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Which Battery is Best For Camper Vans – And Why We Chose Lithium

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Lithium-or-AGM-for-Campervan

Every van conversion requires batteries these days to charge all our electronics, including our laptops, phones, lights, fridge, and more. Therefore, we all want to know WHICH is the best battery to buy for our camper van.

But the problem is that there is no “best” camper van battery. This is because we all have different budgets, intended travel duration, and electrical power requirements. So, what might be the best battery for one person may not necessarily be the best battery for someone else.

The truthful answer is that the best battery DEPENDS on your situation. And simply trying to recommend an expensive Battleborn-branded lithium battery would be irresponsible.

Therefore, to help you decide the best battery for your needs, we review these three major battery categories:

Other Types Of Batteries
We understand that there are also FLA (flooded lead-acid) and GEL batteries. But these are not realistic options for most van lifers. So, for simplicity, we leave these out and only focus on the above three battery types.

For many of us, “cost” is a major factor when we select our camper van batteries. However, too many of us focus on the battery’s “initial cost” when deciding their value. Instead, a better cost metric to look at is “cost per cycle”, which is the purchase price of the battery divided by the average number of charge cycles.

(Purchase Price / Total Charge Cycles) = Cost Per Cycle

And so, for each of the above battery categories, we provide you with the following information for each battery category to help you determine which battery is best for your van:

  1. Average initial cost ($)
  2. Usable lifespan (total charge cycles)
  3. Cost per cycle ($/cycle)
  4. Who this battery is best for

What Is Our Goal? The goal of this post is to show you that AGM batteries are not always the “cheapest” option. We believe that budget lithium batteries (non-premium branded) provide excellent long-term value and are the cheapest option when looking at cost per charge cycle.

So if you’re ready, let’s get started!

Table of Contents
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    TL;DR

    Camper Van Battery Summary Table

    We researched 9 different batteries and averaged the data in the table below. So if you’re just interested to compare the final stats, below is a table we created to compare each of the three battery categories.

    Summary Table

    AGM

    Budget Lithium

    Premium Lithium

    Avg. Initial Cost ($)

    $204

    $470

    $950

    Avg. Charge Cycles

    650

    3,500

    3,500

    Usable Lifespan (1 cycle/day)

    1.8 Years

    9.6 Years

    9.6 Years

    Cost/Cycle

    $0.31

    $0.13

    $0.27

    Best For

    • Super budget

    • Weekender

    • Less than 2 years

    • Tiny power demand

    • Long-term travel

    • Still budget focused

    • Resale value

    • Long-term travel

    • Budget = $$$

    • Prioritize quality

    • Resale value

    Big Caveat(!): For a better “apples to apples” comparison, it is more realistic to compare two AGM batteries for every one lithium. This is due to depth-of-discharge differences (50% for AGM & 90% for Lithium). This means the “cost/cycle” for AGMs is realistically double than the $0.34 in the table above.

    Key Summary Takeaway

    Budget lithium batteries provide the absolute best value for camper vans today. While they are slightly more expensive than purchasing an equivalenttwo AGM batteries, their considerably longer lifespan make lithium batteries considerably cheaper over the long run.

    Download our electrical eBook (with diagrams) to visualize which wire sizes you need.

    Which Battery Is Best For Your Camper Van?

    Based on the summary table above, we can clearly define which battery is best for each type of van life traveler.

    The Case For: AGM Batteries

    AGM batteries are still the best option for those who are trying to convert a van as cheap as possible. At an average price of $204 per 100aH, AGMs are the absolute cheapest from an initial purchase price standpoint.

    These batteries, like the Mighty Max, can also be ideal if you are only planning to travel occasionally (weekender) or less than 2 years in total.

    Mighty Max AGM 12v battery
    Example: Might Max AGM Battery

    The Case For: Budget Lithium Batteries

    If your budget is a bit more flexible, no-frills lithium batteries, like AmpereTime, provide the best long-term value for camper vans. While they also have a relatively low purchase price ($470 per 100aH), their high number of charge cycles (~3,500) means that you end up paying the least per charge cycle (~$0.13/cycle).

    These LiFePO4 batteries are a fantastic option if you plan to travel for longer than 2 years, as these batteries have a typical lifespan of 10 years (or more).

    AGM vs Lithium - Chinese Brand Lithium Battery
    Example: AmpereTime LiFePO4 Battery

    The Case For: Premium Lithium Batteries

    High-end lithium batteries contain lots of additional features that may be worth it to a particular segment of camper van travelers. These features can include internal battery heating capabilities, extended warranty (8-10 years), high-quality components, and more.

    But be aware, at ~$950 per 100aH battery, these premium batteries are also premium priced. You will need to consult your budget to decide if premium lithium batteries are right for your van conversion.

    Van Life Electrical System - Battleborn LiFePO4 Battery
    Example: Battleborn LiFePO4 Battery

    Are AGM Batteries Good For Camper Vans?

    Or Outdated Technology?

    AGM batteries are good for camper vans if budget is a concern and if you only plan to travel part time with your van. Generally, under constant ‘deep-cycle’ use (50% DoD), AGM batteries have a usable lifespan between 1-2 years. So, if your travels will be less than this time frame, AGM batteries can be a good financial choice.

    Rather than look at one single AGM battery, we looked at AGM batteries as a whole, assuming limited differentiation between cheap and premium AGM batteries. The statistics below are an average of four AGM batteries we researched.

    AGM Data Table

    Average Cost

    $204

    Average Charge Cycles

    600

    Avg. Cost/Cycle

    $0.34

    Lifespan

    1.6 Years

    Average Weight

    60.4lbs (27kg)

    Depth of Discharge

    50%

    Best For:

    • Super budget oriented

    • Short Term or Weekender

    • Travel Less Than 2 Years

    • Can survive with only 100aH

    According to the table, though AGM batteries may be the cheapest battery type from an initial purchase price view, their relatively low number of total charge cycles mean that the cost per cycle is considerably higher than lithium batteries. That is why if you plan to travel for more than two years, AGM batteries are likely not the “cheapest option.”

    We chose ‘two years’ as our reference point because we assume that after 2 years, the current AGMs will have run out of useful life and new AGM batteries must be purchased. Thus increasing the total overall cost spent on van batteries.

    AGM Batteries: Pros & Cons

    Pros

    Cons

    • Lowest purchase price

    • More robust to extreme temperatures

    • Higher cost/cycle

    • Likely needs replacement after 2 years

    • Heavier than lithium batteries

    • Requires more batteries than lithium for equal usable energy

    Are Budget Lithium Batteries The Best Van Batteries?

    Using Cost/Cycle: We Think So!

    Lithium batteries are a great choice for camper vans when planning to travel longer than two years. At that point, most lithium batteries surpass AGMs as the cheaper option. And because lithium batteries have a considerably greater total number of charge cycles, they are cheaper than AGMs when looking at cost per cycle.

    Lithium battery prices have come down substantially in recent years and so we researched four different ‘budget’ LiFePO4 batteries and aggregated the data below.

    Budget Lithium Data Table

    Average Cost

    $470

    Average Charge Cycles

    3.500

    Avg. Cost/Cycle

    $0.13

    Lifespan

    9.6 Years

    Average Weight

    25.1lbs (11.4kg)

    Depth of Discharge

    80%

    Best For:

    • Medium budget size

    • Travell More Than 2 Years

    • Concious About Camper Weight

    • Interested In Camper Resale Value

    Looking at the table above, the most eye-catching statistic is that a budget lithium battery only costs 13 CENTS per cycle. Compare that to ~34 cents per cycle for AGM batteries. That’s 1/3 of the cost of an AGM. Looking at battery cost in this way really changes the way we answer the question ‘which battery is the cheapest for van life?’

    Budget Lithium Batteries: Pros & Cons

    Pros

    Cons

    • Lowest cost/cycle

    • Not prohibitively expensive

    • Low unit weight

    • Short warranty periods

    • Uncertain customer service quality

    Are Premium Lithium Batteries Worth It For Van Life?

    Awesome Batteries, But Is The Value There?

    For this segment, we only looked at BattleBorn LiFePO4 batteries. For premium-build camper vans, BattleBorns are the most common batteries used.

    Premium lithium batteries are used in van conversion when the builder simply isn’t price conscious and values quality and features above all else. In the case of the Battleborn batteries that we feature below, pay premium price entails certain premium features, like:

    • Internal battery heater
    • 10-year product warranty
    • High-quality components

    Does that mean premium lithium batteries are worth it over their budget alternatives? Not necessarily. That is for you (and your budget) to decide.

    Premium Lithium Data Table

    Average Cost

    $950

    Average Charge Cycles

    3.500

    Avg. Cost/Cycle

    $0.27

    Lifespan

    9.6 Years

    Average Weight

    31bs (14kg)

    Depth of Discharge

    80%

    Best For:

    • Large budget size

    • Travel more than 2 years

    • Quality > Cost

    • Bells & whitles = Important

    Assuming you use the premium priced Battleborn battery for the full lifecycle, it would cost approximately $0.27 cents per charge cycle. That is roughly double the amount of a budget lithium battery, but still less than that of an AGM battery.

    Camper Battery Resale Value

    Though this is a secondary consideration, the resale value of a battery can be an important factor when deciding which battery is best for your camper van. After all, if you can sell a used battery, the money you receive offsets the battery’s initial cost.

    Due to an AGM battery’s low cycle-life count (~600), we don’t consider an AGM to have much, if any, resale value. In our experience, when we’ve met people who recently purchased used camper vans, they’ve typically have had to purchase new AGM batteries since the old ones were dead.

    But if you are purchasing lithium batteries, its resale value is something you can consider because the battery has quite a long usable lifespan (10+ years).

    Download our electrical eBook (with diagrams) to visualize which wire sizes you need.

    AGM vs. Lithium: Head To Head Facts

    By now, you might think that lithium batteries are simply the better choice compared to their AGM counterparts. And in many cases they are. But AGMs do have some advantages.

    AGM

    Lithium

    Initial Cost

    Weight

    Usable Energy

    Lifespan

    Robustness

    Initial Cost: AGMs almost always cost less initially than lithium batteries. Oftentimes, they can cost as much as half the price. Winner: AGM

    Weight: Lithium batteries are much more energy dense than AGMs. As a result, they can pack in more energy per unit weight. Oftentimes lithium batteries are less than half the weight of a comparable AGM. Winner: Lithium

    Usable Energy: In order to preserve the lifespan of an AGM battery, it’s typically recommended not to discharge the battery past 50% (DoD). Lithium batteries can typically be discharged down to 80% without major affect to their lifespan. Winner: Lithium

    Lifespan: Assuming normal usage rates, a lithium battery can be expected to preform about 3,500 charge cycles before drastically diminished performance. AGMs typically only have about 600 charge cycles before it’s time to replace them. Winner: Lithium

    Sensitivity & Robustness: Lithium batteries have a stricter temperature range for which they can be charged and typically do not like to be kept at 100% charge for long periods of time. Winner: AGM

    Which Battery Do We Recommend For Camper Vans?

    Due to their low cost/cycle, we believe selecting a budget, no-frills LiFePO4 lithium battery is the best option for the majority of camper vans. Their extremely low cost/charge makes them an affordable option for long-term van lifers.

    Two popular budget models that we recommend:

    Weize LiFePO4 100aH Battery
    Example: Weize LiFePO4 Battery

    Still Looking For AGMs?

    However, we do not discount AGM batteries entirely. And for many van lifers, AGMs continue to be the battery of choice to supply their power needs.

    If, after reading this article, you believe AGMs still provide the best battery solution for your van life, we recommend the following two AGM models:

    Weize AGM 100aH 12v Battery
    Example: Weize AGM Battery

    When To Go Premium LiFePO4

    If money is not a real concern and quality is of utmost importance, spending extra for a branded LiFePO4 lithium battery is an option. The heated battery feature (if you plan to be traveling in extreme cold environments), high-quality materials, and 10-year warranty make Battleborn batteries one of the best lithium options on the market today.

    We travel with three Battleborn LiFePO4 batteries. But it was a pricey investment ($2,800 for three). If we could do a van conversion again, we would seriously look into a no-frills lithium alternative as they are half the price of the Battleborn brand.

    Don’t know how much battery you need? Read our battery size calculation post to learn more.

    Why Lithium Is Best For Our Van Life

    Three lithium batteries in a camper van

    In our specific case, we decided that going with lithium-ion batteries made the most sense versus AGM. If you’re wondering why, we list every reason for this decision below.

    Reason #1: Our Budget Allows It

    Knowing that we wanted to travel long-term, we began to save pretty hard and honestly led fairly frugal lives. As a result, spending  $2,800 for three 100Ah lithium batteries was not financially out of our reach. Although we definitely felt the sting in our wallets!

    Reason #2: Long Term Travel

    When we set out to build our DIY camper van, we knew right away that we wanted to drive the Pan-American “highway” from Canada to Argentina. This would entail at least two years on the road. And likely longer than that.

    Our length of travel made it easier to go with lithium batteries, knowing that these batteries were rated for longer lifespans than their AGM counterparts.

    Reason #3: We Are High Energy Users

    With all the different electrical devices we wanted to connect to our batteries, we knew that our daily energy consumption would be relatively high.

    Our fridge, laptops, Instant Pot, and diesel heater are no energy lightweights!

    Knowing this, we needed a battery that had greater depth of discharge capabilities without any lifespan degradation. Lithium batteries fit that profile.

    Reason #4: We Are Weight & Space Conscious

    To get an equivalent amount of usable energy with AGM batteries, we would need six 100Ah AGMs.

    Our Ford Transit campervan isn’t particularly small, but we certainly don’t want to sacrifice space for six AGM batteries. And not to mention six AGM batteries will weigh almost 400lbs.

    But by going with lithium batteries instead, not only do we save three batteries worth of space in our van, we also save roughly 300lbs of weight.

    Was This Post Helpful? We have other useful articles to help you travel better in your camper van. Check out our Electrical System Guide to read more van life content.

    Conclusion

    If you looking for the quick and easy answer, then yes, lithium batteries largely out perform AGM batteries in many of the head-to-head comparisons between the two. And this is especially true in the campervan space.

    Lighter, more energy dense, longer lifespan, and greater depth of discharge means that lithium batteries are the future for those of us in the van life community.

    But it’s crucial to understand that AGM batteries aren’t dead, yet, and provide very real and valuable solutions to select groups of people in the campervan community. What’s important is to understand what your needs and situation are and what it is that you want to get out of van life. Only then can you go about picking the right type of battery for you.

    Go Back: DIY Van Conversion Guide

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