RV life is always changing, especially from trip to trip, so you could say we’re still getting our sea legs under us when it comes to boondocking. But over 2 years into owning Bex, we’ve racked up quite a few nights of boondocking. We boondocked 37 nights in 2023, and while each situation was a little bit different and some stays are shorter than others, we have found a system that works well for us.
What is Boondocking?
It’s probably best to start with a definition of boondocking. Technically, boondocking is camping on land without any services or hookups in an area that’s not officially a campsite. By this definition, camping at a Harvest Host is boondocking, but staying without hookups in a National Park is not. Boondocking usually implies that no money is paid for a campsite. This is also called dispersed camping and any camping without hookups is called dry camping. Some people also distinguish dry camping in a friend’s driveway or property as a separate category called mooch-docking. We counted two driveway stays in our 2023 count above.
We find a lot of our free boondocking sites on Campendium. Many of these sites are BLM and national forest land, but you can also find parking lots that allow overnight parking, which are very convenient on long travel days.
Why Do We Boondock?
The most obvious reason to boondock is to save money, but there are actually lots of great reasons! It’s more convenient if we have a couple of long drive days in a row. Sometimes we hear about a place with amazing views, like a national forest camping area. Sometimes we just want a little extra run-around space for the kids after a stretch of campground stays. And yes, it is really nice to bring down our average nightly camping price with a few free campsites.
How Do We Boondock?
Camping Without Electricity
While electric might be the most common hookup offered, it’s actually the one we do without the best. Sure, if we have it, we’ll use it. But if we don’t have it, we open up the windows if we need a breeze and our batteries and solar can handle running everything but the microwave and the AC.
When we first got started with this RV, it only had one solar panel and a pretty small battery (both of which we have since upgraded). If there was somewhere spectacular that we wanted to boondock, we could do it if we minimized our electricity use and sometimes used just a USB chargeable booklight in the evenings after the kids went to bed. We also used our generator a few times or ran our truck a little while to charge up our RV battery.
Camping Without Water Hookup
Camping without electricity isn’t so bad. What we’re more limited on is water. On a full tank of fresh water (only 30 gallons in Bex), we can go 4-5 days. That usually means washing hands on a trickle or using hand sanitizer, using paper plates to cut down on dishes, and taking just 1 quick shower in that span of days. A lot of that water ends up going to drinking water, so at the end of our 30 gallons, we probably have an even split between gray and black tanks.
Limiting yourself to 1 shower might sound rough, but ideally you were able to shower right before boondocking and right after. So when you split the difference, it’s not like you’re actually going that many days without showering. And if you’re dry camping in a campground, you still have the bath house has an option if you’d like. Or consider using a shower cap to wash your body quickly without needing enough water to wash your hair.
Use more paper plates. We want to balance water usage with trash accumulation if we’re boondocking somewhere with no dumpster, so we tend to use our regular camping plates for sandwiches and save the paper plates for anything messy or saucy. We’ll still need to wash utensils and pots/pans so we’ll be using a little water. To conserve on that, we get the sponge soapy and wet and then keep the water off while scrubbing all the dishes. Then we turn the tap just a bit to rinse everything. We have also used a collapsible tub in the sink to collect rinse water, so we can run the tap less.
Camping Without Sewer Hookup
Camping without sewer hookup is very common in lots of campgrounds and with a dump station almost always available, it’s really not too big a deal. If we have a water hookup, but not sewer, we’re able to camp a few extra days without filling up the gray tank. We’ve had a couple of 6 day stays without a mid-week dump and whenever we book this many days without full hookups, we make sure to do all our showers in the bathhouse. It can be hard to go a week without making messy dishes, because you can only eat simple meals for so long, so occasionally we will also do our dishes at the campground dish sink, although we usually just wash them with minimal water in our RV. Once or twice we have also used a tub in the sink to catch water and poured that in the black tank via the toilet instead, but that’s not a boondocking life hack we usually use.
Camping Without Cell Signal
Any experienced camper knows that staying in an actual campground is no guarantee of cell signal, but RV parks usually have a decent signal and often a wifi connection, so this is a common concern about boondocking. Since we work while RVing, it is crucial that we have some sort of connection and we use Starlink to make sure that happens. Occasionally, a campsite spot will have too much tree cover for Starlink to work, but that’s pretty rare when boondocking. We’re usually looking for boondocking areas with wide open spaces to make sure it’s RV friendly anyway, so easy Starlink connection is a bonus.
What if You Need AC?
If you need air conditioning, you can still boondock with a generator! Granted, you probably don’t want to run the generator nonstop, but we have used ours for 30 minutes or so around sunset to bring the indoor temperature down as the outside temperature is dropping for the night. We like to camp in the cooler weather months and will prioritize staying in a campground with electric hookups during the summer months.
How Long to Boondock?
We don’t have a set rhythm to the number of days boondocking vs hookups, but in general, after 4-5 days we need to empty our tanks and refill our water. We’ll choose a full hookup site for a night or do a 1-2 night stay at a partial hookup campground which allows us to go through our full 30 gallons in a short time frame if we need to.
For example, after free camping in Grand Teton National Forest, we booked one night at the national park’s campground. It’s dry camping, but we dumped the tanks on arrival. And 30 gallons is more than we need for all of us to shower (the boys are very fast) and we were able to wash dishes (including some that were already in the sink) without trying to conserve water. Then on the way out, we dump and fill again before leaving and we’re ready to dry camp again.
Our Current Solar and Battery Set Up
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We upgraded our Ibex 19 mbh’s single solar panel with these four additional 100 watt solar panels. We initially did a small upgrade from a dual 6v deep cycle battery set to a 200Ah lithium. During the first battery upgrade we also added a set of four HQST solar panels to increase the solar watts to 590W from 190W. (Now we have two Renogy 200Ah batteries.) To go along with the added solar power, we also swapped the small solar control for a 60 amp Renogy MPPT solar controller. We also had to swap out the power center to one that could handle lithium batteries. We then added the battery monitor and shunt to help monitor the state of charge better. The only item in the trailer’s electrical system that has not been upgraded is the inverter. Most people recommend upgrading your batteries before your solar, but a solar & battery upgrade and then an additional battery upgrade worked well for us.
When we did these upgrades, we moved the battery from the tongue to the pass-through storage to have more room for our battery setup. Lithium batteries allow you to move the batteries to the pass-through, under the dinette, or in another storage compartment without the need for venting.
We love to boondock to save money on campsites and to enjoy our own quiet space in nature with beautiful views. We hope these tips help you love boondocking as well!