Power To-Go: How to Power an Airstream?

As I begin writing this post, I just want to throw out that I am fully prepared for this to be the most boring post ever written by man, and read by exactly no one..or maybe at least a friend. So here goes, if you make it through, please comment about your survival as you’ve earned the right to brag.  

I have spent the last few months looking for the ultimate answer to powering our Airstream when we are away from hookups (or boon docking in RV lingo). I found five whole options; and while it sounds like a lot, it is actually surprisingly few considering what I imagined was out there. Here’s the list:

1. Generator–  This is absolutely the tried and true method, with literally hundreds of options out there. Honda has what could be the coolest option with linkable hand carry small units.  These are certainly the most portable, easiest to use, quietest, etc. I would start talking about wattage, amperage, how they compare to bigger units, but frankly a quick Google search will do way better a job than I will.  I’ll save you the trouble and let you know that quick search from my end showed this as the best generator decision.
Total: $2200 for two Honda 2000i’s

2. Inverter–  Okay, so this one was what I really want to do because it is by far the coolest option. We have recently acquired an awesome truck that has more than enough power to run an alternator, charge its twin batteries, and throw out some extra power. So, what if you take one of these and install it in the truck – then all you need to do to run full power to the Airstream is turn on the truck!  Awesome, right?
Total: $1,100, plus lots of expensive heavy gauge cable and installation

3. Solar– Totally a cool option- use solar panels on the top of the Airstream to charge things up and keep everything running totally off the grid.  This is the best solution conceptually as you can have the trailer run all on its lonesome. This must be the right answer! And it would be except for one minor detail, solar can’t power the A/C units in the Airstream, and if we need to leave Finley behind in warmer areas for a bit, that’s bad news – no one wants cooked dog. Sadly, the power density of solar panels and the roof space on the Airstream just can’t produce the wattage (or amperage, whatever) you need for that.
Total: $2,600 for gear only, install and batteries extra

4. PTO Generator–  Clearly the most involved choice. First, order a truck with a PTO (power take off for those of you who didn’t grow up or spend time around tractors), then buy one of these suckers from RealACPower.com to the tune of $9,875 and add another $1,200 to install, not to mention travel costs in getting yourself to Indianapolis. This is the real deal – these things actually use the motor to turn the generator to make the power – no risk to the truck’s electrical system, no power fluctuations – just smooth, happy power generation. This is what a lot of EMS vehicles opt for, as it won’t bleed the electrical system in your truck dry and it is super reliable.
Total: $11,075, not including trip to Indiana and truck order option

5. Nothing– Just use the batteries that come with the Airstream. Now this is obviously an option, the batteries in the trailer can power some small things for a couple of days – the water pump, some outlets, and the like; however, no big power hogs can be used though. This means no A/C, which in turn means no dog left in the trailer without people in hotter areas that don’t have hook-ups.
Total: $0 – but never having backup power, emotional trauma for cooking the dog = extra

What to do? Well being slightly myopic, I focused on all of the details for a while before the obvious big issue hit me. If we opted for the PTO generator or the inverter (like I said, my favorite) it defeats the whole point because we would have to leave the truck behind to power the A/C for the dog.  If we leave the truck behind, where are we going? Obviously, not that far! That narrows down the options to 2 (3 if you count the nothing option) choices. Since solar can’t cut it, and the nothing option won’t solve that problem either; that means down we are down to 1 option, so it looks like we will be getting some portable generators!  

I have to say I fought the idea of doing what everyone in the RVing world does by using portable generators, but much like stereotypes, sometimes those things happen for a reason. Now of course for those of you that made it this far, you may feel obliged to make snarky comments about leaving the dog behind in warmer weather in the trailer.  Don’t worry, I am cautious about doing that stuff in the car with the windows fully down. And Jen makes me look 100% cavalier, so believe me when I tell you that our dog will not be at risk.

3 thoughts on “Power To-Go: How to Power an Airstream?

  1. Janie Reply

    I got all the way through! Yay! Thanks for the info. I am thinking of going from a 5th wheel to an airstream and was curious how to power it off the grid. You more than answered my questions. Thank you!

  2. Julie Bradley Reply

    Thank you! Can you power the AC all night with the generators (without having to put more gas in them)?

    1. Jay Reply

      Solid question. I don’t believe you can power both AC units without a full 60A service. I have actually never tried to power the AC with a generator so I can’t really say!

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