There are a lot of fantastic things about RVing. One of the very best? The ability to go absolutely anywhere in complete comfort. Traveling in a motorhome or with a travel trailer means you have a bed, a kitchen, and a bathroom no matter where you are. With these things, along with the right tools and the right knowledge, you can park in the middle of nowhere and stay several days without ever feeling uncomfortable.
The problem? Knowing what tools you need and where to go for the information you need. That’s where this article comes into play. Below, we’ve included all of our favorite boondocking tips and tricks to help you get out there and explore the world with complete freedom.
What is Boondocking?
First, let’s take a minute to discuss what exactly boondocking is. As you may have figured out by now, boondocking typically involves heading out into the wilderness to camp.
Because there are no RV hookups in the wilderness, you must be prepared to camp with no outside water or electricity source. You’ll also have to figure out what to do with wastewater. That said, these things are easy enough to address, and the end result is well worthwhile.
Dry camping is another thing that should be discussed here. Boondocking is a form of dry camping. That said, dry camping doesn’t always mean boondocking. Yes, dry camping means camping without hookups. However, one can dry camp in a parking lot or someone’s driveway. Boondocking refers to dry camping out in nature, or in “the boonies”—this is where the term “boondocking” comes from.
Why Go Boondocking?
What would someone want to go RV boondocking? After all, there are plenty of campgrounds with full hookups out there, meaning you should almost always be able to find a place to plug in while on the road. To be honest, this question has many answers. We’ll address a few of the more popular reasons people choose to boondock.
Many people choose RV boondocking out of necessity. You see, the vast majority of places that allow boondocking don’t charge a fee, and even if they do, the fee tends to be relatively small. This means one can travel for very little money if they choose boondocking over pay campsites.
Yes, the cost savings are nice, but there are plenty of people who could easily afford a campsite yet still choose RV boondocking. Many of these people are looking to escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life and immerse themselves in nature. Some of the prettiest campsites out there are off the grid, so those looking for gorgeous views should be willing to boondock.
No Planning Needed
Perhaps one of the most appealing things about boondocking is the ability to fly by the seat of your pants. As RVing becomes more popular, campgrounds are filling up more quickly. This means campground reservations are more important than ever, but reservations tie you down and make spontaneous travel impossible.
Boondocking, for the most part, doesn’t require reservations, so you can go where you like when you like (as long as dry camping is allowed, of course).
Where is Boondocking Allowed?
Now that you understand why somebody might choose to boondock, you may be feeling the urge to go yourself. That said, you need to know where you can go RV boondocking before you head out. There are a number of places that allow boondocking in the United States.
- Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Land
- National Forest Service Land
- State Wildlife Management Areas
- State Water Management Land
We’ve found that the easiest way to find boondocking spots in a given area is to search Campendium and Free Campsites. These sites list tons of free and cheap dry camping spots, including plenty that are located out in the woods or desert, or even on the beach.
It can be a bit intimidating to just pick a spot and go for it. We recommend heading out with a friend who has experience with boondocking. Otherwise, just be sure to read reviews carefully and heed the advice of the campers who have been before you.
Want even more options? You might also choose to join a camping membership club that gives you access to more boondocking sites. These are on private property and might be in a driveway, a yard, a vineyard, or even on a farm.
Memberships that give you access to boondocking sites on private property include:
General Rules for Boondocking
Before you head out on your first boondocking excursion, you’ll want to be sure you’re fully prepared. The first step to being fully prepared? Learning the often unspoken rules of boondocking. After all, you don’t want to be the annoying neighbor, nor do you want to be the reason a boondocking spot is closed to the public.
Rules you should know include:
Take Only Pictures, Leave Only Footprints
The most important rule when you visit any natural area is to take only pictures and leave only footprints. Don’t collect firewood, rocks, shells, or anything else you find in the area (you’ll probably have to remind your little ones of this over and over). You also should not leave anything behind. If you pack it in, you pack it out.
This helps keep the place clean for the next campers, yes, but it also ensures the ecosystem stays healthy for the plants and animals living there.
While out boondocking, you’re very likely to come across local wildlife. Respect these creatures. Realize that you are staying in their home, not the other way around, and give them plenty of space to carry on about their business. Never feed an animal in the wild, and never try to approach or pet a wild animal. Make sure the kids understand this rule as well.
Maintain Quiet Hours
Nobody goes boondocking to listen to the generator next door 24/7. Some boondocking areas have specific quiet hours in place. However, even if your camping area doesn’t have set quiet hours, be respectful of other campers and the animals in the area by running our generator sparingly, and observing quiet hours from around 10pm to at least 7am.
Don’t Park Too Close to Others
Part of the appeal of boondocking is 1) getting away from busyness, and 2) relaxing. For this reason, most people don’t want neighbors super close by when boondocking. When choosing a site, keep this in mind and make sure you give everyone plenty of personal space.
Park at Least 200 Feet from Water
Another thing to consider when parking your RV is water. It’s a rule that RVs must be parked at least 200 feet from any body of water. This is incredibly important, so be sure to keep the rule in mind any time you’re choosing an RV boondocking site.
Avoid Dumping Tanks on the Ground
The “leave only footprints” rule applies to wastewater too. No wastewater should ever be dumped on the ground. This applies to black water, of course, but it also applies to gray water. Wastewater is not only stinky, it also attracts bugs, can contaminate water, and might interfere with the local plants and animals.
Build Fires Responsibly
Campfires are always fun, but you must be incredibly responsible when building one. Make sure an adult is the one building the fire, and teach kids fire safety. Never build a fire when the area is dry or the winds are high, and pay attention to local fire bans. Make sure you’re in a clear place with bare ground, and create a ring of rocks to build your fire in. You’ll also want to keep water close at hand just in case the fire gets out of control.
Obey Stay Limits
Most boondocking locations have some sort of stays limit. In the vast majority of cases, campers are limited to 14 days in one spot, after which they must move on. That said, in many cases, “moving on” might just mean moving down the street. Just make sure you know the rules for the place you’re visiting and follow them even if you don’t see anyone out enforcing them.
Preparing for a Boondocking Trip
Wondering what you need to do to prepare for an RV boondocking trip? Well, you’ll obviously need to pack everything you’d normally pack for a camping trip. That said, there are a few extra things you’ll want to consider doing before hitting the road. Some of these are 100% necessary, while others are optional but still helpful.
Install Solar Panels
You’ll need some way to generate electricity for yourself. Many people who spend a lot of time off grid choose to install solar panels on their RVs. Another option is to invest in a portable solar panel kit. Either way, you can use sunlight to trickle charge your batteries throughout the day, so you can keep using lights and other electric items when needed.
…And Beef Up Your Battery Bank
Of course, you will need somewhere to store any electricity your solar panels capture. This is where your battery bank comes into play. If you plan on doing a lot of RV boondocking, we recommend beefing up your battery bank. Better yet, consider investing in a bank of lithium ion batteries.
…Or Grab a Generator
Want to try your hand at boondocking but don’t feel up to figuring out solar panels and battery banks? A generator will work just fine, especially if you don’t plan to boondock on the regular.
If your RV doesn’t have a built-in generator, we recommend getting a portable inverter generator. Make sure whichever one you choose gives you enough amps to do what you need to do. Generally, this means you’re going to want at least 30 amps, but some people can get away with 20.
Fill Your Water Tank
Water is a need. Make sure you have as much as you can carry by filling your freshwater tank all the way up before you hit the road. You might also consider carrying a few jugs of drinking water in order to stretch the water in your tank as far as possible.
Invest in a Blue Boy and Macerator Pump
Lastly, we highly recommend investing in a “blue boy” (portable dump tank) and a macerator pump. This allows you to load the blue boy into the back of your vehicle and then pump your wastewater from your tanks into the blue boy. From there, you can drive the wastewater to the nearest dump station in order to get rid of it.
Maintaining a Comfortable Temperature while Boondocking
One of the biggest challenges when camping off-grid? Maintaining a comfortable temperature. Boondocking in the summer can be unbearably hot if you don’t do it right. Meanwhile, dry camping in winter is no fun at all if you don’t head to the right location and go in prepared.
Here’s what you need to know to maintain the temperature of your RV while boondocking.
Choose Your Location Based on Season
When deciding to go boondocking, it is incredibly important that you carefully consider location as well as season. You don’t want to boondock in Florida in the middle of summer, as it will be impossible to keep the rig cool, but it’s one of the best places to boondock during the winter months. Meanwhile, boondocking in Washington state in the winter is a terrible idea, but heading up there for the hot months is ideal.
Park in the Shade
Of course, even if you go to the very best summer boondocking places, there are going to be hot days. One of the best ways to ensure your rig stays as cool as possible when boondocking in intense heat is to park in the shade. That said, parking in shade will affect how well your rooftop solar panels work, so keep that in mind and be strategic about angles.
Install MaxxAir Vent Fans
You can also keep air moving and remove hot air from the RV by installing MaxxAir vent fans in your roof. Yes, you probably have a small vent fan already, but those stock fans are nothing compared to the MaxxAir fans, which can bring in fresh air and have the place feeling cooler in a matter of minutes.
Leave During the Day
The hottest part of the day is the afternoon. Why not escape the heat by leaving home to do some sightseeing during those super hot hours? The kids will probably love to get out and experience local attractions, and you can return in the evening when things have cooled off.
Pick up a Mr. Buddy Heater
If you find yourself boondocking in cold weather, you have a different set of problems on your hands. Honestly, we don’t recommend boondocking in super cold temperatures. Instead, we recommend winterizing your rig or taking it south. That said, mildly cold weather can be dealt with fairly easily.
While you could run your RV’s built-in furnace, we actually prefer the Mr. Buddy propane space heater. This heater is much more efficient, meaning you save money on fuel and stay plenty warm. Just make sure you run it near an open window for safety purposes.
Eating while Boondocking
You will of course need to eat while out boondocking. For the most part, this is pretty easy once you get the hang of it. That said, there are a few tips you’ll want to put into play to make sure you keep cool and make cleaning up as easy as possible. While using these tips isn’t a requirement, they sure will make eating while boondocking simpler, making your trip that much more enjoyable.
If you can, try to cook a bunch of meals in advance of your trip. This will allow you to avoid cooking entirely so you can relax. It’s also great because your RV will stay nice and cool if the oven and stove aren’t on. Additionally, pre-cooked meals don’t require many dishes, meaning you save water and tank space.
If you do need to cook during your boondocking adventures, consider taking the cooking outside and doing it on the grill. This will reduce the number of dishes you do. It will also help keep the inside of the rig cool, so you’ll be more comfortable when bedtime rolls around.
Skip Electric Appliances
Conserving electricity is key when boondocking. Therefore, it makes no sense to use electric appliances to cook meals. If you can’t cook outside on the grill, use the propane stove or oven to cook your meals. You can even make coffee on the stovetop, so you can avoid using the electric coffee maker.
Go with One-Pot Recipes
For those times when you do find yourself cooking on the stove, make sure you keep ingredients on hand for some simple one-pot recipes. Soups, chili, and pasta dishes are all great examples of entire meals that can be made in a single pot.
Why is this such a great thing when boondocking? Because it cuts back on the number of dishes you have to do later, which saves water.
Break Out the Paper Plates
Speaking of cutting back on dirty dishes, boondocking is also the perfect time to break out the paper plates, bowls, and cups. You might even keep some plastic cutlery on hand. This really reduces the number of dishes you’re dealing with whenever dinner cleanup rolls around.
Keeping Clean while Boondocking
Personal hygiene is something that needs to be kept up with. While you might be a little more relaxed about showering while camping, you can’t neglect getting cleaned up entirely. Luckily, showering while boondocking is totally doable, and with the tips below, you can stay clean while making your water supply and waste tank space last as long as possible.
Replace Your Shower Head
Stock RV shower heads aren’t all that great. They tend to offer very little water pressure, yet somehow use a lot of water doing it. For this reason, we recommend replacing your RV shower head with an Oxygenics RV shower head. These use water to add pressure to the water while also reducing the amount of water used. This is perfect for boondocking.
Consider Showering Outside
If the weather is warm enough, you might consider taking your showers outside. You can set up a shower tent for privacy and use your RV’s outdoor shower. While this will still use your freshwater, it will help your wastewater tanks last longer, as your shower water won’t be filling them up.
…Or Drive into Town to Clean Up
If you need to really stretch your water supply and tank space, you might even consider driving into town for shower time. Truck stops, gyms, and public pools all have showers that you can pay to use. Some people even keep nationwide gym memberships so they can use the showers in the gyms they find while traveling.
Purchase a Pack of Venture Wipes
No matter which shower option you choose, you probably aren’t going to get daily showers. Since camping can be messy business (especially if you have kids in tow) you are going to want a way to clean up in between showers.
This is where Venture Wipes come into play. These amazing wipes make it easy to get cleaned up, so you’re smelling and feeling fresher in no time. We especially like them for cleaning kids’ feet before bed.
Dealing with Waste while Boondocking
With living comes at least some level of waste. This includes both garbage and wastewater, and both are things you must find ways to deal with. Fortunately, this is easy enough to do as long as you know the tips below.
Find Dump Stations on SaniDumps
That blue boy we mentioned earlier? You will need to find someplace to dump that, and even if you choose not to purchase a blue boy, you will need somewhere to dump your tanks. Fortunately, there are RV dump stations in most areas, and SaniDumps can help you find them.
Take Trash into Town
Generally speaking, trash can be carried into town and disposed of in trash cans found in parking lots. That said, you will want to avoid using dumpsters with fences around them or signs prohibiting the public from using them. On top of that, if you happen to have a large amount of trash, it might be best to hold onto it until you get home.
Search Earth 911 for Recycling Locations
You can cut back on the amount of trash you have to get rid of by recycling some of it. Of course, this means you have to find a place to drop that recycling off. Fortunately, Earth 911 is here to help. Simply put your zip code and the type of recycling you have into the website search bars, and it will tell you where to take it.
Burn Some Things
Looking for another way to cut back on the waste you have to take to a trash can? You can also burn certain items. While it’s best to avoid burning plastics, you can definitely burn compostable things such as fruit and vegetable peels that are dry enough, some food waste, and paper products.
More Electricity Tips
So far we’ve included a few tips on how to create electricity while off-grid, as well as how to conserve it. Need even more tips to get through your trip without running the batteries down completely? We’ve got a few to offer. Hopefully these will do the trick for you!
Use LED Light Bulbs
LED lights use much less electricity than traditional RV lights, making them ideal for boondocking. On top of that, LED bulbs put off less heat, reducing the chances of burning yourself while also cooling down your rig in the hot summer months. Fortunately, switching to LED lights doesn’t have to mean changing the entire fixture. Instead, you can just change out the light bulbs themselves.
Invest in Battery-Operated Fans
Roof vent fans are awesome, but sometimes you want some air blowing directly on you. For this, we recommend using small battery-operated fans. This conserves the electricity in your RV battery bank, but still allows you to stay comfortable.
Place Solar Panels Strategically
Yes, we recommended parking in the shade earlier, and we stand by that recommendation if it is very hot. That said, if it is cooler, consider parking out of the shade instead. Otherwise, if it’s possible to angle your solar panels to catch some rays, do that. Alternatively, if you use a portable panel, you can place it out away from the RV in direct sunlight.
Put Appliances in Gas Mode
Most RV refrigerators and water heaters have a gas mode and an electric mode. If you have an inverter installed, there is a chance these things won’t automatically switch to gas mode. In this case, both appliances will be pulling power from your battery bank the whole time they’re running. For this reason, it’s a good idea to manually switch both appliances to gas mode.
More Water Tips
We’ve talked a lot about conserving water and waste tank space. Still, there are a couple of little tricks we have yet to discuss. We think the RV boondocking water tips below are helpful enough that we added another section just to ensure they were included.
Reuse Gray Water to Flush
Keep a dishpan in the sink when you’re doing dishes or washing your hands. This will catch the used water, which can then be used for flushing the toilet. This saves some freshwater as well as some space in your gray tank.
Refill Freshwater with Jugs
If your freshwater is running low, you can refill the tank using five gallon jugs. Simply get your jugs filled at a water refill station (Walmart tends to have them) and then dump the water directly into your tank. By doing this and using the waste tank pump-out method mentioned above, along with solar panels or a generator, you should be able to boondock indefinitely.
Making Boondocking Fun for Everyone
Camping with kids is always an adventure. Since you won’t have campground amenities to help keep the kids busy, you will want to make sure you pack things for them to do and come up with some ideas for activities in advance. Below are some of our favorite tips for keeping the kids happy while boondocking.
Pack Outside Games
The point of boondocking is to unplug from the rest of the world. Make sure you bring some things to do outside that will encourage the whole family to do just that. We like lawn games like cornhole, as well as fun things like hula hoops and bubbles. Bringing a football or soccer ball along can also be fun.
We mentioned sightseeing as a way to get away from the heat when boondocking in summer. However, it’s also just a super fun thing to do. This is especially true if you’re able to travel to new and interesting areas to do your boondocking. If you’re boondocking because you’re on a budget, you can save money by using reciprocal memberships and a national parks pass.
Head Out on a Hike
Most areas that allow boondocking will probably have some hiking trails nearby. Get away from the campsite for a while and explore the local area by hiking. To get kids excited about hiking, consider packing a camera for them to take pictures, binoculars and a birdwatching book for learning about the birds of the area, and a scavenger hunt sheet.
Grab Some Board Games
Sometimes the weather isn’t awesome and you get stuck hanging out inside the RV for a while. Running the TV constantly is sure to drain your batteries, and even tablets will need to be recharged eventually, so make sure to be prepared with some electricity-free things for the family to enjoy. We especially like board games and card games for this. The SET card game is a favorite, and Forbidden Island is a fantastic board game.
By now you are probably ready to get out there and do some RV boondocking of your own. But what if you don’t have an RV to take with you? Don’t worry! We have tons of great rental RVs to choose from. We’re betting you can find the ideal boondocking rig, so you can have a fabulous time on your dry camping adventure.