Traveling by RV can be one of the best ways to leave your troubles behind and spend a few days becoming one with nature. But in the summertime, finding the perfect campground can be tricky, especially if you decide to take off on short notice.
Luckily, boondocking — aka, dry camping — is a great way to get your RV fix without having to worry about crowds or campground reservations.
What is Boondockng?
In American vernacular, boondocking was originally used by American soldiers to refer to a remote rural area. Over time, the word morphed into American slang — to be out in the “boonies.”
When referring to RV travel, camping, or vanlife, boondocking means camping in an area with no amenities and no power hookups. It’s a great way to save money while you’re traveling, and the best way to camp completely off the grid with no other campers in sight.
Because boondocking tends to be further away from civilization, it requires some research and planning to ensure that you’re camping safely, legally, and comfortably.
What is Dry Camping?
Similar to boondocking, dry camping means camping without any hookups — whether you’re at a developed campground or not. Boondocking is dry camping outside a developed campground. For the rest of the article, we use these terms interchangeably.
What are Full Hook Up (FHU) Campsites?
Full hook-up campsites are campsites with access to shore power (electricity), water, and sewer. You’ll find these sites at RV parks and established campgrounds that allow you to plug in the RV to use electricity and water.
How to Boondock Like a Champ
If you’re planning to boondock or dry camp successfully, you’ve come to the right place. These 10 tips will get you ready to camp out in the heart of the wilderness with your RV.
1. Plan Ahead
Boondocking isn’t as simple as parking your RV wherever you want and camping for the night. It requires some planning to ensure where you’re parking is legal. Many sites that might appear to be the perfect place to set up camp don’t actually allow overnight camping.
You always need permission to camp on private property. Even on public land, you need to make sure you’re in a spot that allows for overnight camping.
Many places have signage telling you whether or not you can camp, although this isn’t always the case. That’s why research is important — the last thing you want during your vacation is to have to deal with getting fined or ticketed.
Put together an itinerary with your route and where you plan to go. Figure out where you want to stay each night, then research dry camping spots within those destinations.
Some of the best sites to find boondocking locations are USFS, Campendium, iOverlander, Bureau of Land Management, and the Public Lands app. Use websites like Roadtrippers to help keep you organized and track your route.
If you’re driving a bigger rig, it might be smart to send in a smaller vehicle first to scout out the area once you arrive. This can help you figure out where exactly you’re going so you can avoid any clearance issues.
2. Obey Stay Limits
Just because you’re camping outside of a marked campground doesn’t mean that there aren’t stay limits for dry camping. This is especially true if you decide to camp in a retail parking lot (such as Walmart – aka Wallydocking).
Public-owned land, such as National Forests and Bureau of Land Management areas, might even require a camping pass in certain spots.
If you’re unsure about what each site requires, contact the site or management to find out. If you’re heading to public-owned land, you can usually find this information on their websites. Be sure to also check road conditions and regulations to ensure you’re able to drive safely into these areas.
When planning time at a developed site, it’s a good idea to give the campground management information about your RV to find out if the area is a good fit for your rig. You’ll likely find that most sites and dispersed camping areas have a 14-day maximum. But it’s always best to ask rather than assume.
3. Know Your Rig Requirements
Knowing your rig requirements is extremely important when renting an RV. Dry camping is much different than parking at a campground with hookups, and every vehicle is different in terms of what it can and can’t handle.
Ask yourself the following questions when putting together your itinerary.
Can my rig navigate large hills or hairpin turns?
Do I need four-wheel drive or all-terrain tires to reach the location?
If the weather were to take a turn for the worst, would I be able to drive or tow the rig out of the site?
What is the capacity of my water tank?
What is the capacity of my black and gray water tank?
How do I plan on recharging my battery bank?
Do I need or have the ability to generate A/C power?
Do I need to bring extra gear or safety equipment along (shovel, sand, back-up heater, etc.)?
When renting an RV from Overland Discovery, you’ll receive a video orientation from our team covering all the RV’s functionalities and equipment, along with a detailed in-person or video orientation before you head out on your trip.
We’re big fans of boondocking, and understand there’s a lot that goes into dry camping, especially when you’re not as familiar with RVs. Rest assured, our team will share tips and requirements for you to have the best boondocking experience. This includes information on battery life, which appliances you should refrain from using, and general tips and tricks to make the best of your dry camping experience.
4. Conserve Water
Before you begin your off-grid adventure, you might want to stay the night in a park where you’ll have access to hookups. This will give you time to prep meals, fill up your fresh water tank, and empty any trash or sewage that you may have collected on your journey.
This also gives you a chance to test each piece of equipment in your rig to make sure everything is working well before heading away from amenities. Make sure that your battery inverter, fridge, water pump system, and cooking equipment are all working properly before you head out into nature.
You may be able to forgo the first night at an RV park or full hookup site, as long as you fully understand how everything in your RV works before heading out.
Once you’ve begun boondocking, conserving water is key. Here are a few ways to extend your water supply:
Bring along fresh drinking water in bottles or jugs so that you don’t have to use up the water from your fresh water tank. (We don’t recommend drinking water from the RV tanks, so it’s a good idea to bring drinking water with you whether you’re dry camping or hooked up to city water).
Calculate how much water you’ll need each day beforehand (most people need between 3-4 liters per day, especially if you are active) and purchase bottled water at the store before heading out, or refill them at park water stations.
Bring extra water jugs to use for any cooking, toothbrushing, washing dishes, etc. This will help save water for showering. We recommend purchasing several 5-gallon containers that you can fill up and stow away until needed.
When you wash your dishes, scrape every piece of food into a trash can and wipe the plates down with a paper towel before rinsing off with water.
Reduce the number of showers that you take by using baby wipes and dry shampoo when possible. When you do shower, turn off the water any time you are not rinsing off. This means when you are lathering shampoo or conditioner, the water should be off.
And if you’re looking to really save some water, consider dumping your dishwater into the toilet. Reusing the water means you won’t be flushing clean water down the toilet every time you use it.
5. Plan Out Energy Use
Like your water usage, you’ll want to monitor your electricity. While you’re parked at a site with hookups, consider how much energy you’ll use. Take note of how long your battery lasts when unplugged beforehand.
If you’re concerned about running out of power, look into using solar panels or a bigger battery bank. Some options include an extra car battery, a deep cycle battery, or a separate lithium battery like a Goal Zero Yeti Portable Power Station that can be charged with solar power or by plugging it into the cigarette lighter.
At Overland Discovery, all our compact RVs are equipped with lithium batteries and solar power, so dry camping is a bit easier than in a traditional RV (which usually have generators). It’s important to understand how the battery receives power, how long it takes to charge, and how long the battery will last based on the appliances you’re using.
For the most part, we recommend limiting energy usage when boondocking or dry camping, just to be safe. This includes limiting or restricting high-energy appliances such as the A/C, TV, and household appliances that pull a lot of power (e.g., hairdryer, blender, coffee maker, etc.).
If you own your RV, another great way to save power is to switch to LED lighting. Many older RV models have traditional bulbs which can be power suckers. With the efficiency of LED lighting, you could literally leave the lights on all day and night and you would not run out of battery – not that we would recommend this!
You may also want to pack some battery-powered candles or camp lighting like a lantern or headlamps. When it comes to low-tech heating and cooking options, a two-burner propane stove can be a lifesaver, too.
Before adventuring off, consider packing extra propane bottles so you can overcome any unknowns while dry camping.
6. Strategically Place Your Compact RV
Just like regular camping, weather makes a difference in where you set up camp in your RV.
If the weather is cold, position the RV in the sunniest location to help conserve your propane usage. The same goes if the weather is hot — make sure your RV is parked in the shade or at least positioned out of the sun so you can keep it cooler inside.
Parking in the shade is especially important for summer boondocking, as you will likely not be able to use the A/C unit because of how quickly it drains the battery.
Another great option for keeping the RV cool is to use window covers. Placing the reflective side outwards reflects the heat away. When you’re in the cold, the reflective side facing inwards helps keep the warmth inside the RV.
Of course, bringing plenty of blankets is a cost-effective, easy, and cozy way to manage cold weather, too!
7. Take Safety Precautions
No matter where you’re camping, it’s always wise to prepare for emergencies. If possible, stay somewhere where you’ll have cell service. Make sure someone knows your location or coordinates before you travel to the middle of nowhere, and check in with them regularly.
Keep at least one phone charged at all times, and know where the closest landline is in case you need to reach someone.
Along with a charged cell phone, always have an emergency kit on hand. Your kit should include first-aid supplies (knowing where the closest hospital is is also useful), an all-weather radio, a flashlight, extra fuel, emergency food and water, and blankets should you need to stay warm without power.
Make sure you have a first aid kit and fire extinguisher handy. At Overland Discovery, we include these items with all of our RV rentals, so there’s no need to worry about adding them to your packing list.
Safety items included in our compact RV rentals:
First aid kit
Vehicle-specific placard with emergency phone numbers and important information
And although you’ll likely be far away from other campers, do what you can to avoid potential thieves. Keep expensive items locked and out of sight, and always lock the doors before you go adventuring.
RVs tend to have various doors (driver and passenger doors, side door, back door, and gear storage doors). Make sure all the doors are locked and that you take the keys with you!
Lastly, you’re in the wilderness with wild animals. Don’t leave any food or garbage outside that may attract unwanted visitors. Enjoy them from a distance, but don’t tempt them to come closer!
8. Follow Boondock Etiquette
It’s an unspoken rule that boondockers like their space. So when setting up shop, leave as much distance as possible between your rig and your neighbors.
Be considerate of noise and light usage as well. Don’t blast your radio or leave your generator running constantly, and make sure your exterior lights are off when you’re not using them.
Lastly, always try to leave your site cleaner than it was when you arrived. Put out all campfires,, don’t dump out any tanks on the ground, and follow Leave No Trace principles.
9. Be Flexible
Lastly, boondocking requires you to be flexible and adapt to changing situations. When you’re in a full hookup campground or park, everything is taken care of for you.
Boondocking is the opposite. You’re on your own to figure everything out, and that can feel a little uncomfortable — especially if you’ve never done it before.
But boondocking is also a lot of fun, and there are many opportunities to troubleshoot, learn, and grow into a camping pro.
No matter how you camp, there are always unpredictable elements — from availability to weather to wildlife. However you adventure, it’s wise to have a backup plan and stay flexible.
It’s Time to Go Boondocking!
Whether you’re staying in established campsites or finding a spot to boondock, the possibilities are endless when you rent an RV from Overland Discovery.
From Jeep campers to campervans to compact RV rentals, there’s an adventure vehicle to inspire every type of explorer. And who knows — after renting from us, you may decide to get an RV of your own and become a true boondocker yourself!
Not quite ready to rent an RV? You will be after you read our guide on everything you need to know about RV travel >