Boondocking is an attractive form of camping because you can get away from the crowds, explore the path less traveled, and, perhaps most importantly, save money on campground fees.
That said, RV boondocking for beginners might seem like a tall task. Rather than plugging into a power pedestal, connecting to city water, and hooking up your sewer hose, boondock camping leans on your RV’s onboard systems. And these systems’ capacities – and limitations – must be understood if you want to enjoy RV boondocking.
This post introduces tips and tactics for going RV boondocking as a beginner. We’ll unpack how to plan, what to bring, where to go, and more.
What is Boondocking?
Boondocking — aka dry camping — happens when you plant your camper in a place that doesn’t have hookups. That means you’ll be wholly dependent on your onboard tanks and batteries.
Since tanks and batteries have limited capacities, your boondocking time will be measured by your ability to manage your RV’s systems efficiently. Of course, that time can be extended with the thoughtful installation of a solar kit or by using a portable RV generator.
Boondocking campsites are generally free and generally first-come, first-served. RV boondocking can also be one of the best ways to camp in secluded areas with spectacular scenery.
How To Plan for RV Boondocking for Beginners
These are the steps you’ll want to take to plan for boondocking:
Learn Your RV’s Limits
Tank sizes and battery capacities vary widely across RV types. Dig into your owner’s manual to discover your maximum freshwater capacity, gray and black water tank capacities, and battery amp quantity on board (measured in amp hours).
As a beginner, it’s also important to know how to conserve and create power when boondocking.
Understand Your Boondocking Location
You may want to reconsider if you want to dry camp in areas with exceptionally high or low temperatures. That’s because air conditioning and heaters generally draw tremendous amounts of power, limiting your boondock ability.
When boondocking as a beginner, choosing locations where the temperatures are tolerable enough not to overtax your RV’s climate systems is advisable. Learn how to keep your RV cool without A/C to further conserve power when boondocking.
Learn to Conserve
There are many ways to use your RV’s onboard resources efficiently. Learning tricks like short showers, dishwashing hacks, and energy conservation can dramatically extend your boondocking trips.
Check out these tips for off-grid camping and 5 tips for conserving propane to discover the best ways to boost your boondocking stay length.
Determine Your Maximum Number of “Boondockable Days”
Once you’ve mastered the art of conservation, take stock of how many days you can boondock without breaking camp to refill, recharge, or dump your RV’s waste.
Knowing this number will help you plan accordingly when you decide which stops to make and for how long.
Know Your RV’s Ground Clearance
Many boondocking sites are only accessible by gravel roads pockmarked with divots and dips. By knowing your RV’s ground clearance – the distance between the lowest point of your RV and the ground beneath it – you can avoid any underbelly scrapes on your way to camp.
Scout Ahead When Possible
If you have a tow (or towed) vehicle with your RV, it’s always a good idea to unhook it as you approach a boondocking site. Use your smaller vehicle to explore the roads to your campsite to ensure your larger RV will make it in.
What To Pack for RV Boondocking for Beginners
Here are the items to bring boondocking with you:
Required Boondocking Gear
- Warm clothing — Bring multiple layers of clothing to help you and yours stay warm without overusing your RV’s furnace.
- Fresh water — Start by ensuring your RV’s fresh water tank is topped off before you go. You can also pack additional freshwater in your camper to extend boondocking.
- Empty black and gray tanks — If you don’t dump your tanks before you boondock, you’ll unnecessarily reduce your number of dry camping days.
- Charged RV batteries — Check that your RV batteries are fully charged before boondocking to maximize camp time.
- Extra fuel — You’ll mainly want this if you have an RV generator, but having some extra gas is a good idea no matter what when you’re in the boondocks.
Optional Boondocking Gear
- Wastewater tank — This water tank with wheels lets you dump your tanks without breaking camp.
- Freshwater storage tank — These compact, collapsible tanks are good for filling your freshwater tank back up without moving your RV.
- Generator — This’ll power your RV as long as you have gas.
NOTE: Always research and follow any fire restrictions in areas you travel to.
- Portable tables and camping chairs — Picnic tables aren’t common at boondocking sites, so it pays to pack your own.
Where to Go
By beginning to boondock in your RV, you’ll open the door to a new world of stunning campsites that (usually) don’t cost a penny. Many boondocking sites are even in or near national and state parks, allowing you to experience these wonders as they were meant to be.
Here are examples of where to go for RV boondocking:
- Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Land
- USDA Forest Service Lands
- State forests
- State and county parks
- Army Corps of Engineers Campgrounds
- Select Wal-Mart parking lots (one-night stays with permission)
- Select Cabelas/Bass Pro parking Lots (one-night stays with permission)
- Select Cracker Barrel parking lots (one-night stays with permission)
How To Find Boondocking Campsites
RV boondocking for beginners has surged in popularity over the years, leading to various apps and tools to help you find campsites.
These apps will usually tell you about fees (if any), internet coverage, ease of access, and more. Information is key when it comes to boondocking because you don’t want to head to camp before you realize that there’s something not workable for you in that location.
That’s why we recommend using tools like these whether you’re a beginner boondocker or a seasoned pro:
- Campendium — This tool offers info on internet coverage, clearances, photos, user reviews, GPS coordinates, and more.
- AllStays — This app will show you basically everything RV-related in your path, including boondocking sites.
- The Dyrt — A website and app that features things from free and low-cost boondocking to high-end glamping experiences. Most listings feature great photos and detailed descriptions.
- Freecampsites.net — ‘Nuff said.
- Harvest Hosts — A small yearly fee gives you access to thousands of single-night boondocking options at wineries, breweries, golf courses, and more.
- iOverlander — This app is designed for the overlanding crowd. It features a searchable database of camping nationwide that’s boondock-friendly (just remember what we said earlier about knowing your ground clearance!).
- Boondockers Welcome — Now owned by Harvest Hosts. The same concept features more residential options for boondocking (or moochdocking).
- Boondock based on your camper’s brand — The national Airstream club, for example, has long supported a network of Airstream owners offering free one-night boondocking to other Airstreamers. This won’t work with all campers. But if your RV brand generates a lot of loyalty, there’s a good chance you’d have some options here.
Boondocking as a beginner can feel like a scary proposition. The truth is it’s something anyone can do with the right preparation. It also opens the door to spectacular new locales that would otherwise be inaccessible for camping. Stick with the tips above to start boondocking today.
Here are some additional resources you might find useful as you continue your boondocking journey:
- How Much Solar Does Your RV Need?
- How To Get The Most Out of RV Solar Panels
- How To Protect RV Solar Panels from Hail
Do you have any tips for RV boondocking for beginners? Share your advice or ask questions in the comments below.