Like most people, our camping journey started using a gas burner for cooking, and we’ve been using different gas burners since, for many, many years.
However, there’s been a more common shift to induction cooktops, and in this post, we check out the benefits, differences, con’s and everything else you need to know before even considering making the move across from gas to a camping induction cooktop.
A little while ago we did a lithium battery upgrade on our camper trailer, and I decided to buy a big inverter, and a portable induction cook top to use, and see how it would perform.
Now, I will specifically mention that I did not upgrade the batteries to be able to run an induction cooktop.
It just so happened that the setup we built was easily capable of doing so for short periods, and I figured for an extra $469 why not get one and see what all the fuss was about.
We paid $369 for the 3000W Renogy Inverter, and $100 for the Westinghouse single, portable induction cooktop. In actual fact I wanted the inverter anyway, so it was really only $100 for the induction cooktop.
I want to make it very clear that I am not trying to convince you to go out and buy an induction cooktop, and lithium battery system; this post is purely here to help you understand the costs associated with doing so, what you gain by doing it, what the risks are and so on and so forth.
Using an induction cooktop when camping is not a necessary upgrade. It’s a luxury, and completely unnecessary in many ways, and yet, people are still doing it by the dozens, so there must be some merit, no? How does it compare to the humble gas cooker? In this post, we find out!
What are the benefits of an induction cooktop?
Its safer in some ways
Induction cooktops work in a really clever way, in that the stove top stays relatively cool, and even a few seconds after removing a hot pot you can touch the stove quickly without getting scolded.
They also remove the need to carry gas on board, which is a great advantage. That means less chance of a gas leak, less chance of an explosion and less chance of things going wrong in general.
Induction cooktops also don’t create Carbon Monoxide, which in an indoor setting requires good ventilation or it can hurt you very badly.
You are however, introducing 240V into a system that may not have had it before, and that means you need to be very careful. Electricity at that voltage can easily kill you, and it deserves to be treated with the utmost respect.
There’s no doubt in my mind that an induction cooktop is faster than a gas burner (if your system can run it on maximum).
Yes, if you get some gas burners that are high BTU, you might be able to compete, but a standard caravan or camper trailer gas burner will never be able to heat as fast as a 2000W induction cook top, and that’s without factoring in wind, which is a massive contributor.
On top of this, your pan gets hot so much faster. Like seriously, you can count the seconds before your pan is scorching hot, and that’s pretty neat to see.
It’s amazing in windy conditions
One of the reasons we decided to get an induction cooktop and big inverter was because of the frustrations of trying to boil a kettle, or cook dinner when its windy in our outdoor kitchen.
If you are considering indoor vs outdoor kitchens, wind is a big factor.
We generally try and face the camper trailer kitchen south to get some shade, but that can result in wind blowing straight in, or past the kitchen, which plays havoc with our gas burners.
On a windy day it can take 15 minutes to boil a kettle, which can be pretty annoying. Yes, we could build a wind shield, or just live with stacking pots in front of the burner but an induction cooktop is virtually unaffected by wind.
The heat transfer is far better, and even if the wind is howling right past it your pot, or kettle is going to receive a lot more heat than it would from a gas burner.
On top of that, you don’t have to worry about gas burners blowing out, which they have done many times on our camper trailer, particularly the small gas burner, and when you have them down lower.
You don’t need to fill up gas bottles
If you can entirely rely on your system, you don’t need to worry about filling gas bottles up.
It might not mean much to you, and lets be honest, its not that hard, but it is something you can forget about doing with an induction cooktop.
You don’t need ventilation
One of the big advantages of getting rid of gas, and going to an induction cooktop in a caravan specifically, is that you no longer need vents to allow the gas fumes to exit the van.
This means that the caravan can actually be sealed up properly (something they often do a very bad job of doing), which in turn means that you have far less potential for dust to come inside.
I see some van manufacturers are still using diesel systems to heat water, but these are vented outside and you no longer need to have any vents in the van, which is a big benefit especially if you spend a lot of time on dusty roads.
Its far more controllable, and repeatable
One thing I’m learning to love about the induction cooktop is that you get the same heat every single time, regardless of what the weather is doing, how the wind is blowing or what you are cooking.
If you select 800W, you get 800W of power (and heat transfer), and that’s that.
If you learn to cook a steak at a certain setting, you can get the same result the next time, and the next time just by selecting the right power setting. Yes, you can do the same with a gas burner, but its less accurate, and if its windy good luck!
It’s really easy to clean
On our old camper trailer, we never bothered too much about cleaning the gas burner after each meal, and when it came to sell, I spent hours trying to get it clean again.
From that day on, I vowed, that we’d keep our burner clean, and we’ve done that. Usually its just a quick wipe, but it can be awkward on a camper trailer or caravan stove where there’s lots of little bits and bobs to wipe out.
The induction cooktop is just one flat ceramic plate and its so easy to clean. Wait for it to cool, wipe it over gently and you are done. Easy as, and far better than a gas burner in terms of cleaning.
You can use them in a total fire ban
Induction cooktops can be used when there’s a total fire ban, and that’s pretty neat. We have them regularly in WA Summers, and if you are camping it can really throw a spanner in the works, as you cannot use any gas burners, unless they are in an enclosed caravan.
If you are in a national park you might have access to a BBQ provided by the park, but there’s a good chance you won’t be able to cook anything otherwise, and that’s a bit of a problem!
What’s the downsides of an induction cooktop?
Like everything, there’s always downsides, and running an induction cooktop when camping is not something that everyone is doing, because of this.
You are going to be paying a fair chunk of money to run an induction cooktop. If you are starting from scratch, you need a battery system that is suitable, a big enough inverter, and a way of replenishing the batteries.
If you already have a system that can run an induction cooktop the choice is much easier; you can buy an induction cooktop for $50, and give it a whirl; what have you got to lose?
You are at the mercy of the weather
If you intend on charging your batteries up with solar, you really are at the mercy of mother nature. A couple of cloudy days without moving and you can be dead in the water, which is why its always nice to have a backup available.
Ideally your setup charges while you drive too, but unless you are doing a lot of driving, you can still easily end up with flat batteries, and charging when you drive adds to wear and tear on your vehicle, and fuel costs; that energy has to come from somewhere.
You need suitable cookware
Not all pots, pans and kettles will work on induction cooktops. They need to be the right material, and are generally described as induction friendly, or not.
We’d purchased spacesaver pans a while back that were suitable, but our kettle was not, and that was a bit of a pain, as we wanted one that could be used on gas and induction.
It can be more setup time
Some setups come with induction cooktops that are permanently installed, and you just have to turn them on to get going.
Most people though, are using portable units, which means you need somewhere to store them (that they aren’t going to get smashed around), and then you have to pull them out and plug them in.
Our Reconn R2 has a gas stove permanently installed, and we just put the induction cooktop over it, but its not always there and ready to go.
Do you still need gas anyway?
A lot of people who make the move to induction still need gas in some form anyway.
If you’ve got a 3 way fridge, or a Weber BBQ, or a hot water system, there’s a good chance you’ll still need to take gas with you regardless, and that makes the idea of completely moving unfeasible anyway.
We run a Weber fairly regularly, and even if we did swap to a full electric hot water unit, there’s no way our setup would keep up with everything the moment some cloud came over. We have the ability to move power from our 4WD, or we can use the induction on that, but we still run out of power if its overcast and have to go back to gas.
Costs of setting up a system to run an induction cooktop
As mentioned above, its not cheap to set up a system capable of running an induction cooktop, and if you want one that can run other appliances too, it will probably cost even more.
So, what does it cost?
You can run an induction cooktop off a decent AGM system, but its usually got several in parallel, and even then you really are pushing the friendship.
Make sure you check the rated discharge rate, as pulling too much power from a battery too quickly will make it lead a short life.
Most people running induction cooktops have made the switch to 12V lithium batteries, as they are able to discharge much faster, charge faster, weigh much less and last far longer.
You are probably going to be looking at a 150aH lithium battery as a minimum, and up to around a 300 – 400aH system depending on what other appliances you are running.
That’s going to sting you anywhere from about $500 for the cheapest lithium battery on the market, up to around the $6000 mark for 400aH of the more expensive brands out there.
You can run an induction cooktop off a 1000W inverter, but you are far better off with a 1500W or larger one.
The smaller you get, the more limitations you’ll have on how high you can run your induction cooktop, and the harder the inverter will run.
We purchased a 3000W Renogy inverter for $369, which doesn’t work very hard for most of the cooking we do, and will comfortably do the 2000W maximum setting of our induction cook top.
Inverters start off at about $300, and work there way up to about $2300 for the most expensive brand name ones (like Redarc!)
I don’t see too many systems set up to run without solar panels. It’s a smart, simple and easy way to keep your batteries charging, and you can spend anywhere from $25 for a second hand house hold panel up to $450 per panel from Redarc.
One 250W household panel is probably the minimum that you want, unless you intend on charging the batteries up by driving too. Please note you need a regulator, or solar controller to charge via your panel too.
We purchased 3 x 200W panels from Renogy, for about $200 each.
DCDC and/or solar regulator
To regulate the charge going into your battery, you need a solar controller.
You can cheap out and buy a basic PWM one for under $100, or get a more expensive MPPT regulator for up to about $500, or get a dual charger that takes your alternator charge and solar charge, and feeds it into your battery for anywhere from $200 to $700, depending on what you get.
We already had an Enerdrive DCDC suitable for lithium, and purchased a 60 amp Renogy MPPT solar controller to take the extra panels going on the roof.
The actual induction cooktop is the cheapest part of the equation. You can buy one from Kogan or Kmart for about $50, or a reasonable quality Westinghouse unit for around $100. If you want a dual stove unit you are looking at around $200. Not bad at all.
Parts and Labour to install it
Unless you are a guru with electrics, you are best off paying a quality auto electrician to install your setup. You need good quality, suitably sized cable, a big fuse for the inverter, the correct battery terminals, boots to cover the battery terminals and clamps properly, heat shrink, cable conduit and the list goes on.
For us, we paid $430 to have an auto electrician install it all, but I did most of the mechanical work, so he could just come along and do the wiring and make it work.
Please know this is not the 240V side; we just have a 240V extension lead running to the kitchen from the inverter, and I can power it up with the remote switch for our inverter.
Any 240V wiring on caravans, camper trailers or 4WD’s needs to be done by an A grade electrician, carefully, safely and according to code, and you will have to pay extra for that.
This relates to powering actual power points from your inverter etc.
A couple of other comments about induction cooktops
You need a suitable electrical system
Running high wattage appliances requires an electrical system that is suitable to do so. If you have a couple of AGM batteries and a big inverter, please don’t think you are automatically able to run an induction cook top.
Your batteries need to be capable of the very high discharge rate, your cabling needs to be sized correctly and the system needs to be able to handle the consumption each day and be adequately charged by the end of the day, or you’ll be aboard a sinking ship.
You need to be able to replenish the power consumed
As mentioned above, you need to be able to put the power back in that you use. For our family, we seem to be using about 100 amp hours a day running an 82L freezer, induction cooktop for all meals and the usual lights and water pumps.
That means we have to put 100 amp hours back each day, or we’ll eventually run out. In 6 hours of decent sunlight, that’s 17 amps, or roughly an average 300W panel facing the sun all day long.
The issue arises when you don’t have a trailer, and you don’t want to be regularly driving to charge the batteries. If you are taking several solar blankets with you just so you can pull up and run an induction cooktop, I can’t see the benefit.
With a caravan or camper trailer you can easily have a significant solar array that you don’t touch, and it tops the batteries up without a fuss. Can you imagine having to set up 2 or 3 solar blankets every time you pull up? In terms of cost/effort/reward you are so much better off just using a gas cooker.
On our 3 week trip up north, I hadn’t gotten around to installing the 600W of caravan solar panels, and because of this we only used the induction cooktop a handful of times.
In order to run it, I would have had to pull out 1 – 3 panels and blankets, and set them up. When you are moving every day or two, its just not worth it.
Gas is very efficient
I want to make it very clear that there is a reason most households have gas hot water systems, and gas burners, and sometimes gas heating.
It’s a very efficient, and economical way to create heat. Using electricity to create heat for cooking is expensive, and far more difficult off grid, as you’ll have seen above.
There is nothing wrong with using a gas burner; its worked for many decades, and I have no doubt it will continue to for many decades too.
People have different needs
I chuckle about how upset some people get over what others do. Don’t be someone like that. Not everyone has the same requirements or needs as you.
Some have medical conditions that require high current draw appliances, and still want to get off grid.
Some people live in their setup full time, and its their home. These are vastly different to Joe blogs who goes camping twice a year, and sits in a powered site at a caravan park, and those who just head to a local national park and are happy to kick back around a fire boiling their billy.
Do you, and don’t worry about what other people are doing.
Just because some people have coffee machines and induction cook tops does not mean you have to go out and get a setup to do the same, and it certainly doesn’t mean you should be upset or offended by them doing so.
Does it make sense financially?
If you went out and bought a system dedicated to running an induction cooktop to save money, you are barking up the wrong tree.
We’ll use our setup as an example. We paid about $3500 for our setup (which is seriously cheap in the scheme of things).
I mentioned above it was primarily done to have a solid battery system to run our freezer and other appliances if we get a few days of cloudy weather, but lets just say we did it for the purpose of running an induction cook top.
$3500 fills our 4kg gas bottle about 152 times, and each gas bottle generally lasts about 4 weeks when we are travelling full time, so that’s about 12 years worth of gas for us.
No doubt the batteries will be dead (or near dead) in 12 years and will have required replacement by then too, so there’s more money again. You do not win financially.
It does not make financial sense to install an induction cooktop, but clearly that hasn’t stopped anyone, and there’s lots of choices people make every day that are not great financially, but they have other benefits.
So, should you install an induction cooktop and system to handle it?
Honestly, I reckon if you are building a system that might run it, and you can see some benefit, there’s no harm in upsizing a bit and making it work.
However, I wouldn’t build a system specifically to run an induction cooktop, as I don’t feel its worth the money.
If you are running a coffee machine, or aircon, or toasted sandwich machine, or hot water unit already and you want to run an induction cooktop, why not? It’s only a hundred bucks and you have a new way of cooking.
We are happy with our system, but I still feel its probably not big enough to depend on entirely, and I’m sure when we have a few cloudy days the gas burner will be back out, and that’s fine. I’m perfectly happy with it, and that’s all that matters to me.
Do you run induction? Do you intend to? What do you reckon?!