Boondocking Basics

First, let’s define boondocking: RV camping out in the “boonies” (nature) with no designated sites, hookups, or facilities.

Newbie RVers can have many fears and questions about boondocking. This isn’t the typical RV park experience! Some common questions and fears are, is it safe? How do you find boondocking spots? How long can I make it on my water? Will I smell if I can’t shower every day? Will my RV get stuck? Let’s go over a few of the basics!

How Do You Find Boondocking Spots?

Most boondocking spots, officially called “dispersed camping” on government websites, are on public land usually on Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land. One of the easiest ways to find boondocking spots is to go to the Forest Service website and the Bureau of Land Management website.

You can contact the local public lands offices by phone, and ask about the local camping opportunities, road conditions, etc. Ask the rangers if they think the roads are appropriate for your rig, and if there is cell service. Stop by the local office, and ask for the local maps, and the rangers can answer questions about what the roads are like, what’s open for camping, and how long you can stay. Most places have a 14 day limit, but that can vary.

You can also find tips from RVer blogs, publications like Don Wright’s Guide to Free Campgrounds, on websites like freecampsites.net, online RV forums, Facebook groups, and by word of mouth.

You can look at the area on Google Earth, but a better piece of advice, especially if you have a motorhome towing a car, is to unhitch the car, and scout out the area before bringing in the motorhome. Also consider unhitching the trailer, and scouting the area in the truck. I was once contacted by a friend interested in boondocking in an area I was already at. He gave me the GPS coordinates, and I drove out to recon the area he had found on Google Earth. While it may have looked promising on Google Earth, an in person inspection revealed the spot was covered in a 10″ layer of spongy dried grass, and was on a slope too steep to level an RV.

It’s a smart plan to stay a few days in a nearby RV park or developed campground, so you will have a safe place to park your RV, and have plenty of time to scout the boondocking locations. Take along your GPS unit to record the coordinates or good spots you find, as well as your internet hot spot to check for connectivity. Your main concern should always be easy access, room to turn around, and the firmness of the ground. If you are mindful of those three criteria, you won’t get stuck.

Where Do You Get Water, and How Long Does it Last?

Fill up your RV fresh tank before you leave a paid campground, or whenever you dump (most dump stations also have fresh water). Also fill any water pitchers and it’s a smart idea to keep a few 5-7 gallon water containers in your rig. These can also be stored in your truck or tow car.

The standard per person water useage is 3 gallons a day, for drinking, washing, and toilet flushing. Knowing the size of your tanks will give you an estimate of how long you can stay out. With basic water conservation, you can make your fresh water last longer than you think.

Some water conservation ideas:

Use paper plates. You can throw these in the campfire, rather than wash them.

Use any dish water, such as when washing out a pot or pan, to flush the toilet.

Remember the old toilet adage, “if it’s yellow let it mellow, if it’s brown, flush it down”.

Limit your showers, and when running up the hot water, catch the initial cold water into your water pitcher.

Most public land has 14-day camping limit anyway, so just aim to make your water last for the camping limit of the area you are boondocking at.

How Often Do You Shower? Do You Get Smelly?

If you practice good water conservation, you will have more water to shower, when you do start to smell! Between showers, you can take daily sponge baths, and baby wipes are a great thing to keep on hand for daily clean ups. If you are washing long hair, that can take a lot of water; one solution to conserve water when washing long hair is to use a Cowash conditioning cleanser, or a shampoo and conditioner in one. You can also freshen your hair with a dry shampoo, which comes in an aerosol can.

Most seasoned boondockers report showering every 3-5 days. Do they get stinky? That’s relative; since you’re in the boonies, who cares?

What Do You Do With Your Garbage?

While boondocking, keep your garbage enclosed in a bag and inside, either in your rig, in a storage compartment, or in the car. Don’t leave it outside, or you will attract wild animals to your campsite; large animals like bears and coyotes can be a nuisance, but an even bigger nuisance can be the rodents you attract, who are small enough to get inside your RV.

One way to reduce your garbage is to buy items like milk and eggs in paper cartons, and separate your paper trash, and put it into the campfire. But be aware of any fire restrictions in the area, and don’t start any fires when it’s windy!

When you break camp, find someplace to throw out your garbage, like a dumpster behind a grocery store, restaurant, shopping malls etc. Also, many dump stations will have a garbage dumpster. And of course, if you’re headed for a paid campground or an RV park, they will have a garbage dumpster.

Where Do You Dump Your Tanks?

You can find a dump station using sanidumps.com (they have apps too). Most paid campgrounds will also have a dump station, and some gas stations and truck stops have dump stations, usually for a small fee. In some states, the rest areas wills ometimes have dump stations, often free. While you’re there, refill your fresh water, and get rid of your garbage.

What Do You Do For Electricity?

Solar panels are the boondockers best friend! You can start with a relatively inexpensive 120W portable panel, but most seasoned boondockers go with 300-400W of solar on the roof. A gas or diesel generator is also a popular option, and if you have a motorhome, you probably already have one built in. The downside to a generator is the noise, and many boondockers only use it on cloudy days when the solar panels are not at optimum.

What Do You Eat?

Anything you want! But keep in mind, you have limited storage space, so plan carefully, and bring foods that can be made into several different recipes; for example, a carton of small tomatoes can be used in a salad, on sandwiches, tossed with pasta, on a shish-kebab, etc. Bring along food items that are versatile, and also that don’t need to be refrigerated; dried fruits and nuts make a great boondocking snack. As noted above, buy items like milk and eggs in paper cartons, which can be disposed of in the campfire. While canned foods seem ideal for camping, consider them as an extra load of stinky trash you’ll need to haul out.

Is Boondocking Safe?

A lot of people who have never boondocked, especially the “city slickers”, worry about safety. Consider this; most crime happens in the big cities, which are chock full of gang bangers and drug addicts. The chances that criminals are driving around on BLM land looking for boondockers to rape and rob are very slim. Another misperception “city slickers” have are visions of the movie “Deliverance“, where inbred, hillbilly rednecks ruthlessly hunt down the hapless “city slickers”. The truth is, rural people are just as educated as anyone else, and unlike many city folk, many people out in the country hold to Christian values, which say, “thou shalt not steal”, etc.

Do lock up the RV when you’re gone, and don’t to leave anything too stealable outside the rig; most fulltime RVers will chain the generator to the rig, and that is another reason to go with solar panels on the roof. Be aware of your surroundings, and take the same precautions you would in the city. Also, if you are worried about safety, stay within cell service range, so you can call out.

What about wildlife? Basic things like being aware of where you step (not on a snake!) keeping your garbage locked up, and not letting your pets out to roam with the coyotes will keep the risk down. If you are in bear or mountain lion country, extra caution should be taken when out hiking. And don’t feed the critters, even critters as seemingly harmless as squirrels can cause trouble around the campsite.


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