In this post, you will learn the basics of boondocking and dry camping.
What is the difference between boondocking and dry camping?
Boondocking and dry camping are basically the same type of camping but are done in two very different environments. Dry camping is when you are camping without any hookups in a parking lot, driveway, or rest area for example. Always verify overnight camping is allowed before you settle in. I imagine getting the boot in the middle of the night would not be a pleasant experience.
I often dry camp when I’m moving frequently. I like to find a place I can easily pull into, leave my truck and trailer hitched (be sure you unplug the connection between the truck and trailer then reconnect before you pull out), and maybe even pick up some supplies. Walmart parking lots are perfect for this because I can travel all day, stop overnight, stock up on whatever I need, then move to my next boondocking location the next morning as prepared as possible.
Conversely, boondocking is camping without hookups in an area away from cities, campgrounds, and preferably other campers. This is my absolute favorite kind of camping. While both of these types of camping take preparation and planning, boondocking for more than one or two nights is a skill developed with time and experience.
In this article, I have shared what I know with you to prepare you for your boondocking or dry camping adventures. I’ve also included links to the products I actually use and love within the articles.
If you’re not able to plug in where does your electricity come from? Most RVs have “house” batteries. Your rig should have at least one 12-volt or 2 6-volt batteries to run all the 12-volt items in your RV. These 12-volt systems are independent of the systems that run on “shore power” when your RV is plugged in. 12-volt include but are not limited to the following;
- furnace fans
- refrigerator fans
- ceiling vents and fans
- holding tank monitors
- water pump
- TV antenna boosters
- range hood fan and lights
There are a lot of things that draw down your battery charge. Make sure your refrigerator is set to propane rather than electric or automatic. It will still use some electricity for the fan but far less than it would on electric mode.
These batteries are charging while you are driving or towing your RV so if your equipment is in proper working order, your batteries should be fully charged when you arrive at your destination. If your batteries are in reasonably good shape you’ll be fine for one or even two nights depending on what you choose to run during that time.
For detailed information about RV power systems please see, What You Need To Know About Your RVs Power Systems.
Two of my favorite gadgets are my portable power stations. I use them for electricity when I’m boondocking. I love to have my Alexa running so I know what time it is and can play music or an audiobook or podcast. I almost never watch TV these days.
The larger power station will run my blow dryer, (I rarely ever do that but It’s good to know I can), my electric blender, recharge my laptop, wifi, cell phone, etc. I use the smaller one when I’m charging the larger one. I have a dedicated 80-watt folding solar panel for charging my power stations.
Recharging Your House Batteries
You’ll want to keep a close eye on your battery’s state of charge. The rule of thumb is never let regular lead acid or AGM batteries go below 50% charge. This can damage the batteries and can shorten their lifespan or even cause them to fail. If you smell sulfur or an odor similar to rotten eggs, check your batteries immediately. They may be overheating which causes a chemical reaction and that lovely odor of rotten eggs.
If you need to recharge your batteries during your stay, you have several options.
If you have a solar set-up on your rig, you’re ahead of the game but you don’t need all the bells and whistles to recharge. I don’t have a roof-mounted solar panel but I do carry a 100-watt solar suitcase. I can set it up and plug it into the cables I have installed on my battery bank and it charges them very efficiently. As long as there is some sun throughout the day, my batteries are well charged. I’ve gone as long as 11-days with this method and only left because I needed to dump my holding tanks.
I also have a small generator that goes with me everywhere. If there is no sun or I just need extra power, I can start my generator and run the power cord from my Airstream to the generator using an adapter. I do this when I want to do something that requires additional power like using my Instant Pot or some other power-hungry appliance. When I decide to run the generator, I charge everything I can think of at the same time.
Running Your Vehicle
If you’re stuck and don’t have any other option, you can always run your RV your tow vehicle’s engine to charge the batteries. Just be sure to keep an eye on your fuel level so you don’t get stranded.
It’s always a good idea to travel with at least a little water in your freshwater tank. This allows you to flush the toilet, wash your hands, etc. while you’re traveling. If you’re going to dry camp, you may need water for dishes or a quick shower. If you’re planning to drink the water from your fresh tank you’ll want to sanitize the tank periodically. Warm, wet places tend to grow mold and you don’t want to drink that. You can learn more about your holding tanks here, Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About RV Holding Tanks.
If you’re boondocking, find a place to fill your freshwater tank before you arrive at your boondocking site. Make sure you are getting pottable water so it’s safe to use. I like to do this close to my destination because water is heavy and adds a lot of weight to your RV. A gallon of water weighs 8.34 pounds. My tank is 38-gallons so a full tank adds 317 pounds to my trailer.
If you’re planning to boondock for more than a couple of days, it’s wise to have some additional water containers just in case you run low. I’d much rather take the truck and go find water than have to move the trailer too. Water conservation is key to a long boondocking stay. For tips on making your water last see, How to Conserve Water Without Unpleasant Consequences.
When you’re out boondocking there generally won’t be any garbage receptacles so you’ll have to pack your trash out with you. I use small plastic grocery bags. When they are full, I tie them shut and store them in the back of my truck. When I find a place where I can dispose of one or two, I do so. When I fill my truck’s fuel tank, I’ll put one or two in the trash can near the pumps. Some towns have transfer stations where you can dispose of your garbage.
How to Find Boondocking and Dry Camping Sites
If you’d like to learn more about how to find boondocking and dry camping sites, check out How I Find Free Camping On Public Land. One of my favorite sites for locating boondocking locations is Campendium.com.
Boondocking and dry camping are learned skills. The more you do it the longer you’ll be able to stay somewhere without having to move and dump tanks. I like to try and beat my personal records for length of stay, amount of water used, etc.
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