Most RVers – especially newcomers – plan their trips around overnight stays at RV campgrounds, and for good reason. Quality campgrounds provide visitors access to a number of useful hookups (power, water, etc.), staff for setup help and other guidance, and a community of other RVers to engage with.
There are two main problems with the campground system, however: 1) you are limited to parking in the designated campground location, and 2) overnight stays can be quite expensive, especially when added up over the course of a long RV trip.
If you are on a very limited budget, or if you’d simply prefer to camp in a more adventurous location, consider RV boondocking instead of reserving a spot at a campground. Boondocking is free in most places, making it a great alternative for those who are willing to expend the additional effort necessary to successfully and efficiently boondock their RV.
What is Boondocking?
Boondocking is “dry camping” – or camping without gear hookups, like those found in a typical campground – in an undeveloped natural location. As you do not have the benefit of hookups while boondocking, you have to be able to operate self-sufficiently using the RVs onboard systems and any other equipment you bring along with you to supplement said systems. All necessary supplies should be stocked beforehand.
If you’re planning on renting an RV to go boondocking, make sure to choose a model that is naturally suited for boondocking. Smaller, well-equipped RVs tend to be great for boondocking, as the smaller size profile enables you to better access underdeveloped wilderness areas, and a full-featured equipment setup makes it easier to be self-sufficient.
Though boondocking does require some extra work, are a number of great reasons to consider trying it out on your next RV trip.
Great for RVers on a Budget
Campground overnight stays tend to be expensive, especially when added up over the course of a lengthy trip, while boondocking on public lands is usually free or extremely low-cost. Boondocking can therefore save you a significant amount of money.
Freedom of Movement
If you are willing to boondock (and are capable of doing so), then boondocking opens up a lot of new possibilities. Where before you were limited only to designated campground locations, with boondocking, you can set up camp in any public wilderness location that is suitable.
Isolated and Closer to Nature
Campgrounds – especially during peak season and holidays – can be rather noisy and crowded. If you’d like to enjoy the peace and quiet of nature with few “human” distractions, boondocking enables you to set up camp in isolated locations, miles away from other campers.
Boondocking is generally better for the environment than setting up at a campground, primarily because you are not reliant on hookups for heat, water, and energy. When you are forced to be self-sufficient, the use of limited resources tends to decrease accordingly.
Searching for a Place to Boondock
There are hundreds of millions of acres of boondock-ready public land across the United States, from federal lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management, the US Forest Service, US Fish and Wildlife Service, to state lands managed by their respective land agencies.
Do bear in mind that most public lands have a camping limit that prevents you from staying for more than a certain length of time (i.e., on Bureau of Land Management lands, you cannot stay for more than fourteen days in a twenty-eight day period). Plan accordingly.
The following are some boondocking location-finding tips that are worth considering.
Use Pre-Existing Camping Sites
When boondocking, you are not required to stick to pre-existing campsites, but it is generally recommended that you do (if possible) as such campsites have proven sufficient in the past. Most likely, established campsites are physically level and have adequate sunlight, water drainage, and road access, making them a worthy choice for any boondocker.
Get a Map from the Respective Land Agency
Before you start exploring an area, consider using a map provided by the agency that owns and operates the land at-issue. These maps will prove useful if your GPS instruments break or are otherwise not working properly. Some maps may even indicate established campsite areas.
Try to Find a Site With Network Service
If possible, try to set up camp at a site where you have mobile network service. If you’ve rented an RV from a company offering a roadside assistance line or have AAA roadside assistance coverage, for example, having mobile network service will give you access to helpful phone assistance if you encounter mechanical issues while boondocking.
Ensure That The Site Doesn’t Pose Operational Problems
Beware of sites that pose a threat to safe camping – there should be adequate drainage nearby, trees should be in good condition, and tree cover should generally be sparse over your RV. Unexpected, extreme weather can threaten your safety if you’re not careful in choosing your site (for example, a weak tree branch could break and damage your RV).
Boondocking demands self-sufficiency, but many RVers don’t know how to start with self-sufficient camping – many RVers have never set up camp in a place with no external hookups.
So, how can you stay self-sufficient while boondocking? Consider the following.
Look Into Solar Panels
Though RV generators continue to be popular, they can be expensive to run (and come with a number of other issues, including safety risks). As a result, solar panels have been rising in popularity, despite their high initial cost. If you are using solar panels in your RV, make sure to find a campsite with adequate sunlight and sparse tree cover.
Avoid Water Use When Possible
RVs have limited water storage capabilities, so to be self-sufficient while boondocking, you’ll have to limit your water use somewhat. There are many ways to conserve water, but one common strategy is to avoid water use altogether for certain activities. For example, try using hand sanitizer instead of washing your hands with water (when you don’t have particulate matter buildup on your hands). Alternatively, trying using disposable dishware so that you don’t have to wash dishes.
Use Public Restrooms to Minimize Waste Buildup
Excessive waste buildup can lead to frequent dumping. Instead, identify nearby public restrooms on the map and use them. Established campsites are often located near public restrooms, so keep such access in mind when deciding on where to set up camp!
Conserve Propane by Cooking With Fire
Propane tanks in RVs have fairly large capacities, but if you’d like to conserve your propane, consider doing some cooking using your campfire instead. Before you go ahead and cook using the campfire, however, make sure that you have the cooking equipment necessary to do so.