Ever want to drop everything and go camping in the middle of nowhere? Then you’ll probably love RV boondocking. It’s a growing trend and a great way to explore parts of the country that are often overlooked by average campers.
But what is boondocking? In this article, I'll cover:
- What is boondocking?
- What to know before you go boondocking
- Choosing an RV for boondocking
- Boondocking tips for beginners
- What you should bring when boondocking
- 3 alternatives to boondocking
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What is boondocking?
Boondocking (also known as dry camping) is parking on public land without hook-ups or amenities. It’s just you, your RV, and the wilderness for a night or two.
RV Boondocking is becoming increasingly popular because campers want to get away from it all and find somewhere more remote to camp. This could be on the side of a road or in the depths of a national park.
It’s a great way to experience nature and get off the beaten track, but it does take more preparation than going to a campground.
What to know before you go boondocking
There are some unwritten rules when boondocking, so it’s important to know what to do (and what not to do).
1. Leave no trace
No matter what kind of RV camping you do, it’s important to leave no trace. This protects the wildlife and helps avoid unnecessary encounters with dangerous animals in the area.
Take all your trash away with you and never leave things behind. Once you’re back to civilization or in an RV park, you can dispose of waste correctly.
2. You may have neighbors
Many areas dedicated to boondock camping will have multiple RVs parked up. Even though there usually aren’t designated quiet campground hours, don’t run your generator all night and disturb those camping near you.
3. There are no dump stations
You won’t have access to dump stations at a boondocking spot, but that doesn’t mean you can dump your tanks wherever you are. Wait until you're near a dump station at a developed campground or truck stop and do it there.
4. Nightly stay limits
Many sites are dedicated to boondocking, so they’ll have designated spots, campfire rings, etc. These sites also usually have nightly stay limits, so make sure you know how long you’re allowed to park up and abide by the site’s rules.
5. Fees may apply
Some sites have self-pay fees that are used to maintain the campsites. Many work on an honor system, so pay the fee and help keep the site in good condition for yourself and future campers.
6. You need a backup plan
There’s a chance you’ll break down and get stranded in the wilderness. You might also get unlucky and have torrential rain or bad storms on your trip.
Always plan for the worst-case scenario and have a plan in place should you get stranded.
Choosing an RV for boondocking
There are tons of options when it comes to RVs, but the best ones for boondocking are small to medium-sized trailers. Most seasoned boondockers leave their RV unattended and drive a truck or car into town when they need supplies, so a trailer makes more sense.
Having something on the smaller side also makes it easier to maneuver into tighter spots, which are common when RV boondocking.
In general, bumper pull trailers and fifth-wheel trailers are the most popular, both of which will handle tight turns and softer terrain.
If you’re brand-new to boondocking, you can always opt for an RV rental for your first trip to figure out what works best for you.
Boondocking tips for beginners
If you’re a baby boondocker, there’s a quick checklist you should run through before you go out on your first adventure.
1. Check the weather
Boondocking is challenging in boiling heat or wintery storms. It’s best to check on the weather before going and ensure you’ll have mild conditions for your first trip.
When it’s sweltering, you’ll run your RV AC more than usual, and in the cold, you’ll need your heater. Both of which will be a drain on your battery and complicate your trip.
2. Pack the basics
We’ve added a full list of all the basics you need for your first trip below. But make sure you do your research and put together a packing list, so you have everything you need while boondocking.
Here are a few RV basics to tick off your to-do list:
- Fill your fresh water tank
- Empty your grey and black water tanks
- Refill your propane
- Make sure all your batteries are fully charged
- Pack a portable generator
- Know how to operate your onboard generator (if you have one)
3. Plan a partial hook-up stop
If you’ve never been boondocking before and you’re used to having full hook-ups, test the waters by planning a stop at a partial hook-up site. This will help you get used to having fewer amenities without being too much of a shock your first time.
What you should bring when boondocking
Every camping trip is different, and you’ll have a list of personal essentials you need to take. But here is a quick list to make sure you don’t forget the basics everyone needs:
- Extra batteries and a generator
- Extra fuel
- Portable dump tank and pump
- Water bladder and water filter
- Bottled water and food
- Quality hiking boots and gear
- LED lights (outdoor and indoor)
- Propane space heater (for outdoor use)
- Leveling bocks
- Fans (for the summer)
- Dish-washing basin
- Outdoor camping stove
- Camping chairs
- Emergency first aid kit
It’s always best to overpack for your first boondocking trip, and then you can figure out what you can go without as you get more experienced.
3 alternatives to boondocking
If boondocking seems a little too much, there are a couple of alternatives you might like to try out.
Some RVers like boondocking in a Walmart parking lot. In fact, it’s so popular it’s now called Wallydocking.
When you go on a long road trip, you usually end up overnight RV parking in a Walmart for a supply run before hitting the road. As long as you have the manager’s approval, it’s a great way to practice boondocking and ensure you have all the supplies you need right on your doorstep.
2. NPS camping
National Park Service (NPS) campgrounds often have a boondocking site for visitors. Many of these have partial hook-ups and neighbors, so they don’t feel as remote as full-on boondocking.
Plus, being in a national park or national forest means you get to camp out in some of the most beautiful surroundings the US has to offer.
3. Dispersed camping
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has campgrounds throughout the US that provide remote sites for dispersed camping (which is pretty similar to boondocking). The sites On BLM land are spaced far apart to give complete privacy, but you’ll usually have neighbors within the vicinity.
This is another more structured way to get used to boondocking and means you can take on other activities while you’re camping, such as hiking, fishing, backpacking, or cycling.
With the stress of everyday life growing, it’s clear to see why more and more people are jumping in an RV and heading out into the wilderness to find some peace. Boondocking is a great way to get back into nature and leave the stress of normal life behind, even just for a few nights.
Even if you’re brand new to boondocking, the tips and tricks in this article should help you have a positive experience. And who knows, perhaps you’ll become a hardcore RVer and never look back.