How EVs Could Revolutionize Camping

The possibilities go beyond a quieter campsite.

Two people unpack camping equipment from a Rivian R1SRivian

QuickTakes:

Going camping and driving an EV are both ways people can express a love for the great outdoors — but you might not immediately think to mix the two. After all, even the GMC Hummer EV's massive 212-kWh battery pack holds the energy equivalent of just 6.3 gallons of gas — and you can't simply thumb a ride to the nearest charging station and back with a 5-gallon canister of electrons should you run out of range.

A person prepares food inside a Pebble electric camper trailerPebble

But for those accustomed to camping close to civilization or in campgrounds with electrical hookups, EVs open up some exciting possibilities — possibilities beyond just ditching the noisy generator you used to need to keep your motorhome cool at night. For one thing, companies are building battery-powered trailers now, so towing one might not be as big a drain on your range.

For another, EV-specific camping modes can make sleeping in your vehicle more comfortable. You can also use that big battery to power all kinds of appliances, including things you might never before have thought to bring into the wilderness.

An SUV pulls a Pebble electric camper trailer down a two-lane roadPebble

Electric Trailers Might Not Tank Your Range

Taking an electric vehicle camping can become difficult if towing is involved. Pulling camper trailers can significantly reduce driving range. Adding a few thousand pounds and a bunch of drag will do that. Companies such as Lightship and Pebble have a solution: aerodynamic camper trailers with their own battery packs and electric motors.

While they won't drive themselves — though Pebble claims its Flow camper can propel itself to the hitch of its tow vehicle — these electric trailers know when they're being towed and provide propulsion assistance to offset their additional weight and drag.

Lightship says its trailers will not reduce your vehicle's driving range. Boasting a battery capacity of up to 80 kilowatt-hours — about the size of the long-range Hyundai Ioniq 5's pack — the 7,500-pound Lightship L1 is said to be able to power its appliances (including a dishwasher, stove, and microwave) for up to a week. Just don't forget that you'll need to charge it at the end of that week.

Winnebago's eRV2 prototype electric recreational vehicleWinnebago

If you're more into drivable RVs than towable trailers, Winnebago is gearing up for what it calls the #eVanLife movement with its eRV2, which is still in the prototype phase. Based on the Ford E-Transit electric cargo van, the eRV2 supplements the propulsion battery with a separate "house battery" to help with non-driving-related electrical needs. The electric Winnebago is said to pack enough juice for up to a week of off-the-grid living. Still, it's worth keeping in mind that Winnebago claims a range of just 108 miles for the eRV2.

People camping outside a Tesla CybertruckTesla

It Can Be Cozy to Camp out of an EV

EV drivers who don't want to buy a $125,000 Lightship L1 can still find plenty to enhance their car-camping experience. For example, Tesla owners who want to sleep in their vehicles can use the brand's Camp mode to keep the climate controls and interior USB ports operational while using a minimum of energy.

Depending on outside temps and the charging demands of any accessories you plug in, Camp mode uses about 10% of the charge in an eight-hour period, according to Tesla enthusiast site Not a Tesla App. The mode is programmed to disable automatically when the remaining battery level drops to 20%.

Two people take luggage from the front storage area of a Rivian vehicleRivian

Rivian's camping mode — available in both of its vehicles — functions similarly but goes a step further by individually adjusting the air springs at each of the vehicle's four wheels in order to level the truck so you can lie flat even when you park on uneven ground.

What's more, the Rivian R1S SUV and R1T truck offer a range as high as 400 miles, and the R1S has an available three-person rooftop tent. Tesla's Cybertruck, meanwhile, offers an estimated range of 320 miles.

And, as vehicle-to-load charging becomes more common, an increasing number of EVs may be able to power household appliances at length and without issue.

A Ford F-150 Lightning set up for camping with an above-cargo-bed tentFord

Ford says the F-150 Lightning, for example, can power your entire house for up to three days.

A Pebble electric camper trailer parked by a lakePebble

Planning Is Key to Camping in an EV

As charging infrastructure expands, the idea of wandering into the wilderness with a vehicle type that spawned the term "range anxiety" may start to feel more reasonable.

According to the National Parks Service's website, "EV use reduces air pollution associated with conventional fossil fuel-powered vehicles, [so it] can help preserve the long-term quality of parks' natural resources." The NPS even has an interactive map showing charging stations in national parks.

People roast marshmallows over a fire with a Pebble electric camper trailer in the backgroundPebble

As with any long-distance trip in an EV, you'll want to thoroughly research charging options along your route before heading out. While mobile solar panels can charge your vehicle, they won't do it quickly — or cheaply: 20 miles of range is about the most you can expect to add in a day, and even a basic setup can exceed $1,000.

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Jared Gall
Jared Gall is a car geek who fell backward into his dream job at an auto magazine. (Remember those?) He's reviewed hundreds of vehicles, raced 500-hp Mercedes-Benzes on the ice in Sweden, and was told by development driver Raffaele de Simone, "It's OK if you spin the car off" Ferrari's test track in Fiorano. He loves nothing more than cars, except maybe his dogs — who are named after trucks.