Want to camp the way camping is supposed to be? Want to really enjoy the great outdoors and not just the experience offered by an RV park? Want to go on an adventure? Boondocking is the way to RV!
What is Boondocking?
Boondocking, also known as dry camping, is RVing without hookups. That’s no electricity, no water, and no sewer hookups. Luckily, the vast majority of RVs are built for such a thing. Hence the holding tanks and batteries! Boondocking is generally done in areas such as BLM land, in designated campgrounds with no hookups, and overnight in parking lots or rest areas, usually on the way to or from a destination.
There are several pros to boondocking. First off, it’s generally free. Staying at an RV park can cost up to $100/night, while there is a ton of dispersed camping available at no cost. Just be aware of where you are camping as there might be a pass or permit required. Second, dry camping is camping the way it’s meant to be. Spotty cell service and not having unlimited power to watch the TV means more time to cook, read, relax and be outside. And third, boondocking truly allows for peace, quiet, and darkness. You aren’t nestled up against other RVs in every direction, you won’t hear your neighbor’s party until all hours of the night, and you’ll be able to see the night sky as never before.
While boondocking is terrific in many ways, it does take some preparation, planning, and thoughtfulness. Before camping, you need to figure out where you are going and what you’ll need. While camping, you need to take steps to limit the use of supplies so they’ll last. Here are some tips and tricks to ensure your camping trip goes smoothly!
How to Find Campsites
Dispersed RV camping is becoming more and more popular. Because of the increased interest,, several websites and apps have been developed specifically to help find campsites. Many offer user-generated content, so information on campsites by campers for campers. Here are some of our favorites:
One of the best ways to find boondocking (and non-boondocking) campsites is with the web app, Campendium. Campendium offers information on over 25,000 places to camp throughout the US. Users can add vital information on camping locations such as photos, accessibility, cell coverage, and amenities. You’re able to filter by price, site type, and ratings. Seeing first-hand reviews from other campers is a great way to determine if a site meets your needs. Whether you’re looking for a parking lot for the night or a unique destination in the middle of nowhere, you’ll be able to find it on Campendium.
iOverlander is a database of any sort of place you’d need while boondocking. The website and mobile app are great ways to find camping off the beaten path. Not just campsites but dump stations, potable water, laundromats, mechanics, and way more. Descriptions, reviews, and photos, uploaded by other campers, offer great insight into campsites. No matter where you are in the world, you can use iOverlander to find the perfect campsite.
While there are fantastic resources to use to find boondocking spots already discovered by other campers, what if you are heading to an unexplored area or want to pioneer new campsites? Satellite view on Google Maps is a great way to find brand new campsites! Zoom in on the green areas of the map. Look at pull-offs and forest roads that could accommodate your RV. Make sure there are no camping restrictions in that area or pay for any necessary permits when you arrive, and boom, you’re boondocking!
Having power while off-grid is one of the highlights of RV camping. While enjoying the great outdoors and living a simpler life for a short period of time should be the focus when camping, having lights, being able to pump water, or charging devices is pretty nice. While RVs are built to run without hookups (hence the batteries), it’s essential to be mindful of power usage while dry camping. To extend the life of your battery, try these simple tips:
- Switch out all lights for LED and only use as needed;
- Don’t run the furnace unless necessary;
- Don’t attempt to run the air conditioner; opt for 12V or battery-powered fans instead;
- Run the refrigerator on propane;
- Turn off the water pump and water heater when not in use;
- Unplug electronics such as the TV and stereo;
- Use an outdoor grill, stove, or oven for cooking vs. the microwave or countertop appliance;
- Charge devices such as phones and tablets in a vehicle rather than the RV;
- Spend time outside!
Having battery power to keep your rig functioning and devices charged is essential during boondocking. Even if you don’t plan on charging phones, laptops, or other devices in the RV, you still need power for things such as lights and the water pump.
To maximize your battery power, it’s recommended to join multiple batteries together to form a bank. Combining batteries allows for increased voltage, increased amperage, or both. Lithium batteries are ideal for RVs. They carry almost double the power of regular batteries, are lightweight, and quick charging. For most campers, starting with one or two 100Ah lithium batteries is perfect for keeping your home powered while dry camping.
Curious how much power you need while boondocking? Our Mobile Power Sizing worksheet can help!
Regardless of the type of batteries your RV uses, you need a way to charge those batteries. To keep your battery bank charged while boondocking, the best option is solar power. Adding solar panels to your rig is affordable and the highest performance charging solution. The best part about using solar panels to charge your batteries while off-grid is they aren’t loud like a generator. There’s nothing worse than having to run outside first thing on a cold morning to start up the generator that is sure to wake up anyone within earshot.
Using solar power requires more than just panels. You’ll also need a way to monitor the amount of energy stored, as well as an inverter. Going with a solar kit is the best way to ensure you have all of the components you need to outfit your RV with solar power.
Having enough water is a vital part of dry camping. If done correctly, there should be no problem making the freshwater tank last the duration of your camping trip. RV freshwater tanks come in a variety of sizes. A Class A will hold between 75-100 gallons. Class Cs will hold 35-60 gallons, Class Bs will hold around 20-40, and fifth-wheel trailers hold about 60-80 gallons. Smaller trailers hold 40-60 gallons. No matter the size of your tank, there are ways to make the water last longer than you’d think is possible.
Plan and prep meals that require little to no water. Chop vegetables ahead of time, so you don’t have to clean a dirty cutting board and knife while boondocking. Instead of boiling a pot of water for pasta and dirtying up a pan for sauce, grill out instead. Cook outside whenever possible!
Washing dishes is the easiest way to waste precious water. Did you know it can take about 20 gallons of water to wash one load of dishes? To keep from using all of your water on dishes, opt for paper plates, bowls, and other one-use items as much as possible. There are plenty of options these days that are recyclable, making waste less of an issue.
For the inevitable dish that needs washing, use dish tubs. Fill one with a little bit of water and biodegradable soap for washing, and fill another with clean water for rinsing. Going this route rather than keeping the faucet running will save a ton of water. Once the dishes are done, toss the water outside to save space in the gray tank!
And last but not least, save the kitchen sink for cooking and cleaning, don’t use it for drinking water. Bring along jugs of water and reusable water bottles for drinking.
Even a short shower has the capability of using a lot of water. The average single shower in an RV uses two to six gallons of water. That’s a lot of water if you’re camping with two to six other people! The best way to conserve water while boondocking is to skip on the shower. Wet wipes are a great way to freshen up without using water. If you do need a real cleanse, make sure to take a military-style shower. That means turn off the water while shampooing or lathering soap and only run the water when rinsing.
For the bathroom sink, run at a dribble for brushing teeth and make sure to turn off the faucet while not in use. Instead of washing your hands multiple times a day, put a bottle of hand sanitizer on the counter and use that when possible.
Don’t waste water by flushing it down the toilet! Remember the old saying, “if it’s yellow, let it mellow?” Well, do just that when boondocking. Better yet, for men, take advantage of the great outdoors whenever possible. For ladies, throw toilet paper in a trashcan rather than down into the black tank. And, when you do need to flush down the brown, fill the bowl with water beforehand as it should limit the amount of water you’ll need with the flush.
If you take the water tips above into consideration, there should be no worry in filling up the gray and black tanks while boondocking. Use then empty tubs outside to keep water from going down sink drains, take military-style showers, and flush as little down the head as possible.
Before boondocking, make sure your tanks are empty and as clean as possible. Use an app such as iOverlander or SaniDumps to find a dump station near your site to ensure you head to camp empty. You can also use this opportunity to top off with potable water. Prior to using the black tank, treat it with a solution to help with odor. The entire RV can start to smell like an outhouse after a few days, but a deodorizer or enzyme treatment will prevent that from happening.
There is no reason to let the fear of the unknown keep you from boondocking. It is possible to enjoy camping while off-grid with just some planning, patience, and a laid-back attitude. The little effort needed to boondock is well worth the reward of camping off the beaten path. And, you don’t even have to skimp on the finer things in life such as using electricity and water while dry camping in an RV. Now, get out there and enjoy the great outdoors!
Jessica Baker is from Park City, Utah, and has been traveling North America full-time with her husband, two kids, and three cats since 2018. She has been in digital marketing for over 10 years and now works as a part-time freelance consultant from the road. She enjoys hiking, skiing, and just spending time with her family in the outdoors. Learn more about her adventures at BoundlessBakers.com, Instagram, or Facebook.