Boondocking in an RV, Dry Camping, and Dispersed Camping- or whatever you want to call it- has become very popular in recent years. More and more people living the RV lifestyle want to try “off grid camping.” It is a whole new camping experience.
It was certainly at the top of our list since we started RVing full time. The terms “boondocking” and “dry camping” are used interchangeably. What they mean is camping with no hook ups at all – no water hookups, no shore power, and no sewer drain!
Anything you need, you bring in with you (with the exception of firewood in some places if you are feeling particularly “lumberjacky.”) The best part of boondocking is that it is almost always FREE because you are not paying campground fees.
However, to figure out how to boondock in an RV, you will need to spend some money on a few off grid camping essentials. Having the right camping gear can make all the difference.
Everything You Need To Know About How To Boondock In An RV
What is Boondocking?
Typically people boondock on Federal Land (or the Walmart parking lot). As a general statement, “dispersed camping” (another interchangeable term) is allowed on all public lands- National Parks, National Forests, Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Lands, Forest Service Land, etc. are great for finding boondocking spots.
However, rules are different as you get to a local level. You will find that in most places campsites are marked out and camping is restricted to those places. However the truly adventurous do find spots well off the beaten path.
Besides the federal Lands, there are many states, counties, and towns that provide boondocking locations at little to no cost as well. Sites will range from group areas that hold lots of people, to single sites far removed from other people and very private.
Depending on your own desires there are sites for you.
We tried our hand at dry camping when we visited Utah. There is a TON of federal land in Utah. In fact, I think it is ALL public land except for about 6 acres or so that the Mormon Church owns! Seriously though there is a higher percentage of public land in Utah than any other state so it is a great place to test your skills without the comforts of a plugin and water hose.
AND you will find that you can camp incredibly close to the National Park entrances. (Utah has 5 of those!) We spent a couple of weeks just 10 minutes from Arches NP and another couple 15 minutes from Zion. We really enjoyed our Utah boondocking experiences, we learned a lot.
Tools For Finding Sites:
There are a number of different places to locate free campsites. Arguably the most popular websites are “freecampsites.net” and “Campendium.com.” They are both user driven and users leave locations and reviews that are fantastic to check out when looking for a site.
They will usually also give information about places to dump and get water, etc as well as local attractions, cell service etc. You can also do a search for Off Grid Camping Facebook groups and ask your questions in there.
Here are Some Off Grid Camping Essentials To Consider Purchasing:
Below is a list of essential items to help you enjoy the great outdoors while off grid. Use it as a boondocking checklist to make sure you have the must have items to go off grid sucessfully.
Tools For Power and Light:
While some people will try to go without power- it is really not feasible for very long. That smartphone dies and WOW! It is reasonable to assume that you will need electricity at some point no matter how you camp. The most common way is the use of RV batteries. Most rigs come equipped with some type of 12 volt battery system. Good batteries are absolute boondocking essentials.
Depending on your needs, you can size your bank of batteries to give you the power you need during the night. Different types of batteries will give different amp hours. For instance, these nickel cadmium batteries may advertise 200 amp hours, but you can only run them down to 50% charge before you have to recharge. So you effectively only have 100 amp hours.
Lithium batteries will allow you to run them all the way down, but they are far more expensive to purchase. To get the complete low-down on RV batteries, see our post on the subject!
Portable generators are pretty much a necessity when boondocking. While you may be able to generate enough power with solar panels, a backup generator is still a really good idea.
Todays generators come in 2 different styles- traditional and inverter. An inverter generator is the best choice for camping because they are very quiet and deliver clean sine wave power, which is safe for modern electronics.
The down side is that inverter generators are VERY expensive. We found this Champion Hybrid generator, which has an inverter, but is cased in a traditional open rack. The price for this line is VERY attractive. We have loved ours. It runs super quietly in “ECO” mode, then ramps up for extra power when you use a microwave, or AC.
Champion Inverter Generator
- Advanced Open Frame Inverter Design: 50% quieter and 20% lighter.
- 4000 starting watts and 3500 running watts for up to 17 hours run time on gasoline.
- Clean electricity for sensitive electronics.
3) Solar Panels
Another power source that many people use is solar power. Solar panels are becoming more and more affordable as well as portable. In fact, I just saw a very small solar setup designed to charge a cell phone. A fairly small system can run all the lights, charge electronics, etc.
While this is a truly free way to get power, solar can be affected by bad weather, trees, etc and usually a portable generator is still necessary at least for backup. Do a LOT of research online before boondocking with your rig. Understanding your power needs is a graduate level education and is critical to your success.
Solar Power System
- 300W solar panels have an effective conversion rate of up to 23.8%.
- Only 0.1cm thick and weighs only 4.1lb,47*21inch, making it easier to mount, transport, hang, and remove.
- It can be used as a solar battery charger and maintainer for different 12V DC batteries.
It is always important to have some outdoor lanterns with you when boondocking. They are separate light sources from your main system which is important to have, and will always allow you to spend your evenings outside enjoying nature.
Camping out in nature can be very dark at night, so good portable lighting is a boondocking essential.
- 4 lighting modes.Collapsible COB LED Lantern.Flashlight. Red Warning Light(Strobe & SOS light).
- Recharge the lantern via USB charging cable. You can also place 3*AA batteries
- Super Bright & Large Area Brightness.
5) Solar LED Lights
Outdoor solar lights are a really nice way to add ambience and security to your site. They are super easy to set up and will make a huge difference. These “tiki torch” once are super cool and actually have a flickering flame.
It is important ALWAYS to have flashlights available and charged. It is an important safety item to investigate things that go bump in the night, and you will have about a million uses for them- even if it is to play flashlight tag.
- Super bright flashlights high lumens use upgraded XML T6 lamp beads.
- Aviation-grade aluminum alloy, IPX4 waterproof, can withstand earthquakes, heavy rain, heavy snow and other extreme weather.
- It’s zoomable and focus on objects up to 1000 feet away.
7) Portable Power Station
A portable power station is another essential for your power needs. Since you can only usually run the generator during the day, a backup source of power is essential for the nighttime to charge laptops and phones.
Portable Power Station
- Clean sine-wave power whenever you need it. perfect for charging phones, cameras, etc.
- Recharges in only 2 hours. Use home plug-in, car, or solar panel.
- The portable power station weighs only 7.1 pounds.
Tools For Water:
8) Portable Water Tanks
Water is the number one most important thing to have with you whenever dry camping. Most RV’s have an onboard fresh water tank that can be filled from any water hose and potable water supply.
If your set up is smaller, portable water tanks in almost any size imaginable are available to ensure that your thirst is quenched. The rule of thumb is to make sure to have a gallon of water per person per day. 2 liters of that is for drinking (bring your portable water bottle).
If you are in the desert or very dry climates, increase that amount. You can usually refill at the nearest dump station.
Some people prefer to use a water bladder which can be kept in the truck bed until the water is needed. Then a small water pump cam be used to put the water into the RV’s fresh water tank. A water bladder gives you a larger storage capacity, while being able to fold up and put away for travel.
Collapsible Water Storage
- Extend your water storage capabilities with portable water storage.
- Foldable space saving design store away easily.
- Each container holds 5.3 gallons. Boondock longer!
9) Water Straw
In case you run out of water while boondocking, you need to have a tool such as the water filter straw. This straw allows you to pull water directly from a stream or other water source. The built-in filter cleans the water of 99.999% of all contaminants rendering it harmless to you. This tool is a really good idea to have along whenever camping or hiking.
Water Filter Straw
- Protects against 99.999999% of bacteria (including E.coli, Salmonella), 99.999% of parasites.
- Long-lasting membrane microfilter will last up to 1,000 gallons (4,000 L) of water.
- Ultralight and durable, the LifeStraw weighs less than 2 ounces (46 g) so you can pack it anywhere.
10) Outdoor Portable Solar Shower
Every camping session requires the camper to have a shower or bath and that means YOU. (Yes, you- I can smell you from here!) If you are camped near a nice swimming stream, then you are in luck, but most times when boondocking you will need to bring your own facility with you.
If your rig has a shower and good sized tanks, then you are in good shape. Otherwise, a camp shower or solar shower is a very good choice. A solar shower is basically a large bag with a shower spout. It can be filled from any clean water source and hung from a tree etc. If you are a bit shy, they even make pop up enclosures for them.
The suns heat warms the water over a few hours and then you have a very pleasant scrubbing. Please get one, your co-campers will thank you.
Outdoor Portable Solar Shower
- Save on water grey tank usage and propane to heat water with this handy solar shower.
- Heats water to 113°F (45°C) in 3 hours with direct sunlight.
- This camping shower bag can carry up to 5 gallons water, letting you enjoy a better and refreshing shower anywhere.
11) Wash Basin
A great way to save space in the grey water tank (and therefore trips to the dump stations) is to do your dishes outdoors with a wash basin. The water can be dumped in the wild with no issue. This collapsible model is very convenient from a storage standpoint as well.
- Put this wash basin to use for numerous jobs like keeping drinks ice cold and ready to drink.
- The lightweight build lets you pack this collapsible bucket with your go-to camping supplies.
- Built to last, this collapsible bucket handles bumps and dings and cleans up well with a little hosing.
12) Composting Toilet
A composting toilet is a water free, green way to poop. The waste is mixed in the hold tank with sawdust or other material, which naturally breaks it down. The toilet is vented outwards with a fan to remove moisture and eliminate any odors.
While this is certainly not everyone’s cup of tea, many campers find that this is a great way to conserve water and make more of their boondocking experience.
- Easy to install by any reasonably handy person.
- Absolutely No Odor. No Maintenance. 5 Year Warranty.
- Huge Capacity. 2 people using full time will empty every 4-6 weeks. Easy empty in 5 minutes.
13) Water Saving Shower Head
A water saving showerhead is a great way to cut down on water usage AND gray tank space. This simple unit gives a great strong spray, and has a shut off button to stop water flow while you lather.
Water Saving Shower Head
- Steady, intensely powerful full body spray with forceful streams of water.
- Pause feature reduces water to a trickle, giving you space for shaving, lathering and other shower tasks.
- Use less water while enjoying a full spray.
Tools For Food Prep
14) Camp Stove
If you want to eat anything hot, you will need a Camp Stove and fuel for cooking food. Propane Tanks or charcoal for the BBQ and of course a lighter and matches to get it all going. Or if you are feeling extra outdoorsy and rugged- get yourself a flint fire starter to make quick work of lighting your wood fires.
As always when leaving camp make sure you leave no trace and that includes your fire. Ensure that the fire is out and no trash is left in the fire pit. Don’t leave a mess for the next camper to clean up, we have seen this happen too many times.
Outdoor Camping Stove
- Up to 20,000 total BTUs. Fits a 12-inch and 10-inch pan at the same time.
- 2 adjustable burners: For precise temperature control.
- Wind-blocking panels: Shield burners from wind.
Food requires cold. While most RV’s have some kind of refrigerator, it is often necessary to bring along a cooler for additional food and ice storage. You can’t make a margarita without some crushed ice now, can you? Coolers come in all shapes and sizes (and prices.)
So depending on your needs you may just need a chest to last overnight, or you may need to shell out for a YETI Tundra that will keep your food cold until the cows come home. We keep this small Igloo MaxCold for car travel and picnics. It fits nicely between the front and back seats and the dog can lie on it while we are on the road.
- 3 inches of PermaFrost Insulation and an extra thick FatWall design is certified Bear-Resistant.
- As adept at keeping your catches cold in the field as it is storing the drinks and food for your backyard barbecue.
- YETI standard unmatched ice retention.
16) Dutch Oven
For a super authentic cooking experience, try out a Dutch oven. Not only does this cooking method save on propane, is really versatile AND tons of fun. Just heat up some coals and add food. The pot will do the rest. Give it a try on your next boondocking trip.
- The Lodge portable “camp stove” is the pot that does it all.
- The flanged lid holds hot coals and inverts for use as a griddle.
- The integral legs allow the oven to sit perfectly over the campfire.
Boondocking Accessories For Comfortable Living
17) Screen Room
Ah yes, the pesky buggers. Boondocking will take you into some pretty remote places where the bugs are like bison- huge, hungry and free range. They will hone in on campers like a kid to an ice cream cone. Be prepared. This new style pop up screen room nearly sets its-self up. Easily portable and several sizes to choose from.
- Lightest Pop Up Screen Room for 4-6 adults is only 15 lbs.
- Screen house is 10’x10’x7′, comfortably fits 4-6 adults.
- Light weight, pop up automatic, no assembly needed, stable and durable, easy folding and portable.
18) Bug Spray
As mentioned above, being closer to nature means bugs. Don’t let pesky critters ruin your best camping experiences. Make sure you have plenty of bug repellant.
- Create a barrier against mosquitoes, ticks, gnats, biting flies, chiggers and fleas..
- Enjoy the outdoors without the bite – provides long-lasting protection.
- Perfect for outdoor travel – the compact size stores perfectly with whatever adventure gear you’re taking that day.
19) Cell Phone Signal Booster
Farther out in nature also means further from a cell signal. We Boost signal amplifiers ensure that you have the strongest possible cell signal at your camp site. Stay in contact and stay safe!
Cell Phone Signal Booster
- Boosts signal for fewer dropped calls, better voice quality, faster data speeds, increased hotspot capability.
- Enjoy stronger cell signals from all U.S. networks and carriers; including Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular, and more.
- All weBoost products continue to support the latest in 5G technology. Get a better signal in remote areas.
20) RV Window Shades
Whether you are camping in cold or hot weather, regulating your inside temperatures is one of the most energy consuming things you will do. Covering your windows with a thermal barrier will help you to save energy by reflecting sunlight, and insulating against cold.
RV Window Shades
- Practical to use: the sunshield reflective cover helps control the temperature of your RV.
- It is hard and uncomfortable to sleep when there is a blinding light coming through the window, but this RV insulator keeps out light.
- You can use versatile sunshield blackout reflective cover on your RV or camper entry door, bedroom window, or the shower skylight.
21) 12v Fans
When dry camping, you really don’t want to run your air conditioner much unless you have a BIG generator. To help with interior cooling AND conserve power, install exhaust fans in all of your roof vents. They will circulate cool air inside the RV, keeping it more comfortable.
RV Cooling Fans
- System delivers powerful cooling, reliable exhaust & effective moisture control for any RV.
- In/Out exhaust capability allows you to draw in & circulate fresh air from outside or push stale air outdoors, lowering RV temperature.
- All you need is a screwdriver, drill & sealant—no professional installation or electrical skill required.
22) Propane Heater
Another way to keep your propane for cooking is to use a small propane space heater. Propane heaters can run this in small doses at night to keep a comfortable temperature. Just make sure to keep those roof vents cracked open for ventilation. Outdoor approved as well, this buddy heater is perfect for tent camping.
Propane Space Heater
- 4,000- to 9,000-BTU radiant heater for spaces up to 225 square feet.
- Auto shut-off if tipped over, if pilot light goes out, or if detects low oxygen levels.
- Fold-down handle; swivel-out regulator; connects to propane tank (not included). Run Time (Hrs at Min BTU) – 5.6 Hours.
23) Camping Chairs
Boondocking is all about being in nature, relaxing and unwinding. So a good set of camp chairs is essential. This pair of zero gravity lounges is a best seller on Amazon for years.
- Smoothly glides into an ergonomic zero-gravity position.
- Lightweight, foldable design makes these an easy addition to your next trip.
- Features a high, 250-pound weight capacity with flexible, low-wear textilene fabric for lasting quality!.
24) Folding Table
Boondocking is all about being outdoors in nature, so make sure you have a good solid folding table or 2 for your outdoor living area.
25) Leveling Blocks
Camping in the booonies is not like camping in a nice flat campground. There will tend to be a bit more involved in leveling your rig, so make sure you have a good supply of leveling blocks.
- Interlocking blocks stack to the desired height for customizable leveling.
- Heavy-Duty: Made of durable resin.
- Simple to Carry and Store: Includes a zippered storage bag with handle.
Dry camping can be a wonderful way to enjoy nature and experience our great country. It is free of cost and allows you a chance to really get close to nature in places that are many times unspoiled by people. They are a little more difficult to get to and have NO amenities but we have found our experiences to be very enjoyable.
This boondocking gear should absolutely get you prepared for hitting the road to free camping. If boondocking isn’t something you tried before, I highly recommend you give it a go, we loved it.
Frank is the Head Hubby, Daddy, and Fix-It Guy of the Roving Foleys clan. He ia an avid traveler and has spent over 5 years traveling full time with his family. he loves helping others learn about the RV life. He has also traveled in Europe, Asia, and Australia with his wife Grainne.