I’ve installed, reviewed, and tested lots of different electronic gear and gadgets over almost ten years of full-time RVing. Some stuff worked out better than others, and some were just toys. To help out new RVers, I’ve decided to go through all my RV electronics and come up with a list of what I feel have been twelve must-haves.
I didn’t start my RVing adventures with many of these items but have acquired them over the years and now would not want to part with them. Basically, I would want to replace these things if, god forbid, our fifth wheel was stolen, burned, or a total write-off.
My 12 Must-Have Electronic Gizmos for RVing
See below for links to products and my reviews
I went for several years RVing without a rearview backup camera, but now I wonder how I ever did without it. With my wife Anne as a spotter, I rarely need it to back up the rig, but that’s not really how I use it. For me, the killer application is using it as a rear observation camera. Knowing what’s behind you in the large RV blind spot is golden.
I’ve reviewed several different systems over the last few years and have found the Haloview to be among the best for quality of display and wireless connection. Recently I have installed their deluxe four-camera system with easy to install rearview, side views, and porch security cameras. It also came with a rearview mirror display mount. Perfect for my use case.
Next on the list is my Garmin RV 760 GPS. It’s now an older model but came with lifetime map updates, so it is still viable. Of course, there are reams of phone apps out there that do an excellent job of navigation. I use Google Maps as a backup. However, I prefer the dedicated RV GPS with its large 7″ display, non-reflective mat finish, and RV-specific trip routing. I’ve also added many custom POIs (Points of Interest), such as the Allstays Pro database of RV-related stops and camping sites. Another perk to the Garmin GPS is it doesn’t require an internet connection to work.
A dashcam is useful for all vehicles, but I think it’s a must-have for us RV travelers. If involved in an accident, we are bound to be away from home and maybe even in another country. The video proof can therefore become extremely valuable, saving a lot of time and headaches. I’ve tried many dashcams over the last years, and so far, I’ve found the best value in the Akaso Trace 1 Pro.
Other than a bit of flakiness picking up the GPS satellites its worked perfectly for me. I often use its footage in my YouTube travel videos. As a side note, my Haloview rearview camera system also records footage as I drive, so we are covered on the front, sides, and back of the rig if we need evidence of an incident on the road.
Keeping with the camera theme, I now have three security cameras set up when we are camped. For the last year and a half, I’ve had a pair of cameras monitoring the campsite. First is the Reolink Go featuring its own cellular connection. So anywhere I have cell service, I can get motion alerts and live views on my smartphone.
Next is the Haloview porch camera to view or get a close-up recording of anyone coming up to the camper door.
Finally, I have a window camera inside the RV called the Home Hawk Window from Panasonic. I installed it last summer, and it has quickly become my favorite of the three. I have it pointed out the back window of the trailer to catch all the goings-on. The Home Hawk is set to record footage 24/7, so often I take its recordings and put together some cool time-lapse videos.
So far, we haven’t had any problems with theft around the RV. I’m not saying it’s all because of the cameras, but I’m sure they must help a bit to dissuade a would-be thief. They do give me a little more peace of mind when out boondocking or camping in a sketchy area of town.
Early on, after hearing stories of people’s RV electric circuits suffering significant damage due to miswired campground pedestals, surges, or low voltage brownouts, I picked myself up a surge protector. As an electronic repair tech, I spent many years fixing items damaged by electric company overvoltage mistakes or lightning strikes. So, it doesn’t take much to convince me they are a worthwhile investment. Sure, insurance may pay for the damages but waiting around for a repair shop to source and replace multiple damaged RV appliances, fixtures and wring would be a total pain. We all know how backlogged RV service centers are these days.
In 2012, I researched and learned that all so-called RV surge protectors aren’t created equal. You get what you pay for. Most cheaper sub $100 units only protect against voltage spikes and maybe a miswired pedestal. The ones you want are usually called Electrical Management Systems (EMS). They monitor the incoming voltage and shut power off to the RV if it’s too low or too high or if a failure occurs in the incoming power wiring. They will also turn it back on when safe and have time-delay to prevent damage to the RV air conditioner.
At the time, I chose a Progressive Industries EMS and hardwired it into my fifth-wheel trailer. It’s now over eight years later, and it’s working fine. Recently I heard good things from a new surge protector from Hughes Industries, a big name for years in RV voltage boosters called autoformers.
The EMS takes care of the AC shore power systems, but what about the DC battery power? If you do any dry camping, a quality battery monitor system is a must-have. It’s like a fuel gauge for your battery bank. Looking at the voltage reading of a battery is just a guesstimate of the power left in it and often entirely wrong. To get an accurate reading using voltage, one must disconnect the battery and let it sit for several hours. But who does this while RVing? This makes the battery monitor dummy lights installed in most RVs almost useless.
The two top battery monitors on the market are the Bogart Engineering Trimetric and the Victron. I have the Trimetric installed as it works well in companion with Bogart’s own solar controller. Though not as modern looking as the Victron, it is a well-built made in the USA product and has worked great over the years.
Having said that, I’ve talked to many boondockers who absolutely love the Victron and its sleek-looking Bluetooth phone app. There are also many much cheaper battery monitors from Chinese companies, but results may be hit and miss. Check out the reviews closely if you are looking to save a buck.
I admit not a must-have for many, but I love having one onboard the RV. Over the years, I’ve upgraded from a simple outside thermometer to one that also did wind speed to a full-blown WiFi capable unit from Ambient Weather that monitors our rainfall, wind, temperature, barometric pressure, humidity, etc. It sends data via our internet router to an online webpage to share and keep track of our weather history.
Anne likes to wake up, grab her phone and check our RV weather report of current conditions outside. Lets her know if it’s worthwhile getting up or rolling back over for more shuteye. 🙂 During this winter stuck in Canada, it’s also proved useful monitoring how cold we are getting so I know if I need to take action to prevent freeze-ups.
We spend at least 4-5 months most years camped at a favorite Vancouver Island location in the summertime. This location has several WiFi options, including a free citywide hotspot, but it’s a fair distance away. Our larger devices like my 17″ laptop and Anne’s iMac can get log on and get OK speeds, but our phones, tablets, and smart TV can’t. However, we have a Winegard Connect 2 WiFi booster/router mounted on the trailer’s rooftop. I can log it onto the free WiFi and then reshare the connection inside to all our devices. All the devices then get strong signals and good speeds. Well, unless the WiFi source gets overloaded with users, then, of course, not much can be done.
We use our Connect 2 booster to pick up free WiFi from places like casino parking lots, truck stops, coffee shops, and similar locations as we travel on the road. Furthermore, the model I have has a 4G cell antenna and modem built-in. I can insert a sim card and use it as a data hotspot. The cost depends on your cell plan.
I debated putting a cell booster on the must-have list. But, Anne and I maintain internet blogs and various video & social media channels, so having an internet connection is somewhat important. Also, cell access is critical for safety when out in the boonies like we often are. However, in the last few years, I have found that the carriers have improved coverage so much (at least out west here) that our use of one has dropped dramatically.
On our last trip to the southwest, I found we were only ever camped out of cell range a couple of times, and even then, not that far. Nothing a quick 5-10 minute drive couldn’t solve. I find the most significant problem these days isn’t weak signals but oversubscribed cell towers. When a large gathering of RVers shows up in an area, it tends to overwhelm the cell capacity. A booster can’t solve that issue.
I feel they still have their place, though, for people who absolutely must get online or camp for long stretches in a fringe reception area. Wilson Electronics makes several good quality RV cell booster systems under the name weBoost. Over the years, I have reviewed a few different models, and they have worked well in some locations to get us online or make a call but don’t expect miracles.
In my opinion, a definite must-have for trailer owners. Nothing like the peace of mind of knowing the current pressure and temperature of the trailer tires. Trailer tires take a real beating and often suffer blowouts. Many of these catastrophic blowouts can cause thousands of dollars in damage to the trailer’s undercarriage and maybe even nearby plumbing and electrical systems. Often a wireless tire monitor system can pick up a failure early, saving a ton in repair costs or even injury or lives from a crash avoided.
Other than the tires, the TPMS sensors can alert the RVer to other high temp situations caused by a dragging brake or seize bearing. If they go unnoticed such failures could quickly lead to fires and a horrible day on the highway.
The top brands on the market are EEZTire, Tire Minder, and TST. Any of these should do a good job. I installed the EEZTire TPMS a little over three years ago, and so far I’m quite happy with the performance. Last summer, I reviewed the TireMinder i10, and though it worked well, I was not too fond of its display. I found it too reflective in bright light, and I like to closely monitor my trailer tire temps, looking for any increases out of the norm.
Another handy electronic item I carry around for convenience is my NOCO battery booster box. It’s one of their higher-end models capable of jumpstarting up to a 10L diesel engine. Even though it can output enough to jump large engines, it’s still reasonably small-sized. Rather than using a heavy lead-acid battery, it has a powerful high output lithium pack inside it. It also has a 12V power socket and USB port to run/charge other items off it.
I love the fact I can quickly help out a fellow motorist get started without risking my expensive diesel truck’s electrical system. Rather than the standard jumper cable method, I walk over with my little jumper box and hook it up. The NOCO even has the smarts to only work when hooked up correctly. So far, I’ve helped out at least a 1/2 dozen people have a better day.
And finally, number twelve on my list is a multimeter. If you plan on testing or troubleshooting repair of electrical items or power circuits in an RV, you’ll want one of these. You can save yourself lots of money with a little basic knowledge, even if it’s a simple as locating an open fuse. Now you can even get them with an AC/DC clamp meter incorporated. Here is a post/video I did a few years ago, “How to Use a Multimeter for RVers.”