As technology advances and battery prices continue to come down, induction cooktops for camper vans are becoming increasingly popular. This involves replacing the traditional propane stove with a small induction stove and cooking meals entirely from electricity. No propane or any other type of gas required.
You’re fully energy independent and it’s a much safer option than carrying a propane tank around with you. Sounds like a great idea, doesn’t it?
Well…we don’t know about that. We’re not 100% convinced.
While using an induction stove may be beneficial for some camper van builds, we’re still not sold on the idea that cooking with electricity is a good choice for most of us.
In fact, an induction cooktop is most likely a terrible idea for van life. Keep reading our post to learn why.
So if you’re ready, let’s get to it!
You Need a (Very) Large Battery Bank
This is the most obvious reason an induction cooktop isn’t worth it for most camper vans. The amount of electricity you will need to power that electric stove is enormous and means you’ll need a large battery bank to provide that power.
And batteries aren’t cheap.
In our camper, we have 3x100aH of lithium (LiFePO4) batteries and even we wouldn’t consider an induction cooktop.
By the way, 300aH of lithium is roughly equivalent to a 600aH battery bank made up of lead acid (AGM) batteries.
Don’t believe us? Let’s do the math:
An induction cooktop, like this one, has a max output of 1800w. But let’s be conservative and say you only cook on medium heat, so you’d only be using 900w.
Now let’s say, on an average day, you’re using the induction stove for the following times:
- Coffee for breakfast: 5 min
- Lunch: 15 minutes
- Dinner: 20 minutes
Using the equations from our battery calculator post, the induction cooktop would consume roughly 50aH every day.
Sounds doable? But just remember that you still need battery power to run your lights, fan, fridge, charge your phone/laptop, etc).
To power all the electronics in our van (with no induction stove) we consume roughly 60aH of power every 24 hours. So if you add an additional 50ah for the induction cooktop, we think this is unsustainable for long term van life.
You would, very likely, be running out of battery on a regular basis.
Solar Charging Is (Likely) Not Enough
For most of us van lifers, relying on solar panels is the primary method in which we power our electronics. But if you are planning to rely on solar to power your induction stove, we urge you to check your solar array size calculations.
That’s because when it comes to solar sizing, calculations on paper are often overly optimistic. You don’t harvest nearly as much power from the sun as you might think.
Three reasons why:
1. You need perfectly sunny days, every single day.
To harvest the amount of energy that you’ve probably calculated for your solar array, your panels will need to see nothing but the most perfectly sunny days, day after day. Is that realistic? How often do you see nothing but blue skies?
2. Can’t camp in shaded areas
Many of the most beautiful spots we’ve camped at (think National Parks & Forests) had at least some sort of shade cast upon our van. Shade from overhanging trees and nearby mountains is incredibly common. And if you don’t know already, even if only 5-10% of your solar panel is covered in shade, solar production can drop by as much as 50%.
3. Winter & Rainy Seasons are detrimental
Forget about traveling during the winter and rainy seasons where shorter days and constant cloud cover drastically reduces solar harvesting. The amount of ‘good quality’ sun that your solar panels will see will be a fraction of that during the summer.
Non-Meals Are (Power) Costly
Remember the example we used to determine how much daily power an induction cooktop would require? That example only considered conservative cooking times for lunch, dinner, and coffee for breakfast.
But what if you want to use the cooktop for other things? This could include:
- Making an extravagant pancakes & egg breakfast,
- Having friends over for coffee
- Toasting bread for dessert
- Boiling water for tea during cold weather
We’re always boiling water for tea and coffee when traveling in cold regions to help keep us and the van interior warm. So being hesitant to use an induction cooktop for the sake of saving battery is not a position we want to put ourselves in.
You May Eat Out More ($$$)
If your batteries do run out of power, you inevitably can’t cook with an induction stove. So, if it’s dinner time and you can’t make a hot meal, your two options are 1) eat cereal or some other cold meal or 2) pay to eat out.
And eating out is usually one of the biggest expenses in a van life budget. It’s at least $7-10 per person per meal, and easily more.
That’s why we don’t believe that “saving money on propane” is a realistic argument for getting an electric stove for your camper van. Eating out even just once due to induction stove problems eliminates any cost savings against propane.
Propane is Cheap!
Propane is ridiculously cheap (if you don’t rely on those small 1lb camping bottles). We carry an 11lb tank in our van and our tanks lasts us at least 5 weeks of constant use.
And filling our tank has never cost us more than $12. For us, that’s less than $0.35/day.
And Readily Available...
Propane distributors are also ubiquitous. We use Google Maps and the iOverlander app to locate the nearest propane supplier near us. Finding a place to refill our tank is never a problem.
You'll Need A Larger Inverter
There is also a hidden cost to cooking with an induction cooktop in your camper van. And it’s that you’ll need a large inverter to power the electric stove.
Realistically, you’ll need to invest in a 3000-watt inverter, even if you plan to run your induction stove on medium. Not only are larger inverters more expensive, but they’re also bulkier and take up more valuable space in your van.
When An Induction Cooktop In A Camper Van Could Work
Although we wouldn’t use an induction stove in our own camper van, we wouldn’t say we’d never use one in the future.
In fact, we can think of 3 scenarios in which having an induction cooktop in a van could work.
1. Abundant Shore Power
If you plan to spend extended amounts of time with access to shore power (like at an RV park), cooking with an induction stove would absolutely work. When connected to shore power, the induction cooktop would bypass your batteries completely. So you wouldn’t need to carry such a large battery bank in your van.
2. Large Budget For Large Batteries & Solar
If you had the money to spend on a large battery bank and solar array, you could certainly power an induction stove. However, as a bare minimum, we think you’ll need at least 400aH of solar and 600w of solar.
3. You're Always On the Move
If you love driving and never spend more than a couple days at a single location, you could easily recharge your house batteries while driving. This assumes you’ve connected your van’s starting battery to your house battery bank.
Benefits of Induction Cooktops For Van Life
Though it may not be our choice, going with an induction stove brings multiple benefits.
- Complete energy independence – This assumes you’re not relying on shore power to run the cooktop. But if you can sufficiently power your induction stove from your batteries, then you may very well be completely energy independent (except for the gas/diesel to power your van). That certainly is something to brag about!
- Space efficient cooking solution – Portable induction stoves are relatively small and can easily be stowed away when not in use. This means countertop space is freed up when you’re not preparing meals. In our opinion, maximizing countertop space is a critical factor when designing your camper van interior.
- Safer Than Propane – There is always a risk when traveling with a propane tank (think gas leaks). This is especially true when the propane tank is stored inside the van, like ours is. But with an electric stove, you don’t have the same level of risk. For some, this peace of mind is worth the investment for an induction stove.
Best Induction Cooktop Models For Van Life
If we ever felt like the time was right to move to an induction cooktop, we would have gone with this double induction cooktop. Having a double burner is so much more convenient for cooking than just a single burner. This is so that you can, for example, boil your pasta and cook the sauce at the same time.
Ever cooked a meal on a single burner? We have and it’s FRUSTRATING!
However, if we have convinced you that an induction stove just isn’t worth it for van life, then we recommend using the Coleman Triton camping stove. This is what we use.
Just like with the induction stove above, it’s a portable unit that easily stows away when not in use. And the Triton version is thinner than the base Coleman stove model, making it even more space efficient. We’ve been using our camping stove for almost 3 years, and it still works perfectly after constant daily use.
Conclusion: Is An Induction Cooktop Worth It For Van Life?
In the end, only you can decide if getting an induction stove for your camper van is right for you. Everyone’s needs and requirements are different.
But before you do decide to purchase one, it’s important to under the limitations of an induction stove as it pertains to van life and what is required to effectively power this kind of cooktop on a daily basis.
If you found this article helpful, please let us know in the comments section below or by sending us an email on our contact page.