Best RV Power Cords, Extension Cords, & Plug Adapters in 2018
Hopefully this isn't a startling revelation, but RVs require power to run their various appliances and systems. Your rig is powered either via its 12-volt systems (batteries) or by being plugged into a 120-volt power source (shore power) via an RV power cord.
Shore power (120 volts) requires connecting your rig to an outside power source, either a power outlet or a generator. Or, you may use a combination of both systems, depending on where you happen to be camping.
But here's the issue... the power connections at campgrounds are not all alike. They come with different sized and shaped power receptacles. Different receptacles mean different amperages, and you have to use the appropriate power source for your rig. You RV either requires a 30 amp or a 50 amp 120-volt power source.
You can use different RV plug adapters to be able to connect to what's available to you at any given spot if there's no direct match for your RV's power cord. Sometimes you also may need an RV extension cord to reach the power supply, if the distance is too far for your main power cord.
Below are our #1 picks for the best RV power cords, extension cords and plug adapters. Click the link below if you want to jump to our RV Power System Guide.
RV Power Cord, Extension Cord, & Plug Adapter Reviews
Getting power from a 120-volt source to your RV is kind of a big deal. You need to make sure you have the right RV power cord (also known as a cordset) for your rig and it needs to be high quality. This is one place you don't want to be cheap. Not when you are dealing with high voltage and high amperage.
Recommendations for Replacement Parts and Accessories You Might Need or Want.
Before we go into the guide on using and understanding your RV power systems, we will quickly show you some accessories and other gear that can be extremely helpful. Products range from storage for your cords, to replacing a shore power cord, to upgrading your RV's power inlet. If you're not interested, jump to the Guide to Understanding RV Power Systems.
Guide To Understanding RV Power Systems
First of all, please have a ton of respect for electricity. It CAN kill you. Yeah.
Do keep this in mind.
It can also really hurt you. Kind of like this guy. Don't be this guy, even though it's entertaining to watch. We can't stop watching, at least. Thanks, electricity fail man.
Ok, that was fun. Refocusing...
We will assume you have an RV. Your RV has an electrical system. Actually, did you know that it has two to three different electrical systems? Boy howdy, it sure does! Don't worry, it may seem daunting now, but it will get easier once you are familiar with your rig.
There are some things in your RV that won't work unless you are connected to an external power source providing 120 volts of electricity, unless your rig has an inverter or is connected to a generator, which is basically the same thing as shore power (120-volt power).
What kind of things won't work unless using a generator or shore power? Typically, your household outlets, your air conditioner, your TV (unless it's a 12 volt TV), and your microwave. Usually, these appliances don't work off your batteries. Instead, these typically run off 120-volt power.
We are only concerned with the RVs power systems, not the RV ENGINE's power system (the automotive system) which you only have if you have a motor home. Still, we will explain the difference between your two RV systems and the automotive system.
MOTOR HOMES: You have 3 electrical systems.
- A 12-volt RV system (Things in the living area of the RV that run off your RV battery).
- A 120-volt RV system (Things that only work when you plug into shore power).
- A 12-volt automotive system (powers the engine electrical system, and other 'bits' that are only 'on' when your motor home is driving down the road).
TRAILERS: You have 2 electrical systems.
- A 120-volt system that is used when you plug into shore power.
- A 12-volt RV system running things from your RV battery.
No matter what you have, when you plug in to a shore power source, you are using the 120-volt system. If your converter/charger is working properly, your RV batteries should also be getting charged.
12-volts? 120-V?? Automotive System?
RRRRRR! 😖 Please Help Me Understand!
We know you're probably not an electrician, so we are going to make this as simple as possible while helping you to understand the ins and outs of electricity and your RV. This is not a complete course on electrical systems- we are just going to give you a basic understand of how your RV works.
Here's a simpler explanation of some of the terminology we are using:
120-Volts: The power you get from plugging into an external power source. (I.E. NOT using your battery power.)
12-Volts: This is the power you get from your motor home or trailer battery or batteries. In my (Camp Addict co-founder Kelly's) travel trailer, I only boondock. This means I almost never have external, 120-volt power. Therefore, I cannot run the things that require 120-volts such as my microwave, my two 120-volt TV's, and the household outlets in my travel trailer.
Those items all require 120-volt (shore power or generator power) to work. I do have a portable generator which provides 120-volt power, the same as shore power. I use it to power up my batteries when it has been too cloudy for the sun to let my portable solar panels do the job. Or when I want to use the microwave, which is rare.
12-volt AUTOMOTIVE system: (Motor Homes only) (Battery power) Pretend your motor home is simply an engine with no additional electrical parts, just like a regular car. Your car, like your motor home, has a battery. That battery is a 12-volt system. It starts your engine, turns lights on, powers your radio, etc.
That's the 12-volt 'automotive' system in your RV, and that's about all that it powers. You have your RV engine battery, and you have your separate motor home 'house' batteries. Your motor home 'house' batteries are part of your 12-volt RV system (below).
12-volt RV system: (Motor Homes and Trailers) (Battery power) This is comprised of the battery (or batteries) that power things inside the living space of your RV, or everything that is not your engine. It powers things such as the 12-volt 'cigarette lighter' outlets and USB power ports in your rig, interior lights, water pump, likely your sound system, 12-volt TVs, and more, depending on the bells and whistles your RV has.
These batteries don't run anything related to the engine of a motor home. They only run some of the systems that make an RV an RV (the 12-volt systems)!
120-volt RV system: (Motor Homes and Trailers) (External/Shore power) The 120-volt electrical system in your motor home or travel trailer is powered when you are hooked up to a shore power source. The 120-volt RV system powers all the other 'RV related' electrical stuff... your power outlets, 120-volt TV's, your microwave, air conditioner, etc. (non-12 volt systems)
Everything can be powered by the 120-volt system in most RVs (12-volt systems are powered by a 120-volt source via your rig's charger/converter). But not all appliances/systems can be powered by your 12-volt system (battery power) unless you have an inverter. You would need to be running a generator, or be connected to shore power. You will have to learn the ins and outs of your particular rig- what systems are powered by what voltages.
Amperage Of Your RV
Your RV is wired for a certain amperage. It will either be a 30 amp rig or a 50 amp rig. How do you know which yours is? If you are unsure, it's super easy to find out! Simply look at the plug on your RVs power cord, located somewhere inside a door (if you have a fixed cord) on the outside of your RV (if you have a detachable cord).
A 50 amp rig has 4 plugs. A 30 amp rig has 3. Simple, right?
(No, no, not this kind of amp... but what a great movie!) (It's from Back To The Future if you've been living under a rock your entire life.)
A 30 amp RV plug (3 prongs) will look like the left, a 50 amp plug (4 prongs) will look like the one on the right:
Now, at any given campground, there are USUALLY separate 120-volt outlets for the 30 amp RVs and the 50 amp RVs on a single power pedestal. However, sometimes you go to a park that only offers one type of plug, usually a 30 amp. This is when an adapter becomes a necessity.
Connecting To A Power Outlet That Doesn't Match Your RV's Plug
What's an RVer to do in this situation? The solution is easy. You must have a 'dog bone' or 'puck' style adapter to match your RV plug to the 120-volt outlet that you have access to.
Be aware, if you have a 50 amp rig, and you connect to a 30 amp plug, you won't be able to use as much amperage in your rig then if you were connected to a 50 amp outlet. Same is true if you have a 30 amp rig and plug into a 15 amp (household) outlet. You can only use as much amperage as the outlet you are plugged into can provide (yes, this should be common sense, but we figured we'd clarify this).
However, if you have a 30 amp rig plugged into a 50 amp outlet, yes, you will still have use of your full 30 amps. It's simple math (or something like that) - there is no way you can squeeze 50 amps worth of power out of a 30 amp outlet, but you certainly can get 30 amps of 'juice' out of a 50 amp outlet.
Don't worry, plugging your 30 amp (via a dog bone adapter) into a 50 amp outlet won't fry your 30 amp electrical system. Because your 30 amp plug only has 1 'live' prong, it only accesses 120-volts. No worries, 240-volts will NOT be going into your rig. It doesn't work that way.
(Do NOT ever plug your RV into a household dryer plug, which looks exactly like a 30 amp outlet. Your rig will get fried...) Let's reiterate this point:
Types Of RV Plug Adapters
There are two primary types of RV plug adapters:
- Dog Bone Adapters
- Puck Adapters
Like anything else, both have their pros and cons. Let's look at the differences:
Dog Bone Adapters
The dog bone style is bigger so takes up a little more room. Space becomes a huge commodity in an RV, so having a few dog bones can take up a bit of space more than the puck styles will. However, they are more hardy and reliable than the puck style, so they are highly recommended over the pucks.
If you are always in a campground, you will want to have one for every scenario, so likely you should have at least 2 of them (appropriate connections for your rig's amperage rating).
Hockey Puck Adapters
The hockey puck style is not as reliable or as hardy as the dog bone styles are. They tend to get hot while using them, so it's best if you need to use one for any extended period of time, to get the dog bone.
The pucks are smaller though, so if you don't need to use them often, or for very long, you may be able to go with the pucks. You could also just have them for backups.
Why you should by a quality RV plug adapter
RV Extension Cords
Do NOT ever, EVER use a regular household/yard extension cord to connect to your RV! Holy moly. This would be asking for disaster/fire/frying of your rig. Here's a perfect example- The guy in this video made three common mistakes.
1. He used a household extension cord that was WAY too small for his 50 amp rig, and
2. He used way too long of an extension cord, causing a ton of heat buildup.
3. He put a large load on the insufficiently sized extension cord when he ran his A/C. This caused the too small of a cord to heat up and start a fire.
Have a look at what happened:
Use the properly sized extension cord or this will happen
Using a smaller diameter cable and/or a too low rated amperage cable will cause more resistance for the electricity when it runs through. Also, the longer the wire, the greater the resistance. Long cables and/or smaller cables causes an voltage drop as well as HEAT, which can cause a fire.
If you need to use an extension cord, use the shortest cord possible. You should make sure it has the same amperage rating that your RV's shore power cord uses. The diameter of the extension cord wire (aka, the wire gauge) should be the same as your shore power cord, or bigger. This way there is little to no voltage drop when you are using high powered electronics such as your air conditioner or hair dryer.
How To Plug Your RV Into Shore Power
So you get to your destination campground, you pull into your spot, get level and now it's time to plug your rig into power.
Don't be tempted to just plug in without testing the outlet first. There are plenty of campgrounds that don't have their wiring correct on any given pedestal. You should first test the outlet using a polarity tester or a surge protector. (IF that surge protector tells you if the outlet is wired properly or not.)
This is good insurance for keeping your rig safe and sound electrically. An ill-wired outlet, or even too little power coming through the outlet, can lead to an RV electrical disaster. Always, always check the power at the pedestal first!
Inspecting an RV power or extension cord
If you have a surge protector that plugs in at that pedestal, plug it in first, WITHOUT your shore power cord attached. Once it reads ok, then you can plug in your shore power cord.
If you have a surge protector mounted inside your rig, then make sure you have the kind that will 'test' the pedestal before allowing power to enter your rig. Most interior-mounted surge protectors will do this, but make sure before you go plugging it into a pedestal.
If there is something wrong with the pedestal, the built-in surge protector will not allow power to get in and you should be alerted, and you should alert the owner of the pedestal. (Be aware, they may or may not listen to you. If they disagree, you better ask for a new spot or leave. It's not worth the risk of blowing up your entire rig.)
How To Plug Your RV Into A Portable Generator
When I (Kelly) first got my Yamaha 2000is portable generator, I was totally scared to use it. I didn't know how. Then I had someone show me how and it was embarrassingly easy!
Because I understand how intimidating it can be, I am going to explain to you how to do it as well.
First, know that most generators are not made specifically for RVs (unless they are specifically RV ready such as the Champion 75531i). Therefore, you may find that there is no outlet on the generator that fits your RV power cord.
Now what? Once again, you simply need an adapter. (The Camp Addict portable generator page has a section on generator adapters that will walk you through what you need.)
Connecting Your Portable Generator To Your RV
1. If your RV is equipped with an inverter, turn it off.
2. Get the generator out, make sure you have plenty of gas and oil in it.
3. Turn the generator on, according to the instructions for your generator. Let it warm up for about a minute or however long the manufacturer's directions are. The generator's outlets are now 'live'.
4. Plug your shore power cord (with the appropriate adapter if necessary) into the generator.
5. Your rig should now have 120-volt power!
That's it! Easy peasy.
Well, kids, we're about done here. There's more than meets the eye when it comes to RV power cables, extension cords, and plug adapters and how/when to use them. We hope you got some useful information out of this Camp Addict page regarding how to get power to your rig and RV electricity in general.
Once you get out there and start RVing, this stuff becomes second nature. It's natural for it to feel scary at first, especially since we are talking about electricity, where doing the wrong thing can cost mega-bucks or even be deadly.
For instance, I (Kelly) almost had an electrician plug my RV into the dryer outlet. 😬 I knew from forums and such that this could fry my rig so thank god I stopped him the next day. Things like this are VERY valuable to know.
And now YOU know. So get out there and Camp On, Addicts!