As I kid, I remember camping in the beautiful Rocky Mountains. We would pack all our food, tents, sleeping bags and hiking gear. There was no electricity, no running water (except for the mountain stream), and no bathrooms nearby. It was truly exhilarating and peaceful at the same time. For a kid my age, the great outdoors brought freedom and adventure. The best part? It was free!
How can you camp for free you ask? It’s a style of camping called boondocking!
While boondocking in a RV is different than camping like I did as a kid, it still brings the same sense of freedom and adventure.
This guide will answer common questions about boondocking, give some useful tips, and provide you with everything you need to start boondocking right away!
Disclaimer: I would like to thank Nina over at WheelinIt.com for her informative posts on boon docking and Mark C. a sales consultant at our dealership who was a Florida State Ranger for many years. I hope it can be great resource to anybody wanting to boon dock!
What is Boondocking?
Boondocking is camping out in the “boonies.” Some people call it “off the grid.” This means no electricity, no running water, no friends (except your cat and the occasional raccoon), and no traffic. It’s just you, the stars and all of nature. You are truly “unplugged!”
Sound impossible? Not only is it possible, it’s free! And there aren’t many things free left in this world.
Note: This shouldn’t be confused with “dry camping.” Dry camping is like boondocking, but isn’t out in the “boonies.” This includes using campsites without hookups, parking in your friends driveway for free or Wal-Mart parking lots.
Okay, I know I said it was free. But, there are some costs that are not monetary. Those costs come in the form of sacrifices (i.e. limited supply of water, power and some comforts). That being said, the reward of quiet and solitude is worth it!
But, what about….
Don’t worry! You will have water, just not an unlimited supply. Most RVs have a fresh water tank. This is where you put, you guessed it, potable water! Check your owners manual or the RV manufacturer website to see what tank capacity you have. This supply of drinkable water will keep you going for at least two weeks. If you really conserve, it can take you even longer.
Note: If you’re worried about drinking water from the fresh water tank, you can purify the water by using a cap full of bleach for every 50-100 gallons of water.
Here are some good ways to implement water saving practices. Eartheasy.com has a few great ideas.
Install water saving shower heads and low flow faucet aerators: These bad boys give you the feeling you’re getting great water pressure, but it uses a lot less water. Hooray!
Take short showers: While this seems obvious, it really works. Simply rinse, turn water off, soap up, and rinse off. It’s similar to cleaning your car, but no waxing! This is also called the “marine shower.”
Wait on the dishes: If you’re a clean freak like me, leaving dishes in the sink is the last thing you want to do. But, if you wait until they pile up, you don’t use as much water! I know your parents taught you otherwise, but this time I’m giving you permission!
For more great water conservation tips visit EarthEasy.com.
While plugging into a power source is not an option, you will still have some power. You can find these at a hardware or local RV supply store. Most RVs are outfitted with batteries. Bigger motorhomes can have up to six. You should never go below a 90% charge (this is especially true if you have slide outs on your RV. You never want to run your slides in and out on a low charge. You run the danger of burning your slide motors out). You can still run basic things on your batteries like cell phone, computers and other electronics.
It is recommended that you buy a meter (most RVs are outfitted with one) to monitor the charge on your battery. Once you hit the 90% mark, simply recharge using the generator. If you don’t have an on board generator, most RV supply departments can order one for you.
If you’re boondocking a lot, solar power is the way to go. This way you’re always charging the batteries. We cover this more in depth later.
Tip: Use LED lights and small solar powered recharging panels for things like your cellphones and computers.
So, you may be asking: How do I stay smelling nice and fresh for the world around me while on a limited supply of water!? Keep in mind that the “world around you” is probably your spouse and the turtle that just crawled by an hour ago.
However, we are sophisticated human beings, so body odor is still unpleasant. While some of these ideas are not traditional, I think with a bit of “out of the box thinking” they may become regular practices for you.
Take short showers
Consider limiting the amount of showers you take. (Here is a great article I found on why washing your hair everyday may not actually be necessary…and why it’s not gross.)
Find a creek!
Take a sponge bath.
Take a shower with your spouse. It’s a two for one deal!
Limit your showers to every other day.
- There are “dry-shampoo and body wash” product you can buy that don’t require water. Check out these brands on Amazon.
Where am I going to use the bathroom? This answer will vary from among RVers. However, most motorhomes and travel trailers do have a black tank. The black tank is where all the waste goes from the toilet. Keep an eye on your tank indicators to know when it’s time to dump.
You black tank will not likely fill within a two week period. By that time, you’ll be ready to move to the next location (most National Parks have a 14 day location limit anyways).
Tip: Use www.sanidumps.com to find the closest location to dump your black tank. They have a iPhone App as well. It’s a good idea to chart this out before you find a camping spot.
If you’re RV doesn’t have a black tank or yours fills up faster than expected, there are sanitary and legal ways to take care “of business” out in nature. Make sure you follow the “Leave No Trace” guidelines for waste and those of the park you’re visiting. For a comprehensive article on properly disposing human waste check out: http://www.trailspace.com/articles/backcountry-waste-disposal.html
Unless you hunt and scavenge off the land, you’re going to have trash from leftover food, plastic and more. The best way to handle trash is store it in a storage compartment in your RV away from anything that could absorb the smell like blankets and clothes.
Never leave your trash outside, even if you think leftovers are “organic” and “good for the earth.” There are still animals that could get sick. Some may even think you are their best friend and will attack your campsite the next night in search of more Twinkies. Some states make leaving your trash outside illegal.
Hold on to that garbage until you find a suitable place to dump it. Many national parks have trash receptacles for your convenience. You can also find a dumpster at a public dump site, behind a restaurant or grocery store. [Caution: Make sure these places are OK with you using their dumpster.]
My Food & Cooking!
While living on beef jerky and pork rinds for two weeks sounds adventurous, eating good tasty food is not hard. One of the greatest inventions was the propane powered oven and fridge. Depending on the size of your propane tanks, you can go weeks cooking gourmet meals and keeping your food fresh. Most RV fridges automatically switch to propane once electricity is disconnected. This way you don’t worry about spoiled food.
If all else fails, there is always your bow and arrow!
If you’ve lived in the city all your life, then camping out in the wild may be a challenge. The chances of you being targeted by a thief or the NSA is quite small, however. Don’t worry, you are more safe out in the boonies than in the city. There are lots of people in cities, and you know as well as I, that people can be crazy! I say Less People = Less Danger.
How to Prepare
If you are properly prepared for your boondocking adventure, then you are sure to have a great time. As you boondock more and learn to “survive” on little, you’ll find preparation getting easier and simpler.
Finding a Campsite
Finding campsites can be a challenge. Many “off the grid” campers don’t like to tell others about their “special spots.” I mean, why would you let the secret out, it might not be there next time you come!
The best way is by asking questions, experience and networking. Here are some recommendations:
Contact your local State Park, National Park, or BLM (Bureau of Land Management). The employees working these parks and lands can answer most of your questions. Ask them to mail you a trail map with campsites highlighted.
Ask fellow RVers. This is one of the best ways to find “sweet” boondocking spots but you may need to bribe them.
Join an RV forum, they are a wealth of information.
Use an App like MyCampmate [link: http://www.mycampmate.com/] to find great sites (This is geared to campsites in general, not just boondocking sites)
Look for a spot with a variety of natural amenities. Having a lake or river nearby is great for extra water. Make sure you filter any water if you decide to drink it. There are some great “on the go” water filters. Trees nearby are also great for shade and “taking care of nature.”
Packing your RV
Packing for your boondocking adventure is not unlike packing for any other RV trip. You will still pack food, clothes, hiking gear, cameras, lawn chairs and anything else you find necessary. Here are some other ideas:
Bring extra fuel for the generator. Most generators should last a significant amount of time especially if you’re careful. But it’s always a good idea to be safe.
Pack a well supplied First Aid kit. You’re going to be in the boonies after all. No hospitals here!
Your packing should include matches and candles. This is mostly for emergencies. The likelihood of using these isn’t high, but matches are always good to have on hand.
Buy bottled water. Some people don’t like drinking out of the fresh water tank, so this is a perfect alternative.
“RV Goddess” has a couple of great checklists on her website to help you pack! Check the free downloads here.
Setting Up Camp
Setting up your campsite when boondocking is a little different. This is because you don’t have a nicely prepared campsite ready for you. When you see a good place for camping, scout the area. Make sure the ground is firm and flat. It makes it easier to level your RV.
If you have solar panels or a rain catcher, set those up. Start storing up on free resources as soon as possible! Check the fridge and make sure it switched to propane. Most RV fridges have this ability. Now it’s time to set up those lawn chairs, kick back and enjoy being free in the great outdoors!
Here are a number of resources for boondockers.
National Forest Website: Here you can check the National Forest Parks. You can order maps, and brochures, see recreational activities and more!
Bureau of Land Management Website: The BLM manages all public land across the United States. Like the National Forest, they offer campsites, activities, hiking trails and more.
Google Earth: Once you have found a potential boondocking spot, use Google Earth to narrow down the area you want to make camp. It’s a great resource to check out the surroundings of your campsite and makes planning easier.
Boon Dockers Welcome: is a great resource to find free camping across the country. Home owners basically offer a place for you to set up camp. While this may not constitute as “true boondocking,” its a great resource.
Boondocking.org: has a list of free boondocking sites. This is really more of a list of great places that people have found along the way. It is a little hard to use, as you need to use longitude and latitude to find sites.
Freecampsites.net: is a great resource to find Free campsites your area. It’s easy to find spots by using their interactive map.
The RV Network: This website belongs to the Escapees RV Club. This is a great resource for any RVer. Once you’re a member, you can buy their catalog of campsites that has been collected by their members. It’s a great resource!
Good Luck Duck http://www.thegoodluckduck.com/p/boondocking-resources.html
The Ultimate Boon-docker
If you’re serious about boondocking, and want to go the extra step, here are some great ideas to truly unplug and enjoy the adventure.
Go Solar Young Man!
Boondocking is all about going without convenience and using the nature to survive. By going solar, you can truly do this. Not only are you saving energy, you’re being environmentally friendly. There is enough sun for everyone! “Gone with the Wynns,” avid full-time RVers, are really great at this solar stuff.
Turning off Technology
We live in a world where technology takes over every part of us. It may not be possible to turn the cell phone and computer off for too long, but I encourage you to try it. It will truly relax you.
Boondocking is one of the most rewarding and enjoyable activities. There is something very beautiful and restful about getting away from the world and getting “off the grid.” (hint: if you don’t already enjoy the RV lifestyle, you can join us by visiting one of our Florida RV dealer locations!
If you have any ideas or suggestions from your boondocking experience, feel free to share below!
Extra Bonus: I’ve compiled this into a PDF and offer it for free as a an eBook! Just click here for your Free copy!