AGM vs. Lithium | Which Battery is best for Van Life?

By: Scott Adamson
/ June 13, 2020
Once you’re ready to start planning out your vans power and electrical system, one of the decisions you will need to make is which type of battery to use.

Battery selections can get really technical, so we’re going to keep this article fairly high-level and break down the differences between two of the most common battery options for Camper Vans: AGM vs. Lithium.

For the purpose of this article, I’m going to be comparing the battery banks of my first and second Sprinter Van builds.

Van #1

2 x 6V 335Ah AGM Batteries made by Fullriver.

Van #2

3 x 12V 100Ah Lithium Batteries made by Battle Born Batteries.

Lithium battery technology has made leaps and bounds, and in my opinion, runs circles around its competition.

So why doesn’t everyone choose Lithium?

Well, the upfront cost of Lithium is a significant purchase barrier for a lot of vanlifers. But we’ll get into that later.

Let’s dive into a few key categories that will help you decide whether or not the investment in Lithium is worth it for your type of Vanlife and budget.

1) Usable Energy

How much usable energy you can get from your battery bank is one of, if not, the most important consideration when making your selection.

Before we get into usable energy, it’s important to understand what a ‘cycle’ is, when it comes to batteries.

A battery cycle is the process of draining your battery then recharging it (i.e. the time it takes for a battery to go from 100% to 0%). Depending on how much power you’re consuming, that could span multiple days. Battle Born Lithium Batteries, for example, can run about 3000-5000 cycles.

Lithium batteries can cycle around 100% of their capacity without compromising their lifespan.

AGM batteries, on the other hand, are suggested not to be drained past 50% of their total capacity as it will decrease the lifespan significantly.

What does this mean?

If an AGM battery bank has 400 amp-hours, it would be suggested to only use 200 amp-hours to avoid decreasing its lifespan. Whereas a 400Ah Lithium battery bank is actually around 400Ahs of usable battery.

Since we don’t entirely believe anything runs at 100% capacity, let’s add some wiggle room and say the lithium battery runs at 90%.

Using my 2 Sprinter Vans again:

Van #1

335Ah AGM Battery Bank = 167.5Ah of usable battery
(Keep in mind that 2 x 6v 335Ah actually equates to 1 x 12v 335Ah battery)

Van #2

300Ah Lithium Battery Bank = 270Ah of usable battery

 

 

2) Weight

When it comes to converting a van into a livable space, the weight of your vehicle is very important for safety reasons. Once you add your building materials, food, water, clothing, bed, etc, etc, it’s easy to get close to the GVWR (Gross Vehicle Weight Rating).

AGM Batteries are very heavy. Let’s look at my 2 van setups again and compare:

Van #1:

2 x 6V 335Ah AGM Batteries = 205.4 lbs (102.7 lbs each).

Van #2:

3 x 12V 100Ah Lithium Batteries = 93 lbs (31 lbs each)

That weight difference of 112 lbs is significant. I can think of a lot of other things I could pack in my van with an extra 112 lbs…

Now let’s combine the weight and capacity to get an even better understanding of value.

Van #1:

205 lb AGM battery bank will get me 167.5Ahs of usable battery.

Van #2:

93 lb Lithium battery bank will get me about 270Ahs of usable battery.

So, Lithium gives you way more usable amp-hours for way less weight.

3) Temperature

One advantage of AGM batteries is that they are able to handle the cold much better than Lithium. Lithium batteries won’t charge if they are below freezing and should be stored inside a climate-controlled environment (i.e. inside your van).

Battle Born Batteries suggest using insulated battery boxes, or heating blankets to help keep the temperature up on the batteries.

4) Warranty

One last thing to mention before we get into the price comparison is that Battle Born Lithium batteries come with a 10-year warranty. Most AGM batteries typically come with a 1-2 year warranty.

5) Cost

What stops most people from purchasing Lithium batteries over AGM is the up-front investment $$$.

Let’s compare the battery costs between my 2 Sprinter Vans:

Van #1:  

2 x 6V 335Ah AGM Batteries made by Fullriver = ~$1200 US ($500-$650 each)

Van #2:

3 x 12V 100Ah Lithium Batteries made by Battle Born Batteries = ~$3000 US ($950-$1000 each)

Overview

Van #1:

2 x 6V 335Ah AGM Batteries made by Fullriver
Usable battery: 100-150Ah
Weight: 205.4 lbs
Cost: $1200 US
Lifespan: 3-5 years

Van #2:

3 x 12V 100Ah Lithium Batteries made by Battle Born Batteries
Usable battery: 270Ah of usable battery
Weight: 93 lbs
Cost: $3000 US
Lifespan: 10-15 years

So what type of battery is best for vanlife?

If you’re looking to be on the road full time and want a battery system that will last for years to come, then Lithium is a no brainer. Yes, it’s an investment. But in our opinion, the weight savings, amount of usable energy, and overall lifespan (10-15 years vs. 3-5 years) makes this a worthy investment.

If you’re on a tight budget and are building out a van for the odd weekend getaway rather than long-term van-living, AGM batteries are a perfectly adequate solution.

In terms of specific brands, the best Lithium Battery brands are:

I personally chose to use Battle Born Lithium Batteries ($949 on Amazon) as their product is tried and true with a wonderful reputation.

Victron Energy is also a great brand that makes a lot of additional components that work really well together.

For more information about my full electric and solar setup, be sure to check out my full Van Build Guide.

Scott Adamson
Wanderful Idea Guy
Coffee drinker, adventure seeker, below average photographer.
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