Some call it boondocking, some call it wild camping, and some call it dry camping. No matter what you name you give it, camping outside of the confines 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, as with so many things in life, when fantasy meets reality, it soon becomes clear that it’s not as simple as it seems. There is undoubtedly some required know how to make this type of camping a success.
Boondocking VS Dry Camping
Believe it or not, the term boondocking is generally used in the wrong way. The original term, bundok is from a language spoken in the Philippine Islands. This word means mountain, but there are other definitions as well including “a location that is far from civilization”.
In the RVing world, boondocking is often used to describe camping without hookups when dry camping would be a more accurate term. Boondocking represents the place where you decide to dry camp, not the act itself. In other words, all boondocking is a form of dry camping, but all forms of dry camping are not boondocking (when you stay at a campground with no hook-ups you are not boondocking). All arguments about what we call this type of camping aside, there is no doubt that you need
Assess & Adjust
The first tip when it comes to successful boondocking is to assess your RV. It’s important to know both 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 when it comes to dry camping. For example, if you have a small truck camper, the small size lets you camp just about anywhere that you choose. But with a smaller RV you have limited space for resources, and you have limited capacity when it comes to black water, gray water, and batteries.
On the other hand, if you have a large 40 foot motorhome, the amount of places you can dry camp is drastically reduced, but your capacity for holding water and making electricity 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 the things that limit the time that you can dry camp. For the most part, you will simply have to change some habits and readjust what is needed for you to be comfortable.
The All-Important Topic of Water
Water is one of the most important things to a dry camper. Being conservative with your fresh water will let you stay out for a longer period of time. It will also slow down the rate at which your gray water tank fills up. In addition to be begin conservative you can also extend your fresh water capacity as well 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. There are a few con
- Use a plastic dishpan in your shower to capture the water that is being wasted. 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.
- Rinse water and dish water that has been collected in a dishpan can be dumped directly into a hole or on plants.
Showering is one of the quickest ways to use up your fresh water and fill up your grey tank. A great alternative 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 on board supply for other uses.
The Black Water Tank
The black water tank holds your toilet waste and generally doesn’t fill up as quickly as the gray water tank. But when it does fill up, you CANNOT dump it just anywhere. You must find the closest dump station to dispose of it properly. 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 is a cassette toilet. This built-in toilet has a removable tank that can be accessed by an outside compartment door.
These types of toilets can be emptied into virtually any type of toilet. This convenience can dramatically increase your dry camping time. This is especially true if you have regular access to a toilet. Another alternative is a small portable toilet. They are a cassette toilet with a smaller capacity that doesn’t have to be installed permanently.
When hooked up to shore power at a campground you have access to both 120 volt and 12 volt power. In other words, you are able to 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, etc. Basically, 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 RVs batteries. When batteries run out, so does your power.
Due to the limitations of power, you must learn how to conserve energy.
- Turn off all lights and appliances when not in use
- Only turn on one light at a time
- Use a battery operated book light to read your favorite novels 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. 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. Of course, the are noisy and annoying so most campers try to limit their use.
One of the best ways to increase your electrical capacity is with 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 system that you will need. First calculate your electrical needs for each appliance, then match it up to the appropriate panel size. Be sure to add in a cushion to compensate for those days when you use more electrical energy. This cushion also comes in hand on cloudy days when it takes longer to generate power.
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 cook top. 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.
Are You Ready for the Freedom of Dry Camping?
Hopefully these dry camping tips will give you the know how and confidence to break away from the campground and experience true freedom. Happy dry camping!