Nissan LEAF And Chevy Volt Go On A Camping Trip


No, that’s not the start of a lame joke.  Rather, it’s what took place a week prior to Labor Day, 2014.  I decided to go try the you’re-not-really-camping activity of car camping at Wellesely Island State Park, NY nestled within the Thousand Islands at the border of the United States and Canada.  Owning a Chevy Volt, I had no concerns with making the 100-mile trip up there, as once my battery ran out after about 40 miles, the gas engine would kick in to let me travel the remaining distance.

The Volt and Leaf, co-existing peacefully at adjacent campsites at Wellesley Island State Park, New York.

The Volt and LEAF, co-existing peacefully at adjacent campsites at Wellesley Island State Park, New York.

The views in the Volt were limited to the interstate and map images from the built-in navigation.

The views in the Volt were mostly limited to the interstate pavement, and map images from the built-in navigation.

When making my reservation, I found that they had some tenting sites with electricity.  I decided I would reserve one of those, and then I could charge my Volt overnight, using that much less gas on my return trip. A couple days prior to the event, I was speaking with a good friend of mine Brian, who owns a LEAF (and often posts here under the name Brian), and decided to see if his family wanted to join us.  Much to my pleasant surprise, he accepted, and found one of the last sites available to reserve with an outlet for that weekend… which just happened to be adjacent to my own site.  Now, given the LEAF’s range of approximately 80 miles, this would require some planning on Brian’s part, but he was more than willing to give the trip a shot, as was his wife and his two children.

It turned out to be a great time, and from the EV vs. EREV perspective, an interesting experiment.  From an activity standpoint, we got to relax at the beach, do some minor hiking, cook some camp food, and observe an amazing view of the Milky Way without the light pollution of a city.  Now onto the trip comparison…

Once the battery range was depleted after 36 miles of interstate driving, the Volt's gasoline range extender kicked in for the remainder of the trip.

Once the battery range was depleted after 36 miles of interstate driving, the Volt’s gasoline range extender kicked in for the remainder of the trip.

As one might expect, the Volt made it there the quickest, in about 2 hours of mostly interstate driving.  The return trip was the same, and a full charge overnight allowed for an overall trip MPG of 74.6, and 3.6 miles per kWh when on the battery; not too shabby for cruise control mostly set at 70-75 mph.

Of course, on the other hand, Brian used infinitely less gasoline in his LEAf, though his trip did take about 8 hours one way – and 16 hours adding in both directions.  He experienced a low battery warning as he was arriving to the campsite, but still made it without any issues.  As an added bonus, he was able to stop at a nice friendly diner (twice, once in each direction) with a free charging station to enjoy some food and make sure he had enough electricity to make it the rest of the way.  He also was able to do some bowling with his family, and even got to see a very impressive solar panel array as a result of his route that he chose to get some charging along the way.  Using side roads at an average speed of about 35-40 mph, he averaged roughly 4.4 miles per kWh.

Brian getting some free opportunity charging at Longway's Diner in Watertown, NY.

Brian getting some free opportunity charging at Longway’s Diner in Watertown, NY.

So which vehicle was the better choice?  Well, as usual, the answer is “it depends.”  I obviously got there the quickest in my Volt, though my views were limited to the interstate and the pictures shown in my navigation maps.  Brian’s trip may have taken much longer, but I might argue that he had a great adventure that allowed his family to see and experience a lot of different activities on the way up, making his vacation that much more entertaining.

Obviously, I’m ignoring many other metrics that could be compared, that also relate to a family’s individual needs and wants.  In the end, it comes down to personal preferences.  If nothing else, the trip proves that both vehicles are capable of a 100 mile journey to do some overnight camping, while saving a lot of gas compared to conventional vehicles.  And with sufficient planning and patience, a LEAF can make the drive too, allowing an opportunity for some enjoyable activities along the way that may otherwise be missed.

The Leaf's journey included spotting this enormous solar panel array near Watertown, NY

The LEAF’s journey included spotting this enormous solar panel array near Watertown, NY; even the panorama doesn’t do it justice!

More free opportunity charging for Brian's Leaf at "TOPS Friendly Markets"

More free opportunity charging for Brian’s LEAF at “TOPS Friendly Markets”

Categories: Chevrolet, Nissan

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39 Comments on "Nissan LEAF And Chevy Volt Go On A Camping Trip"

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I’m going to play devil’s advocate for BOTH sides of this..

First of all, had there been a DCFC station somewhere along the way, (which I’m guessing there was not) then the Leaf would have only been delayed by maybe 20-30 minutes compared to the Volt. We definitely need more stations.

Second of all, in favor of the Volt, while this might have been a fun once-off trip. If this were the type of thing somebody had to do on a regular basis, 8 hours would become an unacceptable amount of time to make the journey.

Based on experience:

The Leaf charges very slowly at the top and bottom of the SOC. As a practical matter it wouldn’t be 20-30 minutes. More like 45. That’s assuming the best case scenario where you find the charger to be working and there isn’t another Leaf in line when you get there.

The DC charger would also have to be located correctly. You wouldn’t want it too close to either end of the trip.

Finally, after a couple of years you’d need to stop a couple of times given the Leaf’s battery fade and its ever decreasing range.

The total trip distance was just shy of 100 miles. A QC located in Watertown would have only needed to supply tens of extra miles. At 4.4 miles/kWh, we are talking maybe 5-6 kWh (incidentally, I charged at 3.3kW for ~2 hours, so that’s about 7kWh). Even with 7kWh, at 20kW, that’s only 20 minutes. A full QC would provide the needed energy in 10 minutes from all but the lowest SoC.

The goal was to arrive at the campsite with a nominal range buffer. It was not to get to 100% charge before leaving Watertown.

Thank you both so much for a great story!

I assume the 8 hours each way were not 8 hours driving and waiting to charge, but include those side adventures, right?

Anyway, I’m sharing this on the Seattle Leaf FB page.

You’re very welcome, although Eric did the writeup. In fact, I didn’t proof-read it prior to it posting, so there are some errors. Such as the 8 hour trip length. This is incorrect – it actually took about 5 hours to get there. That’s about 2.5 hours of driving and 2.5 hours of charging. It took 7 hours to get home, but that included stopping at a diner for lunch, taking the family bowling, and going out of our way to a blocked EVSE.

I’m not sure where the 8 hour comment came from.

This was a great trip. I would gladly take my family on a similar trip about once a year. As David notes, if there had been a single DCFC station (and if my Leaf had the port), the trip would have been minutes longer in the Leaf, not hours. QC infrastructure is critical for BEVs to become much more than around-town commuters for the masses. Or even for me, more than once or twice a year. Interestingly, Eric took I-81 and I took US Route 11, which run almost exactly parallel from Syracuse to Watertown. Our miles driven were nearly identical. My views were much more scenic, ranging from pastureland to open fields of wild flowers, with the occasional upstate NY town thrown in. Watertown has a plethora of L2 EVSEs around, but unfortunately a few were out of order. Another (between a Nissan/Chevy dealer) was plugged into a dealer-owned Volt. The car was fully charged, but I had noone to ask for permission to unplug so I didn’t. Fortunately the diner’s and Tops’ were available for use. Also of note, I have a 2012 Leaf with the 3.3kW OBC. If I had been driving a newer Leaf, I would… Read more »

yeah, I had wondered about that as well. Yep, the 6.6kw charger would have made a huge difference.

“Watertown has a plethora of L2 EVSEs around”. I live in Philly (PA not NY) and head up to the thousand islands a few times a year where my family has a camp. I’m surprised to hear plethora when describing L2 charging in the area (The only beer options in the area are Bud, Miller, Coors and if you are real lucky Saranac). In my mind the only options for me to make that trip are an EREV or an EV with tesla range/SC capability.

I hope one day the QC network is to the point where all charging stations are supercharger fast and batteries have at least 200 mile ranges.

I guess it’s all relative, but PlugShare lists 8 Public EVSEs in and around Watertown. As you know, it is not exactly a large city. Compared to the rest of the north country, it is an oasis of EVSEs!

You forget about Utica Club beer. 😀

I once unplugged a fully charged vehicle at a public station, why not? It’s rude to leave it plugged in while people are waiting to charge

BTW, Thanks for writing this up, Eric. I wanted to write something, but all I got was writers block and distractions.

Sounds like a lot of fun. EV road trips do offer a perspective.

So next year Eric needs to do the trip in his Volt in all-electric mode 🙂

Sounds like a fun trip.

Also interesting is the amount of broken chargers you mentioned. Is it a common occurrence? I’ve been reading a lot of reports from EV users on various sites about how many broken chargers they run into, and how they seem to take a long time to get fixed.

Did either of you use the car to power your camp gear? I think that would make these cars a great alternative. You’d have a nice quiet portable generator.

@Eric, @DonC

Yes I was looking for the part where Eric used his EVExtend wiring harness. I give it a plug (so to speak) whenever I get a chance.

The Volt and the Leaf are two stalwarts to be sure. Here’s to gen 2 . (where’s my beer)

Wait… they invited someone with an EREV? Where is that in the article? All I see is the plug-in hybrid Volt! 😉

Give it up Aron!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Great Pictures guys..

Brian: Hope you didn’t have too many arguments with your wife over : “If you had bought a volt we wouldn’t have had to spend extra hours with these KIDS!”.

Ha! No, she’s a good sport. She agreed that it was fun. But maybe next time she’d prefer we take the Insight 😉

Bah! We took a trip last summer that was remarkably like this one, and the way I’d put it is “about an hour’s driving time before charging is about perfect to get the kids to go outside and play on the playground while we charge and eat”.

Great writeup.

This just illustrate the fact that even if the cars are ready, we still need infrastructures which might take decades to build.

If you don’t to wait, then EREV is the way to go. If you want to be the trail blazer, then do the limited range BEV route.

I think a 200 miles BEV would have easily done this trip.

Can’t wait for the first company to build the affordable 200 miles BEV.

Here is another option to consider. How about doing the 100 miles in 6 hours, with 15 minutes of bathroom breaks, at a leisurely 17.5 mph daydreaming pace, enjoying the sights and sounds along the way, on .81 kWh to 70% DoD. I have done just that many times in the last three years. What you save on the vehicle, you can spend on a hotel, and a nice dinner. Or take backpacking gear and do real camping. 🙂

And where do I put the wife and kids? Not to mention the tent, food, firewood, and other supplies?

They each have their own bike, as my family did for over a decade. And that was before I went electric assist. The couple across the road, not having ridden bikes since childhood, in their 50’s were inspired by us to spend a summer riding from Oregon to Virginia.

Firewood?! You are saying you hauled firewood along on your trip? 🙂

Yes. I decided to purchase firewood at Tops rather than at the campground in order to save some money. Therefore, I had to fit it into the car somewhere!