First-Time RV Gear Buying Guide
Whether you're planning to live in an RV full-time or just spend your vacations in it, you can spend a ton of money outfitting a new RV. It's tempting to let your nesting instincts go wild as you outfit your new space. But before you do that, take a moment.
Before You Spend Any More Money, Read This
Until you have some experience with your RV, it's probably not a good idea to buy a bunch of stuff you think you'll need. Some of the stuff you buy in the beginning will either be the wrong stuff, or not the best version for your needs. Save your money and only buy the bare minimum up front.
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Cords and Adapters
If your RV didn't come with a power cord, you'll need a cord that matches the power system of your RV.
If you have a 30 amp RV, you'll want a 25 foot or 30 foot cord that matches your shore power inlet. The Furrion cable is the nicest, with a convenient "go/no go" LED on the plug and a locking adapter. But if your RV doesn't have a Furrion inlet, you'll need a cable with a standard locking plug or a non-locking plug depending on your inlet type. It's worthwhile to buy a 30 amp to 20 amp adapter now, since you'll need it frequently. Skip the 50 amp adapter for now, since it's rare for a 50 amp plug to be available without a 30 amp plug right next to it. Note: DO NOT plug your 30 amp RV into a 30 amp dryer outlet. DO NOT wire an RV outlet like a dryer outlet. DO NOT assume your electrician knows the difference. 30 amp RV plugs are 120V single phase (one 120V hot, one 120V neutral, one ground), while 30 amp dryer plugs are 240V split phase (one 120V hot, another 120V hot out of phase with the first one, one ground). If you aren't sure, don't plug in. Plugging an RV into a dryer outlet is a good way to do many thousands of dollars of damage in a few seconds.
If you have a 50 amp RV, you'll want a 25 or 30 foot cord that matches your shore power inlet. The Furrion cable is the nicest, with a convenient "go/no go" LED on the plug and a locking adapter. But if your RV doesn't have a Furrion inlet, you'll need a cable with a standard 50 amp plug. It's likely you won't always have 50 amp service available, so you should go ahead and get a 30 amp and 20 amp adapter now.
If you plan on spending time in a driveway (yours or moochdocking in someone else's) without an RV outlet, you'll want a heavy 10 gauge extension cord. RVs can pull a lot of power, which can cause light or medium duty extension cords to heat up and cause a fire. 50' seems to be the right size for a moochdocking cord. 25' frequently doesn't reach far enough, and you don't want to have to wrestle a 100 foot monster every time you park.
Take Care of Your Cords
Learn the over under method for wrapping up your cords, which will make them easier to stow and unravel, and help them last longer. Works for water hoses, too. Keep a velcro strap on each of your cords when in storage to keep it contained.
The best time to start protecting your electrical system is before something goes wrong. A Progressive EMS will protect your RV against surges, open grounds, miswired outlets, and voltage and frequency problems. It's a valuable insurance policy for any RV, and one of the first pieces of RV gear you should buy.
If possible, get the hardwired 30 amp or 50 amp version to match the electrical system of your RV. Portable versions are available in 30 amp or 50 amp, but hard wiring is preferable for three reasons:
1. This device costs a decent chunk of money. It's harder to steal an EMS if it's inside the RV rather than plugged into the pedestal in the open.
2. It's harder to forget the EMS if it's hardwired to your RV.
3. The first time your EMS throws an error code and prevents power from reaching your RV, your first instinct will be to remove the EMS and plug your RV directly into the outlet. This is a mistake. A hard-wired EMS (especially the one without the bypass switch) will give you a few extra moments to reconsider your rash decision.
If you're buying a brand new RV that comes with a house battery, there's a surprisingly high chance that the house batteries in your coach will be toast. RVs that sit on the lot are typically not hooked up to electricity, and lead acid batteries are subject to damage if they're not maintained. If possible, verify whether the house batteries are in good shape before taking delivery of the RV.
If you are interested in expanding your battery bank, it's a good idea to hold off until you've used your RV for a while, so you have an idea of how much battery capacity you're going to need.
Generators and Solar Systems
Off-grid power systems like generators and solar systems can be big investments. At minimum, they're bulky items to lug around. Best to use your RV at least a few times before investing in these types of items, so you can make a more informed choice about your energy needs. Spend some time with an electricity usage monitor while you're plugged in, and a shunt style battery monitor while unplugged to get a clear picture of how much power you actually use.
Those who thought they might need a big generator might be able to make do with a small one, or none at all if a solar system would work better. Those who thought they needed a big solar expensive solar system might only need a small one to maintain the battery. If you're always staying at parks or in driveways with hookups, you might not need any portable power generation at all.
If you do decide you need to buy a generator large enough to run your air conditioning, consider adding a Micro-Air EasyStart to your AC unit(s). The EasyStart smooths out the compressor startup power draw, which allows you to start and run your air conditioning on a much smaller, cheaper, and lighter-weight generator than you could otherwise. Most RV air conditioners with an EasyStart installed can start and run on a Honda EU2000i in Eco mode.
Keeping your Fresh Tank Clean
Get a small bottle of unscented household bleach and keep the water in your tanks chlorinated. Chlorinating your water will kill any bacteria from your water supply (campground water can have problems), and it will prevent any new bacteria from growing in your water or inside your tanks. That'll keep your water and plumbing system fresh and clean.
Find out how big your tank is and how much bleach you need to keep your water sanitary. When you first take possession of your RV, you'll want to sanitize your tank with 1/4 cup of bleach per 15 gallons of water. Drive the RV around to slosh the water around the tank, then let it sit for 12 hours before draining the tank and refilling with fresh water.
For maintenance, I suggest following the NIH guidelines of 1/8 tsp household bleach per gallon of water every time you fill your tank. My fresh tank holds about 45 gallons, so each fill needs just under 2 tbsp of bleach. Each of my jerry cans holds 5.5 gallons of water, so each can needs just under 3/4 tsp.
Protecting Your Plumbing System
It's a good idea to soften your fresh water to protect your appliances. Softening water prevents lime scale from forming, which will extend the life of your water heater (and dishwasher and washing machine if you have those) and plumbing fixtures. It also removes iron, which can create sediment in your fresh tank and turn your water orange (especially when you add bleach). Soaps and detergents also work better and rinse cleaner with soft water, so you'll need less water to shower and wash the dishes.
It's best to start softening your water right away, to keep your fresh water system free from lime scale and sediment. The On The Go RV Water Softener is easy to use—just hook it up in-line to your hose when you fill your tanks or hook up to city water.
In-line RV water filters are popular, but I suggest you skip it and use a softener instead. Typical in-line RV filters remove large sediment and chlorine, which can be good for a direct city hookup. But if you're filling your tanks, you want to keep the chlorine in the water. Large sediment is less common than hard water, and it's easy to spot before you fill. Certainly use a sediment filter if you find lots of sediment in the water, but as long as you flush the hydrant for a few minutes before hooking up, you won't often have a problem.
Instead of filtering your water at the inlet, I suggest using a drinking water system like the Zerowater Pitcher or Berkey at the point of use, which will make your water taste better and remove most contaminants that can be bad for your health.
If you're going to connect directly to park water, you'll want to use a pressure regulator to prevent surges in campground water pressure from damaging your plumbing system. An adjustable model with a valve (labeled for potable use, of course) is the best choice.
Tools to Fill Your Water
You're going to need a fresh water hose. Be sure to use one rated for potable water use. The Zero G 25 foot hose is a good choice, since it won't kink, and it packs small. If you plan to be hooked up directly to park water for a long time, a traditional drinking water hose or a heated hose might be a better choice. Don't use a regular garden hose that's not rated for drinking water use, since they can leach toxic chemicals.
A small fill hose with a valve is incredibly handy to start and stop the flow of water while filling your tanks without having to run back to the hydrant. You can DIY one, but the Camco model is cheap and works great.
Unless you always have water hookups, you're going to be hauling water from time to time. It's a good idea to buy two jerry cans before you need them, and store them empty. Why two? Full jerry cans are heavy, and it's a lot easier to carry a balanced load with one in each hand.
Skip the gray water deodorizer. As long as your sink traps are functioning, it's unnecessary. Black water treatment, on the other hand, is highly recommended if you have a black tank. Use RV toilet paper in your black tank to prevent clogs, and don't put sanitary products, wet wipes, or anything that won't break down in the tank.
You'll need a good dump hose and some gloves. A clear elbow is helpful, but not required. If you have a black tank and want a clear elbow, get the clear elbow with rinse attachment, which will allow you to rinse out your black tank with fresh water if needed.
If you spend lot of time at an RV site with full hookups, you will probably want a hose support, but you don't need to buy it right away. Don't leave the black tank valve open when you're on full hook-ups. Keep the valve closed until the tank is full, then dump it all at once. Leaving the black tank valve open can allow solids to accumulate in the tank while liquids drain away. Flushing out the accumulated solids is much more difficult and unpleasant than a normal black tank dump.
You'll need at least one set of chocks for when you park. Chocks keep the RV from rolling away, as well as help prevent it from rocking back and forth when you're moving around inside. You'll want two sets—one for each side. Since one wheel will often be elevated to level the trailer, it makes sense to ensure one of your chock sets is compatible with your leveling method.
For single-axle RVs, I like a set of rubber chocks for the wheel that's on the ground. The rope tying them together makes them easier to handle, and the reflective strip improves your visibility at night. For tandem axle RVs, BAL X-Chocks work far better, securely locking each wheel together to prevent movement.
You'll also need to be able to level your rig. You can use wood blocks if you want, but lightweight lego style blocks like Tri-Lynx leveling blocks are the go-to for most RV owners. Tri-Lynx blocks are also good for putting under tongue jacks and stabilizer jacks to help spread the weight a bit and prevent damage to the pavement. You can also buy a kit for the Tri-Linx Blocks that includes a set of chocks.
My favorite style leveling system is the curved Anderson leveler, though I hesitate to recommend it because of the recent actions of the company's owner. Curved levelers double as a set of chocks, and allow you to level your rig in one shot. Just pull forward up the ramps until you're level. Slide the chocks under the back of the ramps and you're done. There's an alternative system made by Camco, though consensus seems to be that it tends to slip when trying to ride up the ramp. Amazon has a black version made by a different company, but they're listed as unavailable as of this writing.
If you want to get high-tech with leveling, the LevelMatePRO connects to your cell phone via bluetooth to help you level your RV front-to-back and side-to-side. But it's certainly not necessary, and not something you should be investing in before you've used your RV for a while.
If you don't already have them in your RV, you need a few safety devices.
You should have at least one smoke detector and one carbon monoxide detector. Newer models with sealed lithium batteries last for 10 years without changing the battery. If you have propane on board, you'll also need an LP detector mounted close to the floor. You should also have a fire extinguisher mounted near the exit.
On the Road
Proper tire pressure is critical for safe RV travel, but filling your tires at a gas station can be inconvenient, especially if your rig is relatively large. Save your quarters for laundry, and get a portable 12V compressor. Check your tire pressure before every trip, and top off your tires as needed. You'll do a much better job at keeping your tires at the proper pressure if you have all the equipment you need on-board.
Be sure to check your spare tire pressure, and have the equipment on board to change it. Make sure your lug wrench fits your RV lugs—lug nuts are not all the same size, and sometimes RV lug nuts require a special type of socket like one that's deep or thin-walled. Also make sure you have a jack and know where your jack points are. If you have a tandem axle trailer, the trailer aid ramp is usually a much easier method of lifting the trailer for a tire change. Consider picking up a set of safety triangles and a reflective vest.
If your RV is a trailer, you're most likely going to need a brake controller and some sort of weight distribution and/or sway control hitch. Trailer brakes will not work without a controller, so unless one is built into your vehicle, you'll need to buy an aftermarket one. The Tekonsha P3 is a popular choice, and specific wiring harnesses are available for easy connection to most vehicles. There's no one-size-fits-all hitch, so you'll be doing some research, but I encourage you to include the ProPride hitch in your search. We have a ProPride on our Airstream, and the design, build quality, and customer service have all been top notch.
Memberships like Good Sam, Thousand Trails, and the America the Beautiful Pass are all very popular among RVers. These memberships can be a great value if you use them, but I'd suggest holding off until you've used your RV for a while. If you're doing a lot of traveling, the first membership I would suggest for most full-time traveling RVers is Boondockers Welcome, and the second would be a nationwide gym membership like Anytime Fitness.
Extended warranties are a great way for your RV dealer to make some extra cash. But the majority of the problems you have with an RV are going to occur within the regular warranty period. And when something does break, the fine print in the extended warranty (or general unresponsiveness of the company) usually makes it difficult or impossible to collect.
I suggest you take the money you would have spent on the warranty and put it in your emergency fund.
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