The Beginner’s Guide to Boondocking: How to Dry Camp like a Pro
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Boondocking is a fancy term referred to by RV’ers who love to be off the grid and dry camp. Dry camping means no water, electricity, or sewer hook-up. This type of camping is for anyone who wants to get closer to nature, away from the everyday hustle and bustle, and of course, it’s FREE!
The first-time boondocking can be scary, hard to adjust to, and hard to be prepared for. This quick guide will help the most basic beginner become a seasoned boondocker in no time at all!
Now you may be asking a few questions such as, “Where do I find free spots?” “How do I save water or get power?” “Where do I dump and fill?” “Is this even safe?” We are here to put your mind at ease and get you moving in the right direction.
Four Options for Boondocking
There are four main options for dry camping, and each one has its pros and cons to be aware of.
1. Stealth Camping
Just as it sounds, this is the art of hiding in plain sight. This type of camping is best made for small RV’s, camper vans, and some small trailers. For Stealth Boondocking you’ll want to search out an area that does not have a “No Parking” or “Tow Away Zone” sign. This is great for short-term stays between destinations or if you’re just looking for a place to get a few minutes of shut-eye. This option is not ideal long-term the risk of security and/or property owners asking you to leave at any time.
2. Parking Lots
As many of you know, parking in lots at Walmart, Bass Pro Shops, Cracker Barrel, and in some casinos will allow you to stay overnight, but it is important to call ahead and check. Also, it is safer to park towards the back of a lot out of the way of regular shoppers and patrons. This option is best for short-term stays.
3. Mooch Docking
This is the art of mooching off your family, friends, or someone with a plot of land. Mooching is when you are living in your home away from home on someone’s land generally for free or for a small fee. Like the saying says, “It’s all about who you know.”
4. Dispersed Camping
Dispersed camping is going to be the most off-the-grid option for free camping and longer stays. This free option is usually on state land, national forest land, and other Bureau of Land Management land (BLM). Generally, 14-day stays are what is allowed here before you become a squatter and are asked to leave, maybe even after receiving a ticket. To stay safe and know you’re abiding by the rules, learn how to find the right spots in the next section.
Equipment for Boondocking
Now that you have a better understanding of the different options, let’s talk about equipment. We want to keep this as simple as possible so people who are just starting out will know exactly what they need to get the most out of dry camping.
Portable Propane or Butane Stove
If you’re a minimalist and the thought of cooking inside an RV makes your skin crawl, then a portable stove will do you just fine. The two most common types are small propane stoves and butane stoves. The way they work is simple; pick one up, turn it on and it starts giving off heat. If you’re planning on using propane or butane gas, be sure to check that your tanks are full before heading out to boondock for the first few times.
Water Tank and Water Hose
You’ll need a water tank and a way to fill it with fresh water. The smallest system is typically less than $100 and includes a 20-gallon tank, 5-foot garden hose, and built-in pump that can be attached to your kitchen faucet or electric hookups at the campsite. This allows you to fill up your tank at any faucet or hookup available. Large 40-gallon tanks are also available if you’re planning on dry camping for a longer period of time.
This is one of our favorite options. Did you know that flushing a regular toilet once uses 3 gallons of water? Waterless toilets are made to be self-contained and can be used by multiple people for up to 10 days before they need to be emptied. If you’re not looking for an immediate solution, this could also work if you plan on using Walmart or Cracker Barrel parking lots. You can purchase these units for under $100, and the best part is that you only have to empty it every 10 days or so.
Solar Panel Kit
If you’re planning on spending long periods of time without any access to power, this could be a great choice. These panels are lightweight and fold up into a small storage area. The unit we recommend runs on battery power or can be charged directly from your vehicle and comes with all the adapters you’ll need for most older and new models of RVs. It is important to note that this is not a generator replacement and should only be used when working with your converter or inverter.
Battery Voltage Meter
A battery voltage meter will help you keep track of how much power your battery is receiving. If you find out that the solar panel isn’t delivering enough juice, you can plug into shore power to top off your batteries and run appliances as needed. This little tool is inexpensive and can be wired directly into the fuse panel.
Water Filter System
Most free campsites will include a water hookup, but it is always good practice to use some sort of water filter system. These make great sense if you’re planning on mooching or working out of your RV while dry camping.
Dry Bag For Cell Phone/ Keys/ Wallet
If you’re planning on boondocking, finding the right spot is half the battle. You don’t want to lose anything while looking for your free campsite of choice. A dry bag comes in handy if you plan on hiking or doing other activities while you explore the area.
Tarp/ Camper Cover
If you’re boondocking for a long period of time, a tarp could be used to cover your roof and keep it from leaking. It is also a good idea to bring a camper cover if you plan on driving around. This will keep dust, pollen and insects out of your rig.
Lawn Chairs/ Outdoor Blanket
A comfortable place to sit is essential for all campers. Lawn chairs are lightweight and easy to store when not in use. We recommend the CLIQ camping chair which , a high-quality, bottle-sized (no joke!) camping chair.
An outdoor blanket is also a good idea if you want to set up next to the lake or take a quick nap on the beach.
Night Vision Binoculars/ Compass
Night vision binoculars and a compass are important tools to have if you’re planning on dry camping for long periods of time, especially in areas where there isn’t any civilization nearby. Keep an eye out for people or animals that might be lurking around your campsite.
If you can’t go more than a few hours without using the bathroom, we recommend investing in a portable toilet. This will help with any water issues that might arise while boondocking and can be used multiple times before it needs to be emptied. These units start around $90 at RV supply stores, but be sure to shop around. For women, a female urination device might come in handy.
Additional Useful Items For Boondocking
Here are some items that might come in handy when you’re boondocking at a free campsite. These are just suggestions and are not required for boondocking:
Axe/ Weed Eaters
If you plan on staying at a campsite for an extended period, an axe or a weed eater will come in handy when you need to clear away any overgrowth or brush. Think about what you’ll be doing during your visit and pack accordingly.
If you plan on doing any outdoor activities while boondocking, you might find it helpful to take a bucket and shovel. Many state and national parks will not allow for digging in the dirt or mud, so make sure you’re following park rules and regulations before getting started.
LED Lanterns (multiple)
Camping LED lanterns are great for setting up a campsite or preparing dinner after the sun goes down. LED lanterns also come in handy when you’re using your RV toilet at night and need some extra light.
We love packing cubes cubes for every kind of trip, including camping trips, as they keep belongings organized.
Water, Electricity, Dumping, and Safety For Boondocking
Going off the grid brings challenges that need to be addressed ahead of time. Where will you get water and electricity? How will you empty the tanks? Is it even safe?
It is important to fill your tanks ahead of time and bring as much extra water as you can carry. This includes spare tanks, water bottles, coolers, etc. Keeping track of how much water you use while boondocking is also important. Short showers or spit baths will save a lot of water and disposable dishes can be burned or tossed (preferably burned).
Using 12-volt power that comes equipped with your camper will help preserve resources while saving you money. You can certainly use a generator, but you may have to pay buy one and you will need to pay for fuel. Most generators are also annoyingly noisy and bulky. That being said, if you use a generator, run it for an hour a day to charge the batteries in the RV and make sure you charge anything else you need.
Another alternative is to use a solar panel. This will trickle charge your batteries and can last a long time between plugins.
You can dump in most campgrounds or state parks for a small fee. Occasionally, you can find a free place to dump. Search your apps for these hidden gems!
Boondockers have a code of respect for one another. It is common to see other people boondocking, so be courteous to other spaces. Some rules to follow include doing your best to be respectful, sharing space and resources, and If asked to leave an area by security or a landowner, do as instructed. After all, you are a guest.
Cell Phone and Internet
You may be far from cell service or the internet and that can be daunting. Know where to get service in case of emergency. Alternatively, you can get a 12-volt Wi-Fi and cell signal booster to extend your signal’s reach.
Final Tips For Boondocking
As Benjamin Franklin said, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail!” Always plan, plan, and plan. This will save you from issues and having to cut your trip short.
Another tip is to stay in a campground for a night or two between boondocking spots so you can dump and fill, recharge with full hookups, and give yourself time to plan your next adventure.
Lastly, leave no trace behind! Cleaning up after yourself is good for the environment and keeps places open for future boondockers. We hope you enjoyed these helpful hints to make your next trip more fun, safe, and hassle-free. Now let’s get boondocking!
Bonus: Recommended App/Website Resources For Boondocking
There are many websites, Pinterest Pins, and apps to find places for boondocking. These are found to be the most effective.
- All Stays
- Boondockers Welcome – Membership Based Service
These sources will help you do research ahead of time to plan out a trip that is going to be the best option for a successful boondocking trip. Once you find where you are going, it is also recommended to check the spot out on Google Maps satellite view. You can find a good spot to park your camper, make sure there is room to turn around if needed, and ultimately explore the area. If you want to be sure the spot is going to work, unhook your trailer and explore ahead of time.
If you enjoy camping, you might also like these articles:
The Best National Parks for Camping in the United States