Some call it boondocking, some call it wild camping, and some call it dry camping. Whatever you call it, camping outside of a campground can be a fun and freeing way to use your RV.
The concept of boondocking allows road trippers to camp on public lands for free. Sounds good, doesn’t it? But it’s not quite as simple as it seems. There is some required know-how to make your boondocking trip a success.
What is Dry Camping?
Some of you may be wondering, “What does dry camping mean?” Basically, this is a term that means camping without any hookups whatsoever. Dry camping, sometimes called boondocking, can be done on private property (with permission, of course), on government-owned lands, or anywhere else you can find a place to park legally. In most cases this is free camping, so it’s a great option for those on a tight budget.
Some people also refer to staying overnight in a parking lot as dry camping, but there’s a lot of debate over whether or not this qualifies.
Boondocking VS Dry Camping
In the RVing world, boondocking is often used to describe camping without hookups. However, in some cases, dry camping would be a more accurate term. Boondocking refers to camping outside of campgrounds without any hookups, while dry camping simply refers to camping with no hookups. In other words, all boondocking is dry camping, but not all dry camping is boondocking. When you stay at a campground with no hook-ups you are not boondocking. Semantics aside, there is no doubt that you need to be self-sufficient in your RV to have a successful trip.
So why would someone want to go RV boondocking? After all, there are plenty of RV campgrounds with full hookups out there. To be honest, this question has many answers. We’ll address a few of the more popular reasons people choose to boondock.
Why Go Boondocking?
The vast majority of places that allow boondocking don’t charge a fee. If they do, the fee tends to be relatively small. This means you can travel for very little money if you choose boondocking over pay campsites.
The cost savings are nice, but plenty of people who could easily afford a campsite 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 are off the grid, so if you’re looking for gorgeous views and some peace, consider boondocking.
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 hard.
Boondocking mostly doesn’t require reservations, so you can go where you like when you like (as long as you follow local regulations).
Finding Free Camping Spots
Even if you’re sold on boondocking, you may not know where to find free places to camp. Free RV parking might be really easy or a bit challenging to find — but if you know where to look, you can find free RV campgrounds almost anywhere.
One of the best resources is the Bureau of Land Management, which is often abbreviated as BLM. This government agency, a branch of the U.S. Department of the Interior, manages vast swaths of land that are neither private nor managed by state or national park organizations. In most cases, it’s free to camp on, provided you obey posted rules and regulations. Another government agency that manages unowned lands is the United States Forest Service, or USFS. Again, much of the land under its jurisdiction is open to dry or “dispersed” camping, though there are restrictions. State Wildlife Management Areas and State Water Management Land also often have options for boondocking.
Online Help for Boondock Sites
Along with scoping out the maps and checking with these agencies, you can check out the following websites and mobile apps put together by other boondockers and campers like you.
- Free Campsites: This tool might not be the most state-of-the-art, but it makes up for a lack of aesthetics with ease of use and a bounty of information. Just enter your preferred destination area, and you’ll see nearby free campsites populate along the right-hand side of the screen. You’ll also get user ratings and other helpful information to help you make an informed decision before you get there. It has a helpful symbol key that will let you know which of these spots is large enough to handle RV camping, plus information about bathroom facilities, pet allowances, and other critical details.
- Campendium (app for iPhone and Android): This convenient app lets you search by state to see nearby boondocking sites on BLM, USFS, and other public lands. It features filters to allow you to search for only free sites, for instance, or those that have some limited amenities like dump stations.
There are a few alternative camping arrangements that aren’t quite off-grid but still offer unique camping experiences at substantial savings. One camper favorite is a program called Harvest Hosts, which matches campers with vineyard owners or farmers. You can camp while surrounded by their gorgeous farmlands. The cost of the membership is only $49 and the stays themselves are free. It is expected that you’ll purchase something from your hosts to help compensate them for their amenities.
You can also find nearly 3000 sites with Boondockers Welcome. Members can search through more than 2888+ total locations across the country, with 70% of hosts also offering hookups. After you become a member there is no cost to stay; thank your host by leaving them an excellent review and spreading the love to other RVers. Be sure to use code BWRVSHARE to save 10% off your membership
State and even national parks can also be more affordable than resort-style camping. Still, these options are a good middle ground for campers who’d like access to some amenities (many of these sites have restroom facilities, and some even have hookups) while still saving money and camping in a mostly-untouched, natural place.
When boondocking, the most important thing to remember is that just because land looks unowned doesn’t mean it is. If you simply pull off the side of the road in a desolate-looking area, you may be breaking the law if you set up camp there. Always check with local branches of government agencies to ensure that your boondocking site is legal to camp on. Doing so will help you avoid an awkward and potentially costly encounter.
Sometimes, you just need a dry camping spot for one night. The most likely scenario is that you’re on a road trip and your destination is more than a day’s drive away. Along with the spots mentioned above, there are a few other places that allow you to dry camp for just one night. These include:
- Camping World
- Cracker Barrel
- Rest stops
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, pack it out.
This helps keep the place clean for the next campers, and more importantly, 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 with their business. Never feed an animal in the wild, and never try to approach or pet a wild animal. Make sure 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. Even if your camping area doesn’t have set quiet hours, be respectful of other campers and animals in the area by running our generator sparingly, and observing quiet hours from around 10 pm to at least 7 am.
Don’t Park Too Close to Others
Part of the appeal of boondocking is getting away from the crowds. 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
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.
Dealing With Waste
1.) Wastewater – 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.
Find the closest dump station to dispose of black water properly. Again, you must NEVER dump the contents of your black tank on the ground. So it stands to reason that if you plan to dry camp for a long time, a large black tank is an advantage.
One option if you don’t have a large black water tank is a cassette toilet. This built-in toilet has a removable tank that is accessed by an outside compartment door. These toilets can be emptied into virtually any type of toilet. This convenience can dramatically increase your dry camping time, especially if you have regular access to a toilet. Another alternative is a small portable toilet, a type of cassette toilet with a smaller capacity that doesn’t have to be installed permanently.
You may also want a portable dump tank and a macerator pump to get the dirty water from your tanks and into the portable tank. This will allow you to take the water to a dump station without moving your entire rig (which itself could make you lose your nice camping spot, depending on where you’re boondocking).
2.) Trash – 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.
While you’re waiting to dispose of your trash, be sure to store it safely. If you’re in bear country, for instance, you’re not going to be able to simply place your kitchen garbage can outside the front door to avoid its odors.
Some campers who pull tow-behind vehicles store trash in well-sealed bags in their tow vehicle. Choosing the slightly more expensive garbage bags, with reinforced strength and odor-nullifying qualities, can help. You might even consider investing in a sturdy Rubbermaid container to help further keep odors at bay. If you plan to keep trash outdoors in wild animal country, you’ll need bear-proof containers.
This is one reason to consider reusable dishes rather than paper plates. You might also consider avoiding super-smelly recipes with lots of fish or garlic.
You can also burn certain items. While it’s best to avoid burning plastics, you can burn compostable things such as fruit and vegetable peels that are dry enough, some food waste, and paper products.
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. Be sure the fire is completely out – even the embers – before going to sleep for the night.
Obey Stay Limits
Most boondocking locations have some sort of stay 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.
More Rules For Free Camping
If you’re dry camping for a night in a more populated area, there are a few more rules to consider:
Always Put Safety First
Safety should always come first. If a campsite ever feels unsafe for any reason, move your rig. A weather radio and emergency kit should always be close at hand. Additionally, many RVers feel it is a good idea to keep a can of pepper spray on hand for self-defense.
Offer your business
Plan to stay all night in the parking lot of a business? Help that business out by doing a bit of shopping while you’re there. Fill up at the truck stop or grab some groceries at Walmart. These are things you’ll need anyway, and doing this helps out the business that is helping you.
Assess & Adjust – Prepare Your RV for Dry Camping
The first tip when it comes to successful boondocking is to assess your RV. It’s important to know the advantages and limitations of your particular RV when it comes to dry camping. For example, the size of your RV is both an advantage and disadvantage. If you have a small truck camper or RV, you can camp just about anywhere that you choose. But you also have limited space for resources, and limited capacity when it comes to black water, gray water, and batteries.
If you have a large motorhome, the number of places you can dry camp is reduced, but your capacity for holding water and getting power is much larger.
Once you are comfortable with what your RV can do, ask yourself about your needs and comfort level. Dry camping often requires a bit of sacrifice when it comes to modern conveniences. Decide what things that are most important to you and tweak your lifestyle to reflect them. As you get more experience, it will be easier to balance things that limit the time that you can dry camp. You may simply have to change some habits and readjust what you need to be comfortable.
The All-Important Topic of Water
Dry camping with no access to utility hook-ups, can be a test of your self-reliance. Especially when it comes to water. When dry camping you only have the water you bring with you, including the supply in your fresh water tank and any extra jugs you bring along. Water is one of the most important things to a dry camper, and a limited supply of it means it’s time to employ some water-saving tactics!
Consider these water saving tips before your next trip:
1.) Turn Off the Water
Don’t let the water run. Turn the water off when you are cleaning your dishes. Turn it off while you are brushing your teeth or shaving. It may feel good to stand under a warm running shower, but when you’re dry camping, it is wasteful and not a good way to save water!
2.) Use a Solar Shower While Boondocking
Showering is one of the quickest ways to use up your fresh water and fill up your grey tank. A great water-saving solution is a solar shower. A 5 or 6-gallon solar shower will provide enough water for several showers.
Simply lay it out in the sun for a couple of hours, and voila, you have an instant hot shower. A solar shower can also serve as an extra water supply. You can fill it from a lake, river, or stream, which will save your onboard supply for other uses.
If you don’t opt for a solar shower, consider changing your shower head and faucets. A low-flow shower head, as well as low-flow faucets, can save a lot of water.
When possible, go a day or two without showering. Body wipes usually do a decent job tidying the rest of your body between showers.
3.) Shower and Shave Hack
If you want to shave while boondocking, save water by using the old-fashioned method for rinsing the razor. Simply plug the shower drain and capture water for rinsing. The water doesn’t need to be pristine to get the job done.
4.) Take Shorter Showers
Consider installing a showerhead that has an on/off control switch. This allows you to easily turn the water on to get wet, and off when you are sudsing up. This practice is commonly referred to as a navy shower and can save a ton of water. Keep in mind that while you can turn the water off at the main control, you often lose the heat, which requires you to run the water again to warm it back up. Plus, turning the knobs off and on takes more time than a control valve, and the faster the water turns off, the less water you’ll use.
5.) Consider Your Hair
If you have long hair, try a dry shampoo product to keep it clean and oil-free in between shampoos. For a more natural option, rub a little cornstarch or baking soda over your scalp and through your hair. This absorbs oil and provides a few more days of apparent cleanliness between washings.
6.) Consider Your Shower Companions
No, that doesn’t mean pair up in the shower (although that may be another way to use less water!), it means to consider the body wash or soaps and shampoos you choose. Many options contain sodium lauryl sulfate. Not only is it not terribly healthy, but it is the ingredient that causes the products to lather. More lather means more water for rinsing.
7.) Avoid Flushing When Possible
Another water-saving tip is to avoid flushing the toilet if possible. Using your precious fresh water to flush the toilet can seem frivolous. Fortunately, you have a few options.
- Install a gray water recycling system
- Install a composting toilet
- Add a waste odor neutralizer and avoid flushing urine
- Use a nearby toilet
- Go outside (provided you are out in mother nature, and not, say…the Cabela’s parking lot).
8.) Avoid Flushing Toilet Paper
Flushing toilet paper takes more water than anything else being rinsed down the drain. When possible, place used TP in a sealable plastic baggie and throw it in the wastebasket—ideally a lidded one. Or, carry it to a nearby outdoor trash receptacle.
Other ways to save water
Being conservative with your fresh water will allow you to stay out longer. It will also slow down the rate at which your gray water tank fills up. In addition to being conservative with your water usage, you can also extend your fresh water capacity by bringing along collapsible bladders and jerry jugs that you can empty into your fresh water tank when it gets low.
Of course, if you add water to your fresh water tank, more water will eventually end up in your gray tank. This means you will have to find a way to get rid of it before the tank becomes too full. Here are some ways to repurpose water:
- Use a plastic dishpan in your shower to capture wasted water. Use this water for flushing the toilet, washing the dishes, etc.
- Buy a garden hose and dump cap with a hose fitting. Attach the garden hose to the dump cap and spray some thirsty bushes with your gray water. Make sure that you are using biodegradable soaps and that no food bits are in the water.
- Dump collected rinse water and dishwater directly into a hole or on plants as long as you are using biodegradable soaps.
Power Options While Boondocking
When hooked up to shore power at a campground you have access to both 120 volts and 12-volt power. You can use all your appliances whenever you like. But when you are off the grid, you probably only have access to 12-volt power. This means that you can’t use the microwave, air-conditioner, or many other appliances. If you have to plug it in, it won’t work unless you have access to a 120-volt system.
In most RVs, the only things that you can operate on a 12-volt system are your water pump, lights, and fridge. Also, you only have as much power as can be stored in your RV batteries. When batteries run out, so does your power.
Conserve Energy While Boondocking
- Turn off all lights and appliances when not in use
- Only turn on one light at a time
- Use battery-operated lights instead of the camper lights
The good news is that there are ways to increase your electrical capacity. For instance, you can install more batteries to store more power. It’s also worth it to invest in some really good batteries since you’ll be so dependent on them for your trips.
Or you could use a generator to charge your batteries when they get low. A generator also allows you to use both 120 and 12-volt power while it’s running. Running a generator just a couple of hours a day will recharge your RV batteries and keep you off-grid for longer. Moreover, dry camping with an RV generator is much more comfortable than going without, as it allows you to run the air conditioner during the warmest parts of the day. However, generators also make a lot of noise, so you’ll want to limit their use at night or for too long during the day.
Some RVs come with generators, while others require you to purchase one separately. That said, since you can get a decent generator for a relatively small price, buying one separately if your RV doesn’t include one is definitely a worthwhile investment.
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.
Use solar power.
This type of power uses the sun to charge your batteries and provide you with electrical energy. It is low maintenance, there are no moving parts, and it doesn’t make any noise. This option is not the most cost-effective, but after this high initial investment, you will have access to free electricity any day the sun comes out.
When it comes to solar power, you must figure out the size of the solar power system you will need. First, calculate your electrical needs for each appliance, then match it up to the appropriate panel size. Be sure to add some cushion to compensate for those days when you use more electrical energy. This cushion also comes in handy on cloudy days when it takes longer to generate power.
Change Your Lightbulbs
Oddly enough, the lights in RVs can be huge energy hogs, draining your batteries very quickly if you aren’t careful. To help solve this problem, you might consider switching to LED light bulbs in your RV. These bulbs are more expensive, but they last much longer, use less power, and don’t get as hot.
Stock up on Propane
A liquid propane (LP) gas system is something that is built in to many RVs. This type of system is quite handy for dry camping as it will operate your fridge, heat your hot water, and run your cooktop. Propane tends to last a long time, and if you have two tanks on board, it can last weeks or even months depending on how you use it. Of course, you should always fill your tanks before heading out on a dry camping adventure.
So, now that you’ve got the 101 on boondocking, let’s talk about a very important issue: food!
RV meal planning and cooking are already a bit more challenging than at home. After all, your RV kitchen space is likely much smaller and more limited than you’re used to, and you might not have space to bring every piece of kitchen equipment you’d like.
But cooking while boondocking incorporates an additional challenge: You want to use as little water as possible. That means every dirty dish counts!
You also may not be able to use your microwave, which draws a lot of amperage, and you’ll want to conserve your fuel if your RV’s stove uses LP gas.
But fortunately, there are some quick tips and tricks that will help you create delicious, healthy meals that won’t jeopardize the length of your boondocking trip.
Cooking in an RV
Here are some easy-to-follow hacks that’ll keep you well-fed while you’re off the grid.
1. Don’t be afraid to use your campfire.
Your campfire can cook so much more than s’mores. (Although you should make those, too!)
From hot dogs to full-on stews, there are a ton of incredible RV campfire recipes out there — it’s crazy what you can do with a little tin foil! Plus, cooking over the fire will keep you from needing electricity to power your kitchen appliances.
Not making a campfire? You could also consider using a portable camping grill, which can be lit with charcoal or its own dedicated propane canister. A propane camp stove is another great option for everything from full meals to heating water for coffee in the morning.
2. Choose recipes that only call for one cooking pot.
By dirtying up as few dishes as possible, you’ll save water when it comes time to do the washing. Fortunately, most RV camping meals and recipes for camping trips keep this consideration in mind. Here are a few easy, low-mess recipes we put together for RVing, many of which are great for boondocking.
3. Does your pot or pan come with a lid? Use it!
The lid will help your food heat up and cook faster, saving you both power and time!
4. Consider using paper and plastic.
No, paper plates aren’t the best thing in the world for the environment… but when it comes to cutting down on the number of dishes you have to do, there’s no easier shortcut.
For best results, find biodegradable, recyclable, or otherwise green alternatives to plastic and styrofoam. Combined with your water conservation efforts, it’ll help to minimize the ecological impact.
5. Consider pre-making meals
You can also prepare meals at home to bring camping. Either serve them cold or use just a small amount of power to reheat them to eat.
Boondocking Across America
Not only will boondocking get you off the grid and far away from your nearest neighbors (and a whole lot closer to Mother Nature, too) — but it can also save you a heap of money.
That’s because RV boondocking locations on public land are often free, so long as you follow any posted camping rules. In some cases, you may have to pay a nominal fee — say, $25 — but it’ll cover your camping accommodations for up to two weeks.
Again though, keep in mind, that even if a piece of unmarked land looks like it’s public, it may be privately owned and therefore off limits. Always check with the BLM, or Bureau of Land Management, to make sure the spot you’re eyeing is actually available for RV camping. You can also use online resources from fellow campers that list some great boondocking sites.
Choose Your Location Based on Season
When deciding to go boondocking, it is important to 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 isn’t a great idea, but heading up there for hot months is ideal.
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? You can get out and experience local attractions, and return in the evening when things have cooled off.
Top Boondocking Locations in Arizona
The Mogollon Rim is a one-of-a-kind feature in the Arizona landscape. “The Rim,” as it is commonly dubbed, checks in at just over 7,000 ft in elevation! The Rim offers significant relief from the summer heat in the valleys below. Its landscape is dotted with ponderosa pines and of course tons of RVs from all over Arizona and other regions of the U.S. The Mogollon Rim is situated mostly within the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest, so boondocking is permitted on all public lands unless it is posted as prohibited.
Safford is home to the stunning Mount Graham, which reaches well over 10,000 ft. Most camping areas on the mountain are only large enough to fit trailers up to 16 ft long, and you wouldn’t want to drive a large motorhome or trailer through the numerous switchbacks. You can also enjoy great boondocking in the areas just below the mountain in the Coronado National Forest and Bureau of Land Management areas.
Florence Box Canyon
Box Canyon offers great OHV trails and an opportunity to do a bit of exploring. It’s home to several old mines that are relics of Arizona’s great mining history. Most boondocking at Box Canyon can be found along Cottonwood Canyon Rd going east from AZ-79. The land is controlled by the State of Arizona and you must obtain an Arizona State Trust Land permit to camp there.
Las Cienegas National Conservation Area
About an hour southeast of Tucson is the Las Cienegas National Conservation Area. This area is a huge grassland that is home to free-ranging cattle and the Empire Ranch. Because of its higher elevations, Las Cienegas NCA offers more enjoyable temperatures than the surrounding desert lowlands. Las Cienegas NCA has several areas that are open for boondockers to set up camp.
The beautiful red rocks of Sedona make for a picturesque boondocking experience! Sedona falls within the Coconino National Forest, so boondocking is permitted in most places. By far one of the most popular places to boondock in Sedona is along Forest Service Road 525. This road overlooks the town and offers amazing views of red rock country!
Located in the western reaches of the state (almost into California) is Quartzsite. It’s home to wide open desert and you’ll find several old mining operations in the area. It’s also a popular spot for snowbirds escaping winter weather!
RV Essentials for Getting Off-Grid
Don’t get us wrong: You can set out for your off-grid adventure with just the bare basic equipment. But if you’re looking to step up your game, there are a few pieces of gear that’ll make your boondocking RV trip much more convenient and comfortable.
Here are some suggestions for affordable add-ons that can make boondocking feel less like roughing it.
Collapsible Water Containers
Fresh water is the number one limiting resource when it comes to figuring out how long you can stay off-grid without making a return trip to civilization. After all, you can cut down the generator and put off fuel, and “nothing to eat” usually means there are still some dinged-up cans in the back of the pantry… but you can’t go even a few hours without fresh water!
Since you’ll be using your onboard fresh water supply for everything from dishwashing to flushing the toilet, you’ll want some extra drinking water on board to ensure you can stay off-grid as long as you like. (Honestly, it’s a good idea to carry extra potable water no matter where you’re headed — you never know when you might encounter mechanical issues.)
Collapsible water containers are perfect for camping – they’re affordable, easy to store when not in use, and they even make great weights for your ground tarp or other outdoor equipment. We recommend boondocking with at least one of these 5-gallon guys on board for every member of your camping party.
Yes, yes, you’ve seen this guy on our lists of RV kitchen supplies before. But if you’re going off-grid, it’s an even better investment.
Why, you ask? Well, because when you’re scrimping on water, making meals in a single pot can be a huge help in avoiding excessive cleanup. From curries and rice dishes to stews, your Instant Pot can make everything your onboard stovetop or oven can make, and then some… and it won’t require using three different pots and pans!
Need more convincing before you buy one — or looking for inspiration for the Instant Pot you already have? We have an entire blog post dedicated to these dutiful little devices. Check it out here.
Auxiliary Heating and Cooling (Fans and Heaters)
You definitely can run your RV HVAC system while you’re boondocking… but there are a lot of reasons you might not want to.
For one thing, it’s pretty much impossible to run an air conditioner without a generator; even a fully-functional solar system might just barely support it. Also, running your generator has a few drawbacks:
- Spending money on LP gas — and potentially a lot of money, if you’re camped out somewhere very warm or cold
- Producing noxious fumes that are bad for both you and the environment
- Making lots and lots of noise in what might otherwise be one of the most beautifully quiet camping spots you’ll ever visit
In short, if you can avoid running your generator, we suggest you do so. The easiest and cheapest way is to follow temperate climes — after all, your motorhome has wheels for a reason! Why endure humid heat or bone-chilling cold when you can just ride on along to a place with perfect weather?
If your destination does happen to be super hot or super chilly, auxiliary heating and cooling solutions, like fans and space heaters, can help you manage indoor temperatures without relying on your power-sucking HVAC system. It will depend on the individual device and its amperage rating, of course, but many small fans and heaters can be run off solar power, which will help you save money and our Earth’s atmosphere!
A Good Flashlight
Hey, listen. Even the bravest among us can get a case of the willies when we’re out in the middle of nowhere in pitch blackness. On a more practical note, you’ll want a heavy-duty flashlight (or three) on board to keep you from tripping over hazards. You may even need it to check out parts of your setup after dark, to help you clean up, and for myriad other reasons. You almost can’t have too many flashlights at hand when camping!
Be Prepared for Emergencies
You never know what might happen on a boondocking trip, and when you’re off-grid, there may or may not be people around to help. Therefore, you will want to go in prepared to help yourself as much as possible. Carrying a well-stocked first aid kit and tool kit full of the usual tools will allow you to take care of most issues on your own.
A Road Atlas
Many boondocking locations don’t have cell reception, making it impossible to use a GPS. Make sure you have a paper road atlas so you can find your way around areas that don’t have coverage. Downloading maps of certain areas to your phone or GPS can also be super helpful.
Making Boondocking Fun for Everyone
Camping with kids is always an adventure. Since you won’t have campground amenities to keep everyone 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 spend some time together. 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 fun thing to do. This is especially true if you’re able to travel to new and interesting areas to boondock. If you’re boondocking because you’re on a budget, you can save money by using reciprocal memberships and a national park 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, and bringing binoculars and a birdwatching book for learning about the birds of the area. A scavenger hunt sheet can also be fun.
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 tablets will need to be recharged, so make sure to bring 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.
Which RV is Best for Living Off the Grid?
There’s really no such thing as a “best RV” for off-grid living. It’s more about making sure you’ve prepared yourself and your rig for all the eventualities you might encounter out there on the road. A smaller rig like a campervan is going to be easier to maneuver into more remote places. You’ll also need less power for a smaller vehicle. However, a larger rig will be able to carry more amenities for you. It can also carry more necessities like extra water and power sources. You’ll want to decide the balance you need for your own travels!
Trying Tent Camping
If you’re ready to get even more primitive than dry camping in an RV, you can also try tent camping! Here’s what you need to get started.
1. A high-quality tent.
Sleeping outside is wonderful… but unless you want to spend the whole night smacking away bugs (and possibly getting rained on), you want some sliver of protection between you and the elements.
A high-quality tent will keep you dry, warm, and safe for your evening under the stars. Just be sure you pick one that’s appropriately sized for your party — camping tents come in all different shapes and sizes!
2. A temperature-appropriate sleeping bag.
No one wants to spend the evening shivering or sweating. But without your rig’s handy-dandy thermostat, you’ll have to resort to more basic temperature control options.
That’s why it’s important to choose a sleeping bag that’s rated for your destination’s temperature, or a little bit warmer or cooler depending on your personal preferences. Not quite sure when or where you’re going? Try a three-season option, which can handle almost any temperature situation.
3. A headlamp or other light source.
You may feel silly wearing it, but trust us on this one: a headlamp is a great investment if you’re going off-grid camping. Hands-free light is a godsend when darkness falls and you need to see to do simple things like open and close your tent door.
4. A water purifier.
You doubtless already know it’s critical to have access to fresh, clean water, and maybe you’ve even already purchased a water bottle specifically for your trip.
But here’s the thing: water is heavy. And if you’re toting all your equipment on your back, every ounce counts.
Plus, you never know when you might encounter some sort of problem — you drop your bottle and it breaks, or maybe you accidentally zip through your whole supply after a particularly sweaty day of hiking. No matter what, it’s way better to be safe than sorry, which is why carrying an emergency water filtration straw or water filtration tablets is key if you’re going into the backcountry. (That said, it’s no replacement for carrying fresh drinking water with you. Never set out without an ample supply!)
5. A way to cook
Consider how you’ll be preparing your meals. You’ll need either a small backpacking stove, along with fuel and matches, or a way to start a fire if those are allowed where you’re camping. You may want a small axe for firewood as well. Don’t forget pots, pans, or silverware – often a mess kit will include all the necessary items, or you may be able to purchase a small multi-purpose pot that you can use both to cook and eat.
6. Clothing and personal items
Lightweight, moisture-wicking clothing is best for backpacking. Be sure to pack layers as it will likely be colder in the morning than later in the day. Wool socks and sweaters are helpful because they provide warmth even after getting wet but can be bulky. Many companies now specialize in state-of-the-art hiking and backpacking clothing. You can purchase these items new, or try a site like eBay or Poshmark for gently used clothing that is still perfectly wearable and much cheaper!
7. Compass and map
Be sure you know your route ahead of time if you’re backpacking. Have a compass (and learn how to use it!) and map in case you get lost.
8. First aid
Have a simple first aid kit for bug bites, sprains, cuts, and other mishaps, and be sure you know the basics for treating these injuries.
9. Satellite phone or communication
Not everyone brings this, but it’s a good idea to have a way to communicate in an emergency. Check ahead of time to see if there is cell phone service, and if not, consider purchasing, renting, or borrowing a satellite phone.
10. Permits or other paperwork
Bring any backcountry permits or other papers required by the park where you’re camping.
11. A backpack big enough to carry it all.
Once you’ve got all your gear, you still need a way to bring it with you into the wild. A good backpack has ample storage capacity and fits you well, and is also water- and weather-resistant. (Look for one with an included rain fly!)
What is primitive camping?
The next step to completely unplugging after car camping is primitive camping! Everything you need for primitive camping must be packed in (and back out when you’re finished!) You’ll need to bring your own food, water, and shelter, and you’re on your own if you need first aid or protection from animals and weather.
Although it seems like primitive camping may be hard work for what is supposed to be a vacation, there are lots of reasons people enjoy secluded primitive camping. It’s the perfect antidote to a busy, noisy daily life in the city. Not surprisingly, areas that can only be reached by hiking are much quieter and more pristine than the crowded big city. Even a campground with reservations and a few amenities is likely to be more crowded than the backcountry. Once you get away from crowds, you’re also more likely to see wildlife, star-strewn skies, and more of nature than you would otherwise.
Pros of Primitive Camping
Primitive camping is much cheaper than RV camping or renting a cabin and glamping. You simply need the basic survival gear you carry on your back. You don’t need to worry about motorhome maintenance or towing a trailer or paying for all the fuel that goes with either one. Since you bring everything with you in a backpack, you’re also not tethered to one spot – simply pack up your stuff in the morning and move on to another campsite when you wish.
Also, the feeling you get when you have survived a primitive camping trip with no help from the outside world is a great one. You and any camping companions are relying only on yourselves and each other to stay alive in the wilderness. It’s up to you to provide food and shelter, take care of yourself, and get back to civilization at the end of your trip. It’s a great boost in self-esteem to realize what you’re truly capable of.
Cons of Primitive Camping
The cons of primitive camping are fairly obvious – it’s not as comfortable as sleeping in your own bed! If you like modern plumbing and daily showers, this is a huge change. There may not even be cell phone service.
You’ll need a basic set of skills to primitive camp as well. Make sure you can build a fire, know how to set up your tent and have a knowledge of first aid in case you need it. You’ll also have to know how to keep your food cold if it needs it, how to filter water, how to protect your food from bears, and what to do in a sudden thunderstorm. If you’re new to backcountry camping, you may want to go with a more experienced friend or take a class at a store like REI to learn more before you go.
Primitive Camping Near Me
Once you’ve determined you have the skills for primitive camping comes the fun part – planning your trip! First, decide where you’d like to go. The mountains? Near a lake? Which part of the country?
RVshare has a comprehensive guide to camping at national parks across the country that could be a good source of inspiration for you. Or you could try a state park, either in your home state or one you’re interested in visiting. If you plan to camp in one of these parks, be sure to visit the website for that location so you can read advice from park rangers, and check on rules for backcountry campers. Many places require you to either have a permit or check in at a visitor’s center so officials know you’re out there. You may also have to submit your plans ahead of time, so be sure you know the requirements before you arrive for your trip.
What is Stealth Camping?
Stealth camping refers to the practice of setting up a temporary campsite in unconventional, unauthorized areas, often with the intention of remaining undetected or hidden from view. Living in a street-parked camper van is stealth camping, but so is pitching a tent in an unmarked place in the BLM desert.
Stealth camping is an attractive option because it’s, well… free. But you can’t just throw your van into park or set up your tent anywhere you please.
While it can be an appealing concept for those seeking secluded, budget friendly camping experiences, it is important to note that stealth camping is generally considered illegal in many places due to several reasons.
Why is stealth camping illegal?
One of the primary reasons stealth camping is often illegal is to protect the environment and preserve natural areas. Authorized campsites are usually designed to minimize the impact on the ecosystem. Camping in unauthorized areas can lead to ecological damage, disturbance to wildlife, and increased erosion, as these places may not be built or managed to handle camping-related activities.
Furthermore, stealth camping can raise concerns related to residents and land owners. Unauthorized camping may infringe upon private property rights or encroach upon protected lands, such as national parks or reserves. This can disrupt the intended use of the land and may result in conflicts between campers, residents/landowners, or city/park authorities.
While the allure of stealth camping is understandable, you could land yourself a hefty fine (or ruffle some serious feathers!) if caught camping in a place you’re not welcome. Remember, there are countless legal camping options available across the country that offer plenty of opportunity to camp for super cheap or even free. Don’t risk it for the biscuit… do your research before you call a place home for the night!
Of course though, if you’re “moochdocking” on private property—AKA staying in a family member or friend’s driveaway, for instance, this is a totally legal.
Dry Camping Safety
Dry camping is fun and affordable… but if you’re not careful, it can also be a little scary, particularly if you’re alone. It’s all about keeping your wits about you — and taking a few precautionary steps. For example:
- If you’re totally alone at your campsite, avoid leaving your RV for long periods of time.
- Don’t leave valuable items in your camper at all, or if you must, hide them well and make sure they’re not visible from the window.
- If camping alone, consider leaving two pairs of shoes outside of your camper door to indicate that more than one person is living there (even if they’re not).
- Consider caravaning or traveling in groups whenever possible.
Are You Ready for the Freedom of Dry Camping?
Hopefully, these dry camping tips will give you the confidence to break away from the campground and experience true freedom. Happy dry camping!
This post contains affiliate links. RVshare may receive compensation if you make a purchase after clicking on a product link.