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 life want to try “off grid camping.” 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 hookups at all – no water, no electricity, and no sewer! 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.
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 Forest Land, 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 this year 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 first boondocking experiences, we learned a lot.
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.
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 batteries. Most RV’s come equipped with some type of battery system. Depending on the size of your rig you may need only one or a large bank of batteries. In our case, we have a residential refrigerator in our rig. That means that we do not have the option of running off propane as most RV refrigerators do.
Because of the large refrigerator, we have a rather large bank of batteries that need a LOT of charging. To do that we use a Champion Hybrid Generator. It provides 30 amps of power to the rig and can run pretty much everything we have on board AND charge the batteries at the same time. Unfortunately, we have to run it for about 6 hours minimum every day, so it does cramp our schedule a bit. A residential fridge is NOT a good thing to have if you want to dry camp. No mater whether you are in a travel trailer, 5th wheel, or motor coach, to do any kind of boondocking you will still need some kind of power. Do a lot of research, read a lot of reviews and ask a lot of questions before deciding which one is right for you.
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 array designed to charge a cell phone. While this is a truly free way to get power, solar can be affected by bad weather, trees, etc and usually a 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.
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 source. 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 local dump station.
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.
At some time during any camping experience, there will be a need for heat. No s’more ever got toasted without a nice campfire. So you need to bring along the things you need. Wood, tinder, paper for a campfire.
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. 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.
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.
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.
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. Most tents these days are pretty bug-free. We absolutely LOVE this Coleman Screen Room. We use it everywhere. In many places, it is the difference between enjoying the great outdoors or being stuck inside. If you are hiking and camping, there are also hammocks that enclose in screen material to keep the critters out.
And of course, make sure you have a healthy supply of bug repellent. We really like Cutter Skinsations. It works really well. I usually buy the two pack so I always have at least one full bottle. This is the best price I have found, this bottle of spray tends to be expensive at grocery stores.
Dry camping can be a very enjoyable way to 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.
These 10 RV accessories 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.