Nearly all RVs are designed to be self-contained for camping, but new and off the lot, most RVs are not going to last more than a few days without hookups. Fortunately, there are many ways to help you boondock more efficiently. Below are some very useful boondocking tips and tricks.
Parking the Rig
If you have solar panels on the roof, park your rig so they get full sun for most of the day. Remember, when boondocking, it is much easier to heat the RV than to cool it down, so also try to aim your large windows to the north or east. Using Reflectix on your windows to shield from the heat of the sun can be essential. Also, be mindful you are parked on solid ground; don’t park in sand or soft dirt, and keep to higher ground around rivers, streams, lakes and even dry washes. If you know which way the wind usually blows in a high wind area, you may also want to point your front end towards the wind, since that is the most aerodynamic end of your rig. That will reduce rocking.
Scout it Out & Space It Out
Before you head down an unfamiliar dirt road, scout it out, either with your tow car, a bicycle or on foot. You want to make sure it’s safe to drive your rig in, and that there’s a suitably sized space for your rig. Getting stuck in mud, in ruts or on rocks, or on a road you can’t turn around on, is not something you want to do. Also, you’re out in the wild, not in an RV park, so there’s plenty of room! Don’t crowd your neighbors, boondockers like their space. And if at all possible, use solar, not your generator, boondockers appreciate the quiet of nature.
Swapping out the high energy incandescent lamps that came with your RV to low energy LED lights, you will be able to dry camp for much longer before your batteries run down. LED lights run much cooler than incandescent lights, and use up to 1/8th the amperage.
Whether you are dependent on solar, wind or a generator, you need a way to store that power. Two large 6 volt golf cart batteries wired in series will act as a giant 12 volt battery, and is a preferred set up for boondockers, and can increase your power holding capacity by as much as 3x compared to a single 12 volt battery. If you have the room, you can also add more batteries, but keep in mind, batteries are very heavy, as much as 70-80 lbs each.
Using a gas or diesel generator is almost like RV park shore power, except for the noise. A generator can provide all your RVs power needs, including the air conditioner and microwave. A big drawback to running a generator is noise; when you are camped near other boondockers, please be considerate, and don’t run your generator early in the morning, or late into the night. You can also position the generator to help block the sound from others.
Most boondockers typically have 300-400W of solar on the roof, but you can easily get away with just 175-200W if your electrical use is light. On a sunny day, you will be able to run your laptop and other electronics, watch TV, and have fully charged batteries by evening. You may only need to run the the generator if it’s cloudy. By adding more panels and batteries, you may not need a generator at all.
AC power Inverter
An inverter takes your 12 volt DC battery power and changes it into 120 volt AC power, for your wall outlets. How powerful an inverter you will need, or can use, will depend on your typical energy useage, and the amount of batteries you have. Keep in mind, appliances like the microwave, hair dryers, electric heaters and the air conditioner may still require shore power or the generator.
Propane Radiant Heater
If you need heat during your waking hours, you can get a very efficient portable propane radiant heater. Using a portable heater, rather than the RV furnace will save your battery life. During cold nights, just pile on the extra blankets. You can use the RV furnace at night for safety reasons, but keep in mind, it will really run down your batteries.
12V Roof Fan
A very energy efficient 12 volt roof vent fan can make your RV a little more comfortable on a hot boondocking day. A popular brand is Fan-Tastic Fan. It only uses an amp or two, while moving a large volume of air quietly. The extra air circulation can make a big difference inside the RV.
If you plan on doing a lot of dry camping, and don’t have an RV yet, then look for one with large tanks. The larger the holding tanks, the longer you can stay out, without coming back to civilization to dump and refill. Figure on 3 gallons of water, per person, each day for drinking, washing and flushing the toilet.
Unfortunately, you’ll find your waste water tanks don’t fill at the same rate, with the gray water filling much faster than the black tank. Here are a few ways to help equalize the tanks.
Unlike RV parks and government campgrounds, there may be no garbage dumpsters when boondocking. It’s pack it in, pack it out. One way to reduce the amount of garbage you need to pack out is to purchase as many food items in paper cartons as you can, such as eggs and milk, and then separate the paper trash. You can burn your used paper plates, paper towels, toilet paper, egg and milk cartons in the camp fire.
You don’t want garbage stinking up the rig, and you don’t want to store it outside where wild animals can get at it. You could build a storage box in the bed of your truck, or bumper rack, to store garbage until you reach a dumpster, put it in the trunk of your tow car. Leaving garbage is a major reason boondocking sites get closed down, so we must do our part to help keep it clean.
Cell Phone and Internet Access
Many boondocking spots are on the fringe of cell and data service. The favorite carrier for rural coverage out west is Verizon. But there have been many areas where you can barely connect, and data is very slow. A cell signal booster can take a weak data signal, and boost it up to a usable level. The bigger 4G boosters require an external antenna port, so keep that in mind if you plan on using your smart phone as a hot spot, rather than a separate hotspot.
So there you have it, some basic boondocking tips and tricks to get you started as you plan your off the grid adventures.