If you’ve never tried RV boondocking, you’ll quickly learn that full-hookup RV park stays are totally different from a dry camping experience. When you’re thinking of making the switch, these two RV boondocking basics for newbies will help you do it with ease.
The Two Most Important RV Boondocking Basics You Need to Know
To some RVers, dry camping is unthinkable. Camp off-grid? Never! It’s hard to give up creature comforts we take for granted, like water, sewer and electric on demand, but many of us find the benefits to be worth the sacrifice. The benefits of RV boondocking include:
- Camping far away from crowds and noise
- Getting closer to natural surroundings
- Enjoying the slower pace of life in comfort, like sleeping under the stars on a real mattress!
When my husband and I transitioned from tent camping to RVing twelve years ago, we couldn’t wait to try RV boondocking. But our earliest attempts to camp without hookups were epic fails. Our RV felt so home-like that we often forgot the backcountry conservation tips we practiced when we carried our home on our backs.
For example, the two biggest hassles we repeatedly encountered in our first few years of RV boondocking were running out of water and firing up our Honda Super Quiet generator more often than we wanted. Twelve years later, we have the art of dry camping down to a science.
Here are the two most basic RV boondocking tips we’ve learned that can reduce your learning curve to make camping easier and more enjoyable.
Tip #1: Start with Water Conservation
Most all of us leave the faucet on while dishwashing and tooth brushing with full-hookups. That bad habit must stop when you go dry camping without a water connection.
Ironically enough, on-board water conservation is a critical part of dry camping comfort. Once you fill your freshwater tanks and get situated in your campsite, the last thing you want to do is relocate to find fresh water because your holding tanks are empty (or full of grey water).
Make water conservation the first thing on your mind when you open the tap in the kitchen and bathroom. Use your precious fresh water as if it’s the last supply on earth. Some RV boondocking basics to conserve water include:
- Barbecue more often. Outdoor grilling keeps RV stoves clean.
- Clean dishes with minimal soap. Use a spray bottle mixed with a few drops of dish soap and a lot of water to keep suds low.
- Get used to bird baths. Pre-moistened body wipes and dry shampoo are great hygiene tools to keep clean in-between showers. On shower day, a low-flow RV shower nozzle with an off valve for soaping up will save you gallons of fresh water.
- Consider a grey water recycling system. If your RV has more black tank room than you normally use, you may be able to recycle grey water into your RV toilet.
Tip #2: Be Kind to Your Batteries
Most RVers would probably agree that this is one of biggest boondocking challenges. All of us are used to plugging in and forgetting about our electricity consumption. But once we rely on RV batteries to carry our loads, we quickly realize the value of RV solar electric power investments.
If your RV doesn’t have a solar power system, these electricity conservation tips can minimize reliance on your generator and avoid annoying RV neighbors.
- Don’t keep a constant demand on your RV batteries. Minimize the use of appliances and toys that require you to keep charging house batteries. Your television, laptop and unused lights are three of the biggest energy hogs.
- Leave kitchen appliances behind. Your great grandma didn’t need a microwave to whip up an awesome meal. Think back to the cooking tools she used like stovetop tea kettles, sharp knives for hand-chopping veggies and cookie sheets for oven-heated left-overs. These things do not require power and turn out equally tasty results.
RVs are designed as self-contained vehicles that have everything you need for comfort whether you’re on the move or enjoying dispersed camping on BLM land. Get into the habit of these RV boondocking basics and you can enjoy your rig to its fullest potential, far from crowds and the chaos of daily living. Isn’t that why you wanted to camp without hookups in the first place?
Rene Agredano and her husband, Jim Nelson, became full-time RVers in 2007 and have been touring the country ever since. In her blog, Rene chronicles the ins and outs of the full-timing life and brings readers along to meet the fascinating people and amazing places they visit on the road. Her road trip adventures are chronicled in her blog at LiveWorkDream.com.
Stephen Monteith Albers says
Great insight and tips. The microwave is one exception. It uses minimal power, is fast, safe and does not heat up the interior. Along with induction cooktops and pressure cookers, these modern appliances fit boondocking well. But you must provide the temporary power to run them.
john arata says
Actually next to the air conditioner the microwave uses the most amount of power
Erinn Mayer says
YES, the microwave uses a lot of power! Get a pressure cooker (or a Ninja Foodi) & cook on the table, OUTSIDE your RV!
Stephen Monteith Albers says
Microwave – high power, yes. But very short duration, and concentrated in the food, not heating pans. So total energy to cook dinner is minimal
Maggie Low says
Maybe add….Bringing extra Gas for generator, Extra Water filled containers, paper plates, cups & disposable KFS. Crank charging radios, lights are a great idea as well. Great tips though, otherwise. So appreciated!
David Alejandro says
Why use a microwave or induction cooker when you can cook things the right way? No self-respecting chef would use either. I’ve cooked on gas stoves camping in a tent and in RVs. I’ve never needed a microwave.
Ivan the 1st says
Geat ideas, but the stove top kettle and the ovened cookie sheet use power in the form of propane, unless you use them on the grill, unless you use a propane grill. Best way, if possible, make a campfire using portable stove found at camping store and sometimes at WallyWorld.
Prospector 1950 says
As was stated. Quote, “To some RVers, dry camping is unthinkable. Camp off-grid? Never! It’s hard to give up creature comforts we take for granted, like water, sewer and electric on demand, but many of us find the benefits to be worth the sacrifice. The benefits of RV boondocking include:
Camping far away from crowds and noise
Getting closer to natural surroundings
Enjoying the slower pace of life in comfort, like sleeping under the stars on a real mattress!” Unquote.
My wife and I have a 22 ft self contained travel trailer which we used for camping and we found that what was said above was a fact. Too many creature comforts and which people don’t seem to want to give up because they are spoiled, and so were we..
It wasn’t until I built our Teardrop Camper trailer and went camping in it that we actually found the real enjoyment of camping.(RV’ing), Since then our RV camping has been a whole lot more enjoyable as we don’t don’t have to rely upon home-style creature comforts. We cook outdoors in the galley on the back, we use a privy tent with compost toilet facilities,
We conserve water by using a converted black 4″ ABS pipe (holds 20 gallons), for showers, We sit outdoors lawn chairs, both during the day, as well as at night under the beautiful star studded sky filled with all its glory of astronomical sights. but yet, we still sleep inside in a comfortable bed (4″ foam rubber laid upon the floor of the teardrop),
Yes, we still have either 120 volt AC power when at full hookup camp sites with shore power as well as 12 volt DC power when boon-docking and no shore power.
Oh yes, it may not be Home-Glory in itself but glory is the fact that in a teardrop we basically get back to nature even in RV’ing.
In voting which do we prefer,……. Either a Full Self Contained RV, or a limited facility, Non-Self-Contained Teardrop Trailer? – Lets just say, my wife would beat me with a wet noodle if we got rid of our teardrop trailer and had to go back to using our 22 ft fully self-contained RV trailer. An I would have to agree with her, and not just because she would beat me with a wet noodle either. I love that teardrop trailer as much as she does. .
All I can say is, you’ll never experience camping and nature in all it’s glory until you have spent time camping in a teardrop trailer, rather than a fully self-contained RV.
And, yes I will agree that Teardrops are not for everybody as each persons tastes are different. But to each his own.
So, take it for what it’s worth. My wife and I will never go back. Teardrops may not be a home in itself, with all its facilities and fanciness, but they sure do beat trying to bring your home with you in the form of an over-rated self-contained home on wheels of which you only subsist in rather than enjoying nature in all its glory. – Nuff, Said.
Sam Crabtree says
Your statement ” you’ll never experience camping and nature in all it’s glory until you have spent time camping in a teardrop trailer,” isn’t quite correct – except as you age. I think that you’ll never experience camping and nature in all it’s glory until you have spent time backpacking. I do camp in an RV now, and I do enjoy it. But I spent a month every summer in my high school and community college years backpacking. Even though I enjoy full timing in the RV I still realize that I don’t enjoy it quite as much as I did backpacking 60 years ago. Not quite as much. But still much better than a “sticks-and-bricks” existence.
I never could see why people want to “camp” and have all the comforts of home. Why spend thousands of dollars on a “camper”. Just stay home and save the money.
Clifford Smith says
I am with you. If you have too many comforts, why leave home? Just pretend you are camping in your driveway or backyard. I was just telling my wife that it is pretty much all we do as most of the State Parks and recreation areas here in Alaska where we live, do not have electricity, water, sewer, etc. To us, an outhouse is a nice extra, but other than that we are always boondocking. Granted, we are just weekend warriers, but I still look forward to the week or two, long excursions to see how long we can last without having to dump and refill.
Stephen Monteith Albers says
Have you considered a fully self-contained teardrop?
Prospector 1950 says
Those fully self contained teardrops are actually larger than ours both in height and length. Not to mention they are also more expensive to purchase than a standard teardrop trailer. A standard factory built teardrop is approximately 15 to 18 thousand dollars at most dealers. the fully self contained teardrops are a lot more than that. I built ours for a total cost of less than five hundred dollars, including state inspection, titling, and licensing, But of course the most expense was purchasing some of the materials new such as the electrical outlets and boxes,the tail lights and side marker lights with wiring and plugs, and the plywood for the body was approximately $350.00. .The rest of the materials and parts such as the sink and its hand pump, along with the 12 volt wiring and both 12 Volt DC, and 120 Volt AC lights, and fuse box were salvaged from one of my old stripped out travel trailers. The frame was a homemade utility trailer frame I built (which included the old rear axle from an old Chevy pickup). The sheet metal roof, and the windows, came from my old pickup camper shell. The 3 inch fiberglass insulation, and the 120 volt AC (12/2 (with ground)), Romex wiring was wiring leftover from remodeling my house. The State vehicle inspection and application for title was $80.00, The license and registration was $36.00. and the two Coleman portable two burner camp stoves were left over (white gas), camp stoves, I purchased years ago back in the 1960’s which still work But. either way, I built it with my own hands, and power tools.- It is titled as a 2017 year model. – P.S., At those prices for a factory built model, I couldn’t even afford a factory built one on Social Security Retirement income, so that’s why I opted to build it myself.
Roy Keene says
Third generation Westerner and retired forester here out of Eugene, Oregon.
Been boondock camping my whole life. The picture of a cluster of RV’s “boondocking” on top of each other at Quartzsite doesn’t fit into my boondocking concept. I explored the Kofa Range directly south of Quartzsite as a young man and remember when it was a toss if we would find the one little gas station in Quartzsite open to top our Jeep.
Our present “RV” is a 2013 no frills, HD 4WD Tundra with an all aluminum framed Four Wheel Hawk camper, one of the rare hard top models, weighing in at only 1100 lbs before we load it. With 10 inches of ground clearance, 10 ply tires, 8 anchors, and very little tail to drag, we can squeeze the juice out of the immense federal lands back road networks in the West. We leave the comforts and contrivances at home where they belong and deluxe cowboy camp with shelter, heat, LED lights, stove, a little fridge, and a hardly ever used porta-potty in stunning and secluded sites . Our skill sets we’ve developed and our off road “RV” are especially rewarding during peak seasons around crowded places like national parks.
Work on deep country camping folks, it’s worth it! Regards to all,
Chuck Nicodemus says
I have to laugh at the idea of Quartzsite .. When we went through that place, just to look . We didn’t even stop.. I would rather pay to stay, and I have stayed in some “real” Rv sites. We have been in better places in Mexico than there..
Jo Blow says
I note the picture of boondocking is crowded, just as bad or worse than parks. I will take a contrary view and here it is. Boondocking is where the crazies and gun nuts go so that they can roar around in their off road motorcycles, ATV’s, and jeeps kicking up dust and making their presence known with noise including gunfire. . The crazies choose boondocking because there are few or no fees, no park rangers, no police, no security, and they can behave usually badly, any way they want to. Then there are the boondockers with their construction generators, running constantly, and very noisy. Quiet generators and solar panels are rare with this bunch. Then there are the fire builders that place their rock rings everywhere so that after a few years the boondock sites look like mini bomb craters. We must not forget the garbage. Many boondockers try to burn metal cans leaving the rusty refuse in their abandoned fire pits. The rest of their garbage is either scattered around or partially burnt and blowing around. So boondockers basically are the kind of people you want to be far away from. They have no manners and quite frankly couldn’t care less about civilized behavior. NO THANKS. I’d rather pay money and be safe, quiet, and secure.
Prospector 1950 says
@ Jo Blo – Speak for yourself – My Wife and I are not your run of the mill ruffian rednecks out to destroy the environment like the ones you are talking about. My Wife and I boon-dock where we can quietly just plain go fishing, or gold prospecting (or panning), and we never have such items as you talk about not even a generator, solar panels, An ATV, Firearms etc., we also only use the batteries mounted on our teardrop. And as far as trash, we pack it in and we pack it back out. As far as the fire-pits we always use either our Coleman camp stove, or our real small portable BBQ grill and not any of the fire-pits if they are there. We don’t like crowds as far as we are concerned more than one other set of campers in the general area are one more two many.
Pete Wilson says
Rather arrogant and assuming view of Boondocking, maybe the area you go; here in Montana, its all we do, and yes sometimes I take my SXS, dirt bike and ride trails, but yes I carry a firearm because I am in bear and mountain lion rich area’s. we pack in, and we pack out and have never seen a messy campsite when arriving or leaving. Not saying it doesn’t happen but maybe it depends on where you live and where your camping, I prefer to boondock away from all the other people and enjoy peace and quiet that boondocking allows.
Maggie Jones says
We experienced our first boondoggle this past winter, loved everything about it . You learn quickly what you can and can’t do. We have been camping for over thirty years. Full time rving now that we are retried is an awesome way to see the country and make many new friends in the desert or in an Rv park.
Jim Moore says
Your power comments are OK to a point, but they miss the mark. We boondock exclusively. We have 400 watts of solar on the roof and 2 x 6 volt GC2 batteries in series for 115 USABLE amp hours of battery. Out west, in sunny Colorado, at altitude (8300 feet +), we have ample 12 volt power. On a typical day, my batteries are topped off by about 1 PM.
We have a 500 watt inverter to run the electric blanket for 20 minutes to take the chill off the bed (about 10 to 11 AH in total).
But we also have a generator, and we use it to run the microwave and espresso machine….or to supply power during a rainy day (not a passing t-storm, but monsoon) when we and everyone else is trapped inside.
There is a HUGE difference between a couple of 15 minute bursts on the genny, and running the genny for hours on end to charge batteries.
Yes, stovetop and oven cooking is great…as is grilling. We make our second cup with a French Press.
But my concern with your article is the suggestion that generators seem to have no place in boondocking. NO, I DON’T want to listen to my neighbor’s generator for 6 hours a day. But for 15 minutes in the morning and early evening, a genny is a normal campground sound.
Your water conservation tips, including recycling grey water for flushing, are spot on. I would add that, in the arid, wildfire prone west, grey water is a valuable resource that should not be “dumped.” Instead, it should be captured in a bucket, walked well away from the campsite (yours and others’) and used to water the trees.
P.S. Your image of boondocking – i.e. dispersed camping – had me shaking my head. Unless those rigs are part of a family group, how is that dispersed camping? Those are closer quarters than most RV parks. SMH.
Ronald Huizar says
We do enjoy dry camping in our RV. But those of you on or west of the Rockies make it seem like boondocking is so easy and there is plenty of space to do so. Not so east of the Rockies. In South and Central Texas there are opportunities to dry camp at some state parks and other (national, or local) recreation areas. There is no BLM land in Texas. Out east are some National Forests but they have designated camping areas, even designated areas for boondocking. So while you are relishing in your BLM lands remember those of us east of the Rockies who don’t have such availability.
Terry A Majors says
My first camper was a hay wagon behind a fifty ford sedan, with an iron bedstead with poles from head board to foot board and a tarp roof. I my wife and two of my siblings drank water from a spring, cooked on an open fire, left our garbage for the varmints, did our “have to do” behind trees, and have fond memories of our boondocking. So there you go….Have Fun Youall…….