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Waking up on the riverbank ready for a morning’s fly fishing while boondocking in our compact NorthStar truck camper is a treat. But how to stay warm during these chilly months?
The only solution to heat our NorthStar ATV600 truck camper is a 12v 300 watt ceramic electric heater. The CF-300 is wired directly to the lithium battery it draws 16 Amps. Tests show we can heat the interior 9 F (5 C) degrees in 90 minutes.
But is that enough?
Heating options in a small truck camper, van or rv
In our case, we made the decision that our new camper is too small to warrant the expense of installing an expensive gas heater or diesel heater.
The 2020 NorthStar ATV600 is well-insulated with quality double-glazed windows.
The NorthStar ATV600 is a lightweight truck camper, made in Cedar Falls, Iowa, for markets outside of the USA including South America, South Africa, New Zealand, and Australia.
We did not consider a portable propane heater, such as a Mr Buddy, which while sold here in New Zealand falls outside of government regulations for indoor use.
That means facing the cost of installing a propane or diesel heater which we are reluctant to do unless we find we just can’t keep warm.
Having unsuccessfully installed a Chinese diesel heater in a previous van, which never ran successfully for more than a few weeks at a time between failures, we are unwilling to go down that track. And it would also involve installing a separate diesel tank and would take up storage space we don’t really want to give away.
A propane or LPG gas heater is likely to cost several thousand dollars, would require professional fitting, and also take up scarce storage space. But that looks like our next option.
Another option that might be worth considering is a very small titanium wood stove such as those used in tents. This would require considerable modifications and take up living space.
So like many others, we were looking for a simple solution to heat a small space while boondocking.
That’s when I found the CF-300 which is a 300w 12v/24v heater. So we decided to give it a try.
Specifications of the CF-300
- Reaches temperatures as high as 110°C
- Includes a specially treated grill to reduce the risk of heat build-up and burn-related injury
- Features 2 function settings of fan and heater
- High and low fan speed control options
- Swivel Base to angle the fan/heater up or down
- Temperature is self-regulating, increasing its safety
- Cable length: 3.5m
- Power: DC 12V 300W; DC 24V 300W
- Dimensions: 5 x 7.8 x 6.7 in. (120 x 200 x 170 mm)
How does the 12v heater work?
The heat is created by a ceramic element then disbursed by the fan (which can be operated on its own.)
What is a ceramic heater?
The heater is directly connected to the battery with a 50 Amp fuse.
There are four heat settings. But I discovered switching from one setting to the next only controls the fan speed. Interestingly, having the fan on the slowest speed seems to create the most heat.
Ceramic heater units warm up instantly which makes them some of the most efficient electric heaters available.
How much power does the 300w 12v heater use?
When the heater starts up it draws up to 20 Amps for the first 30 seconds, after that the regular draw is 16 Amps.
This means we could run the heater for up to 5 plus hours per day if needed without charging the battery.
We run 400 watts of solar panels on the roof which feeds a 100 Ah lithium battery. We supplement the solar with a DC-DC charger when we are driving and the battery is also charged when on shore power.
As the only other appliances to draw power is an efficient Dometic fridge, the LED lights and 12v charging ports for our phones etc. This means that we can rely on having an excellent State of Charge at all times even when using the CF-300 heater.
The truck camper has double-glazed windows with fitted blinds; excellent floor, wall, and ceiling insulation; and with a combination of two warm bodies stays around 64 F (18 C) during the day.
Overnight temperatures where we are in New Zealand will get down to 30 to 50 F (0 to 10 C) but that’s usually when we are tucked up warm in bed.
We turn the heather on for up to an hour in the morning, and that combined with our body heat plus heat from the gas cooktop while making our coffee and breakfast, soon brings the camper up to a reasonably comfortable temperature.
Then if the sun comes out that day, (which is why we made sure to park up overnight so we get the morning sun), then that does a lot to help warm up our little truck camper with the sun’s radiant heat.
But is that enough to keep up warm during winter camping trips?
The best way to know was to run an experiment before we head away and find we’re too cold to enjoy ourselves. Here are the results.
Here’s the results of my experiment.
|Inside Temp||Outdoor Temp||Heater is on||Increase in Internal Temp|
|62 F (16.6 C)||53 F (11.6 C)||120 mins||9 F (5 C)|
If you have sufficient battery capacity then the CF-300, 12v 300w electric heater could be a good choice for a small van, truck camper or RV.
But in reality, it’s really good at keeping my feet warm and taking the chill off, but I’m not convinced it will be powerful enough to heat the whole camper. Time and more adventures will tell.
I’ll still be putting on several layers of my favorite Icebreaker merino clothing – to make sure that I’m nice and toasty.
The real test
We heading away to the South Island of New Zealand next week, when we really get to test how comfortable we are with only the 12v heater.
Worst case scenario, when we experience lots of cloudy, overcast, cold days, we head for a campground, and with that comes shore power which means we can use a small 230v heater.
Our next stop could well be the RV center to explore the installation of a propane heater. Watch this space!