Although our caravanning buddies are now gone and we’ve weathered the storm we’re still thinking about them. Lu and Terry, like most RVers had alot of preconceived fears about boondocking. Will my RV get stuck? Will I be able to make it on my water? Will I stink? Do I need to wear a loincloth? Is it safe? This is not your regular park camping experience and I figured this would be a good intro to re-post some of the blogs I’ve already done on boondocking, plus answer a few more of those burning questions folks might have. So, here we go:
First of all a definition of boondocking as I see it. This means camping out in nature (in the “boonies”) with no fixed sites or campground. I consider this different from dry-camping (= camping in a campground with no hookups) and overnight “freebies” (= staying a night at Walmart or the likes). This is truly out there, in-the-wilds with nary a water spigot in sight
1/ How Do You Find A Boondocking Site?
Many boondockers not surprisingly keep their “best” sites a secret, so you’ll have to do some legwork on your own. Most boondocking sites, often called “dispersed camping” are on public land typically either Forest Service or BLM land. You’ll find bits and pieces of info on spots from other people’s blogs, certain publications (e.g. Escapees Days End and Frugal Shunpikers), on websites (e.g. freecampsites.net), on online RV forums and by word of mouth, but the easiest thing to do is contact the local public lands office. The ranger there will have detailed maps and can usually give you the low-down on what’s open for camping, what the roads are like and how long you can stay there (most places have 14 day limits, but it can vary and there are even certain spots that allow seasonal long-term stays). I’ll usually start by contacting the local office and checking out the area on Google Earth. Then, since our RV is a very shall-we-say ample girl we’ll always unhook the toad and scout out the area in our car before bringing in “the beast”. Sometimes we’ll even plan to stay a few days at a nearby developed campground so we have more time to look around. Our main concerns are always access, a place to turn around and firmness of the site. As long as those 3 are good, we’re good to go.
2/ How Do You Stay Clean? Do You Get Stinky?
We definitely practice good water conservation on the road but we DO wash when we’re boondocking even if it’s just a “sponge bath”, and since going no-poo my hair usually lasts a week before I need to clean it again. When we’re feeling generous we turn on our propane water heater and take a navy bath (much improved since we installed the new Oxygenetics shower head). So, do we get stinky? I guess it’s relative to who’s around you. I may not smell of the latest perfume and roses, but I’m usually presentable enough for government work and since this is the boonies I figure my charm will get me through and nobody much will mind (it worked for Pepé, n’est ce pas?)
3/ What Do You Do With Garbage?
Well believe it or not darlin’ we throw it in a garbage can! While in the RV we keep it enclosed in a bag and inside (either in the rig, in a downstairs bin or in the toad). Some folks will leave it outside, but I won’t do that since we’re usually boondocking in areas with wild animals and there’s no reason to entice them (plus in states with bears that’s illegal anyway). Then we’ll find somewhere during the day to throw it out. Most cities will have some kind of communal garbage dump, or you can find them by grocery stores, behind restaurants, near malls etc.
4/ How Do You Get Water? How Long Does It Last?
We fill up our 100 gallon motorhome tank whenever we dump (most dump stations also offer potable water) and with basic water conservation management that’ll usually last us a good 2 weeks, more if we decide to stretch it. We also have a 5 gallon Coleman jug (many boondockers simply use empty milk cartons) and some backpack bladders that I’ll fill up wherever I see a good water spigot (e.g. at a campground, or gas station) and use for drinking, cooking & tea. If we wanted to get reaaaly serious we’d buy a separate bladder and 12V pump, but we’ve never needed one so far. Most public land has 14-day camping limit anyway.
5/ Where Do You Dump?
When “the beast” is ready to go we usually find a dump station using sanidumps.com (they have a phone & Ipad app too). Most campgrounds will have dumps available, usually for a small fee, plus some gas and truck stations will too. In certain states, even the rest areas have dump stations (often free!). We’ll refill our water tank when we dump as well.
6/ How Do You Manage Electricity?
The main thing to watch with typical RV deep-cycle batteries is to make sure they don’t go below ~50% discharge (typically ~12.1V) and recharge them when they do. This is one of those areas where you won’t really know how you do until you try it out. So, plan to have a way to test those batteries. Our first year boondocking we tested with a basic voltmeter and hydrometer (specific gravity tester), and recharged daily with our generator, but there are wonderful battery monitors such as Xantrex and TriMetric which will give you even more detail. Basic management like shutting off lights, staying away from electric heat and using bigger power-draws like your propane furnace sparingly will take you a long way to good electrical management. Also if you’re in colder temps you need to be aware of battery capacity loss. As you get more into boondocking you can consider LED lights (reduces your light draw by a factor of ~10) and even solar power (see below).
7/ What Do You Eat?
Well despite being in the boonies (where the urge to don a loin-cloth and run with a spear in the wild DOES get rather tempting) we have a fridge, full kitchen, propane stove and propane oven so we cook the same gourmet meals we’d eat at home, which is perfect given we’re already home! So basically we cook food just like we’ve always done, even before our RVing days….and we loooove to cook. Our propane systems don’t draw any electricity and use very little propane so we can do anything from raw veggies to Indian curries, Thai delicacies and full multi-hour roasts. Paul has even been known to pull out his charcoal-powered smoker and go on an all-out, all-day smoking-in-the-boonies binge.
8/ Is It Safe?
Alot of people never boondock because they worry about safety. Honestly I’ve always felt more unsafe in big cities than I have in the boonies. The chances that someone is driving around on BLM land looking for remote RVers to steal from is very, very slim (payback is not particularly high for this kind of thieving). We do know folks who “pack heat” -> we’re not among them and prefer something like wasp or bear spray instead, but if you do go that route train yourself well and know the law for carrying in all the states. We do lock the RV when we’re gone and try not to leave anything tooooo enticing outside the rig, but other than that we’re pretty relaxed. And wildlife? Well if you can hike, you can camp. Basic things like being aware of where you step, keeping garbage locked up and not letting the cats out to roam at night with the coyotes will keep you within bounds.
More Reading For the Boondocking Hungry:
- Boondocking Made Easy -> The Basics
- Boondocking Made Easy -> LED Lighting
- Going Water Green = Conserving Water On The Road
- Streching Your Tanks In The Boonies – Dumping And More…
- Lessons In Cold Weather Dry-Camping = Our Sierra Nevada Week-End
And For Those Considering Solar:
- RV Solar Part I – The Discovery Process
- RV Solar Part II – The Equipment
- RV Solar Part III – The Installation
- RV Solar Part IV – Panel Tilting & Winter Solar Optimization
Other Online Boondocking Resources:
- Escapees Days End Directory (you need to be member of Escapees)
- Frugal Shunpikers Guides To RV Boondocking
- Bureau Of Land Management
- US Forest Service
So, any burning questions I didn’t answer out there?