Have you ever seen those instagram photos of travelers staying in their rv next to a crystal clear lake, with snow covered mountains in the background, on a clear sunny day?
How about those campers getting an awe-inspiring view of the twinkling milky way out in the middle of the desert?
Yep, you guessed it, boondocking.
To be blunt, if the sound of boondocking doesn’t raise the hair on the back of your neck with feelings of “I’ve got to experience that” than why did you get your RV in the first place?
What is RV Boondocking And Why Do It?
Put simply, boondocking (often called dry camping or dispersed camping) is when you camp in your RV without any connection to water, electrical, or sewage lines.
It’s super straight forward. You’re staying in your RV without any hookups.
No water. No electricity. Nothing.
You and the wide open country.
If you boondock with your RV, you’re off-grid, usually in secluded locations away from others so you can enjoy nature from the comfort of your home on wheels.
Often the question is asked: “Why do you want to boondock out in the middle of nowhere?”
And our answer is…
Because it’s awesome.
You get the opportunity to connect with nature and experience breathtaking views with the same comforts of home.
Plus, it’s cheap. As in, you don’t have to pay anything to stay overnight, cheap.
However, if you love being outdoors, then there might not be anything more adventurous than being completely off-grid, left to your own devices for a full week in the great beyond.
With all that being said, boondocking doesn’t come without it’s hazards. It will require a lot of preparation (especially if it’s your first boondocking adventure) that can seem very intimidating.
Hopefully, this article will continue to provide you with everything you need to make your experience a magical one. We also have a list of tips for your next boondocking adventure than you can check out here.
Different Types Of RV Boondocking
It’s probably good to point out that boondocking is completely legal. Overnight camping in a secluded location can be done in just about every state.
RV boondocking almost falls in line with the idea of primitive camping (which is tent camping).
Personally, we like to think there are 3 separate types of boondocking:
- Overnight Boondocking
- Dry Camping
- Dispersed Camping (or Boondocking)
What’s the difference?
This first type of boondocking is the most straight forward and typically the most common, for both those who swear by living off-grid or those who like the amenities of RV sites with full hookups.
At one point or another on your travels, you’ll find yourself needing to park overnight for a rest before getting on the road again.
Now, you can always go the designated rest areas (you know, the ones on the highway where big rigs like to sleep) and stay there. However, there are two free camping options for an overnight stay that should be mentioned.
Walmart – The single night stay at Walmart parking lots will become you best friend when you’re on the road.
Honestly, it’s America’s hidden treasure.
This will most likely be your first experience into living off-grid.
The one night stay is very common for RVers. Some full-timers even plan their entire route with the idea of staying at a Walmart parking lot as they travel from state to state.
Because often your best laid out plans are going to get sidelined by inclement weather. And when you can get free overnight RV parking at secure location (with lots of supplies), you’re going to take it.
Moochdocking – Do you have any friends or family that are nearby to your travles? If so, they can be great options for staying a quick night.
It’s called moochdocking, which basically means you’re mooching off the electricity of someones house.
This is actually fairly common for those with wide social circles who need a rest before they hit the road on their boondocking trip.
This term is usually referred to staying at developed campground, but without any amenities (like electric, water, and sewer).
This is actually more common than you might think.
For example, a lot of national parks and national forests will have developed campgrounds (where you might find a patted down area) but not other hookups.
The beauty of finding a developed campground without amenities within a national park? You get an up close and personal experience of the park with a little more privacy than the other campsites.
Plus, there’s a good chance you’re saving money too.
Dispersed Camping (Or Boondocking)
Okay, so now we get to what you probably think boondocking actually is.
This kind of camping is where you’re staying off the beaten path. You’re camping on an undeveloped piece of public land (very important) without any amenities.
You may find some boondocking sites with a fire pit, but for the most part these are not developed campgrounds and are normally never labeled as camping sites.
You’re going to be completely self-reliant.
It’s just you and the wide open country.
It’s this kind of experience that makes boondocking so special. Granted, you will need to plan and be comfortable in chaos and the unknown, but after your first time you’re going to come out with a newfound confidence in your own ability to survive.
It’s a surreal experience.
Where Can You Go RV Boondocking?
Alright – so you’ve got some of the basics of boondocking down. You know what it is and the different types. You’ve even got a couple places to stay when in a pinch.
What about where you can find these “magical” free camping locations?
Well, let’s dive in!
BLM (Bureau of Land Management)
Get to know the BLM – they’re going to be your best friend when looking for great overnight camping options.
The Bureau of Land Management is the organization responsible for maintaining what the government designates as public lands which can be used by any citizen. You can find BLM land by visiting their website (blm.gov) which lists the different federal lands you can stay at.
You will mainly find BLM land on the western half of the U.S.
Fun fact – BLM is responsible for about 1 in every 10 acres in the U.S.
A national forest is another federally designated area protected for conservation of public lands.
Often the national forest service (the ones responsible for national forests) and the BLM go hand in hand. Their stations are usually next to each other too.
The good news?
Most national forests allow for dispersed camping without any cost. Remember, there are no designated campsites, but at least you’ll get the chance to interact with forest service rangers who can provide you with tips and insider knowledge.
Since we’re on the topic of federal lands, it’s good to point out that national parks can also offer some boondocking options.
However, this will typically not be free camping because you’ll need to pay the designated fees (unless you have the national park pass).
Army Corps of Engineers
Not many people know about COEs (corps of engineers) campgrounds, but they’re often very well maintained and will typically provide free camping.
This is another fed run group, but each location is typically independent in their rules and regulations.
You’ll need to call in before you just show up.
The cool thing about these campsites is they will often include public utilities like restrooms or showers that are well maintained.
State Parks & Forests
This one is a little more hit or miss when it comes to boondocking.
As you can guess by the name, these parks are regulated by the state and have different rules compared to BLM land.
You’ll have to do a lot of hunting on the internet – mostly calling around if I’m being honest – to find information if you can boondock in these locations.
The image above is of an rv boondocking in big bend state park, which we highly recommend checking out!
Okay, so maybe not as pretty of an option as the ones above, but nonetheless a great addition.
Using rest areas or truck stops are a handy way to get some sleep in a more secure location.
In fact, truckers do it all the time. It’s very common for them to sleep at rest area before hitting the road the next morning.
Obviously, it’s going to be noisier because of traffic. However, if you’re in a more rural area, it can certainly feel like camping!
This option is reserved for the overnight stays we talked about earlier.
Many businesses allow for RVs to stay on their parking lots for an overnight stay.
These businesses include:
- Cracker Barrel
- Flying J
To make this happen you’ll need to reach out to the store manager to confirm if you can stay overnight, most of them will have some sort of sign in process.
These boondocking sites are so helpful when you’re on your travels and need a quick spot to sleep.
Plus, you get to save money at the same time because you won’t need to pay for a spot any RV parks.
Critical Things To Know Before You Go RV Boondocking
Before you hit the road for a week of wild camping under the stars, you’ll need to know some basics.
If you want to have a fun time on your next boondocking trip then you’ll need a proper plan.
In order to plan properly, you’ll need to know the different important aspects of your RV.
Plus, you’ll want a checklist (highly advise on creating checklists). You can check our out post reviewing the best rv accessories to bring with you every trip too.
Will you want electricity while boondocking? How do you plan to get the power? Maybe you’ll need to bring a generator?
What about water? Waste? Heat?
All of these items create a comfortable living experience while staying at RV parks where you have a full hookup, but when you’re boondocking, these become far more critical to helping you love boondocking and not feeling miserable the entire time.
With that said, let’s dive in…
Personally, the most important amenity when boondocking is electricity. Now, you certainly don’t need electricity, but if you value comfort then you’ll definitely want it.
Your appliances can be grouped into 2 primary categories:
- Appliances without a heater (typically run on DC power) – usually your lights, fans, phones and gadgets, and smaller items.
- Appliances with a heater (typically run on AC power) – think of your instapot, coffee maker, hairdryer, air conditioner, microwave, furnace (if running on electricity), and more.
When staying at RV parks with hookups, you’re typically not worried about the difference between the two categories because you’re connected to shore power.
This would allow you to run multiple appliances at once.
However, at boondocking locations you’re not going to have access to this kind of energy, which means you’ll have to pick and choose what you run and when.
Because you’ll only have so much battery power to run your equipment. Once the battery pack gets below a certain level, you won’t be able to run equipment anymore (unless you want to damage the recharge ability within the battery pack).
To keep the power going, you’ll need to constantly recharge your batteries.
This leaves you with roughly two options (of which you can have both):
Depending on how much power you plan to use will determine which one you’ll want to have for your rig. Like I mentioned, you can certainly have both, and most people do, but you’ll find that you will typically gravitate towards one or the other depending on your trip.
Solar panels have improved greatly over the past 5 years. In fact, this option is quickly becoming very popular for a majority of RVers.
The nice thing about solar panels is it’s a one time purchase (which you can typically include with your RV loan) that will pay for itself over the years of use. All that’s required is direct sunlight to keep the battery pack charged.
Plus, it’s quiet.
Keep in mind that solar will have it’s disadvantages too.
Solar won’t work well at night which is when people typically run the most electricity. You won’t be able to run anything with a heater.
It will also require a good deal of equipment. From the panels, to the charge controllers, to the inverters and wiring, you’re looking at a lot of stuff. It adds weight to the rig.
Your next option is generators, which will most likely be your choice for additional power when boondocking.
In our opinion, they’re still the most reliable way to get access to power for your battery tank.
Most class As will have an onboard generator pre-installed to run, but for travel trailers and smaller RVs you’ll need a portable generator. Some rvers bring the full 50 amp generators though.
Most will have outlets that fit 30-50 amp plugs, and will quickly charge your battery pack while allowing you to use your equipment.
Keep in mind, you’ll need to bring extra fuel (gas or propane) and the generator will be loud. And you’re certainly not helping your carbon footprint.
But at least you’ll reliably use your coffee maker and even your AC (which we don’t recommend when camping, but up to you).
Not many people talk about this, but you’ll want to know your fuel usage before going off-grid.
Propane will almost always be cheaper to use than electricity, and this is especially true for heaters.
However, you have to keep a watchful eye on your usage.
Bring an extra tank just in case and measure your consumption so you know when to switch over to electricity.
Just like electricity, water is a scarce and valuable resource you want to conserve as much as possible.
It’s not quite as intense as the Dune series, but treat water with respect and you’ll be a happy camper.
Before going on your next boondocking adventure, you’ll want to fill your freshwater tank. You can find a fill station at a majority of RV parks, dump stations, or campgrounds.
The thing to know however is you won’t have any pressure unless you have a water pump.
We’re not going to go into priming the pump, but know that this is how you get the water flowing when wild camping.
Conserve Your Water
For new boondockers, water consumption is the reason for needing to leave a earlier than planned. Most people aren’t aware of how much water they regularly consume on a day to day basis.
When staying in an RV though, you quickly gain awareness.
If you want to extend your travel, you’ll want to focus on conserving as much drinking water as possible.
This means navy showers and becoming best buds with wet wipes so you don’t run your water tank dry. It also means greater planning with food prep and clean up.
Here are a couple quick tips:
- Use paper plates and throw them in the fire when done so you don’t need to do as many dishes.
- Bring extra water jugs that you use for cooking.
- Plug your sink when washing dishes and keep the soapy water for flushing your toilet.
- Do navy showers (turn on shower for 15-30 seconds, rinse, turn off water, shampoo and soap up, turn on for 30 seconds, rinse, and you’re done).
- Use baby wipes instead of showers.
- Limit toilet flushes (only number two gets flushed).
- Do your business outside if possible.
- Make one pot meals.
Over time you’ll find your own tricks of the trade.
But if you would live to learn more, check out our article on the best ways to conserve water in your rv here.
The next most important part of boondocking is figuring out your waste system.
New boondockers are quickly surprised to find their black tank and gray tank will fill up quickly requiring them to head to dump stations sooner than planned.
However, this extends beyond bodily fluids, you’ll also want a plan for garbage.
With bodily waste, you have a couple options.
First – we’ve found that trying to do our business outside in a bucket can work wonders. It’s not the prettiest thing in the world, but it beats using fresh water to flush the waste.
Second – throw out your toilet paper in a garbage bin instead of flushing it. Most Americans don’t think this is an option because our plumbing system is so good, but if you’ve ever been overseas this is a very common practice. You also get the added benefit of not clogging up your black tank.
Third – if you’re hardcore opt for a composting toilet. A composting toilet will not use water and instead the waste is mixed with peat moss and can be disposed of like regular trash. The cool thing is you can go for weeks without needing to empty it.
Most people in the RV community work remote full time. This means needing reliable internet.
Most locations won’t have reliable cell signal.
You do have a couple options:
- Get an RV cell signal booster
Starlink is the newest kid on the block, and it’s certainly proving helpful for getting access when in remote areas.
It’s a little pricey at $135 per month, but if you’re boondocking full time and want internet there probably isn’t a better route to go.
One of the first things most people ask when they learn about boondocking comes in the form of this question: “Is boondocking dangerous?”
Short answer, no.
In fact, boondocking can be very safe so long as you’re prepared.
One of the most common feelings though when you first learn of boondocking is the feeling that what you’re doing is illegal. Like, how is it possible to just post up on the land like this?
We’ve been there, but yes, so long as you’re on public land you’re within your rights.
However, as the military says, trust but verify. You need to double check the land you’re staying at and utilize the resources provided to make certain you’re in legal areas.
Here are a couple extra ways to improve your safety:
- Provide details of your stay with friends and family.
- Travel with groups of people you like.
- Don’t push your driving limits.
- Bring analog maps in case your GPS runs out of batteries or gets destroyed.
- Bring personal protective equipment (yes, this could include a firearm).
- Pack as much supplies as possible.
- Always have a first aid kit with ready access.
- Pick up your trash (to avoid any critters or creatures from lurking).
- Always stay up to date on weather conditions to avoid bad weather.
Remember – most burglaries happen in crowded locations where there’s easy access. It’s very rare to find a thief who will drive miles into BFE trying to find someone to steal from.
Essential Supplies For A Great RV Boondocking Experience
Have you ever heard the phrase KISS?
Keep. It. Simple. Stupid.
Well, with boondocking, you’ll want to follow the same idea. However, whether you’re staying at a parking lot for the night or planning a week long trip into the desert, you’ll want to bring along a couple extra items to make the experience a little more comfortable and fun.
Bring extra water. You will always be happy having a lot of extra H2O hanging around.
Space Heater (Propane)
Let’s say your RV is boondocking at campgrounds in the desert. Well, it’s going to get cold at night, and a space heater is a great way to keep your RV nice and warm without burning through so much fuel.
You might find yourself wanting to shower outside so save on water. If that’s the case, bring soap that wont hurt the enviroment.
First Aid Kit
You’ll often find yourself in remote areas when boondocking. This means a lot of privacy, but it also means being away from medical help in case of emergency. With a simple kit, you’ll feel much more secure and it could be life saving.
You’ll want to keep the air flow moving through your RV. Especially when boondocking where electricity will be scarce. Fans can keep you feeling cool during a hot summer day.
Cell Signal Booster
Don’t be stuck in a remote are when boondocking without access to help in the event of an emergency. A signal booster can be a huge benefit when staying at campgrounds away from civilization.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why Do They Call It Boondocking?
The name apparently comes from the Philippines where bondok meant mountain and was adapted to mean a rural area. Now, the RV community uses it for describing an out and about location.
How Long Can You Last In Your RV When Boondocking?
Really depends on your amenity usage but you can expect anywhere from 3-7+ days.
Is Boondocking Safe?
Yes, boondocking is considered safe. Always have a plan and be prepared, especially with supplies.
Is Boondocking Legal?
Yes so long you’re on public land where tent camping is allowed, then you’re normally good to go with your RV.
What Is The Difference Between Boondocking and Camping?
Boondocking mainly refers to the RV community where you stay in a location without any hookups. Camping can be at a variety of places, but most often at campgrounds which is in a large community area.
Can You Leave Your Trailer When Boondocking?
Yes, it’s legal to leave your RV unattended while you’re boondocking. However, you’re limited to staying in a location for up to 14 days until you’ll need to move.
So, there you have it. Everything you need to know when it comes to boondocking.
Whether you’re a beginner looking to experience the great beyond for the first time, or an avid boondocker looking for some nifty boondocking tips, hopefully this article helped just a bit.
In the end, the only way to know if you enjoy something is to try it out yourself.
So here’s to those willing to explore the unknown!