Camping beneath the stars surrounded by rustling pines or oceanside is the stuff RV dreams are made of. It’s also the stuff of RV ads which rarely show a power pedestal and sewer hose. Though maybe not the norm, the idyllic RV experience can be yours if you boondock.
But, boondocking, also known as dry camping, can be intimidating for beginner RVers. It can also feel a bit daunting for more experienced RVers who are used to having full-hookups. The good news is, like many things in life, all you need is a little bit of practice to boondock comfortably. Taking boondocking one small step at a time can also increase the likelihood that you’ll enjoy it.
Here we’ll go through some tips to help you get comfortable with boondocking little by little. In no time, you’ll be all set to camp off-grid whether nestled among mountains or following your favorite college football team.
1. Check the Weather
Avoid boondocking for the first time in frigid or sweltering conditions. If it’s sticky and hot you’re going to need to rely on your AC to stay comfortable. Being extra mindful of your power consumption is key to boondocking. Needing to run your AC adds an extra challenge you don’t need when you’re learning. Likewise, if it’s cold, you need to run your furnace. Although your furnace likely runs on LP, the fan draws power. When you’re first learning this could put you in a position where you wake up to find your battery is drained.
Try boondocking for the first time in temperatures where the highs are in the 70s and the lows don’t dip below the 50s. Of course, you can boondock in other weather conditions, it’s just not as easy. Stack the odds in your favor when you’re starting out by learning to boondock in mild weather.
2. Cover Your RV Basics
Before setting out on your first boondocking adventure be sure to check off some RV basics. Fill your fresh water tank. Empty your gray and black water tanks. Refill your propane and make sure your batteries are fully charged. If you’re in a towable pack your portable generator. Many of you in a motorized RV will have an onboard generator. Make sure you know how to operate it (it may need to be primed if you’re in high altitude).
Last, be sure to stock your fridge and pack some extra drinking water. Yes, you can drink water being pumped from your freshwater tank, but packing drinking water will leave room for error. If you find you underestimated how much water you use for dishes or showers, you can always switch to drinking and cooking with the extra water you packed.
3. Plan a Partial Hook-Up Stay
Why cut all your hook-ups at once? Try starting out by camping with just partial hook-ups at a campground. If you’re used to full hook-ups with sewer, try going without the sewer hook-up at first. After that try camping at a campground that offers just one hook-up. A state park might offer electric only, but make water available at spigots located throughout the campground. You can practice your water management without having to worry about your power too.
4. Boondock With a Built-In Back-Up Plan
What better way to learn than with a safety net? Try a short, two to three-day boondocking stay at any of these.
Campsites with Hook-Ups
Wait. A campsite with hookups? Yes. A great way to practice is to camp at a campsite with hook-ups without actually hooking up your RV. This is a great way to practice because you have the hook-ups there if you need them. Since the hook-ups are there you can even extend the stay to five or seven days, and really zone in on what your power and water consumption is per day and week.
Friends’ and Family’s Driveways
A friend or relative’s driveway, or even your own, is a great place to practice boondocking. You are able to practice without hook-ups, but should anything not turn out right, there is an entire house you can always stay in. At the least, you could hook up to their power or water to charge up or refill if you needed to.
RV shows are a great place to begin dry camping if they allow onsite camping. Many RV shows do allow onsite camping, but there won’t be any hook-ups. You’ll be camping with other RV enthusiasts who are also boondocking for the weekend. That being the case, there’s plenty of help should you need it. You may also be able to pick up some tips from your fellow RVers.
You may only want to become proficient at boondocking to attend your favorite sporting events. If that’s the case they’re great for practice (barring poor weather) as they make for a nice short stay. Like an RV show, you’ll be among fellow RVers who are also boondocking, so help isn’t too far should you need it.
Some casinos will allow RVers to park overnight as long as they spend money inside the casino. This can be a fun way to practice. The stay is a great length at just one night. And, should you change your mind, or find yourself unprepared, you can always book a room instead.
Some RVers refer to boondocking at Walmart as Wallydocking. If you travel long distances in your RV, chances are high you’ll be spending the night at a Walmart at some point along your travels. They make a good place to practice your overnight boondocking. If you forget anything, there are supplies inside. If you’re at one along a popular travel route, like the Walmart in Page, AZ, you’ll also be surrounded by fellow RVers doing the same thing.
6. Boondock at a USFS or NPS campground
U.S. Forest Service (USFS) campgrounds will often offer the opportunity to camp with more privacy and more nature. The catch is that there aren’t always hook-ups. Plan a short two to three day stay to practice. Some of the USFS campgrounds are developed and have a camp host. Those are ideal to start off with. The same is true of National Park Service (NPS) campgrounds. Some don’t have hook-ups so you can practice your boondocking, and there will often be other RVers there boondocking, too.
7. Boondock on BLM Land
Once you feel you have the hang of it, boondock on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) property. Or maybe just try boondocking for longer. BLM land offers the opportunity to have complete privacy depending on where you are. You can plan a lovely escape surrounded by nature and nothing else. Once you’re comfortable with longer stays you can also set up base camp for other activities you might enjoy like backpacking, fishing, or mountain biking. The possibilities at this point are nearly endless.
As far as longer stays go, great places to dip your toes and gain more confidence are Moab, Sedona, and Flagstaff. Boondocking in these areas is popular, the weather can be really mild at different times of the year and you’ll certainly run into other RVers which may give you some comfort as a beginner.
Boondocking can be a very rewarding RV experience. Overnight boondocking is also a regular part of RVing, especially if you RV across long distances.
Have any good boondocking stories? Leave a comment below!
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