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And, despite what accessory shops tell us, you can kit yourself out reasonably cheaply, because you don’t have to use their profit-margin-included assembled kits. Plus, there are ways to compromise on wire gauge, if you don’t intend to use one of the two batteries for starting, and plan to just use it for accessories, like camp lighting. If you’re on a budget, you can build the project over time, commencing with the battery only, and then progressing to a full, up the yin yang, install.
Additionally, you can incorporate solar panels, which not only allow for extended stays, but allow you to use smaller-capacity, lighter and cheaper batteries. In this article, I’ll explain the various options, and the best way, I found, to approach the job.
If an LED lamp is 2 Amps (check the factory data panel), and you run it for one hour, it’s used up 2 Ah of the battery storage. Battery tech is pretty simple, and most of what we need to know is that the lighter the battery the more expensive it is. Unlike lead, lithium batteries can be discharged below 50%, and indeed they are more high-tech, so are more seductive, and will appeal to the more geek-oriented gear-heads—you know who you are. AGM, or advanced glass mat is probably the best automotive accessory battery in my opinion because it can handle multiple deep discharges without getting knackered; and its gel construction means it can be mounted at angles. AGM is used in marine environments, and doesn’t fume when charging, unlike regular automotive wet cell lead batteries—so it can be installed in a passenger compartment. If you want to install a second battery in that beast, you need to re-locate the air filter, and then install an after-market tray. Well it isn’t, because what happens, is that you think, that while you’re moving the air filter, you might as well install a snorkel; then the scope of the job rapidly rises, because you’re going to have to cut a hole, and waterproof the vehicle electrics—you’ll be newly ponding remember. Before you know it, you are your dollar-sign-in-eyes, accessory shop’s best customer and broke—again.
I have refused, so far, to go this route, and will explain what I did, as a stop gap, later in the article. The best DIY tutorial on solenoids is by Evidave at Expedition Portal’s forum, who reckons you can do the job for around AUD$60.

Evidave’s solenoid solution is slightly compromised, compared to some of the commercial options, because the batteries can’t be switched. If Evidave’s DIY setup is a bit too wacky, you can purchase gear designed for marine environments. Its dual-circuit system ($249 at Whitworths) is a full-featured dual battery setup, with a combine battery function.
But be careful with Blue Sea, if you don’t want to go bust—the stuff is extremely seductive, and there are some fabulous add-ons, like thirty-dollar USB charger sockets.
One tip, in any commercial marine, or automotive solution is to match your alternator’s output to any automatic charging relay. I’ve pitched it loose in the back of my truck in a plastic battery box, and I’ve built a cigarette-lighter to battery terminal alligator clip cable with 14-gauge wire. Now, when my engine is running, and I’m on a drive of a few hours or more, I can charge the Optima off the vehicle’s accessory cigarette-lighter circuit. But the system does work—when driving distances only—and it allowed me to get into dual batteries for a few dollars. Next: In a future article, I’ll explain how I’ve hooked-up a solar panel and charge controller to my simple battery-box power-rig. Patrick Nelson is a long-time overlander who specializes in exploring historic trails--including sometimes barely-visible wagon train routes, and ancient spring source-defined tracks.
But, the solution when hanging-out in one place or camp, for one-night or more, as with the beer analogy, is pack more of it. If the battery has a 55 Ah capacity, and it’s full, then you could run the light for 22.5 hours before the battery is dead. Now, those fridges don’t run all the time, but it’s still unsatisfactory, and you run the risk of your rig not starting in the morning. Very rough rules of thumb are that lithium chemistry will cost about double a lead solution and weigh half. In fact, it won’t leak inverted, as I found recently, when checking mine, after a rock-crawling incident, when it was indeed upside-down for a lot of that day.

So, if your budget allows you to replace your primary battery too, you may find two AGMs fit at 90-degrees with a bit of hacking. But, you can do it yourself, by following along in forums, with overlanding enthusiasts, who have done it already.
Marine gear is always great for off-road applications, and dual-battery electronics are no exception. They are light-weight, and the in-built water resistance, is also suitable for the dust and mud, that we encounter on the tracks. Vendors have the added advantage of being able to flog you everything else at the same time. Therefore, if you start sipping on that juice, with accessories—the power will become depleted, eventually. Only, you can’t, because you shouldn’t run the kind of batteries we use in this type of install, below 50%. Not worth it in a vehicular situation, because, although weight is our nemesis, it isn’t like we’re going walkabout.
Piranha Off Road Products, is one such vendor, and they’ll sell you the whole kit, including battery trays, dual battery management, solar, fridges, battery accessories and even the battery. I’ve spent my money on the Optima D34 Deep Cycle 55 Ah battery ($295 at Piranha) which is light enough to lug around. In other words, the battery with the higher charge flows, into the one with the lower charge.
You can draw an analogy with the beer you’re drinking, in that however slowly you drink it, eventually, it’ll still be drunk.

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