What is off-gridding?
Off-grid caravanning is simply camping without using electric hook-up, that one little ‘essential’ that ties us to formal sites, often in developed locations.
In most cases, the small campsites associated with off-grid camping do not offer facilities such as toilets, showers, shops or cafés. You really need to be self-sufficient, using your caravan’s excellent washroom and kitchen, and stocking up enough to avoid regular visits to shops, which will probably be some distance away.
Going off-grid, however, should not be confused with wild camping, when you pitch your van wherever you like – anywhere from a lay-by or rural roadside to a farmer’s gateway – which in the UK is very likely to be illegal.
People often conflate these two activities, but they are different, and off-gridding is usually on organised campsites or private land (with the owner’s agreement). The difference between this and hooked-up camping can still be dramatic. Here’s why…
Why should I try it?
Caravanning off-grid opens up a whole new world of camping experiences in the most astonishing locations.
To build a major campsite with full facilities requires significant planning permissions and council approvals, which can be impossible in beautiful, rural, protected locations.
This means that usually, only small campsites with around five pitches – Certificated Locations affiliated to the Caravan and Motorhome Club, and Certificated Sites linked to The Camping and Caravanning Club – can be set up in these stunning places, as they will have minimal environmental and aesthetic impact.
Of course, if you’re fortunate enough to know a friendly farmer, you might be able to camp on their land as an alternative off-grid destination.
As well as providing some unrivalled locations for pitching, off-gridding is a real boon for those who love the great outdoors, especially walkers. As our off-grid guru Rod Farrendon explains: “we rarely touch our car once we’re on site. As long as we have all the supplies we require, there’s no need to leave the campsite by car at all.”
Rod adds: “Generally, off-grid sites are perfect fo dog-owners, too. The rules on small sites are often more flexible for well-behaved dogs, and being in the middle of the countryside means we have all the walks we need, directly from the campsite.”
Cost is another major benefit of off-grid camping. A typical site with full facilities can cost anything from £25 to £50 per night, while small sites can start from as little as £5 per night – although these days, £10 to £15 is more normal, especially following the hardships owners have faced during the lockdowns, and the new demand for safe holiday environments. That said, standard campsite prices have been increasing, too.
With just five pitches, and often attracting an ‘outdoorsy’ clientele, small sites tend to be more tranquil. Rod has found another positive, too: “There’s a camaraderie among off-grid campers, who are keen to help each other and always happy to chat.
“This summer, our site neighbours had run out of gas and couldn’t use their shower – it’s been very hard to find Calor bottles for some reason. When we left the site to return home, I went over with the gas bottle we had not used and swapped it with their empty one. They just paid me for the gas and they were so thrilled to be able to have a hot shower again!”
“Kim and I always say off-gridding has a feeling of exclusivity about it – theses sites are in super spots, that most people don’t get to see.”
Rod recommends joining an off-grid community, such as the Caravan & Motorhome Off-Grid Group, a useful source of information and advice.
To off-grid successfully, you have to prepare, and you might also need to make a few considered purchases. Here are our expert tips for enjoyable off-gridding:
1.Choose a high-amperage leisure battery to ensure that you have light and ancillary power for the duration of your break.
If it will fit in your battery compartment, a quality 110Ah battery is recommended. Serious off-gridders will often link two leisure batteries to double their longevity. If your budget will stretch to it, a modern 105Ah lithium battery is equivalent to a 150Ah lead-acid battery. Buying a near-£1000 leisure battery might give your bank manager palpitations, though!
Aim to keep your battery topped up at all times. Ideally, it shouldn’t drop below 75% charge. Repeatedly discharging the battery to 50% or lower could cause it permanent damage. A 12V leisure battery is at full charge when the control panel voltmeter displays 12.7V. At 12.4V it’s around 75% charged, and when the display says 12.2V, it’s at 50% charge. To avoid damage, recharge it at that point or sooner.
2..In summer, you can keep your leisure battery topped up with a ‘trickle’ charge from a solar panel system. Remember, you don’t need hot weather, as photovoltaic solar panels generate electricity from light, not heat. Mind you. as the days get shorter in the winter months, your panel will be charging less effectively.
A 150-200W solar panel, with a charge controller (all panels over 18W need one), should be sufficient to keep your leisure battery topped up in summer. These can be fitted to the roof of your caravan, or freestanding. The first is a fit-and-forget option, while the latter will have to be set up on your pitch and, ideally, moved to face the sun throughout the day.
In the summer, remember to angle your panels to catch the early morning sun, before you settle down for the night.
Select a panel with IEC 61215 quality certification, from a dealer offering a good warranty. We recommend purchasing a maximum power point tracking controller, which can extract up to 20% more power from your solar panel.
3.Even with a solar panel, you’ll need to be careful with the power consumption from your leisure battery. You will soon learn which devices can be used, and how often.
Remember, you won’;t be able to use a microwave off-grid, and you’ll be restricted with other items of kit, too.
4.Always make sure to take sufficient gas for your break. When you are off-grid, you’ll be using gas to heat your water and the ‘van, cook meals and even cool the fridge, so during hot and cold weather your usage can soar. Seasoned off-gridders often take two gas bottles with them.
“I take a 10kg and a 7.5kg Safely gas bottle,” says Rod. “I also take an empty Calor Lite bottle, just in case I have any problems filling up my Safefill canisters.”
The Autogas for self-will gas bottles typically costs 60-7-p per litre, while gas in rented bottles can cost around £2 per litre.
5.Autogas is propane, which is the sensible option for off-gridders who camp during colder weather. Propane evaporates down to minus 42°C – low enough to work in the coldest winter – while butane stops evaporating at around minus 2°C – a high enough temperature for ‘gassing’ to stop in typical UK winter weather.
6.Bear in mind that adding the solar panel, a second battery and an extra gas bottle to your caravan could easily eat up 40kg of your payload allowance.
7.Consider making greater use of hand sanitiser, rather than constantly washing your hands and triggering the water pump and heater every time that you turn on a tap.
Caravans quickly get toasty in winter, so take care not to overheat the interior. Try dressing more warmly and keeping an eye on the central heating setting.
On cooler spring and summer evenings, a fire pit can keep you warm outside and lessen your need to run the heating.
Taking a morning shower will give the power system all day to recharge.
There are plenty of 12V appliances available, which can be used when you are off-grid. You can buy toasters, kettles and so on from accessory shops or online. Bear in mind that they don’t work quite as quickly as their 230V equivalents; some people prefer to use the gas grill and hob.
8.In good weather, you can save plenty of gas by barbecuing. “We have a little Bodum Fyrkat barbecue,” says Rod. “It’s a charcoal barbecue in a bucket!” It’s been superb. In fact, I’ve just bought another.
9.In hot weather, there are ways to keep cool in your ‘van while still conserving power supplies. “We bought two rechargeable six-inch desk fans, which can be recharge via USB cables, for touring in warmer weather,” says Rod.
“They’ll run for around 15 hours on the low setting and about half that on high. We just charge them during the day and use them at night. We put them on the dresser opposite the bed and they make sleeping so much more comfortable in hot weather. They’re fantastic for off-gridding and a tea a godsend in the summer.” You can buy a rechargeable fan for around £20.
10.The super serious off-gridder might consider fitting an onboard water tank to their caravan (some top-of-the-range models have them as standard). “It’s like having a second Aquaroll,” says Rod.
11.It’s a good idea to take a large canister of drinking water on your off-grid trips, especially when you are visiting a new site or a tiny rural campsite, where you might be using a farm tap.
Rod takes a slightly different approach: “We use a filter jug to filter our drinking water – we don’t drink it straight out of the tap. I also pop a couple of purification tablets in the Aquaroll each week.”
12.After checking with the site owner, “empty your grey waste in a hedge,” says Rod. “Last summer it was certainly good for plants during the drought.”
13.Off-gridding means no full-facility sites with pools and games rooms, so take books, board games and so on to keep the family entertained. Make sure the children take electronic games that don’t rely on Wi-Fi.
14.Similarly, before you travel, download music onto your phone or device, as you might not be able to stream it on-site
15.We sometimes watch a movie on the laptop in the evening, so we make sure it is fully charged in the daytime, giving the battery plenty of time to replenish before we need the light on in the van.
16.Remember, you probably won’t have access to Wi-Fi – or possibly even a phone signal – on rural off-grid sites. In fact, the better and more beautiful the site, the less likely it is that you will. Mi-Fi devices give you the best chance of getting signal, and can be bought or hired relatively cheaply.
You can also buy Wi-Fi booster systems to fit in your caravan, although these are expensive. Perhaps it’s better to consider off-gridding an opportunity to get away from the ‘mod cons’ that can plague us!
17.After wet weather, check the ground before towing onto the site (usually a field). Two wheel-drive tow cars might struggle to pull a caravan over wet grass, mud or other soggy surfaces. Drive carefully and consistently, accelerating and braking with care.
Keep an eye on the weather forecast, bearing in mind that you’ll need to tow the van back off your pitch to reach the nearest Tarmac surface.
On the positive side, there’s likely to be a farmer with a tractor nearby!
18.Asked how he responds to people who think that off-gridding means roughing it, Rod summarises its unique appeal: “Not at all. There’s nothing we lack that makes it any different to staying on a big Club site. In fact, I feel like we gain. Off-grid sites are in some of Britain’s most spectacular locations and cost a fraction of a campsite providing full facilities. What’s not to like?”
“If I had to pick one site,” Rod adds, “it would have to be Marstage Farm CL in Braunton, Devon (EX23 2NY). It’s a beautiful location on a working farm, and it only costs £10 per night.
10 Top Off-Grid Sites
- 45 Broadgate, Whaplode Drove, Spalding, Lincs, PE12 0TN
- Tel 01406 330 666
- Web ashleighlakes.co.uk
- Prices From £15 per night
- Kirkcowan, Newton Stewart, DG8 0ET
- Tel 01671 830 708
- Web ballochodee.com
- Prices £20 per night
Bladon Chains C&MC Site
- Bladon Road, Woodstock, Oxfordshire, OX20 1PT
- Tel 01993 812 390
- Web camc.com
- Prices From £12.30 per night
Brora C&MC Site
- Dalchalm, Brora, Highlands, KW9 6LP
- Tel 01408 621 479
- Web camc.com
- Prices From £11.20 per night
Bush Farm Wild Camping
- Hatt, Saltast, Cornwall, PL12 6QY
- Tel 07875 557 160
- Web bushfarmcampsite.co.uk
- Prices (two adults) £20 per night
- Cannamore, Avonwick, South Brent, Devon, TQ10 9HA
- Tel 07814 540 308
- Web canna more-camping.business.site
- Prices £20 per night
Gill Head Farm
- Troutbeck, Penrith, Cumbria, CA11 0ST
- Tel 01768 779 9am 53
- Web gillheadfarm.co.uk
- Prices £25 per night
Gwen Got Uchaf
- Capel Curig, Betws-y-Coed, Snowdonia, North Wales, LL24 0EU
- Tel 01690 720 294
- Web tryfanwales.co.uk
- Prices From £12 per night
- Station Road, Gartmore, FK8 3RR
- Tel 01877 382 392
- Web campingintheforest.co.uk
- Prices From £16.30 per night
Tucker’s Grave Inn
- Knoll Lane, Faulkland, Radstock, Bath, BA3 5XF
- Tel 07976 897 743
- Web tuckersgraveinn.co.uk
- Prices From £16 per night
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Future Publishing Limited, the publisher of practicalcaravan.com, provides the information in this article in good faith and makes no representation as to its completeness or accuracy. Individuals carrying out the instructions do so at their own risk and must exercise their independent judgement in determining the appropriateness of the advice to their circumstances. Individuals should take appropriate safety precautions and be aware of the risk of electrocution when dealing with electrical products. To the fullest extent permitted by law, neither Future nor its employees or agents shall have any liability in connection with the use of this information. You should check that any van warranty will not be affected before proceeding with DIY projects.
Small campsites associated with off-grid camping do not usually offer facilities. You really need to be self-sufficient