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Game Changer: Using Ford F-150’s Pro Power Onboard for Off-the-Grid Camping

ford-f-150-hybrid-supercrew-limited-2021-ab-03.jpg 2021 Ford F-150 | Cars.com photo by Aaron Bragman

Our long-term 2021 Ford F-150 Limited hybrid (and Best of 2021 winner) is getting heavy use this summer for everything from moving apartments to hauling campers to family vacations. One feature we thought would be an important one to test is the F-150’s 7.2-kilowatt Pro Power Onboard system, which allows the F-150 to be used as a generator. Powered by the hybrid’s lithium-ion battery and twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter V-6, it enables a user to plug in several electronic items to outlets in the bed or cabin and have them powered for as long as the truck has gasoline.

Some owners in Texas powered parts of their homes for days during the winter storm crisis of 2021, using their trucks as emergency generators. I had other ideas, such as towing an Airstream camper trailer and seeing if I could power the thing while “boondocking” for an evening or two (camping somewhere that has no facilities to hook up a camper). How well did it work? Better than I could have imagined.

Related: 5 Fun Facts About the 2021 F-150’s Onboard Generator

ford-hybrid-supercrew-limited-2021-104-ac-adapter--bed--exterior.jpg 2021 Ford F-150 | Cars.com photo by Christian Lantry

What Is Pro Power Onboard? 

Pro Power Onboard turns the 2021 F-150 into a mobile generator. Three versions are available: a 2.0-kW system available on any gas-powered F-150 except the base model 3.3-liter V-6, a 2.4-kW version that comes standard on the new F-150 PowerBoost full-hybrid powertrain, or an optional 7.2-kW version available only on the hybrid.

The version we have on our 2021 Ford F-150 Limited Supercrew is the top 7.2-kW version, which is generally enough to power a small home and its appliances (or in my case, an Airstream Flying Cloud 25FB camper trailer). Power is accessed mainly through a dedicated panel in the pickup’s bed, with each version having a different number of outlets. Our 7.2-kW system has four 120-volt, 20-amp household outlets and one twist-lock, 240-volt, 30-amp National Electrical Manufacturers Association L14-30R outlet. It’s enough to run an entire construction site full of tools, but how would it handle the Airstream’s two air conditioners, fridge/freezer, lights, water pump and more?

Camping With Pro Power Onboard

I took our F-150 on a nearly 2,000-mile journey from Michigan to Louisiana and back, stopping at various campgrounds and state parks along the way. But one evening, I wanted to test the Pro Power Onboard system’s suitability for camping, and that meant boondocking — making an overnight stop at a place with no water, no sewer and no electrical service. Just you, nature and whatever you’ve brought with you in terms of water and power. When traveling through the American South in June, most people will bring a generator to power a camper’s air conditioner, but our F-150 has that function built in.

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It was with this in mind that we stopped at a winery we found on HarvestHosts.com in Jackson, Tenn. We pulled in, parked next to the vineyard and prepared to spend a night amongst a field of fireflies. I only hoped that this scheme worked, as it was also 95 degrees Fahrenheit with 78% humidity and zero breeze — in other words, absolutely awful, typical West Tennessee summer weather. 

How Pro Power Onboard works is like this: Turn on the truck, push the dedicated button on the top of the dashboard or in the multimedia menus, and engage Generator Mode. Normally, an F-150 will shut itself off if you leave it idling for more than 30 minutes, but Generator Mode allows the truck to idle indefinitely, letting you turn everything else off and lock the truck while the generator is on. The hybrid versions use the big lithium-ion hybrid battery to supply power to the bed outlets, firing up the twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6 engine as needed depending on the electrical load. If you plug in a 150-watt nightlight to the bed, the engine will rarely come on; if you plug in an Airstream trailer with two big air conditioners running all night to beat the devil’s Tennessee heat, it’s going to fire up the engine much more frequently. 

So that’s what we did. We positioned our trailer, got everything we wanted out of the truck, turned it on, engaged Generator Mode, made sure all its internal electronics (air conditioning, radio, daytime running lights, etc.) were turned off and locked the Ford. I ran the Airstream’s thick 50-amp shore power cord from the side of the trailer to the bed of the truck, opened the tonneau cover and plugged it into the 30-amp, 240-volt twist-lock outlet in the side panel (you’ll need a plug adapter, but more on that in a moment). That engaged the outlet, and the trailer hummed to life! Our camper was a little unique in that it was wired with an aftermarket capacitor, so it was able to run both of its air conditioners on a 30-amp circuit (usually this requires a 50-amp shore power circuit to run both), and as both units hummed to life and cool air began to flow, we set up shop and got down to relaxing with a bottle of chilled Traminette wine under the camper’s retractable canopy. 

For the next 16 hours, the F-150 provided power to the trailer to run the air-conditioning units, keep the refrigerator and freezer cold, power our lights and electronics, keep the TV running so we could stream season two of “Ragnarok” on Netflix, and use the onboard kitchen appliances for dinner and breakfast. The display on the Ford’s multimedia system will tell you just how much load the system is under at any given time, and it was clear that even at full tilt, our Airstream never approached the limit of what the Ford could put out. With both air-conditioning units running plus the fridge, accessories, lights and TV, we were drawing about 4,200 watts at a steady pace. But air-conditioning units require bigger wattage on startup, and our peak starting wattage approached 6,000 watts. 

ford-f-150-2021-17-oem 2021 Ford F-150 | Manufacturer image

How Did It Do?

Pro Power Onboard worked beautifully to keep us cool, dry and comfortable. Only once did the system glitch on me: For some unknown reason, I woke up at 2:30 a.m. to find the power was out. Nothing was running and the Generator Mode had turned off for some reason. If I was using my FordPass mobile app, I could have monitored the system and likely seen what the issue was; instead, I blearily exited the camper, went to the cab of the pickup and reset the system. Something had tripped the breaker, but once I reset it, it hummed happily along for the rest of the night.

When we set out in the morning, I discovered that running the trailer full tilt to keep two air-conditioning units and all the related power equipment operational had used up about 20% of a tank of gas. At that rate, we could have continuously powered the trailer for more than three days before running out of fuel. That changes the game for off-grid camping.

Tips and Tricks

I did learn a few things while using Pro Power Onboard. First, you’ll need an adapter plug to connect your trailer to the bed outlet. The F-150’s 240-volt outlet is a NEMA L14-30R twist-lock, but your trailer likely uses a NEMA 14-50 plug for a 50-amp shore power cord or a TT-30 for a 30-amp cord. Neither of those plugs fits in the Pro Power Onboard’s outlet. Thankfully, adapters are not expensive; this is the one I used, and it worked just fine. 

Second, I learned that if you plan on running your camper trailer off of Pro Power Onboard, you should take the extra few minutes to unhook the trailer from the tow vehicle. Every so often, the system will fire up the pickup’s gasoline engine, and while the EcoBoost twin-turbo V-6 may be known for a lot of things, it’s not known for its smooth idling qualities. So every time it fires up, it shakes the truck, shakes the hitch and shakes the trailer. This isn’t an issue during the day, but at night when you’re sleeping just a few feet from the truck, that sudden start-and-stop can sometimes shake you awake. The truck isn’t loud when idling, especially when the air-conditioning units in the trailer already make plenty of noise, but the vibration is decidedly noticeable. 

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The Pro Power Onboard system is truly a game changer for people who want to go off the grid for their adventures. Theoretically, you can even leave the trailer plugged in while towing and keep it powered up as you’re going down the road with air conditioners blazing, but how to actually connect the trailer and the truck with a power cord has not yet been addressed because the shore power cord runs from the side of a camper in most cases, meaning something would have to be rewired to allow an auxiliary shore power plug at the hitch that can be connected to the bed panel — not impossible, but not something any camper manufacturer I know of currently offers. 

Until then, be confident in the knowledge that once you reach your desired remote site, you should have power aplenty as long as you have gasoline. This makes the new 2021 F-150 with full-hybrid powertrain and 7.2-kW Pro Power Onboard system perhaps the perfect camping pickup.

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