In the RV world, the boondocking definition means camping without any water, electricity, or sewer hookups.
But boondocking also means setting up camp outside of standard RV parks or campgrounds, and the majority of the time, boondocking is free.
RV boondocking can take the form of parking at Walmart, camping on BLM land, or going entirely off-grid to forge a new RV path. To detail everything about RV boondocking, we put our years of camping knowledge together into this guide.
So join us to learn about boondocking camping, packing supplies, staying safe, etiquette rules, and how to find free boondock camping locations!
The Definition of Boondocking
Boondocking is known as dry camping, dispersed camping, or even truck camping and means different things to RVers.
Many call any overnight stop without hookups boondocking. Still, most in the RV world agree that actual boondock camping involves staying in places that do not offer easy access to food, fuel, or other camping necessities.
Overnighters at Retail Stores/Restaurants
Overnighting at Walmart is common and is a win-win for both the store and the RVers.
The store gets business when the RVer stocks up with supplies. The RVer receives access to a restroom and a free and relatively safe spot to park overnight.
Dispersed camping takes place on public land and provides semi-established spots for RVs but is not an official campground with amenities or hookups.
Land management services offer dispersed camping to control where RVs park to prevent excessive damage to natural habitats.
To better monitor campers, dispersed campsites often require you to get a permit, and you’ll receive instructions on where to park your RV.
RVers call wild camping off-grid locations where no campsite exists.
Wild camping is boondocking in the true sense of the word. You’re on your own to get your RV to a suitable location to set up camp.
You won’t be near civilization, which is a blessing and a curse. If all goes well, the absence of other campers and the ability to commune with nature is unbelievably satisfying.
If things go wrong, you may not have cell service to call for help, and it could be a real danger if your RV (especially a motorhome) gets stuck and you are miles from the nearest town.
Why Is Boondocking Popular?
Let’s break down the main reasons RVers like to boondock.
Boondocking Stretches Your RVing Budget
Campground fees can add up quickly and cut RVing trips short.
While the amenities at RV parks make camping enjoyable, full-time RVers or those who take extended road trips have to consider overall costs.
Often when traveling between destinations, you only need to stop for a few hours to rest, and paying full price for a campsite doesn’t make financial sense.
Interspersing weeks between a private or public campground and boondock campsites is the only way to RV long-term affordably.
Some impressive RV nomads love the challenge of camping as cheaply as possible and finding ways to never pay for a place to park!
Boondocking Can Be Less Stressful
Boondocking can offer stress reduction benefits.
The first stress reliever is not having to back into a tight campsite in a busy RV park. Once you do park, you have to go through the routine of plugging in and attaching sewer and water hoses.
Outside of RV campgrounds, the most significant stress reduction comes from not dealing with other campground guests.
What a joy to have privacy and not have to hear other camper’s conversations, radios, kids, pets, generators, or worry RV park staff will start mowing at 7 AM.
Lastly, there are no set arrival and departure times, which avoids rushing. All RVers know rushing leads to unfortunate accidents.
Boondocking May Be the Last Resort
Sometimes, boondocking may be your only option. Campgrounds fill up or have power or water outages that close the park.
Maybe there aren’t RV parks nearby, and you’re too tired to drive another 150 to reach one. Sometimes your motorhome or tow vehicle breaks down, and you’re stuck waiting for help.
You never know what issues may arise, so the best advice we can give you is always to have an RV boondocking emergency kit ready with several days’ worth of supplies.
Boondocking Supplies List
To help you figure out what to bring along when boondocking, we put together what an average couple requires for one week of off-grid camping.
Water is essential when dry camping. You’ll need potable water for drinking and cooking and can use untreated water for general cleaning, washing clothes, showering, or rinsing camping gear.
If your recreational vehicle has a freshwater storage tank, you have the edge over those who need to pack in extra water.
An average couple uses the following amount of water every day:
- 2-3 gallons for washing hands and dishes
- 1-2 gallons for drinking (including one pet)
- 1 gallon for cooking
- 4-6 gallons for two short showers
- 1-2 gallons for flushing toilet (if not using alternate methods)
Boondocking near streams or other water sources can extend camping time if you use a portable filtration system that allows you to create potable water.
Food and Cooking Supplies
Food requirements can vary widely depending on dietary needs. The average couple should bring along:
- Ingredients to create 60 meals
- Campstove or grill
- Matches, lighters, and firestarters
- Don’t forget some coffee and other beverages to last 7 days
- Pet food to cover 2 weeks
The key to bringing food is always having extra to cover possible emergencies that cause you to extend your stay.
The easiest option is to pack along some dry cereal as it’s lightweight, offers an array of nutrients, can be eaten without milk or cooking, and has a long shelf life.
You’ll want to top off your RV’s propane tank if you plan to use it for heating, cooking, or running the fridge during your boondocking trip.
Most couples can maintain a whole week of camping without running a 30-pound propane tank dry.
Do carry a spare 20-pound tank for emergency use.
Most importantly, don’t forget to pack at least four or five 1-pound canisters of propane for use on your camp stove or grill.
Alternate Power Sources
The point of boondocking is to survive without the trappings of an RV park, which includes electricity.
Off-grid, you can go about boondocking in two ways: act like you’re tent camping and the RV is just for shelter, or have alternate power sources like solar panels, a generator, or a portable power station.
How much you want to “rough it” will determine which route you go.
Long-term boondockers find a solar power system the best answer for off-grid power. For those who only boondock occasionally, a portable power station is an excellent choice.
If your RV has waste tanks, you’re in luck. For short boondocking trips, you can wait to dump them at a designated location.
But even large RV waste tanks will fill on a long dry camping session, so avoiding using the facilities is the best way to handle bathroom needs.
Many dry campers switch to a portable composting toilet or follow the dig-a-hole-and-bury method (if allowable at your location) to deal with human waste.
Toilet paper needs to go in a separate bag you pack out with you later.
Boondock Camping Safety Rules
Are you wondering which RV is safest for boondock camping?
The answer is any class of motorhome.
Being able to jump into the driver’s seat and pull away from a dangerous situation without having to exit the RV is the reason.
To limit the chances of problems with safety while boondocking, follow these three safety rules:
- Make sure it’s legal
- Watch the weather
- Prepare for the worst
Don’t ever park your RV without knowing beforehand if it’s legal to do so. It’s on you to figure it out, so don’t take your chances.
Private property owners often have guns and aren’t afraid to pull them on trespassers. Remember that someone owns all land, so don’t think it’s okay to park there if it looks remote and deserted.
Many cities forbid overnight RV parking on side streets, and retailers like Cracker Barrel and Walmart have restrictions in popular tourist towns. Cops will show up and make you leave, and often you’ll get a fine to pay.
Even if you found a legal place to park, be alert to your surroundings and trust your gut. If you feel uneasy, there’s a good reason. Move on.
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Boondocking Weather Considerations
Don’t assume you’re going to have fantastic weather during your entire camping trip.
That dirt road you came in on may wash out or become unpassable with deep mud holes if torrential rainfall occurs. Snowfall or ice could block your path or make travel treacherous.
Riverbanks can overflow and bog down your RV while you’re sleeping.
Canvass your potential boondock campsite and any roads to get in and out. Think about how they will be when wet or flooded. Never park your camper where you can’t get out safely.
Boondocking Backup Plans
The further you travel off-road, the more chances of danger arise.
Take a walk down narrow roads to ensure your camper can travel safely and turn around without getting stuck. We have heard horror stories of RVers who had to drive their camper in reverse for a mile or more because there was no place to turn around safely.
Try to camp where there’s cell service. If not, leave your location and dates of expected arrival and departure with a friend in the event they don’t hear from you.
Bring some protection. It can be a gun, a bear spray, or a big dog. Be ready to use it at any time, as you never know what nefarious person or animal is watching from afar, just waiting to make a move.
Don’t be “that” person who ruins boondocking for the rest of us. Follow these simple rules:
Leave No Trace
Pack supplies in and pack out waste. Leave your campsite as you found it or better.
Never assume you can stay, even if you see other RVs in the area. Find who is in charge and get permission.
Follow Fire Guidelines
Many regions forbid campfires during certain times of the year to prevent forest fires. Check with local authorities on current restrictions before making camp.
If on BLM or Forest Service land, inquire about collecting fallen wood to burn. Some places allow it, while others do not.
Water down the last fire so the coals are cold and bury the remnants with dirt to leave no trace.
Deal With Human Waste Properly
If you choose to forgo using the RV bathroom, you must bury human waste under 6″ of dirt minimum to avoid attracting animals. Never bury human waste within 200 feet of any water source.
Never empty your RV waste tanks onto open ground.
Don’t Bother the Wildlife
Legally fishing for your dinner is okay when boondocking, but don’t hunt for, feed, or disturb the wildlife in general. Get out the binoculars instead and enjoy the free show.
While you’re at it, keep your noise level low, and refrain from burning bright lights all night. The animals will appreciate it as well as any other boondockers who may be nearby.
How to Locate Boondocking Campsites
Free camping locations abound across the US, and you can use the following links to get more information:
- Bureau of Land Management
- Ultimate Campgrounds
- National Forests and National Grasslands
- Public Lands App
Some BLM lands require a camping pass, and some boondocking locations have a stay limit (typically 14 days).
Boondocking Wrap Up
Boondocking RV trips means more than saving money on campsite fees. The ability to get away from civilization, unwind, disconnect, and take in all the wonders of nature is far more valuable.
We hope you take the information and tips above and use them to dip your toes into the boondocking camping waters.
When you know what to expect and you prep accordingly, you’ll find RVing without hookups addictive and will join the ever-growing community of boondocking enthusiasts!
- What are the key differences between boondocking, dispersed camping, and wild camping?
Boondocking, also known as dry camping, typically refers to RV camping without hookups to utilities, often in a non-designated area like a parking lot or desert.
Dispersed camping is a term used in the U.S. for camping in National Forests outside of designated campgrounds, while wild camping, common in the UK, refers to pitching a tent in rural areas outside of a campground, often in more remote, wilderness settings.
- How can one prepare for potential emergencies while boondocking?
One can prepare for potential emergencies while boondocking by ensuring they have a well-stocked emergency kit, including first aid supplies, extra food and water, tools for vehicle repair, and communication devices with backup power sources.
Additionally, it’s crucial to have a detailed plan, including knowing the location of the nearest medical facilities, having emergency contact numbers, and informing someone trustworthy about your travel plans and expected return date.
- What are some of the most common etiquette rules to follow while boondocking?
Boondocking, or free camping in unestablished areas, requires respect for the environment and others.
Common etiquette rules include leaving no trace by packing out all trash, minimizing noise, keeping a respectful distance from other campers, and not overstaying your welcome, typically limited to 14 days in one location.
- What are some reliable resources for finding boondocking locations?
Reliable resources for finding boondocking locations include websites like Campendium and FreeCampsites.net, which provide extensive listings of free camping spots, often with user reviews and additional information.
Additionally, apps like iOverlander and AllStays Camp & RV are popular tools among RVers and van lifers for locating boondocking sites.
- How does boondocking impact the environment, and what can be done to minimize this impact?
Boondocking, or free camping in undeveloped areas, can impact the environment through waste disposal, soil compaction, and disturbance to wildlife.
To minimize this impact, campers can practice “Leave No Trace” principles, which include packing out all waste, camping on durable surfaces, and respecting wildlife and other visitors.
"Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt."
-- John Muir