper. As a result, we’ve gotten pretty good at doing it. Some of the best places to find potable water include county and city parks, rest areas, gas stations, ranger stations, and, of course, RV parks and campgrounds. One device that’s made the whole process quicker and easier is a Camco Water Tank Fill Nozzle. The valve on this handy, $4.00 nozzle, is what makes it so great during fill-ups. Not only does it save time by reducing the number of trips to the hose bibb to turn on and off the water, but it also reduces the amount of water spillage around the fill port (the fill port for our camper is in our propane compartment so the reduction of spillage is greatly appreciated).

10. Laundry Blues: Living full-time in a truck camper imposes a number of chores not normally needed during a one or two-week trip away from home. One of the biggest, of course, is doing the laundry. The first four months we resorted to doing our laundry at laundromats, usually at an RV park every two weeks. However, we recently came across a neat, portable clothes washing product imported from Australia, called The Scrubba. The product is basically a wash bag with an internal washboard. It’s pretty easy to use and stores away in a handy, ziplock pouch. All you need is a little water and detergent to make it work. The standard color is a lime green, but we like the muted brown of the Tactical Wash Bag better. Look for a short review on this pretty cool product soon. In the meantime, you can learn more about the company and their products at thescrubba.com.

11. New Camper? You can never have enough storage in a truck camper. As a result, we’ve been using the back seat of our truck and the bed of our truck to store items, but we still need more storage space. Another bank of batteries to extend our time off-grid would be nice, too. Because of this, we’re seriously thinking about a major change. We’re thinking about getting either another truck camper with more storage or keeping the Laredo and outfitting our truck with a flat-bed with side storage boxes like Aaron Wirth’s Lance 825 flat-bed rig featured recently. The good folks at SherpTek have a pretty nice flat-bed design, we might go with them. Stay tuned on this front. Anything can happen.

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About Mello Mike 502 Articles
Mello Mike is an Arizona native, author, and the founder of Truck Camper Adventure. He's been RV'ing since 2002, is a certified RVIA Level 1 RV Technician, and has restored several Airstream travel trailers. He currently owns a 2016 Northstar Laredo truck camper hauled on a diesel-powered 2013 Ram 3500 pickup truck. He retired from the U.S. Navy in 2004 as a CWO3 after 24 years, worked in project management several years, and now runs Truck Camper Adventure full-time. He also does some RV consulting, repairs, and inspections on the side.

5 Comments

  1. Timely newsletter, as always.

    For your dueling solar charger issue, suffice it to say I’m having the same issue. Talked to Zamp a while back about hooking 2 portables – 80 and a 120 in parallel. I questioned them about the chargers ‘competing’ and they didn’t see it as an issue.

    However, I see the same problem as you did with both fully charging in good sunlight for several hours, then the 80w showing ‘full’ and the 120w still pumping away. Eventually the 120 shows full, too, and that’s verified by my Xantrex meter, as well. So, I’d be very interested in how it works out with your experiment to a single charge controller.

    My vacuum is a Ryobi so I can use the same battery(s) for my other Ryobi stuff (drill and compressor). Ryobi makes an AC as well as a 12v plug charger for the truck cab.

    As I sit here in Topeka, KS in the 1st rain I’ve seen 3 months, and my solar panels screaming for sunlight, the generator idea is taking root.

    If I hit the lottery, then maybe lithium batteries and/or a new camper will be on the horizon. Until then, I’ll keep trucking with what I’ve got.

    Have you ever spent any time on the west side of Lake Mead? Stewarts Point is a great boondock spot, and so spread out, you’ll never see another rig, if you don’t want to.

    Again, thanks for all your timely articles and advice.

  2. Mike, FYI …. In reference to Camping on State Trust Lands (#3 on your list), the Day limit is 14 days PER YEAR , not per location according to item #11 at the AZ State Land site (unless it’s a typo) ……
    https://land.az.gov/recreational-permit-terms-and-conditions. Seems they really don’t want people camping on their land or it’s just an accommodation to hunters during hunting season? I’ve been researching AZ since I plan on becoming a new resident later this year and ran across this regulation. Ill be looking for property in the Show Low / Pinetop area for property on which to camp & possibly build on.

    Great site and article by the way, maybe my Bigfoot Camper and I will run into you someday soon, lol !

  3. Mike–A couple of years ago I went to purchase a Northstar Laredo and ended up with an Arrow instead. Why? Storage… As all things in life, it became a compromise. While it does not afford the storage of side storage boxes, it arguably utilizes the most space of any TC we looked at. There are nooks and crannies throughout, plus exterior storage–including the ability to run my Honda generator (the few times I have had to) without removing it from the camper or worry about it being stolen. In addition, I have 3 AGM’s and 2 165 watt panels, and on a trip to Utah last year (from PA) I never plugged in once. Is it bigger and heavier than I would like? Yep. Are there nicer campers on the market? Yep. Do I wish Rex would get into the 21st century and craft a modern interior? Absolutely. Do I have more storage than most TC’s? Based on my shopping experience, yes…

    • Thanks, Dougers, for the post. We considered getting an Arrow 8.5 but decided on getting a Laredo instead. We sure like the layout and low profile of the Laredo, but living in it has been a challenge at times.

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