Skip to main content

Why Do Snowbirds Still Use Generators?

There really is no need for generators when dry camping/boondocking in the Southwestern desert in the winter. And yet, they show up every winter, and lower the quality of the camping experience. Why should this be so? 

If a camping neighbor shows up with a generator that looks like this, you might as well hitch up and leave. It is a reasonable hope that you'll get luckier in another campsite.

1. Do the "practical" bloggers and vloggers make solar panels sound so complex that they scare people off? What is so complex about buying a self-contained "solar suitcase," setting it out on the ground to track the sun, and attaching the alligator clips to your battery clips?

2. Even easier yet, most people could upgrade their converter/charger so that 45 minutes per day of generator usage would be good enough; they wouldn't need to run it for hours. 

If their RV has a Progressive Dynamics converter/charger, they need only buy a "Charge Wizard" module for a few dollars. It plugs into the base unit to make it function as a proper "three stage" converter/charger that puts out over 14 volts DC, to quickly charge the battery.

"Dumb" converter/chargers are (or were) used by the RV industry to save a few dollars. They only put out 13.5 volts DC, which takes hours and hours per day to charge batteries, EVEN IF you have a huge, noisy generator!

3. Or just replace the P.O.S. converter/charger, that the RV industry dumped into your rig, with a proper one, that is, a three-stage unit made by companies like Xantrex, Samlex, or Iota. (I like to buy from The cost is about $250 dollars.

These three steps are easy. So why hasn't everybody taken care of it? That is where the cultural and marketing issues come in.


Anonymous said…
I have wondered the same thing. I think most people* already have a battery bank. And now solar is cheaper than most generators. Never mind anyone else; why would THEY want to listen to their own generator?! But hey, if you use solar it's not an engine.

Also aggravating is that people no longer "just" run them 16 hours per day (6 a.m. to 10 p.m.). Nope, now it's all night, too.

What I really want to do is rant! Not only have they ruined the desert SW, but I can't (stand to) camp in any of the small primitive forest service campgrounds in the summer anymore either, anywhere in the US. It's one big generator fest. And if there aren't any (by some miracle), then I basically just have the tension of waiting until they show up. I no longer set anything up outside because that just makes it more of a hassle to leave.

BTW, I was camping at a nature preserve a few years ago when the site host came around and we got to chatting (we pitched our voices above the racket). I figured he'd be a sympathetic ear and said something about how it would be nice if the rules could at least call for reduced generator hours (say noon to 3 p.m. or whatever).

Ha, nope, he said "Well then how could the campers do anything?" I mentioned that solar is pretty cheap and easy now, and amazingly effective. He started challenging me on specific things, such as "Well okay, but you can't make waffles on solar" (Um, sure you can.... waffle iron on stove?), etc. Finally, it was, "Okay but what if campers want to watch TV all day?" I gave up at that point. Nature was never mentioned. I did have about 30 minutes of lovely nature sounds in the morning before the "waffle irons" fired up.

When looking for a campsite, I used to look for things like flat ground, a tree, or nice views. Now I look for the red/green/yellow orange squares, and gas cans (or, conversely, solar panels).

*I was at one campsite where a fellow in a large toy hauler ran TWO open frame generators 24/7. Came to find out he didn't bother with a battery bank at all. (Money saving tip...)

Thanks for the post. It's nice to not feel like the only one sometimes.

Anonymous said…
PS: I realize I got off on my own rant and didn't directly speak to your good question. Why? Why does someone still use a generator when solar is no longer super expensive?

I suppose it's a combination of culture and "tradition"? I don't know; just thinking out loud.

Culture: Solar panels are for tree-hugger sissies?
Tradition: Everyone knows combustion engines mean powerrrr. More noise, more power!

Maybe a bit of not wanting to bother to learn something new? Sure, solar is easier and cheaper now, but it's still something where (unless you have a vast array) you have to do some thinking, monitoring use, and setting up. I've never used a generator for RV-ing but I imagine you just put gas in, fire it up, and do whatever you want, right?

That's OK Anonymous, I enjoyed your rant. But yes, the point of the post was not so much to complain against generators -- if anything, they have gotten better over the years -- but to wonder why they haven't been sent to the dustbin of history, now that lighting has become low power LEDs, computers need 10 Watts or less, smartphones use even less, solar panels have fallen from $5 per watt to $1 per watt, and three-stage chargers are no longer specialized, expensive items.

Meanwhile the high energy and high power chores, like heating water or air, are still done by propane. And Propex furnaces aren't as rare and exotic as they used to be.

Hell, even the ubiquitous Mr. Coffee machine of yesteryear, which used 900 Watts, has become passé since it has been superseded by the AeroPress coffeemaker, which just uses hot water from a pan on the propane stove.
Anonymous said…
I wish you would submit this article to one of the RV publications.

Last week, I was in a FSCG, and a travel trailer turned their generator on when quiet hour ended (in this case, 6am) and didn't turn it off until 10:00pm. To make matters worse, they couldn't hear over the generator, so they were shouting at each other just in casual conversation. It was a very small campground, and I could hear them all the way across to the other side. I so badly wanted to ask, "Why do that to yourself?"

Unfortunately, I had prepaid. A good lesson to pay as you go!
Anonymous said…
I have a genset and use it sparingly. I agree with the comments. That said, you are pissing in the wind.

Ed said…
They need that generator power to keep their 300 W outside flood lights on all night.

I spend all my time in commercial Parks and that is one of my biggest gripes - light pollution. For some strange reason there are those people that must have a couple of LED ropes under/around their RV and their 'toad' plus flood lights that would be more appropriate in a prison yard.
Dave Davis said…
We've been taught that you can have it all, and you come first because you are special. Everyone knows about pollution and what it's doing to our environment, but somehow people think they are being "green" and run their generator. To make matters worse, they sit around one of the biggest polluting indulgence, the campfire. Wood fires put more carcinogenic material in the air in 2 hours, than running that noisy generator. Everyone's main complaint is the noise pollution, but if you are hundreds of feet away and can smell a campfire you are inhaling particulate matter.
I say let's ban generators and campfires from all state, federal and local property.
Ed, certainly, 300 Watts of flood lights on all night are needed to make 'Mildred' feel safe!

But consider yourself relatively lucky. You know those cars, in ghettos and barrios, that are tricked out to bounce up and down, while a 200 or 300 Watt stereo system pours "music" out of the trunk of the car? Just imagine when they do something similar to your neighbor's 12,000 pound toy hauler!

Dave Davis, how much pollution comes from campfires compared to a small forest fire or brush fire?

Dave Davis said…
Yet another reason not to have generators,they contribute to Forest and brush fires.
If I stay at a Walmart I will run my generator. I have a 400 watt Oxygen machine that my 4 batteries won't keep going for the time I need it.

We tried boondocking on BLM land when we first went full-time but running the generator, even though it was quiet, just seemed wrong.
Dave Davis, "even though it was quiet, just seemed wrong." Maybe you meant this in a different way than I took it, but Satisfaction and Connection to Reality are two nice things to be gotten from camping.

Thinking about sunlight, hours, angles, and amps can become an interesting hobby to a camper. We don't live WITHOUT this and without that just for the hell of it. Rather, we want it to be just difficult enough to get our requirements that we come to appreciate them, instead of just mindlessly flicking on a switch or flushing water down the drain, like we do in a regular house.

Perhaps you were thinking along those lines.