Updated: Feb 6
By: Michelle Luttrell
The term boondocking was not in my vocabulary until we began researching RV travels. Dispersed or dry camping were also new terms for us. So, let’s just clear up some terminology first to make sure we are on the same page. Both boondocking and dispersed or dry camping is when you stay in your RV apart from hookups such as electric, city water, and so forth and it is typically free. Essentially boondocking and dispersed camping are the same thing. The only real difference is that when you stay on public lands typically owned by the government, it is referred to as dispersed camping. Boondocking is the term used when you stay in your RV in a store parking lot, such as Walmart, Cracker Barrel, Bass Pro, etc. It could also be used when staying on privately owned property. For the sake of simplicity, I will use the term “boondocking” for anytime we stay outside of a developed RV park without any amenities to connect to. Now that we have cleared that up let’s move to a few things that are essential to think about before venturing out.
MUST HAVES FOR BOONDOCKING 1. Power source: Generators and solar set ups The 12-volt battery that comes with your RV is not going to get you far. When you are traveling, your rig is plugged into the truck and that keeps that little 12-volt charged. This means you will be able to pull your slides out when you arrive and use a few little lights, the RV fan(s) and USB outlets. If your refrigerator uses propane, it still has a fan that runs and pulls from your battery as well. In order not to drain our battery through the night, we do not use our fans or lights if it is a one-night stay. When we boondock for multiple days, we have a 100-watt solar kit from Harbor Freight to keep our battery charged. When the solar panels are out, we are continuously receiving power that is replenishing light and fan usage. Keep in mind that every light and fan running can still drain the battery with 100-watt panels feeding it. When we want to use the microwave, Ninja, air conditioner and use our outlets to charge electronics or use a table top fan we turn on the generator. We purchased a Champion dual fuel 3400 watt inverter. It is not super loud, in fact, it’s quieter than most. It uses propane or gasoline and since we have propane with us anyway, we don’t have to carry gas if we don’t want to. This generator will run one ac unit and an appliance such as the microwave or the Ninja. Initially, it ran both of our ac units, but that was really a one shot, out of the box event.
2. Water: Water is probably the most essential item you will need and you can only carry so much water. Typically, when we leave a campground and are traveling to another destination, we will fill our fifth wheel's fresh water tank to about 1/3 if we will be boondocking for a night. If we know we will be boondocking for multiple days we will fill our fresh tank and our three 6-gallon jugs. This will give us a total of 78 gallons and for our family of four, we can typically make it 5-6 days depending on how conservative we are with our water usage. We purchased a Berkey filtration system. Not only does this give us the best tasting drinking water but it allows us to filter water that may be retrieved from a river, creek etc. that we may be in close proximity to. We also put Camco’s RV/Marine filters on our hose when filling our tanks. This filters our water coming in. When you are getting water from multiple different cities, the quality of water varies greatly and having it filtered coming into your fresh tank is one less variant you have to account for.
When you are new to this lifestyle, you tend to take for granted flipping on a light whenever you need to. Every time you do that it takes a little juice from your battery. In order to limit the use of your battery, we purchased Ozark Trail Solar Lanterns. These are used primarily for nightlights for the girls so they stay on all night with a good solid charge. You can also charge these via USB if you have a less than sunny day. We also have a few flashlights but we like the use of solar to prevent the need to keep a lot of batteries on hand. It is one less item to remember to stock up on. If you are going to be somewhere for a longer period of time the solar string lights are helpful for spending nights outside specifically if you aren’t up to building a fire. Headlamps are also good small storage options that allow you to be hands free when moving around the night.
Each time we boondock, we get better and more efficient without power, water and lighting. It may seem like hard work or an inconvenience at first but it quickly turns into just a way of life. This learning curve has been a blessing to us to be able to camp for free in the absolute coolest places. As I write this we are outside Buford, Wyoming, where our closest neighbor is a mule deer across the road. A connection on Instagram was kind enough to share their location with us and we are so glad they did. There are a few ways to find free camping. In my next article I will tell you how to find these hidden gems. If you have any questions about boondocking contact us through our email at email@example.com
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Boondocking on National Grasslands in Wall, South Dakota