Energize Your Battery Knowledge: Compare The Types

An RV battery is shown from the top view with blue electricity on a black background.

If you like to camp in an RV, especially off-grid, you know that your camping experience is all about the battery.  The central part of your electrical system stores the energy you will be using throughout your boondocking experience.  So learning what you can about the types of batteries and how they are used is essential to an enjoyable camp trip.

Here’s a breakdown of the three types of deep cell batteries that have proven themselves in the RV world:

Lithium

The cream of the crop, lithium batteries can be extremely expensive. The number of “positives” they have going for them is worth the investment.  Lithium batteries create a charge when electrons move through lithium salts from anode to cathode.  They can be almost entirely depleted before recharging with little effect and they recharge much faster than other battery types.  The one “negative” to a lithium battery is that it doesn’t do well charging in cold temperatures.

AGM

This stands for Absorbed Glass Mat batteries, which have fiberglass plates between their cells.  Their price is mid-range, as they are maintenance-free, can be depleted by 60% to 80% before being recharged, and their recharge rate is faster than a lead-acid battery but slower than a lithium one.

Lead Acid

This is the standard, least expensive battery that uses distilled water for electrolytes to move around in.  These batteries require maintenance about once a month when the cells need to be topped off with distilled water, but they hold a charge well.  A drawback is that a lead-acid battery can only be used to half of its charge before requiring recharging.  The rate of recharge is the slowest of all three battery types.

A saleslady has a battery on the counter an is explaining types of batteries for RVers.

Pricing Breakdown

Because RV coach batteries should be deep cell ones, you will not need to purchase batteries with a high number of CCA (cold cranking amps).  Instead look for batteries with higher AH (amp hours) that will give you long, continuous power during use.  Here’s a general idea of how much you will pay for comparable batteries with 100 amp hours:

  • Lithium batteries can run up to almost $1,000 each. However, they can last you 10 years.  And keep in mind that the price also includes a built-in battery maintenance system.  
  • AGM batteries can cost between $160 to $290.
  • Lead-acid batteries will run between $80 and $180.

Differences

Each battery type has pros and cons to its usage.  Make yourself familiar with these terms and how they will affect your energy consumption before shopping for a battery:

  1. Cycle Life – all rechargeable batteries have a fixed number of cycles, meaning the number of times they can be fully recharged.
  2. Depth of Discharge – this term described how much of the energy stored in a battery can be used before it needs to be recharged.  Most lead-acid batteries only allow 50% of their charge to be utilized, AGMs allow 60% to 80% depth of discharge. Lithium batteries can be discharged 80% to 100% before needing a recharge.
  3. Efficiency – refers to how much charge the battery produces after being charged to 100%.  In other words, does it lose any charge through heat or while it is not being used?  This is measured as a ratio of the amount of power discharged by the battery divided by the amount of power delivered to the battery. 
  4. Charge Rate – this measurement tells users how many hours the battery will take to fully charge.
  5. Energy Density – measuring the amount of energy that can be stored in a battery is listed in “watt-hours per kilogram” or W-h/kg.

Which Should You Choose

When deciding which type of battery would be best for your RV, you need to assess what your camping style will be.

  1. Full-Time Off-Grid Residence – if boondocking is your idea of real camping and you will be making a lifestyle of it, consider investing in lithium batteries with a solar setup.  With several batteries in a bank, several hundred watts of solar panels, a controller, and an inverter, you can live completely off-grid for as long as your water, black and gray tanks can hold up!
  2. Part-Time Off Grid – for part-time boondockers, a solar system with lithium batteries may not be worth the investment.  A couple of AGM batteries may be just the right equation to help you enjoy off-grid camping on random weekends, and with a generator as a backup power source, you should be able to boondock whenever the feeling strikes you.
  3. Battery Backup System – even if you camp periodically and don’t want to invest in expensive power components, having a bank of batteries is a good practice.  Even 2 batteries connected give you confidence in having more power available when you need it.  You can wire these systems based on the type of voltage your batteries have:
    1. 12-volt deep cycle batteries should be wired in parallel. This will still produce only 12 volts of power, but will double the amp hours on the batteries.
    2. 6-volt deep cycle batteries should be wired in series. This will double the voltage to the requisite 12 volts that your RV system requires. The amp hours on the two batteries does not double (in other words, 2 100ah 6 volt batteries will still only have 100ah). 

Considerations

You should be ready to purchase batteries now. Here is a checklist of the considerations you will need to navigate in buying RV batteries to fit your own personal camping application:

  • Weight – will the weight of the battery be important?  If so, lithium batteries are the lightest and lead-acid the heaviest, by far.
  • Cost – if the cost is a consideration, lead-acid batteries will be your cheapest upfront investment. Lithium will be cheaper over the long term.
  • Useable energy – if you want to discharge your batteries almost completely before you will be able to recharge them, then lithium is your only option.
  • Charge efficiency – which batteries will hold a higher percentage of charge before you use them?  Again, lithium wins this race.
  • Temperature – will you be traveling in cold regions for some time?  Lead-acid works best in varying temperatures, but if you are set on adding lithium batteries, many companies now offer “battery heaters” to avoid any cold temperature problems.
  • Power delivery – which batteries will give you steady and strong energy without any problems?  Once again, lithium is your best bet here. 
  • Charging time – how long will it take to get your batteries back up to 100% capacity?
  • Storage – which batteries can sit unused without losing their charge or needing a battery tender?
  • Installation – how difficult are the batteries you select to install?  Lead-acid and AGM batteries just require attachment to their posts. Lithium requires its own battery management system (many times built into the battery itself).

Now that you have a thorough understanding of battery types and their benefits, it’s time to head to the store!  You are ready to begin building the most important RV system to your own specifications. What RV batteries do we recommend? Check out our buyer’s guide.

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8 comments
  1. We went through the usual upgrades when on a budget & as a part time RVer. Started with the usual Marine style, then upgraded to two AGM Golf cart batteries. Worked pretty well. We installed a nice solar system on our next 5th Wheel. Now retired, we found ourselves out boondocking way more for much longer. Those AGM’s had a hard time keeping up. We bit the bullet two years ago & bought two BattleBorn Lithium batteries. Game changer. Hubby installed himself but we did have help with the Victron install. Pulled out the generator only twice in the last two years. Hubby was worried about the lack of sun. I was fine with the battery levels at 50%. Lithium was a game changer for us.

  2. Good morning All!
    My first upgrade was to ADD another 12v battery to the system. EVEN THAT WASN’T GOOD ENOUGH FOR A COUPLE OF DAYS BOON-DOCKING.
    Replace the two with three Trojan Batteries. Outstanding results.
    Now swapped those out for three AGM as I can’t afford lithium.
    The only negative is the shear weight of my battery back. Close to 300#. Ouch! Especially on a 5th wheel front compartment.
    Best thing I added was a 50amp DC to DC BATTERY CHARGER from Renogy. I am ready have a 200amp alternator on truck.
    Just did a 22 day trip and each tome I stopped my batteries we at 100 %. SOC.
    I carry a Honda generator but never fired it up.

  3. I installed 2 lithium batteries for the coach, a class a Thor Vegas, 25 ft. installation was relativly easy. very happy with performance. 2 Renogy 100amp. what I very much like about them are 1) battery has a cold temperature warning, and 2) a self protect turn off so that they can not be charged when the temperature is too cold and may damage the battery. you must purchase the display to see the battery status and warnings. 2 things you NEED to know about lithium – 1) I have a BIM = battery isolation management, I understand some have a BIRD, a similar but not as good system, older technology. this manages charging the coach and chassis batteries. when you upgrade to lithium, you NEED to upgrade the BIM to a lithium BIM, and that costs about 180$, and an relatively easy install. 2) you also need to be concerned about your alternator, should install a dc to dc charger that limits the draw from the lithium on the alternator. there are some that say the BIM should take care to that, you will not need a dc to dc charger, but I don’t think so. the BIM manages time, not current.

  4. Hi Jason. We upgraded to 4 x 6v deep cycle batteries shortly after we bought the coach. I used a Home Depot tote as a battery box, retro-fitted the vent tube and anchored it to the floor of the battery compartment in our Montana with wheel. I reinforced the floor first with some 5/8 plywood. This works great, we have 585w of solar keeping them charged and use a Victron 712 battery monitor. I’m doing a Victron inverter and Cerbo install as soon as the weather warms up. Enjoy the holidays and take care,

  5. We took out the Group 27 lead acid battery that came with the RV on the tongue and replaced it with 4 BattleBorn Lithium batteries under the sofa. We also installed a Victron Multiplus 3000 VA Inverter/Converter along with the Victron Battery Monitor (BMS 712) and GX Monitor. This upgrade has changed our camping style. We are now able to use our microwave and other 110 volts appliances while boon docking. This also freed up space on our tongue so we can now store generator gas on the tongue so all the stinky stuff is outside the truck and trailer. I highly recommend BattleBorn products for an upgrade like this. They were super helpful as I installed this system as a do-it-yourself project. Happy Travels!

  6. Hi guys! We self installed two BattleBorn batteries, a 2000 watt Victron Inverter, a battery monitor and a 40 amp Renogy DC-DC charger in our G-21 Momentum toy hauler. Such a difference always having power! We have a built-in ONAN when needed too. We avoid dry camping when it is hot, so we do not need to run the air conditioner.

    We love watching your youtube.

  7. In you email you asked what kind of Battery upgrade we did. We purchased a new reflections 5th wheel this year. It only came with one battery (really only one). I decided to switch to Lithium. I sorta went little crazy. I installed two battle born batteries, a 2000w Victron inverter/charger, Victron battery monitor, and a 40amp Renogy DC to DC charger. I have the inverter set up so I can run the fridge when going down the road, so I can turn off the propane. Since I do not have Solar (yet) the DC to DC is a must to keep the batteries charged while driving. We have only taken out once since the upgrade, and its worked out great. Kept the fridge going and charged topped up the batteries.

    How easy was it? Well, I know how to work electricity a little, so that part was not hard. For me the hardest part was figuring out which how to hook up the inverter to the existing RV electric panel. Since my RV is 50 amp and the Inverter was only 30amp. I hooked it up to just one leg. If you have not worked with electricity much, I would definitely get help.

    Solar is next…

  8. We just upgraded to three Battleborn lithium batteries plus four are Renogy solar panels. We had the work done at Auer RV in Georgetown, TX.
    We’re still fairly lost as to what all the numbers mean but everything seems to be working.

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